European theatre of World War II

The European theatre of World War II, also known as the Second European War, was a huge area of heavy fighting across Europe, from Germany's and the Soviet Union's joint invasion of Poland in September 1939 until the end of the war with the Soviet Union conquering most of Eastern Europe along with the German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945 (Victory in Europe Day). The Allied powers fought the Axis powers on two major fronts (the Eastern Front and Western Front) as well as in a massive air war and in the adjoining Mediterranean and Middle East theatre.

Preceding events

Germany was defeated in World War I, and the Treaty of Versailles placed punitive conditions on the country, including significant financial reparations, the loss of territory (some only temporarily), war guilt, military weakening and limitation, and economic weakening. Germany was humiliated in front of the world and had to pay very large war reparations. Many Germans blamed their country's post-war economic collapse and hyperinflation on the treaty's conditions. These resentments contributed to the political instability which made it possible for Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party to come to power, with Hitler's appointment as Chancellor of Germany in 1933.

After Hitler took Germany out of the League of Nations, Mussolini of Fascist Italy and Hitler formed the Rome-Berlin axis, under a treaty known as the Pact of Steel. Later, the Empire of Japan, under the government of Hideki Tojo, would also join as an Axis power. Japan and Germany had already signed the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1939, to counter the perceived threat of the communism of the Soviet Union. Other smaller powers also later joined the Axis throughout the war.

Outbreak of war in Europe

Germany and the Soviet Union were sworn enemies, but following the Munich Agreement, which effectively handed over Czechoslovakia (a French and Soviet ally, and the only remaining presidential democracy in Central Europe) to Germany, political realities allowed the Soviet Union to sign a non-aggression pact (the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) including a secret clause partitioning Poland, the Baltic Republics and Finland between the two spheres of influence.

Full-scale war in Europe began at dawn on 1 September 1939, when Germany used her newly formed Blitzkrieg tactics and military strength to invade Poland, to which both the United Kingdom and France had pledged protection and independence guarantees. On 3 September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany and British troops were sent to France, however neither French nor British troops gave any significant assistance to the Poles during the entire invasion, and the German–French border, excepting the Saar Offensive, remained mostly calm, this period of the war is commonly known as the Phoney War.

On 17 September the Soviet forces joined the invasion of Poland, although remaining neutral with respect to Western powers. The Polish government evacuated the country for Romania. Poland fell within five weeks, with its last large operational units surrendering on October 5 after the Battle of Kock. As the Polish September Campaign ended, Hitler offered to Britain and France peace on the basis of recognition of German European continental dominance. On 12 October the United Kingdom formally refused.

Despite the quick campaign in the east, along the Franco-German frontier the war settled into a quiet period. This relatively non-confrontational and mostly non-fighting period between the major powers lasted until May 10, 1940, and was known as the Phoney War.

Germany and the USSR partition Northern Europe

A Finnish Maxim M-09-21 machine gun nest during the Winter War
Finnish soldiers during the Winter War

Several other countries, however, were drawn into the conflict at this time. By 28 September 1939, the three Baltic Republics felt they had no choice but to permit Soviet bases and troops on their territory. The Baltic Republics were occupied by the Soviet army in June 1940, and finally annexed to the Soviet Union in August 1940.

The Soviet Union wanted to annex Finland and offered a union agreement, but Finland rejected it, which caused the Soviet Union to attack Finland on November 30. This began the Winter War. After five months of hard fighting, Finns were only pushed from a strip of land bordering Russia, in spite of Soviet numerical superiority, the Soviet Union gave up attempts to subdue the whole country. In the Moscow Peace Treaty of 12 March 1940, Finland ceded 10% of her territory (Karelia, Salla and Petsamo). The Finns were embittered over having lost more land in the peace than on the battlefields, and over the perceived lack of world sympathy.

Meanwhile, in western Scandinavia, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway in April 1940, and in response, Britain occupied the Faroe Islands (a Danish territory) and invaded and occupied Iceland (a sovereign nation with the King of Denmark as its monarch).

Sweden was able to remain neutral.

War comes to the West

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L05487, Paris, Avenue Foch, Siegesparade
German troops in Paris after the Fall of France

On 10 May the Phoney War ended with a sweeping German invasion of the neutral Low Countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, and into France bypassing the French fortifications of the Maginot Line along the border with Germany. After overrunning the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, Germany turned against France, entering the country through the Ardennes on May 13—the French had left this area less well defended, believing its terrain to be impassable for tanks and other vehicles. Most Allied forces were in Flanders, anticipating a re-run of the World War I Schlieffen Plan, and were cut off from the French mainland. As a result of this, and also the superior German communications and tactics, the Battle of France was shorter than virtually all pre-war Allied thought could have conceived. It lasted only six weeks. On 10 June Italy declared war on both France and the United Kingdom, but did not gain any significant success in this campaign. The French government fled Paris, and soon, France surrendered on 22 June. In order to further the humiliation of the French people and the country itself, Hitler arranged for the surrender document to be signed in the Forest of Compiègne, in the same railway coach where the German surrender had been signed in 1918. The surrender divided France into two major parts; the northern part under German control, and a southern part under French control, based at Vichy and referred to as Vichy France, a rump state friendly to Germany. Many French soldiers, as well as those of other occupied countries, escaped to Britain. The General de Gaulle proclaimed himself the legitimate leader of Free France and vowed to continue to fight. Following the unexpected swift victory, Hitler promoted 12 generals to the rank of field marshal during the 1940 Field Marshal Ceremony.

Vyacheslav Molotov, the Foreign Policy Minister of the USSR, which was tied with Soviet–German non-aggression treaty, congratulated the Germans: "We hand over the most cordial congratulations by the Soviet government on the occasion of splendid success of German Wehrmacht. Guderian's tanks broke through to the sea near Abbeville, powered by Soviet fuel, the German bombs, that razed Rotterdam to the ground, were filled with Soviet pyroxylin, and bullet cases, which hit the British soldiers retreating from Dunkirk, were cast of Soviet cupronickel alloy..."[2]

Later, on 24 April 1941, the USSR gave full diplomatic recognition to the Vichy government situated in the non-occupied zone in France.[3]

Thus, the Fall of France left Britain and the Commonwealth to stand alone. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, resigned during the battle and was replaced by Winston Churchill. Much of Britain's army escaped capture from the northern French port of Dunkirk, where hundreds (if not thousands) of tiny civilian boats were used to ferry troops from the beaches to the waiting warships. There is much debate over whether German Panzer divisions could have defeated these soldiers alone if they had pressed forward, since the tank divisions were overextended and would require extensive refitting; in any case, Hitler elected to follow the advice of the leader of German air forces Hermann Göring and allow the Luftwaffe alone to attack the Allied forces until German infantry was able to advance, giving the British a window for the evacuation. Later, many of the evacuated troops would form an important part and the center of the army that landed at Normandy on D-Day.

The British rejected several covert German attempts to negotiate a peace. Germany massed their air force in northern German-occupied France to prepare the way for a possible invasion, codenamed Operation Seelöwe ("Sea Lion"), deeming that air superiority was essential for the invasion. The operations of the Luftwaffe against the Royal Air Force became known as the Battle of Britain. Initially the Luftwaffe concentrated on destroying the RAF on the ground and in the air. They later switched to bombing major and large industrial British cities in the Blitz, in an attempt to draw RAF fighters out and defeat them completely. Neither approach was successful in reducing the RAF to the point where air superiority could be obtained, and plans for an invasion were suspended by September 1940.

During the Blitz, all of Britain's major industrial, cathedral, and political cites were heavily bombed. London suffered particularly, being bombed each night for several months. Other targets included Birmingham and Coventry, and strategically important cities, such as the naval base at Plymouth and the port of Kingston upon Hull. With no land forces in direct conflict in Europe, the war in the air attracted worldwide attention even as sea units fought the Battle of the Atlantic and a number of British commando raids hit targets in occupied Europe. Churchill famously said of the RAF personnel who fought in the battle: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few".

Air war

The RAF Supermarine Spitfire, used extensively during the Battle of Britain

The air war in the European theatre commenced in 1939.

Pre-war doctrine had held that waves of bombers hitting enemy cities would cause mass panic and the rapid collapse of the enemy. As a result, the Royal Air Force had built up a large strategic bomber force. By way of contrast, Nazi German air force doctrine was almost totally dedicated to supporting the army. Therefore, German bombers were smaller than their British equivalents, and Germany never developed a fully successful four engined heavy bomber equivalent to the Lancaster or B-17, with only the similarly sized Heinkel He 177A placed into production and made operational for such duties with the Luftwaffe in the later war years.

The main concentration of German raids on British cities was from 7 September 1940 until 10 May 1941 in the most famous air battle of all time, known as the Battle of Britain. Facing odds of four against one the RAF held off the Luftwaffe, forcing Hermann Wilhelm Göring to withdraw his forces and more importantly indefinitely postpone invasion plans. This proved the first major turning point of the War. After that most of the strength of the Luftwaffe was diverted to the war against the Soviet Union leaving German cities vulnerable to British and later American air bombings. As a result of the victory, Great Britain was used by U.S and other Allied forces as a base from which to begin the D-Day landings in June 1944 and the liberation of Nazi-occupied Western Europe. Nevertheless, German raids continued on British cities albeit on a smaller and less destructive scale for the rest of the war, and later the V1 Flying Bomb and V-2 ballistic missile were both used against Britain. However, the balance of bomb tonnage being dropped shifted greatly in favour of the RAF as Bomber Command gained in strength. By 1942, Bomber Command could put 1,000 bombers over one German city.

During the beginning raids of Operation Barbarossa the Luftwaffe wiped out the majority of the Soviet air forces. The Soviets would only regain their air wing later in the war with the help of the United States.

From 1942 onwards, the efforts of Bomber Command were supplemented by the Eighth Air Force of the United States Army Air Forces, U.S. Army Air Forces units being deployed to England to join the assault on mainland Europe on 4 July 1942. Bomber Command raided by night and the US forces by day. The "Operation Gomorrah" raids on Hamburg (24 July 1943 – 29 July 1943) caused a firestorm leading to massive destruction and loss of life.

On 14 February 1945, a raid on Dresden produced one of the most devastating fires in history. A firestorm was created in the city, and between 18,000 and 25,000 people were killed.[4][5][6] Only the Hamburg attack, the 9–10 March 1945 firebombing of Tokyo and the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima (6 August 1945) and Nagasaki (9 August 1945) killed more people through a single attack.

Mediterranean and other European countries

Jugoslavija i Evropa maj 1943
Partisan liberated territory in Yugoslavia, May 1943

The Mediterranean and Middle East theatre was a major theatre of operations during the Second World War. The vast size of this theatre included the fighting between the Allies and Axis in Italy, the Balkans, Southern Europe, Malta, North Africa and the Middle East.

Prior to the war Italy had invaded Albania and officially annexed it. Mussolini's regime declared war on Britain and France on 10 June 1940, and invaded Greece on 28 October. However, Italian forces were unable to match the Nazi successes in northwest Europe. Italy declared war on Greece and invaded the country, but it was not until German intervention that the country was overrun. While the Greek campaign was underway, German forces, supported by the Italians, Hungarians and the Bulgarians simultaneously invaded Yugoslavia. After the mainland was conquered, Germany invaded Crete in what is known as the Battle of Crete. With the Balkans secure, Germany and her allies attacked the Soviet Union in the largest land operation in history. The Balkans campaign delayed the invasion, and subsequent resistance movements in Albania, Yugoslavia and Greece tied up valuable Axis forces. This provided much needed and possibly decisive relief for the Soviets.

Fighting in Southern Europe would not resume until Axis forces were defeated in North Africa. Following the Axis defeat in Africa, Allied forces invaded Italy and during a prolonged campaign fought their way north through Italy. The invasion of Italy resulted in the nation switching sides to the Allies and the ousting of Mussolini. But, in spite of the coup, Fascists and occupying German forces retained possession of the northern half of Italy. In northern part of Italy, the occupying Germans installed Mussolini as the head of new fascist republican government, the Italian Social Republic or RSI to show that the Axis was still in force. But Mussolini and his Fascists were now puppet rulers under their German patrons.

Allied (and mostly pro-Soviet) National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia, which got some supplies and assistance from Western Allies, battled Axis powers on the opposite side of the Adriatic Sea. In late 1944 it was joined with the advancing Soviet Army and proceeded to push remaining German forces out of the Balkans.

By April 1945, German forces were retreating on all fronts in northern Italy and occupied Yugoslavia, following continuous Allied attacks. The campaign, and the fighting in the Mediterranean and Middle East theatre came to an end on 29 April. On 2 May in Italy, Field Marshal Heinrich von Vietinghoff, the commander-in-chief of all German forces in the country surrendered to Field Marshal Harold Alexander, the supreme commander of all Allied forces in the Mediterranean area. Fighting would, however, continue in Greece where a civil war had broke out and end on 1949 after Greek government troops aided by the US and Britain defeated the communist guerrillas supported by Marshall Tito and USSR.

Eastern Front

Initial Soviet retreat

Yalta Conference (Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin) (B&W)
The "Big Three" Allied leaders at the 1945 Yalta Conference. From left to right: Winston Churchill (UK), Franklin D. Roosevelt (US), and Joseph Stalin (USSR).

On 22 June 1941, Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, [7] the invasion of the Soviet Union. The operation, which was and remains the largest military undertaking in the history of warfare, brought about the single largest, deadliest and most destructive theater of combat in human history. The Eastern Front (as it became known) featured more land combat than all other theaters of WWII combined, caused the deaths of more than 30 million people (the vast majority of whom were Soviet citizens), and resulted in incomprehensible amounts of destruction.

On the very night of the invasion Soviet troops received a directive undersigned by Marshal Timoshenko and General of the Army Georgi Zhukov that commanded: "do not answer to any provocations" and "do not undertake any actions without specific orders". The early weeks of the invasion were devastating for the Soviet Army. As the Soviets always planned to attack, they had virtually no serious defensive doctrine and deployed along the frontier in easily flankable masses that the Germans bypassed, pocketed, and destroyed. In addition to German troops, Italian, Hungarian and Romanian and Finnish troops were also involved in the campaign. Finland initially declared neutrality; however, with both German and Soviet troops on her soil, Finland was well prepared to join forces with Germany when the Soviet Union attacked on June 25. The following conflict from 1941 to 1944 is sometimes referred to as the Continuation War, as in the continuation of the Winter War. Spain immediately offered military assistants to the Axis by sending volunteers to the Eastern front, known as the Blue division.

Operation Barbarossa suffered from several fundamental flaws. The most serious of these was the logistical situation of the attack. The sheer vastness of the distances in the Soviet Union meant that Germany could only advance so far before outrunning their supply chains. By the time the German attack was beaten and frozen to a halt at the gates of Moscow on December 5, 1941, it literally could not go any further. There simply were not enough supplies reaching the front to conduct proper defensive operations, let alone a proper offense. The timetable that Barbarossa was planned to assume that the Soviets would collapse before the onset of winter.

During their long retreat, the Soviets employed a scorched earth policy, frustrating German logistics even further. More importantly for them, the Soviets also succeeded in a massive and unprecedented removal of their industry from the threatened war zone to protected areas in the East.

The extension of the campaign beyond the length that Germany expected meant that the German Army suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties in winter conditions, and from the counterattacks of Soviet units which German intelligence had claimed should not exist.

Even with their advance having ground to a halt due to a lack of supplies and the onset of winter, Germany had conquered a vast amount of territory, including two-fifths of the Soviet economy. Dislodging them proved difficult and eventually cost the Soviet Union dearly.

A few months after the invasion began, German troops came to southern approaches to Leningrad and laid a siege to the city (known as the Siege of Leningrad), which was also blocked from the north by Finnish forces. Finland's C-in-C Mannerheim had halted at the River Svir and refrained from attacking the city. Hitler had ordered that the city of Leningrad must "vanish from the surface of the earth", with its entire population exterminated. Rather than storming the city, the Wehrmacht was ordered to blockade Leningrad so as to starve the city to death, while attacking it with bombers and artillery. About one million civilians died in the Leningrad siege – 800,000 by starvation. The siege lasted for 872 days. The only overland way into the city was possibly during the winter, across the frozen Lake Ladoga, between the German and Finnish lines.

Summer campaign of 1942 and Stalingrad

After enduring the winter of 1941–1942, the German army prepared for further offensive operations. However, severe oil shortages dictated that Germany prioritize the capture of the Caucasus oil fields in its summer offensive of 1942, rather than another attack on Moscow, which the Soviets had anticipated and prepared for. Meanwhile, the Soviets had their own plans.

Initially, the Red Army, not expecting an assault in this sector, crumbled under the weight of it and fell back hundreds of kilometers, incapable of offering any serious resistance. The German advance was so rapid, in fact, that Hitler split Army Group South into two subgroups which would each pursue separate and simultaneous objectives: Army Group A would attack the Caucasus and secure the oil, while Army Group B would defend A's flank with a due east strike towards the Volga River, and the industrial city situated along its banks, known as Stalingrad (now Volgograd).

German planners believed they could capture Stalingrad - then only a secondary objective - within weeks. However, the Soviet refusal to abandon the city which bore their leader's name resulted in a ferocious battle in and around the city. From September to mid-November 1942, German units engaged Red Army defenders in a merciless, desperate struggle for every inch of every block of every street, only gradually pushing the Soviets back towards the Volga river. Although the Wehrmacht controlled roughly 90% of the city at its high-water mark, the effort had resulted in virtually all German forces being stripped from the flanks and funneled into the city proper. This left only the relatively weaker Romanian and Hungarian forces to guard the flanks of the army group.

On November 19, the Soviets launched Operation Uranus, in which they smashed through Axis flanks and surrounded the Germans inside the city. All efforts to relieve and resupply the pocket failed. After consolidating their positions, the Soviets pursued a wider offensive in the Caucasus, pushing the front lines well away from the besieged city and dooming the Germans still trapped inside. Despite the hopelessness of the situation, Hitler refused any request by the encircled men to attempt a breakout, or surrender.

In a cynical attempt to prevent surrender, Hitler promoted Friedrich Paulus, commander of the 6th Army to Field Marshal, daring him to dishonor Germany by becoming the first officer of such high rank to surrender or be captured alive. However, starved of food, fuel, ammunition, and clothes, the pocket was gradually reduced, with the last portion surrendering on February 2, 1943.

The battle Battle of Stalingrad is widely considered to be the single largest and deadliest single engagement in human history. About 2 million people, more than 100,000 of them civilians perished in the fight. It is also often described as a turning point in the war and arguably the European conflict's most decisive battle, as the German army was no longer capable of making good losses of such magnitude and began to decline, just as the Soviets began to surge in strength.

Battles after Stalingrad

After Stalingrad, the initiative had passed from Germany but had not yet been seized by the Soviets. A desperate counterattack in the spring of 1943 by forces of Field Marshal Erich von Manstein temporarily halted the Soviet advance. The Battle of Kursk was the last major offensive by the German Army on the eastern front. The Soviets had intelligence of what was to come and prepared massive defenses in huge depth in the Kursk salient. They stopped the German armored assaults after a maximum penetration of just over 30 miles (48 km). After Kursk, the Red Army got the upper hand and generally was on the offensive for the rest of the war. The large scale of the Soviet Union allowed it to overcome high losses in manpower and equipment. Soviet success prompted a more active Allied involvement on the Western Front of Europe because Nazi Germany was bogged down in a costly defensive war on the East, defending its ever-shrinking occupied territory.

Pushing the enemy out of the Soviet territory in June 1944 by conducting the large-scale Operation Bagration, the Soviet Army proceeded to dismantle the Eastern Axis powers — Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary — to liberate other neighboring countries from the German Army, and to impose Communist-led governments on the "liberated" nations. Some of these nations joined the Allies and provided troops to fight Nazi Germany, which was effectively the only remaining Axis power in Europe by the end of 1944. Finland retained its independence the second time, but broke with the Axis, at the cost of having to fight its former ally and ceding more territory to the USSR.

By February 1945, the Soviets brought the war to the German heartland. The end of the war in Europe left the Soviet Union in control over large areas of Central and Southeastern Europe, in addition to its 1941 conquests in Eastern Europe.

Effects of the Eastern Front

More Soviet citizens died during World War II than those of all other countries combined. Nazi ideology considered Slavs to be "subhuman" and German forces committed ethnically targeted mass murder. Civilians were rounded up and burned alive or shot in squads in many cities conquered by the Nazis. Approximately 27 million Soviets, among them more than 20 million civilians in Soviet cities and areas, were killed throughout the duration of the war.

At least 7 million Red Army troops died facing the Germans and their allies in the Eastern Front. The Axis forces themselves had lost over 6 million troops, whether by combat or by wounds, disease, starvation or exposure; many others were seized as POWs and a substantial part of them died in Soviet captivity because of disease or shortage of supplies.

Lend-Lease supplies from the United Kingdom and the United States made very important impact for Soviet military forces. Supply convoys sailed to Soviet ports that were patrolled by Nazi U-boats. Allied activities before D-Day may have tied up only a few divisions in actual fighting, but many more were forced to guard lonely coasts against raids that never came or to man anti-aircraft guns throughout Nazi-controlled Europe.

Allied invasion of occupied France

De Gaulle-OWI
General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French in opposition to Pétain's Vichy regime

Simultaneously with the fall of Rome came the long-awaited invasion of France. Operation Overlord put over 180,000 troops ashore in Normandy on June 6, 1944, creating a beachhead that would eventually result in over 3 million Allied soldiers on Germany's western front. A long grinding campaign six weeks long followed as American, British, and Canadian forces were slowly built up in the beachhead, and German forces slowly worn down. When the breakout finally did come it was spectacular, with Allied troops very quickly capturing almost all of Normandy within days. Many German forces that had been fighting in Normandy were trapped in the Falaise pocket.

Incessant bombing of Germany's infrastructure and cities caused tremendous casualties and disruption. Internally, Hitler survived a number of Nazi inner assassination attempts. The most serious was the July 20 Plot, occurring on July 20, 1944. Orchestrated by Claus von Stauffenberg and involving among others Erwin Rommel and Alfred Delp, the plot had intended to place a time bomb in a position to kill Hitler but a number of unscheduled factors and operation failures led to its failure. Adolf Hitler was only slightly injured.

Operation Overlord was complemented by an invasion of southern France on August 15, 1944, codenamed Operation Dragoon. By September 1944 three Allied Army Groups were in line against German formations in the west. There was optimism that the war in Europe might be over by the end of 1944.

An attempt was made to force the situation with Operation Market Garden (September 17, 1944 – September 25, 1944). The Allies attempted to capture bridges with an airborne assault, to open the way into Germany and liberate the northern Netherlands. Since heavier German forces than intelligence had predicted were present, the British 1st Airborne Division was almost completely destroyed, and the operation failed.

The weather of 1944 combined with a poor situation for the Allies led to a stagnant situation on the western front. The Americans continued to grind away at the defenders in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest (September 19, 1944 – February 10, 1945). As long as Germany stayed on the defence, the Allies were hard-pressed to advance rapidly.

That changed when Germany mounted a major counteroffensive on December 16, 1944. The Ardennes offensive, also called the Battle of the Bulge, drove back and surrounded some small American units. The Allied forces were eventually successful in driving back Germany, in what turned out to be their last major advance of the war. The battle officially ended on January 27, 1945.

The final obstacle to the Allies was the Rhine. It was crossed in March 1945, and the way lay open to the center of Germany. The last major German forces in the west were encircled and trapped in the Ruhr.

End of the war in Europe

Churchill waves to crowds
Winston Churchill waves to crowds in London on Victory in Europe Day.

On April 27, 1945, as Allied forces closed in on Milan, Mussolini was captured by Italian Partisans. He was trying to flee Italy to Switzerland and was traveling with a German anti-air battalion. On April 28, Mussolini and several of the other Fascists captured with him were taken to Dongo and executed by firing squad. The bodies were then taken to Milan and unceremoniously strung up in front of a filling station.

Hitler, learning of Mussolini's death, realized that the end had finally come. He remained in Berlin, the crumbling Nazi capital, even as the city was encircled and trapped by the Soviets and the Battle of Berlin raged. On April 30, Adolf Hitler, with his wife of one day, Eva Braun, committed suicide in his bunker to avoid capture by Soviet troops. In his last will and testament, Hitler appointed Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as the new German leader. But Germany lasted only 7 days longer under the "Flensburg government" of Dönitz. He surrendered unconditionally to the Americans, British, and Soviets on May 8, 1945.

In late July and August 1945 the Potsdam Conference finally disbanded the former Nazi German state, reversed all German annexations and occupied territories, as well as agreed to jointly occupy and govern, denazify and demilitarize what remained of Germany.

See also

Atlas of the World Battle Fronts


  1. ^ from 1941
  2. ^ from 1941
  3. ^ until 1943
  4. ^ until 1943
  5. ^ until 1944
  6. ^ until 1944
  7. ^ from 1944
  8. ^ Vichy officially pursued a policy of armed neutrality and conducted military actions against armed incursions from both Axis and Allied belligerents. The cease fire and pledging of allegiance to the Allies of the Vichy troops in French North Africa during Operation Torch convinced the Axis that Vichy could no longer be trusted to continue this policy, so they invaded and occupied the French rump state in November 1942. Collaborationist units, such as the Milice, continued to fight alongside German troops against French Resistance fighters until the liberation of France in 1944.
  9. ^ from 1943
  10. ^ until 1944
  11. ^ See: Soviet invasion of Poland, Winter War, Soviet occupation of the Baltic states and Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina.


  1. ^ Germany unconditionally surrendered on 8 May 1945, however a German Wehrmacht column continued fighting until the end of the Battle of Poljana. The Independent State of Croatia would continue fighting until the end of the Battle of Odžak on 25 May 1945.
  2. ^ [1] Archived December 27, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ The Isolation of the Revolution Archived 2006-08-26 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Bojan Pancevski Dresden bombing death toll lower than thought, Daily Telegraph, 3 October 2008.
  5. ^ Kate Connolly, Panel rethinks death toll from Dresden raids, The Guardian, 3 October 2008.
  6. ^ Landeshauptstadt Dresden (1 October 2008). "Erklärung der Dresdner Historikerkommission zur Ermittlung der Opferzahlen der Luftangriffe auf die Stadt Dresden am 13./14. Februar 1945" (PDF). Landeshauptstadt Dresden. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
  7. ^ Amnon Sella. 'Barbarossa': Surprise Attack and Communication. Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 13, No. 3, (Jul., 1978), pp. 555–583.

Further reading

306th Fighter Wing

The 306th Fighter Wing (306th FW) was a World War II United States Army Air Forces organization assigned to Fifteenth Air Force as an intermediate-level command and control organization. It was last stationed at Drew Field, Florida and was inactivated on 7 November 1945.

55th Fighter Wing

The 55th Fighter Wing is a disbanded unit of the United States Air Force, last stationed at Lockbourne Air Force Base, Ohio. It was withdrawn from the Ohio Air National Guard and inactivated on 31 October 1950 when the Guard adopted the Wing Base organizational model and formed the cadre for the 121st Fighter Wing.

During World War II, the wing served as the 55th Bombardment Wing in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, flying strategic bombardment missions against areas under Axis control.

Baltic Operation

The Baltic Operation, also known as the Defensive operation in Lithuania and Latvia encompassed the operations of the Red Army from 22 June to 9 July 1941 conducted over the territories of the occupied Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in response to an offensive launched by the German army.

Battle of Livno

The Battle of Livno is the name of several battles fought over the town of Livno during World War II, which changed hands between the Independent State of Croatia and Partisan forces several times.

D-Day (military term)

In the military, D-Day is the day on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. The best known D-Day is during World War II, on June 6, 1944—the day of the Normandy landings—initiating the Western Allied effort to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi Germany. However, many other invasions and operations had a designated D-Day, both before and after that operation.The terms D-Day and H-Hour are used for the day and hour on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. They designate the day and hour of the operation when the day and hour have not yet been determined, or where secrecy is essential. For a given operation, the same D-Day and H-Hour apply for all units participating in it. When used in combination with numbers, and plus or minus signs, these terms indicate the point of time preceding or following a specific action. Thus, H−3 means 3 hours before H-Hour, and D+3 means 3 days after D-Day. (By extension, H+75 minutes is used for H-Hour plus 1 hour and 15 minutes.) Planning papers for large-scale operations are made up in detail long before specific dates are set. Thus, orders are issued for the various steps to be carried out on the D-Day or H-Hour minus or plus a certain number of days, hours, or minutes. At the appropriate time, a subsequent order is issued that states the actual day and times.

Other days such as A-Day (Battle of Leyte), L-Day (Battle of Okinawa) etc. have different meanings for the military.

Other languages have terms equivalent to D-Day such as "Hari H" (Indonesian),Час Ч (Russian), Dagen D (Swedish), Dan D (Slovenian), E eguna (Basque), Jour J (French), Lá L (Irish), Tag X (German), and Ziua-Z (Romanian). The initial D in D-Day has been given various meanings in the past, while more recently it has obtained the connotation of "Day" itself, thereby creating the phrase "Day-Day", or "Day of Days".

End of World War II in Europe

The final battles of the European Theatre of World War II as well as the German surrender to the Allies took place in late April and early May 1945.

European Theater of Operations, United States Army

The European Theater of Operations, United States Army (ETOUSA) was a United States Army formation which directed US Army operations in parts of Europe from 1942 to 1945. It referred to Army Ground Forces, United States Army Air Forces, and Army Service Forces operations north of Italy and the Mediterranean coast, in the European Theater of World War II. It was bordered to the south by the North African Theater of Operations, US Army (NATOUSA), which later became the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTOUSA).

The term theater of operations was defined in the US Army field manuals as the land and sea areas to be invaded or defended, including areas necessary for administrative activities incident to the military operations. In accordance with the experience of World War I, it was usually conceived of as a large land mass over which continuous operations would take place and was divided into two chief areas-the combat zone, or the area of active fighting, and the Communications Zone, or area required for administration of the theater. As the armies advanced, both these zones and the areas into which they were divided would shift forward to new geographic areas of control.

Events preceding World War II in Europe

The events preceding World War II in Europe are closely tied to the rise of fascism, especially in Nazi Germany and communism, especially in the Soviet Union.

Exercise Fabius

Exercise Fabius was a formal exercise for the Allied Operation Neptune in World War II. (The other was Exercise Tiger, which had occurred a week earlier.)

The exercise was planned to start on 2 May 1944, but bad weather delayed it to the next day.

It consisted of six separate exercises:

Fabius 1: elements of the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Division (United States) practised amphibious landing at Slapton Sands.

Fabius 2: elements of the 50th Infantry Division practised landings at Hayling Island.

Fabius 3: elements of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division practised landings at Bracklesham Bay.

Fabius 4: elements of the 3rd Infantry Division and associated units practised landing at Littlehampton.

Fabius 5 and 6: practice for American and British forces working on buildup of forces and supplies on Allied beaches.They formed the largest amphibious training exercise of the war. As the final exercise before Operation Neptune, it resembled closely the final operation and no major changes could be made to Operation Neptune.

North West Europe Campaign

The North West Europe campaign was the term used by the British Commonwealth armed forces for the campaigns in North West Europe, including its skies and adjoining waters during World War II. The term Western Front has also sometimes been used informally. The United States military prefers the term European Theater of Operations.

Hence the battle honour "North-West Europe" was awarded to any unit involved in land, sea and air campaigns and operations in, over or near Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom during World War II. It includes many more specific campaigns and/or battle honours.

Operation Blockbuster

Operation Blockbuster was the completion of the larger Operation Veritable by the First Canadian Army, reinforced by the XXX Corps from the British Second Army from late February to early March, 1945. Veritable had been slower and more costly than expected and the Canadian commander, General Harry Crerar, had decided on a fresh start for the operation. Three British and Canadian divisions advanced north-westwards, capturing unprepared German positions in the Hochwald forested ridge, before advancing on Xanten. They linked up with the Ninth US Army at Berendonk, near Geldern on 3 March. The Rhineland battles would become Canada's most costly campaign, over 40,000 were killed in action in the Rhineland.

Operation Bowery

Operation Bowery was an Anglo-American operation in World War II to deliver Spitfire fighter aircraft to Malta ("Club Runs"). The aircraft were desperately needed to bolster the island's defence against strong Axis air raids.

Operation Calendar

Operation Calendar in 1942 was an Anglo-American operation in World War II to deliver Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft to Malta. The aircraft were desperately needed to bolster the island's defence against strong Axis air raids.

Operation MB8

Operation MB8 was a British Royal Navy operation in the Mediterranean Sea during 4–11 November 1940. It was made up of six forces—totalling two aircraft carriers, five battleships, 10 cruisers and 30 destroyers, including much of Force H—protecting four supply convoys.It consisted of several phases: Operation Coat, Operation Crack, Convoy MW 3, Convoy ME 3, Convoy AN 6 and the main element, Battle of Taranto (Operation Judgement).

Operation Ostfront

Operation Ostfront (German: "Eastern Front") was the sortie into the Arctic Ocean by the German battleship Scharnhorst during World War II. This operation culminated in the sinking of Scharnhorst.

Operation Regenbogen (Arctic)

Operation Regenbogen (German: "Rainbow") was the sortie in 1942 into the Arctic Ocean by warships of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine (navy) during World War II. This operation culminated in the Battle of the Barents Sea.

Operation Regenbogen (U-boat)

Regenbogen ("Rainbow") was the code name for the planned mass scuttling of the German U-boat fleet, to avoid surrender, at the end of World War II.

South German Offensive

The South German Offensive is the general name of one of the final offensives of World War II in Europe. The offensive was led by the Seventh and Third armies of the United States along with the First Army of France. Soviet troops linked up with American forces in Czechoslovakia notably in the Battle of Slivice. The offensive was made by the US 6th Army Group to protect the US 12th Army Group's right flank and to prevent a German last stand in the Alps. However German resistance was much more fierce than in the north, which slowed the 6th Army Group's progress. However, by the end of April, many German divisions surrendered without a fight to the advancing American forces to avoid the inevitable destruction. The VI Corps of the Seventh Army linked up with the US Fifth Army, which fought through Italy, in the Alps as the Third Army advanced into Austria and Czechoslovakia, where it linked up with Soviet forces advancing from the east. Fighting continued a few days after the Surrender of Germany on 8 May, due to German forces fighting west to surrender to the Americans instead of the Soviets.

Syrmian Front

The Syrmian Front (Serbo-Croatian: Sremski front, Сремски фронт) was an Axis line of defense during World War II. It was established as part of the Eastern Front in late October 1944 in Syrmia and east Slavonia, northwest of Belgrade.

After the Yugoslav Partisans and the Red Army expelled the Germans from Belgrade in the Belgrade Offensive, the retreating Wehrmacht and the Croatian Armed Forces used fortifications to protect the withdrawal of German Army Group E from the Balkans. With help from their Soviet allies, the Partisans (by then recognized as the Yugoslav army), joined by Bulgarian and Italian forces, fought a difficult winter campaign and finally broke through the front on 12 April 1945.

After the Syrmian front was broken, occupied Yugoslavia was liberated.

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