The German Offensive Begins Hitler eyes Poland Stalin and the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact with Germany – Agreed never to attack one another – Secret, 2nd pact to split Poland once taken Blitzkrieg, or lightning war, in Poland. – Fast tanks and powerful aircraft attacked before the opposition could raise an army.
So Poland got divvied up in September 1939.• Britain and France declare war on Germany, but don’t do anything, thus giving the nickname of The Phony War.• Starting on May 10, 1940, Hitler makes his move.• The German plan was to go through neutral Holland and Belgium and down into France, almost exactly like WWI.
•Another reason the Germans did things thisway was so as to avoid France’s Maginot Line. •France recognized that another war with Germany was possible and so it invested in a potent defensive strategy. •The Germans got around the Line by literally going around it. It didn’t cover the French-Belgian border. Oops. It did ok against the Italians, though.
• So the Germans go around the Line by going up through Belgium. • French and British forces are quickly pushed back up against the English Channel at Dunkirk.
• The soldiers were essentially stranded at Dunkirk surrounded by the Germans on one side and the sea on the other. • Fortunately, Great Britain was on the other side of that sea. Around 850 ships, most of them privately owned and of all varieties sail across the English Channel from 5/24 to 6/4 and rescue nearly 338,000 men from certain disaster.
Battle of Britain• So it’s June 1940, France had fallen, the Eastern Front had yet to be opened up, and the U.S. was thus far not directly involved (though FDR had been providing the British with material aid through the Lend-Lease Act).• It was Great Britain under Winston Churchill against Nazi Germany.
• The British were tenacious and the RAF fighters were a good match against the Germans. • The RAF was using early radar.• The Battle started in May. By September, the Luftwaffe started bombing London.• By mid-September, the invasion was given up, though night bombings continued until May 1941.• Hitler faced his first big defeat.
Junkers Ju 88 fighter-bomberMesserschmitt Bf 109 fighter
North Africa• There’s fighting here from June 1940 to May 1943.• Mussolini decides to attack the British in Egypt in order to capture the strategic Suez Canal.• The British fight back and paste the Italians, so Hitler steps in to help his ally.• Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is quite successful, but British and American landings eventually push him back.• Rommel was a very competent general and becomes a hero in Germany, though he later falls out of favor with Hitler and is forced to commit suicide.• British forces were led by Bernard Montgomery.
War also flares in the Balkans.• The Nazis defeat Greece in 17 days and raise the swastika over the Acropolis in Athens. That hurts.
Eastern Front• Hitler wanted the USSR and was impatient to get it. He launched a blitzkrieg on June 22, 1941 with over 4 million men.• The Soviets were not well-prepared. While they had a massive army, it was technologically inferior to the Germans, not as well-trained, and not nearly as well- commanded. • Keep in mind that Stalin had purged the officer corps shortly before the war. Not only did this get rid of good officers and generals, but it left mostly yes-men behind (would you want to tell Stalin he’s wrong?).
• The Germans advance quickly, aided by Soviet stupidity. • Communist tanks at this time tended to break down a lot. • Stalin initially ordered that no troops could retreat, which only meant the Germans surrounded them and cut them down.• With the German army in sight of the Kremlin, the Soviets launched a major counteroffensive and threw the Germans back.
• About this time, the Russian winter also set in… the same type of Russian winter that had cost Napoleon 570,000 of 600,00 strong army. • The German army was not prepared for the winter, such as not having sufficient winter clothing. Soldiers froze, so did vehicles, animals, gasoline (temperatures sometimes got down to -22), and grease. The Soviets knew the winter and were better prepared. • The German army became overstretched and its supply lines overextended. It didn’t help that Russian roads were bad and the rail system the wrong size.
• The Germans also underestimated the tenacity of the Soviets and the resilience of the government which Hitler thought was weak and would easily fall. • Scorched Earth policy was used. Entire factories were dismantled and transported east while the rest was burned, leaving the invaders nothing. • Battle of Leningrad, Battle of Stalingrad-Millions of Russians starve to death. • Germans eventually surrender-cannot defeat Russian Army • 500,000 Germans die on Eastern Front during that winter of 1941.