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World War II | englesko - srpski prevod
World War II
A war between the Allies (Australia, Canada, United-Kingdom, US, USSR, and other countries) and the Axis (Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, and others) from 1939 to 1945.
(1939–45) War between Germany, Italy, and Japan (the Axis powers) on one side, and Britain, the US, the Commonwealth, France, the USSR, and China (the Allied powers) on the other. An estimated 55 million lives were lost (20 million of them citizens of the USSR), and 60 million people in Europe were displaced because of bombing raids. The war was fought in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.
It is estimated that, during the course of the war, for every metric ton of bombs dropped on the UK, 315 fell on Germany.
In 1945, Germany surrendered (May) but Japan fought on until the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Aug).
Tension had been rising in Europe throughout the 1930s as Nazi Germany first broke virtually all of its treaty obligations and then embarked on a program of aggressive expansionism (see Hitler). The process was exacerbated by the prevarication of the Western powers in the face of flagrant breaches of international law by Germany so that finally each side reached a position from which it could not withdraw.
invasion of Poland
Using the staged “raid” on Gleiwicz as a pretext, five German armies, a total of 1.5 million troops, invaded Poland 1 Sept 1939. Army Group North struck from Pomerania into the “Polish Corridor” and Danzig; 4th Army struck from East Prussia south to Warsaw and west to meet Army Group North and cut off the Polish Pomorze army; 8th and 10th armies moved northeast from Silesia toward Warsaw; and the 14th Army struck from Slovakia toward Kraków. The Poles had placed their armies on the borders, so that once the initial blow had pierced their lines they were rapidly rolled up and destroyed in Europe’s first experience of Blitzkrieg warfare.
As agreed in a secret clause in the Ribbentrop–Molotov pact, two Soviet armies marched into Poland from the east 17 Sept and the country was divided between the two invaders, although small outposts continued to resist until 7 Oct. West Poland was divided; part was absorbed into Germany and part administered as the occupied gouvernementgeneral. East Poland became Soviet territory and has remained so ever since.
U-boat warfare 1939
The six months following the collapse of Poland is often referred to as the “phony war” and the only serious fighting in this period was at sea, where the German U-boat campaign began 4 Sept, the day war was declared, with the sinking of the liner Athenia without warning. The Allies’ most conspicuous success at sea in this phase of the war was the Battle of the River Plate Dec 1939 which led to the scuttling of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee.
Western Front 1939
The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) under Field Marshal Gort was sent to the aid of the French army and took over a section of the French-Belgian frontier with its headquarters at Arras. During the Polish invasion the French made desultory attacks on the German “West Wall”, notably around Saarbrücken, but these came to very little and generally speaking, the Western Front was quiet throughout the winter of 1939–40.
After the partition of Poland, the USSR sought to assert its authority over the Baltic States. Finland, however, refused to submit, and the Soviets invaded 30 Nov 1939, ostensibly “in support of the Finnish People’s Government”. The Finns were hopelessly outnumbered, but nevertheless put up considerable resistance, giving the Soviets some severe punishment before they were forced to surrender and hand over the territory around the isthmus by the Treaty of Moscow 13 March 1940.
Denmark and Norway April 1940
Germany launched a simultaneous Blitzkrieg against Denmark and Norway 9 April 1940. Denmark was attacked to provide airfields for Luftwaffe squadrons covering the invasion of Norway. Danish border troops resisted the first German moves but King Christian realized that further resistance was hopeless and surrendered the country without opposition.
Norway was invaded to ensure the supply of Swedish iron ore via Norwegian routes. There was some resistance but it was largely ineffective and much of what effort there was was undermined by an active group of Nazi sympathizers under the leadership of Quisling: most of the principal ports and airfields were captured on the first day. British and French troops were hastily collected and landed at various points but they were not trained or equipped for warfare in the far north, whereas the Germans were well-established, so they were unable to do much before they had to be evacuated. King Haakon and his government escaped to England and an active resistance movement was established.
the Low Countries May 1940
The next target for the Blitzkrieg treatment were the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg 10 May. The Netherlands and Luxembourg were crushed in a few days, but Belgium appealed for Allied support. The French and British armies on the Belgian frontier wheeled northeast to the Dyle, but their main line, which ran through Antwerp, Louvain, and Namur, was soon compromised by the Germans striking at Sedan, the hinge of the Allied wheel. Gamelin, the French commander in chief, fell back on the line of the Scheldt while German armor poured through a gap in the French 9th Army between Sedan and Mézičres, outflanking the Maginot Line around which the entire French defense was built. The BEF and the French northern armies were now isolated from the rest of the Allied forces on the Western Front.
Fall of France June 1940
The Allied armies were by now encircled and the French defensive strategy in tatters. The remains of the Allied armies withdrew to the Channel coast on 26 May the historic evacuation from Dunkirk began. While the evacuation was in progress, Weygand, who had replaced Gamelin as commander in chief, tried to reform the French armies on the Somme-Aisne line but to no avail. Nothing could halt the onrush of German armor which crossed the Seine near Rouen 10 June. With France tottering, Italy declared war and attacked France from the south 10 June and the Germans entered Paris 14 June. The French government signed an armistice with Germany 22 June and the country was divided into an occupied zone in the north while in the south the collaborationist Vichy regime was formally installed 9 July.
Britain stands alone 1940
With the fall of France, Britain was in a perilous position. Not only was it on its own against the Axis powers, it was badly underarmed and ill-prepared for war. Only an enormous effort in the summer of 1940 ensured there were enough aircraft and antiaircraft defenses to get the country through the Battle of Britain 10 July–31 Oct 1940. Although the RAF was initially outnumbered, it made up for this deficiency in quality of aircraft and pilots. The Germans were unable to assert air superiority and their losses were too heavy for the Luftwaffe, and daylight raids were abandoned in favor of night raids. It became clear that the standard Blitzkrieg tactics could not be used against Britain and Operation Sealion, the German plan for the invasion of Britain had to be postponed. France’s surrender created other problems for Britain: the Germans could now draw their submarine blockade tighter as they now held all the ports of western Europe from the North Cape to the Pyrenees. The Royal Navy’s efforts to break the
blockade had mixed success over the ensuing years (see Battle of the Atlantic.
Meanwhile, Hitler was firming up his own alliances. Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Ten Year Mutual Assistance Pact in Berlin 27 Sept 1940, bringing Japan into the Axis. The USSR was warned early 1941 by the US government that it was Hitler's intention to invade, but the Soviet government cautiously declared that the Berlin Pact did not affect the relations of the USSR with any of the signatories and that their 1939 pact with Germany remained unchanged.
North Africa Dec 1940–Aug 1941
Mussolini, confident that the Axis had virtually won the war, had declared war on both Britain and France June 1940. Shortly after, the Italians launched a major offensive from Libya across the Egyptian frontier with 300,000 troops under Graziani. The British commander Wavell, reinforced by commonwealth troops, launched a counteroffensive 9 Dec, the first of three great thrusts in the Western Desert, which succeeded in driving the Italians not only out of Egypt but also out of Cyrenaica. However, Wavell's force was weakened by drafts sent to Greece and East Africa, while the Italians were reinforced by German Afrika Korps troops under Field Marshal Rommel and German aircraft based in Sicily. Under Rommel's leadership, the Axis forces advanced during 1941 and early 1942, recaptured Tobruk, and crossed the Egyptian border, before halting at El Alamein
US Lend-Lease program
President Franklin D Roosevelt gradually shifted the US from its traditional isolationist position of 1939 into “the arsenal of democracy”, and with this change the arms embargo became a “cash and carry” system, mainly for benefit of the British. The US transferred 50 destroyers to Britain Sept 1940 in exchange for the lease of naval and air bases. The system was formalized when the Lend-Lease Bill became law March 1941 and many more such arrangements were made during the course of the war.
Balkan campaign 1941
Italy invaded Greece from Albania Oct 1940 but was driven back by the Greeks Nov–Dec and pursued back into Albania. Italy had only taken Albania April 1939 and now this no longer seemed secure. If Hitler's plan for an invasion of the Soviet Union was to succeed he could not afford to have hostile forces operating on the southern flank in the Balkans. The Italian failure came on top of their defeats in North Africa and so Hitler began making plans for a German invasion of Greece through Bulgaria. An anti-Nazi coup in Yugoslavia 27 March 1941 forced Hitler to modify the plans to incorporate the invasion of Yugoslavia and the dual invasion began 6 April. The Yugoslav army, poorly armed and badly organized, surrendered 17 April while the Greeks in Albania withdrew to meet the new threat, releasing the Italian forces there to aid the German invasion. The Germans passed through the gap between the Greek forces coming out of Albania and the remaining Greek armies, outflanking both forces. British troops sent to aid
the Greeks could only conduct a fighting retreat to the Peloponnese, where the survivors were able to embark and escape to Crete. Greek forces surrendered 23 April and the Germans had cleared Crete by the end of May. Although the Balkan campaign was a success in itself, it delayed the start of the German invasion of the USSR and so contributed to the failure of that far more important operation.
German invasion of the USSR June 1941
The invasion of the USSR (see Operation Barbarossa) was launched 22 June 1941, with the aid of Nazi satellite states in the Balkans as well as Hungarian and Finnish troops. The operation had been badly delayed by the Balkan campaign and some of the German High Command probably advised against such an ambitious invasion. The whole success of the operation depended on speed: the Germans had to knock out major Soviet centers quickly in the initial rush and then settle to clearing up operations. Initially, the plan worked and progress was rapid apart from a slight check to the southern army groups. However, the failure to take Moscow marked the death knell of the plan and the Germans were now committed to a prolonged hard-fought campaign on the Eastern Front which was to cost them dearly in troops and resources. Perhaps more importantly, it tied down huge sectors of the German fighting capacity, denying the Germans the flexibility they had previously been able to deploy in their Blitzkrieg campaigns. The failure
of Barbarossa may ultimately be regarded as one of the most significant factors in Germany's eventual defeat.
Japan and the US enter the war 1941
What had until now been a largely European war, developed into a global conflict late 1941. Following Japan's entry into the Axis alliance Sept 1940, it had seized French Indochina with the acquiescence of the Vichy government, as a base for its projected invasions of Burma and British Malaya. Japan felt that US trade restrictions imposed with increasing severity from late 1940 were designed to starve Japan of resources and so frustrate their plans for expansion in the Pacific and the signing of the Atlantic Charter Aug 1941 by Churchill and Roosevelt served only to confirm this view. The Japanese were now convinced that US entry into the war was inevitable, and opted to strike a major blow to US fighting capacity. While a negotiations over the oil embargoes continued in Washington, Japanese carrier-borne aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor 7 Dec 1941, inflicting serious damage on the US fleet, and simultaneous attacks were launched on virtually every other US and British eastern base, including Hong Kong and Malaya
Late 1941 and early 1942 saw a Japanese version of the Blitzkrieg in the Pacific theater. Hong Kong fell to the Japanese 25 Dec 1941, followed by Manila 2 Jan 1942 while in the southwest Pacific Japan invaded the Dutch East Indies 10 Jan, taking Rabaul 22 Jan and landing in the Solomons the following day. Burma was invaded 10 Jan, with the British gradually pushed back in a fighting retreat, finally reaching India with heavy losses May 1942. The British withdrew from Malaya to Singapore which fell 15 Feb with most of the newly landed troops captured. By the spring of 1942 Japan stood on the eastern frontier of India and at the gateway of Australia and held the whole semicircular archipelago between, with the exception of New Guinea south of the Owen Stanley Range. The Japanese onslaught was only halted when their attempts at expansion further east were thwarted by the US fleet at the Battle of the Coral Sea 4–8 May, which was decided in the air, and the Battle of Midway 4–6 June, which broke the spearhead of
Japanese naval and air striking power. These two naval victories marked a turning point in the war in the Pacific.
British naval losses 1941–42
British losses in the Far East were serious enough, but further setbacks were in store in the Mediterranean. The carrier Ark Royal and the battleship Barham were sunk by U-boats Nov 1941 and the battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant seriously damaged by Italian limpet mines 19 Dec. The Mediterranean fleet was reduced to one composed of cruisers and destroyers, supported by shore-based air forces. The Channel Dash Feb 1942, when three German battle cruisers escaped through the Channel from Brest, could not have been prevented due to the weakness of British naval striking power, and the incident was a severe blow to British morale.
Eastern Front 1942
In the USSR, the severe winter of 1941–42 brought a dramatic change as the German forces proved no match for the Soviets in the harsh winter conditions. Zhukov broke the siege of Moscow Dec 1941 and the Germans were steadily forced back, but maintained strategic positions which were intended to serve as springboards for their projected offensive the following year. When the weather began to thaw the Germans reasserted themselves, finally securing a hold over the Crimea with the fall of Sevastopol 2 July and pushing down into the Caucasus region. The notorious battle for Stalingrad was launched Aug 1942 and the Germans initially appeared to be driving the Soviet defenders back, so that by Oct the Germans appeared to be once more in the ascendant, with their forces closely besieging Stalingrad, and advancing toward the Maikop oil fields.Allied success in North Africa
General Montgomery was appointed to the command of the British 8th Army Aug 1942 and led them to a decisive victory over Rommel's forces at El Alamein 4 Nov 1942, followed by advances across Libya from Tunisia. US troops landed in French North Africa 8 Nov, causing the Germans to occupy the nominally independent Vichy France, and the Allied armies converged on Rommel at Tunis. Hitler tried to stave off defeat by sending an army under von Arnim to aid Rommel in Tunisia, but after a last-ditch defense, the Axis contingent in North Africa was routed and surrendered May 1943.
Encouraged by the turn-around in Allied fortunes, at the Casablanca conference, 14–24 Jan 1943 Churchill and Roosevelt issued a demand for the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers, which only hardened the resolve of the Axis powers. They also made agreements on the Allies' strategic goals: to end the Battle of the Atlantic; on the Eastern Front, to aid the USSR; on the Western Front, to make joint preparations for an invasion of France and Sicily; and in the Pacific, to extend operations against the Japanese.
Pacific theater 1942–43
Despite the naval reverses at the battles of Coral Sea and Midway, Japan remained confident of victory and continued its attempts at expansion. The occupation of the Aleutian Islands, part of Alaska, June 1942 was a great blow to US morale. However, an assault on Port Moresby in New Guinea failed after to the defeat of a Japanese expeditionary force at Milne Bay 31 Aug, and the tenacity of Australian forces in New Guinea. US forces delivered a blow 7 Aug which was to reverse the whole progress of the Pacific war with the landing on Guadalcanal in the Solomons. The landing developed into a hard-fought campaign after US Marines captured an unfinished Japanese airfield and base. The airfield was of great strategic importance and the Japanese tried hard to recapture the island in a series of actions both on land and at sea. Both sides suffered heavy casualties in the fight for the control of Guadalcanal but the eventual US victory did much to end Japanese dominance in the south Pacific. The island was eventually
secured by US troops Feb 1943 and from there the Allies began clearing the rest of the Solomons, taking New Georgia Aug, Choiseul Oct, and Bougainville Nov.
Eastern Front 1943–44
The Soviets launched a major counteroffensive to relieve Stalingrad 19 Nov 1942 and completely cut off the German 6th Army, which they set about destroying until the survivors finally surrendered 31 Jan 1943. This released a great Soviet army for operations in southern Russia: Kursk was recaptured 8 Feb, followed by Rostov 14 Feb and Kharkov 16 Feb. A premature spring thaw brought some respite to the Germans and they were able to launch a strong counteroffensive which took Kharkov back 15 March along with most of the Donets Basin. By April, the Germans were once more in a favorable position to resume the offensive. The German spring offensive of 1943 was aimed at a Soviet salient between Kharkov and Orel and marked a turning point in the Eastern Front campaign. The Germans launched an attack on Kursk 5 July 1943 which became the greatest tank battle in history reaching its climax 12 July and the German offensive was beaten back with enormous losses. By 10 July the Allies had landed in Sicily, so that reinforc
ements were needed for Italy, and the Soviets then opened a massive offensive north of the Kursk salient. Hitler terminated the Kursk battle 17 July and German forces in the area were left to extricate themselves as best they could. The Soviets retook Orel 4 Aug, and soon afterwards Kharkov was again recovered.
The Soviet armies now broadened their offensive taking Taganrog in the Caucasus 30 Aug, Poltava in the Kharkov region 23 Sept, and to the north, near the heart of the whole front, they took the rail center of Bryansk. Smolensk fell 25 Sept. By the end of Oct, the Germans had effectively lost the Crimea and Kiev was recaptured 6 Nov, and Zhitomir a week later. In the following month, Soviet armies crossed three rivers in succession—the Bug, the Dniester, and the Pruth. Odessa was liberated 10 April 1944, but the historic fortress of Sevastopol was not regained until 9 May, by which time German losses in the Crimea alone came to over 110,000 killed or captured.
Battle of the Atlantic
Despite the improvement in the Allies' situation on land, at sea German U-boats were still taking a heavy toll of Allied shipping. Although the number of escort vessels was growing steadily, there was still a serious shortage of long-range aircraft available to protect convoys: by March 1943 the losses in merchant ships rose to close on 508,000 tons. This brought the seriousness of the situation to head and a large number of US Liberator aircraft were made available for convoy escort work. These long-range aircraft escorts produced a total change: the Germans lost 56 U-boats during April and May and Doenitz ordered the temporary withdrawal of all U-boats from the north Atlantic.
Two months after the surrender of the Axis forces in North Africa at Tunis, the Allies launched a major invasion of Sicily spearheaded by General Patton's US 5th Army and Montgomery's British 8th Army 10 July 1943. US forces landed on the southern coast and advanced northwest to take Palermo 22 July, then turned east to clear the island. The British landed on the southeast tip and advanced north toward Messina. The island was strongly held by German troops who mounted a determined resistance and were able to evacuate the bulk of their troops to Italy before Messina fell 17 Aug 1943 and from then the Allies began their progress. The Allied landing brought down Mussolini's Fascist government: he resigned 24 July and was arrested two days later.
A new government was formed under Marshal Badoglio which overtly pledged continued support for the Axis, but soon afterward began secret negotiations with the Allies. The new government surrendered 3 Sept 1943 but the armistice was not published until five days later. The surrender made little military difference as the German commander in Italy, Field Marshal Kesselring, began a spirited defense of the country, disarming all Italian units within reach and establishing a puppet fascist government in German-controlled areas. US and British troops landed at Salerno 8 Sept and took Naples 1 Oct, driving the Germans back onto the heavily fortified Gustav Line. The Allied advance was halted here and the Germans, having fallen back methodically, stabilized a strong front cutting right across this narrow part of the peninsula in the Apennines.
The mountainous terrain, made worse by unseasonable weather, made the Allied progress through Italy slow and they urgently needed to be able to make further landings in the north so, in an attempt to outflank the Gustav line, Allied troops were landed at Anzio 22 Jan 1944. Although they succeeded in securing a beachhead, they were unable to break out and were penned in by strong German defenses until after Allied troops advancing from the south overcame the German stronghold at Cassino early May. After this, breakthrough the Allied forces made rapid progress and Rome was finally liberated 4 June 1944.
Battle of the Atlantic 1943–44
During the last four months of 1943, 62 U-boats were sunk with the loss of only 67 Allied ships and the first quarter of 1944 offered no relief for the U-boats, despite several German attempts at concerted attacks on Gibraltar. The U-boat threat had by now been curtailed although not entirely ended and the Allies had all but won the Battle of the Atlantic.
Allied Pacific offensive 1943–44
From early 1943, the Allied tactics had mainly been “island-hopping”, advancing from one captured vantage point to another. But by Nov 1943 the US naval presence had been greatly intensified and in a series of mainly carrier-based actions the Allies had established air superiority, allowing the Allies to develop a more systematic strategy, concentrating on key points while bypassing less important positions. The US forces continued to expand to the north and west from the Solomons, and by June 1944 reached the Marianas Islands, an important strategic target as they would provide airfields close enough to Japan to permit B-29 bombers to raid it. Operations in the area commenced with the capture of Saipan 15 June and ended with the capture of Guam 10 Aug. An important turning point came in the operations around Saipan in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the last of the great carrier battles, which effectively broke the back of the Japanese navy.
Having taken the Marianas, US forces were now in range of the Philippines and bombing raids began against the islands as well as mainland Japan. General MacArthur, who had vowed to return when the US lost the Philippines to Japan 1942, led a large US expeditionary force to retake the islands 20 Oct. The Japanese mobilized their fleet to prevent the landings and suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Leyte Gulf 17–25 Oct, but were unable to stop the landings and the US secured Leyte island Dec 1944 and then took the rest of the Philippines one by one early 1945.
Burmese campaign 1943–44
One of the main subjects of the military discussions at the Québec Conference had been how best to help the nationalist army in China against the Japanese, and separate Southeast Asia Command was formed Aug 1943 to coordinate operations based on India and Ceylon against Japan. A joint Chinese-American force under Stilwell marched into north Burma Oct 1943 and a British offensive was launched in the Arakan Jan 1944; the Japanese responded vigorously but by this time the British had established air superiority and they inflicted a heavy defeat on the Japanese in the Battle of the Admin Box Feb 1944. The Japanese struck back with an offensive in central Burma toward Imphal and Kohima. Imphal was besieged but, thanks to supplies from the air, held out against severe attacks. At Kohima the Japanese attack was stopped and then thrown back by the British, who then went on to relieve Imphal. Orde Wingate's airborne troops caused havoc behind the Japanese lines, more or less wrecking Japanese communications for three
months from March 1994. The Japanese forces were left reeling by the wave of defeats and, starving and disorganized, they retreated behind the Chindwin river Dec 1944, leaving 53,000 dead behind them.
Liberation of France
By June 1944, the Allies were ready to launch Operation Overlord, the code name for the invasion of mainland Europe through France, opening a second front in Western Europe after the successes in Italy. A large-scale bomber offensive was launched against Germany, which forced the German air force to onto the defensive as they pulled aircraft out of Western Europe to concentrate on Germany itself. Having prepared the way by establishing air superiority in France and disrupting the German lines of communication, the first landings were made in Normandy in the D-Day operation 6 June 1944. Having secured the beachheads at Normandy, Allied forces broke out through France and the Low Countries to Germany, while forces from Italy attacked from the south and Soviet forces attacked from the East.
The German 5th and 7th Panzer Armies were destroyed in the Falaise Gap Aug 1944, and the remnants of the German forces in northern France fled headlong to the Seine. Meanwhile the US 7th Army had made landings in the south of France and was moving north to link with the Allied forces in the north. This wave of disaster encouraged a French national revolt and the Germans decided that France could no longer be held. As Allied forces closed in on Paris, Hitler ordered the commandant, General Cholitz, to hold the city at all costs. Cholitz, realizing the damage that would result, ignored the order and surrendered the city to the General Leclerc's Free French Armoured Division 25 Aug.
July Plot against Hitler
Following the Allied advances in France and Italy a group of German officers launched the July Plotto assassinate Hitler and depose the Nazis. However, although the bomb designed to kill him did go off he survived the attempt and the plot gave the SS the excuse they wanted to launch a huge “purge” of German officers and their associates actually, or believed to be, implicated in the plot.
Allies enter Germany
The Allied forces in France advanced through Belgium to begin their final assault on Germany. Canadian First Army, British Second Army, US First Army, US Third Army, US Seventh Army, and French Army. US troops took Soissons 29 Aug and the Verdun 1 Sept and Patton was soon on the outskirts of Nancy. Montgomery's advance was equally spectacular. Having established a bridgehead over the Seine 29 Aug, his armor drove 400 km/250 mi north in a few days and established a line which isolated all the German forces in northeast France. Meanwhile US forces took Namur, Ličge, and Ostend 8 Sept. They crossed through Luxembourg, and finally entered Germany 10 Sept and shelled Aachen.
Eastern Front 1944
While the Germans were greatly preoccupied with Allied advances in the west and south of Europe, the Soviets launched a fresh offensive in the summer of 1944. Vitebsk fell 26 June and in the course of the next month Soviet forces advanced through northwest Russia, taking Minsk, Vilna, and other strongholds. The German armies in the Baltic States were now under threat and the Germans began a partial withdrawal from the area. Soviet troops were just outside Warsaw by 1 Aug 1944 and the Polish Home Army, an underground resistance force, rose against the Germans in an attempt to help the anticipated Soviet attack on the city. Stalin cynically ordered Marshal Rokossovsky to delay his advance so that the Poles and Germans would wear each other out and allow the Soviets to walk in unopposed. Fighting continued in Warsaw until 2 Oct when the Poles surrendered and only then did Rokossovsky continue his advance, taking Warsaw easily. The Soviets made sweeping gains throughout Poland, taking many important towns and cut
ting off the last escape route into Germany from the more northerly Baltic States. This isolated the German Army Group North in the Kurland peninsula in Latvia. Hitler refused to allow the troops to evacuate Jan 1945 as they were keeping Soviet forces occupied that might otherwise join the assault on Germany. The army group held out under intense pressure until the end of the war.
Battle of Arnhem
The ill-fated Arnhem expedition Sept 1944 was launched to secure bridges over the Maas, Waal, and Lower Rhine and open another route into Germany. Conceived as a rapid operation using a combination of ground and airborne forces, bad weather combined with well-organized defenses to turn the expedition into a disaster. The element of speed and surprise were lost and the Allies were forced into months of methodical siege warfare against the chief German positions.
Battle of the Bulge
In Dec 1944 Hitler saw an opportunity to isolate US forces in the Ardennes by pushing a German salient through the area (see Battle of the Bulge). The plan, code-named “Watch on the Rhine”, was implemented by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt 16 Dec 1944–28 Jan 1945. The offensive made good progress in the direction of Ličge in the first two weeks, but once they had recovered from the initial shock of an offensive on what had previously been known as the “ghost front”, the Allies launched a fierce counterattack and the improvement in the weather conditions late Dec allowed the superior Allied air strength to be brought into play. Although US troops were encircled for some weeks at Bastogne, the German counteroffensive failed and by the end of Jan 1945 the Allied line was reformed.Balkans 1944–45
Soviet forces moved into Romania Aug 1944 and occupied most important towns 21–31 Aug. Romania capitulated later in the month, denying the Germans the vital Romanian oil fields. The Soviets used Romania as a base to move through the Balkans from the north, while the British advanced through Greece in the south, liberating Athens 14 Oct. British troops arrived two days later and were principally needed to keep the peace between rival monarchist and communist factions. Street fighting ensued, but eventually both sides agreed to a British-controlled truce Jan 1945. Meanwhile, Belgrade was taken by Tito's Yugoslav partisans backed by Soviet troops 20 Oct and the Soviets moved on to invade Hungary.
The Allied leaders Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin met 5–12 Feb 1945 at Yalta, a Soviet vacation resort in the Crimea, to finalize the plans for the defeat of Germany. Perhaps more importantly by now, they discussed postwar political settlements, agreeing on the allocation of administrative zones in Germany among the major Allies after the war. This meeting laid the foundations of the “spheres of influence” which were to divide Europe for the next 45 years.
final offensive: Eastern Front
At the start of 1945 the USSR launched a grand final offensive on three main fronts: in the north Rokossovsky moved through the Baltic states and Poland, in the center Zhukov continued his advance out of the Ukraine; and in the south Konev pushed toward Berlin from the Balkans. Once he had secured Danzig March 1945, Rokossovsky turned to cooperate with Cherniakovsky's forces from the east in a combined assault on East Prussia, effectively sealing Germany's fate. Soviet armies crossed the Oder and the Neisse during April, taking Vienna 13 April and Konev's southern force met up with the US advance on the Elbe 25 April.
final offensive: Western Front
The final advance into Germany from the west was preceded 22 Feb 1945 by a heavy bombing attack. After a fierce battle to clear the Reichswald Forest near the Dutch border Feb 1945, the Allied armies in the north pushed toward the Rhine and fierce battles to establish crossings developed all along the river. Allied troops captured Cologne 7 March and a US force crossed the Rhine at Remagen later the same day, cutting off German troops west of the Rhine. Patton's US 3rd army advanced rapidly, trapping nearly the German armies in the Saar Basin and Palatinate, opening the way for the invasion of central and southern Germany: Mainz was taken 20 March followed by Frankfurt 26 March. Montgomery crossed the Rhine at Wesel and the US 9th Army at Rheinberg 23 March. The Ruhr, Germany's industrial heartland, was encircled by the US 1st and 9th Armies early April: 21 divisions were captured when the Ruhr fell 18 April. By the time US forces met up with Konev's Soviet army 25 April the Allied thrust through central Germ
any had advanced virtually to the Czech border and the Elbe had been crossed south of Magdeburg.
Once the advances from west and the east joined, the Allies converged from all directions for the final battle for Berlin. Hitler ordered a final stand in the suburbs of Berlin itself, although the last days of the Third Reich are far from clear. In the final week of April, Himmler tried to negotiate a surrender with the western powers but this attempt to split the Allies offer was rejected. In Italy, Bologna fell 21 April and Milan 29 April and by now either the whole of northern Italy was held either by regular Allied forces or by Italian partisans. Mussolini was captured by partisans while trying to escape into Switzerland 28 April and executed the following day. Hitler committed suicide 30 April as the Soviets closed in—his death was announced 1 May and the Soviet flag was raised over the Reichstag the following day. General Karl Weidling surrendered Berlin 2 May and Admiral Doenitz, Hitler's successor as Führer, was left to negotiate Germany's final, unconditional surrender. All German forces in northwes
t Germany, Holland, and Denmark surrendered to Field Marshal Montgomery 5 May, and Germany's final capitulation came into effect at midnight 8–9 May.
Defeat of Japan
Japan had some successes in China late 1944: Changsha was captured and in southern China Japanese forces seized the airfields from which the US Air Force had been raiding as far north as Manchuria. However, by Dec 1944 most of the Philippines had been retaken with US forces occupying Manila 4 Feb. US forces moved north into the outer edges of the Japanese islands, taking Iwo Jima in heavy fighting 19 Feb–16 March and Okinawa 1 April–21 June. Meanwhile, British troops were advancing through Burma, taking Mandalay 20 March The rest of the Japanese army in Central Burma was either destroyed or driven into the Shan Hills during March and April and Rangoon fell to the British 2 May.
By May the defeat of Japan was certain, but the fierce fighting during the capture of Iwo Jima and Okinawa had taken a heavy toll in casualties, and the Allies feared that the war could be prolonged for months at a potentially huge casualty rate if an invasion of mainland Japan was attempted. In order to bring the war to a swift conclusion, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima 6 Aug, devastating the city, followed by a second bomb at Nagasaki 9 Aug. The USSR took advantage of the opportunity to snatch more territory at the last minute and declared war on Japan 8 Aug and invaded Manchuria. The Japanese government accepted the Allied terms for surrender 10 Aug, and hostilities officially came to a close 12 Sept.