WW2 - EuropeanTheatre; 5 Facts

Political opportunism due to the economic crisis caused by the Great Depression enabled Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini to take power.

Although the Post WW1 European economy had stabilized by the 1920s, America's Great Depression caused an economic collapse in Europe, led by Germany's hyperinflation. This enabled Hitler to promote an extreme form of patriotism that claimed "World Jewry" was the cause for Germany's economic problems and the excuse for rebuilding Germany's Army, Navy, and Air Force in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles.

The "Lend-Lease" Act

Signed in March 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt in order to lend or lease weapons, equipment, or raw materials to any nation fighting the Axis. It replaced 1939's "Cash & Carry Act" which required Britain and other countries pay in gold for any war materials they bought. The Act was aimed at assisting Britain, who was already financially strapped by the war. Eventually, 38 nations received some $50 billion in aid (value $ 650 billion today). Great Britain and the Soviet Union received most of the money, with the British making their final repayment in 2006.

Convoy Duty - The Fight to Supply Britain

With the French surrendering in June 1940, any invasion of the Continent had to be launched from Britain, but first sufficient war material had to be shipped there from the United States. The Germans also realized this, and their Kriegsmarine (Navy) under Adm Karl Doenitz concentrated on stopping the convoys carrying supplies from the United States. Their principal weapon was the U-Boat, which was initially very effective. Huge Allied shipping losses continued (one convoy lost 23 of 36 ships) until May 1943, when new Allied technology finally began sinking the U-boats faster than the Germans could build new ones. But by the time Germany surrendered, Doenitz's U-Boats had sunk 5,150 Allied ships, totaling 21 million tons

The Normany Invasion: June 6, 1944

D-Day. Led by American general Dwight D. Eisenhower, 156,000 American, British, and Canadian soldiers landed in order to take France and Western Europe back from the Nazis. The Allied landed on five beaches (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword) in a massive frontal assault that consisted of 6,935 ships, 11,000 airplanes and 156,000 troops. Although the British and Canadians encountered only light resistance, the Americans landing on Omaha Beach found it heavily defended and resistance was fierce, with 2,499 killed the first day. By June 11, more than 326,000 soldiers had landed on the five beaches, along with 100,000 tons of military equipment and were pushing inland.

The Battle of the Bulge

This was the last major German offensive campaign of the war. Launched on 16 December 1944, Germany's goal was to split the British and Americans, capture Antwerp, and then encircle and destroy four Allied armies and force the Allies to negotiate a peace treaty so Hitler could concentrate on defeating the Soviet armies advancing from the east. The Germans achieved near-complete surprise when they attacked and caught the Americans unaware, while bad weather grounded the Allies' air force and stopped the re-supply and air support missions. But fierce American resistance at Bastogne blocked German access to key roads, allowing the Allies to reinforce their troops while improved weather permitted American Air to attack German troops and supply lines. Some 610,000 American soldiers fought, with 19,000 killed with 89,000 casualties. It was the bloodiest battle of the war for the US Army. It was also a last-gasp offensive attempt whose defeat severely depleted Germany's ability to continue the war.

The Yalta Conference

The March 1945 meeting between the soon-to-be victorious Allied leaders was held in the Ukranian resort city of Yalta discuss the fate of Germany and the Axis Powers in the post-war. President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Premier Josef Stalin negotiated and signed a Protocol of Proceedings that agreed:

To divide Germany into four "Zones," which Britain, France, the USA and the USSR would occupy after the war.

To bring Nazi war criminals to trial

To establish a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity 'pledged to the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible.

To help the freed peoples of Europe establish democratic and self-governing countries.

To establish a commission to discuss reparations.

Roosevelt wanted Stalin's assistance against Japan and was able to obtain Stalin's promise to attack Japan in exchange for the Soviet's being allowed occupation zones in North Korea and Manchuria.

After the conference Churchill told Roosevelt that 'The Soviet Union has become a danger to the free world.' After their return home both were criticized for giving too much to the Soviets.

WW2 changed the course of history. The effort of fighting Germany and Japan bankrupted Britain and tore apart the British Empire, while building the United States and the Soviet Union into the world's leading economic and military powers. That Cold War rivalry lasted until the Soviet's 1990 implosion and break-up, leaving America the world's sole superpower - whose staunchest allies now include former enemies Japan and Germany.

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