World War II: Geographic Theaters

Russian peasants World war II
Figure 1.--Operation Barbarossa which Hitler unleased on the Soviet Union (June 1941) opened the major theater of the War--the mamouth Eastern Front. Hitler convinced himself without any real study by OKW that the Soviet Union would collspse like a 'houde of cards' in a few weeks of intense summer campaigning. It was here that the defeat of NAZI Germany largely occurred, but not the overall outcome of the War. D-Day and the Western Allies crossing the Rhine determined that Western Europe would be liberated and not incorporated in the Soviet empire. The devestating German victories in the early months of Barbarossa and the primitive conditions the Germans found however, convinced OKW that they had won the War. By October 1941 when we believe a German soldier took this photograph, Soviet resistance was beginning to stiffin. The men and boys in this peasant village had no way of knowing what the Germans had in store for them in the New Order the NAZIs were planning. Once the Whrmnacht destroyed the Red Army, Generalplan Ost could go into full affect.

World War II was the most titantic war in human history. Operations spanned the globe, even reaching into remote Arctic areas and steemy Pacific jungles that few people knew. There were several important theaters of operations. These included Northern Europe, the Eastern Front, the Mediterranean, China-Burma-India, and the Pacific. They were in effect two separate wars. The connecting point was the Axis, although actuall cooperation between the European and Asian Axis partners was limited. NAZI Germany launched the war in Europe. Even before America entered the War, the decession was taken that NAZI Germany was the great danger. The Western Allies thus adopted a Germany First Strategy. Thus when Hitler broke his Non-Aggression Pact with Stalin and attacked his Soviet ally, both Britain and America hastened to aid the Soviet Union. The scale of war on the Eastern Front is difficult to comprehend. Victory here may have brought Hitler victory. He gambled on on victory in one emmense stroke--Barbarossa (1941). The Wehrmacht almost succeeded. The Soviets, however, held at Moscow and delivered an enormous blow on the Wehrmact. The Soviets achieved this victory basically on their own. The subsequent campaign was a massive bloodletting. But the Soviets gradually gained the advanyaged, enprmously aided by Americam Lend Lease supplies. While the War was settled on the Eastern Front, but the other theaters were of considerable importance. Britain by defying the NAZIs (1940) meant that Hitler could never focus exclusively on the Soviet Union. Brtain's defiance also helped to complicate Hitler's attempt to organize an anti-Bolshevick cruasade in Europe. Britain also was the platform for the strategic bombing campaign (1941-45) as well as the eventual breeching of Festung Europa (1944). The Mediterranean was of lesser importance, but it was where the Wehrmacht taught the British and Americans how to fight modern mobile warfare. D-Day and the Anglo-American campaign in Western Europe was of immense importance, not only in defeating NAZI Germany, but also in preserving democracy in Western Europe. With the failure of NAZI Germany to defeat the Soviet Union, Japan ever after its stunning success at Peall Harbor (1941) and series of victories in South East Asia and the Pacific (1942) did not have the industrial capacity to succeed in a protacted war. The Japanese militarists like Hitler gambled. They convinced themselves that America would not have the moral fortitude to attempt to win back the expansive empire carved out by the Japanese aggressions. It was also a dreadful miscalculation.

Europe

There was one country responsible for the war in Europe. German Führer led a rager reluctant German people to war. Unlike World war I, there was no appetite for war in Europe, even among the bulkmof the German people. It was Adolf Hiler and his NAZI acolyltes that wanted a war. And a horendous racial component would be added to the German war plane. NAZI Germany launched the war in Europe with the invasion of Poland (1939). The major theaters were: Northern Europe, the Eastern Front, and the Mediterranean, Germany stunned the world with the defeat of France (May-June 1940). The first NAZI defeat was the Battle of Britain (July-August 1940). While it was a not a cripling defeat, it was a critical Allied victory. Hitler's strategy was to defeat his enemies individually before a coalition could be formed by using technology to make up for Germany's relstibely small population and industry. The British victory not only laid the foundation for the massive Allied coalition that would form, but used technology to defeat the Germans. Even before America entered the War, the decession taken with the British was that NAZI Germany was the great danger. The Western Allies thus adopted a Germany First Strategy. Thus when Hitler broke his Non-Aggression Pact with Stalin and attacked his Soviet ally, both Britain and America hastened to aid the Soviet Union. The scale of war on the Eastern Front is difficult to comprehend. Victory here may have brought Hitler victory. He gambled on on victory in one emmense stroke--Barbarossa (1941). The Wehrmacht almost succeeded. The Soviets, however, held at Moscow and delivered an enormous blow on the Wehrmacht. The Soviets achieved this victory basically on their own. Germany went from fighting only Britain to fighting a coallition including the Soviet Union and the United statesv on multiple fronts. It was an impossible undertaking even for the formidable Wehrmacht. The subsequent campaign on the Easterb Front was a massive bloodletting. But the Soviets gradually gained the advanyaged, enprmously aided by Americam Lend Lease supplies. While the War was settled on the Eastern Front, but the other theaters were of considerable importance. Britain by defying the NAZIs (1940) meant that Hitler could never focus exclusively on the Soviet Union. Brtain's defiance also helped to complicate Hitler's attempt to organize an anti-Bolshevick cruasade in Europe. Britain also was the platform for the strategic bombing campaign (1941-45) as well as the eventual breeching of Festung Europa (1944). D-Day and the Anglo-American campaign in Western Europe was of immense importance, not only in defeating NAZI Germany, but also in restricting the spread of the Soviet Empire and preserving democracy in Western Europe.

Arctic

World War II was the first major war to include Arctic campaigns. There were engagements in both the Atlantic-Europe sector and the Pacific sector. The European engagements included land, air, and sea fighging, primarily associated with hetting American Lend Lease supplies to the Sovit Union by convoys to the ports of Ark Angel and Murmansk. This was the shortest routes. but the Germans from air and naval bases in northern Norways attacked the convoys, devestating severalm of them. The Kriegsmarine committed some of their major surface ships to the struggle. Because of the heavy losses, the much longer southern route begame the major route fior getting Lend Lease supplies to the Red Army. There weere also British raids on Spitzbergen. The Pacifuic engagements were primarily the Japanese diversionaty attacks on Dutch Harbor ans the seizure of two Aluetian Islands (Attu and Kiska). The United States rushed the development of the firsr all weather road to Alaska.

Africa

World War II histories ubderstandably focus on Europe and the Pacific. Africa is often seen as a side show. This is largely the case, but the imporance of Africa is commonly understated. The most important campaign was fought by the British/Commonwealth forces in the eastern Desert and the abglo/American Operation Torch further West. The campaign in the Western Desert was strategically about Suez and the oil resources of Iraq and Iran. But tactically they were cruccial. The Wehrmacht was the only force that had sucessfully adopted Blitkrieg as a tactical doctrine. It was in the Western Desert that the British learned to sucessfully fight the Germans. They were well supplied by the Americans. Rommel and the Afrika Korps were a small force on the perifery of the Axis and were starved for men, equipment, and supplies because of the priorities of the eastern Front and British attacks on Italin supply convoys. The sharp Meduiterranean naval battles were primarily to dtermine the ability of the Italian Navy to protect the supply convoys. Unlike the French Army which had no time to learn (1940), the British had 2 years to learn and Rommek\l mproved to be a superb if punishing task master. The Americans had the benefit of the British experience and prioved after Kasereine to be very fast learners. Without the experience of North Africa, the Anglo-Americamn campaign in Northern Europe beginning with D-Day would have been conducted by much less capable Allied armies. Axis losses in North Africa also helped to weaken both the Italians and Germans. North Africa was not the only military campaigns in Africa. The British fought a campaign in East Africa against a substantial Italian force. Ethiopia would be the first country liberated from the Axis. Vichy control of French colonies led to a naval engagement for Dakaer. Japanese and German sunmarines were able to resupply in Madagascar. Africa a;so proved to be an important source for strategic raw materials. Americans moved into Liberia to help promote rubber production. Belgian and British colonies were important sources of strategic metals.

Connecting Point: The Axis

The Axis began with the Pact of Steel Between Hilter and Mussolini. After the NAZIs launched the War, the Japanese ascribed to the Axis (1940). Several countries dominated by Germany and Japan also joined the Axis. The connecting point between the European and Pacific Wars was the Axis. Even so, actuall cooperation between the European and Asian Axis partners was limited. This might have been different, but when the Soviets held at Moscow (1941) and the British held in the Middle East (1942) and India (1942). The European and Asian Axis countries were unable to make contact. The Axis helped encourage Japan to attack the United States, but the major impact of this was ironically to bring America into the war against NAZI Germany. The Axis never coorinated their military effort and there was only limited technological and industrial cooperation.

Asian

As in Europe, there was on country responsible for the Asian War and that country was Japan. Unlike Germany, however, the decesion for war was not that of one man, but rather a military clique. The Asian theater of World War II is often referred to as the Pacific War by Americans. This is a reasonably accurate description of the American participation in the War and it was in the Pacific that the outcome of the War was largely settled, but a better description would be the Asian War. It was in China that the Japanese launched the War. And it was American diplomatic protestations abd economic scantions to assist China that that brought America and Japan in conflict. And it was in China that the bulk of the Japanese Army ws deployed. And it was in part to force the Chinese to surender, by curring them off from outside aid that the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. And American Allies, Britain and the Soiviet Union deployed important armies in Asia to defeat the Japanese. The decesion to go to war against America and Britain has to be the most misguided decesion in the long history of the Japnese people. It wa a decesion made by a military clique with a total misaprenension of both America and modern warfare. The first is perhaps understndable the second as military men seems baffeling. It seems a decession taken on the basic of a mixture of medieval warrior code, economic natioinalism, and xeopephobic racism. With the failure of NAZI Germany to defeat the Soviet Union, Japan ever after its stunning success at Pearl Harbor (1941) and series of victories in South East Asia and the Pacific (1942) did not have the industrial capacity to succeed in a protracted war. This was especially the case because the Asian war would be decided in the Pacific by naval and air forces which would be largely fubctions of industrial and scientific capacity. Any basic assessments of the American and Japanese industrial base would lead one to the conclusion that war with America was national suiside. The Japanese militarists, however, like Hitler gambled. They convinced themselves that America despite its industrial capacity had not willingness to fight. They believed that America would not have the moral fortitude to attempt to win back the expansive empire carved out by the Japanese aggressions. It was like Hitler's gamble, also a dreadful miscalculation. In the end the Japanese were reduced to suiside campaigns in an effort to stave off defeat. The major theaters of the Asian War were China, Burma and India, and the Pacific. There was one striking difference between the Asian and European War. With the exception of China, the countries which Japan invaded and conquered were not indepedent countries, but rather European colonies and the American semi-colony of the Philippines which was about to granted independence. Thus the Japanese were not viewed in quite the same way as the Germans in Europe nor were the victorious Allied armies viewed as liberators. Here the situation varied from country to country.

Oceania: The Pacific War

The Pacific War was essentuially connected with the Asian War, but fought in Oceania. The Japanese decesion to attack the United States is perhaps the single greatest miscalculation in military history. Not only did the potential power of the United States, but the Japanese Army was at the time bogged down in China. Geography ordained that the Pacific War would be primarily fought by the Navy. Now if Japan had a massive shipbuilding capability, their war plan might have made sence. But the Japanese did not. Amazingly unlike the Germans and Italians, war was not the result of the delusional thinking of a dictator, but a carefully thought out and studied decesion by a cabal of military leaders, largely men with little experience and knowlege of foreign countries, especially the United States. The American industrial might meant that the Pacific would rapidly be reinforced with a stead\y stram of new vessels which the Japanese could not possibly compete with. Not only could Japan not compete in naval consytruction, but most of their shipyard capacity had to be used to build merchant (maru) vessels because if the increased need for shipping to exploit their new Southern Resource Zone and subsequently the American sunmarine war. The fact that the Pacific War of necesity would be a naval war meant that industrial capacity would inevitably be the deciding factor. Thus attacking the greatest world industyrial power would seem suisidal. The Japanese calcullatedf that the Americans would not have the stomache to fight. They somehow thought that their naval supremecy was sufficent to support entrnched island garisons. There was no provision in the Japanese war plan for operations to attack American industry. The Japanese were shocked when they found that the Americans would fifgr. First they quickly lost their naval domiance and then found that even determined, entrenched island garisons could not reist Ameeican amphibious operations. Here they were limited because there were so many islands to garison and once deployef those garisonsd had to be supplied with a rapidly shrinking maru fleet. While it is the U-boat campaign in the North Atlantic that garners the greatest historical attention, it is American sunmariners that waged the only successful sumarine campaign in history. After the Solomons, the Imperial Navy withdrew from fleet engaements hoping that their island garisons would stop the Americans. When this failed the Imperial Navy finally sallied forth to defend first the Marianas and then the Philippines leading to the greatest naval battles in history. But by this time these battles were fought, nthe Japanese faced a vast armada of modern carriers with well trained air crews equipped with uograded aircraft. The result was the anialition of the Imperial Navy. The Japanese Army in China stood between the Allies and Japan. With the loss of the Imperial Fllet, nothing stood between the Home Islands and the rath of the United States whose fully mobilized industry was turning out the most terrible weapons in the history of warfare. The Japanese were left with one desperate strategy, killing as many Americans as possible in an effort to convince the Americans to give up the fight. The resuilt of this was the massive strategic bombing campaign culminating in the attmic bomb.

The Americas

The only engagement fought off the Americas were naval engagements. Early in the War, Royal Navy cruisers tracked dowm the German pocket battleship Graf Spee and fought a major engagement of the Rio de la Plata. As a result, the German ship sought sanctuary in Montebideo. Denined permission to repair the vessel, the captain scuttled it and then shot himself. The only other important action was Operation Drumbeat, Admiral Dönitz ordered his U-boats after Hitler declared war on America (December 1941) to attack American shipping along the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Navy was totally unprepared. Admiral King had resisted preparations like organiozing convoys. Brazil allowed the United States to set up bases to find U-boats in the South Atlantic and Atlantic narrows. There were also similar facilities in the Caribbean (as a result of the Destroyers for Bases deal, but the Caribbean was a dangerous place for the U-boats. The other major operation in Latin America was American efforts to dismantle German and Italian espionage rings. There was some sympathy for the Axis in KLatin America, especially Argentina. The Axis also attempted to build spy rings in the United States. They had little success, although the Sovierts did. Latin America was primarily importantbaas a source of tboth food anbd crirtical natural resources, including bauxite (aluminum), copper, nickle, tin, as well as petroleum.





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Created: 12:54 AM 7/24/2007
Last updated: 3:27 PM 12/2/2011