World History – Class Twenty Six
World War II – part I
In the process of talking about World War II we’ll review some of the things that we’ve already discussed by necessity. Beginning with some things we didn’t go over in the last section, Austria began to develop private political armies in 1927 with the Christian Socialists organizing the Heimwehr and the Social Democrats creating the Schutzbund. In 1930 Austria had made a treaty of friendship with Italy. There was unrest after the Nazi’s took over in Germany in 1933. Nazi agitators staged demonstrations until the party was dissolved but protests and even acts of terrorism continued.
Then, in July of 1934, Prime Minister Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated after a Nazi Putsch (attempted coup or government overthrow). Austrian and German official animosity was at its peak but the Italian and Yugoslavian troops which massed on Austria’s border prevented Germany from intervening with its own troops. Hitler pretended to disavow any knowledge of the murder and he distanced himself from Austrian Nazis.
In October of 1936, Prime Minister Kurt Schuschnigg assumed dictatorial powers dissolving the Heimwehr and established the Fatherland Front militia. With Nazi activity working up to a fever pitch he then sought pledges from France and others to protect his country. However, in March of 1938, Germany invaded and took formal possession of this German speaking nation, annexing Austria to Germany. This was followed by a reign of terror.
From 1933 to 1938 there had been a great deal of Nazi agitation in the predominantly German parts of Czechoslovakia, called the Sudetenland, home of 3 million German speakers. Beginning in September of 1936, there had been a German propaganda campaign in Czechoslovakia, a year after the latter had signed a mutual support pact with the Soviet Union, with the Soviets promising to protect that country from attack if the French did so first. From March to September of 1938, Czechoslovakia, which had a first rate army, recognized the danger to it of the German annexation of Austria and undertook a partial mobilization plus diplomatic actions with the Sudetenland Germans.
In September of 1938 the Soviet Union offered to help Czechoslovakia fight a war, if need be, against Hitler’s Germany. This was the war that the world needed, if it needed one at all, to pit the two greatest villains against each other. However, Britain and France tried to intervene with diplomacy, mainly with appeasement, a term which means you give your enemy what he wants and hope he still doesn’t pound you. As a result of the following Munich Conference the Franco-Soviet agreement to help Czechoslovakia was broken, and the Soviet Union was isolated as a player. Britain and France didn’t want the USSR’s help against Germany and Germany was the Soviet’s natural enemy but its opportunity to fight Hitler via Czechoslovakia was eliminated.
During this general period of time, Stalin had been convinced by forged Nazi documents deliberately used to trick him that he had a great many enemies in his government and army. This resulted in the paranoid Stalin’s Great Purge whereby many thousands of people were executed, particularly officers in the Red Army. The repression reverberated all through Soviet society and was known also as the Soviet Holocaust and the Great Terror. An estimated 30,000 members of the Red Army were arrested and murdered. Millions of Soviet citizens were arrested and executed or sent to Gulags, the concentration camps.
On September 15, 1938 Hitler demanded the cession of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia and threatened war otherwise. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain flew to Hitler’s retreat of Berchtesgaden in an attempt to mediate a peaceful settlement. Within two weeks the Munich conference and agreement was finalized. Chamberlain gave up practically all of Hitler’s demands and Czechoslovakia was dismembered by Hitler, his minister Ribbentrop, Italian dictator Mussolini, his minister Ciano, Chamberlain, and the French Daladier. France and Britain realized that they were not prepared to fight a war or to support any country against Germany. They were willing to surrender Central and Eastern Europe to Hitler. Only the Soviet Union stood in his way.
America’s FDR informed Ambassador to Britain, Joseph Kennedy, father of future president John F. Kennedy, to put some backbone in Chamberlain and to promise that, if he got tougher, America would stand with him. America, however, was not only not ready for war, yet, but the people were generally against getting involved in another European conflict. The American aviator hero, Charles Lindbergh would campaign vigorously against the United States participating in the war.
On March 10, 1939 Hitler simply annexed the remainder of Czechoslovakia, much as he had done Austria. Britain and France were shocked by this breach of the Munich Agreement but did nothing. Hitler had won a small war with little bloodshed. Germany and Poland had signed a nonagression treaty in 1934. During the German-Czech crisis Poland took advantage of Czechoslovakia’s weakness to occupy Teschen thus settling an old territorial dispute with that country. In March of 1939, Germany, still “settling issues” on the future of German speakers whose territories were occupied by foreign powers as a result of the Versailles Treaty demanded that the German city of Danzig be returned to Germany and that a corridor through Polish territory for free travel and trade be created. In return, German promised to guarantee Polish independence.
FDR’s demands that Britain and France get tough on Germany and his promise that America would somehow get in the fight, if necessary, resulted in French and British promises to help Poland. Poland, as a result tried to stand firm against Germany based on the worthless pledges of Britain and France which were based on the even more
worthless pledges of America. None of the latter three had an army that was in fighting shape that could deal with the revived Germany’s military strength. But, it gets worse.
The Soviet Union, with whom Hitler really wanted a war with as he didn’t want to fight either America or the British Empire, had been isolated by all the playing around at diplomacy at the Munich agreement. A change in Soviet foreign minister from the pro-western Litvinov to the anti-western Molotov resulted in the Soviets rejecting offer after offer to join Britain and France to defend against German aggression. Britain had negotiated with Soviet Russia to agree to defend Poland and Rumania but the Russians wanted a guarantee of a complete alliance against Germany and guarantees for the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from attack by Germany (It had its eyes on them, as well, for conquest).
So, now, Molotov does an about face and signs an unbelievable and amazing non-aggression pact with HITLER!!! This was done on August 27, 1939. Now, everyone is confused, except Hitler. Remember, he wanted and still wants a war with Russia. He does not want a war with Great Britain and France and certainly does not want a war with America. However, this new event is almost too good to be true for him.
The Soviet Union now stands silent while Germany, on September 1, 1939, attacks Poland. On September 17, the Soviet Union attacked. The country is partitioned by a secret treaty clause. Hitler had staged some fake incidents and claimed that Poland had attacked him first. This, of course, was ridiculous and no one believes it. 1,250,000 German Wehrmacht (Army) soldiers, in 60 divisions, with 9 of them armored struck from the north, west, and south. The Polish were spread out in a cordon type defense with 6 armies of their own. 1600 Luftwaffe airplanes engaged in terror bombings of all principal cities, destruction of airfields, railways, and swept the main roads to disrupt traffic. The several million Polish Germans also offered support of the German invasion with sabotage and terrorism. The Polish armies, commanded by Edward Smigly-Rydz were no match for German General Von Brauschitsch’s commanders, von Bock and von Rundstedt.
The Germans went through the Polish defenses like a “hot knife through butter” say historians. By the third day the Polish Air Force ceased to exist. All communications were ended between headquarters and the army in the field. In the Gulf of Danzig, the small Polish Navy was eliminated. Poland’s army was either captured or killed in spite of heroic actions like suicidal cavalry charges against tanks. Germany and Soviet Russia divided the destroyed country between them.
Utilizing superior technology and tactics Germany crushed Poland. Many military men in the west still thought it was due to Polish incompetence but military historians know that isn’t true. Poland fought a brave and intelligent fight but was simply outclassed and outgunned and outmanned. Many in the west were terrified of Germany now and Hitler began to mistakenly think of himself as a military genius. This would be his downfall
along with the fact that with his mistreatment of the Jews, God was certainly NOT on his side, in spite of the fact that the German soldiers wore belt buckles that said He was.
On a side note, Polish scientists had managed to copy the German code machine, and copies of it were eventually smuggled to Great Britain and greatly helped in breaking German codes especially with regard to submarine warfare.
On September 3, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. Other than that they didn’t do much else. Along Germany’s western border the two winners of World War One slowly mobilized behind the partial shelter of the great concrete, steel turreted Maginot Line, an outmoded assortment of unconnected fortresses which were nothing more than relics of the past. Belgium and Holland foolishly maintained their neutrality. Britain sent its 400,000 strong expeditionary force across the channel. On the German side of the Maginot Line there was silence as mobile troops had been stripped of equipment to support the Polish invasion. At that moment, if Britain and France had invaded, Hitler’s vision of conquest would have ended. Instead, they foolishly did nothing of importance which inaction was called the “Sitzkrieg” and “phony war” after Germany’s successes.
The Germans sunk a British passenger liner traveling from Liverpool to Montreal on the day Britain declared war. A U-Boat, German submarine, U-30, accomplished the deaths of 112 civilians in this attack. On the 17th, the carrier HMS Courageous, was sunk by U-29, in spite of the fact that it was escorted by 4 destroyers and on anti-submarine duty.
The German pocket battleship, Graf Spree, cruised the South Atlantic capturing and sinking 9 British merchantmen, from September to December 1939. In a memorable naval battle the Graf Spree was damaged and then denied entry into neutral Uruguay’s port of Montevideo as a large number of British ships converged on her. The captain of the damaged ship scuttled it rather than surrender. Three days later he committed suicide.
The German U-47 sunk the HMS Royal Oak in a daring attack through submarine defenses. The mighty battleship went down in 2 minutes. Other German ships carried destruction deep into the Atlantic. In one episode the HMS Rawalpindi sacrificed itself to slow down German ships so they could be engaged by stronger British Ships resulting in its destruction and the return of the German ships to their own port.
Then, following the division of Poland, Russia wanted to prepare itself in case its powerful new found “friend” of Germany decided to turn on it, Russia, under the ruse of offering to protect the Baltic States, invaded them, for their own good but, of course, with the permission of some terrified foreign ministers of those countries. Finland refused such help and the Finnish-Soviet War ensued until Finland’s surrender in March of 1940. The great book about this war, A Frozen Hell, tells the story of the heroic Finnish stand
against Soviet Russia. It cost Russia 250,000 killed, ten times that of Finland, to conquer the country. The term, Molotov Cocktail, was a derisive term for a Finnish weapon consisting of a bottle filled with gas and stuffed with soaked rags that were lit on fire. These were thrown against Soviet tanks. When Russian foreign minister Molotov said
that the planes bombing the Finnish cities were actually delivering food to starving people, the Finns called the bombs, Molotov’s breadbaskets. The Alko Corporation produced almost a half million Molotov Cocktails complete with packs of matches for the Finns to use against Soviet tanks.
Germany, in February of 1940, then conquered Denmark and Norway. By early May, Britain and France having missed their historic opportunity to prevent World War Two from happening, Hitler had massed 2 ½ million Germans along Germany’s western borders. Wilhelm Keitel was Hitler’s chief of staff. The opposing Allied forces, mostly French, consisted of 2 million men. The neutral low countries of Belgium and Holland had theoretically another million, but remember, they claimed neutrality. On May 10, 1940 the Blitzkrieg, or Lightning War, began with a predawn bombardment of all major Dutch and Belgian airfields.
However, before we talk about that let’s speak of something which happened in Poland. In May of 1940, under Stalin’s orders, the NKVD, the secret police, murdered 4,000 Polish prisoners of war and buried them in the Katyn Forest. Even the German Nazi’s, who were guilty of incredible atrocities, were appalled when it came to light.
But, let’s go back to the Western Front. Two German army groups crossed the Belgian and Dutch frontiers. Remember, these two countries, which had significant armies, had declared themselves neutral. German paratroopers dropped into the center of the Netherlands, aka Holland and paralyzed the country. In Belgium, glider and paratroop forces neutralized the powerful Fort Eban Emael. The Albert Canal, which it defended, was easily crossed.
The early successes of Hitler terrified the capitals of Paris and London. Prime Minister Chamberlain, who had declared, “Peace in our time”, after giving Hitler everything he had wanted, resigned to permit Winston Churchill to lead a coalition government against the German juggernaut. Churchill was the darling of the moneyed power brokers. He had been a visitor to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on the fateful day in October of 1929 that the stock market crashed, and was known to have spent time with the great power broker, Bernard Baruch, according to FDR’s son in law, Curtis Dall.
Holland fell within a few days and the German Army ran head on into the French 7th Army and drove them back to Antwerp, Belgium. The Dutch (People in live in the Netherlands, which is also Holland, are called Dutch) Queen and her government escaped to England. While waiting for the Dutch surrender the Luftwaffe destroyed the business section of Rotterdam. The remaining Dutch caretaker government submitted to the
complete surrender demands of Hitler’s mighty army. Belgium fell in spite of the Belgian Army being supported by elements of the French Army and the British Expeditionary Force. The German Army was threatening their left flank and the center of the French Army behind them was being destroyed, however.
At the same time that German Army units were chewing up Belgium and Holland, other units were moving through the difficult terrain of the Ardennes Forest. The French, not thinking that the Germans would dare attempt that route, had left their weakest elements in the Stenay Gap area near the Meuse River where the great forest was watched only by cavalry. Cavalry being brushed aside, German units forged on. Very accurate French artillery was eliminated as a threat by dive bombing attacks. Despite desperate efforts by the gallant French forces Guderian’s tank corps smashed everything in their path. Tanks accompanied by Stuka dive bombers, exploded along a 50 mile front smashing everything in a drive toward the English Channel, having performed an end run around the worthless Maginot Line.
The only French commander to have any success was General Charles De Gaulle’s tank division that forced the Germans to retreat three times. Dive bombers and counter attacks finally drove him back. German armor had now completely split the Allied Forces, severing communications with the BEF’s base port of Cherbourg. While the French to the south tried to hold the line, the rest were being pinned against the sea.
The German Army wheeled northward and efforts to stop the attack were smashed by Erwin Rommel’s Panzer tanks. Belgium officially surrendered and Churchill ordered the British Navy to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force at the port of Dunkirk. Incredibly, Hitler ordered a stop to the advance, which gave the British the chance to evacuate. He had made the statement that it was not his intention to destroy Britain and I have read quotes where he said he admired the British Empire. Perhaps, this was the reason for this amazing stop order. The Luftwaffe pounded the Dunkirk perimeter, however, and Hitler rescinded his stop order. 850 vessels of every shape and size, manned mostly by civilian volunteers aided in an amazing exodus. Within 8 days more than 338,000 British, French, and Belgian soldiers were evacuated. The Luftwaffe was challenged by the powerful and daring Royal Air Force who stopped most of their efforts at strafing the orderly evacuation. General Harold Alexander, commander of Britain’s rear guard, on the last night, personally walked the beaches to make sure that the last living British soldier had embarked before he got into a boat. The heroic French soldiers who were defending the evacuation were overwhelmed the next morning by the Germans. This was called the Battle of Flanders.
The German operation is called ruthless and efficient by historians. Some of them claim that Hitler’s stop order was not an act of mercy but was the result of a plea from his Luftwaffe commander, Goering, to allow his air force to administer the final kill. The French High Command was indecisive and the British and French rarely agreed on any move. The French forces were focused on supporting the Maginot Line, which was
idiotic. But, no one can say that the French were not incredibly brave for the French First Army, defending the evacuation at Dunkirk, fought with no hope while their comrades in arms were being evacuated and fought to the end.
So, the events of May were concluded with German Victory. The Germans now regrouped for the conquest of France. In June, Panzers smashed through the French Tenth Army and forced the surrender of one of the few British units that had been left in France. The French Fourth Army put up a huge fight but was no match for the Germans. The French government abandoned Paris and moved to Bordeaux. The Germans took Paris in the middle of June. On June 10, just before that, the hesitant Mussolini, realizing that France could not win, declared war and ordered an invasion of Southern France, so now Italy was in the war.
The French armies disintegrated in June of 1940 and after, rejecting an offer by Churchill’s government to unite France and Britain as one country to continue the fight “forever, if necessary”. France surrendered three fifths of its territory to German control and all French troops within that territory were disarmed with the armistice being signed by Hitler in the railway car in Compiegne Forest where the Germans had surrendered in 1917. Marshal Petain became the Prime Minister of what was to be called Vichy France, cooperating, collaborating with the German government. In the south of France, however, 6 French divisions made a stand against 32 Italian divisions and threw back the 3 pronged invasion attempt.
In June 1940, Britain stood alone against Hitler. The British Empire was now facing the Rome-Berlin Axis powers. The Atlantic sea lanes which had practically been Britain’s private property on which she permitted others to sail for over a century and a half were now menaced by German submarines, and the Mediterranean lifeline by the Italian navy, and with Soviet Russia as the enemies’ silent partner. There was also danger that Hitler would seize the French fleet, tipping the balance clearly into the German side on sea power. Germany needed France’s navy intact as their top Admiral had even stated that the German Navy would not be ready for such a war for several more years. Britain was so battered and so unready for war that many thought that Churchill would have to sue for peace. According to the historians I read, this terrified FDR. The idea that the German Navy could one day include the mighty British Navy as its auxiliary was unthinkable. Hitler assumed that Churchill would want peace and he made openings for a negotiated settlement with Great Britain. Churchill wasn’t interested, however.
Almost immediately, De Gaulle, the tank commander, who had fled to England after a short stint in the brief government that preceded Petain’s collaborationist administration, called on “true Frenchmen everywhere to rally and fight for a free France. Underesti-mating the charisma and leadership of De Gaulle, the governments of Britain and the US did not take him too seriously at first. But, as a flood of French officers and soldiers from around the world signed on it became clear he was a force to be reckoned with. He organized the best men he had into the French colonial territories and even into a Free French Navy.
In response to Churchill’s urgent request and FDR’s concern about Britain capitulating to Germany, the US sold a large shipment of small arms, machine guns, light artillery,
and ammunition to England. Many in America opposed any interference into the European conflict, including selling arms we might need in some future threat. Many did not believe that Hitler proposed any great threat to the Western Hemisphere. The British Navy, in July of 1940, defeated French Navy forces at Oran, Algeria, sinking several ships and capturing others there and in other ports. This action embittered many Frenchmen and Petain’s Vichy government severed diplomatic relations with Britain.
On September 27, 1940, the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis pact was signed pledging each other total aid for ten years. Japan was not required, however, to attack Britain or Britain’s allies.
Hitler decided, since Britain would not surrender, that he must invade The Isles. Against the recommendation of his army and navy chiefs but with Goering’s Luftwaffe’s enthusiastic support, he devised Operation Sea Lion, for the purpose of invading England. According to the books, The JG 26 War Diaries, by Donald Caldwell, Goering’s campaign of neutralizing the RAF by attacking its bases and shooting down its planes was working and slowly the defense of Britain was being made impossible. However, the decision to bomb cities galvanized the resolve of the British people and made their defensive attitude stronger. Germany and the occupied countries were being scoured for landing craft.
When Goering’s Luftwaffe came close to breaking England’s back, it had destroyed 450 British planes and killed or injured 231 pilots. The Battle of Britain was affected also by the Brits use of the new radar and their concentration of forces in the right areas to repel Luftwaffe attacks. When the Luftwaffe bombed London, the RAF staged a night raid on Berlin, Germany. Although, damage was small, the psychological effect was enormous. Germany was not invincible. The raid was repeated and other German cities were struck. Hitler and Goering, it is said, in a blind rage, at the point where the British air defense was about to be eliminated and victory obtained, ordered the Luftwaffe to bomb London with Germany’s own version of “shock and awe”. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory would become a common thing for Hitler’s forces in the coming years due to arrogance and uncontrolled anger.
British Fighter Command was able to focus its remaining forces due to the German singlemindedness of the aerial bombardment of London which reached a crescendo on September 15, 1940 when 1,000 bombers and 700 fighters swept the city in wave after wave. By nightfall the British Air Force had shot down twice as many German planes as it had lost. The Germans had to stop daytime raids as a result of their heavy losses. The
British Bomber Command retaliated and destroyed 1/10th of the barges collected in France and the low countries of Belgium and Holland for the invasion of England. Hitler cancelled Operation Sea Lion which had been scheduled for September 27. The determination of a basically defeated nation had saved it from conquest. The aerial assaults tapered off and the last daylight raid took place on September 30. The Battle of Britain had been won by the RAF and Churchill said, “Never, in the field of human
conflict, was so much owed by so many to so few.” 1,733 German airplanes had been shot down compared to 915 British. Then, in November, 1940, the Luftwaffe attacked London and Coventry until May of 1941. This event was called “The Blitz” and 43,000 civilians were killed and 51,000 British citizens were wounded.
As for the Battle of the Atlantic, in spite of the convoy system, and the adding to the British merchant fleet a great many Scandinavian ships that had escaped the German invasion of Denmark and Norway, the toll wrought by German submarines on British shipping mounted. 2.5 million tons of shipping had been destroyed by August of 1940. There were not enough warships to provide adequate protection for her merchant ships and shipyards could not build replacements fast enough. So, in September of 1940, FDR agreed to a momentous and controversial exchange in what would be called the Lend-Lease Program. The US would give Great Britain 50 old US destroyers in exchange for Britain leasing naval and air bases to the US in Newfoundland, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Antigua, St. Lucia, Trinidad, and Britsh Guiana. Again, there was some uproar in the US as it was becoming clearer to many people that FDR was putting the USA in a position of being at war with Germany without actually sending troops. Many people of note in America were not isolationists as much as they were non-interventionists. They felt that the oceans provided us with enough security without helping the morally bankrupt and corrupt European powers carry on their latest round of never ending war. The facts were much more complicated than this. America, at least since 1898 when it had acquired Spain’s colonial possessions after the Spanish American War, was a global power, an empire and could not simply ignore world shaking events without risking its material welfare and place among the nations. Some, more cynical historians, have provided evidence that Roosevelt was actually hoping the war would last long enough for America to actually get into it. The question is what would prompt Americans to accept getting involved with troops? Roosevelt himself, in a speech, had announced that he would never send American boys to fight in Europe.
Back in the Atlantic, the captain of the British cruiser, Jervis Bay, sacrificed his ship to hold off the German pocket battleship, Admiral Scheer, and permit 32 ships of its convoy to escape. As control of the Mediterranean was vital to Britain, Mussolini planned to seize the Suez Canal. He also planned an invasion of Greece. Churchill rushed Britain’s sole remaining armored division to Egypt. The Italians had five times as many troops as the British had available to fight in North Africa and Palestine. Mussolini attacked the strategic island of Malta with bombers in literally thousands of raids. In September of 1940, Italy invaded Egypt, but the valiant British force repulsed them and threw the Italians out of Egypt. Italy then invaded Greece but was thrown back by the Greek defenders. The Greeks counter attacked and drove the Italians almost out of the country.
As Malta was being strengthened and resupplied and British troops occupied Crete, naval action saw Italy defeated by Britain off Calabria and at the Italian Naval Base of Taranto. In the Atlantic, German Admiral Karl Doenitz’s U-Boats, organized in groups of submarines called Wolf Packs, continued to wreak havoc with British shipping in its
effort to obtain supplies from America. Long range German bombers united with the Wolf Packs to destroy shipping. Britain’s answer to the U-boat/bomber menace was called the escort carrier, which, in the first instance of the HMS Audacity was a merchant ship with a flight deck attached. German surface raiders continued their work into 1941.
The giant German battleship, The Bismarck, was the largest and most powerful warship in the world at that time. The entire British Navy in the Atlantic, practically, was sent to attack it. At the Battle of Denmark Strait the Bismarck blew up the battle cruiser, HMS Hood, and severely damaged the new battleship, the Prince of Wales. Finally, the HMS carrier, Ark Royal, slowed the Bismarck down and the battleships, Rodney, and, George V, engaged it in a terrific gun battle. The cruiser, Dorsetshire, finally sank the Bismarck with torpedoes, drowning 2300 German sailors.
The Lend Lease Act of 1941 had given the American president the right to provide goods and services to Great Britain. In April of that year, to prevent the possibility of German invasion, FDR placed Greenland “under US protection.” American troops were garrisoned in Iceland. At the Atlantic conference in August Roosevelt and Churchill met on warships docked at Newfoundland, pledging their countries to preserve world freedom and to improve conditions after the war was over. At the same time Roosevelt announced that American warships would escort all North Atlantic convoys west of Iceland. This is interesting, as some scholars put it, that one nation that had conquered much of the world and had been responsible for much injustice and oppression and another nation which was notorious for its own maltreatment of black and native Americans plus its brutal suppression of revolts and uprisings in the Caribbean and the Philippines would announce themselves to preserve a “world freedom” that didn’t exist. The improvement of conditions after the war was perhaps a reference to improving conditions for their commerce and their influence to grow. And yet, clearly, these are the “good guys”.
In North Africa, in 1941, Britain was having great success against Italian possessions in Ethiopia, restoring Emperor Haile Selassie to the throne. Then, Hitler sent his Luftwaffe to help Italy in Libya. In March, Rommel arrived with his Panzer Afrika Korps and he struck at the British at Tobruk and fighting raged across North Africa. In Iraq and Syria, Arab outbreaks instigated by Nazi’s attacked British garrisons, threatening oil wells in Iraq. Britain reestablished control of Iraq and invaded Syria along with Free French Forces, taking Damascus.
Hitler was planning to invade his good buddy, Joe Stalin, and in February of 1941, he moved to secure his southern flank by controlling Yugoslavia, as Hungary and Romania were already German satellites. Yugoslavia’s leaders were forced to join the Axis. Under the Nazi’s, Bosnian Muslim and Croatian Roman Catholics butchered and murdered nearly a million Orthodox Serbians. The Roman Catholic paramilitary Ustashi under such killers as Ante Pavelic tortured and brutally killed the Serbian victims. More information
concerning this episode of European history can be found at the website; www.vaticanbankclaims.com and in a variety of books. The Serbian atrocities of the 1990’s can be directly attributed to revenge for this barbarous time.
Britain sent troops to Greece in anticipation of a German invasion under the successful General Wavell. Then, patriotic Yugoslavians, encouraged by British in Greece overthrew their government and rejected the Axis Alliance. Then, in March of 1941, Hitler invaded Yugoslavia successfully and in April, he took Greece. The British forces in Greece were overwhelmed and nearly 300,000 Greek and British soldiers were captured with nearly 20,000 killed. In May, German paratroopers, including Boxer Max Schmeling, famous for his fights with American hero, Joe Louis, landed in Crete and took it from the British. Max Schmeling was a true hero in every sense of the word and had even saved Jews from being killed by the Nazi’s.
Hitler took over for Mussolini in the Mediterranean and continued to bomb Malta and the air superiority of the Luftwaffe forced the British to ship goods the long way around Africa. Several British naval disasters capped the setbacks that nation was having. Italian human torpedo teams made a hit and run attack on the battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant, putting them out of action for months. The brave Italians escaped. Mine fields and U-boats added to the British misfortunes. Rommel’s supply lines were unimpeded and if the Italian navy had made the effort they would have swept the Brits from the Mediterranean. Admiral Cunningham managed to keep his remaining ships constantly and aggressively at sea and news of the disasters was kept from the public. Things did not look good. But, then Hitler made his biggest strategic mistake of all.
Hitler was now intent on the real war he wanted. He considered the dismemberment of the Soviet Union to be the final step in his drive to the east creating living room for the German people he planned on leading for 1,000 years. He began to plan the attack on the USSR as soon as France was conquered. He believed that Stalin had westward plans by his invasion of Finland and activities in Turkey. The invasion of Greece and events in Yugoslavia put Operation Babarossa, the invasion of Russia, fatefully off until July of 1941.
At 3am along a 2,000 mile front, on June 22, 1941 the Germans attack their ally, the Soviet Union. Napoleon had made this mistake but Hitler assumed that he was a far
greater commander than Napoleon. By December Germans had reached Moscow, which put up a bitter defense. On December 6, 1941, the Soviets counterattacked and the great offensive strike over so many miles and killing so many of the enemy had faltered. Hitler needed to take the Soviet Union before winter set in and he failed. He had not even prepared his men with winter uniforms, his arrogance demanded so much from them. Still, the Soviet Union would lose 20 million people in its war with Hitler’s Germany.
In Asia, after the fall of Nanking, Japan continued its aggressive policy toward China. During the 1930’s, Japan had tried unsuccessfully to forge an alliance with the USA.
Japan protested that it was a bulwark for Anglo-American Capitalism against the communists in Russia and China. It had also claimed a sort of Monroe Doctrine over East Asia. FDR’s stance, however, was that China was where America’s future lay and even though trade with Japan far exceeded trade with China and China was in turmoil with a large Soviet controlled communist movement, he rejected Japan’s overtures of friendship and mutual interest repeatedly.
Japan had also been carrying on undeclared hostilities with the USSR since at least July of 1938 and had at least two dismal failures in fighting them. In 1939, Japan renounced its Anti-Comintern pact with Germany because of the Nazi-Soviet Treaty. Then, in April, 1941 Japan itself signed a treaty with the USSR. This assured that, if Germany attacked Russia, Russia would not, in turn, attack Japan. Stalin is then guaranteed he won’t have to fight a two front war, which would have greatly helped Hitler.
Japan attempts to invade deep into China but finds that the consequences of that strategy were too costly. The next thing Japan does in its efforts to conquer China was to try to cut off China’s access to the outside world. It needed to cut off French Indochina from sending supplies to China and to shut down the Burma Road, the only two supply lines open to China. In July of 1940 Japan had managed to force Great Britain to shut down the Burma Road but Chiang Kai-Shek, like Churchill would not submit to his enemy. Japan went to move against French Indochina, now that France had surrendered to Hitler and the American Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, warned Japan that the US would be aroused by such a move.
Japan moved into Northern Indochina in September of 1940. Once America would get into the war, the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, the OSS or Office of Stategic Services, would recruit many Vietnamese and train them to resist the Japanese occupiers, working closely with many communist factions and their leaders. Among these would be, at the very end of the war, Ho Chi Minh, whose efforts to get America to help his people be free from French domination at the peace meetings at the end of World War One were rebuffed.
Then, America placed an embargo on steel for Japan which Japan declared to be an “unfriendly” act. The next day Japan signed the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis agreement. Churchill, with the encouragement of FDR who wanted to ship Lend Lease equipment to
China, opened the Burma Road in October of 1940. Then, in July of 1941, the US and Britain froze Japanese assets in their countries. America warned Japan again about its attempts to dominate Asia. FDR said that America would take appropriate steps to safeguard its interests and rights in Asia. Negotiators from Japan were in Washington trying to work out the two countries’ problems as America cut off all oil exports to Japan. As Japan depended upon oil exports from America to conduct its war machine, many saw this as a provocation to war. Historians like Beard and Tansill insist that FDR looked
forward to the opportunity to be attacked by Japan in order to motivate America to be willing to fight. FDR had moved the Pacific Fleet to Hawaii.
In September, with the approval of the US government, retired US Army Air Force Captain, Claire L. Chennault, then a Colonel in the Chinese Air Force, created a mercenary organization called the American Voluntary Group for Service in China against Japan. They were later nicknamed, “The Flying Tigers”. The AVG was composed of about 100 trained pilots and trained at an abandoned RAF base in Burma.
October of 1941 saw a new more militaristic government come into power in Japan under General Tojo, who was not as desirous of reconciliation with FDR after many years of frustration. In November a secret plan for simultaneous attacks on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and British Malaya, the American Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies was devised and only to be implemented if negotiations in Washington failed to reconcile the two countries to each other.
On November, 15, Special Ambassador Kurusu arrived in Washington as the Honolulu newspaper warned of an imminent attack. FDR and his advisors knew that an attack by Japan was probable. And yet, they withheld the information from Admiral Kimmel and General Short, the commanders at Pearl Harbor. Robert Stinnett, author of Day of Deceit, The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor, has said that FDR and elements in the government knew about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor and that the president long had plans to provoke the Japanese to attack America for the purpose of overcoming the 80% of Americans, led by Charles Lindbergh, who did not want to get involved in the war.
On November 26, 1941, the Japanese First Air Fleet left the Kurile Islands and was informed by secret code that all negotiations had failed and war must follow. Japan’s preparations were known by the US but many believed that the blow would be in Malaya or the Philippines. The US had already broken the Japanese codes and knew the location of almost every major Japanese unit except, we are told, of the First Air Fleet.
In complete surprise, at least to the soldiers and sailors at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attacked on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941. More than 3,000 Navy and Marine officers and men were killed and 876 were wounded. Army losses were 226 killed and 396 wounded. Three of the eight battleships present were sunk, including the USS Arizona, one was capsized, and the remainder seriously damaged. Three light
cruisers, three destroyers, and others ships were either sunk or seriously damaged. Historians agree that both the US Army Chief of Staff, General Marshall, and the US Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Stark, had enough information to realize that an attack on Pearl Harbor was imminent. And yet, no word was given to the commanders on the scene. The greatest crime concerning this event was that, according to Admiral Kimmel, the Japanese had strict orders NOT to attack if the fleet at Pearl Harbor had been warned. The fact that neither the President, Admiral Stark, or General Marshall
attempted to warn Admiral Kimmel is one of the greatest crimes in American and world history.
The next day through the 23rd of December, the Japanese took Wake Island and Guam from US Marines, who fought heroically and against great odds until overwhelmed. Japan then took Hong Kong from the British as well as Malaya. Also in December, the Japanese began their invasion of the Philippines. General MacArthur’s troops had to abandon the Northern Island of Luzon but by year’s end had retreated to the Bataan side of the unfordable Pampanga River. The Japanese juggernaut rolled on and conquest after conquest mounted up with the British loss of Singapore and, by June of 1942, Burma.
In January, 1942, MacArthur’s and General Wainwright’s troops repulsed attack after attack and FDR ordered MacArthur to leave to assume command of all Allied Forces in the South Pacific. He is reported to say, “I shall return”. Without resupply, and low on rations, the Americans were pushed back and the fort of Corregidor fell. The American generals surrendered but groups of Americans and Filipinos continued to fight.
The naval Battle of the Coral Sea in May was the first great carrier battle as no surface ship sighted the enemy but planes launched from carriers carried the war to the opposition. Both sides made huge errors but a Japanese invasion force for the Solomon Islands was stopped. The Battle of Midway was a victory for the US. In June of 1942, an outnumbered US Naval force cost Japan 4 aircraft carriers, 1 heavy cruiser, 275 planes, and 3500 men killed. Midway was one of the most decisive battles of history. From that point on Japan was on the defensive and had lost the initiative.
Hitler was going to be bogged down in the frozen depths and vastness of Soviet Russia. Japan had been stopped in the vast Pacific. But, it would take three more years of horrible fighting in history’s bloodiest conflict to sort things out. When it was over 60 million people would have died in this war that would shape the world we know today.