Thursday, August 28, 2014

(1941-1945) Facts about the European War - World History

The Second World War was the largest and bloodiest conflict in human history, bringing the deaths of more than 55 million people and transformation of the international order. In Europe, the main land battle was won in the east but the bombing offensive in the west destroyed German air power, paving the way for the invasion of German-held western Europe.

BY THE AUTUMN OF 1941 Hitler’s empire in Europe had reached its zenith. German forces, buttressed by the industrial resources of a whole continent, seemed unconquerable. Yet within a year the balance began to tilt towards the Allies. Despite his failure to defeat the USSR in 1941, in December that year Hitler nonetheless declared war on the USA. Germany now faced not only a two-front war but enemies who were rapidly learning from their earlier mistakes and, above all in the shape of the USA, could claim immense and increasing military and industrial potential.

The turn of the tide 

But in early 1942, the prospects for the Allies looked bleak. The Soviet Union had suffered catastrophic losses, American rearmament was in its infancy and the U-Boat war in the Atlantic was strangling British trade. The Allied cause was saved by a remarkable resurgence of Soviet fighting power and morale in the face of the most barbarous conflict of the war and by the prodigious manufacturing record of American Industry. In 1944 Allied aircraft production reached 168,000 against only 39,000 German.

Allied victory was also aided by German treatment of the conquered areas. Instead of winning the conquered peoples over to Hitler’s European “New Order” and to his crusade against communism, German rule was terroristic and exploitative. More than seven million European, from France to Russia, were taken as forced labour to Germany. One-third of Germany’s war costs was met by tribute extracted from occupied Europe. Thousands were executed or imprisoned for their ideological beliefs. Nazi racism was directed at the so-called lower races in the east, who were to be enslaved, and against Jews, Gypsies and the disabled. Around 6 million Jews were murdered in a state-sponsored campaign of genocide.

At the end of 1942 German forces suffered their first reverses, at EI Alamein in north Africa and at Stalingrad. Anglo-American forces landed in Morocco and Algeria in November 1942, and in the same month the Red Army began an offensive on the Don river which initiated almost three years of continuous Soviet victories. The following spring the submarine offensive in the Atlantic was ended by the use of combined air and sea power, allowing American assistance to pour into Europe on a massive scale. In July 1943 the western Allies invaded Sicily, opening up a major southern front which drained German resources, while at Kursk on the Russian steppe the largest pitched battle in history was won by an increasingly well-organized Red Army.

The defeat of Germany 

In June 1943 Anglo-American forces in Britain and the Mediterranean began the Combined Bombing Offensive, which by the spring of 1944 had imposed crippling destruction on the German urban population, undermined further expansion of German war production and almost destroyed the German air force. The campaign also paved the way for the massive Allied seaborne invasion of northern France in June 1944. France was liberated in four months, while Soviet forces continued their push into eastern Europe.

Soviet victories raised the issue of the post-war order. As the likelihood of German defeat increased, the Western powers found themselves facing a second authoritarian system in the form of their Soviet ally. Conferences at Tehran in 1943 and Yalta in 1945 exposed these growing divisions over the future of Europe. Yet this potential split, though it would come to dominate the post-war world, was never great enough to break up the alliance and in the last bitter months of fighting, the Allies remained united in their determination to defeat Hitler. In 1945 a final assault on Germany brought Western and Soviet forces face to face across central Germany. On 2 May Berlin fell, two days after Hitler had committed suicide. By 7 May German forces had surrendered. 

The war was enormously costly. Worldwide, at least 55 million lost their lives, including an estimated 17 million Soviet citizens. Some 10 million Germans fled eastern Europe in 1944-5, million of Soviet citizens were forced into internal exile or sent to Soviet labour camps. After four years of destruction. Europe lay in ruins, its economy shattered. The Second World War had exceeded by far the terrible cost of the First.

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