A brief guide to the Second World War 1944
The beginning of the End of The war
The year 1944 was momentous for the Allies in that it saw the beginning of the end with the D Day landings on the 6th June 1944; however it was not all plain sailing and there were more actions than D Day during that year. There were many who hoped that the Germans woud surrender but the allies required Unconditional Surrender terms which were not forth coming
Attacks on the German oil supply -1944
In April 1944 American bombers escorted by the British designed long range fighter, the Mustang, started daylight attacks on the Germans synthetic oil pants. These devastating attacks reduced the supply of fuel dramatically the Luftwaffe had insufficient fuel to fly their new and technically advantaged jet fighters.
Siege of Leningrad relieved
The city of Leningrad was at last relieved after a siege that had lasted for more than two years and caused the death of over a million of its inhabitants. The Russians moved on, reaching the Baltic coast by the summer. In early January the Russians crossed the Polish frontier crossing through the Ukraine and in March they reached Romania, by May they had liberated the Crimea, recovering practically all of their pre war territory. By now the German lines were thicker, better trained and better equipped, yet it was clear that the Russians would not stop until they had reached Berlin.
Landings at Anzio
Allied forces landed at Anzio on 22nd January and instead of an immediate advance waited to consolidate their position which enabled the Germans to reinforce for battle. Here the monastery at Monte Cassinno saw fierce fighting and was destroyed by Allied bombing. The Allies entered Rome on 4th June 1944 allowing the Germans to escape and form a new line further north. The action had caused 40,000 casualties to the Allies. Troops were taken away from the Italian campaign to prepare for a landing in southern France codenamed Operation Anvil which resulted in even slower progress for the Allies who were fighting against superior German forces. In the summer of 1944 the arrival of the Allied armies roused the Italian partisans to action and nearly 50,000 of them lost their lives but kept the German divisions in Italy busy.
The Second Front- Normandy 6th June 1944
The Second Front had been in the planning stages for more than two years and it showed as the vast forces were put ashore in Normandy. The RAF and American army destroyed nearly all the bridges over the River Seine and Loire and the French railway system was crippled thereby limiting the amount of supplies that could get through to the German army. The Germans were deceived by Allied plans as to the location of the Second front believing it could be in a number of locations and so the Germans distributed their forces in a thin line. Rommell believed that the assault would come from Normandy but was not supported and as the weather in early June changed he took the opportunity to return to Germany to press his point with Hitler… By the evening of 6th June 1944 some 156,000 men had made it ashore into France. Things did not quite go to plan with Caen being taken after a month when the initial plan had been to take it within three days. By the third day the separate beach heads were joined up and the town of Bayeux was taken without fighting, thus the ancient tapestry survived when all around was turning to dust. Cherbourg was taken by the Americans on 1st July 1944; the offensive against the Germans was starting to succeed.
The plot to kill Hitler
There were a number of Generals and politicians who felt that Hitler was leading his country to defeat and there was renewed interest in his overthrow. Plans became action in the form of Colonel von Stauffenberg a man who had already been badly wounded. On 20th July 1944 he managed to pace a bomb in Hitler’s headquarters, which subsequently exploded. Not waiting for news to be confirmed he telephoned his co plotters and told them that Hitler was dead. These men gathered at the War ministry in Berlin ready to form a non Nazi administration. In Paris army officers arrested the leaders of the Gestapo. However Hitler was not dead, although he was injured, he had been protected by a heavy table. His deputy Goebbels took charge and loyal Nazi officers arrested the conspirators, killing some, like Von Stauffenberg at once. Rommell who had been a conspirator was given the opportunity to commit suicide which he did, thus depriving the German army of one of its most able Generals.
Shortly after D day the Germans launched their pilotless aircraft of V1’s on London which destroyed some 25,000 houses and killed 6184 people. However the British soon found how to destroy the rockets and by August 1944 they were destroying some 80 per cent of V1’s aimed at London. In September the V2’s rockets started, they came without warning and no defence could be found; however the Allies overran most of the launching sites before the danger got so great that London was evacuated. Even so these rockets killed over 2000 people.
The Breakout into Europe
Once the allies had landed the Breakout occurred with Montgomery moving south from Caen from 18th July and on the 25th of that month the Americans advanced from Saint-Lo with their tanks reaching Avranches on 1st August. Patton stormed through France with open roads for its tanks and little opposition. The only major points of failure were the ports at Lorient, Saint –Nazaire and La Rochelle that remained in German hands until the end of the war. Rather than retreat as the German general Kluge wished to do, Hitler ordered his forces to mount an offensive against the allies with their superior fighting force. The supremacy of the Allied forces showed and it was all the German troops could do to find their way back home to Germany.
Operation Anvil -1944
On 15th August 1944 Operation Anvil took place with some 50,000 men and machinery landing in southern France. With little opposition the forces marched up through France whilst Hitler moved his troops to the Rhine
Relief of Paris
The original intention had been to bypass Paris and leave it under German control, but on 15th August the people of Paris took control with strikes by the metro workers and the police. Paris was ordered to be destroyed by Hitler but its governor Von Choltitz disobeyed him and the Resistance forces, although ill armed, tried to take Paris. The Allies sent a Free French armoured division to Paris on 25th August and General De Gaulle became president. In a brief time of disorder the Resistance executed some 10,000 collaborators but by October the authority of the state had been reasserted, with the Resistance either disarmed or subsumed into the regular army.
The onward roll of the Allied Armies
During August the Allied army’s rolled forward liberating most of France and Belgium and on 1st September General Eisenhower took over the command of the combined land forces from General Montgomery. However by the start of September the allied advance had slowed, they were experiencing the problems that the Germans had suffered in Russia, long supply lines whilst for the Germans their lines were the shortest they had been for some years.
The British had taken the Dutch port of Antwerp but had failed to clear the approaches to the port. They proposed to take three bridges over the Rhine of which two were taken by Para troopers. The most northerly target was at Arnhem and they failed, with many of the paratroopers landing eight miles away from the target thus giving the Germans advance warning. To make matters worse two German divisions were resting in the area and the British could not break through; some did escape but many were taken prisoner. The area was not cleared for three months by when the Americans had taken Aachenm and Metz with the British taking Strasbourg- all of France except for a few odd pockets had been liberated.
The Russian Offensive in the East
The Russians opened their offensive on 23rd June 1944 striking at the strongest German point the Army Group Centre in White Russia. Hitler forbade the German army to retreat and within the week the army was destroyed with over 350,000 men taken prisoner by the Russians. The Russians then marched through Poland arriving at the outskirts of Warsaw on 1st August 1944, where they were checked by fresh German Divisions.
The Uprising in Warsaw
On 1st August 1944 the Home Army of Poles in Warsaw rose up against their German oppressors. The fighting was brutal and bloody amongst the ruins of the city which was reduced to rubble. Neither the Russians nor the Americans or British came to their aid; although there is some doubt as to whether either country could have done anything to help. During the fighting some 55,000 Poles were killed and some 350,000 Poles deported to Germany- the city was destroyed with only rubble remaining.
Peace with Finland
Russian forces did not carry on into Warsaw but proceeded to Finland where a surrender and peace was achieved. They then pushed further down to East Prussia, setting foot on German soil in October 1944.
Peace with Romania
On the 23rd August 1944 there was a coup against the government which was pro German and this was followed by an armistice on 12th September under which Romania recovered the area of Transylvania that she lost to Hungary in 1940.
War and Peace with Bulgaria
Russia had omitted to declare war on Bulgaria but this was soon achieved and followed by an armistice just over a week later
On the 19th October the Russians entered Belgrade and linked with the Yugoslav Partisans headed by Tito but were unable to prevent the German forces from withdrawing.
The ruler of Hungary Admiral Horthy planned to change sides but the Germans captured him and set up a Fascist government; the Russians penetrated into Hungary but were held up outside Budapest.
The Far East war- The Burma Road
The Americans had advanced owing to their control of the seas. The Allies were anxious that the road to Burma should be reopened whilst the Japanese were just as anxious to keep it shut. The Japanese struck first encircling the British forward position at Impha. The position was supplied from the air and the British and Indian army (some of whom were drawn from prisoners of war) managed to wear down the Japanese offensive. This was the first great victory of General Slim at a loss of 17,000 men against Japanese losses of 50,000 men.
Battle of the Philippine Sea
In Mid June the Americans were landing at Saipan in the Marianas when the Japanese began the sea battle. Japanese losses were extensive, and Japans naval air force never recovered from this defeat
MacArthur and the Philippines- The Battle of Leyte Gulf
General MacArthur and his troops landed in the Leyte on 20th October before his air cover was in position. The Japanese thought that they could destroy MacArthur’s forces before the main American fleet arrived. This led to the greatest naval engagement of all time with 282 warships involved for four days. Japanese losses were extensive and this battle marked the virtual end of the Japanese naval force. The plan had been for the landing of an army of 5 million on the mainland of China, but no response came from the Chinese and the army sat in the Philippines and waited whilst science defeated Japan.
The sinking of the Tirpitz
In November the only remaining German battleship, the Tirpitz was sunk by British aircraft operating from neutral Swedish air space. By the end of the war the German fleet consisted of 3 cruisers and 15 destroyers- not enough to mount even a small naval battle.
German counter attack December 1944
On 16th December 1944, against all the odds the Germans launched an attack on the allies through the Ardennes region despite being advised by his officers that an offensive would not succeed. It is believed that Hitler, in his dazed state, believed that the Germans would pass through the Ardennes, take Antwerp and drive the Allies through France to a new Dunkirk, where they would retreat and give up the fight. The Americans who were in the Ardennes region were outnumbered and did not expect any more than a skirmish and although the Germans did break through they were held in a narrow corridor by the American soldiers who resisted even though their communication lines had been over run. When called upon to surrender the American commander McAuliffe replied “nuts”. The Germans did not get much further they were short of oil and the Allies fired their oil dumps before they evacuated their troops. The battle continued until the first week of January 1945- it was Hitler’s last gamble and he lost.