World War II European Liberation: Country Pages--Axis Occupied Countries


Figure 1--Here civilians in a newly freed town celebrate with their Americam liberators somewhere in France (August 1945). After the breakout from Normandy and the Dragoon landings in southern France, celebrations like this took place throughout the country. The celebration in Paris made the heaflines, but celbrations in smaller towns were mot less heart-felt. Aftr the linrration of Pris, the primry concern of most Grmn soldiers was to get back to the Reich and the relative safety of the Wet Wall as soon as posible.

NAZI Germany at the peak of its power occupied or controlled most of Europe, including large areas of the Soviet Union. Hitler's control extendd from the Volga to the Pyrenees and Channel. No one in history so totally controlled Europe in scope and detail. Czechoslovakia was the country occupied for the longest time (March 1939), although Poland was occupied soon after, by both the NAZIs and Soviets (September 1939). The occupation regimes varied greatly from country to counrry. For some countries, especially Poland, NAZI/Soviet ocupation was horrific. For other countries like Denmark and Norway, it was relatively correct, at least compared to the East. The difference was basically the racial composution of the population. The Western llies began liberating Western Europe withe inasion of Italy (September 1943), but Italy wa an Axis country. The liberation of the Axis occupied countries began with the Normandy D-Day Invasion in France (June 1944). Then after bitter fighting in Normandy, Paris nd the resof France was liberated (August 1944). Jubilent crowds greeted the Americans, British , and Canadian soldiers that swept through France on the heels of the retreating Germans. Next came Belgium, Luxembourg and southern Netherlands. The British reached Greece (October 1944). The remaining countries in the West ocuured after bitter fighting in the Bulde came the nirthern Netherlands (April 1945) and Denmark and Norway (May 1945). American troops also entered western Czechoslovakia, but withdrew becauseof previous arrangments with the soviets (May 1945). In each of these countries, the pople of the liberted countries were allowed to determine their future in free democratic elections. In the East, the Soviet Red Army drioe west, but this can hardly be called a liberation. There was little dancing in the street when the Red Army arrived. For many in Eastern Europe, they viewed thearrival of the Soviets as simply exchanhing one ruthless totalitarian occupier for another. The Baltics wereanned as was easter Poland. Stalin moved the Polish people and nation west. The other countries were convertd in Communist people's republics. Unlike the Americans in the West. the Soviets were not about to allow the people of Eastern Europe to freely determine their futures for themselves.

Albania

Soviet armies driving into Romania and Hungary threatened to cut off the substantial German forces in the Balkans. The Germans finally begun evacuating Greece (September 1944). Soon thereafter the Germans began moving out of Albania. The last Germans were gone (November 29, 1944). Guerilla leader Enver Hoxa seized power and established a Communist dictatorship, one of the most reclusive of the post-War Communist countries. Under Hoxa, Albania became the most paranoid and repressive country in the world.

Belgium (September 1945)

The Allies after liberating Paris pressed north into Belgium. The British reached Brussels (September 2) and Antwerp (September 3). They were met by jubilant civilians realizing that the dark years of NAZIdom were finally over. There was hope in the Allied camp that with the German collapse in France that the NAZIs could be defeated in 1944. Antwep was the key to the Allied thrust on into Germany. The Allies reqired a deep water port in Belgium. Supplies were still being landed in Normandy and trucked through France via the Red Ball Express. This was creating enormous logistical problems and the Allies needed to shorten its supply lines. While the Allies after taking Brussels reached Antwerp the next day. Opening the port proved to be a much more difficult undertaking. The Germans had fortified islands in the Scheldt estuary. Montgomery did not initially grasp the importance. The Germans evem though cut off by the advancing Allies held out recognizing the importance of keeping the port closed. The Belgian Resistance played an important role in the costly effort to clear the Scheldt. [Moulton] Once in Allied hands, Antwerp and its harbor became a target for NAZI V-2 attacks.

Czechoslovakia (August 1944-May 1945)

Czechoslovakia is a long, but relatively narrow country. Thus the liberation of the country was prolonged and was accomplished by the most diverse forces of any country during the War. Stalin's focus was to the north in the drive though Poland to Berlin. The Red Army moving from east to west thus took some time to liberate the country. The process began even before the Red army reached the Czech border. The Beneš Government-in exile signed an agreement with the Soviets providing that that Czech territory liberated by the Red Army would be turned over to Czech civilian control (May 8, 1944). Czech troops and the Resustance participated in the process as did the Russian Liberation Army (RLA). The Red Army destruction of Army Group Center opened up the liberation of Czechoslovakia (July-August 1944). The Slovaks rose up as the Red Army approached (August 1944), but as in Warsaw, Stalin ordered the Red Army to allow the Germans to eliminate non-Communist nationalist groups. Czech troops fighting with the Red Army reached Czechoslovakia (September 1944). The Soviets detached Sub-Carpathean Ruthenia. The toughest fighting was in Prague (May 1945). Hitler commited an SS Armored Division to hold Prague, a division which could hsve been used to defend Berlin. Pattons Third Army also reached Bohemia in the west. Except for the fighting in Prague in the final days of the War, Czechoslovakia suffered relstively little damage in the War.

Denmark (May 1945)

Denmark along with Norway were the last NAZI-occupied countries to be liberated. Danes followed war developments on the radio. They knew that the and of the War was near. They did not know, however, if the British or Soviets would reach them first. Or how the Allies would regard them. Unlike the Norwegians there had been considerable collaboration with the Germans. The German forces in the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Denmark surrendered effective (May 5, 1945). The surrender to Field Marshal Montgomery took place at Lüneberg Heath in Germany (6:30 pm, May 4). It did not go into effect until the following day--8:00 am May 5. The Danes, however, learned as a reslt of a report on the BBC Danish broacast (8:30 pm). “This is London … I “At this moment, it is announced that Montgomery has stated that the German troops in the Netherlands, Northwest Germany and Denmark have surrendered.” The announcer was Johannes G Sørensen. He was the Danish radio announcer that informed the Danes that their country had been occupied on (April 9, 1940). He later fled to Britain in 1944. The Danes called it their declaration of freedom. The British, however, had not yet reached them. People coud not wait until the next day when the surrender went into effect. They flooded into the streets, waving the Danish flag 'Dannebro' and burning their blackout curtains. Many people also spontaneously placed lit candles in their windows. This became the symbol of liberation and a custom that is still kept up by many Danes. Fortunately for the Danes the British on the northern flank of the Allied advance into Germany arrived at the base of the Jutland Peninsula just days before the Red Army advancing from the East. The first British troops led by General Richard Dewing arrived in Copenhagen (4:32 pm May 5). This became Liberation Day--Befrielse Dag. The British soldiers and sailors who entered Denmark were instant celeberties.

France (June-August 1944)

The American capture of Cherbourg placed the first important French port in Allied control (June 27). While the Germans held in Normandy, a huge logistical enterprise was building up a huge army with emense capabilities. The Allies in the first 100 days after D-Day landed an incredible 2.2 million men, 450,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies. This was a force that the Germans could not begin to match and their situation was rendered untenable by the virtual complete lack of air support. The Allied offensive broke the badly streachedGermans in July. British and Canadian troops under Montgomery finally captured Caen (July 9). The major break through came further south. Patton's Third Army after a concentrated bombing pierced the German lines with armoured thrusts near St. Lô and rapidly fanned out behind German lines. While American Sherman tanks were inferior to the German tanks, they were fastr and more numerous. Allied air power made it impossible for the Germans to contain the American offensive. German units were foirced to abandon their tanks and flee east. Efforts to surround an entire German army failed when SS units held an escape rour open at Falaise, allowing a substantial part of the Germany forces to escape. American airpower, however, wreked havoc on the retreating Germans. I The Americans landed another force on the French Mediterranean coast between Marseilles and Nice (August 15). The German hold on France was broken. The Paris Ressistance rose up against the German occupation forces as Allied armour divisions raced toward the capital and crossed the Seine. French Forces of the Interior (FFI)attacked Germans retreating through the city. Hitler ordered the city to be destroyed. The German commander refused to carry out the orders. Allied forces entred the city (August 25). The Allies pressed north into Belgium and liberated Brussels (September 2).

Estonia

The resurgent Red Army drove the NAZIs out. The Red Army reached Estonia (September 1944). Many Estonians having experienced one Soviet invasion, wanted no pat of the Soviet Union. An estimated 70,000 Estonians left Estonia, many to neutral Sweden. Many of thesecrefugees eventually emmigrated to Canada and the United states. Estonia with the entry of the Red Army was restored as a Soviet Republic. The Western Allies had protested Soviet actions in the Baltics during 1940 and did not recognized Soviet annexation. The Allies had no military capability to contest the Soviet annexation. Estonians fought a guerilla war for independence after the War. The Amemericans with the outbreak of the Cold war did attempt clandestine aid to the Baltic republics. The Estonians, however, faced overwealming forces. An estimated 15,000 Estonians were killed in the fighting.

Greece (September-October1944)

The Italian withdrawl from the Axis and surrender to the Allies greatly complicated the German occupation of Greece. Most of the occupation force in the Balkans was Italian. Not only did this weaken the occupation force, but the Resistance forces received large quantities of arms and supplies from the Italians. The Germans rushed additional forces into the Balkans, but they were not capable of supressing the guerilla forces. The situation worsened when Bulgaria switched sides as the Red Army approached. The Germans in September 1944 finally evacuated the Greek mainland so that they would not be cut off in the Balkans by the Red Army which was pushing into Bulgaria and Hungary. The Germans succeeded in airlifting some combat units off Crete, but British aircraft carriers moving into the eastern Meditteranean mean that German garisons were isolated. The Germans in May 1945 surendered the last of the Greek islands under their control. Liberation in Greece, however, did not bring peace. Conflict developed between the Communist Resistance forces EAM/ELAS and the British-backed conservative Papandreou government. Athens was liberated on October 12, 1944. The struggle for control of liberated Greece resulted in conflict between EAM/ELAS and the British-backed conservative government. There was considerable concern about a possible Communist seizure of power. The British, as a result, toughened their position against ELAS and their soldiers--the andartes. In some cases the British even made common cause with rightest elements that had collaborated with the NAZIs. [Manzower] These differences made it difficult for the Greek resistance and the Btitish who landed to persue the Germans as they left Athens and moved north.

Latvia


Lithuania


Luxembourg

American forces liberated Luxemboourg as Allied forces swept into Belgium from France (September 1944). American tanks entered the capital (September 10). The Germans withdrew withoutva fight. The approch of the allies broughtout the armed resistance. The Luxembourgish resistance fought a large German force at the Battle of Vianden Castle in Vianden. This would, however, not be the end of the War for the Luxembougers. Hitler surprosed the Allies with the Ardennes/Bulge Offensive (December 17). The americans managed to hold on to Luxembourg City, but theGermans smashed througn the northern pat of the small country. Thus the area would require a second liberation as the American reduced the Bulge in attricious weather comdutions. The Bulge would prove to be lagest land battle evr fought by the U.S. Army. The Germans used two German V-3 cannons that had a range of 40 km (25 mi) bombard Luxembourg City (December 1944-February 1945). as in other countries, NAZI offiials were procecuted. Gustav Simon was the NAZI Gauleiter for Moselland and Luxembourg. He fled to Germany as the allied armies aproached. He was found and arrested by the British Army, but committed suicide before he could tied. Luxembourg officialsarrested collaborators. Damian Kratzenberg, founder and leader of VdB, was arrested andc tried for treason. He was found guilty and executed.

(The) Netherlands (September 1944-April 1945)

The failure of Operation Marget Garden (September 1944) was a disaster for the Dutch people. This was the Allied effort to cross the Rhine and end the War in 1944. The Netherlands south of the Rhine was liberated, but the Germans still held the north bank. This left most of the Dutch people in German hands. Few countries of comparable size took so long to liberate. A Dutch reader writes, "the part of Holland that could not be liberated at that time became a German fortress. It sadly was the most populous part of the Netherlandswith the cities Utrecht, Amsterdam, Haarlem, Rotterdam and The Hague, where the majority of the Dutch population. The River Rhine flows through the Netherlands east to west. Nobody could leave or get in anymore. That meant that the people were starving and had to eat the food that was locally available. That was very little. We had to line up every day (only once a day!) to receive a bowl of soup at the Central Kitchens that were opened everywhere. It always was thin cabbage soup without meat. We received a food package from Sweden (February 1945). Also clothes were scarce. We got textile coupons, but the stores were empty. My father made me a pair of 'sandals' from an old rubber tire. We wore the same clothes for months. Fortunately I still had a pair of indestructable brown corduroy Scout shorts and a woollen pullover my grandma had knitted for me, although it was tight, since I kept growing in spite of the bad nourishment. We were near starvation when finally liberated by the Canadians."

Norway (May 1945)

A substantial German army was garrisioned in Norway. They were bypassed by the Allies and played no role in the defense of the Reich. German troops in Netherlands, Denmark and Norway surrendered (May 4). This was a few days before before the overall German surrender to the Allies (May 8, 1945). The 1st British Airborne Division was still recovering from the heavy losses at Arnhem when it was ordered to Norway. Parts of the division had been detached to oversee the German surrender in Denmark. Advanced units flew into Oslo (May 9). They were assigned to oversee the surrender of the German troops. The main part of the division was delayed by bad weather. Their responsibility was to maintain law and order, secure the needed airfields, and oversee the German surrender. The division consisted of 6,000 men to duisarm the 350,000 Germans in Norway. The Division proceeded to repatriate POWs hrld by the Germans, find and arrest war criminals. The Germans were assigned to disable their extensive minefields. Crown Prince Olav and five government ministers returned to a liberated Norway (May 13). King Haakon, Crown Princess Märtha. and the children returned (June 7). The day of course was especially chosen. It was exactly 5 years to the day that the King and Crown Prince had been forced to flee, leaving the country with the departing Allied force.

Poland

Few countries suffered more in World War II than Poland. Some 25 percentbof the population perished in the War, most murdered by the NAZs and Soviets--not military casualties. Poland would fight the Germans from the beginning of he War and pay a terrible price for it. The War began with the German invasion from the West and then a Soviet invasion from the East. Both occupiers were intent on destroying the Polish nation. And the NAZIs not only set out to destroy the nation, but the people as well. They largely obliterated Poland's Jewish community, but were intent in destoying the Christian population as well. Only the German failure to destoy the Red Army prevented the Germans from destoying the rest of the Polish population. The Red Army destruction of Army Group East as part of Operation Bagration (June-July 1944), opened the way for the Red Army into Poland. In a desperate effort to prevent a Soviet takeover, the Home Army rose in Warsaw (July-August 1944). Stalin decided to allow the Germans to destoy the Home Army for him. The Red Army drove out the Germans, but left the country's in Stalin's hands and despite the protestantions of the Western Allies andcimmitments made at the Yalta Conference (February 1945), Stalin set in motion the creation of a Communist police state ('People's Democracy'). Hitler's hatred of Poland was nearly mnatched by that of Stalin. Just as the western boundary of Poland was at issue after World War I, so was the eastern boundary. The Polish victory on the Vistula in the Soviet-Polish War (1921) meant that Poland extended far east into what is now Belarus. Stalin had shown that he intended to dominate Poland and like Hitler destroy Polish nationalism (1939-41). As part of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, the NKVD secret police in eastern Poland like the NAZI SS began to eliminate all potential opponents and centers of Polish nationalism, including police, government officials, teachers and academics, professoirs, landowners, officers, lawyers, authors and other cultural figures, and other prominent individuals. The Polish government in exile raised the fate of the thousands of missing Polish officers, nearly 22,000 of whom had been executed on Stalin and Beria's orders, 4,400 of them in the forest of Katyn. Stalin broke off diplomatic relations. Both Churchill and Roosevelt felt forced to take Stalin's side, desoite the Poles fifgting oin the Allied side. The issue here was to maintain the alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, essebtialy because it was orimarily the Red Army that was engasging the Wehrmacht. The Soviets were less brutal than when they had earlier entered Poland. Stalin for some reason was, perhaps deference to the West, was no longer intent on destroying the Polish nation, but now decided to move it west. This was in part a way to reduce the future German power potential. And while now accepting a Polish nation, Stalin almost unbelievably unleashed the NKVD on the brave men and women of the Home Army that had resisted the Germans and managed to survive during the War.

Soviet Union

The Germans severely damaged, but failed to destroy the Red Army in the Barbarossa summer offensuive (June 1941). Large areas of the Sovit Union, however, were occupied by the Germans. Most of the Russian heartland remained in Soviet hands, espcially after the Red Army winter counter-offensive before Moscow (December 1941). The Germans launched a second summer offensive, this time only striking in the south. Regaining the Ukraune and moving ito Russuan areas reaching the Volga ans well as non Russian areas. Again a Soviet winter counter-offensive centered on Stalingrad (November 1942) stopped the Germans at the Volga. The Red Army again driove the Germansand German allies from Russuan ethnic areas. Thus the rest if the War on the eastern front (1943-44) was largely driving the Germans from non-Russian ethnic areas of the Soviet Union. Russians subjected to brutal NAZI occupation received the Red Army as libertors, much as in the west. The Red Army found evidence of terrible attrocities committed by the Germans. The German ocupied areas included areas and ethnic groups recently occupied by the Soviets (Finnish Karelia, the Baltics, eastern Poland, and northeastern Romania). Other non-Russian lived in Belarus, Ukranine, the Crimean Peninsula, and the northern Caucauses. These areas included many people opposed to both Soviet control and Communism. In several areas liberation hardly seems like the correct term. The Red Arny drive west and reimposition of Soviet control meant deportation to Siberia and Central Asia. Thus the arrival of the Red Army was often seen differently than the advance of the Allied armies in the West. Only the incredible brutality of Hitler and the NAZIs prevented the Ukranians from joining the NAZIs in masse, especially in the Western Ukraine. The details of Generalplan Ost and the NAZI Hunger Plan was unknown at the time in the Ukraine, but NAZI brutality the suppressiuon of Ukrainian nationslists who could have been allies was plain engough. Soviet brutality in the Baltics (1940-41) resulted in many receiving the Germans as liberators. Unknown at the time was NAZI plans to murder much of the Baltic population. Than the Red Army burst into Eastern Europe, both NAZI occupied countries (Albania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Yugoslavia) and NAZI allies (Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania).

Yugoslavia (September 1944-May 1945)

Unlike the rest of Eastern Europe, the Yugoslavs were actually liberated rather than exchanging NAZI for Soviet tyranny. It was the Communist Partisans that suceeded in liberting Yugoslavia, but largely because the Soviet Red rmy and the Western Allies sucessfully demolished the German war machine. Even so, the war in Yigoslavia was the most complicated of all the World war II beligerants, because it was three wars in one. The first war was the war between the Facscist occupiers (Germny and Italy) and Yugoslavia. The second war was the vicious war between the the various ethnic groups in Yugoslavia (Croats, Muslims, Slovenes, Serbs, and others) as well as the NAZI Holocaust aginst the Jews). The third war was over the future of the country fought out between the different resistanbce groups, primarily the multi-ethnic Communist Partisans and the Serb-dominted Royalist Chetniks. the Partisans emerged the victors becuse they were able to generate broad multi-ethnic appeal and they were able to obtain support from both the Soviets and Western Allies. The Partisans managed to liberate substantial areas of the country (1943). It was the Allied destruction of the German 7th Army in France (July 1944) and the Soviet destruction of Army Group Center in Poland (June-August 1944) that made possible the liberation of the Balkans. With the Reich itseld threatened, OKW ordered a withdrawl from the Balkans as the Red Army advance into Romania threatened to cut off German forces (September 1944). Even Hitler could not disagree. The withdrawl began in secret from Greece, but was in full swing by October. There were not any major battles as the Germans were intent on one thing, withdrawing north and getting back to the Reich. The Germans fought only if attacked by the Partisans or were in danger of being cut off. he Partisans with Red Army assiatance liberated Belgrade (October 20). The Yugoslav Partisans were thus able to expel the Axis from Serbia (Fall and Winter 1944) and the north of Yugoslavia (Spring 1945. The Red Army provided some limited assistance, especilly with the liberation of Belgrade and unlike the rest of Eastern Europe, withdrew after the war. The Partisans linked up with the advancing Allied forces bryond the borders of pre-War Yugoslabia (May 1945). The Partisans had moved into Trieste and parts of the southern Austrian provinces of Styria and Carinthia. The Partisans withdrew from Trieste (June 1945).







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Created: 3:44 AM 11/11/2015
Last updated: 6:10 AM 1/6/2019