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World War II
the Final Years (1943-45)



A.) The Tide Turned : Stalingrad and El Alamein

In November 1942, German forces occupied an area stretching from the Atlantic coast to Stalingrad on the Volga river, from the North Cape to the Sahara desert. German propaganda called it FORTRESS EUROPE. However, fortress Europe had no roof. The Royal Air Force, after winning the Battle of Britain, had begun to systematically raid German cities, and the AIR BOMBARDMENTS made it more and more difficult for German industry to supply the fighting front.
On November 4th 1942, the BATTLE OF EL ALAMEIN was fought. The German and Italian forces were outnumbered, without supplies and reinforcements. And they were ordered to hold out to the last. In January 1943, Soviet forces advanced, encircling the 9th German army in STALINGRAD. The Russian artillery constantly battered the 230.000 German soldiers. An attempt to relieve them failed, the German Luftwaffe could not sufficiently supply the besieged army from the air. Hitler forbade any retreat. The Red Army took the city on Feb. 2nd, and 90.000 German soldiers were taken prisoner. El Alamein and Stalingrad mark the turning point of the war in the European theatre. From now on, the AXIS POWERS were on the retreat.


B.) The Eastern Front

Hitler channeled the new recruits into newly established SS divisions, thus withholding the armies on the fighting front desparately needed reinforcements. The front also experienced a severe lack of supplies. Since Stalingrad, it had to cope with a Soviet army with a dangerous heavy artillery, with robust tank units and a confident leadership. The advancing Red Army applied a lesson learned from Rommel, encircling German units, the most famous fought at KURSK. The SIEGE OF LENINGRAD was broken. By december 1943, the Red Army had reached the Dnjepr line. The decision fell in the central sector; the Red Army broke through west of Kiev, reaching Rovno, Tarnopol and Chernovits in April 1944. In German occupied areas, PARTISAN activity increased.


C.) The Fall of Africa and the Campaign in Italy

After El Alamein, the Afrika Corps fought a battle of retreat, with the British under field marshal MONTGOMERY on their heels. AFRIKA CORPS surrendered on May 13th 1943. The allies landed in SICILY on July 10th 1943. After the conquest of Sicily, the allies landed in Italy. However, because of the mountainous landscape, and because the Italians defended their homeland, progress was very slow and costly. On July 25th, MUSSOLINI was arrested, on the order of king Victor Emmanuel, and a new government was formed the next day marshal BADOGLIO. The fascist party was dissolved, secret negotiations with the allies begun.On Sept. 8th, the new government published an ARMISTICE AGREEMENT. Now German troops occupied Rome, liberated and reinstalled Mussolini. The Badoglio government had fled; Italy now had two governments - the Badoglio government in the south, liberated by the allies, and the REPUBBLICA SOCIALE ITALIANE under Mussolini, now a mere German puppet, in the north.
The allies inched their way up the boot by landing behind German lines. A tough battle was fought over MONTE CASSINO (Feb. 15th 1944); Rome was liberated June 4th.


D.) The Invasion of Normandy

Stalin had demanded the opening of a new front for a long time. A first attempt to land allied troops in France was made by Canadians in DIEPPE on Aug. 19th 1942. It ended up in a complete failure, the survivors either shipped back or taken prisoner. The Germans fortified the coastline between Skagen and the Pyrenees. The allied assembled a huge invasion force in southwest England : 11.000 planes, 4.000 ships, 3.000.000 soldiers. They massed mock airplanes and camps near Dover, creating the impression of a landing at the Pas de Calais. The decoy worked; Hitler, expecting the invasion there, ordered German forces to be massed there. On D-DAY, June 6th 1944, allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy (OPERATION OVERLORD). Overcoming heavy resistance, they established a beachhead.


E.) The Final Months

In August 1944, Soviet troops invaded Rumania. Rumania signed an armistice on Sept. 12th, Bulgaria on Oct. 28th. Tito's partisans had liberated Belgrade on Oct. 18th. The Balkans front was collapsing; the German forces from Greece were withdrawn. Further north, the Red Army had reconquered the Baltic republics and marched into eastern Poland. Meanwhile, the allies had landed troops in the Provence; by the end of the year, France was liberated.
FINLAND, Germany's last ally, meanwhile had to face a second invasion of the Red Army. Unlike the Germans, they were able to stop it, but still had to sign a peace treaty on Stalin's terms.
Hitler had used another year's recruits to establish new army divisions. In January 1945, he threw these new forces against American forces, in what is known as the BATTLE OF THE BULGE. The German advance was stopped after a few days, but it succeeded in halting the western allies' advance for a while. Germany still did not surrender. When the Red Army entered Germany's capital, and battle was raging in the streets of Berlin, Hitler committed suicide. On May 8th/9th, Germany SURRENDERED UNCONDITIONALLY - the war in Europe was over.





EXTERNAL
FILES
Library of Congress Country Studies : Germany
Nationalsozialistische Europapläne (National Socialist Plans for Europe), by Daniel Spichtinger, in German
DOCUMENTS World War II Documents, from the Avalon Project from Yale Law School
The German Surrender (1945) : Documents, from totse.com
Images from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : Red Flag hoisted on the Reichstag, Berlin, May 2nd 1945; US troops cross the Rhine at Remagen, May 3rd 1945; Gen. Jodl signs unconditional surrender at Reims, May 7th 1945; Gen. Keitel signs unconditional surrender to Soviets, Berlin-Karlshorst, May 8th1945 (1); Gen. Keitel signs unconditional surrender to Soviets, Berlin-Karlshorst, May 8th (2)
REFERENCE Article : Germany, in : Statesman's Year Book 1943 pp.951-977 [G]
Article : Germany, in : Americana Annual 1945 pp.318-321 (on events of 1944) [G]
Article : Germany, in : Americana Annual 1946 pp.314-321 (on events of 1945) [G]
Article : Germany, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1944 pp.311-315 [G]


This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on August 25th 2007

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