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10-08-2015, 17:05

The Turning Point of the War, 1942–1943

The entry of the United States into the war created a coalition, called the Grand Alliance, that ultimately defeated the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan). Nevertheless, the three major Allies—Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union—had to overcome mutual suspicions before they could operate as an effective alliance. In a bid to allay Stalin’s suspicion of U.S. intentions, President Roosevelt declared that the defeat of Germany should be the first priority of the alliance. The United States, under its Lend-Lease program, also sent large amounts of military aid, including $50 billion worth of trucks, planes, and other arms, to the Soviet Union. In 1943, the Allies agreed to fight until the Axis Powers surrendered unconditionally. This had the effect of making it nearly impossible for Hitler to divide his foes. On the other hand, it likely discouraged dissident Germans and Japanese from overthrowing their governments to arrange a negotiated peace. Victory, however, was only a vision for the distant future in the minds of Allied leaders at the beginning of 1942. As Japanese forces advanced into Southeast Asia and the Pacific after crippling the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Axis forces continued the war in Europe against Britain and the Soviet Union. Reinforcements in North Africa enabled the Afrika Korps under General Erwin Rommel to break through the British defenses in Egypt and advance toward Alexandria. In the spring of 1942, a renewed German offensive in the Soviet Union led to the capture of the entire Crimea, causing Hitler to boast that in two years, German divisions would be on the Indian border. By that fall, however, the war had begun to turn against the Germans. In North Africa, British forces stopped Rommel’s troops at El Alamein in the summer of 1942 and then forced them back across the desert. In November, U.S. forces landed in French North Africa and forced the German and Italian troops to surrender in May 1943. On the Eastern Front, the turning point of the war occurred at Stalingrad. After capturing the Crimea, Hitler’s generals wanted him to concentrate on the Caucasus and its oil fields, but Hitler decided that Stalingrad, a major industrial center on the Volga, should be taken first. After three months of bitter fighting, German troops were stopped, then encircled, and finally forced to surrender on February 2, 1943. The entire German Sixth Army of 300,000 men was lost, but Soviet casualties were estimated at nearly one million, more than the United States lost in the entire war. By spring, long before Allied troops returned to the European continent, even Hitler knew that the Germans would not defeat the Soviet Union. The tide of battle in the Pacific also turned dramatically in 1942 (see Map 6.2). In the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May, U.S. naval forces stopped the Japanese advance and temporarily relieved Australia of the threat of invasion. On June 4, near Midway Island, American carrier planes destroyed all four of the attacking Japanese aircraft carriers and established U.S. naval superiority in the Pacific, even though almost all the American planes were shot down in the encounter. By the fall of 1942, Allied forces were beginning to gather for offensive operations into South China from Burma, through the In- donesian islands by a process of “island hopping” by troops commanded by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, and across the Pacific with a combination of army, marine, and navy attacks on Japanese-held islands. After a series of bitter engagements in the waters off the Solomon Islands from August to November 1942, Japanese fortunes began to fade.