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July 5th – August 23rd, 1943">The Battle of Kursk
July 5th – August 23rd, 1943

After the Germans defeated the Soviet Union’s 6th Army at Stalingrad, plans were made to attack Kursk, recommended by Field Marshall Erich von Manstein. Adolf Hitler agreed but delayed the plans for a month or so, because he wanted to deliver new tanks to the German forces. The Russians had intercepted messages regarding these plans, and the delay of the attack, allowed them to make defensive plans, and fortify themselves. The objective for the Germans, was to totally destroy the Russian army, and break the people’s resistance. They also wanted to separate the Russians away from the rest of the Allied group, as there was already Russian discontent with the Allies in their not pushing forward with opening up a second western front.

The Attack Begins

As the Russians already knew about the upcoming attack, they began their own attack with an artillery barrage at 2 a.m., on July 5th, 1943. The Germans, now knowing that their plans had been uncovered, began their attack at 4:30 a.m. with their own artillery barrage. Then, they began moving forward, with the 9th Army attacking from both the northern and southern points, heading towards the city. Both sides came to the battle heavily armed with tanks, with the Germans and their Tiger and Panther tanks. They also had the new Ferdinand self-propelled gun, which was very sturdy and accurate. However, set on Tiger tanks, the new cannon proved to be very vulnerable to Russian tank shots from off center positions. The cannon could only fire in a forward position, as it was installed on a fixed turret, making it difficult to adjust to different positions. The tank also had to stop in order to fire.

Once the Tiger with the Ferdinand was at 500 yards, the Russians, who had camouflaged their tanks in most locations, could begin firing back with their own 45-mm cannons, and by 300 yards, they were able to pierce the frontal sections of the German tanks. The Ferdinand mount design also required a large hole at the back, to allow space for the cannon recoil and ejections of the shells. This made it vulnerable to Russian soldiers rushing in from behind, and tossing in grenades and Molotov cocktails (glass bottles with flammable liquids with a lit cloth wick).

While the Germans came well-armed, the Russians had built better defenses, and were able to hold off and, eventually, begin pushing back the Germans. The German army had lost 25,000 soldiers in the first 24 hours, along with 200 aircraft and 200 tanks. As of July 10th, they had lost over two-thirds of the Tiger tanks.

On July 12th, a 1,500 tanks were involved at a battle, that took place, 50 miles southest of Kursk, at Prokhorovka. The Germans from the northern attack group, failed in this battle as well, losing 10,000 men and 350 tanks. The Russians began pushing them back from this point, and by July 19th, having retreated some 45 miles already, Hitler agreed to a further retreat back to Orel, where the army could reorganize again. Every step of the way, the Germans were bombarded by Russian air fighters, and also contended with local partisan groups, who destroyed much of the rail tracks as well.

The southern German attack forces were having similar problems. Having started out with 300,000 men and 600 tanks, against 1 million Russian soldiers and their tanks groups, not including the reserves they also had in place, the Germans had to retreat. Rail lines had also been damaged in this area, including the derailment of over 1,000 train loads of German troops, who were to be reinforcements. When the Russians took back and liberated the city of Kharkov, then for all intents and purposes, the battle of Kursk was considered over. The Germans had lost 500,000 men in casualties, either killed, lost, or injured, including massive amounts of armor, particularly in tanks, and this battle was considered the death knell of German invasion goals in Russia.

 Things to Know at Kursk

Soviet Union

Marshall Georgy Zhukov

Lt. General Konstantin Rokossovsky

Marshall Nikolai Vatutin

Lt. General Ivan Konev (backup)

Germany

Field Marshall Erich von Manstein

Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge

Commander Hermann Hoth

General Werner Kempf

Field Marshal Walther Model 

  • 1.3 million soldiers
  • 20,000 artillery guns
  • 3,600 tanks
  • 2,400 planes
  • 300,000 citizens who helped with building defenses, road work, and digging trenches
  • 900,000 soldiers
  • 10,000 artillery guns
  • 2,700 tanks (new T-34 with 85mm gun & the JS-II with 122mmm gun)
  • 2,000 aircraft (Shturmovik ground-attack aircraft)
 Note: Defensive zones in the Kursk battle, laid down by Russians (and civilians), amounted to 500,000 anti-tank mines, 440,000 anti-personnel mines, and barbed wire fences, including electrified.

Operation Iceberg: April 1st – June 22nd, 1945

The Battle of Okinawa

On the Sea

The battle of Okinawa, code name Operation Iceberg, intended as the last step before the planned invasion of Japan, was fought on both land and sea. It became the last major battle in the Pacific in World War II. While Americans were slugging it out with entrenched well-armed Japanese on the island, a picket line of destroyers (DDs) and destroyer escort (DEs) vessels, kept open the lifeline of sea lanes needed to keep reinforcements coming in on a continuous basis. Kamikaze pilots, who volunteered for the honor to drive their planes into the vessels, carried roughly 3,000 to 4,700 pounds of explosives, strapped to the plane’s belly, which was then aimed at the target vessel. Added to this, were several mini submarines and speed boats, which sped to the vessels, to accomplish the same end result from sea level, aiming into the sides of the American vessels.

The Strategy at Sea

A ring of DDs and DEs were set for surrounding the island to protect the lanes and landing points on the island. A picket line point was set at 20 miles out, with a second at 40 miles out, and a third at 70 miles out. Each point had rings of picket groups, and all were named Task Flotilla 5. Each ring was assigned a fighter-director team, which connected with a specified fighter squadron, that could be called in for help. Starting out with one destroyer for each ring, more were added on over the following days, because of the fierce attacks made by planes and small vessels.

Of note was the destroyer, the U.S.S. Hadley, which joined Station 15 on the picket line. In joint operations with the destroyer Evans on April 11th, the two ships took out 50 planes and rockets in the air, in just one day. The Hadley took many hits during this battle and almost sank, continuing to fire its guns, but was finally saved by its crew before it could sink. Twenty-eight sailors were lost, and 67 wounded onboard the Hadley.

Of 98 destroyers and 52 destroyer escorts sent out, 61 were hit during these attacks. Over 5,000 sailors and crew died, while 4,800 were wounded, with 13 destroyers and one destroyer escort sunk. Vessels severely damaged were 10 battleships, 13 carriers, and five cruisers, while 47 destroyers and escorts had also been damaged. It is unknown just how many kamikaze planes and boats, including their operators were lost.

On the Island

The Japanese soldiers were holed up in defense lines across the island, within pillboxes, caves, and several old castles, making it hard for the Americans to get to them without incurring casualties. The Allied objective was to capture the island’s airports, Yontan and Kadena, utilizing the 111 Amphibious Corps and the XXIV Army Corps under Lt. General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. The 6th Marine Division landed on the northern beaches to the west, while the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions landed in the southern half. Marine air groups of fighters and light bombers gave support from overhead.

Opposition, initially, was very light, and Yontan Airfield was easily captured, with Kadena captured by nightfall. As parts of the island were taken, it wasn’t until April 6th, that the first major resistance came from the embedded Japanese soldiers. The Americans had to strengthen its forces before moving further. On May 3rd, Japanese troop reinforcements landed on the wrong beach where Company B, fronted the XXIV Corps, and the two sides engaged in fierce battle, which the Americans finally won.

Alerted by this one attempt for Japanese soldiers landing on the island, the rest of the coastlines were protected from any further landings and Japanese reinforcements. The Americans, however, were still getting reinforcements. The American troops began moving throughout the island to flush out the enemy troops, engaging in bloody battles along the way. As the Americans had better training than the majority of Japanese soldiers, it was only a matter of time, until their downfall. But that still came at a cost to both sides, more so for the Japanese. On June 19th, Japanese soldiers began surrendering to the Americans by the hundreds, and on June 22nd, Marine Maj. Gen. Roy Geiger declared the island as won.

Six weeks later, two atomic bombs were dropped over Japan, one on Hiroshima, and one on Nagasaki, thus ending the war. The invasion of Japan never occurred as originally planned.

April 16th, 1945 to May 2nd, 1945">The Battle for Berlin
April 16th, 1945 to May 2nd, 1945

When the End Began

The Battle to take Berlin began on April 16th, 1945, with the Soviet Union marching towards the city, while the rest of the Allied forces waited out to the west, 60 miles away. By prior arrangement, the Soviets would have the right to take the city. Fifty miles east of Berlin, Marshal Georgi K. Zhukov waited at Küstrin on the Oder with 768,100 soldiers, ready to roll forward with mortars, tanks, light and heavy artillery, and multi-barreled rockets launchers (Katyushas). He had brought everything he could get his hands on, and was ready to hit at the German troops located close by. Zhokov counted down the minutes until 4 a.m., and when it arrived, an inferno of bombs, artillery, and all the revenge of the Russians, rained down on the German countryside and troops. It was the beginning of pure revenge from those who had suffered during the Germans’ previous invasion into the Soviet Union, and there would be no quarter given. Germans soldiers’ bodies were piled high, including some of the Russians who got caught by Russian bombs.

From the south, when 6 a.m. came, Marshall Ivan Konev, of the 1st Ukrainian Army Group, attacked from across the Neisse River, with nearly as heavy a bombardment as Zukov’s attack. Both Marshalls wanted the glory of entering Berlin first, so when Zukov was having difficulty breaking through the Seelow Heights, Konev quickly asked permission of Stalin to move into Berlin, as he was ready to go. Yet, as permission came, and he broke through the city’s southern defenses, Stalin gave him orders to cover the western part of the city, while Zhukov got the other side, including the prize location for the Soviet Union flag to be raised – The Reichstag.

Inside Berlin

Both Russian armies moved in, battling from street to street against any soldiers still there, along with any citizens, who could fight, while services and transportation came to a standstill, including the telegraph office. Most Germans left in Berlin, feared the retributions of the Russians for the 23 million Russian soldiers and citizens who had died at the hands of German soldiers during the invasion of Russia that started in 1941. The German defense units left to fight the Russians in the city, with no plans drawn up for the city’s defense, were close to 300,00, but mainly old men and young boys, sent to the slaughter, some against their will by death threats from the SS. , Many SS soldiers hanged any boys and others, who would not fight. As the Russians moved through the streets, they looted stores and homes, assaulted women, and destroyed everything in their path.

In the midst of the fighting in his city, Adolf Hitler was huddled in his bunker with his mistress, Eva Braun, whom he married in the last hours of their lives, on April 28th, 1945. After writing out his will early the next morning, with Martin Bormann, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, and Colonel Nicholas von Below as witnesses, Hitler later had his last staff conference, and then retired with Eva into their room. While both took poison, Hitler also shot himself in the head. Both were later found by their valet, who wrapped them in blankets, and, with the help of others, put them outside in the garden. With gasoline poured over them, they were then burned, and later covered, as per Hitler’s wishes.

The fighting continued on for several days, with Russians battling against Germans on foot with portable anti-tank weapons, along with hit-and-run attacks, particularly by boys, who were made to run under the tanks and detonate a grenade.

The End of the German Nazi Regime

Finally, on May 2nd, Berlin surrendered to the Russians, with the whole of Germany, surrendering on May 7th, 1945. The Russians had 275,000 wounded or missing, with about 80,000 killed in action. During this battle, 150,000 Germans were killed. It was after the fall of Berlin, that the truth of the Jewish extinction program was finally uncovered for everyone to see.
Stalin had asked for the right to enter Berlin first, publically, because he wanted revenge on the Germans. But there was also another lesser known reason, and that was the desire to get his hands on the Germans’ nuclear research center. The NKVD special troops, assigned to carry out this task, found three tons of uranium oxide, which they took control of, and shipped it all back to Russia. This helped shore up Russia’s own nuclear program, initiating Operation Borodino, which had been slow to start.

Participants in the Battle
  • General Lt. A.D. Reymann-Commander of the Berlin Defense Area (until April 22 1945)
  • Five Commanders over 3 months
  • Army Group Vistula
  • Marshall Georgi K. Zhukov-1st Belorussian Army Group
  • Marshall Ivan Konev-1st Ukrainian Army Group
  •  1,000,000 (300,000 inside Berlin)
  • (45,000 boys and old men)
  • 10,400 artillery
  • 1,500 tanks (Panzerfaust)
  • aircraft
  • 2,500,000 soldiers (1,000.000 into the city)
  • 41,000 artillery
  • 6,250 tanks (T-34)
  • 7,500 aircraft (1st day, 15,000 sorties)
According to hospital reports in Berlin, 100,000 German women were raped by the Russians during the taking of Berlin. As despicable, was the report in Russian files, of Russian soldiers raping Russian women released from Nazi labor camps in Germany.

August 15th to September 14th, 1944">Operation Dragoon:
The Allied Invasion of Southern France
August 15th to September 14th, 1944

The original plans for Operation Dragoon (formerly called Anvil), the invasion of southern France, was to coincide with the landings at Normandy (Operation Sledgehammer), on the northern coastline. Due to the Allied invasion of Italy, which was taking longer than expected, the southern France invasion plan was put back until August, 1944. Both Sledgehammer and Anvil were then renamed Operation Overlord and Operation Dragoon, respectively. The landing groups consisted of the 3rd, 45th, and 36th Infantry Divisions of the 6th Corps on three beaches of the Var coastline, close to Toulon. These beaches were at Cavalaire-sur-Mer, Saint-Tropez, and Saint-Raphaël (codename Alpha, Delta, and Camel respectively). The 1st Airborne Task Force, meanwhile, would drop in at Le Muy, to engage the Germans, and prevent them from attacking the beach landings, while Task Force 88 at sea, would provide gunfire and air support. The Le Muy area was vital for capturing because it would help secure the beach landings, as well as provide a pathway into the Argens valley corridor. German defenses, during this time, consisted of one tank battalion of the 11th Panzer Division, and 11 divisions of Army Group G, thinly stretched over 56 miles on the coast. Many of the German forces had been moved north by then, to fight against the northern invasion at Normandy and surrounding areas.

The Invasion

On August 14th, the first landings began, starting with taking over the islands of Port-Cros and Levant, of the Îles d’Hyères, by the 1st Special Service Force. Much of the communications and transportation systems had already been taken out by French resistance fighters on land, while any battery unit installations on Cap Nègre were destroyed by French commandos, providing a fairly easy landing for those on Alpha and Delta beaches. Those landing on Camel, however, had far more resistance, and had to readjust to a different landing point. While some German troops surrendered to the Allies, as they moved inland the rest retreated north, with skirmishes along the way. Of importance, was the fact that when the railroads were destroyed in order to cut off supplies to the Germans before the invasion started, the Allies had to wait until they were re-established enough, including the opening of nearby ports, to get their own supplies rolling in again.

While Allied troops were attempting to cut off the escape route of the retreating Germans, French troops headed along the coast to Toulon and Marseille, engaged the enemy, and liberated both cities on August 27th. Mobile forces, along with the 36th Infantry Division, met up with the retreating Germans, who turned to take a stand at Montélimar. While both sides battled each other, neither could move one way or another until, finally, the Germans turned and escaped north. The Allies, now refortified with VI Corps and the French II Corps, captured Montelimar first, then liberated Lyon, as they gave chase to the retreating Germans, who finally escaped through the Vosges Mountains.

The invasion from the south, greatly assisted operations in the north in freeing France from the German occupation. This invasion and subsequent battle occurred between two larger events, the Battle of Normandy and the Invasion (Liberation) of Italy, and, therefore, is not discussed as much, yet has great importance to the success of the northern Allied endeavors in France. The Allied retaking of the railroads and sea ports, Marseilles in particular, allowed for reinforcements and supplies to be brought in and transported quickly to the front lines. With the Allies now controlling the Mediterranean, it was open waters for the Allies to push back the Germans into their homeland, and have enough supplies to do it. It should also be noted that the combined Franco-American forces were at their best during this time, mainly because the French were finally ridding themselves of the German fascist regime. The assistance from French resistance groups also helped immeasurably to get supplies from the locals, along with other assistance, which kept the forces going.

 Participants in Operation Dragoon
 Allied Commanders Axis (German) Commanders
  • General Jacob Devers – 6th Army Group
  • Major General Alexander Patch-US 7th Army
  • General Jean de Lattre d Tassigny-French Army B
  • Major General Lucian Truscott-VI Corps
  • Major General Robert T. Frederick-1st Airborne Task Force
  • General George S. Patton-US 3rd Army
  • Vice Adm. Henry K. Hewitt-Western Naval Task Force
  • General John E. Dahlquist-36th Division
  • Colonel General Johannes Blaskowitz -Army Group G
  • General Wend von Wietersheim-11th Panzer Division
  • General Richard von Schwerin-189th Infantry Division
  • General Friedrich Wiese-19th Army
 Losses During the Invasion
  •  17,000 killed and wounded
  • 43,000 taken prisoner (rough count)
  • 45,000 cut off (unknown ending)
  • 7,000 killed, 21,000 wounded
 Opening Counts of Soldiers in the Field
 175,000-200,000 soldiers  85,000-100,000 at attack site

285,000-300,000 in region

Battle of Midway
June 4th -7th, 1942

Before the battle of Midway in the Pacific, Naval Allied Command had received a break-through opportunity, when intelligence cryptologists deciphered Japanese messages, detailing an upcoming surprise attack somewhere in the Pacific. This engagement was designed to draw out any US Naval vessels in the area, and destroy them, taking American naval powers out of action.

Accordingly, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz designed a counterattack plan to surprise the Japanese and beat them at their own game. First, suspecting that Midway Island (Atoll) was the target, Nimitz had the base operators at Midway send out a message that they were ‘short of water’. When the Japanese relayed this information back to their headquarters, including resulting messages detailing dates of the planned Japanese attack, this provided the confirmation that Nimitz needed to consolidate his own surprise attack.

Aside from the regular garrison there, Nimitz also began providing supplies and reinforcements on the island, and the island commanders fortified the defenses, laying down barbed wire and hidden guns in strategic locations. About 19 submarines were located around the south and east sides, through to the north. Nimitz consolidated his own attack forces.

The Attack Begins

On June 4th, Japanese bombers attacked the Midway base, heavily damaging it. As the bombers began returning to their carriers to refuel, the Japanese discovered the US naval fleet was on the eastern side of the island. At this point, with the Japanese air fleet between sorties, the US sent out its Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers and SBD Dauntless dive bombers to attack the Japanese carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and Soryu. Of those four carriers, only the Hiryu survived a short time longer. Aircraft carriers present at the battle on the US side were the USS Enterprise, USS Hornet, and USS Yorktown, with the Yorktown suffering two retaliatory bombing attacks from the Hiryu. In return, the USS Enterprise sent out its dive bombers and bombed the Hiryu, until it was left burning and without capabilities to send out any aircraft. The Japanese heavy cruiser, Mikuma, was also totally destroyed.

Over the next two days, the US naval group, still consisting of the Enterprise and the Hornet, along with six cruisers and nine destroyers, continued to harass the Japanese. While the Japanese fought back with the few planes they had left, the Americans continued to hit cruisers and other vessels still left. Finally, the Japanese turned away and left, under orders of their commander, Yamamoto.

In total, the Japanese lost 322 aircraft and close to 5,000 sailors, along with aircraft ground crews and trained mechanics, vital to Japanese aircraft maintenance. One-third of the Japanese pilots were lost.

On the American side, however, the Douglas TBD torpedo bombers suffered 36 out of 42 bombers lost, as they came in for their strikes, when they became separated from the SBD Dauntless dive bombers. In total, 147 American aircraft were lost, along with 307 sailors, one destroyer, and the USS Hammann, which was assisting in salvaging the USS Yorktown. Both finally sank after an attack from the Japanese submarine, I-168.

It was later uncovered that another reason for the Japanese choosing Midway to invade, was due to the surprise air bombing attack on Tokyo by the Doolittle squad in April, 1942. The Japanese calculated that Midway was the most logical takeoff point for the planes, and it should be taken over. Hence, the reason for the battle at Midway.

 Participants of the Battle at Midway
 United States  Japan
Commander in Chief:

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

  • Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher (TF17)
  • Admiral Raymond Spruance (TF16)
  • TF (Task Force)

Commander in Chief:

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

  • Admiral Nobutake Kondō
  • Admiral Chūichi Nagumo
  • Rear Admiral Tanaka Raizo
  • Rear Admiral Kurita Takeo 
 Total Losses
  • 1 carrier (sunk) “Yorktown”
  • 1 destroyer (sunk) “Hammann”
  • 147-150 aircraft destroyed
  • 307 sailors killed 
  • 4 carriers (sunk)
  • 1 heavy cruiser (sunk)
  • 248-322 aircraft destroyed
  • 3,057-5,000 killed
  • 37 captured 

Allied Invasion and Liberation of Italy

After Allied forces defeated the Axis German and Italian forces in Africa in 1943, the Axis forces retreated through Sicily, crossed the Strait of Messina, and moved into Italy to the Po Valley. From here, the Germans planned to hold the northern industrial section of Italy. Operation Husky (July 10 to August 17, 1943) was conducted with the invasion of Sicily and was achieved in 38 days, with heavy fighting against the Axis forces. On July 24th, as a consequence of Operation Husky, the Italian Fascist Dictator Benito (Il Duce) Mussolini was voted out of power, and then arrested. General Pietro Badoglio was made Prime Minister, whereupon he began arranging armistice terms with the Allies. Italy surrendered unconditionally on September 8th, and on October 13th, Italy declared war on Germany. Meanwhile, Mussolini was rescued by the Germans and he set up a puppet government in northern German-occupied Italy with his own groups of fanatical Fascist counterinsurgents.

The Invasion and Liberation of Italy Begins

On September 3rd, 1943, the first landing with the XXX Corps of the 8th Army under General Sir Bernard Montgomery, began at several different positions in Calabria. There was little resistance from the enemy, but destroyed roads and bridges, rugged terrain, along with mines, slowed down the advance north. The objective here was to draw down the German troops from their northern positions, whereupon, under Operation Avalanche, General Sir Harold Alexander, commander of the 15th Army Group, could land some of his troops south of Salerno on the opposite side, and move to cut off the Germans from behind.

On September 9th, one day after Italy surrendered to the Allies, and Italian armies were disarmed by the Germans, General Mark Clark (5th Army) ordered Avalanche to begin, using the US VI Corps and the British X Corps. The British (46th and 56th Divisions) landed on the northern point, while the US troops (36th Infantry Division), landed further south of Salerno. The landing points were covered by US Army Rangers and British Commandoes, who would secure the Sorrento Peninsula mountain passes, as well as block any reinforcements coming from northern sectors. However, the X Corps endured heavy attacks, until finally, reinforcements arrived, along with naval gunfire which drove the Germans back. Simultaneously, the port of Taranto (Operation Slapstick) was easily taken over by the 1st Airborne Division and 78th Division of the British Army, but later on the 11th, suffered damages to cruisers, when the Luftwaffe attacked with bombs.

The Allied forces began moving north, taking Foggia on September 27th, and Naples on October 1st. Meanwhile, the German forces under Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, retreated backwards, but leaving infrastructures of hazardous mines and demolitions. During this time, ground and supply reinforcements to the Allies were also slowed down by the concentration of power, put to the 15th Strategic Air Force and bombing campaigns.

After progressing forward and taking Volturno, Trigno, then Sangro, the Allies were halted at Garigliano, where Kesselring finally stopped to take a stand. On January 17th, the Battle of the Garigliano (river) began, and on January 22nd, the VI Corps, comprised of 50,000 US soldiers and British troops, in a surprise maneuver, landed on the Anzio beaches, but did not move further to cut off Kesselring from behind. This left him the opportunity to build up troops, thus prolonging the battle exponentially. Allied forces also conducted three separate battles on Cassino and its Monastery Hill, upon which stood an abbey, a prime location for observation posts. None of these Allied attacks were successful.

Finally, the decision was made to air bomb access to roads and rail communications, thus reducing Kesselring’s supply line, and he finally withdrew north on May 16th. The Allied forces moved forward and rode into Rome on June 4th, 1944, thus liberating Rome and the southern part of Italy. The fight in northern Italy, however, was protracted further, because the Allies, under Fifth Army Commander Mark W. Clark, made the side journey to Rome, instead of chasing after the retreating German forces.

The final set of attacks, after waiting out poor weather conditions, started with Operation Encore, beginning in the last days of February, 1945. The US 10th Mountain Division crossed over the Apennines Mountains and German-installed minefields, to line up with the II Corps, and began pushing the Germans off their positions on Monte Castello, Monte Belvedere, and Castelnuovo. The 8th Army forces broke through the Argenta Gap after a large bombardment was conducted in the area, then met up with the 6th Corps close to Bologna, then captured it, along with reinforcement groups. Further take-over operations occurred at Venice, Trieste, Milan, Genoa, and Turin. When Berlin fell on May 1st, 1945, the Germans in Italy surrendered on May 2nd, 1945.

Total losses are said to be at: Allies-305,000; 313,495 casualties; and 8,011 aircraft. For the Italians, 15,197 killed. The Axis forces incurred: 336,650-580,630 killed, lost, and injured. German count of those who surrendered or were captured, were 1,000,000. For Italians still fighting with Germans, the count was 13,021.

The Battle of the Bulge

In December of 1944, Adolf Hitler decided to make a last-ditch effort to wipe out the Allied forces. By this time, after the ill-fated attempt to kill Hitler, which was conducted by a few who were closest to him, Hitler was listening to only two of his most trusted military commanders: Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and General Alfred Jodl. The rest were left out in the cold. Under these circumstances, it was also hard for the Allied command group to even comprehend what was going on in Hitler’s mind. When the German forces began settling in on one side of the Ardennes Forest, opposite from where several weary Allied divisions were stationed, Allied Command assumed that the German forces were just resting and waiting for something better. General Eisenhower was advised accordingly by others in command: Major General Harold R. Bull, and Major General John F.M. Whiteley, backed by Chief of Staff, Lt. General Walter Bedell Smith. What would later be described as a ‘failure in intelligence’ communications on a grand scale, ultimately, resulted in the second bloodiest war since World War I and the Meuse-Argonne battle.

The Beginning

In the early morning hours of December 16th, 1944, three German armies, comprised of some 2.5 thousand soldiers, moved their way through the Ardennes forest, navigating trees and rugged roads, and engaged the four divisions of American soldiers, who were caught totally unware. One such division, the inexperienced 106th Division, was almost totally destroyed, yet was able to put up enough of a battle to gain time for defenses to pull together at St. Vith. Under the leadership of Brigadier General Bruce C. Clarke, the Combat Command B, 7th Armored Division, was able, for six days, to hold off the Germans from taking St. Vith, a crucial objective for the Germans, because of St. Vith’s railroad and communications center. On the sixth day, the US Army, having suffered great losses, finally withdrew to Salm River, but the Germans had also suffered tremendous losses, including lack of vital replenishments. It was later determined that this battle at St. Vith, was a major turning point against the Germans’ closely-timed plan to divide Allied forces and break their will to fight back. The final objective for the Germans was to roll through to Antwerp, Belgium, but now their time table was off by three days.

Bastogne

Meanwhile, Allied Command was quickly shoring up defenses along the way, and building a counteroffensive. The 99th Division Artillery Group were hunkered in around Monschau, while the 2nd Infantry Division was on Eisenborn Ridge, thus fighting off any German advances towards Liege at the south-eastern border of Belgium. The 4th Infantry Division were also in play in this area. Further south, the 101st Division, now located at Bastogne, was in danger of being surrounded by the XLVII Panzer Corps, which had not experienced delays. While the Panzer Corps was initially supposed to pass Bastogne and head towards the Meuse, the commander unwisely informed his commanders that they should commit there first, thus interrupting the timeline. When the German commander on December 22nd, demanded that the American forces in Bastogne should surrender, Brig. General Anthony C. McAuliffe said “Nuts!” right back. As the weather broke on that day, supply airdrops were made to Bastogne, and the 4th Armored Division broke through to assist Bastogne. The bulge of the German army’s push (hence the battle name) was the strategic spread outwards of German forces against the Allied front line, from the Ardennes, to various points in south-eastern Belgium.

The End Finally Comes

The battles, particularly at St. Vith, were bloody and hard. As the Germans became bogged down in numerous positions, more battles ensued. The German panzer army spearhead finally reached 20 miles outside of Liege, but was stopped there by the Allied counterattack. The Germans finally backed away in January of 1945, and the Battle of the Bulge finally ended, January 16th, when Allied task forces from the north and south, met up at Houffalize. In all, some 76,890 US soldiers were killed, missing, or wounded. It should also be mentioned that Belgium citizens tended to American soldiers as best as they could, and also suffered during this time.

Important to Know:

1950, Executive Order 9396: Citation of Honor and Distinction for Those at the Battle of St. Vith

Combat Command B, 7th Armored Division

By order of Charles, Prince of Belgium, Regent of the Kingdom

And President Harry S. Truman 

 Those who took part, were:

Headquarters and Headquarters Company;

17th Tank Battalion;

3lst Tank Battation;

23rd Armored Infantry Battalion;

38th Armored Infantry Battalion;

87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron Mechanized (less Troop D);

275th Armored Field Artillery Battalion;

434th Armored Field Artillery Battalion;

965th Field Artillery Battalion;

168th Engineer Combat Battalion;

3rd Platoon, Company F, 423rd lnfantry Regiment;

Company B, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion;

Company A, 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion (SP)

The German Siege of Leningrad, Russia

Operation Barbarossa was the name given to a three-pronged attack that Hitler devised for the invasion of the Soviet Union. Slated to begin in May, 1941, it was delayed for a month, because of military diversions in Greece and Yugoslavia. This delay became crucial to the success of Hitler’s plans, as he had hoped to avoid battles in the Soviet Union during the severe winter months. Yet, on June 22, 1941, the operation began, with 150 divisions (3 million soldiers), led by armored divisions and bombers from overhead. The Soviet Union lost 2.5 million men, 22,000 guns, 14,000 planes and 18,000 tanks in the first initial push into the Soviet Union. From here, the German armies split out into three groups. Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb led the Army Group North towards the Baltic coast and the city of Leningrad. Forces from Finland, led by Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, were also included with Leeb’s forces. Hitler’s plan for Leningrad was to ‘wiped off the face of the earth’.

The Siege: September 8, 1941 – January 7, 1944

Leningrad, in preparation of a possible take-over, began fortifying the city, putting up lines of defense with anti-tank ditches, and barricades, surrounding the city. Leeb’s 4th Panzer Group and the 18th Army, first took down Ostrov and Pskov, and then Narva, as the forces moved towards Leningrad. When Leeb’s Army Group North finally reached the Neva River, the last railway leading into Leningrad was destroyed on August 30th. This cut off all supplies to the city.

Mannerheim, for his part, first attacked the Karelian Isthmus while moving towards Leningrad, and advanced on Lake Ladoga along its eastern edge, where they settled in to wait. Meanwhile, other Finnish forces dug in along the Svir River in East Karelia, between the two lakes of Ladoga and Onega. The Finnish forces held these positions for the next three years, and did not move further towards Leningrad.

The Germans, meanwhile, captured Shlisselburg, thus cutting any supply access to Leningrad. Leeb also capture Tikhvin on November 8th, but could not move any further towards linking up with the Finnish troops. The Russians put up such a resistance, that Leeb finally had to retreat behind the Volkhov river. It was determined that, from this point, a siege position around Leningrad, would be the most effective tactic for the Germans in taking down the city.

This began the protracted period of three years of starvation and death for the population of Leningrad, as lack of supplies dwindled dramatically. Some supplies made it across Lake Ladoga, known during this time as the “Road of Life”, but it was not nearly enough to save a large majority of the people in the city. Yet, the city refused to give up and surrender to the Germans.

In January, 1942, Field Marshal Georg von Küchler replaced Leeb. The German troop infrastructure was replenished with new troops, allowing for von Küchler to hold off Soviet offensives, who were unaware that German troops had been refortified, particularly with the new heavier Tiger I tank. It wasn’t until Operation Iskra, that the Russians, under Commanders Marshal Kirill Meretskov and Marshal Leonid Govorov, utilizing the 67th Army and 2nd Shock Army, were finally able to open a supply path from Lake Lagoda’s southern shore into Leningrad. This allowed for supplies to finally get through to Leningrad, even if still not enough to save some of the people. In January of 1944, the combined Russian First and Second Baltic Fronts, along with the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts, overwhelmed and pushed back the Germans. The Moscow-Leningrad railroad was finally retaken and the siege of Leningrad ended.

The siege lasted 827 days, with a loss of civilians at up to, potentially, 1.5 million, from a pre-war population of 3 million. When the siege finally ended, there were only 700,000 left in Leningrad. Nearly 1,017,888 Russian forces were lost, captured, or missing, along with 2,418,185 wounded.

The German Invasion and Fall of France

When Adolf Hitler took over Poland in September of 1939, England and France declared war on Germany, but were too late to help Poland recover from the German assault. The nine-month period after the declaration of war by England and France, came to be known as the “Phony War”, because there was very little fighting between the three parties of Germany, France, and England. But in May, 1940, after Hitler turned his sights on France, everything would change.

The Beginning

Hitler decided, first, that he would take over Denmark, and then Norway, with both campaigns being successful, but at the cost of half of his German navy destroyers (10/20), three out of eight cruisers, two battle cruisers, and one pocket battleship. This path over land, and by sea in the North and Norwegian Seas, was of great importance in securing for Germany, the resources for iron and ore needed for its military use.

Then on May 10th, Hitler moved his forces into Belgium and the Netherlands, taking them over as well, all in preparation for the attack on France. At this point, the British had just installed Winston Churchill as Prime Minister, replacing Neville Chamberlain, and the British and France had to quickly combine forces in order to make a stand against Hitler in Belgium. While the Allies had almost enough resources to hold off Hitler, particularly at the Maginot Line, the placement of the Allied troops and fortifications in other areas were too spread out, whereas the German strike forces were extremely concentrated and organized.

The German Takeover: Case Yellow

The first route of attack for the Germans was to trap the English, French, and Belgium forces by breaking through the Sedan, and heading west towards the Channel. The Germans used the blitzkrieg tactic, deploying seven panzer tank divisions, Stuka dive bombers, and dropping parachute and airborne divisions behind the lines, where they could soften up the enemy in preparation for the final blow. This was accomplished by the 15th of May, whereupon the Dutch finally surrendered.

Meanwhile, the main focus for the Germans was to punch through the Ardennes Forest on May 10th, erroneously considered by the French, to be almost impenetrable because of the dense trees and poor roads. Therefore, fewer French forces were in place to help fortify this barrier.

Once the Germans had successfully moved through the Ardennes, they crossed the Meuse River, took over Sedan, and by May 16th, the Germans were nearly sixty miles west of Sudan, with very little resistance left. On May 20th, the 2nd Panzer Division had reached Abbeville, located at the mouth of the Somme River, close to the Channel, finally closing the circle on three French armies, the remaining Belgium forces, and the British. One large mistake was made by Hitler at this point, in that he ordered the halt of his forces, which provided a miraculous sneak opportunity for the British to evacuate from Dunkirk. Nearly 200,000 British soldiers, 140,000 French troops, and hundreds of refugees (Operation Dynamo), managed to evacuate before the Germans caught on to what they were doing. Once the Germans figured out what was happening, they attacked Dunkirk, and it fell on June 5th, 1940. Most of the evacuees made it out, and back to England, but numerous vessels were also lost, due to the bombing of ships from the German Junkers Ju-87 dive-bombers.

From this point, the Germans began a massive surge across France from all points, heading towards Paris. While there was some resistance from the French, they were ill-prepared to meet such a forceful, well-organized German army. On June 14th, German troops entered Paris, which surrendered with barely a fight, while the French government fled to Bordeaux, only to finally surrender on June 25th. , Premier Paul Reynaud resigned from the government, and was replaced by Marshall Henri Philippe Pétain, who signed the armistice on June 22nd, thus establishing Vichy France under German command.

Military Infrastructures of France and Germany, May 1940
France (north-east front) Germany
  • 1st and 2nd Army Groups, and 7th Army (also included were troops from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia; French Foreign Legion also deployed)

-63 infantry divisions (30 were regular)

-3 armored divisions (tank battalions, in total about 45-60 tanks; 5 battalions had Somua S-35 and Char B-1 models, the rest were the older varieties)

-11 Independent tank companies

-3 light mechanized divisions

-5 cavalry divisions

-13 fortress divisions

General Reserve:

17 infantry divisions, 2 motorized divisions, and 3 armored divisions

  • German Army (Wehrmacht):

-2.5 million well-trained soldiers

-2,500 tanks (9+ Panzer Divisions)

– the Luftwaffe air divisions

-Stuka bombers

-Junkers Ju-87 dive-bombers

*The ability of the German army to succeed quickly, was in the combination of coordinated superior numbers of armor/tank groups, supported by both air divisions, and the ground troops.

Communications by radio were also excellent, providing the linkage to where everyone was, and ordering where to go next.

 *After the Armistice was signed, France was only allowed 100,000 men in the forces, who were to maintain peace in the country. This was the same amount given to Germany after WW I and the Treaty of Versailles. It was a definite jab back at Germany’s former enemy, France, for the humiliation Germany suffered as a country under the terms of the treaty.

September 1st, 1939">The German Invasion of Poland
September 1st, 1939

The Preparation for Invasion

The Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I, had decimated Germany, reducing its military to a small military ground presence. When Adolf Hitler decided he would take back much of what was taken from Germany as part of that treaty, he began the covert buildup of forces and building in secret, of planes, submarines, and vehicles in other countries in Europe. When his forces could no longer be hidden, Hitler made his first step into France, meeting little local resistance. Then, he took over control of Austria (annexed), Czechoslovakia, and after the Soviet Union, ruled by the brutal dictator, Joseph Stalin, signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, secretly giving the Soviet Union a portion of Poland in return, Hitler moved on Poland. Hitler falsely claimed that Poland had attacked first, but it was set up as an attack by Germans in Polish military clothing. On September 3rd, 1939, after the Polish invasion had begun, England and France declared war on Germany.

The Invasion

On the morning of September 1st, 1939, nearly 1.5 million German troops invaded Poland from the Polish-German’s 1,750-mile border, moving from the north, south, and west, towards Warsaw. At the same time, German warships and U-boats attacked as many Polish military vessels as they could find, and air strikes from the German Luftwaffe destroyed Polish airfields and planes, and bombed numerous towns. The sudden fast-paced assault would be known as a “blitzkrieg”, when adding in panzer tanks and other motorized infantry groups, which quickly barreled through any defenses put up by the Polish people. The Polish armed forces had mustered one million soldiers but there was a lack of strategy in attacking the Germans, who were far more heavily armed and organized than the Polish were. Even horse cavalry groups were sent against German tank units, and were promptly annihilated.

The Soviet Union, meanwhile, was caught by surprise at the suddenness of the attack, and scrambled to make the best of the situation, by immediately demanding its portion of Poland be turned over to them, as per the non-aggression pact. The public joint country statement was that this invasion was part of restoring peace and stability in the region, along with preparing for a new political oversight situation.

On September 17th, the Soviet Union entered Poland from the Russian-Polish border and took over its promised section, which was nearly half of Poland, including the stored resources of Ukrainian wheat and Romanian oil, which Hitler had wanted. Russia now also had control over the Baltic states as well, and all was given to them without the Russians firing a shot.

The French and the British also bore some responsibility for the devastation of Poland, in that it had not moved soon enough to stop the Germans from advancing. England and France had even advised the Polish not to mobilize it forces, thinking there could be some agreement reached with the Germans. The French, for their part, were tired of war, its fighting forces devastated in the first World War. Both countries had promised in writing that they would protect Poland from any invading forces, yet when it came, the British and the French were already too late to do anything about saving the Polish people. Both countries gave Hitler an ultimatum to get out of Poland, but when the deadline passed, all they could do then was to declare war on Germany. However, this would also prove to be the beginning of the end of France, as Hitler turned his next actions towards France and Norway in 1940.

The Forces Involved in the Invasion of Poland

The Germans

North Assault: Colonel-Gen. Fedor von Bock

South Assault: Colonel-Gen. Gerd von Rundstedt

The Polish

Marshal Edward Smigly-Rydz

  • 62 divisions

-50,000 Slovakian soldiers included

-1.5 million German soldiers

  • 1,300 aircraft

-Junkers Ju-87 dive-bombers

  • 3,200 Panzer tanks
  • 18 divisions

-1 million Polish soldiers

  • 12 cavalry divisions
  • 600 tanks (Polish Single turret 71TP)
  • No airplanes left after overhead bombing 
The Russians invaded with over a half-million troops, surrounding the remaining Polish soldiers and people who had escaped to the border.