WW2 brought new instruments of death: plastic explosives, rockets, jet airplanes, atomic weapons.
Racist propaganda was common on both sides, and intense hatred of the enemy caused many military and civilian prisoners to be mistreated and/or executed.
Pacific theater early on: American forces halt Japanese advances in two decisive naval battles: Coral Sea and Midway
Coral Sea – Americans stopped a Japanese fleet from invaded Australia.
Midway – American cryptanalysts had broken the Japanese naval code, and they knew of the incoming Japanese attack on Midway Island. Admiral Chester Nimitz oversaw the surprise attack on the invading Japanese fleet. American torpedo planes and dive bombers caught three of the four Japanese aircraft carriers off guard. Americans sink 3 of the 4 carriers. Turning point of the Pacific War.
Top priority was given to defeating Hitler in Europe – Nazi forces in western Europe and the Atlantic posed the more direct threat to North American, plus the Germans had a larger military, and German science was more likely to come up with a devastating new weapon.
FDR and Churchill, despite their differences, agreed that Germany was the top target. Stalin and the Soviets, who were fighting the Germans in the east, insisted that the Western allies must do something to relieve the pressure.
Operation Torch - Allied forces under Dwight Eisenhower land in Morocco, North Africa. In a battle with Rommel in the desert, Eisenhower and the Allies catch the Germans in a giant pincer, forcing the surrender of 275,000 Germans and leaving all of North Africa in Allied hands.
FDR and Churchill meet at Casablanca. They agree that only the unconditional surrender of all enemies would be acceptable. This was designed to please Stalin and assure him that no separate peace would be made between the Allies and the Germans.
FDR: “every person in Germany should realize that this time Germany is a defeated nation.”
Battle of the Atlantic – Allied scientists perfected new detection devices like radar, sonar, and advanced magnetic equipment that enabled aircraft to detect objects under water. New and improved depth charges helped to eliminate the U-boat threat.
By early 1943, Allied cryptanalysts had broken the German code and telling the sub-hunters where to look for German U-Boats
In Italy, Allied soldiers took Sicily and captured Rome in 1944.
With Allied air supremacy assured by the end of 1943, the Allies were free to concentrate on their primary urban and industrial targets and to provide cover for the Normandy landings.
FDR, Churchill, and Stalin meet in Teheran, Iran to coordinate plans for the invasion of France and a Soviet offensive from the east. Agreed to begin plans for a new international peacekeeping organization and for the occupation of postwar Germany. Also, war against Japan would continue until its unconditional surrender, and that all Chinese territories taken by Japan would be restored to China
D-Day – Eisenhower’s role as supreme commander was the true turning point of the war in some ways. German forces had been preparing massive fortifications along the French coastline. Eisenhower fooled the Germans into thinking that the invasion would come at Pas de Calais, on the French-Belgian border. Instead the landings occurred in Normandy, about 200 miles south.
At dawn on June 6, 1944 the invasion fleet of some 4,000 ships and 150,000 men filled the horizon off the Normandy coast. The D-Day invasion almost failed – cloud cover and German antiaircraft fire caused many of the paratroopers and glider pilots to miss their landing zones. Some oceangoing landing craft delivered troops at the wrong locations.
By nightfall there were some 5,000 killed or wounded Allied soldiers on the Normandy beaches, but the Allies had breached Hitler’s supposedly impregnable “Atlantic Wall”.
With the beachhead secured, the Allied leaders knew that victory was now in their grasp.
In the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur’s island-hopping strategy proved effective – neutralizing Japanese strongholds with air and sea power, then moving on, leaving them to die on the vine.
Meanwhile, Admiral Chester Nimitz took the Gilbert Islands, provided airfields to bomb targets closer to Japan. B-29s begin hitting Japanese targets.
Battle of Leyte Gulf – largest naval engagement in history. The Japanese lost most of their remaining sea power and the ability to defend the Philippines. The battle included the first use of suicide attacks by Japanese pilots, who crash-dived into American carriers.
Last ditch effort for Hitler at the Battle of the Bulge. The Nazi counterattack failed in the west and weakened their defense of the eastern front. The Soviets begin their final offensive.
British and American armies racing across Western Germany and the Soviets coming in from the east. Eisenhower allowed the Soviets to take Berlin because it was no longer of any military significance.
As the final offensives were underway, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt met at Yalta. Focused on the shape of the postwar world. FDR pushes the Soviets to enter the war against the Japanese.
Yalta also called for a conference to create the United Nations: five permanent members established: U.S., France, Great Britain, Soviet Union, China.
Yalta also established that in postwar Germany, the Soviets would control the east and the Western Allies would control the rich industrial areas of the west. Berlin, isolated in the Soviet zone, would be jointly occupied.
Poland’s fate was left in the hands of the Soviets. Foreshadowing of the Cold War and our rivalry with the Soviet Union.
The Big Three also promised to sponsor free elections, democratic governments, and constitutional safeguards of political freedom throughout the rest of Europe. Stalin was not sincere and would go back on his word.
Russia, twice invaded by the Germans in the past 20 years, was determined to create buffer states between it and the Germans.
FDR conceded to Stalin way too much, but he agreed in return to enter the war against Japan two or three months after the German defeat and to recognize Chinese control over Manchuria.
FDR died in office on April 12, 1945, and the German Reich collapsed less than a month later. Italian partisans captured Mussolini and executed him. Hitler then commits suicide and the war in Europe ends V-E Day – May 8, 1945.
Not really celebrated today. News of the Nazi Holocaust reached America, not for the first time. As early as 1942, reports from the Red Cross had appeared in U.S. newspapers, but the horror seemed beyond belief.
FDR and U.S. leaders dragged their feet on the subject, but they did establish the War Refugees Board, which saved some 200,000 European Jews and thousands of others. Still, our handling of the Holocaust was very poor and much more could have been done.
In the Pacific theater, Japan still remained to be defeated. American forces invaded Iwo Jima, which was needed to provide fighter escort for bombers over Japan and as a landing strip for disabled B-29s. Many Americans lost their lives there and later at Okinawa. Desperate Japanese counter-attacks resulted in heavy losses.
Meanwhile, the Manhattan Project was completed and the first atomic successfully detonated in New Mexico. Truman, after learning of the test, wrote “We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world.”
Priority target: Hiroshima – a port city of 400k people in Southern Japan, which was a center of war industries, headquarters of the Second General Army, and command center for the homeland’s defenses.
The ferocious defense of Okinawa had convinced American military planners that any invasion of japan would cost some 250,000 Allied lives and even more Japanese losses.
Firebomb raids on major Japanese cities had already begun and had killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians. More than 60 major Japanese cities were firebombed before the nukes were even dropped.
Allied message to Japan: “Surrender or face prompt and utter destruction.”
The shock wave, firestorm, cyclonic winds, and radioactive rain killed roughly 80k people.
One American newspaper remarked “no tears of sympathy will be shed in America for the Japanese people. Had they possessed a comparable weapon at Pearl Harbor, would they have hesitated to use it?”
The nuclear age had arrived, in all its terror and anxiety.
General MacArthur and other Allied representatives accepted Japan’s formal surrender on board the battleship Missouri.
Costly war – 50 million military and civilian dead. Material costs in the trillions.
Soviet Union suffered the greatest losses – 13 million military deaths, more than 7 million civilians dead, and at least 25 million left homeless.
Most costly foreign war in our personal history: 292k battle deaths and 114k other deaths. In proportion to population we suffered less than any of the other major Allies or enemies. U.S. territory was left unharmed by the war.
Phenomenal increase in American productivity and brought fully employment, thus ending the Great Depression and laying the foundation for a new era of unprecedented prosperity.
New technology – radar, computers, electronics, plastics and synthetics, jet engines, rockets, atomic energy.
New opportunities for women, blacks, other minorities set in motion changes that would culminate in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the feminist movement of the 1970s.
Presidential authority and prestige increased enormously at the expense of congressional and state power.
The isolationist sentiment in foreign relations that had been so strong in the 1920s and 1930s disintegrated as the United States emerged from the war with global responsibilities and interests.
Accelerated the growth of American power while devastating all other world powers, leaving the United States economically and militarily the strongest nation on Earth.