World War II was a massive event in world history. It lasted from 1939 to 1945.
Scroll down to see articles about the post-World War One events that caused Nazi Germany to form, along with posts on Nazi society, politics, propaganda, and the major events that occurred in Nazi Germany, leading up to the events of World War Two and its eventual downfall.
(See Main Article: Nazi Germany: Politics, Society, and Key Events)
Nazi Germany is a reference for the twelve-year period in German history (1933-1945) during the totalitarian dictatorship of Adolf Hitler through the Nazi Party, which was founded in 1919 as the German Workers’ Party. The group grew in retaliation to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and promoted German pride and anti-Semitism, two traits that infused Nazi Germany.
Sudetenland: The German Loss of Land that Presaged Nazi Germany
At the end of World War One the treaties of Versailles, St Germain and Trianon broke the Austro-Hungarian Empire and took land from both countries and also from Germany to give to other countries.
The Sudetenland was taken away from Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and given to Czechoslovakia. The region contained Czechs, Germans, Slovaks, Hungarians, Poles and Ruthenians. Although American President Woodrow Wilson had wanted people in disputed regions to be allowed to decide where they would live this did not happen.
When Adolf Hitler came to power he promised to rip up the treaty of Versailles and claim back land that had been taken away from Germany. In 1936 he had marched soldiers into the Rhineland region and reclaimed it for Germany. In March 1938 German troops marched into Austria. The Austrian leader was forced to hold a vote asking the people whether they wanted to be part of Germany. The results of the vote were fixed and showed that 99% of Austrian people wanted Anschluss (union with Germany). The Austrian leader asked Britain, France and Italy for aid. Hitler promised that Anschluss was the end of his expansionist aims and not wanting to risk war, the other countries did nothing.
Hitler did not keep his word and six months later demanded that the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia be handed over to Germany. Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Britain, met with Hitler three times during September 1938 to try to reach an agreement that would prevent war. The Munich Agreement stated that Hitler could have the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia provided that he promised not to invade the rest of Czechoslovakia. Hitler was not a man of his word and in March 1939 invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia.
Despite calls for help from the Czechoslovak government, neither Britain nor France was prepared to take military action against Hitler. However, some action was now necessary and believing that Poland would be Hitler’s next target, both Britain and France promised that they would take military action against Hitler if he invaded Poland. Chamberlain believed that, faced with the prospect of war against Britain and France, Hitler would stop his aggression. Chamberlain was wrong. German troops invaded Poland on 1st September 1939.
Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles 1919, Germany was not allowed to have any military force, building, or armaments in the Rhineland area. To ensure German compliance the area was occupied by British and French troops.
Under the terms of the Treaty of Locarno 1925 Germany, France, Britain, and Italy agreed that the Rhineland should remain a demilitarized zone permanently. By June 1930 British and French troops had evacuated the area.
In January 1936 Adolf Hitler began to make plans to re-occupy the Rhineland. He argued that the move was needed as a defense strategy especially as France and the Soviet Union had renewed their alliance in 1935.
The date for occupation was set for 7th March 1936 and in the early morning, 32,000 armed German troops entered the Rhineland.
Although Germany had been steadily building up her army since 1933 it was not strong enough to hold the Rhineland if France or Britain counter-attacked. Hitler later commented “The forty-eight hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw..”
France was on the verge of elections and politicians were unwilling to take steps that would be unpopular with the population. French politicians and leaders knew that taking military action against Germany would be expensive and could lead to full-scale Franco-German war.
The French appealed to the British for support but many British politicians felt that Germany was simply reclaiming what was theirs anyway. Additionally, popular feeling in Britain was totally against another major war.
The League of Nations, established by the Treaty of Versailles to deal with acts such as this, condemned Hitler’s action but did not enact economic or military sanctions.
(See Main Article: The Nazi Party)
On 5th January 1919, Anton Drexler together with Gottfried Feder and Dietrich Eckart founded the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei DAP (German Workers’ Party). Drexler wanted to form a party that supported the German workforce. From its earliest beginnings the party tended towards right wing politics. It was Nationalist, racist, anti-Semetic, anti-capitalist, anti-communist and determined to see a return to pre-war Germany.
Although the group only had around 40 members in 1919, the authorities were concerned that it may be a Communist group and so sent an army intelligence agent, Adolf Hitler, to investigate.
On September 12th 1919, Adolf Hitler attended a meeting of the German Workers’ Party. During the meeting a point was raised with which Hitler disagreed and made a passionate speech against. Anton Drexler was impressed with Hitler’s ability to speak well and invited him to join the party. After some persuasion Hitler agreed. He was the fifty-fifth person to join the group. (Later he changed his membership card to show that he was the 7th person).
On 24th February 1920 the name of the group was changed to Deutsche Nationalsozialistische Arbeiterpartei NSDP National Socialist German Workers’ Party, known as the Nazi Party. As part of its re-launch the party published its 25 point programme:
1. We demand the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany on the basis of the right of self-determination of peoples.
2. We demand equality of rights for the German people in respect to the other nations; abrogation of the peace treaties of Versailles and St. Germain.
3. We demand land and territory (colonies) for the sustenance of our people, and colonization for our surplus population.
4. Only a member of the race can be a citizen. A member of the race can only be one who is of German blood, without consideration of creed. Consequently no Jew can be a member of the race.
5. Whoever has no citizenship is to be able to live in Germany only as a guest, and must be under the authority of legislation for foreigners.
6. The right to determine matters concerning administration and law belongs only to the citizen. Therefore we demand that every public office, of any sort whatsoever, whether in the Reich, the county or municipality, be filled only by citizens. We combat the corrupting parliamentary economy, office-holding only according to party inclinations without consideration of character or abilities.
7. We demand that the state be charged first with providing the opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for the citizens. If it is impossible to sustain the total population of the State, then the members of foreign nations (non-citizens) are to be expelled from the Reich.
8. Any further immigration of non-citizens is to be prevented. We demand that all non-Germans, who have immigrated to Germany since the 2 August 1914, be forced immediately to leave the Reich.
9. All citizens must have equal rights and obligations.
10. The first obligation of every citizen must be to work both spiritually and physically. The activity of individuals is not to counteract the interests of the universality, but must have its result within the framework of the whole for the benefit of all Consequently we demand:
11. Abolition of unearned (work and labour) incomes. Breaking of rent-slavery.
12. In consideration of the monstrous sacrifice in property and blood that each war demands of the people personal enrichment through a war must be designated as a crime against the people. Therefore we demand the total confiscation of all war profits.
13. We demand the nationalization of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).
14. We demand a division of profits of all heavy industries.
15. We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare.
16. We demand the creation of a healthy middle class and its conservation, immediate communalization of the great warehouses and their being leased at low cost to small firms, the utmost consideration of all small firms in contracts with the State, county or municipality.
17. We demand a land reform suitable to our needs, provision of a law for the free expropriation of land for the purposes of public utility, abolition of taxes on land and prevention of all speculation in land.
18. We demand struggle without consideration against those whose activity is injurious to the general interest. Common national criminals, usurers, Schieber and so forth are to be punished with death, without consideration of confession or race.
19. We demand substitution of a German common law in place of the Roman Law serving a materialistic world-order.
20. The state is to be responsible for a fundamental reconstruction of our whole national education program, to enable every capable and industrious German to obtain higher education and subsequently introduction into leading positions. The plans of instruction of all educational institutions are to conform with the experiences of practical life. The comprehension of the concept of the State must be striven for by the school [Staatsbuergerkunde] as early as the beginning of understanding. We demand the education at the expense of the State of outstanding intellectually gifted children of poor parents without consideration of position or profession.
21. The State is to care for the elevating national health by protecting the mother and child, by outlawing child-labor, by the encouragement of physical fitness, by means of the legal establishment of a gymnastic and sport obligation, by the utmost support of all organizations concerned with the physical instruction of the young.
22. We demand abolition of the mercenary troops and formation of a national army.
23. We demand legal opposition to known lies and their promulgation through the press. In order to enable the provision of a German press, we demand, that:
a. All writers and employees of the newspapers appearing in the German language be members of the race:
b. Non-German newspapers be required to have the express permission of the State to be published. They may not be printed in the German language:
c. Non-Germans are forbidden by law any financial interest in German publications, or any influence on them, and as punishment for violations the closing of such a publication as well as the immediate expulsion from the Reich of the non-German concerned. Publications which are counter to the general good are to be forbidden. We demand legal prosecution of artistic and literary forms which exert a destructive influence on our national life, and the closure of organizations opposing the above made demands.
24. We demand freedom of religion for all religious denominations within the state so long as they do not endanger its existence or oppose the moral senses of the Germanic race. The Party as such advocates the standpoint of a positive Christianity without binding itself confessionally to any one denomination. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit within and around us, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our nation can only succeed from within on the framework: common utility precedes individual utility.
25. For the execution of all of this we demand the formation of a strong central power in the Reich. Unlimited authority of the central parliament over the whole Reich and its organizations in general. The forming of state and profession chambers for the execution of the laws made by the Reich within the various states of the confederation. The leaders of the Party promise, if necessary by sacrificing their own lives, to support by the execution of the points set forth above without consideration.
On 28th July 1921 Adolf Hitler became leader of the party. By the end of 1921 the party was fairly well established with a membership of 3000 people. The party had adopted the swastika as its symbol, the Hitler Youth had been formed for the children of party members and the SA, stormtroopers had been created as the party militia group.
Following the failed Munich Putsch – attempt to overthrow the Bavarian government, in November 1923, Hitler was imprisoned. On his release in December 1925 he resolved to win power by non-violent, legitimate means. The SA were separated from the main party and took on the role of a support group. The SS, Hitler’s personal bodyguard, took on a similar role.
The Nazi party stood for election but initially only gained a small number of seats in the Reichstag (German Parliament). They gained much more support when Germany suffered a financial crisis due to the Great Depression and after Hitler had been appointed Chancellor of Germany in January 1933.
% of Total Vote
The banning of the Communist party following the Reichstag fire on 27th February gave the Nazis a clear majority in parliament. The Enabling Act passed in March 1933 gave Hitler the power to make laws without consulting parliament.
During 1933 all political parties other than the Nazi party were banned, membership of the Hitler Youth was made compulsory for all teenagers, local government was taken over by the Nazis and trade unions were banned. The secret police, The Gestapo were also formed. One year later the Night of the Long Knives saw the murder of all SA leaders who disagreed with Hitler’s policies.
Following the death of President Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler combined the post of Chancellor and President to become Fuhrer of Germany. From this point until the Nazi downfall in 1945 it was Hitler as Dictator rather than the Nazi party that held true power. Members of the Nazi Party retained their positions so long as they remained in the favour of Hitler.
Leading Members of the Nazi Party
- Adolf Hitler – Fuhrer
- Rudolph Hess – Deputy leader (captured in 1941)
- Hermann Goering – Minister for Air, Commander of the Luftwaffe
- Heinrich Himmler – Head of the SS, Chief of Police
- Josef Goebbels – Propaganda Minister
- Reinhard Heydrich – Head of the Gestapo (assassinated 1942)
- Joachim von Ribbentrop – Foreign Minister
(See Main Article: Munich Beer Hall Putsch)
Following the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm and defeat in World War One, the government of the new German Weimar Republic were forced to accept the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which included the payment of reparations to the allies of 6,600 million.
The repayments led to a devaluation of the German mark against foreign currencies and to hyperinflation in Germany. In 1923, when Germany defaulted on its repayments France occupied the Ruhr industrial region of Germany.
With popular feeling against the government, Hitler believed that the time was right for his National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party) to overthrow the government.
On 8th November with the support of other Socialist groups, and former World War One General Ludendorff, Hitler ordered 600 of his Stormtroopers under the command of Herman Goering to surround a Beer Hall in Munich where Conservative politician Gustav von Kahr was making a speech to 3,000 people. Also present were the local army commander, Lossow and the Bavarian police chief, Seisser. At about 8.30pm Hitler entered the hall, stood on a chair and fired a pistol shot into the ceiling. He announced to the crowd that the revolution had begun then ordered von Kahr, Lossow and Seisser into an adjoining room. After about ten minutes the group returned to the hall and Hitler announced that he had the support of all three men. When the meeting ended, Hitler immediately began planning his takeover of Munich. Von Kahr, Lossow and Seisser went straight to the authorities.
The next morning Hitler and 3,000 Nazi supporters began a march on Munich. However, it soon became apparent that the authorities had been alerted when they encountered a road block manned by 100 armed police. Shots were fired killing sixteen Nazis and four police officers. Both Hitler and Goering were injured and ran to take cover. Other Nazis also ran. Ludendorff however continued to march on, he later branded Hitler a coward and refused to have anything more to do with him.
Hitler was arrested on 12th November and charged with treason. He was found guilty at his trial in February 1924 and given a five year prison sentence. While in prison Hitler wrote his famous book Mein Kampf.
(See Main Article: What Was The Night Of The Long Knives?)
According to Britannica.com, By the end of May 1934, Hitler had been chancellor for 16 months and dictator for 14 (under the Enabling Act of March 24, 1933), but two obstacles to his absolute power remained. First was his old comrade Ernst Röhm, chief of staff of the SA (Sturmabteilung; German: “Assault Division”), or Brownshirts. Röhm wanted to have his troops incorporated into the new Wehrmacht that was being prepared to take the place of the Reichswehr, despite the fact that the conservative-minded generals were resolutely opposed to any such contamination of the army by the SA. Second, German Pres. Paul von Hindenburg was still alive and in office and, if he wished, could have stopped all of Hitler’s plans by handing power over to the Reichswehr. Hitler, knowing that military strength was necessary for his foreign policy and that antagonizing the generals could be fatal to himself, decided to sacrifice Röhm.
Also called “Operation Hummingbird” or the “Rohm-Putch,” the Night of the Long Knives was an event during which Hitler’s SS troops committed a series of political murders to rid Hitler of possible political threats. These murders of the leaders of the SA faction of the Nazi Party as well as prominent anti-Nazis took place between 30 June and 2 July 1934.
Why Murder Fellow Nazis?
During the Night of the Long Knives, many of the people who were killed were the very people who have been loyal to people and helped put him in power. Why murder them then?
The answer is mostly fear and jealousy. Other Nazi leaders such as Heinrich Himmler and Herman Goering were jealous of Ernst Rohm and the power he had. Rohm was in control of the SA, an army larger than that of the German government and there were fears that Rohm and other leaders took the “National Socialism” propaganda from the early Nazi times too seriously. This would foil Hitler’s plans to suppress worker’s rights in order to get in control of the German Industry and prepare Germany for war. To further convince Hitler of the necessity of the purge, Rohm’s opponents manufactured evidence that he was planning to overthrow Hitler.
Hitler only announced what had happened on July 13 and called it the “Night of the Long Knives” after a phrase from a Nazi song. He claimed that 13 people were shot while resisting arrest and 61 executed for treason, but some have said that it may have been up to 400 people who were killed. Hitler justified himself for not relying on the court system by saying that he, himself had become the supreme judge for Germany.
The Holocaust (Ha-shoah in Hebrew) took place between 1933 and 1945 and is associated with the persecution and murder of over 6,000,000 Jews and other people, including gays and Roma people. During the Holocaust, two thirds of all Jews in Europe were killed and one third of the world’s Jewish population.
(See Main Article: Holocaust: Timeline and Overview)
|30th January 1933||Hitler Chancellor of Germany||Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany|
|22nd March 1933||First concentration camp opened||The first concentration camp was opened at Dachau in Germany|
|1st April 1933||Jewish shops boycotted||Germans were told not to buy from Jewish shops or businesses|
|24th November 1933||‘Undesirables’ sent to camps||Homeless, alcoholic and unemployed people were sent to concentration camps|
|17th May 1934||Jewish persecution||An order was issued which prohibited Jewish people from having health insurance|
|15th September 1935||Nuremberg Laws||The Nuremberg Laws were introduced. These laws were designed to take away Jewish rights of citizenship and included orders that:Jews are no longer allowed to be German citizens.
Jews cannot marry non-Jews.
Jews cannot have sexual relations with non-Jews.
|13th March 1938||Austrian Jews persecuted||Following Anschluss which joined Germany and Austria, Jews in Austria were persecuted and victimised.|
|8th July 1938||Munich synagogue destroyed||The Jewish synagogue in Munich was destroyed|
|5th October 1938||Jewish passports stamped with ‘J’||The passports of all Austrian and German Jews had to be stamped with a large red letter ‘J’|
|9th November 1938||Kristallnacht|| A night of extreme violence.Approximately 100 Jews were murdered,
20,000 German and Austrian Jews arrested and sent to camps, Hundreds of synagogues burned, and the
Windows of Jewish shops all over Germany and Austria smashed.
|12th November 1938||Jews fined||Jews were made to pay one billion marks for the damage caused by Kristallnacht.|
|15th November 1938||Jewish children expelled from schools||An order was issued that stated that Jewish children should not be allowed to attend non-Jewish German schools|
|12th October 1939||Austrian and Czech Jews deported||Jews living in Austria and Czechoslovakia were sent to Poland|
|23rd November 1939||Yellow Star introduced||Jews in Poland were forced to sew a yellow star onto their clothes so that they could be easily identified.|
|Early 1940||European Jews persecuted||Jews in German occupied countries were persecuted by the Nazis and many were sent to concentration camps.|
|20th May 1940||Auschwitz||A new concentration camp, Auschwitz, opened|
|15th November 1940||Warsaw Ghetto||The Warsaw Ghetto was sealed off. There were around 400,000 Jewish people inside|
|July 1941||Einsatzgruppen||The Einsatzgruppen (killing squads) began rounding up and murdering Jews in Russia. 33,000 Jews are murdered in two days at Babi Yar near Kiev.|
|31st July 1941||‘Final Solution’||Reinhard Heydrich chosen to implement ‘Final Solution’|
|8th December 1941||First ‘Death Camp’||The first ‘Death Camp’ was opened at Chelmno.|
|January 1942||Mass-gassing||Mass-gassing of Jews began at Auschwitz-Birkenau|
|Summer 1942||European Jews gassed||Jews from all over occupied Europe were sent to ‘Death Camps’|
|29th January 1943||Gypsies sent to camps||An order was issued for gypsies to be sent to concentration camps.|
|19th April – 16th May 1943||Warsaw Ghetto Uprising|| An order was issued to empty the Warsaw Ghetto and deport the inmates to Treblinka. Following the deportation of some Warsaw Jews, news leaked back to those remaining in the Ghetto of mass killings.A group of about 750 mainly young people decided that they had nothing to lose by resisting deportation. Using weapons smuggled into the Ghetto they fired on German troops who tried to round up inmates for deportation.
They held out for nearly a month before they were taken by the Nazis and shot or sent to death camps.
|Late 1943||‘Death Camps’ closed||With the Russians advancing from the East, many ‘Death Camps’ were closed and evidence destroyed.|
|14th May – 8th July 1944||Hungarian Jews sent to Auschwitz||440,000 Hungarian Jews were transported to Auschwitz|
|30th October 1944||Auschwitz||The gas chambers at Auschwitz were used for the last time|
|27th January 1945||‘Death Marches’||Many remaining camps were closed and evidence of their existence destroyed. Those who had survived the camps so far were taken on forced ‘Death Marches’.|
|30th April 1945||Hitler committed suicide||Faced with impending defeat, Hitler committed suicide|
|7th May 1945||German surrender||Germany surrendered and the war in Europe was over|
|20th November 1945||Nuremberg war trial began||Surviving Nazi leaders were put on trial at Nuremberg|
The Beginning of the Holocaust
Anti-Semitism in Germany existed for quite some time before the Nazi rule and the ethnic cleansing plan that they called the “Final Solution” developed gradually, making it hard to tie a set date to the start of the Holocaust. Most historians however agree that the 30th January 1933 when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, was the main turning point that set everything in motion, marking this date as the start of the Holocaust.
Some Important Early Holocaust Dates
After Hitler came to power, there were however also certain other early events that can be seen as important starting points to what became the Holocaust:
- April 1, 1933 – only 3 months after Hitler was appointed chancellor, the boycott of Jewish-owned businesses and shops in Germany started.
- September 15, 1935 – The famous Nuremberg Race Laws were passed, providing a legal basis for the exclusion of Jews from German society and implementing a very restrictive Jewish policy.
- November 9, 10 1938 – Attacks on the Jews become violent for the first time after the Jewish Hershel Grynszpan assassinates Ernst vom Rath in Paris. In what is now known as Kristallnacht, Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues are looted and destroyed. Many Jews are beaten and killed and 30,000 Jewish people are arrested and taken to concentration camps.
There were obviously other important Holocaust dates, such as the invasion of Poland and establishment of Jewish ghettos, the brutal murder of Jews in the U.S.S.R and the final mass killings at the Nazi death camps, but by that time the Holocaust was already in full swing.
Concentration Camp Overview
A concentration camp is when, often during war, a large amount of people are imprisoned in a small area without adequate facilities. People in concentration camps were often required to do forced labor or kept there to wait for execution. The word “concentration camp” is usually associated with the Nazi camps in Germany, among which the most infamous were Auschwitz, Belsen and Dachau. Nazi Germany was however not the first to make use of the concentration camp system and the term, “concentration camp” was actually derived from the word the British used for the camps they used during the Second Anglo-Boer War.
Other Concentration Camps Prior To Nazi Germany
* The U.S. often used to keep Native Americans in concentration camps
* The British kept prisoners of war, as well as the wives and children of South African Boers in their concentration camps, where many people died from illness due to the lack of proper facilities.
* The Imperial Schutztruppe used concentration camps in Namibia (then German South-West Africa) in their genocide program of the Namaqua and Herero peoples. Luderitz had the biggest, harshest camp, the Shark Island Concentration Camp.
Types of Concentration Camps in Nazi Germany
Although Germany had a lot of concentration camps, many of them served different purposes, which is why the Nazis gave them different names. They had regular concentration camps, prisoner-of-war camps, extermination camps, transit camps and labor camps. In all of these camps, conditions were harsh and illnesses broke out all the time.
Holocaust: Overview of Concentration Camps
The first camp was opened at Dachau on 22nd March 1933. It was built to detain 5000 political opponents of the Nazi Party, mainly Communists.
In 1934 the Nazis began using inmates of concentration camps as forced labour for personal or camp projects. The work was hard and physically demanding and without sufficient food rations the mortality rate of concentration camp inmates rose dramatically. In 1943 a concentration camp detainee would have had a life expectancy of six weeks.
All concentration camp inmates had to wear a coloured badge to show the nature of their ‘crime’.
Holocaust Killing Centers
The Nazis operated five main purpose-built killing centres, sometimes referred to as death camps or extermination camps.
Chelmno began operating as a killing centre in December 1941. Victims were put into sealed container trucks which had been specially configured to allow carbon monoxide gas from the exhaust to be pumped inside. The bodies were buried in mass graves. It is estimated that at least 150,000 Jews and gypsies died at this camp.
Belzec opened in March 1942. Victims were brought to the camp by trains, unloaded and taken to gas chambers disguised as showers. Carbon monoxide was them pumped into the chamber. The bodies were buried in mass graves. Around 500,000 Jews perished in this camp together with an unknown number of Poles and gypsies.
Sobibor opened in May 1942. It was constructed and operated in the same manner as Belzec. In the spring of 1943 around 300 prisoners managed to escape. In November 1943 all remaining prisoners in the camp were shot. In total around 167,000 Jews were killed in this camp.
Treblinka II was built next to the Treblinka I concentration camp and opened in July 1942. It was constructed and operated in the same manner as Belzec and Sobibor. The bodies were initially buried in mass graves but later were burned in huge ovens. Around 925,000 Jews were killed in this camp.
Auschwitz-Birkenau (pictured above) was the largest killing centre and was designed to be used as a mass extermination camp for Jews as part of Hitler’s Final Solution. The first gas chamber was operational by March 1942 and by mid 1943 there were a total of four gas chambers. Trains arrived on a daily basis bringing Jews from all German-occupied countries and victims were taken straight to gas chambers disguised as showers. Zyklon B pellets were dropped into the chambers and the bodies were burned in crematoria. It is estimated that between 1 and 2 million Jews were killed in this camp.
(See Main Article: Holocaust – Auschwitz-Birkenau)
Auschwitz I was founded in 1940 as a concentration camp for the internment of Polish and Soviet dissidents, resistance members and prisoners of war. During its first two years of existence it also housed homosexuals and some Jews. The mortality rate was high as inmates were given hard labour and poor nutrition. During the later months of 1941 trials using Zyklon B were carried out at an extermination chamber in Auschwitz I. Having deemed the trials successful the Nazi’s ordered the enlargement of the camp.
Auschwitz II (Birkenau)
Work began on this camp in October 1941. It was designed to be used as a mass extermination camp for Jews as part of Hitler’s Final Solution. The first gas chamber was operational by March 1942 and by mid 1943 four gas chambers were operational. Cattle trucks containing Jews arrived on a daily basis from all German-occupied countries. Upon disembarkation they were told to form two lines, one containing men, the other women and children. The two lines of people were then subjected to the infamous selection process whereby those deemed fit to work were sent to Auschwitz I or III and those unfit – the elderly, sick, children and mothers of young children were sent straight to the gas chambers.
Those selected as unfit – usually around 60% – 70% of each train – were told to undress as they were to take a shower. The gas chambers were disguised as shower rooms and had dummy shower heads in the ceiling. Once all were inside Zyklon B pellets were dropped inside which killed all inside in about 20 minutes.
Those selected as fit for work were dehumanized – their heads were shaved, their arms were tattooed with a number and they were given striped uniforms to wear.
Auschwitz III (Monowitz)
There were around 40 labour camps associated with the Auschwitz complex. Auschwitz II, Monowitz, was the largest of these. It became operational in 1942 and most of the inmates were sent to work at the I G Farben factory which produced synthetic fuel and rubber.
Some of those deemed fit were selected for medical experimentation. Prisoners were used as human guinea pigs for sterilization experiments, testing of drugs and human reactions to various stimuli. The doctor Josef Mengele was given the nickname Angel of Death.
(See Main Article: Holocaust – The Warsaw Ghetto)
The Warsaw ghetto was established on October 12th 1940 when it was announced that all Jews living in Warsaw were to be segregated in a designated area.
Almost immediately after Warsaw fell to the Germans on 29th September 1939, a census of Jews living in the city was ordered. The number was around 350,000. Over the following year a further 90,000 Jews were relocated to Warsaw and Jewish people faced increasing restrictions on their lives. On October 12th all Jews in Warsaw had to move to the ghetto.
The ghetto covered an area of approximately 1.3 square miles, surrounded by a 3.5 metre wall topped with barbed wire and broken glass. The area contained around 1,500 houses to accommodate the 400,000 Jews. The average number of people occupying each room was 7.2.
On November 16th 1940, the Warsaw ghetto was sealed off from the rest of Warsaw. Conditions inside the ghetto were harsh, the food ration allocated to the Jewish population was around 200 calories per day. Food purchased as an official ration was reasonably priced but food purchased to supplement the ration was very expensive. In addition, the ration allocated to the Jews was of poor nutritional value and did not include meat, fruit or vegetables. Consequently, many people died from starvation and disease. Others risked their lives trying to smuggle food into the ghetto. By April 1941 the death rate of those living in the Warsaw ghetto was around 6,000 per month.
In July 1942 the Germans began deporting people from the Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka death camp. Between July and September 1942 around 265,000 Jews were sent to Treblinka. Inside the ghetto it soon became clear that those being deported were going to their deaths and many of those remaining became determined to resist the Nazis and defend those in the ghetto against further deportations. They called themselves the Z O B Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa which translates as Jewish Combat Organisation.
In January 1943 when German troops arrived at the ghetto to deport a further 80,000 Jews, they met organised and armed resistance from the Z O B who had armed themselves with a small number of weapons smuggled into the ghetto. The German soldiers were forced to retreat. Following this small victory the Z O B began making preparations for further resistance. Bunkers and hiding places were prepared and plans were made detailing tactics to use against the Germans.
On 19th April 1943 German soldiers arrived to liquidate the ghetto. They found the central area deserted and many had gone into hiding and also faced serious resistance from the Z O B. This action became known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Street battles took place and in a bid to flush Jews out into the open houses were set alight. Despite the resistance German soldiers flushed people out of the bunkers by using tear gas or poison gas and on 8th May 1943 the command bunker of the Z O B was located bringing the Uprising to an end. Around 13,000 Jews were killed during the uprising, many of those burnt or died from smoke inhalation. Those that were left alive were deported to concentration camps or the Treblinka death camp.
(See Main Article: Pearl Harbor)
The attack on Pearl Harbor ranks as the most successful military surprise attack in the early years of combined naval/aerial combat. On December 7, 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service struck the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory. The attack directly led to the United States’ entrance into World War Two. Japan quickly followed up the attack with the invasion of numerous Pacific Islands. They held them through several years of gruesome fighting.
(See Main Article: Pearl Harbor: The Ultimate Guide to the Attack)
Why Did Japan Attack Pearl Harbor?
(See main article: Why Did Japan Attack?)
The U.S. and Japan had been butting heads for decades and it was inevitable that things would eventually culminate into a war. Japan had imperial ambitions to expand to China to solve some demographical and economical problems and to take over the Chinese import market. When in 1937 Japan decided to declare war on China, America was very against this aggression and responded with trade embargoes and economic sanctions.
Specifically, the oil embargo that America organized with the British and the Dutch was a thorn in the side for Japan, which imported 90% of its oil. Without oil, Japan’s military could not function and all war efforts would come to an end. Negotiations had been going on for months between Washington and Tokyo, without any resolution, so Japan decided to attack first.
As the war was inevitable, Japan’s only chance was the element of surprise and to destroy America’s navy as quickly as possible. Japan wanted to move into the Dutch East Indies and Malaya to conquer territories that could provide important natural resources such as oil and rubber. By destroying a large portion of the American fleet, they hoped to conquer the Philippines and Malaya while America was still recovering from its own damages – simultaneous attacks were launched on these places while Pearl Harbor was taking place.
Ultimately, Japan hoped that America would accept defeat and that Japan could create a fortress that would stretch across the whole Pacific Rim.
Roosevelt’s Suspicions of an Attack
(See Main Article: Who Was President During the Attack?)
Roosevelt expected an attack by the Japanese, but conspiracy theories claiming that he knew that they were going to strike Pearl Harbor have been rejected by most scholars. The Government rather expected Japan to attack American targets in Thailand or the Dutch East Indies than a target this close to home. The Chicago Tribune published a top-secret war plan, “Rainbow Five” on December 4, 1941, in which the War Department made preparation arrangements for war with Japan.
On December 8, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt, delivered his “Infamy Speech” in which he called for war. He referred to the attack as a “date that will live in infamy.”
Intelligence Warnings of the Attack Before Dec. 7, 1941
(See main article: Warnings of the Attack)
The day before the death of Sara Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt’s mother, the State Department’s rebuff of Japanese Prime Minister Konoye’s urgent request for a private talk with Roosevelt convinced the Japanese to begin serious plans for an attack.
At a cabinet meeting on September 6, 1941, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was told to attack unless Konoye somehow achieved peace terms with the United States that would not spark a revolution at home, an uprising in Korea, or the restoration of Chinese morale. Hirohito had been shot at twice, once by a Japanese communist, once by a Korean nationalist. The better men of two cabinets had been murdered or wounded because they were seen as too accommodating to the foreigners who wanted to colonize Japan or reduce the nation that had never lost a war in modern times to a vulnerable third-rate power. Konoye himself had been threatened with assassination if he made too many concessions, and there had been serious attempts to overthrow the emperor in favor of his brother or his son. Hirohito knew that his dynasty itself could be wiped out like the Romanovs or marginalized, as the Japanese themselves had done to the Korean royalty, if he bowed to demands that the Japanese saw as not merely insulting but insane.
Yamamoto, who spoke fluent English, had studied at Harvard, and in happier times had hitchhiked across the United States, knew that Japan could not conquer, or even defeat, the United States. The Japanese grand strategy, if war could not be avoided, was to inflict enough damage and seize enough territory that the Americans would guarantee Japanese sovereignty in return for an armistice and restoration of all or most of what Japan had taken outside Korea and perhaps Manchuria.
Theoretical plans for a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had existed for decades. General Billy Mitchell had warned as early as 1924 that the next war would be fought with aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy’s Admiral Harry Yarnell conducted a simulated attack by carrier-based aircraft in 1932 as part of a war game. The Navy judges ruled that it would have sustained substantial damage if the attack had been genuine, and the attackers won the war game.
Yamamoto had delivered his updated contingency plan for an attack on Pearl Harbor on January 7, 1941, less than a month after the British aerial torpedo attack on Taranto. Minoru Genda, Japan’s genius of planning, called Yamamoto’s initial plan “difficult but not impossible.” More information was needed. By the summer of 1941, Korean patriots who kept an ear to the wall at the Japanese consulate in Honolulu through Korean servants and loyal Japanese-Americans were picking up rumors of intense Japanese interest in the depth of water in the harbor and the strengths and weaknesses of the Army and Navy installations in Hawaii.
Roosevelt’s restriction on Japan’s oil supply shifted Japanese planning into high gear. War was now the only alternative to economic strangulation and political revolution.
In the final months leading up to the attack, the U.S. government issued a memorandum stating, “The Japanese government does not desire or intend or expect to have forthwith armed conflict with the United States. . . . Were it a matter of placing bets, the undersigned would give odds of five to one that Japan and the United States will not be at ‘war’ on or before March 1 (a date more than 90 days from now, and after the period during which it has been estimated by our strategists that it would be to our advantage for us to have ‘time’ for further preparation and disposals).”
On December 1, 1941, the emperor met with his privy council. “It is now clear that Japan’s claims cannot be attained through diplomatic means,” Tojo said. The emperor—perhaps more gun-shy than the elder statesmen—asked for a vote. The cabinet voted unanimously for war. Hirohito agreed. The Japanese fleet was told to attack Pearl Harbor on December 7 unless it received a last-minute cancellation because of a sudden change in America’s attitude. Kurusu and Nomura—who had been sincere in seeking peace until they received the Hull note—were told to stall for time. Tojo summed up the situation: Japan, the one Asian, African, or South American nation that had modernized instead of being colonized, could not accept the American demands without riots at home, revolt in Korea, and reversal in Manchuria. “At this moment,” he declared, “our Empire stands on the threshold of glory or oblivion.”
Japanese strategy in Pearl Harbor was based on relying on naval airpower over land-based planes. This is a customary approach to war today, but in 1941 it was a radically new form of warfare that challenged conventional wisdom in the still-early days of aerial combat.
The oceanic route to Pearl lay along a tangled path of diplomatic, military, and economic concerns. Japan, increasingly aggressive, began fighting China off-and-on in 1931, going at it full time starting in 1937. Tokyo’s aggression continued unchecked, and in 1941 it seemed aimed elsewhere—notably French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies. President Franklin D. Roosevelt took action, ordering an oil embargo in July, and the next month Washington warned the Japanese of possible consequences if they attacked nations beyond China.
Tokyo took little heed. Determined to avoid capitulation to what they considered foreign extortion, the cabinet of General Hideki Tojo opted for war. With less than two years of oil reserves, Tokyo had to act quickly and decisively.
Enter the aircraft carrier. It was the lynchpin of Japanese strategy.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had risen to command the Combined Fleet in August 1939, days before the new war in Europe. An aviation advocate, he had supported Japan’s carrier program and, once committed to war, he backed the Hawaii Plan as preferable to the doctrinal “decisive battle” in mid-Pacific. He knew America well, having served there twice between the wars, and he realized that a pre-emptive strike was essential to the success of Japanese strategy—if success were possible at all.
Intensive training began in late August, affording Nagumo’s aircrews barely three months to perfect Japanese strategy in Pearl Harbor. Genda’s plan involved a triple blow: high-altitude level bombers, dive bombers, and torpedo planes. The Imperial Navy was well versed in all three, but the harbor presented a problem: the average depth was barely forty feet, and Japanese torpedoes needed twice as much to recover, rise to the desired depth, and run safely.
Ordnance engineers found an inspired solution. Large wooden surfaces were fitted to the torpedoes’ standard fins, providing larger surface areas. Once in the water, the wooden fins were released and the Type 91 torpedoes sped on their way. Last-minute tests confirmed the theory.
On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, the aircraft carrier was much like the proverbial musician who works twenty years to become an overnight sensation. When the Imperial Navy stunned the world with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan, and the United States had two decades of experience operating carriers, perfecting equipment and techniques; thus it was no surprise that the Japanese strategy was so advanced. Both navies had commissioned their first flattops in 1922, and they had experienced a parallel development.
The six Japanese carriers bound for Hawaiian waters were arrayed in pairs: the giant sisters Akagi and Kaga in the First Carrier Division; Soryu and Hiryu in the Second; and newly commissioned Shokaku and Zuikaku in the Fifth. They embarked some 420 bombers, torpedo planes, and fighters, while battleships and cruisers operated catapult-launched floatplanes. The carriers were escorted by two battleships, three cruisers, nine destroyers, and nourished by seven tankers. The latter was more important than the fourteen escorts, as the striking force could not reach Hawaiian waters and return without replenishing at sea.
Kido Butai sortied from the Kurile Islands on November 26. Crossing the North Pacific under radio silence, the task force avoided detection during the ten-day transit. Meanwhile, submarines had already departed home waters and bases in the Marshall Islands.
Japanese strategy in Pearl Harbor was well-planned but at the same time put together at the last minute. Emperor Hirohito had approved war against the Western powers barely a month before the attack, but he did not grant approval for the Hawaii operation until December 1. Thus, Nagumo’s force represented an arrow launched at the heart of the U.S. Pacific Fleet that might have been recalled in flight. Instead, it flew straight to its target.
The first wave was timed to arrive over Pearl about thirty minutes after Japanese diplomats delivered Japan’s refusal to accept Washington’s demands. But the message from Tokyo took too long to decode, so the mission proceeded as a surprise. The attack precipitated boiling anger throughout America, fueling a surging rage that never abated until V-J Day.
While the leading squadrons winged southward, Kido Butai continued as briefed. At 7:15 the second wave of 168 planes lifted off its decks, comprising fifty-four level bombers, seventy-eight dive bombers, and thirty-six fighters.
Leading the whole group, Lieutenant Commander Murata’s torpedo bombers headed downward to launch their torpedoes, while Lieutenant Commander Itaya’s fighters raced forward to sweep enemy fighters from the air. Takahashi’s dive-bomber group had climbed for altitude and was out of sight. My bombers, meanwhile, made a circuit toward Barbers Point to keep pace with the attack schedule. No enemy fighters were in the air, nor were there any gun flashes from the ground.
The effectiveness of our attack was now certain, and a message, “Surprise attack successful!” was accordingly sent to Akagi at 0753. The message was received by the carrier and relayed to the homeland.
Once Fuchida signaled “Tora, tora, tora,” the Japanese strategy proceeded largely as planned. The first B5Ns over the target was sixteen from Soryu and Hiryu. Briefed to hit carriers on Ford Island’s northwest coast, they went for alternate objectives, destroying the target ship USS Utah (née BB-31, re-designated AG-16) and damaging a cruiser.
Akagi’s torpedo squadron led a devastating attack. The Nakajimas swept in from the north shore of the harbor, skimming low between Hickam Field and the fuel tank farm, then nudging downward over the water. Making one hundred mph at sixty-five feet, they deployed as per individual briefings and turned onto their attack headings. A quarter-mile ahead lay the gray monoliths along Battleship Row.
Combined Army-Navy-Marine aircraft losses were about 175 immediately assessed as destroyed plus twenty-five damaged beyond repair. Some 150 sustained lesser damage.
The Japanese lost twenty-nine aircraft and sixty-five men, mostly aircrew, but including ten sailors in five miniature submarines.
Pearl Harbor was a rarity in history—a clearly defined day when the old order ended, abruptly, violently, and permanently. Not only had Kido Butai initiated a new way of warfare, but it upset the conventional wisdom that naval airpower could not compete with land-based planes. The Japanese strategy was a complete disruption of aerial combat. Historian John Lundstrom did not exaggerate when he described Kido Butai as “a 1941 atomic bomb.” But retribution was coming.
(See Main Article: D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy)
Operation Overlord and The Ramp Up To D-Day
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On June 6, as Operation Overlord went forward, roughly 160,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel, supported by seven thousand ships and boats, and landed on the coast of Normandy. The seaborne invasion included nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers. They established a beachhead from which the Germans were unable to dislodge them. Within ten days, there were half a million troops ashore, and within three weeks there were two million.
Scroll down to read more about the Normandy Invasion or click below to read up on specific topics about the Invasion of Normandy.
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D-Day And Planning
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(See Main Article: D-Day: Planning)
D-Day planning involved significant staging operations of thousands of troops. In the first week of May 1944, massive troop movements occurred throughout Great Britain. From England itself as well as Scotland, Wales, the Midlands, and Northern Ireland, regiments, divisions, and corps were assembled in pre-invasion staging areas.
The logistics of planning for moving hundreds of thousands of men and almost half a million vehicles were enormous. Each division went to a designated staging area along England’s south coast. The areas were labeled ‘‘sausages,’’ for their elongated shape; each was surrounded by a wire fence patrolled by military police. Security was tight; no one could get in or out without written permission. Yet if the troops felt confined and resented the order against warming fires, conditions were tolerable. They ate better than almost anyone in the United Kingdom; steaks, eggs, pies, even ice cream were abundant. The task of feeding so many men was a major chore, and the U.S. Army produced some four thousand newly trained cooks to meet the need.
By one reckoning nearly 175,000 soldiers were housed, largely under canvas and camouflage netting. The staging areas were crammed with supplies and equipment, and there was plenty to do. New weapons were issued to assault troops; vehicles and equipment were waterproofed; final organization and tactics were confirmed.
The Logistics of D-Day
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(See Main Article: Logistics: Preparing for Landfall)
The buildup to D-Day was undertaken by Operation Bolero, a logistical effort of unprecedented magnitude. Sailing on now-secure sea routes, the U.S. Navy and merchant marine took 1,200,000 troops to Britain, where hundreds of camps and bases were established and supplied with everything from chewing gum to bombers. Britain’s existing infrastructure was inadequate to support the massive effort, so a thousand locomotives and twenty thousand freight cars were shipped from the United States, plus material for hundreds of miles of additional rail lines. Transatlantic shipments increased to the point that some 1,900,000 tons of supplies reached Britain in May 1944 alone, showing the scale of logistics.
The manpower required to meet the needs was enormous. Less than one-fourth of the Allied troops in France were in combat units, and only about 20 percent served as infantrymen. A four- or five-to-one ‘‘tail to tooth’’ ratio was not unusual in other theaters of war, either. In mechanized warfare, fuel and oil were essential to success, and Allied logisticians solved the problem of adequate petroleum supply. They designed and built the Pipeline under the Ocean (PLUTO) to pump the lifeblood of tanks, trucks, and all other motor vehicles directly to Normandy. Other innovative projects involved prefabricated piers called Mulberries and block ships. The latter were twenty-eight merchant vessels intentionally sunk to provide breakwaters for artificial piers (leading to sunken treasures off the coast of Normandy still being found today). Most were old, worn-out vessels dating from as early as 1919, though a few were 1943 Liberty ships. In all, 326 cargo ships were involved, including two hundred American vessels.
With thirty-six divisions eventually on the continent, the Allies needed twenty thousand tons of food, fuel, ammunition, and equipment every day.
- In the twenty-seven days beginning 6 June, the Allies poured massive amounts of men and materiel into Normandy. As of 2 July, a million troops representing twenty-five divisions (thirteen American, eleven British, and one Canadian) had come ashore. They were supported by 566,648 tons of supplies and 171,532 vehicles.
- Even in World War II, armies still traveled on their feet. America produced more than fifteen million pair of military boots and shoes in 1941; that figure nearly tripled to almost forty-one million the next year, and it averaged 43.7 million pair per annum through 1945. Total wartime production amounted to 190.2 million pairs.
- From July 1940 to July 1945 the United States produced immense quantities of supplies that had to be distributed to troops or shipped overseas. Dwarfing British production of British aircraft and gliders, they included four thousand oceangoing landing ships, seventy-nine thousand landing craft, 297,000 military aircraft, eighty-six thousand tanks, 120,000 armored vehicles, and 2,500,000 trucks. The Army Ordnance Department expended forty-six billion dollars in purchasing war materiel.
Training For D-Day
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(See Main Article: Training: Preparing for the Normandy Invasion)
Allied training was a vast endeavor, stretching from North America to southern England. Firing ranges were at a premium, as space was needed for practice-firing weapons from rifles to naval gunnery and antiaircraft guns. However, the emphasis was upon amphibious operations, and some facilities had been in use long before June 1944.
Perhaps the most notable facility used by the British armed forces was the Combined Operations Training Center at Inverary, on the west coast of Scotland. It was established in 1940, originally to prepare for commando operations, but expanded when British amphibious doctrine shifted from large-scale raids to the actual invasion. Later bases in southern England included Culbin Sands and Burghead Bay, in the area where the invasion fleet would assemble.
The U.S. Army set up at least eight training centers prior to D-Day, most notably at Woolacombe Beach, Devonshire (See Assault Training Center). Because of its topographical similarity to Normandy, the Slapton Sands region of the south coast was selected for amphibious rehearsals, leading to the disastrous Operation Tiger in April.
Regiments (American, British, German)
(See Main Article: D-Day Regiments)
In the U.S. Army, an infantry regiment was composed of three battalions, each with three rifle companies, a headquarters company, and a heavy weapons company. In early 1944 personnel strength was typically 150 officers and three thousand men. An airborne regiment consisted of 115 officers and 1,950 men. By 1944 U.S. armored divisions had three tank battalions rather than the previous two regiments. An armored battalion typically possessed forty officers and seven hundred men, with fifty-three Sherman medium tanks and seventeen Stuart light tanks.
The infantry regiments assaulting Utah and Omaha beaches were:
- First Division: Sixteenth, Eighteenth, Twenty-sixth Regiments (Omaha).
- Fourth Division: Eighth, Twelfth, Twenty-second Regiments (Utah).
- Twenty-ninth Division: 115th, 116th, 175th Regiments (Omaha).
Airborne infantry regiments descending on Normandy were:
- Eighty-second Division: 505th, 507th, 508th, 325th Glider.
- 101st Division: 501st, 502d, 506th, 327th Glider.
D-Day arrived. In the late-night darkness of June 5, after receiving doughnuts and coffee from Red Cross Doughnut Dollies at RAF Station Folkingham, (Bob) Nobles and the rest of the men in the 508th’s 1st and 3rd Battalions strapped on their gear and weapons; Nobles also packed four letters from Bette. The men in Nobles’ stick then loaded onto a C-47 that belonged to the Ninth Air Force’s 313th Troop Carrier Group and roared off the tarmac shortly before midnight, heading for Normandy along with hundreds of other planes.
The flight over the English Channel was uneventful. “We were all thinking,” Nobles said. A lieutenant walked the aisle, talking to everyone, trying to both cheer the men up and calm them down, but Nobles did not appreciate it. “I almost told him to sit down.”
When the red light by the fuselage door lit up the cabin shortly after midnight, Nobles and his 16-man stick stood up and hooked their static lines to the anchor cable running the length of the cabin and checked the preceding man’s equipment. Then the red light went off, replaced by a green one, and the men charged out the door. Nobles could see tracers coming up and trees below him, but he did not have time to take it all in. “By the time my chute opened up, I was on the ground,” he said.
The regimental system was deeply ingrained in the British army, with some units tracing their lineage back three hundred years. For instance, the King’s Own Scottish Borders in the Third Division had been established in 1689. However, owing to varying overseas service and the inevitable need to mix and match for specific operations, few British regiments fought as such. The situation was further complicated by the fact that many regiments possessed only one or two battalions. Consequently, a British brigade usually was of regimental strength, with unrelated battalions serving together. In 1940 a full-strength British infantry brigade consisted of seventy-five officers and 2,400 men.
The following British and Canadian regiments landed on Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches:
Third Division: Eighth Brigade (First Battalion, Suffolk Regiment; First Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment; Second Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment); Ninth Brigade (First Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers; Second Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment; Second Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles); 185th Brigade (First Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment; Second Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment; Second Battalion, King’s Shropshire Light Infantry).
Fiftieth Division: Sixty-ninth Brigade (Fifth Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment; Sixth and Seventh Battalions, Green Howards); 151st Brigade (Sixth, Eighth, Ninth Battalions, Durham Light Infantry); 231st Brigade (First Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment; First Battalion, Hampshire Regiment; Second Battalion, Devonshire Regiment).
Third Canadian Division: Seventh Brigade (Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Regina Rifle Regiment, First Battalion Canadian Scottish Regiment); Eighth Brigade (Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada; North Shore, New Brunswick, Regiment; Le Regiment de la Chaudière); Ninth Brigade (Highland Light Infantry; North Nova Scotia Highlanders; Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders).
Sixth Airborne Division: Third Parachute Brigade (Eighth and Ninth Battalions, Parachute Regiment; First Canadian Parachute Battalion); Fifth Parachute Brigade (Seventh Light Infantry Battalion; Twelfth Yorkshire Battalion; Thirteenth Lancashire Battalion); Sixth Air Landing Brigade (Twelfth Battalion, Devonshire Regiment; Second Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry; First Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles).
By 1944 the German army fielded several types of infantry and armored divisions, and therefore different types of regiments. There were maneuver regiments and static (defensive) regiments, plus panzer, panzer grenadier (mechanized infantry), and parachute regiments. A representative infantry regiment had forty-five officers and 1,800 men, while a panzer regiment typically had seventy officers and 1,700 men, with a battalion of Mark IVs, and a battalion of Panthers. Panzergrenadier regiments might field ninety officers, 3,100 men, and 525 vehicles. The authorized strength of parachute regiments closely resembled grenadier units—ninety-six officers and 3,100 men.
However, all the foregoing figures were according to formal tables of organization. In reality the German army fought understrength and with less equipment than authorized at least from 1942 onward.
See Main Article: Aerial Support)
Allied airborne divisions played a critical role in securing strategic points prior to D-Day.
On the night of 5–6 June, Taylor’s 101st Airborne Division air-assaulted into Normandy, securing beach exits from St. Martin to Pouppeville. On D+1 the 506th pushed southward from Cauloville and encountered stiff resistance near St. Come-sur-Mont. The next day, the 8th, the division engaged in the battle for Carentan, with the 502d fighting steadily along the causeway over the next two days. On the 11th the 502d Parachute and 327th Glider Infantry (reinforced with elements of the 401st) pushed the Germans into the outskirts of Carentan, permitting the 506th to occupy the city on the 12th, D+6.
The inevitable German counterattacks were repelled over the next two weeks, at which time the Screaming Eagles were relieved by the Eighty-third Infantry Division. In Normandy the division sustained 4,480 casualties, including 546 known dead, 1,907 missing (many of whom later turned up), and 2,217 wounded.
Overhead, the Eighth Air Force contributed 1,361 four-engine heavy bombers to support the landings on June 6. By now, the USSTAF boasted fifty-nine bombardment groups and more than 2,800 four-engine bombers, four times the number of a year earlier. Meanwhile, the combined efforts of the fighter commands of the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces flew nearly four thousand fighter sorties on D-Day alone. These came after seventeen thousand heavy bomber sorties and fifteen thousand fighter sorties during May.
Concurrently, over the objections of his Anglo-American air officers, Eisenhower had transferred operational control of the four-engine heavy bomber assets from the Combined Bomber Offensive to SHAEF. During the weeks leading up to Overlord, the primary air mission was no longer strategic, but tactical. The idea was to “isolate the battlefield” by destroying the transportation network leading to northern France as well as the infrastructure supporting Luftwaffe operations there. The plan worked. The battlefield had been isolated. Overhead, the fruits of Operation Argument and the Combined Bomber Offensive were also evident. The once-powerful Luftwaffe was virtually absent from the skies over Normandy. The air superiority over the invasion beaches, which had long been considered the vital prerequisite to Operation Overlord, had been achieved.
D-Day and the Use of Deception
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(See Main Article: Operation Titanic: Deception in Operation Overlord)
Overlord remains one of the classic examples of effective strategic deception. Allied planners worked tirelessly to mislead the Germans about the intended landing zone, attempting to focus their attention on the Pas de Calais rather than Normandy. False radio transmissions from a nonexistent army ‘‘led’’ by Lt. Gen. George S. Patton constituted one example of signals intelligence inserted to conceal the Allies’ actual troop strength. Other means included compromising every German intelligence agent in Britain, ‘‘turning’’ the enemy spies and forcing them to send misleading reports to their handlers. Those efforts were successful; by May 1944 Berlin was convinced that the U.S. Army had seventy-nine divisions in Great Britain compared to fifty-two actually deployed there. These actions were collectively known as Operation Titanic
Allied planners employed subtlety in leaking some schemes to the Germans. One example was the Zeppelin Plan, which theoretically called for a major offensive from Italy into the Balkans in the event that Overlord was canceled or delayed. As is often the case in military planning, Zeppelin was ‘‘modified’’ in May 1944 to target southern France, employing false radio traffic, double agents, and genuine requests for information or support from neutral nations. However, Zeppelin largely failed to convince German headquarters that the blow would fall anywhere but the Channel coast.
Among physical deception methods was the creation of thousands of imitation vehicles and aircraft, all located so as to convince the Germans that the invasion would occur in the Pas de Calais. Between them, the Royal Engineers and their American counterparts created tanks, trucks, artillery, and aircraft, which were arrayed in marshaling areas near ports on the east coast of England. Rubber decoys could be inflated by compressed air, while others were quickly assembled from wood and canvas. A ‘‘fighter squadron’’ of twenty-four airplanes could be built by a platoon of engineers in two weeks, including imitation hangars and support equipment.
Operation Titanic caused widespread confusion among German forces when rubber dummies were dropped throughout Normandy. Generically named ‘‘Rupert,’’ the imitation paratroopers added to the uncertainty already established the night of 5–6 June, when genuine airborne forces were landed far from their intended drop zones. Consequently, the defenders had no clear picture of what the opening moves of Overlord would be.
D-Day Landing Beaches
(See Main Article: The Five Beaches (Juno, Omaha, Sword, Gold, Utah)
Landing On The Beaches
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A ten-mile stretch between Omaha Beach to the west and Juno to the east, Gold was divided into sectors H, I, J, and K, with the main landing areas being Jig Green and Red plus King Green and Red. It was one of the largest of the landing beaches. Gold was assaulted by the British Fiftieth (Northumberland) Infantry Division and 47 Royal Marine Commando in the Item sector. Two good-sized towns fronting Gold Beach were La Rivère and Le Hamel, but the major objective was Arromanches at the west end, selected as the site of one of the Mulberry piers, meant to improve Allied logistics as soon after the landings as possible.
Gold Beach was held by elements of the 716th Infantry Division, with the 726th and 915th Regiments deployed north and east of Bayeux. However, they included a large proportion of Ost truppen, Poles and Russians who had been conscripted to serve in the Wehrmacht. A battery of four 155 mm guns was sited about half a mile inland.
Smallest of the D-Day beaches, Juno covered two miles between Gold Beach to the west and Sword to the east. Its three sectors were designated L, M, and N. The primary sectors were Nan Red, White, and Green to the east and Mike Red and White to the west.
Allied planners were concerned about a reef and reported shoals, which required a high tide landing at 0745, later than the other beaches. As it developed, the ‘‘shoals’’ were accumulated banks of seaweed and probably would have posed little problem to most landing craft.
Juno was ‘‘the Canadian beach,’’ seized by the Third Canadian Infantry Division. Like Gold, it was held by elements of the German 716th Infantry Division’s 736th Regiment plus the 440th Ost (Eastern) Battalion, composed of Russians and Poles. Initial resistance was fierce; one-third of the landing craft struck mines, and nearly half of the Canadian casualties occurred in the first hour.
Omaha was the most heavily defended of all the beaches; its bunkers, fighting positions, and obstacles were intended to repel any Allied landing. Though they exacted by far the heaviest toll of the attackers, its defenses delayed movement inland by only several hours.
Omaha spanned ten statute miles in seven sectors (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G), bounded by the Douve Estuary separating Utah Beach on the west and by Gold on the east. However, the first three sectors were not used. Before the landing craft touched shore, the area was attacked by hundreds of bombers, mostly B-24 Liberators, but their bombs fell too far inland. Forced to drop through an undercast, the bombers were concerned about ‘‘overs’’ that might endanger the naval force offshore. Consequently, no German defenses were damaged, and no bomb craters were available to provide cover for the GIs on the beach.
Omaha was by far the toughest assignment in Overlord. Inland from the tidal flats, with their mines and booby-trapped obstacles, was a line of barbed wire and an artificial seawall. Next came a level, grassy plain between 150 and three hundred yards wide, also strewn with mines and providing almost no cover. Dominating the entire scene was a line of bluffs about 150 feet high, defended by a dozen primary concrete bunkers, including concrete casemates for 50, 75, and 88 mm artillery. There were also innumerable fighting holes for riflemen and machine gunners, with carefully designed interlocking fields of fire. Additionally, mortars and artillery behind the bluffs, largely invulnerable to naval gunfire, could cover almost any part of Omaha Beach.
American soldiers wading toward Omaha Beach: U.S. Army via Martin K.A. Morgan. Omaha came under the Western Naval Task Force led by Rear Adm. Alan G. Kirk. In direct supervision of the Omaha landings was Rear Adm. J. L. Hall.
The first wave of the First and Twenty-ninth Infantry Divisions scheduled to hit the beach at 0630 in sectors designated (west to east) Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy Green, Easy Red, and Fox Green. Apart from ferocious German opposition, winds and tidal currents forced most landing craft off course, and only the 116th Infantry of the Twenty-ninth Infantry Division landed where expected.
The landing sectors mostly lay within the operating area of the German 352d Infantry Division, with most of the landing sectors defended by the 916th Regiment plus the 726th Regiment of the 716th Division.
Easternmost of the landing beaches, Sword covered three miles adjacent to Juno Beach, with sectors O, P, Q, and R. Like all the British or Canadian beaches, Sword was fronted by vacation homes close to the sea wall. At Ouistreham some of the houses had been razed to improve the Germans’ field of fire, while others had been reinforced and turned into makeshift bunkers. An antitank ditch had been dug behind the seawall, but paved city streets lay beyond, some blocked by concrete walls. To the east was the Merville battery of four 75 mm guns, a target of Allied bombers and the Sixth Airborne Division. Within supporting range were 155 mm guns at Le Havre.
Sword was assaulted by the British Third Division, with attached units of British and French commandos plus the Twenty-seventh Armored Brigade. The First Special Service Force, under Brigadier Lovat, was piped ashore by Lovat’s personal bagpiper, Bill Millin. H-Hour was 0725, an hour later than at Omaha, owing to tidal conditions. Objectives of the Sword assault were important bridges three and a half miles inland.
The westernmost of the beaches, extending some eleven statute miles in four sectors (S, T, U, and V) running north-northwest to south-southeast. Utah joined the west end of Omaha Beach in a line projecting through tidal flats beyond the mouth of the Vire River.
Utah was the last landing area selected for Overlord, but its position afforded the U.S. VII Corps an excellent start at the vital port of Cherbourg, only thirty-five miles away. Though lightly defended, Utah Beach posed some difficulty in the flooded country and rough terrain to the north, in the direction of Cherbourg.
Commanding the Western Task Force responsible for landing troops on the American beaches was Rear Adm. Alan G. Kirk. The Utah landings were supervised by Rear Adm. Don P. Moon.
The greatest difficulty at Utah was the weather and sea conditions. Consequently, many landing craft offloaded troops some two thousand yards east of the intended beaches, which caused enormous confusion but presented an unexpected benefit. The actual landing sites were largely undefended in Victor Sector, away from Les Dunes de Verville. The error was unrecognized at first, as three of four beach control craft struck submerged mines, adding to the confusion.
At Utah, twenty-eight of thirty-two DD tanks reached the beaches, providing much-needed support to the infantry.
(See Main Article: Statistics: Normandy Invasion By the Numbers)
The Normandy invasion consisted of the following:
- 5,333 Allied ships and landing craft embarking nearly 175,000 men.
- The British and Canadians put 75,215 British and Canadian troops ashore
- Americans: 57,500
- Total: 132,715
- 3,400 were killed or missing.
The foregoing figures exclude approximately 20,000 Allied airborne troopers.
- The First U.S. Army, accounting for the first twenty-four hours in Normandy, tabulated 1,465 killed, 1,928 missing, and 6,603 wounded. The after-action report of U.S. VII Corps (ending 1 July) showed 22,119 casualties including 2,811 killed, 5,665 missing, 79 prisoners, and 13,564 wounded, including paratroopers.
- Canadian forces at Juno Beach sustained 946 casualties, of whom 335 were listed as killed.
- Surprisingly, no British figures were published, but Cornelius Ryan cites estimates of 2,500 to 3,000 killed, wounded, and missing, including 650 from the Sixth Airborne Division.
- German sources vary between four thousand and nine thousand D-Day casualties on 6 June—a range of 125 percent. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s report for all of June cited killed, wounded, and missing of some 250,000 men, including twenty-eight generals.
American Personnel in Britain:
- 1,931,885 land
- 659,554 air
- 285,000 naval
- Total: 2,876,439 officers and men housed in 1,108 bases and camps
Divisions of the Allied forces for Operation Overlord (the assault forces on 6 June involved two U.S., two British, and one Canadian division.)
- 23 infantry divisions (thirteen U.S., eight British, two Canadian)
- 12 armored divisions (five U.S., four British, one each Canadian, French, and Polish)
- 4 airborne (two each U.S. and British)
- Total: 23 American divisions, 14 British, 3 Canadian, 1 French and 1 Polish.
- 3,958 heavy bombers (3,455 operational)
- 1,234 medium and light bombers (989 operational)
- 4,709 fighters (3,824 operational)
- Total: 9,901 (8,268 operational).
- 850,000 German troops awaiting the invasion, many were Eastern European conscripts; there were even some Koreans.
- In Normandy itself the Germans had deployed 80,000 troops, but only one panzer division.
- 60 infantry divisions in France and ten panzer divisions, possessing 1,552 tanks,In Normandy itself the Germans had deployed eighty thousand troops, but only one panzer division.
Approximately fifteen thousand French civilians died in the Normandy campaign, partly from Allied bombing and partly from combat actions of Allied and German ground forces.
The total number of casualties that occurred during Operation Overlord, from June 6 (the date of D-Day) to August 30 (when German forces retreated across the Seine) was over 425,000 Allied and German troops. This figure includes over 209,000 Allied casualties:
- Nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces
- 16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces.
- Of the Allied casualties, 83,045 were from 21st Army Group (British, Canadian and Polish ground forces)
- 125,847 from the US ground forces.
Military generals and heads of state visited Normandy following the conclusion of June 6, 1944. They were shocked by the sight. After an overnight trip to southern England aboard Winston Churchill’s private train, Arnold, Kuter, Marshall, Eisenhower, Admiral Ernest King, and their respective staff officers departed from Portsmouth Harbour for Normandy early on June 12.
“As we left the harbor we passed (30 knots) literally hundreds of ships of all kinds, escorted and proceeding singly,” Army Air Force General Hap Arnold wrote in his diary. “Such a mass one never saw before, uninterrupted and unimpeded. As we approached the coast of France there were literally hundreds anchored offshore. What a field day for the [Luftwaffe] if there is a [Luftwaffe].”
As Arnold points out, a major air assault against the invasion fleet would have been devastating to the Allies, but it never came. It was a pivotal missed opportunity for Hermann Göring’s Luftwaffe. They all realized that D-Day was the point in which the tide had turned.
“Trucks being driven from LSTs [ships carrying vehicles to the shoreline] over beach and up road,” Arnold wrote, jotting notes of his impressions of the Normandy beachhead in his diary.
The ever-present sound of explosions: bombs, mines being set off by Engineers. Airplanes on the cliff top taking back wounded to [England]. A regular madhouse but a very orderly one in which some 15,000 troops a day go from ship to shore and some 1,500 to 3,000 tons of supplies a day are landed. But where is the [Luftwaffe]? After a tour of the harbor a DUCK [DUKW amphibious truck] comes alongside. We leave subchaser and start toward beach. The tide is low and we lift the top off an obstruction. Fortunately, there were no mines; we slid off and continued through obstacles to beach. Passed by the wrecks and ships unloading, then out we climbed.
Like the rest of the world, Patton learned of the Normandy invasion by listening to the BBC at seven o’clock on the morning of June 6, 1944. Though he had been sidelined from the invasion, he made quick plans to influence the Allied invasion of Europe.
A month after the Normandy invasion, secretly landing at an airstrip near Omaha Beach, General George S. Patton entered a waiting jeep. When army and navy personnel rushed up to see him, Patton stood and delivered a short impromptu speech: “I’m proud to be here to fight beside you. Now let’s cut the guts out of those Krauts and get the hell on to Berlin. And when we get to Berlin, I am going to personally shoot that paperhanging goddamned son of a bitch just like I would a snake.”
The effects of D-Day are still being felt in the 21st century.
(See Main Article: Patton’s Entrance Into Germany in 1945)
The final stage of World War II in the European Theatre commenced with the Western Allied invasion of Germany. It began with the crossing of the River Rhine in March 1945, with forces fanning out and overrunning all of Western Germany until their final surrender on May 8, 1945.
Patton knew his entrance into German-occupied territory was of monumental historical importance. So he decided to imitate William the Conqueror’s entrance into England before leading Norman forces in their heroic conquest of the entire island in 1066.
On the night of March 22, 1945, elements of the Third Army crossed the Rhine at the German town of Oppenheim. To their surprise, they were not opposed by enemy forces. Patton, not wanting to compromise his army’s success with publicity, telephoned Omar Bradley the following morning and uncharacteristically told him to keep it a secret. “Brad, don’t tell anyone, but I’m across.” A surprised Bradley responded, “Well, I’ll be damned. You mean across the Rhine?” “Sure am,” Patton replied, “I sneaked a division over last night. But there are so few Krauts around there they don’t know it yet. So don’t make any announcement—we’ll keep it a secret until we see how it goes.”
By that evening, the Germans had discovered Patton’s forces, and perhaps more important, Patton’s British rival, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, was preparing to cross the Rhine as well. So Patton called Bradley again. “Brad, for God’s sake tell the world we’re across . . . . I want the world to know Third Army made it before Monty starts across,” he shouted.
The following day Patton arrived at the pontoon bridge his engineers had constructed over the Rhine. He made his way halfway across the bridge before suddenly halting. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” Patton said as he unzipped his fly and urinated into the river while an Army photographer recorded the moment for posterity. When he reached the other side of the river, Patton pretended to stumble, imitating William the Conqueror, who famously fell on his face when landing in England but transformed the bad omen into a propitious one by leaping to his feet with a handful of English soil, claiming it portended his complete possession of the country.
Patton similarly arose, clutching two handfuls of German earth in his fingers, and exclaimed, “Thus, William the Conqueror!” That evening Patton sent a communiqué to General Eisenhower: “Dear SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force], I have just pissed into the Rhine River. For God’s sake, send some gasoline.”
On March 23, 1945, Eisenhower wrote a warm letter to Patton:
I have frequently had occasion to state, publicly, my appreciation of the great accomplishments of this Allied force during the past nine months. The purpose of this note is to express to you personally my deep appreciation of the splendid way in which you have conducted Third Army operations from the moment it entered battle last August 1. You have made your Army a fighting force that is not excelled in effectiveness by any other of equal size in the world, and I am very proud of the fact that you, as one of the fighting commanders who has been with me from the beginning of the African campaign, have performed so brilliantly throughout. We are now fairly started on that phase of the campaign which I hope will be the final one. I know that Third Army will be in at the finish in the same decisive way that it has performed in all the preliminary battles.
A week before the Rhine crossing, Patton had held a press conference in which he delivered a classic performance, mixing the humorous, provocative, and the profane. He announced that the Third Army would shortly capture its 230,000th prisoner of war. Having previously been denied permission to photograph the face of the 200,000th prisoner (the Geneva Convention required that a prisoner be protected against acts of “public curiosity”), Patton announced that “this time we will take a picture of his ass.” (A week later their POW capture would top 300,000.)
Patton also requested the help of the press corps in informing the Germans that four of his armored divisions were slashing away at them. The publicity was “not for me—God knows I’ve got enough—I could go to heaven and St. Peter would recognize me right away—but it is for the officers and the men.” Patton then complained “that the Marines go to town by reporting the number [of their men] killed, I always try to fight without getting [our] people killed.”
(See Main Article: Tuskegee Airmen: The African-American Military Pilots of WW2)
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first all-black military pilot group who fought in World War Two. The pilots formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. They were active from 1941 to 1946. There were 932 pilots who graduated from the program. Among these, 355 served in active duty during World War Two as fighter pilots.
Scroll down to learn about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, along with the planes they piloted.
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