The Baltic and the Outbreak of the Second World War

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December 6, A Soviet counteroffensive drives the Germans from the Moscow suburbs in chaotic retreat.

Axis initiative and Allied reaction

December 7, Japan bombs Pearl Harbor. Over the next three years Anglo-American bombing reduces urban Germany to rubble. June 28, —September Germany and her Axis partners launch a new offensive in the Soviet Union. German troops fight their way into Stalingrad Volgograd on the Volga River by mid-September and penetrate deep into the Caucasus after securing the Crimean Peninsula. October 23—24, British troops defeat the Germans and Italians at El Alamein in Egypt, sending the Axis forces in chaotic retreat across Libya to the eastern border of Tunisia.

The failure of the Vichy French troops to defend against the invasion enables the Allies to move swiftly to the western border of Tunisia, and triggers the German occupation of southern France on November November 23, —February 2, Soviet troops counterattack, breaking through the Hungarian and Romanian lines northwest and southwest of Stalingrad and trapping the German Sixth Army in the city. Forbidden by Hitler to retreat or try to break out of the Soviet ring, the survivors of the Sixth Army surrender on January 30 and February 2, The Soviets blunt the attack within a week and begin an offensive initiative of their own.

July 10, US and British troops land on Sicily. By mid-August, the Allies control Sicily. September 8, The Badoglio government surrenders unconditionally to the Allies. The Germans immediately seize control of Rome and northern Italy, establishing a puppet Fascist regime under Mussolini, who is freed from imprisonment by German commandos on September January 22, Allied troops land successfully near Anzio, just south of Rome. June 4, Allied troops liberate Rome. Within six weeks, Anglo-American bombers could hit targets in eastern Germany for the first time.

July 25, Anglo-American forces break out of the Normandy beachhead and race eastward towards Paris. August 1, —October 5, The non-communist underground Home Army rises up against the Germans in an effort to liberate Warsaw before the arrival of Soviet troops. The Soviet advance halts on the east bank of the Vistula.

On October 5, the Germans accept the surrender of the remnants of the Home Army forces fighting in Warsaw. August 15, Allied forces land in southern France near Nice and advance rapidly towards the Rhine River to the northeast. August 20—25, Allied troops reach Paris. By September, the Allies reach the German border; by December, virtually all of France, most of Belgium, and part of the southern Netherlands are liberated. August 23, The appearance of Soviet troops on the Prut River induces the Romanian opposition to overthrow the Antonescu regime. The new government concludes an armistice and immediately switches sides in the war.

August 29, —October 28, Under the leadership of the Slovak National Council, consisting of both Communists and non-Communists, underground Slovak resistance units rise against the Germans and the indigenous fascist Slovak regime. September 12, Finland concludes an armistice with the Soviet Union, leaving the Axis partnership.

December 16, The Germans launch a final offensive in the west, known as the Battle of the Bulge , in an attempt to re-conquer Belgium and split the Allied forces along the German border. By January 1, , the Germans are in retreat.

Start of World War II: September 1939-March 1940

Sun 1 Sep The Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg once wrote that war comes very early to the theatre. He stands around for a long time in the wings, waiting for his performance to begin. Was it? That consensus is too comfortable not to be challenged. Many have blamed the Versailles peace treaties of for designing a Europe of unsatisfied nationalisms to which Hitler merely put the torch. I seem to hear a child weeping. But the Versailles settlement might not have ended in catastrophe, even though it made some sort of resentful German revival inevitable. Fascism was the trouble — fascism in a time when the liberal democracies were too weak to resist it or to defend the Versailles status quo.

France and Britain were never, until the very end, quite able to grasp that the dictators were not rational, that deterrents did not deter them and that a diplomacy which offered concessions seemed to them an admission of weakness. AJP Taylor, a historian who liked upsetting received ideas, wrote that Hitler never had a coherent plan of conquest but simply grabbed opportunities.

But how do you negotiate with somebody completely unreliable and capricious? Until , Chamberlain resisted the idea of an anti-German alliance which would include the Soviet Union. And much of the Conservative party, while disliking both tyrannies, instinctively preferred the Nazis to the Bolsheviks. Even if Stalin had honoured an agreement, the Polish government would never have joined a military pact with the traditional Russian enemy.

And when Chamberlain changed his mind, it was too late. In August , Nazi Germany and the USSR signed their infamous non-aggression pact which secretly agreed on the partition of Poland and the abolition of the Baltic states. Chamberlain was shattered. The war broke out because, unexpectedly, Britain did something reckless. On 30 March , Britain and a reluctant France issued a guarantee of Polish independence.

Soon afterwards, the guarantee was extended to Romania and Greece. Most of Europe knew this would not stop Hitler and that war was imminent.

The invasion of Poland began on 1 September Britain and France declared war two days later. Hitler had never believed that the British would fight. He had always intended to have a war — Poland, France, Russia eventually — but not this one. In contrast to the patriotic fervour of , the German people went into this conflict full of gloom and foreboding, a mood which only cleared after the dazzling victory over France in The British did not cheer either.

So began the 21 months of European war — not yet world war.


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The Poles fought bravely but were crushed by Nazi and Soviet armies advancing from west and east. Britain and France did nothing militarily to fulfil their guarantees to Poland, and spent a static winter confronting the Germans across the French frontier. Could this war — should it — have been avoided? Hitler would almost certainly have attacked France sooner or later. But Britain? To this day, a few historians think that the Polish guarantee was a fateful mistake. In April , Germany invaded Denmark and Norway.

The Battle of Britain denied Hitler the air superiority he needed to cross the Channel, but Benito Mussolini now thought it safe to bring Italy into the war and occupy a sliver of France. Hitler had in fact won the war by the late summer of Britain, he thought, could now be bracketed out.

Hitler had conquered seven countries with a population of more than million, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, from the Atlantic almost to the Black Sea. The Soviet Union and the US showed no immediate sign of wishing to join the conflict. Why, then, was this not the end of the story?

BBC - History - World Wars: Hitler and 'Lebensraum' in the East

It was time for my father to leave for work at the torpedo factory. But he suddenly jumped up from the breakfast table and went to the window to stare at the morning sky. I can still hear the exultation in his voice. The wireless had just told us that Nazi Germany had invaded the Soviet Union.


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  • It was 22 June It was the day when an Anglo-German war began to turn into a world war. It was the day when Hitler set in train his own failure and death and the destruction of his country. And it was the day that designed the postwar world. The first was his own defeat; in the long run, no invader could overcome the colossal resources of Russia and the courage of its peoples. The second was that Germany would not only be devastated but would be broken up into satellite states shaped by the victors. The third was that Russian power would surge forward right into the centre of Europe — something western statesmen had struggled to prevent for two centuries.

    Britain and France expected a war of at least three years.

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    This explains why for the first six months of the war the Western states did very little. The lull was nicknamed the "Phony War" -- a war with no fighting. A small amount of naval activity did occur, which gave citizens on both sides something to cheer about. Conversely, German submarines began to sink Allied merchant ships. On October 14, , a German submarine managed to penetrate the defenses of the main British naval base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, and there sank the battleship Royal Oak.

    The Germans bombed Polish citizens mercilessly, but for a while refrained from bombing cities in the West. The British only dropped leaflets on German cities.