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10-08-2015, 17:05

The Last Years of the War

By the beginning of 1943, the tide of battle had begun to turn against the Axis. On July 10, the Allies crossed the Mediterranean and carried the war to Italy. After taking Sicily, Allied troops began the invasion of mainland Italy in September. Following the ouster and arrest of Benito Mussolini, a new Italian government offered to surrender to Allied forces. But the Germans, in a daring raid, liberated Mussolini and set him up as the head of a puppet German state in northern Italy while German troops occupied much of Italy. The new defensive lines established by the Germans in the hills south of Rome were so effective that the Allied advance up the Italian peninsula was slow and marked by heavy casualties. Rome finally fell on June 4, 1944. By that time, the Italian war had assumed a secondary role as the Allies opened their long-awaited second front in western Europe. Since the autumn of 1943, under considerable pressure from Stalin, the Allies had been planning a cross-channel invasion of France from Britain. Under the direction of U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890 –1969), five assault divisions landed on the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, in history’s greatest naval invasion. An initially indecisive German response enabled the Allied forces to establish a beachhead. Within three months, they had landed two million men and a half-million vehicles that pushed inland and broke through the German defensive lines. After the breakout, Allied troops moved south and east, liberating Paris by the end of August. By March 1945, they had crossed the Rhine and advanced farther into Germany. In late April, they finally linked up with Soviet units at the Elbe River. The Soviets had come a long way since the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943. In the summer of 1943, Hitler gambled on taking the offensive by making use of newly developed “Tiger” tanks. At the Battle of Kursk ( July 5–12), the greatest tank battle of World War II, the Soviets soundly defeated the German forces. Soviet forces now supplied with their own “T-34” heavy tanks, began a relentless advance westward. The Soviets reoccupied the Ukraine by the end of 1943, lifted the siege of Leningrad, and moved into the Baltic states by the beginning of 1944. Advancing along a northern front, Soviet troops occupied Warsaw in January 1945 and entered Berlin in April. Meanwhile, Soviet troops along a southern front swept through Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. In January 1945, Hitler moved into a bunker 55 feet under Berlin to direct the final stages of the war. He committed suicide on April 30, two days after Mussolini was shot by partisan Italian forces. On May 7, German commanders surrendered. The war in Europe was over. The war in Asia continued, although with a significant change in approach. Allied war planners had initially hoped to focus their main effort on an advance through China with the aid of Chinese Nationalist forces trained and equipped by the United States. But Roosevelt became disappointed with Chiang Kai-shek’s failure to take the offensive against Japanese forces in China and eventually approved a new strategy to strike toward the Japanese home islands directly across the Pacific. This islandhopping approach took an increasing toll on enemy resources, especially at sea and in the air. As Allied forces drew inexorably closer to the main Japanese islands in the summer of 1945, President Harry Truman, who had succeeded to the presidency on the death of Franklin Roosevelt in April, had an excruciatingly difficult decision to make. Should he use atomic weapons (at the time, only two bombs were available, and their effectiveness had not been demonstrated) to bring the war to an end without the necessity of an Allied invasion of the Japanese homeland? The invasion of the island of Okinawa in April had resulted in thousands of casualties on both sides, with many Japanese troops committing suicide rather than surrendering to enemy forces. After an intensive debate, Truman approved use of America’s new superweapon. The first bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima on August 6. Truman then called on Japan to surrender or expect a “rain of ruin from the air.” When the Japanese did not respond, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered unconditionally on August 14. World War II, in which seventeen million combatants died in battle and perhaps eighteen million civilians perished as well (some estimate total losses at fifty million), was finally over.

 

 

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