World War II: Part 2
Oct. 28, 1940-Dec.7, 1941
Starting back where we left off in the last lesson with the Britains beating the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. While Hitler was strategizing his next move in Europe, Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Fascist regime in Italy started his attack on Greece on October 28, 1940. Mussolini didn’t fare well against the Greeks, and ended up calling on Hitler to bail him out. With the combined power of the two fascist regimes, Greece fell on the April of 1941. Mussolini next aimed to take North Africa, but yet again underestimated his opponent, and was again forced to call on Hitler for rescue. Hitler assigned his best general to take over the invasion of North Africa.
His best general was Erwin Rommel. Erwin Rommel was different from the other Nazi generals, in that he didn’t bow down to Hitlers every wish, and he kept the rules of war. Rommel was a brilliant general, and he followed his orders to lead the North Africa Campaign with his well-trained units named the “Afrika Korps.” He was nicknamed the “Desert Fox” for outsmarting his opponents. Fighting went on for three years in North Africa, and eventually the United States joined in, led by General Georgy S. Patton. The clash was a representation of military genius, but eventually the Allies defeated Rommel’s Afrika Korps. After Rommel lost North Africa, he was a bit unsure of Hitler’s strategies, the more he learned the more he was convinced that Hitler was a lunatic. He eventually agreed to support one of the many assassination attempts against Hitler, but when Hitler found out he committed suicide to protect his family.
Eventually Hitler moved to attack the Soviet Union, to understand this decision I will tell you about the minds of Stalin and Hitler. Obviously the two had a lot in common, both were willing to do anything to get what they wanted, and both had their own network of concentration camps. In 1939 Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler that was called the Nazi-Soviet Pact, proceeding to divide the world between them and their allies. Stalin, despite many warnings from the Americans, the British and his own spies, he was to prideful to accept the fact that Hitler was planning to double-cross him. Eventually Hitler commenced his attack, which he named Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941.
The largest military invasion in history commenced with 3,500 tanks and 1,800 aircraft. It started off successful for the Nazis, who caught the Russians off guard. Hitlers strategy was to hit Russia with three army group simultaneously. One was to hit Leningrad, the other Ukraine, and another Moscow. Unprepared for the invasion, the soviet army faltered against the Nazis. 1.5 million Soviet Jews in Russia were exterminated in what was called the hidden holocaust. By December of 1941 2.4 million Soviet troops had been captured, to be either executed, starved or marched to concentration camps. Knowing this you may now understand Stalin’s counterattacks. Stalin told peasant farmers to burn down their crops and property so that when the Germans passed over, they might not have anything to eat. Had Hitler stuck to his plan he would’ve probably won, however he didn’t. He called some troops from the attack on Moscow to help secure Ukraine. He also wanted to destroy Leningrad more than he wanted Moscow, so he took some troops from the attack on Moscow to attack Leningrad. The troops at Leningrad didn’t fare well. However the troops attacking Ukraine were highly successful, in the battle of Kiev, which was located in the heart of Ukraine, an astonishing thing happened. On September 26, 1941 665,000 soviet’s surrendered, Hitler believed it was the greatest military achievement in history. However winter came early in Russia with snow falling as early as October, and when it wasn’t snowing, it was raining. German equipment was swallowed up by the mud, and German soldiers weren’t equipped with winter uniforms. Expecting to be finished with Russia before winter Hitler scrambled back to try and take Moscow. The Germans got as close as 21 miles from Moscow before they were hit with the harsh winter. One hundred thousand Germans suffered from frostbite while the Russians who were fairly used to the cold, held onto Moscow.
Now it’s time to look elsewhere because while the Nazis were battling the Soviets, the Japanese were planning the attack on Pearl Harbor. To understand this rather “out of place” incident we must look into the backstory. In the mid-1800s Japan was forced to open it’s doors to trade, with this came the need for more “living space.” They started with Manchuria for more resources and provoked the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. After invading China, Japan signed an agreement with Germany and Italy to be allies, this alliance was named the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis for the capital of each country. So why did Japan attack the United States? Well Japan wanted the resources of Southeast Asia, and so did the United States, who had previously sided with China against the Japanese. Not sure how the United States would defend China, they planned to attack the U.S directly. This was the idea of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who believed that his plan would cripple the United States navy, knocking it out as a threat. The Japanese trained extensively for their mission, learning the exact position of of U.S warships and planes. On the morning of December 7, 1941 184 Japanese torpedo bombers bombed Pearl Harbor catching the U.S completely off guard. As it was a Sunday morning, most servicemen were sleeping in, and those awake could hardly make sense of the barrage of bombs. Out of the seven battleship hit, the USS Arizona was hit the hardest, after some bombs hit it’s ammunition storehouse, it exploded and sank into the harbor killing 1,177. When the first wave of planes ran out of ammunition, they sent a second wave, under Commander Shigekazu Shimazaki, 181 more aircraft, continuing the wave of destruction. The attack on Pearl Harbor had lasted one hour and 45 minutes, and while a third attack was considered the Japanese decided to get out while they could, the mission was deemed a success. The Japanese lost 29 aircraft and 5 midget submarines while the only incomplete part of the mission was to destroy two valuable carriers that were out at sea. 2,403 Americans died at Pearl Harbor, almost half were on the Arizona, while the Japanese lost 129 pilots.
While the mission was considered a success, the U.S were not knocked out as planned. On December 8, 1941 Congress declared war on Japan, they were joined by Canada and Great Britain a few hours later. As for the Soviet Union, they joined the Allies after getting attacked by Hitler. On the 11th of December Hitler and Mussolini declared war on the United States.