Axis advances

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Axis advances

Post by DIESEL on Fri Jun 12, 2009 10:56 am

On that same day, Germany invaded France and the Low Countries. The Netherlands and Belgium were overrun using blitzkrieg tactics in a few weeks. The French fortified Maginot Line was circumvented by a flanking movement through the Ardennes region, mistakenly perceived by France as an impenetrable natural barrier against armored vehicles. British troops were forced to evacuate the continent at Dunkirk, abandoning their heavy equipment by the end of the month. On June 10, Italy invaded, declaring war on both France and the United Kingdom;[45] twelve days later France surrendered and was soon divided into German and Italian occupation zones,[46] and an unoccupied rump state under the Vichy Regime. On July 14, the British attacked the French fleet in Algeria to prevent its possible seizure by Germany.[47]
The RAF Supermarine Spitfire, used extensively during the Battle of Britain.

With France neutralized, Germany began an air superiority campaign over Britain (the Battle of Britain) to prepare for an invasion.[48] The campaign failed and by September the invasion plans were cancelled. Using newly captured French ports the German Navy enjoyed success against an over-extended Royal Navy, using U-boats against British shipping in the Atlantic.[49] Italy began operations in the Mediterranean, initiating a siege of Malta in June, conquering British Somaliland in August, and making an incursion into British-held Egypt in early September. Japan increased its blockade of China in September by seizing several bases in the northern part of the now-isolated French Indochina.[50]

Throughout this period, the neutral United States took measures to assist China and the Western Allies. In November 1939, the American Neutrality Act was amended to allow 'Cash and carry' purchases by the Allies.[51] In 1940, following the German capture of Paris, the size of the United States Navy was significantly increased and after the Japanese incursion into Indochina, the United States embargoed iron, steel and mechanical parts against Japan.[52] In September, the United States further agreed to a trade of American destroyers for British bases.[53] Still, a large majority of the American public continued to oppose any direct military intervention into the conflict well into 1941.[54]

At the end of September 1940 the Tripartite Pact between Japan, Italy and Germany formalized the Axis Powers. The pact stipulated that any country, with the exception of the Soviet Union, not in the war which attacked any Axis Power would be forced to go to war against all three.[55] The Soviet Union expressed interest in joining the Tripartite Pact, sending a modified draft to Germany in November, offering a very German-favourable economic deal;[56] while Germany remained silent on the former, they accepted the latter.[57] Regardless of the pact, the United States continued to support the United Kingdom and China by introducing the Lend-Lease policy[58] and creating a security zone spanning roughly half of the Atlantic Ocean where the United States Navy protected British convoys.[59] As a result, Germany and the United States found themselves engaged in sustained, if undeclared, naval warfare in the North Atlantic by October 1941, even though the United States remained officially neutral.[60]

The Axis expanded in November 1940 when Hungary, Slovakia and Romania joined the Tripartite Pact.[61] These countries participated in the subsequent invasion of the USSR, with Romania making the largest contribution in order to recapture territory ceded to the USSR and pursue its leader Ion Antonescu's desire to combat communism.[62]

In October, Italy invaded Greece but within days was repulsed and pushed back into Albania, where a stalemate soon occurred.[63] Shortly after this, in Africa, British Commonwealth forces launched offensives against Egypt and Italian East Africa. By early 1941, with Italian forces having been pushed back into Libya by the Commonwealth, Churchill ordered a dispatch of troops from Africa to bolster the Greeks. The Italian Navy also suffered significant defeats, with the Royal Navy putting three Italian battleships out of commission by carrier attack at Taranto, and several more warships neutralized at Cape Matapan.[64]
German paratroopers invading Crete.

The Germans soon intervened to assist Italy. Hitler sent German forces to Libya in February and by the end of March they had launched an offensive against the diminished Commonwealth forces. In under a month, Commonwealth forces were pushed back into Egypt with the exception of the besieged port of Tobruk. The Commonwealth attempted to dislodge Axis forces in May and again in June, but failed on both occasions. In early April the Germans similarly intervened in the Balkans, invading Greece and Yugoslavia; here too they made rapid progress, eventually forcing the Allies to evacuate after Germany conquered the Greek island of Crete by the end of May.[65]

The Allies did have some successes during this time though. In the Middle East, Commonwealth forces first quashed a coup in Iraq which had been supported by German aircraft from bases within Vichy-controlled Syria,[66] then, with the assistance of the Free French, invaded Syria and Lebanon to prevent further such occurrences.[67] In the Atlantic, the British scored a much-needed public morale boost by sinking the German flagship Bismarck.[68] Perhaps most importantly, during the Battle of Britain the Royal Air Force had successfully resisted the Luftwaffe's assault, and on May 11, 1941, Hitler called off the bombing campaign.[69]

In Asia, in spite of several offensives by both sides, the war between China and Japan was stalemated by 1940. In August of that year, Chinese communists launched an offensive in Central China; in retaliation, Japan instituted harsh measures (the Three Alls Policy) in occupied areas to reduce human and material resources for the communists.[70] Continued antipathy between Chinese communist and nationalist forces culminated in armed clashes in January 1941, effectively ending their co-operation.[71]

With the situation in Europe and Asia relatively stable, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union made preparations. With the Soviets wary of mounting tensions with Germany and the Japanese planning to take advantage of the European War by seizing resource-rich European possessions in Southeast Asia, the two powers signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact in April, 1941.[72] By contrast the Germans were steadily making preparations for an attack on the Soviet Union, amassing forces on the Soviet border.[73]

The war becomes global
German soldiers in the Invasion of the Soviet Union, 1941.

On June 22, 1941, Germany, along with other European Axis members and Finland, invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. The primary targets of this surprise offensive[74] were the Baltic region, Moscow and Ukraine, with an ultimate goal of ending the 1941 campaign near the A-A line, the line connecting the Caspian and White Seas. Hitler's objectives were to eliminate the Soviet Union as a military power, exterminate Communism, generate so-called 'living space'[75] by dispossessing the native population[76] and guarantee access to the strategic resources needed to defeat Germany's remaining rivals.[77] Although before the war the Red Army was preparing for strategic counter-offensives,[78] Barbarossa forced the Soviet supreme command to adopt a strategic defence. During the summer, the Axis made significant gains into Soviet territory, inflicting immense losses in personnel and matériel. However, by the middle of August, the German Army High Command decided to suspend the offensive of a considerably depleted Army Group Center, and to divert the Second Panzer Group to reinforce troops advancing toward central Ukraine and Leningrad.[79] The Kiev offensive was overwhelmingly successful, resulting in encirclement and elimination of four Soviet armies, and made further advance into Crimea and industrially developed Eastern Ukraine (the First Battle of Kharkov) possible.
Khreshchatyk, the main street of Kiev, after German bombardment.

The diversion of three quarters of the Axis troops and the majority of their air forces from France and the central Mediterranean to the Eastern Front[80][81] prompted the United Kingdom to reconsider its grand strategy.[82] In July, the UK and the Soviet Union formed a military alliance against Germany[83] and shortly after jointly invaded Iran to secure the Persian Corridor and Iran's oilfields.[84] In August, the United Kingdom and the United States jointly issued the Atlantic Charter.[85] In November, Commonwealth forces launched a counter-offensive, Operation Crusader, in North Africa, and reclaimed all the gains the Germans and Italians had made.[86]

Japan had seized military control of southern Indochina the previous year, partly to increase pressure on China by blocking supply routes, but also to better position Japanese forces in the event of a war with the western powers.[87] Japan, hoping to capitalize on Germany's success in Europe, made several demands, including a steady supply of oil, of the Dutch East Indies; these attempts, however, broke down in June 1941.[88] The United States, United Kingdom and other western governments reacted to the seizure of Indochina with a freeze on Japanese assets, while the United States (which supplied 80% of Japan's oil[89]) responded by placing a complete oil embargo.[90] Thus Japan was essentially forced to choose between abandoning its ambitions in Asia and the prosecution of the war against China, or seizing the natural resources it needed by force; the Japanese military did not consider the former an option, and many officers considered the oil embargo an unspoken declaration of war.[91] Japanese Imperial General Headquarters thus planned to rapidly seize European colonies in Asia to create a large defensive perimeter stretching into the Central Pacific; the Japanese would then be free to exploit the resources of Southeast Asia while exhausting the over-stretched Allies by fighting a defensive war. To prevent American intervention while securing the perimeter it was further planned to neutralize the United States Pacific Fleet from the outset.[92]

By October, when Axis operational objectives in Ukraine and the Baltic region were achieved, with only the sieges of Leningrad[93] and Sevastopol continuing,[94] a major offensive against Moscow had been renewed. After two months of fierce battles, the German army almost reached the outer suburbs of Moscow, where the exhausted troops[95] were forced to suspend their offensive.[96] Despite impressive territorial gains, the Axis campaign had failed to achieve its main objectives: two key cities remained in Soviet hands, the Soviet capability to resist was not broken, and the Soviet Union retained a considerable part of its military potential. The blitzkrieg phase of WWII in Europe had ended.[97]
Japanese troops advancing through Kuala Lumpur.

By early December, freshly mobilized reserves[98] allowed the Soviets to achieve numerical parity with Axis troops.[80] This, as well as intelligence data that established a minimal number of Soviet troops in the East sufficient to prevent any attack by the Japanese Kwantung Army,[99] allowed the Soviets to begin a massive counter-offensive that started on December 5 along a 1000 km front and pushed German troops 100–250 km west.[100]

Two days later, on December 7 (December 8 in Asian time zones), Japan attacked British, Dutch and American holdings with near simultaneous offensives against Southeast Asia and the Central Pacific. These included an attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor and landings in Thailand and Malaya.

These attacks prompted the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, other western Allies and China (already fighting the Second Sino-Japanese War), to formally declare war on Japan. Germany and the other members of the Tripartite Pact responded by declaring war on the United States. In January, the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, China and twenty-two smaller or exiled governments issued the Declaration by United Nations which affirmed the Atlantic Charter.[101] The Soviet Union did not adhere to the declaration, maintained a neutrality agreement with Japan [102][103] and exempted itself from the principle of self-determination.[85]
British Crusader tanks moving to forward positions during the North Africa Campaign.

Meanwhile, by the end of April 1942, Japan had almost fully conquered Burma, the Philippines, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore,[104] and the key base of Rabaul, inflicting severe losses on Allied troops and taking a large number of prisoners. Japanese forces also achieved naval victories in the South China Sea, Java Sea and Indian Ocean[105] and bombed the Allied naval base at Darwin, Australia. The only real Allied success against Japan was a victory at Changsha in early January, 1942.[106] These easy victories over unprepared opponents left Japan severely overconfident, as well as overextended.[citation needed]

Germany retained the initiative as well. Exploiting dubious American naval command decisions, the German navy sunk significant resources off the American Atlantic coast.[107] Despite considerable losses, European Axis members stopped a major Soviet offensive in Central and Southern Russia, keeping most territorial gains they achieved during the previous year.[80] In North Africa, the Germans launched an offensive in January, pushing the British back to positions at the Gazala Line by early February,[108] followed by a temporary lull in combat which Germany used to prepare for their upcoming offensives.[109]

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