Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine On The Russian Front During World War Ii
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Tested and well-trained in maneuvers, the German panzer divisions constituted a force with no equal in Europe. The German Air Force, or Luftwaffe , was also the best force of its kind in It was a ground-cooperation force designed to support the Army, but its planes were superior to nearly all Allied types. In the rearmament period from to the production of German combat aircraft steadily mounted. The table shows the production of German aircraft by years. The standardization of engines and airframes gave the Luftwaffe an advantage over its opponents. Germany had an operational force of 1, fighters and 1, bombers in September The Allies actually had more planes in than Germany did, but their strength was made up of many different types, some of them obsolescent.
The corresponding table shows the number of first-line military aircraft available to the Allies at the outbreak of war. Great Britain, which was held back by delays in the rearmament program, was producing one modern fighter in , the Hurricane. A higher-performance fighter, the Spitfire , was just coming into production and did not enter the air war in numbers until The value of the French Air Force in was reduced by the number of obsolescent planes in its order of battle: of the fighters and nearly all of the bombers.
France was desperately trying to buy high-performance aircraft in the United States in At sea the odds against Germany were much greater in September than in August , since the Allies in had many more large surface warships than Germany had. At sea, however, there was to be no clash between the Allied and the German massed fleets but only the individual operation of German pocket battleships and commerce raiders.
When World War I ended, the experience of it seemed to vindicate the power of the defensive over the offensive. It was widely believed that a superiority in numbers of at least three to one was required for a successful offensive.
Defensive concepts underlay the construction of the Maginot Line between France and Germany and of its lesser counterpart, the Siegfried Line , in the interwar years. Yet by both of the requirements for the supremacy of the offensive were at hand: tanks and planes. The battles of Cambrai and Amiens had proved that when tanks were used in masses, with surprise, and on firm and open terrain, it was possible to break through any trench system. The Germans learned this crucial, though subtle, lesson from World War I.
The Allies on the other hand felt that their victory confirmed their methods, weapons, and leadership, and in the interwar period the French and British armies were slow to introduce new weapons, methods, and doctrines. Consequently, in the British Army did not have a single armoured division, and the French tanks were distributed in small packets throughout the infantry divisions. The Germans, by contrast, began to develop large tank formations on an effective basis after their rearmament program began in In the air the technology of war had also changed radically between and Military aircraft had increased in size, speed, and range, and for operations at sea, aircraft carriers were developed that were capable of accompanying the fastest surface ships.
Among the new types of planes developed was the dive bomber , a plane designed for accurate low-altitude bombing of enemy strong points as part of the tank-plane-infantry combination. Fast low-wing monoplane fighters were developed in all countries; these aircraft were essentially flying platforms for eight to 12 machine guns installed in the wings.
The Japanese military was armed with modern rifles, artillery, armor, and aircraft. By , the Japanese navy was the third-largest and among the most technologically advanced in the world.
Still, Chinese Nationalists lobbied Washington for aid. Born into a wealthy Chinese merchant family in , Madame Chiang spent much of her childhood in the United States and graduated from Wellesley College in with a major in English literature. In contrast to her gruff husband, Madame Chiang was charming and able to use her knowledge of American culture and values to garner support for her husband and his government. But while the United States denounced Japanese aggression, it took no action. As Chinese Nationalists fought for survival, the Communist Party was busy collecting people and supplies in the northwestern Shaanxi Province.
China had been at war with itself when the Japanese came. Nationalists battled a stubborn communist insurgency. In the Nationalists threw the communists out of the fertile Chinese coast, but an ambitious young commander named Mao Zedong recognized the power of the Chinese peasant population. In Shaanxi, Mao recruited from the local peasantry, building his force from a meager seven thousand survivors at the end of the Long March in to a robust 1.
Although Japan had conquered much of the country, the Nationalists regrouped and the communists rearmed. The Chinese could not dislodge the Japanese, but they could stall their advance.
The war mired in stalemate. Championing German racial supremacy, fascist government, and military expansionism, Hitler rose to power and, after aborted attempts to take power in Germany, became chancellor in and the Nazis conquered German institutions. Democratic traditions were smashed. Leftist groups were purged. Hitler repudiated the punitive damages and strict military limitations of the Treaty of Versailles.
He rebuilt the German military and navy. He reoccupied regions lost during the war and remilitarized the Rhineland, along the border with France. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in , Hitler and Benito Mussolini—the fascist Italian leader who had risen to power in the s—intervened for the Spanish fascists, toppling the communist Spanish Republican Party.
Britain and France stood by warily and began to rebuild their militaries, anxious in the face of a renewed Germany but still unwilling to draw Europe into another bloody war. The Untermenschen lesser humans would have to go.
Once in power, Hitler worked toward the twin goals of unification and expansion. The massive Nuremberg rallies, such as this one in , instilled a fierce loyalty to or fearful silence about Hitler and the National Socialist Party in Germany. In , Germany annexed Austria and set its sights on the Sudetenland, a large, ethnically German area of Czechoslovakia. They thought that Hitler could be appeased, but it became clear that his ambitions would continue pushing German expansion.
In March , Hitler took the rest of Czechoslovakia and began to make demands on Poland. Britain and France promised war.
24. World War II
And war came. Hitler signed a secret agreement—the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact—with the Soviet Union that coordinated the splitting of Poland between the two powers and promised nonaggression thereafter. Britain and France declared war two days later and mobilized their armies. Britain and France hoped that the Poles could hold out for three to four months, enough time for the Allies to intervene. Poland fell in three weeks. The German army, anxious to avoid the rigid, grinding war of attrition that took so many millions in the stalemate of World War I, built their new modern army for speed and maneuverability.
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It was called Blitzkrieg , or lightning war. After the fall of Poland, France and its British allies braced for an inevitable German attack. Throughout the winter of —, however, fighting was mostly confined to smaller fronts in Norway. Belligerents called it the Sitzkrieg sitting war. But in May , Hitler launched his attack into Western Europe.
Poland had fallen in three weeks; France lasted only a few weeks more. By June, Hitler was posing for photographs in front of the Eiffel Tower. Germany split France in half.
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Germany occupied and governed the north, and the south would be ruled under a puppet government in Vichy. With France under heel, Hitler turned to Britain. The German bombing of London left thousands homeless, hurt, or dead. This child, holding a stuffed toy, sits in the rubble as adults ponder their fate in the background.
It was the largest land invasion in history. France and Poland had fallen in weeks, and German officials hoped to break Russia before the winter. And initially, the Blitzkrieg worked. The German military quickly conquered enormous swaths of land and netted hundreds of thousands of prisoners. But Russia was too big and the Soviets were willing to sacrifice millions to stop the fascist advance. After recovering from the initial shock of the German invasion, Stalin moved his factories east of the Urals, out of range of the Luftwaffe.
The German army slogged forward. It split into three pieces and stood at the gates of Moscow, Stalingrad, and Leningrad, but supply lines now stretched thousands of miles, Soviet infrastructure had been destroyed, partisans harried German lines, and the brutal Russian winter arrived. Germany had won massive gains but the winter found Germany exhausted and overextended. In the north, the German army starved Leningrad to death during an interminable siege; in the south, at Stalingrad, the two armies bled themselves to death in the destroyed city; and, in the center, on the outskirts of Moscow, in sight of the capital city, the German army faltered and fell back.
Twenty-five million Soviet soldiers and civilians died during the Great Patriotic War, and roughly 80 percent of all German casualties during the war came on the Eastern Front. The German army and its various conscripts suffered , casualties at the Battle of Stalingrad alone. In December , Germany began its long retreat. While Hitler marched across Europe, the Japanese continued their war in the Pacific. In the United States dissolved its trade treaties with Japan and the following year cut off supplies of war materials by embargoing oil, steel, rubber, and other vital goods.
It was hoped that economic pressure would shut down the Japanese war machine.
Diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States collapsed.