Our approach to World War II is both a chronological and topical survey. Approached this way the individual country experiences often are obscured. Thus we have created a series of national pages designed to focus on the experience of each country in the War. Some counties were central to the War. Others played more marginal roles, but the national experience of the War was still profound in those countries. Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union were the key players in launching the War and making it a struggle of unbeliebale cruelty and leathality. Poland was the first country to stand up to the NAZIs and paid a terrible proce. Britain and France were reluctantly dragged into the War. While France fell in the first year of the War, dogged British resistance made victory possible. America in the end rescued Europe not only from Fascism, but after the War from Communism as well. Almost all of the independent countries of the world were involved in the War and even those who were not beligerants (Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey) were affected by it or played not inconsequential roles.
Mussolini ordered the invasion of Albania as part of his efforts to build an Italian Empire in the Mediterrean (April 7, 1939). Although not given great attention at the time, because of the greater focus on the Germans and Czechoslovakia. The Italians deposed King Zog. There was no real Albanian resistance to the Italians. Albania did not participate in the war as an independent country because it was annexed to Italy (1940). Mussolini then used Albania to launch an invasion of Greece (1940). This was an action of some importance because it would then deaw the Gdrmans into the Balkans. The Greeks resisted and pushed the Italians back into Albania. The Italians were ultimately rescued by the NAZI invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece (1941). Under Italian occupation a ressistance movement dominated by the Communists. The Italians did not persue the Holocaust against Albania's small Jewish population. After the Italian surrendr and German occupation (1943) the Jews were argetted, but many were sheltered by Albanians. The Germans reeling from Red Army offensives withdrew from the Balkans (1944). Guerilla leader Enver Hoxa seized power and established a Communist dictatorship, one of the most reclusive of the post-War Communist countries.
Algeria was the center of French power in North Africa. At the time of World War II, Algeria was a part of France and not a French colony. The French Government had promoted French colonization and there was a substantial French population in Algeria. Political power was in the hands of the French. The French saw the local Islamic people as backwards and inferior and were very suspicious of them. The local Algerian population were French subjects, but not French citizens with political rights. French policy was acculturation. Most Algerians resisted acculturation. Those that did not dound that racism limited opportunities even with a French education.
The French colonial regime was unpopular, but there was not serious independence movement before the War. Algerian nationalists for years worked within the system to achieve civil rights. This was resisted by the French settlers saw this as a threat. The nationalists formed a militant anti-French party in 1939 called the Friends of the Manifesto and Liberty. The fall of France (1940) changed the strategic ballance in North Africa. French bases in North Africa and the Mediterrean coast kept the Mediterranean firmly in Allied hands. With the Vichy regime under the thumb of the NAZIs and the entry of Italy into the Wart, the British were now isolated. surprised many nationalist leaders who now begin to see independence from a weakened France a realistic possibility. The French Vichy Government maintained their hold on Algeria under the terms of the Franco German Armistice. Vichy authorities introduced anti-Semetic laws. Italy entered the War (June 1940) and a few months later launched an invasion of Egypt. Fighting was at first in the Western Desert, but a propaganda campaign was also launched. The Axis was primarily attempting to undermine the British position in Egypt and Iraq, but the Algerians were also listening to radio broadcasts. Allied and Axis propaganda appealed to the local populations throughout North Africa. Both sides offered civil rights and freedom. With the entry of the United States in the War the strategic ballance began to shift. Under pressure from Stalin to open a seconf front, the Allies launched Operation Torch with landings in Morocco and Algeria (November 1942). The objective was to race east and cut off Rommel's Afrika Korps retreating west from El Alemain. The Germans, however, were able to seize Tunisia and rush in reinforcements, delaying the allied victory. The Germans could not, however, match the manpower and material superority of the allies. The Axis forces were caught in the pincers of a two-prong Allied advance from Algeria and Libya. The French Government after the War attempted to revive the political process. This proved futile. The Algerian nationalists were increasingly demanding indeperndence while the French settlers continued to oppose even basic civil rights for Muslims. The result was armed revolution and a vicious civil war.
Argentina is almost unique among Latin American countries in that the population is largely of European extraction. The countries indigenous population was largely exterminated. Thus the countries national view was always largely European. The most important immigrant groups were Italian, Spanish, and German. As a result there was considerable support for both Fascism and the Axis in Argentina. Groups like the Alianza Juventud Nacionalista openly supported the Axis. FBI agents played major role in uncovering NAZI agents in other Latin American countries, but the Argentune Government refused to act against NAZI agents. These agents found considerable support from the German community which tended to maintain itself separate from large Argentine society. There were entire towns that were essentially German with German-speaking schools. Many of the communities adopted NAZI models. Argentines as a whole supported the Allies, but the Argentine Army was strongly influenced by the Germans. Col. Jun Peron idealized Mussolini. Argentina thus while theoretically neutrl was pro-Axis for much of the War. After Italy withdrew from the War (1943), the Allies pressured Argentina to declare war on Germany (1944). This was only a token step. Argentina remained pro-German throught the War, even after details of NAZI attrocities emerged. A German U-boat appear at Mar del Plata instead of surrendering to the Allies (May 1945). After the War, Argentina became a haven for NAZI war criminals, including the infamous Dr. Mengele. Eva Peron is known to have accepted substantial payments in exchange for offering a refuge for NAZI war criminals and looted property. American diplomat Hiram Bingham, who had managed to save some Jewish refugees in Vichy, turned up evidence of Argentines sheltering NAZI war criminals. When the State Department refused to persue his leads, he resigned in protest (1946). German scientists set up jet aircraft production in Argentina.
France occupied Andorra as a result of social unrest before elections (1933). An adventurer named Boris Skossyreff issued a proclamation in Urgel, declaring himself Boris I, sovereign prince of Andorra, simultaneously declaring war on the Bishop of Urgell (1934). He was quickly arrested by Spanish authorities and then expelled from Spain. The Frech maintained a garrison in Andorra to prevent eother the Nationalists or Loyalists from seizing power (1936-40). Andorra remained neutral throughout the War, but was an important smuggling route between Spain and Vichy France. into France. The French Resistance used Andorra as part of their route to get downed Allied airmen and Jews out of France. It is not cleaer why Germany did not occupy Andorra, especially after occupyong the Vichy unoccupied zone. The desire to maintain froendly relations with Spain is probnly the min reason.
Australia joined Britain in fighting NAZI Germany after the German invasion of Poland (1939). As in World War I, the draft became a potent political issue. War with Italy followed after Mussolini declared war and invaded an already defeated France (June 1940). Australia's small army was deployed to Egypt and played a major role in the defense of the Suze Canal against Rommel's Afrika Korps. Other Australia units were deployed to the British bastion at Singapore. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Singapore quickly fell. Perhaps the greatest dusaster to British arms in the War. The British and Australians taken in Singapore were bryrally treated by the Japanese. The fall of Singapore meant that Australia itself was largely defenseless, Its army was either in North Africa or captured along with the Singapore garrison. After seizing the Dutch East Indies and much of New Guinea. The Japanese bombing Darwin and other cities in northern Australia. The Japanese next targeted Port Moresby to complete their conquest of New Guinea in preparation for an eventual invasion of Australia. The country was vulnerable because the Australian Army was largely in North Africa fighting the Afrika Korps. The Australians had also been weakened by the surrender in Singapore. At the time the only meaningful force between Australia abd the Japanese were two American carriers Yorktown and Lexington. These carrers alerted by American code breakers and intercepted the Japanese in the Coral Sea (April 1942). Although Lexington was sunk and Yorktown badly damaged, the Japanese invasion force turned back. This gave the Australians time to train a new army and for American troops and supplies to arrive in Australia to build a creditable force. The Australians then turned back a Japanese effort to seize Port Moresby in an overland attack and played an important role in the reconquest of New Guinea.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire desintegrated in the closing months of World War I (1918). The Austrians declared a republic in the much reduced territory of German-speaking Austria. The ecoonomy suffered. Many Austrians after the War wanted to join Germany, but the Allies prohibited this with the Versailles Treaty (1919). After Hitler's seizure of power in Germany, but the Austrian NAZI Party grew in membership, but was restricted by the Government, especially after the assaination of Chancellor Dolfuss (1934). The Austrians NAZIs led by by Arthur Seyss-Inquart, (the future NAZI occupation head in the Netherlands) agitated for union with Germany. Hitler finally accomplished union with the Anschluss (1938) whch was accompanied with a brutal outburst of violence against Austrian Jews. The Anschluss was an action thar was popular with the great majority, but not all Austrians. Despite the Versailles Treaty prohibition, the British and French did nothing, but submit diplomatic protests. With the Anchluss, Austria ceased to exist and Austria participated in World War II as a part of Germany. A particularly brutal Gauleiter was causing problems in Vienna, so Hitler appointed Baldur von Schirach (former Hitler Youth leader) as Gauleiter and Governor of Vienna. He provided a little cultural gloss to the NAZI regime. After successfully transporting Vienna Jews to the death camps, von Schiracht wisely left Vienna as the Red Army approached. Unlike many top NAZIs, he had no intention of fighting to the end or in killing himself and family. He tried to hide as mystery writer after the War. Finally fearing Austrian anti-NAZIs and French occupation troops, he quietly entered the American occupation zone and surrendered. Many Austrians now claim that Austria was an occupied country. In fact, Austrians were vigorous supporters of all aspects of the NAZI war effort, including the Holocaust. Soviet and American armies reached Austria at the end of the War (April 1945). American forces arrived from both the south (Italy) and the west. Austria was divided into four occupation zones by victorious Allied powers (Soviet Union, America, Britain, and France).
Belarus was not a country during World War II. The Belarusian People's Republic after World War I declared indeoendence (1918). Much of what is now Belarus was over run by Bolshevik forces (1919). And the Blolsheviks held the eastern area and the Poles the western area during the Soviet-Polish War (1919-21). Thus what is now Belarus was split between eastern Poland and the western Soviet Union. It had a mixed population of Poles, Belarusians, Balts, Jews, Russians, and Ukranians. With Stalin's rise to power, the Belarus peasantry suffered from Stalin's colevitivization campaign although not assecerely as the Ukranian peasntry. The population was also affected by Stalin's Great Terror before the war. As a result of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939), eastern Poland (Modern western Belarus) was allocated to the Soviet Union. The Soviets invaded Poland along with the NAZIs (September 1939). The NKVD proceded to Sovietize former eastern Poland, cimmitting terribkr attricuities (1939-41). The Germans invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941), Army Group Center, the largest formation in the Whermacht, struck deep into Belarus, both eastern Poland and Soviet Belarus. Minsk fell in a clasic encirclement operarion (June 26). Pinsk fell (July 4). The final struggle for Belarus was the Battle of Bryansk a 20-day slugfest (October 1941). This was the prelude for the German advance toward Moscow, what the Germans saw as the war-winning offensive. The popultion because of the Soviet attricities were anbivalent to the arrival of the Germans. The Germans instead of attempting to gain the sympathy of the local population, committed even more terrible attrocities making for anti-Germn feeling. Belarus thus became the center of partisan activities during the German occupation. The Germans launched a barbarous anti-patisan campaign. In addition to the fighting with the Germans, there was also fighting between ethnic groups, especially the Poles and Ukranians. Belarus and the surrounding area has been called the Bloodlands. Although not a country, the level of military activiies and barbarous activities, including the Holcaust and anti-partisan actions, necesitate attention to Belarus in any World War II history. Soviet armies after Kursk began the liberation of the rest of Belarus. The Soviets entered Bryansk (September 1943). The Red Army Bagration Offensive was launched in Belarus in part to prevent the Germans from shifting forces to Normandy and virtually obliterated Army Group Center, the largest formation in the Whermacht (July 1944), The Soviet ofensive tooj the Red Army to the Vistula acros the river from warsaw.
The Belgian Congo was one of the largest European colonies during World War II. It was also mineral rich and thus of some strategic importance. The major mineral was copper, but a liitlle known mineral (uranium) would take on enormous importance. Belgium as in World War I was a neutral country. The Germans lsaunched theie long-awaited western offensive with attacks in the Netherlsands and Belgium (May 10). The small Belgian Army resisted the, but was no match for the Wehrmacht ad Luftwaffe. After the German Army surrounded the Belgian Army, King Leopold III surrendered (May 27, 1940). The governor of the Congo, Pierre Ryckmans, recognized Pierlit's government-in-exile and the Germans did not have the capability to seize the Congo and other European collonies. Authorities in the Congo with the approval of the Belgian government-in-exile in London declared war on Italy (November 26, 1940), The step was more political and military. The Congo had very limited military caposabilities. The Belgians, however, wanted to estanlish their credentisals as a viable part of the anti-Axis coalition who wanted to be recognized as the legitiumate Belgian government after liberation. The Belgian force in the Comgo was known as the Force Publique commsnded by Major-General Gillaert. After the British defeated the Italian invasion force in Egypt (December 1940), they organized an offensive into Libya and East Africa (1941). The Germans came to the rescue of the Italians in Libya, but this was not possible in East Africa. The Brirish launcherd the East African campaign Sudan and Kenya. As the Cono bordered on Sudan, the Belgian colonia government supported the British offensive which was a multi-nationsal effort. South african troops played a major role. Two battalions of Congolese troops commanded by Gen. Gilliaert participated in the campaign.
Neutral Belgium fought with the Allies in World War I after being invaded by the Germans. King Albert I ably led the Belgian Army and their resistance delayed the Germans, making the Miracle on the Marne possible. After the War, Belgium returned to a neutral status like the Netherlands to the north. The NAZIs again invaded Belgium (May 1940). King Albert's son Leopold took over command of the Belgian Army, but the Germans advanced with unrelenting speed. Quickly surrounding the Belgian Atmy, King Leopold III surrendered, imperiling the British-French Dunkirt eacuation. Belgian officials escaped to London and set up a govertment-in-exile. That Government maintained control over Belgian colonial possessions (primarily the Belgian Congo). The German occupation was severe in World War I, but this time the Germans lived up to the Workd war I images. The NAZIs persued the Holocaust in Belgium, but with somewhat less success than in the Netherlands. The German occupation policies were largely race based, thus the occupatio while brutal and expoitive, did not aprroach the horrors of the east, except for the Jews. There was some collaboraion with the NAZIs, but the Allies were received with jubilation when Belgium was liberated (September 1944). The NAZIs launched their last offensive of the War in the Ardennes (December 1944). The resulting Battle of the Bulge was largely fought in Belgium.
W know that manby NAZI war criminals sought refuge in Latin American and Arab countries after the War. At least one important NAZI siugfhrefuge before the War. World War I veteran and early NAZI, Ernst Röhm, was a Hitler intimate. After the failed Beer Hall Putch, Röem dispaired that the NAZIs could seize power and emigrated to BOlivia where there were German symphitizers, especially in the Army. Röhm apparently was happy to be in thev millitary again and no longer concerned wuith politics. Meanwhile with the onset of the Depression, NAZI Party fortunes dramatically changed. Hitler asked Röhm to return to Germany and take command of the unruly SA. Bolivia at this time fought the disastrous Chaco War with Paraguay (1932-35). The devestated country declared its neutrality when World War II broke out in Europe. As a land-locked country it was not directly involved. It was, however, affected by the War, but like most of raw material ptroducing South America, in a mostly positive way. Tin was mined in Bolivia and was an important industrial metal. It was used in producing steel aloys as well as solder needed to produce radios. By the end of the War, Bolivia was producing about half the world's tin. And the war increased demand which drive up prices. Domestic factions in Bolivia tended to identify with the various beligerant powers. The same extreme nationalists that had pushed the country into the Chaco War identified with the European Axis. The traditional consevatives and moderate democrats identified with the Allies. The Marxists identified with the Soviet Union which at first was associated with the Germans and then after the German invasion (1941) with the the Allies. Some of the divisions survived the end of the War, but with considerable rejiggering. The British were very concerned about German influence in Bolivia, largely because it was so dependent on Bolivian tin. The Bush dictatorship only hightened this concern. The British thought General Carlos Quintanilla was heavily influenced by the German Ambassador. This proved unfounded. The Bolivians had no way of cooperationg with the Axis. British and Amnerican control of the sea prevented shipments toi Axis ciuntries. After Bush committed suiside, Quintanilla became the provisional president. His major concern was to obtain U.S. credits to prevent food shortages.
Brazil like the other South American countries proclaimed its meurtality ar the outbreak of World War II. South American economomies were primarily base on exporting commodities and thus were affected by the War. The British naval blockade disrupted trade with Germany, but demand increased in Allied countries. Thus the question for Brazil became the ability of the Allies to defeat the German U-boat campaign. Strangrly there was very little attention given to NAZI racial policies and what this porteneded for a muklti-racial country like Brazil. The United States even before entering World War II was concerned about NAZI influence in South America. Thre were about 1.5 million ethnic Germans in south America, about two-thirds lived in Brazil. They were not well assimilated and more sympathetic to the NAZIs than the more assimilated ethnic-Germans in the United States. Germans controlled the commercial airlines in Brazil. There was also an important German militaryn mission in Brazil. Latin American countries were not involved in World War II until the Japanese attack on Peal Harbor (December 7, 1941). Within weeks of Pearl Harbor, each of the Latin American countries, except the southern cone countries (Argentina and Chile), either broke relations with the Axis countries ir declared war. Of these by far the most important was Brazil. This country is half of South America and has an emense Atlantic coast. Brazil allowed the United States to set up air bases along the northeastern coast. Recife was especially important. These bases and instalations along with British Ascension Island help close off the Atlntic Narrows, making it difficult for German U-boazts to operate in the South Atlantic. Brazilian Navy patrols joined the British and Americans. Thus Brazil played an important role in the campaign against the U-boats in the South Atlantic. Brazil also helped set up air connections with Allied forces in Africa. The loss of Malay and the Dutch West Indies to the Japanese (1942) created shortages of rubber, a critical war material. The United States launched an sythetic rubber industry, but Brazil became a key source of natural rubber for the Allies. The Brazilian Army participated in the Italian campaign
Britain played a key role in World War II. Unlike World War I, it was unable to prevent the German defeat of France. This irrrivocably changed the world ballance of power. Britain did manage to resist NAZI aggression, the first county to do so. Many felt Britain could not hold out after the fall of France. Hitler was willing to make a deal. He would have allowed Britain to keep the Empire in exchange for a free hand in Europe. It might have made sence after the spectacular German victories, Many did not believe Britain could resist the Germans. The deciding factor after the Royal Navy sucessfully got the Army home from Dunkirk almost certainly was Munich. The whole British people remembered how Prime-minister Chamberlain had brought back Herr Hitler's signature pledging peace. It was clear than German guarantees were worthless. The British had no real choice, but to fight it out. And the Royal Air Force managed to pull it off. Britain despite the odds refused to be beaten. The Luftwaffe got not gain control of the skies over the Channel. And without aerial supremecy there coukd be no invasion. The RAF victory in the Battle of Britain had an even larger meaning. Hitler when he launched the War faced great odds. But he calculated that German technology and military skills would provide they key to victory. The Luftwaffe defeat in the Battle of Britain was in part a failure of German technology and tactics. This meant that less than a year after he started the War, Hitler's basic strategy was failing. It was not so apparent at the time with France firmly in the NAZI grasp. The following year America through Lend Lease pledged to underwrite the British war effort. This made Britain unassailable by Hitler. Many World War II accounts under estimate the importance of the Royal Navy and the strength of the British scientific estanlishment. Hitler when he launched World war II was determined not to make the mistake of World War I and fight a two-front war. Frustrated by the British and Ameruican support for Britain and seeing himself as the greatest military commander in history, Hitler decided to fight the two-front war he had always opposed. From the beginning it was the Soviet Union and Lebebnsraum in the East that was Hitler's principal war aim. Incredibly within the space of just a few months, with Britain undefeated, he invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941) and declared war on the United States (December 1941). Britain became an unsinkable air craft carrier off NAZI dominated Europe. Britain allowed America to enter the war in Europe, first from the air and then on the ground. Britain never won a major land battle without American support, but the importance of the British Army while the American Army was still poorly trained and without battle experience can not be overstated. Huge quanities of American war material and military personnel flowed into Britain. From Briitain a strategic bombing campaign against Germany was launched (1942). America joined in an arround-the-clock bombing campaign. And then the Anglo-American cross-Channel invasion cracked Hitler's Fortress Europe wide open (June 1944). The Allies 9-months later were crossing the Rhine.
The NAZIs duting the 1930s gave considerable diplomatic effort to drawing the Balkan coyntries unto the German orbit. The King resisted as best he could, but by 1941, NAZI military power and Bulgarian Fascist elements left King Boris III few options. Hitler as part of a Balkans settlement transferred Southern Dobrudža from Romania to Bulgaria (1940). Romania had fought with the Allies in World War I while Bulgaria had joined the Central Powers. The NAZIs applied considerable force and Bulgaria finally joined the Axis and agreed to the entry of German forces (March 1, 1941). The NAZIs offered Bulgaria the return of Macedonia. Bulgaria participated in the attack on Greece and Yugosalvia (April 1941). The Bulgarians in large part because of King Boris III who was very popular. The King refused to turn Bulgarian Jews over to the NAZIs as part of the Holocaust. The King employed a range of delaying tactics. The Bulgarians did, however, turn over Jews in the occupied areas of Greece and Yugoslavia. Bulgaria also refused to partcipate in the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). King Boris who was very popular died mysteriously in 1943, possibly by heart attack or by assassination. The King's 6-year old son, Simeon II, succeeded under a regency. The Red Army driving the NAZIs back on the Eastern Front reached Romania (1944). The Soviets next declared war on Bulgaria and crossed the Danube (September 8, 1944). Bulgarian army units and partisan bands joined with the Red army and quickly took Sofia. There was only limited NAZI resistance. Unlike Romania with the key Ploesti oil fields, Bulgaria wa of only marginal strategic value to the Reich. The Soviets on the next day seized the rest of Bulgaria (September 9). This day is now known as Liberation Day.
Burma was the scene of some of the least publicised fighting in World War II, in part because neither side really wanted to fight there. Burma beginning in 1824 was gradually annexed into British India. It had in the years leading up to World war II achieved quasi-Dominion status. Burma began to play a role in the War when the Burma Road was used by the Americans to transport supplies to Chang Kai-Sheks Nationalist Chinese. The United States covertly set up the Flying Tigers in China and Burma. After Pear Harbor the Japanese launched offensives west and south from Indo-China. Thailand agreed to allow the Japanese to transit unimpeeded. They quickly seized the Burma Road, making the Burma Road useless. This also cut the British forced in Burma off from any hope of resupply. The Japanese proceeded to drive the British out of Burma, cutting the Burma Road. It was the longest military retreat in Brirish history. Burma was of only minor interest to the Japanese, but gthey did want to cut the Burma Road, having done this the Japanese became increasingly interested in India, concluding that a popular insurection would occur as they approached the Indian border. The fighting in Burma was primarily a British theater, but the United States supported the British and Chinese in what was called the China Burma India Theater (CBI). Although Burma was a generally unreported theater of the War, it was the scene of some of the most vicious fighting of the war. It was also the scene of terrible attriocities. The Japanese worked thousands of British and Empire POWs and local laborers to death building a raiolroad to supply their troops. The Allies regrouped in India and drove back into Burma. A northern prong of the advance was to build a road from Ledo to link up with the old Burma Road and open a supply route to China. The British also drovde toward Mandalay. There was no significant nationalist resistance to British rule before the Japanese invasion. The quick defeat of the British gave nationalists the idea that independe was a viable goal. Burmese nationalist forces orgamized by Aung San sided with the victorious Japanese who used them for propaganda purposes. Aung San's Burmese National Army switched sides as the Japanese military situation deteriorated. The Burme assisted the British 14th Army in the lattercstages of the campaign. final stages of the campaign. The British finally retook to Rangoon. They hoped to restablish their colonial regime.
Aung San's supporters set up what was in effect a Burmese government. Aung San negotiated in Britain for independence (1947). After returning to Burma he was assassinated in Rangoon with many of his cabinent members. Burme politics has remained tumultous even to this day.
Olson, Lynne and Stanley Cloud. A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II (Knopf, 2003).
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