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11-08-2015, 18:57

The Turning Point of the War

Throughout 1941 and 1942 the Allies remained on the defensive, waiting for the enemy offensive to flag. Towards the end of 1942 a change of tide occurred on all fronts. The Allies had not yet assembled their lull resources, but the enemy was showing signs of strain. This was the turning point in the war. The change began in the Pacific. The Japanese had never planned to invade America or to draw America into an all-out war, but merely to compel the Americans to recognize their Asian Empire. In April 1 942, planes from an American aircraft carrier, which had escaped destruction at Pearl Harbour, bombed Tokyo. The Japanese were deeply shaken and decided to broaden their 'defensive perimeter' to include the Aleutian Islands and Hawaii. They sent a large fleet to capture Midway Island, but the Americans, who had deciphered the Japanese code, were able to prepare a defence. The Japanese were badly defeated on 4 and 5 June 1942, largely by American air superiority. The Japanese lost four aircraft carriers, and with them the air and naval advantage won at Pearl Harbour. A little later, in August 1942, the Americans launched their first amphibious landing and checked the Japanese southward advance at Guadalcanal. All Japanese supplies had to be transported by sea, and their lines of communication were overstretched. Their convoys were vulnerable and succumbed easily to American submarine attacks. The Japanese had lost a million tons of ships by the end of December 1942. Although the Americans had not launched a counteroffensive in the Pacific, they had succeeded in halting Japanese expansion. The Italo- German forces in Africa also met with reverses. While the Soviet offensive was underway Hitler could not spare large forces to make inroads towards Gibraltar, Malta and Bizerta in the Mediterranean. He sent a few squadrons of Luftwaffe to Sicily and an army, under the command of Rommel, to Libya. Both camps received essential supplies from convoys, which were constantly subject to attack. The Allied convoys sailed east and west across the Mediterreanean while the Axis convoys sailed north and south. Malta was in a key position at the crossroads of the two shipping lanes. In spring 1942, after Rommel's request for reinforcements had been granted, he launched an offensive which arrived within forty miles of Alexandria in a single leap. The British fleet cautiously evacuated the port of Alexandria. Egypt was threatened and Egyptian nationalists began to stir. Mussolini prepared to march triumphantly into Cairo oiia white charger. But Rommel, who had spent some of his forces and had extended supply lines for his offensive, did not have enough petrol and tanks left for the last thrust to victory. At the same time, American equipment reached the British. They appointed a new commander for their forces, and drew up meti culous plans for a counter-attack, which Montgomery launched at El Alemein at the end of October 1942. The attack succeeded and by January 1943 he had captured Tripoli. The Americans landed in Morocco and Algeria on 8 December 1942 in the Allies' first large scale counter-offensive, which caught the Axis forces from behind. The French troops in Africa defied the Vichy government's orders to oppose the Allies and helped to make the landing a success despite the Allied generals' inexperience. But the success was limited. From a military point of view, the line of attack was too narrow to prevent the Italo- German army forming bridgeheads at Tunis and at Bizerta to rescue the Afrika Korps. Admiral Darlan's unexpected arrival at Algiers precipitated an epidemic of political intrigue. Although Darlan had been chosen to succeed Pétain in the Vichy government, the Americans elevated him to civil and military head of the government at Algiers against the objections of both the Free French movement and the resistance. Darlan's assassination in December 1942 did not settle the matter. After the Germans invaded the southern zone of France and the French fleet was scuttled at Toulon, the Vichy government effectively withdrew from France, but revived in the Allied camp at Algiers. The advantages gained by the Allied landing, however, were incontestable. Malta was saved. The Afrika Korps had merely been granted a stav of execution. The fragile length of Italy was now fully exposed to Allied invasion. The British could not have achieved this break-through on their own. They had become increasingly dependent on American consignments of men and arms. The delivery of these in Anglo-American convoys across the Atlantic to the British Isles was seriously hampered by attacks of German submarines. Between September 1939 and December 1941 the Germans sank 8 million tons of Allied merchant shipping. Losses were still heavier in June 1942: 800,000 tons were sunk. Every four hours an Allied ship sank with all hands. British shipyards worked uninterruptedly while American shipvards proliferated along the shores of the Great Lakes. Their combined output, however, could not keep pace with the losses. What is more, the Germans launched new submarines faster than Allied warships and aeroplanes could sink them. Unless a solution were found, Britain would grow steadily weaker. It would not be possible to use her as a base for a full-scale offensive against the Reich. Losses were cut Jby increasing the aircraft carrier escort. Then the new radar apparatus called 'centimetric' began to be used !)\ the escort ships and planes. It permitted the Allies to detect submarines with greater precision from greater distances. It became dangerous for German submarines to surface. In October 1942, the Germans lost thirteen submarines and launched only eleven replacements. In March 1943, Allied losses began to abate. The convoys were the lifeblood of the Allied coalition. The course oi the Battle of the Atlantic was about to be reversed, but it was impossible to tell ii the change would be permanent or decisive. Hitler's gravest defeat occurred in Russia where he had engaged larger forces. In July 1942, the Fuhrer defined the capture of Stalingrad as the Wehrmacht's most important objective. The fall of Stalingrad would sever the main north-south supply lines along the Volga. But the name of Stalingrad was itself a challenge to Hitler. Early in August 1942 the German Sixth Army commanded by Paulus reached the fortifications which had been thrown up hurridly outside Stalingrad. On 23 August they arrived at the Volga. Their arrack began on 13 September. A fierce battle ensued. It was fought in streets and houses and especial lv in the factories, which the Russians used as fortresses. Both sides fought for one building after another, on landings, in rooms, in lift shafts. They fought with hand-grenades and even with bavonets. The Germans had fulfilled their intentions but lought on to capture the entire city as a matter of prestige. Hitler's order assumed that the Russians could not take the offensive before winter. The Soviet command, however, had amassed greater forces than the Germans, particularly in armoured cars. The Russians planned to encircle the German troops inside Stalingrad. They launched their counter-attack on 19 November along a shortened front of 130 miles. The Rumanian divisions were scattered and twenty- two German divisions were surrounded. Instead of ordering a retreat, Hitler ordered his army to break out of the Soviet circle. Von Manstein attempted this on 19 December; his spearhead advanced to within twenty-eight miles of Paulus's army, but Paulus proved too weak to help. The Russians meanwhile defeated the Italian army which had fallen back by 130 miles. The Germans' alternative was to supply their encircled troops by air. They hoped to hold out until spring, but they were decimated by the cold and by illness while the Soviet pincer gradually tightened. Paulus surrendered on 2 February 1943. His army had lost 200,000 men. Another 90,000 including 24 generals were captured. The German troops which had reached the forts in the Cauca sus were also in danger of being cut off. They hurriedly withdrew to Rostov. The Russians recaptured Rostov in Februarv 1943. The myths of the Germans' invincibility and the Fuhrer's infallibility had been discredited. Soviet prestige swelled everywhere in the world, particularly in occupied Europe. In every theatre of the war at the end of 1942 it was no longer clear which side was the stronger or which side would win.