Monday, May 11, 2015

The Battle of the Atlantic Begins -- September, 1939

Similarly to how Germany attempted to cripple the R.A.F., and how she attempted to destroy British morale and industry, via the Luftwaffe, Germany attempted to starve Britain out by sinking incoming supplies with U-boats.

"The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril." - Winston Churchill.

In the beginning of the war, the U-boats did their damage. Between September 1939 and June 1940, 702 merchant ships were sunk by the U-boats. But, fortunately for Britain, they were unable to get closer than a few hundred miles from the Coast of Britain.

Then, France and Norway fell to Germany, and this all changed.

More U-boat bases were brought into the picture, and those in France greatly reduced the U-boat's commute time, allowing for more of them in the water at once, as well as increasing their range.

U-boat production rose and rose, as did their effectiveness. Over the course of the war, Britain lost 60 percent of its normal peacetime cargo.

The Germans calculated that in order to starve Britain out, they would have to destroy 750,000 tons of incoming cargo to Britain. In September of 1939, Germany sunk only 200,000 thousands tons of said cargo. But this number rose.

In April, 1941, 700,000 tons of cargo were lost -- Germany was nearing her goal.

However, thanks to better usage and protection of the convoy system, these sinkings began to decline. Another factor was that the German naval code was now being read, thanks to British crypt analysts.

While the Battle of the Atlantic was by no means over, the destruction of Britain was averted.

Sources: The Historical Atlas of WWII | Alexander Swanston and Malcolm SwanstonWorld War II The Definitive Visual History | DK

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Germany Invades Greece and Yugoslavia - April 6, 1941

On April 6, 1941, German troops advanced into Greece and Yugoslavia. Greece was already at war with Italy.

Britain gave Greece one small batch of reinforcements, and then left them alone, leaving the Greek army unfortunately outnumbered. Thus, the Bulgarian defensive line in North-East Greece was quickly overrun. The Germans then outflanked Greek forces on the North-Western Greek-Albanian border. The Greek forces were quickly forced to surrender.

However, some British-Empire forces remained, and these held the German advance at bay, allowing ships to prepare for the Allied evacuation. Starting on April 24, Allied troops began evacuating. The evacuation continued until the 27th, when German troops took Athens. On the 30th, the Germans reached the Southern shore of Greece and captured approximately 7,000 Allied troops.

Meanwhile, German, Italian, and Hungarian soldiers advanced rapidly into Yugoslavia, meeting little resistance. The invasion was completed with the unconditional surrender of Yugoslavian troops on April 17. Yugoslavia was then occupied and divided between Axis powers.

The island of Crete fell by June 1, but with heavy German casualties.

Friday, April 24, 2015

August, 1940 - The War in Africa Begins

Following the fall of France, the Italian navy sat supposedly unopposed in the Mediterranean sea, while 300,000 Italian troops faced a mere 75,000 British in Africa.

Italian forces drove into  British Somaliland, which they occupied between August 5, and 19th, 1940. Meanwhile, more Italian forces invaded Northern Egypt. However on December 9, British Commander-in-Chief, Sir Archibald Wavell lead his troops into Egypt and drove the Italians back into Libya. This success encouraged Wavell to continue advancing  into Libya, which He did, in early January of 1941. The British forces captured the coastal city of Tobruk, and then continued to the small coastal village of Beda Fomm.

Now, with Northern Africa out of the way, Britain turned it's attention to the East. On January 19, British forces marched into Eritrea, and slowly fought the difficult terrain, and hot weather, not to mention some Italian troops. After nearly 3 months of bitter fighting, the vital port of Massawa fell to the British, on April 8.

During this time, three British divisions advanced into Italian Somaliland, and took the capital, Mogadishu,  by February 25. This force then continued on, and drove into Ethiopia, until it entered the town of Jijiga, without opposition.

Hardly giving the Italians time to think, another British force landed at Berberra, a coastal city in British Somaliland, and retook the country. Part of this force then joined the troops at Jijiga.

From Jijiga, the British forces moved west, and found themselves facing a formidable force of Italians at Harar. However, by March 29, both Harar and it's neighbor city, Dire Dawa had fallen to the British. This opened a path to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.

Finally, on April 6, Addis Ababa fell to British and Commonwealth forces. The Italian defenders retreated to a Amba Alagi, a mountain stronghold in northern Ethiopia.

The fighting raged until May 19, when the Italian commander realized that his situation was hopeless, and surrendered. The British troops continued cleaning up until November.

This campaign made sure that the Red sea, an important supply route, was controlled by the Allies.

Sources: The Historical Atlas of World War II | Alexander Swanston and Malcolm Swanston,

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Blitz...and Retaliation - 1940

Following the Battle for Britain, Germany continued to bomb England, but in a different manner. In the Battle for Britain, Germany had tried to thwart Britain's ability to fight a war, by targeting airforce and industrial targets. After this failed, Germany attempted a bombing strategy that was psychological and economical. This strategy targeted 9 primary cities, the foremost being London. 18,000 tons of explosives were dropped on London in 1940.

Over the course of the nearly one year period in between September 1940, and May 1941, the Luftwaffe raids killed roughly 40,000 British civilians, and wounded perhaps as many as 140,000 civilians. More than 1,000,000 houses were destroyed in London alone.

However, British morale remained strong. It wasn't long before British returned fire, and began bombing Germany.

On September 1, U.S. president, Franklin Roosevelt called for a restraint of bombing civilian targets. Britain and France agreed, but later, Britain would bomb German civilian targets.

Britain's main targets were Luftwaffe bases, aircraft factories, but later in the war she would target civilian areas, also. The strategic bombing of Germany continued until the end of the war, though it failed to ever deliver a fatal below to German morale or economy.

Sources: The Historical Atlas of World War II | Alexander Swanston and Malcolm Swanston, The Blitz | Wikipedia, Strategic Bombing During World War II | Wikipedia

Thursday, April 9, 2015

July 16, 1940 - Germany Prepares to Invade Britain

On July 16, 1940 Hitler ordered the beginning of Operation Sealion, a destruction of the British Air force, which, if successful, would lead to a complete invasion of Britain.

Germany had expected for Britain to sue for peace, after the fall of France. However, Churchill and the British people would hear no such talk. They were committed to bringing about victory.

The German air force was significantly more advanced than that of Britain. Germany had nearly 3,000 aircraft, compared to Britain's approximately 1,000. In addition to this, Germany's planes were far better, and her pilots were, over all, more experienced.

But, what Britain did have was a very well planned radar structure, which allowed her to concentrate her fighters at key areas. Also, the German fighters were only able to accompany the bombers about 20 minutes over Britain, making the bombers and easy target.

The Luftwaffe began attacking convoys, radar stations, and other targets on the Southern coast, in July. However, the British defense structure was highly effective, putting fighters where they needed to be, when they needed to be there.

By mid August, Britain was producing twice as many aircraft as Germany, despite the Luftwaffe's attempts at destroying British industry.

The Battle of Britain continued until September, when Operation Sealion was cut short. The Luftwaffe had failed to gain its objective. This was the first major defeat of Germany, and it was crucial to the turning point of the war.

Monday, March 30, 2015

May 27, 1940 - Germany Invades Low Countries and France, part 2

But, on May 27, the command was given for the Allies to evacuate Dunkirk. Using a fleet which ranged from Royal Navy warships to fishing boats and pleasure steamers, the Allies evacuated 112, 546 Belgian and French soldiers, as well as 224, 585 Brittish troops. This took place amidst the Luftwaffe's bombings. Although this was one of the most amazing military evacuations, it came at a great cost. The Luftwaffe succeeded in sinking many ships and killing many soldiers. Also, most of the British forces' equipment remained in France.

Also remaining in France, were 50 Allied divisions, defending the country against 120 German divisions. The French received some reinforcement's from the British Royal Air Force, and managed to gather 1,000 aircraft, versus the Germans' 3,000 aircraft. These defenders were stretched across a 230 mile defensive line, from the English channel to the Maginot line.

The German Panzer divisions were separated into army groups A and B. Defending against army group B, which attacked on June 5, the French army resisted with valor. But by June 8, some of the German army had broken through, and was headed for Paris. Army group A attacked on the 9th. Though the Allies continued to fight bravely, they also continued to fall back. The French command was unable to organize defensive lines fast enough against the German Panzer divisions, protected by the Luftwaffe. On June 12th, German forces broke into Paris. However the French government had evacuated Paris two days earlier, and gone to Tours.

By June 17, Britain withdrew the last of its forces from France. By this time, an area which contained about 30% of France's industrial base had been overrun, and it was now nearly impossible to supply an army of 50-60 divisions. Supplies and equipment were being used faster than they were being supplied.

One June 22, Germany and Italy (which had invaded France from the South on the 20th) presented their terms of an armistice to the French government. An armistice was signed two days later, separating France into territories under German and Italian control.

The war in France was over

Sources: The Historical Atlas of World War II

Thursday, March 26, 2015

May 10, 1940 - Germany Invades Low Countries and France, part 1

On May 10, 1940, Germany attacked and invaded the Belgian fortress, Ebem Emael. This would be one of the first of many highly successful attacks on Belgium, the Netherlands, and France.

But, the invasions of Belgium and the Netherlands were mostly a diversion for the real attack, which would come through the Ardennes, a supposedly "impassible" forest in the North-East of France and the South of Belgium. Because the allies thought this forest to be impassible, they thought that the main German offensive would come through central Belgium. The Germans also predicted that the Allies would think this.

When Germany invaded Belgium and the Netherlands, this drew the Allied Forces to a defensive line in Northern Belgium. By May 12, 7 Panzer(tank or armored) divisions awaited the command to force a crossing of the river Meuse. On the 13th, they received this command. Covered by powerful aerial support, the German army crossed the river, and created a bridgehead 3 miles wide and 4 miles deep. The Germans received little counter attack, other than an attempt to destroy the pontoon on which they'd crossed the river, carried out by obsolete Fairey Battles biplanes. This attempt failed miserably.

The Germans then took full advantage of the Allied tardiness, and turned West towards the English Channel. The French were in disarray, not knowing whether the Germans were headed for Paris or the channel. Thus, no major counterattacks were made, other than one local offensive which was repulsed by the German's superior forces.

The Panzers arrived at the Channel on May 19, after traveling nearly 200 miles in 10 days. Now, the Allies' best forces were trapped in a pocket in Northern France and Belgium, with almost assured destruction on the horizon.

The Allies attempted a counterattack on May 24, but, after some initial success, they were beaten back by the end of the day. On the 25th, a German attack separated the British and Belgians, leading to the capitulation of Belgium on the 28th. The remaining Allied forces were trapped in a small area around the coastal city of Dunkirk.

Then came a surprising order to the Panzers, from Hitler himself. All armored advances were to stop, until the supply lines could catch up to them. Hitler wanted to save the Panzers for the rest of France, and let the Luftwaffe (German air force) destroy the Allied forces...

To be continued.

Sources: The Historical Atlas of World War II | Alexander Swanston and Malcolm Swanston