In December nineteen forty-one, the United States was at war.
It declared war against Japan after Japanese planes destroyed American air and naval forces in Hawaii. And a few days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States.
President Franklin Roosevelt quickly decided that America could not fight major campaigns in the Pacific and in Europe at the same time. He and his advisors decided to fight first against the Germans and Italians. Then, when victory in Europe seemed sure, the United States could turn to fight the Japanese in Asia.
This left the Japanese free to extend their power throughout Asia and the western Pacific. Soon after the attack at Hawaii, Japanese forces invaded Hong Kong, Malaya, and the Philippines. American land and air forces in the Philippines were destroyed or captured. And Manila fell to Japanese troops. In February, nineteen forty-two, Japan's forces won a great victory against the British in Singapore.
Japanese forces marched into Burma. They attacked Ceylon and captured the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. The Japanese military forces seemed too strong to stop.
President Roosevelt sent some forces to the Pacific. And he began to re-build the American naval forces destroyed at Pearl Harbor. But he sent most of America's military strength to Europe. The United States rushed troops and war equipment to help Britain survive against Hitler's Germany.
|Artist's image of an Allied invasion craft headed for the beach at Sicily|
American military leaders wanted to fight Germany quickly by launching an attack across the English Channel. But British Prime Minister Winston Churchill opposed this.
He and others feared such an invasion might fail. So, British and American forces attacked Italian and German occupation troops in North Africa. They defeated them, then crossed the Mediterranean Sea to attack enemy forces in Sicily. Within weeks, they pushed the Germans out of Sicily to the Italian mainland. The Allied invasion of Italy followed.
Hitler could not strengthen his forces in North Africa and Italy, because Germany also was fighting hard in the Soviet Union.
Hitler's decision early in the war to attack the Soviet Union was a serious mistake. It divided his men and materials. His plan was to defeat Soviet forces quickly with one strong attack. But he failed. And his failure cost him valuable troops and supplies that might have helped him win the battles for North Africa and Italy.
Germany's attack on the Soviet Union began with great success.
In the middle of nineteen forty-one, a German force of more than three million men invaded the Soviet Union. It captured the Ukraine, took control of Kiev, and marched deep into Russia.
The situation changed the following year. Soviet forces under Marshal Zhukov won a terrible, fierce battle for the city of Stalingrad [Volgograd]. A great many German soldiers died from cold and hunger during the bitter winter months that followed.
Zhukov's forces attacked the German troops and pushed back the invaders. Other Soviet troops forced Nazi soldiers away from the city of Leningrad [St. Petersburg].
By the middle of nineteen forty-four, Nazi forces throughout the Soviet Union were retreating. And Soviet forces were preparing to push them over the border and invade Germany themselves.
The fighting by land forces was terrible. Huge numbers of soldiers and civilians were killed. Fighting also was fierce on the seas. The two sides had been fighting on the oceans from the first day of the war, when a German submarine sank a British ship.
The main goal of the German navy during the war was to prevent the United States from sending ships to Britain with war materials, food, and troops. At first, the Germans were very successful. Some people in Britain were hungry in nineteen forty-one, because so few food-carrying ships could cross the ocean.
German submarines were the greatest danger to ships crossing the Atlantic. They could hide below the surface and attack without warning.
The submarine problem did not improve until new technology was developed in nineteen forty-three. Allied scientists improved sonar and radar systems that helped find submarines on the surface and underwater. More of the enemy submarines were found and destroyed. The Allies slowly gained control of the Atlantic.
Surface warships of the two sides fought a number of traditional naval battles. But airplanes had a more important part than in the past. British planes and ships destroyed a powerful German battleship, the Bismarck.
The most famous air battle of the war in Europe took place over the English Channel. Luftwaffe pilots from Germany tried to destroy the smaller British air force. But they failed to do so, mainly because of the skill of the British fliers. The British victory in the air helped prevent a German invasion of Britain.
In May, nineteen forty-two, the British air force made an attack on Germany with one thousand bomber planes. It was just the first of many such attacks by United States and British planes.
The planes bombed German military and industrial centers. They also bombed civilian targets in an effort to teach the German people the price of Germany's aggression. The German cities of cologne, Dresden, and Hamburg suffered terrible damage. The allied bombing attacks continued until the war's end in nineteen-forty-five.
Hitler's victories in the early months of the war had caused fear in the hearts of people throughout the world.
Hitler and his allies had won battle after battle. They had captured western Europe, except for Britain, and had invaded the Soviet Union. They had seized North Africa. And their submarines controlled the Atlantic Ocean.
Germany continued to seem strong during the first months after the United States entered the war in Europe. But the situation began to change. German strength and control were greatest in November nineteen forty-two. After then, the mighty German military machine began to slow down.
Germany and its allies suffered serious losses in the first six months of nineteen forty-three.
German losses were extremely heavy in the Soviet Union. One hundred sixty thousand German troops died at Stalingrad [Volgograd], and more than one hundred ten thousand others surrendered.
Two hundred fifty thousand German and Italian troops were captured in North Africa. Many more thousands were killed or captured in Sicily and Italy. German submarines were being destroyed in the North Atlantic, allowing more allied troops and supplies to reach Britain.
By the end of nineteen forty-three, Hitler and his armies no longer seemed so strong. But German forces continued to occupy France, Belgium, and much of the rest of western Europe. Now, the time had come for the Allies to invade German-held Europe from Britain.
Allied forces planned the greatest military invasion in history to break the German control of Europe and win the war. That invasion, the famous D-Day battle of Normandy, will be our story next week.
You have been listening to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- a program in Special English. Your narrators were Harry Monroe and Jack Weitzel. THE MAKING OF A NATION is written by David Jarmul.