World War II
|It never changes|
|A view to kill|
“”In the magazines war seemed romantic and exciting, full of heroics and vitality… I saw instead men suffering and wishing they were somewhere else.
World War II (abbr. WWII or WW2), also known as the Second World War, the Great Patriotic War (in Russia), "The Sequel", or the Great War II: Electric Boogaloo, was a titanic global
clusterfuck conflict that began in 1939 and lasted until 1945. It also could arguably have begun with the conflicts between Japan and China in 1937 or as far back as 1931. to 1945. It left about 85 million people dead, 45 million of whom were civilians, and was also the first and (so far) only conflict which saw the use of nuclear weapons.
This massive fuckup had a multitude of causes. For one reason or another, multiple nations had fallen to fascism, an ideology which itself made war inevitable. Relative lack of historical success in imperialism led nations like Italy and Japan to start biting chunks out of their neighbors, while Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party seized power in Germany to begin crushing minorities. The democracies of Western Europe, haunted by the recent memory of World War One, were largely unwilling to stand up to the aggressive fascist leaders. Meanwhile the nation that had done most of the allies' dying in the First World War, Russia, had become the communist Soviet Union.
Before and during the war, most nations of the world aligned with one or the other of the war's two massive military alliances. The Axis Powers were comprised of the fascists and their allies, and they sought to carve themselves new empires and destroy communism. Standing against them were the Allied Powers, which sought to stop the Axis. Among the latter were nations such as France, the United Kingdom, Poland, the Low Countries, and eventually the United States.
The war happened concurrently with the Holocaust, which was Nazi Germany's attempt to murder various ethnic and ideological minorities, most significantly Europe's Jews. Imperial Japan also added some notorious chapters to the war with war crimes such as the Rape of Nanjing, the actions of Unit 731, the abuse of comfort women, and employing kamikaze suicide strikes.
The Allied victory once again reshaped the world map. The Soviet Union sliced up Eastern and Central Europe to create its club of puppet states called the Eastern Bloc. Germany, Italy, and Japan were all cut down to size. Unfortunately, the end of the war created as many problems as it solved. Tensions between the communist east and capitalist west led to the Cold War, during which the US and USSR destabilized much of the world. Mao Zedong's Chinese communists and Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese nationalists, who had cooperated against Japan, went back to killing each other. Horrified by the Holocaust, the Allies put some Nazi war criminals on trial in Nuremberg and created Israel as a home for the Jewish people. That last bit has created some strife over the years. The old colonial empires, which had suffered greatly during the war, collapsed and left power gaps in Africa and Asia, allowing a variety of brutal dictators to seize power.
The good part? The war conclusively ended fascism and Nazism as "good ideas"... Update: Or so we hoped...
Path to disaster
Rise of fascism
“”We have sided with the villains...
|—Hungarian Prime Minister Pál Teleki denounces Miklós Horthy's alliance with the Axis shortly before committing suicide.|
The First World War left a wake of economic devastation. Italy was hit just as hard as any other nation, and it had also failed to recover much of the "historically Italian" land it had entered the war to gain. In this atmosphere of bitterness and desperation, former soldier and political hack Benito Mussolini assembled a coalition of war veterans and angry teenagers for form the National Fascist Party. Mussolini promised economic revitalization were he to gain power, and he organized his war veterans into hit-squads called "Blackshirts" that he used to beat the shit out of anyone he didn't like. Mussolini seized power by essentially showing up at Rome with a crowd of his followers and demanding it. By 1922, Mussolini was prime minister of Italy.
Mussolini's fascism was a hodgepodge of policies and ideas that he thought would play well. His
magnum opus glorified turd, "The Doctrine of Fascism," was a rant against the supposed decadence of capitalism, the evils of socialism, the importance of non-materialistic lifestyle, and how nationalism was the greatest thing ever. Unfortunately, fascism inspired many people around Europe, most notably a failed painter from Austria. Adolf Hitler oversaw an unsuccessful attempt at overthrowing Germany's collapsing republic, wrote a really shitty book that blamed all of his life's problems on Jews, and blustered his way into becoming Chancellor of Germany in 1933.
While nowadays fascism (including Hitler's closely related Nazism) is usually popularly seen as mainly a German and Italian thing thanks to Adi and Benny, fascism was actually frighteningly popular across the world in the 1920s-1930s. With the sudden success of socialism and especially Bolshevism in the aftermath of World War I, a right-wing backlash was pretty much inevitable, and long-simmering antisemitism came along for the ride. France and United Kingdom had fascist movements of varying popularity during the 1930s, as did the USA with groups like the Silver Shirts and America First Committee. Countries like Portugal, Austria, and Spain were ruled by fascist (or nearly fascist) dictatorships during the period; even Poland flirted with antisemitism and authoritarianism in the aftermath of the May Coup. Later, in the early 1940s at the height of Nazi Germany's success, Nazi-inspired groups like the Arrow Cross Party in Hungary, the Ustaše in Croatia, and the Iron Guard in Romania were able to seize power and happily participated in crimes against humanity.
The legacy of the Great War also hung over the world's oceans, as Europe's naval powers recognized the role of the battleship arms race in escalating tensions on the Continent. In the hopes of preventing that from happening again, the USA, UK, and Japan met in the Washington Conference of 1921–22 to hammer out an international treaty limiting the tonnage and capabilities of warships. The interwar governments of Italy and Japan agreed to these stipulations primarily to avoid having to hike up spending on expensive warships. Japan was also aware that further naval buildup would be especially difficult for it due to a lack of raw materials to build boats.
Despite agreeing in principle to arms control, Japan found itself bitterly opposed to the agreements which actually took form. The naval treaties limited Japan further than it did the US or the UK, which the Japanese perceived as being an unfair product of Western chauvinism. Japan's navy also had to cancel seven battleships under construction and scrap another ten older ships.
While Japan's civilian government ultimately signed the treaty and forced it into effect, the terms were hated by the nationalist military. Many officers resented the civilian government for capitulating to such a humiliating agreement. Tensions were only further inflamed when Japan ratified the 1930 London Naval Treaty, which once again limited Japan further than the US or UK.
In 1930, Army officer Hashimoto Kingorō founded the Cherry Blossom Society (Sakurakai 桜会) with the goal of overthrowing the civilian government and establishing a military dictatorship over Japan. In November 1930, a member of the Sakurakai shot Prime Minister Hamaguchi Osachi, opening the door for a short-lived coup attempt. Hamaguchi later died of his wounds.
Later, in 1936, more radical Japanese military officers attempted a second coup attempt, murdering three top-level government officials in the process. Although this effort failed, the chaos it unleashed opened the door for military officer Tōjō Hideki to seize the office of prime minister and enshrine himself as Japan's new fascist dictator.
Second Sino-Japanese War
For East Asia, the latter 19th Century was defined by Japan's attempts to create an overseas colonial empire. The First Sino-Japanese war occurred in 1895, and it began because Japan wanted to annex the Chinese tributary state of Korea in order to prevent Westerners from colonizing it. The aftermath of this war saw Japan annex Taiwan and turn Korea into a protectorate. Competition between Russia and Japan in the region then led to the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, and Japan once again won victory.
Japan accelerated its colonialism during and after World War One. It conquered much of Germany's Pacific holdings during the war, and afterwards it sought influence in China. The latter goal was especially motivated by the fact that the fledgling Republic of China was beginning to centralize and strengthen itself, essentially setting a time limit on Japan's ambitions there. In 1931, the Japanese military used an explosion in a railroad depot as an excuse to invade Manchuria, a resource-rich region in northern China. After overrunning the disorganized Chinese forces in the region, Japan declared the region an "independent" state called Manchukuo, in reality controlled entirely by the Japanese Kwantung Army. The Kwantung Army turned Manchukuo into a military state, mobilizing the population for forced labor and forming Unit 731 for the purpose of conducting human experimentation on Chinese captives.
Japanese imperialism climaxed in 1937 with the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese manufactured a border incident between Manchukuo and the Republic of China. The Chinese nationalists and Chinese communists, who had previously been locked in a civil war, set aside their differences and formed a "United Front" against Japan. Although China lacked industry and supplies, it was still confident enough to refuse negotiation with the Japanese. As a result, the limited incident became a desperate war for survival. China fought alone until 1941, and Japan's war crimes exacted a horrific toll of at least 20 million deaths. It is during this conflict that Japan engaged in the infamous Rape of Nanjing in which its soldiers murdered, raped, and robbed civilians, causing a death toll of between 40,000 and 200,000 people.
The war against China was a long, drawn-out affair compared to Japan's previous victories, and it quickly began to take its toll on the Japanese economy. Japan had no allies at this point, and its domestic supplies of rubber, oil, and iron were not sufficient for a forever war in China. This critical resource shortage would eventually force Japan to make some hard choices.
Second Italo-Ethiopian War
“”It is us today. It will be you tomorrow.
|—Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia.|This is the second of the "second wars" before the Second World War we'll discuss here. Italy had embarrassingly failed to conquer Ethiopia in the 1890s during the Scramble for Africa. Hoping to avenge that loss and begin building his own African colonial empire, Mussolini used a border incident as pretext to declare war in 1935. The League of Nations, tasked with keeping world peace after World War I, utterly failed to stop Mussolini's war in Africa just as it had failed to stop Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1933. The League's failure was largely the fault of the British and French, who had imposed sanctions at the outset of the war but suddenly caved and offered a settlement to Mussolini granting him everything he wanted. Italy's war of conquest in the region saw repeated war crimes such as the use of chemical weapons and the deliberate bombing of hospitals and ambulances. Italy's overwhelming technical advantages resulted in the war being a short affair that ended with Ethiopia's annexation.
Importantly, the war also created the first great wedge between Italy and the democracies of Western Europe. Mussolini perceived the initial Anglo-French opposition to his war as blatant and malicious hypocrisy as both nations had created their own African colonial empires using much the same methods as he had. This is one of the factors that drove Mussolini into aligning with Hitler.
Spanish Civil War
Civil war broke out in Spain between nationalist and fascist usurpers led by José Sanjurjo and Generalissimo Francisco Franco versus the legitimate socialist government led by Manuel Azaña. Franco personally adhered to Falangism, a quasi-fascist ideology that emphasized Catholic identity, totalitarianism, capitalism, and moralism. Mussolini sent a huge amount of military aid to the nationalists, totaling 70,000 ground troops and 6,000 aviation personnel, long with about 720 aircraft. Nazi Germany also provided military support to the nationalists but intentionally kept their involvement limited. The Comintern, Joseph Stalin's commie club, naturally sided with the Republic and provided aid through the volunteer "International Brigades". The Republic was weakened by infighting. The hardcore communists saw the war as an opportunity for a revolution while the socialists and moderates only hoped to preserve republicanism. Spain became a proving ground for the fascist nations and the Soviet Union to test their newest and best technologies such as planes and tanks. The Nationalists came out on top in 1939 and established a dictatorship, but they officially stayed neutral during the world war. Franco did, however, send "volunteers" to assist Germany against the Soviets.
Hitler's foreign policy through the 1930s was focused primarily on strengthening Germany by annexing areas populated by ethnic Germans. Immediately after taking power Hitler began to rebuild Germany's armed forces in secret. He made this public in 1935 by announcing that he was introducing mandatory conscription with the goal of increasing Germany's standing army to 550,000 men. This is the point where appeasement began, as the British consented to the creation of a German navy negotiated a limit of 35% of the UK's strength. In 1936 the German army, previously having been barred from the region by the Treaty of Versailles, marched into the Rhineland on France's borders.
In 1938, the German army marched into Austria and incorporated it into the German Reich. This event, called the Anschluss, was met with enthusiasm by the Austrian public, and it was confirmed by a later plebiscite. It was conducted under heavy scrutiny by the Germans and the results were falsified to an absurd 99.7% approval. Having swallowed Austria with no problems, Hitler then instigated the "Sudeten crisis" by kicking up a fuss about the fact that Czechoslovakia had a number of ethnic Germans living in the border areas of Bohemia-Moravia. In May 1938 it became known to the international community that Hitler was drawing up plans to invade Czechoslovakia; if that happened the French and possibly the British would be pulled into another European war. The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain considered any capitulation preferable to a repeat of the Great War. Thus, with no input from the Czechs, Chamberlain agreed that all Czech provinces with more than 50% German population would be handed off to Germany with a plebiscite to be held in the rest. The Munich Agreement was celebrated by Europe, as it seemingly prevented another continental war.
The loss of the Sudetenland catastrophically weakened Czechoslovakia, and in March 1939, Hitler violated the Munich agreement and sent the German army to occupy the rest of it. Czechoslovakia was then carved up between Germany, which took Bohemia-Moravia, the "Slovak Republic", a German puppet, and Poland, which annexed the Polish-majority region called Zaolzie. Around the same time, Germany regained the small territory of Memel from Lithuania by threatening war. Nazi Germany, without any conflict, had eaten most of central Europe. Ultimately, this blatant betrayal of his own word was the final straw for the Allies, and they made a guarantee that they would fight to protect Poland's independence. Hitler, for his part, had begun the same routine all over again by shouting about ethnic Germans in the city of Danzig.
Even more sinister was the Nazi concept of "Lebensraum", or "living space." The core idea was that the German people needed to conquer vast swathes of territory in Eastern Europe in order to ensure their future growth. Lebensraum was directly inspired by the suffering Germany endured during the Great War. The British had imposed a naval blockade against Germany, and the resulting starvation and resource shortages contributed to Germany's defeat. Hitler was determined that Germany would never again be defeated by resource shortages, and he looked to the “incalculable raw materials” in the Urals, the “rich forests” of Siberia, and the “incalculable farmlands” of the Ukraine. He also added a racial element to lebensraum by claiming that the Soviet Union was run by Jews and was therefore a just target for Nazi expansionism. The realization of Hitler's plans would have resulted from the extermination of hundreds of millions of people in Eastern Europe.
Soviet–Japanese border conflicts
Japan and the Soviet Union fought a war against each other throughout the summer of 1939 which involved that caused about 30,000 to 50,000 casualties. The conflict was instigated by Japanese officer Tsuji Masanobu with a strike across the Manchuria-Mongolia border, but the Soviets and their Mongolian puppets successfully defended against the initial strikes. The angry Japanese continued to escalate the conflict, although there was never a formal declaration of war. The Soviets responded by sending in tanks along with their brilliant commander Georgy Zhukov. The subsequent course of the war taught the Japanese that an infantry army on open ground is highly vulnerable to armored vehicles and that superior morale is not a substitute for superior firepower.
Although a seemingly small event, the border conflict had an outsized impact on events. Japan's humiliation at the hands of the technologically superior Soviets caused them to abandon their policy of "hokushin-ron" or "Northern Expansion Doctrine", which would have seen Japan eventually attempt to invade and annex Russia's resource-rich Siberian frontier. Instead, Japan decided on "nanshin-ron", which saw them invade the Philippines and Indonesia. Further political considerations including the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact led Japan to sign a nonaggression treaty with the Soviets in 1941 that lasted until the final days of the war.
As the final step before kicking off the festivities, Hitler sent his Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop to Russia with the goal of ensuring that Germany would not be fighting the Russians when they inevitably invaded Poland. Joseph Stalin had lost faith in the Western powers as they repeatedly failed to contain Hitler's aggression, and had been turned down on offers of an alliance by the French and British on several occasions. He also needed time to rebuild the Soviet military after he had purged it of many of its officers while also carrying out a massive campaign of modernization of equipment, and he also needed to avoid a two front war against Germany and Japan. With both leaders’ interests coinciding at the moment, the two nations signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, also commonly known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Publicly, the pact simply stated that neither country would go to war with the other, but privately it divided Eastern and Central Europe between the Nazis and the Soviets. The two powers agreed to split Poland between them while the Soviets also gained a free hand to either bully or annex the Baltic states and Finland. With the Soviets neutralized as a threat and the Western powers seemingly unwilling to throw down on Poland's behalf, Hitler kicked off the world war just a week later.
Despite some believing after the war that Hitler and Stalin were secretly BFFs, both sides viewed war with the other as an inevitability. Hitler was a militant anti-communist who had risen to power in no small part due to the imagined specter of the Judeo-Bolshevik threat, and viewed the conquest and colonization of Eastern Europe as necessary for the survival of the so called "Aryan" in the face of the British and French empires. Furthermore, peaceful coexistence (especially with "inferior" Slavs) was impossible given Nazi ideology. The Nazi regime was built around having an enemy to fight, and could not exist without one. Stalin, for his part, was diametrically opposed to Hitler's ideology, both in practical and ideological terms. The Soviets had spent a not insignificant amount of time and money helping some of Hitler's staunchest rivals in pre-war Germany, and Soviet territorial ambitions were directly opposed to those of the Nazis. The two nations would collide, it was just a matter of when. The treaty was a pragmatic move to buy some time from both sides, as they prepared to fight the other.
Outbreak in Europe
Blitzkrieg on Poland
Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 after having staged multiple false flag border incidents designed to place blame for the ensuing violence on the Poles. By coordinating with their Soviet ally and their Slovakian puppet, the Germans were able to force the Poles to defend on three fronts. Poland fought valiantly, but they were tremendously outnumbered. There's a persistent myth that Polish horse cavalry charged German tanks; however this is bullshit: Polish lancers mostly used their horses for fast, cheap transportation, and the few actual cavalry charges were against infantry and all were successful. There were also some notable examples of Polish skill and tenacity. The Battle of Wizna, for instance, saw 720 Polish soldiers defend a fortification for three days against 42,200 German soldiers and 350 tanks. Nonetheless, Poland's defeat was inevitable.
Despite declaring war, neither the British nor the French aided the Poles against Germany. The French launched a limited invasion of Germany's western borderlands, which was unopposed due to Hitler having deployed almost all of Germany's armed forces to the east. After advancing for only a few short miles, the French withdrew to focus on the defensive.
After the defeat of Poland many Polish soldiers fled to Britain, where they continued to fight, and Polish code-breakers played a major — perhaps decisive — role in the eventual Allied victory. Polish resistance continued after the fall of their government, and this resistance movement was the largest under the German Reich. The Polish Home Army at its peak numbered about 300,000 people.
The Winter War
With Poland finished and with Germany apparently having consented to it, the Soviets turned their attention towards Finland. The Soviets sent the Finns an ultimatum demanding that they move their border further back from Leningrad and lease their naval bases. When the Finns refused, the Soviets attacked. The Finns fought from behind the heavily fortified Mannerheim Line, while the Red Army struggled due to having most of its officers purged by Stalin in the years before the war. After making little progress in 1939, the Soviets finally used their superior artillery to breach the Finnish fortifications. Although they lost the war, Finland's valiant defense ensured that it was able to keep its independence after being forced to make territorial concessions.
The Red Army, on the other hand, performed abysmally. In fact, the humiliating affair convinced the entire world that the Soviet Union would be a pushover if the Germans were to attack them. This miscalculation had horrific consequences.
The Phoney War
Also called the "Sitzkrieg", the Phoney War is a term which describes the period from September 1939 to April 1940 when the Allies and the Germans just sort of stared at each other across the French border. This period was far from pointless, however. The Battle of the Atlantic had begun in earnest, pitting Hitler's U-boat navy against Allied merchant shipping. Hitler hoped to starve the British isles of imports and force them to sue for peace. As an outgrowth of the naval war, Hitler invaded Denmark and Norway. Germany swiftly occupied Denmark before it was able to respond, but this was only in preparation for the more important attack on Norway. Norway was deemed critical to Germany's interests for two reasons. First, it had a long coastline on the North Sea, which would give Germany access to the Atlantic to fight the British. Secondly, Germany's iron imports from Sweden ran through Norway, and when the British boarded a Norwegian ship with no protest, the Germans decided that this trade route was under threat.
The aftermath of the successful invasion of Norway saw Hitler put the notorious collaborator Vidkun Quisling in charge. The fall of Norway was met with consternation in the UK, as the public feared that Germany could use it as a base to attack Great Britain. Neville Chamberlain resigned in disgrace due to the failure of his appeasement policies, and Winston Churchill, who had always taken a hard line against Hitler, became Prime Minister.
The Soviets, meanwhile, invaded and annexed the Baltic states.
The Fall of France
As all this was going on, France sat securely behind its supposedly unbreakable defensive fortifications which they called the "Maginot Line." The crucial weakness in the line, however, was that it did not extend to the Belgian border. The French mistakenly believed that the Ardennes Forest was too dense to drive armored vehicles through, and the Belgians probably wouldn't have appreciated it if the French seemed to be using their country as a meat shield. The French had also made serious miscalculations in the inter-war period, leading to their (actually quite formidable) tanks being sparsely spread through infantry formations, rather than concentrated into separate divisions, and a severe lack of radio communications (command tanks, for example, were expected to relay orders via semaphore) meant that the French army simply could not act as quickly or cohesively as that of the Nazis, who widely proliferated radios among infantry, armor and aircraft. The French army was large and quite well equipped, superior in some respect to the Nazis, but it was also rendered catastrophically sluggish due to this lack of communication. The French air forces, while they did have a number of good to excellent aircraft, were absolutely tiny compared to the Luftwaffe, and so could not mount any significant resistance.
In a daring and ambitious move, the German army sent a group of tanks to slice through the Ardennes in southern Belgium and invade northern France, all of this being completed in three days. At the Battle of Sedan, the German army used its air power and the element of surprise to shatter the Allied defenders. This victory allowed the Germans to push for the English Channel and completely encircle the Allied armies. The Germans also invaded the Netherlands, which was successful after the Germans bombed the shit out of Rotterdam and threatened to do the same to the rest of the Dutch cities. After the complete failure of the Allies to defend northern France, the British had no choice but to withdraw. With their main force encircled at the port city of Dunkirk, the British managed to evacuate most of their men by sea. Italy entered the war by invading southern France once it became clear that the Nazis were going to win.
Political crisis began in France, which culminated with President Albert Lebrun appointing Philippe Pétain as Prime Minister of France. Pétain signed the armistice with Germany shortly thereafter, surrendering much of his country to occupation. His government subsequently became a Nazi puppet dictatorship popularly known as Vichy France.
Contrary to the "cheese-eating-surrender-monkey" perception of France, the French soldiers often fought ferociously, culminating with French forces covering the British evacuation at great cost to themselves, and many of the French continued to fight on after their defeat, both in the form of the French Resistance and the Free French. Unfortunately, those loyal to Vichy collaborated with the Germans. The French record on treatment of Jews was decidedly mixed; French Jews were protected to the extent possible, while foreign Jews were turned over to the Nazis with what has been described as "enthusiasm."
The Battle of Britain
Having conquered Western Europe, Hitler gave a weak "appeal to reason", essentially asking the British to concede defeat and put down their weapons. Churchill naturally refused. The Battle of Britain commenced in summer 1940 when the Luftwaffe began conducting air strikes on British military and air force targets with the hope of gaining air superiority ahead of a potential invasion. Hitler clung to his belief that the British would quit the war for quite a while. After he finally saw reason, Hitler ordered the hasty creation of a real invasion plan, the cobbled-together "Operation Sea Lion."
The British army had been forced to leave behind much of their heavy equipment at Dunkirk, and even bullets were in short supply. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, remained powerful. The UK also had strengthened its air defenses with anti-aircraft guns, searchlight teams, and decoy airfields. Crucially, the British also had the advantage of a coastal radar system which helped give some warning of Luftwaffe raids. Pilots from the British Commonwealth and the United States as well as the defeated European allies helped defend the Home Isles from Germany.
Seeking to destroy the Royal Air Force through attrition, the Luftwaffe mounted ceaseless attacks against British air bases, causing severe damage and forcing them to move further inland. In late August, a German bomber mistakenly struck a civilian part of London, prompting the British to bomb Berlin in retaliation. Enraged by the attack on Berlin, Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to focus on hitting London and other cities. Although it caused terror among civilians, the so-called "London Blitz" was a strategic mistake on the part of the Germans. By focusing on the cities, the Luftwaffe stopped destroying the RAF's air bases and the nation's factories, allowing the British time to recover and rebuild their air force. It also allowed the British to conduct retaliatory bombing raids on German cities. The Blitz failed to significantly disrupt the British war effort.
“”First they were too cowardly to take part. Now they are in a hurry so they can share the spoils.
|—Hitler's remarks on Italy's entry into the war.|
After hastily declaring war on France, Italy immediately suffered raids from the British on their unprepared garrisons in Libya. From the beginning, Mussolini's Italy was woefully outmatched by every other great power. They lacked much heavy industry, suffered shortages of most strategic goods, and their military and civilian bureaucracy was hopelessly inefficient.
Mussolini made things worse for himself by abruptly declaring war on Greece in late 1940 before his military had drafted war plans and without bothering to inform Hitler. Italy based its invasion out of Albania, which it had annexed before the war. Despite having numerical superiority, the Italians struggled against Mussolini's idiocy. Italy had invaded during Greece's rainy season from a country that had little infrastructure to fight against a heavily fortified and mountainous country.
Italian defeats in Northern Africa, meanwhile, convinced Hitler to send Erwin Rommel and the Afrika Korps to save them. The Germans and Italians struggled against poor logistics and worse terrain. The Italian navy suffered defeats as well such as the decisive British aircraft raid on Italy's navy in the Gulf of Taranto, or the loss and damage of many of their capital ships south of Crete.
In spring 1941, an anti-Axis coup overthrew Yugoslavia's German-aligned government. Germany responded by invading Yugoslavia along with their Axis allies Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Germany, which had sought to remain neutral, later agreed to bail out the flailing Italians in Greece but this necessitated critically delaying their planned invasion of the Soviet Union.
Expanding in scope
“”We only have to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.
|—Adolf "Life Comes At You Fast" Hitler.|
On June 22nd of 1941, the Axis launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union involving around 4.5 million soldiers. Although characterized as a mistake, Operation Barbarossa was the entire point of Hitler's expansionism in the east and his invasion of Poland. Hitler's concept of "Lebensraum" demanded that the Soviet Union be colonized by Germany. Prepared in 1941 and confirmed in 1942, the Nazi "Generalplan Ost" called for, over a 10-year period, the extermination, expulsion, enslavement or Germanicisation of most or all Poles and East Slavs still living in Europe and projected the eventual expulsion and extermination of more than 50 million Slavs beyond the Ural mountains within 50 years with a small remainder to survive within Germany's borders to be used as slave labor. Of course, this hideous plan for unthinkable genocide could only happen after the Soviet Union had been crushed. Thus, Operation Barbarossa.
Trusting of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet leadership and military command were taken completely by surprise. The Red Army had also been weakened by Stalin's purges. Soviet troops misused their tanks and equipment, but they also fought with such tenacity that a refusal to withdraw among Red Army units led to many of them being encircled and destroyed. The concept of mass Soviet surrenders and Soviet soldiers only able to fight due to the guns and threats of their commissars is a myth, just like the myth of Stalin going catatonic upon hearing the news.
Although successful, the initial German advance ran into a number of problems. The Russian rainy season had come and turned the nation's roads into mud, and the Soviets had implemented a successful scorched earth policy which saw entire factories being dismantled and shipped eastward. The Main Nazi plan also assumed that they would just win, along with ignoring the problems of logistics which would prevent them from going beyond Smolensk before halting. Finland had also joined the Germans in their attack due to the Soviet Union's continual attempts to infringe on their sovereignty, and Finnish troops helped the Germans lay siege to the city of Leningrad. The siege resulted in 2 million deaths, or about 40% of the city's population. The German campaign to take Moscow was delayed by Hitler's decision to focus on capturing Soviet industry in Ukraine and the Caucasus. Thus, despite threatening to take the city, the Germans struggled against the fall rains and the brutal Russian winter on top of dogged Soviet resistance, and they suffered their first great defeat of the war.
Certain clueless Americans shall not be forgiven if they persist in thinking that the war began in late 1941 with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. They will also not be forgiven for thinking the US swooped in and single-handedly won the war in the time of a 14 episode miniseries, saving the world from fascism. Without the Red Army facing the hardships it did, it's not a stretch to say things would look a lot different today. That being said, the Soviets were aided by American lend-lease. It truly was the Allies that beat the Axis, not any one nation.
While Hitler was stomping on Europe, Japan was reaching the limit of its ability in the East. Running low on raw materials due to an American embargo, the Japanese decided to fight a full war with the US. They feared that the US would intervene if they attacked the Western Allies' holdings in Southeast Asia, and the US would not lift the oil embargo unless Japan abandoned its war in China. Thus, in their minds, the Japanese had no choice but to go to war with the United States. Realizing that they were too weak to win a prolonged conflict, Japan settled on a tactic it hoped would buy it time to conquer its way through Southeast Asia without American interference. This would be a surprise attack on the American Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese were aided by American peacetime military incompetence which was fueled by a racist underestimation of Japan's capabilities. Unfortunately for the Japanese, while the attack largely went off without a hitch, America's aircraft carriers were not in the harbor at the time of the attack, so they survived and left the US with a strong presence in the Pacific. Nonetheless, the attack killed almost 3,000 Americans and enraged the US public.
The US Congress quickly declared war at the urging of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Nazi Germany then declared war on the US. The US implemented conscription and began Japanese American internment. Its industrial production quickly began to ramp up, which would be a deciding factor in the war.
Japanese advances in the Pacific
A day after Pearl Harbor, US planes in the Philippines were caught on the ground and destroyed by a Japanese strike. The US navy was forced to withdraw by Japanese aerial attacks, and Japanese soldiers landed in the Philippines. US forces under General Douglas MacArthur withdrew to the Bataan Peninsula on Luzon Island but were defeated there by the Japanese. The surviving American and Filipino prisoners were forced to endure the "Bataan Death March", where their Japanese captors forced them to walk to prison camps under grueling conditions and arbitrary executions. About 20,000 people died.
Japan also attacked the other Allied Powers. They used their famous "bicycle infantry" to sweep through the jungles of Malaya and take Singapore from the British, stormed Hong Kong, invaded Burma from the territory of their ally Thailand, and occupied the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) in early 1942. Japan even managed to bomb a naval base in Australia and invade an Australian city in what is now Papua New Guinea.
These easy victories over the unprepared Western Allies left Japan overconfident and overextended.
The Allies turn the tide
The Eastern Front, 1942-1943
Although the Battle of Moscow was a devastating defeat for Nazi Germany, it was far from decisive, and the Wehrmacht was able to hold on to its gains for most of 1942 even against the Red Army's fiercest counterattacks. They smashed the Soviets at the Second Battle of Kharkov and resumed their offensive in summer 1942. Germany's goal in later 1942 was the capture of the Soviet Union's Caucasus oil fields and the elimination of food shipments going up and down the Volga River. If this could be achieved, the Germans reasoned that the Soviets would be unable to continue fighting without their oil and food production capacity. They started to make perpetration for Case Blue, which would see Army Group South split into two new "army groups". Army Group B would advance to Stalingrad, and then cross the Volga to protect Army Group A, which would seize the resources in the Caucasus.
During the Battle of Stalingrad, Army Group B relied on its under-equipped Balkan and Italian allies to hold their flanks as their better equipped divisions pushed into the city itself. They also faced the usual stubborn resistance from the Red Army, along with the urban terrain providing the Russians with notable defensive advantages. The Soviets survived under aerial bombardment and a shortage of supplies. The Soviets then launched Operation Little Saturn, which the took the Germans by surprise, and they encircled the German Sixth Army under Gen. Friedrich Paulus, who was refused permission by Hitler to retreat due to the Luftwaffe's promise to resupply the city by aerial transports. The Soviets where able to push into the city itself, winning the battle as a result, inflicting about 800,000 casualties on the Axis and almost wiping out the Sixth Army.
After Stalingrad, the Soviets tried to keep up the momentum by launching a slew of offensives, most famously around Kharkov and near Leningrad. This is when the Kursk bulge was created. In mid-1943, the Germans made a fateful decision to attack that Soviet salient. A last-ditch effort to salvage their Eastern offensive, the Germans mustered almost a million soldiers and 2,700 tanks. The Soviets, however, had known that the Germans would try to strike there, and as a result constructed massive defensive belts in the salient, along with building up forces around the north and south ends of the bulge. As a result, the two spearheads bogged down immediately, leading Operation Citadel to become a attritional slugfest that the favored the Soviets instead of the lightning blitzkrieg the Germans intended. This was also where most of the famous third generation German tanks appeared, with the Panthers and Ferdinand's destroying themselves during the battle. With Operation Citadel stuck fast and going no where, the Soviets used to opportunity to launch their own series of massive offensives that raged across the rest of the year, inexorably driving the Germans back and grinding them down. By the end of 1943, the Germans and their allies had been completely pushed out of Russia proper as well as the gross majority of Ukraine, with Army Groups Center and North sticking out on the Belorussian shelf. Most historians agree that by this point, the Soviets had gained the strategic upperhand and were going to roll to Berlin regardless of what happened in the west.
Axis collapse in North Africa and Southern Europe
Throughout 1942 the British wore down and defeated the ill-supplied Axis forces under Erwin Rommel, most notably during the Battles of El Alamein. Hoping to relieve pressure on the Soviets and open the way for an invasion of Southern Europe, the Western Allied forces under Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower invaded Morocco and Algeria, which were colonies of Vichy France. Unfortunately, the French did not fold as expected but instead strongly resisted. For some reason, this hasn't put to rest the false caricature of the Vichy French as reluctant collaborators.
While Rommel escaped to Tunisia after the Allies took Morocco and Algeria, but he was sandwiched between them and the British forces in Egypt and Libya. Although waging a skillful defensive campaign, Rommel was overwhelmed by the Allies. With northern Africa
liberated passed from the bad guy colonizers to the less bad guy colonizers, the Allies were free to use it as a base for operations against Europe. In late summer 1943, the Allies executed a successful invasion of Sicily. This was quickly followed up in September with the invasion of Italy itself. With Anglo-American boots on the ground, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy successfully instigated the removal of Benito Mussolini from power. Italy switched sides and declared war on the Axis, but German troops managed to free Benito Mussolini in a badass commando raid and put him in charge of a Nazi puppet government based out of northern Italy. The so-called "Italian Social Republic" existed only because it was heavily occupied and defended by German troops.
Turning the tide in the Pacific
The Battle of Midway in June 1942 marked a definitive turning point in the Pacific War, as the Americans sank four Japanese aircraft carriers at a cost of one. The aftermath of the battle saw the initiative shift to the Americans and gave the US Navy an advantage going into the Guadalcanal offensive campaign. The victory at Midway also meant that the Allies could shift their attention back to Europe and plan their invasion of North Africa and Southern Europe.
The US push across the Pacific began with the Gilbert and Marshall Islands Campaign against areas which were considered important Japanese naval outposts. Operation Cartwheel in late 1943 saw the Japanese pushed out of New Britain, an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. In early 1944, the US retook the central Pacific along with their island colony of Guam.
Although it is given less attention than amphibious assaults and aerial bombardment in cartoon History Channel retellings (again), the winning weapons in the Pacific Theater of the war was unrestricted U.S. submarine warfare. The massive shipping losses deprived the Japanese of the material necessary for war. The American aerial bombardment of Japanese cities repeated the horrors of the British firebombing of German cities.
Japan also faced an increasingly costly war of attrition against the Chinese, who were receiving aid from the Western Allies.
Liberation of France
On June 6th, 1944, the Western Allies invaded Normandy, the northern coast of France. The amphibious landings were preceded by aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault, but the actual battles fell into a stalemate for much of June and July. The breakthrough didn't happen until August, but when it did, France was swiftly liberated. This was also helped by the Allied landings in southern France at about the same time.
France's liberation had a dark side, as the civilian populace took revenge against anyone perceived to have collaborated with or given comfort to the Nazi occupiers. About 20,000 women were branded and forcibly shaved as public humiliation for allegedly sleeping with Germans, but this practice itself was possibly inspired by the fact that the Nazis did the same thing to Aryan women who allegedly slept with non-Aryans.
The Allies broke out of Paris over the later half of 1944 and advanced to the borders of Germany. During this time, the Germans launched their last great offensive on the Western Front which resulted in the harrowing Battle of the Bulge. Although inflicting the third deadliest campaign in American history, the Germans used up most of their strength in the last desperate push. They were functionally dead afterwards.
“”Today it is obvious to any sober-minded person that the German Reich has lost the war. All governments responsible for the destiny of their countries must draw the appropriate conclusions from this fact, for as a great German statesman, Bismarck, once said, 'No nation ought to sacrifice itself on the altar of an alliance.'
|—Miklós Horthy, October 1944.|
The Soviets also spent 1944 on the offensive. Even before D-Day, Soviets offensives in the winter and spring of 1944 cleared out remaining German holdouts out of Ukraine, retook the Crimea, and even pushed over the pre-war border in Poland and Romania in certain places. By the summer of 1944, Operation Bagration dwarfed the D-Day landings, as the Soviets used 2.5 million soldiers to demolish three Axis armies and force the Germans into full retreat. The Soviets had actually overestimated Germany's strength while Germany had done the opposite, and Russia thus inflicted the worst German military disaster of the entire war by causing almost half-a-million casualties among Germany's already failing Wehrmacht.
Realizing that the Nazis were at death's door, but that the Soviets might prove to be just another oppressor, Polish partisans unsuccessfully rose up in Warsaw. In a foreshadowing of the Cold War, the Red Army deliberately stopped advancing on Warsaw and allowed the Nazis to crush the Poles despite having promised to support the attack earlier. As the world was starting to learn, Stalin had no interest in an independent Poland.
The Soviets captured Warsaw in early 1945, also liberating the Auschwitz death camp, but Warsaw’s pre-war population of 1.3 million was now down to just 153,000. Hitler's smaller Axis allies deserted him during the final phase of the war. Romania, invaded by the Soviets from Ukraine, surrendered in September 1944. Bulgaria surrendered almost immediately afterwards without firing a shot. Hungary tried to quit the war a month later, but Germany invaded it and imposed a puppet regime. That was all for naught, as the Soviets defeated the German garrison of Budapest in early 1945.
Finishing the war
Fall of Germany
The Allies spent the first half of 1945 closing in on Germany. Due to the gains made in 1944, the Soviets had the honor of taking Berlin, although they were supported by aircraft from the Western Allies before being handed off to the Soviets. The Soviets bombarded and ground through German defenses at the Seelow Heights, losing 30,000 men during one of the last pitched battles of the war. On the 30th of April, the Soviets took the Königsplatz, the city square right in front of the Reichstag and then fought the Germans inside the building itself.
Hitler, the great and infallible Führer of the Thousand-Year Reich, went out like a bitch.
When it became obvious that Berlin would fall (and facing a barrage of Internet memes), Hitler committed suicide in a secure bunker rather than own up to his defeat, and his body was burned in a bomb crater outside the bunker. In the chaos of battle, Hitler's remains were never positively identified until 2017. German resistance ended shortly after the death was announced.
Germany officially surrendered to the Allies on May 7th.
Fall of Japan
In the Pacific War, the US crushed the remainder of Japan's navy at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the, the largest naval engagement in human history. The Japanese had gambled everything on one final climactic showdown there, and it didn't go their way. This battle was also the first in which Japan implemented the concept of a "special attack", better known as the kamikaze, against the US Navy. Suicidal pilots tried to crash their planes or manned missile into American warships. Meanwhile, sailors attempted the same thing with manned torpedoes. In spite of this desperate and horrifying tactic, the American war effort pushed ever closer to the Japanese homeland, and an Allied invasion looked imminent. US ground forces captured the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa after a bitter and prolonged fight. During the battle of Okinawa, Japan's flagship Yamato and some escorts were sent on a one-way trip as a last-ditch attempt to defend the latter island from the Americans, but ended up being sunk by a series of massive US carrier strikes. This definitively eliminated the Imperial Japanese Navy from the war.
Originally begun because Nazi Germany was believed to have started work on a nuclear bomb, the Manhattan Project succeeded in creating a usable nuclear weapon. Rather than sending troops in, President Truman (taking over for the now-deceased FDR) instead consented to dropping a gun-type uranium fission nuclear weapon (named "Little Boy") on the industrial city of Hiroshima, on 6 August 1945, after warning the Japanese that refusing to surrender would have terrible consequences. When Japan took too long in deliberating, Truman ordered the drop of a second nuclear weapon, an implosion-type plutonium fission bomb named "Fat Man", on Nagasaki. This made World War II the world's first (and so far, only) nuclear war. The same day, the Soviets launched a massive invasion of Manchuria, quickly defeating the Japanese occupation force. The sudden Soviet invasion and the obliteration of two large cities were a profound shock to the Japanese, and the next day their government informed the Allies that they were willing to surrender, only asking to be allowed to keep the emperor as a figurehead. The Japanese leadership later signed a declaration of unconditional surrender on 2 September 1945, ending the war.
Genocide and atrocities
Holocaust and other German atrocities
In their quest to create a "racially pure" state, Nazi Germany committed genocide against ethnic and other groups they considered inferior. Among those murdered were six million Jews, another six million non-Jewish Soviet civilians, about three million Soviet POWs, about two million non-Jewish Polish civilians, and about one million total of Roma, Serbian civilians, disabled people, "asocials", and homosexuals.
The decision to exterminate Europe's Jews was made in 1941 by Adolf Hitler and his inner circle, and many top Nazi officials worked out the details of the plan at the Wannsee Conference in 1942, overseen by Reinhard Heydrich. The Holocaust began with mass shootings conducted by the so-called Einsatzgruppen, which were battalion-sized units from the Reich Security Main Office as well as units from the Waffen-SS. About 40% of the Holocaust's victims were murdered in this way. One massacre in Babi Yar, Ukraine saw the Einsatzgruppen kill 34,000 people over the course of about a week. The Germans invented the gas van, a vehicle which had an airtight compartment into which the vehicle's exhaust fumes could be vented for the purpose of killing its victims. Most infamous were the extermination camps such as Auschwitz, Sobibor, and Treblinka, in which tens of thousands of prisoners could be gassed to death and incinerated each day.
The Eastern Front also saw Nazi Germany partially implement its "Generalplan Ost", which would have led to the extermination of most, if not all, ethnic Slavs in the areas Germany conquered. Soviet POWs were kept in deliberately unlivable conditions.
Nazi Germany also extensively used slave labor during the war, kidnapping an estimated 12 million Europeans. Historian Ulrich Herbert of the University of Freiburg said, "Employment of foreign forced laborers was not only limited to large-scale enterprises. It was applied throughout the whole economy; from the small farm and locksmith's shop with just six workers, to the national railway system, the local authority districts, the big armament companies and also many private households."
Japanese war crimes
The Japanese, again, also engaged in horrific activities, with some estimates exceeding 20 million dead from their campaign in the Far East, mostly Chinese. Japan was the only nation in the war to use biological and chemical weapons in combat, deploying bubonic plague, cholera and anthrax against Chinese forces as well as phosgene, chlorine, Lewisite, nausea gas (nitrochloroform) and mustard gas: it is estimated Imperial Japan's biological weapon program alone resulted in 400,000-580,000 deaths. Most infamous were the murders in Nanjing and Manila, and many suffered horrific medical experiments or were exposed to biological weapons at the hands of Unit 731. Prisoners and inhabitants of occupied territories were treated abysmally, with men forced into slave labor and women forced into prostitution ("comfort women") to service the Japanese military. Oddly, these atrocities were largely ignored, or even denied, by later Japanese governments (a particularly infamous Japanese textbook referred to the Rape of Nanking as "a few deaths"), and serious international debate about these atrocities as war crimes or acts of genocide did not begin until around the 1990s.
Towards the end of WW2 Soviet troops took vast swathes of Eurasia, causing it to become a superpower, this was bad news for the US. Various plans for war like "Operation Unthinkable" or Warplan Pincher - some of which incorporated the use of nuclear weapons - were put forward, but the ideas were rejected on grounds both practical (there weren’t enough nukes yet and the USSR was a behemoth in conventional land power compared to the Western Allies) and political (the Western public didn’t think of the Soviets as an enemy yet and were unlikely to sanction aggressive war). But relations didn’t get better. Initial attempts were made to work together; however, mutual distrust and Soviet aggression led to a quick breakdown of this cooperation. While the US gave and lent vast sums of money to Western Europe and parts of Asia via the Marshall Plan (thus rebuilding those areas), the Soviets demanded great reparations from the areas that came under their control. In the end, the two systems were so incompatible that the Cold War became the new norm. Both Germany and Korea were divided along the lines drawn by the occupying Allied and Soviet forces (and leading to the Korean War), and the world settled into a long era of deep hostility and mistrust.
Even before the war was over, people and governments were intentionally distorting events. This is not a great surprise; wartime propaganda was rather common. Afterwards, various factions have continued to rewrite the history of the war to their own ends, portraying themselves or a group they support as the "good guys." For example, Holocaust denial became popular in neo-Nazi circles, as are distortions of the events in China and Korea that took place in postwar Japan.
More insidious were the post war attempts to portray both the Nazis and Imperial Japanese regimes as some sort of external force, descending from the skies to commit atrocities, of which the German and Japanese people knew nothing, and if they did, they would have TOTALLY opposed. The reality is, millions of German and Japanese people not only wholeheartedly supported, but actively participated in these crimes, and the widespread indoctrination carried out by both governments (in addition to the colossal logistical challenges necessary to carry out these crimes) meant that very few would have been genuinely unaware. Hitler started much later, but very clearly outlined his beliefs and ambitions in countless speeches, books and slogans. Mein Kampf was a blockbuster, selling so many copies Hitler had a considerable fortune before he even came to power, and was later issued to every "Aryan" couple married in Nazi Germany, along with being required reading in schools. The Nazi party commanded considerable legitimate support in Germany, receiving tens of millions of votes in the elections before their ascension to power, and being either the first or second largest political party from 1930 onward. For the Japanese, the ideas of Yamato-damashii, a racist and reactionary ideology not all that different from that of the Nazis, had been official government policy since the Meiji restoration of the late 1860s, and existed for almost a millennia before that. It had been taught to every child, in every school, for almost an entire century before the war even began.
Furthermore, it is impossible to make a clear differentiation between these regimes and "the people", as, after all, who was it in the government? Who was it shooting Jews and beheading Chinese civilians? It was, ultimately, the people of these nations. The lesson to learn is not that it was a few bad apples, but rather that given the right circumstances, average people can be enticed to commit truly monstrous crimes. These were not space aliens. There were no mind control rays. They were not ignorant of what was going on. These were normal people who were convinced to go along with, and actually physically commit the worst atrocities of our time.
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