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Bomber War

Prewar doctrine had held that waves of bombers hitting enemy cities would cause mass panic and the rapid collapse of the enemy. As a result, the Royal Air Force had built up a comparatively large strategic bomber force. By way of contrast, German air force doctrine was almost totally dedicated to supporting the army. Therefore, German bombers were smaller than their British equivalents, and the Germans never developed a four engined heavy bomber equivalent to the Lancaster, B-17 or B-24.

The main concentration of German raids on British cities was from autumn 1940 until spring 1941. After that a large proportion of the strength of the Luftwaffe was diverted to the war against the Soviet Union. German raids continued on a smaller scale for the rest of the war, and later the V-1 cruise missile and V-2 ballistic missile were both used against Britain. However, the balance of bomb tonnage being dropped shifted greatly in favour of the RAF as Bomber Command gained in strength. By 1942, Bomber Command could put 1,000 bombers over one German city. However, it should be noted that this was a special effort using all available aircraft and training units as well. It was 1943 before 1,000 bomber raids became possible without a special effort. From 1942 onwards, the efforts of Bomber Command were supplemented by the Eighth Air Force of the United States Army Air Force. Bomber Command raided by night and the US forces by day. During 1943, a raid on Hamburg produced one of the most devastating fires in history. A firestorm was created in the city, and 40,000 people were killed. Only the raid on Dresden in 1945, the firebombing of Tokyo and the atomic bombs killed more people through a single attack. In addition to the direct damage caused by these attacks, large amounts of resources were diverted to air defense.

The Balkans

On October 28 1940, Italy invaded Greece but was unable to match the German's success in France. Not only did the Italians fail to conquer Greece, but the Greeks successfully counterattacked into Albania. This prompted German intervention, which also involved the invasion of Yugoslavia, where a pro-German coup had been defeated a few days earlier. British forces were dispatched from Egypt to Greece, but were comprehensively beaten. After the mainland was conquered, the Germans invaded Crete. Instead of an amphibious assault as expected, the Germans mounted a large airborne invasion. It suceeded, but the paratroops of the German army were so badly mauled in the process that an airborne operation was never again attempted by Germany during the war.

Once the Balkans was secure, the largest land operation in history was launched, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

The Eastern Front

On June 22, 1941, the Germans launched a surprise invasion, code-named Operation Barbarossa, against their erstwhile Soviet allies. The early weeks of the invasion were devastating for the Soviet Army. Enormous numbers of Soviet troops were encircled in pockets and fell into German hands. However, it wasn't only German troops that went into the Soviet Union. Italian, Hungarian and Romanian troops were also involved in the campaign.

Out of all the adversaries of the Allies, the situation of Finland was unique. Finland initially declared neutrality, however with German and Soviet troops on her soil, and well prepared for co-belligerence with Germany when the Soviet Union attacked on June 25. The following conflict from 1941-1944 is referred to as the Continuation War, i.e. the continuation of the Winter War.

Operation Barbarossa suffered from several fundamental flaws. The most serious of these was the logistical situation of the attack. Ultimately it is logistics that determine what a military can do. The sheer vastness of the distances in the Soviet Union meant that the Germans could only advance so far before outrunning their supply chains. By the time the German attack froze to a halt before Moscow on December 5, 1941, it literally could not go any further. There simply were not enough supplies reaching the front to conduct proper defensive operations, let alone a proper offense. The timetable that Barbarossa was planned to assumed that the Soviets would collapse before the Russian winter hit. The failure of that to happen also fatally affected German plans.

During their long retreat, the Soviets employed a scorched earth policy. They burnt crops and destroyed utilities as they withdrew before the Germans. That helped to contribute to the logisical problems that the Germans experienced. The extension of the campaign beyond the length that the Germans expected meant that the German Army suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties in the bitter cold of the Russian winter, and from the counterattacks of Soviet units.

Even with their advance having ground to a halt due to a lack of supplies and the onset of winter, the Germans had conquered a vast amount of territory. Dislodging them cost the Soviet Union dearly and took until late 1944.

Once the Germans had conquered so much of the Soviet Union, one of the great tragedies of the war began, the siege of Leningrad: Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) was reached fairly quickly, from the North by Finnish forces, and from the South by the German Wehrmacht. Finland's C-in-C Mannerheim had halted at the River Svir and refrained from attacking the city.

Hitler had ordered that the city of Leningrad must "vanish from the surface of the earth", with its entire population exterminated. Rather than storming the city, the Wehrmacht was ordered to blockade Leningrad so as to starve the city to death, while attacking it with bombers and artillery. About one million civilians died in the Leningrad siege - 800,000 by starvation. It lasted 900 days, and at its height the only way into the city was across Lake Ladoga, between the German and Finnish lines.

After enduring the winter of 1941/42, the German army prepared for further offensive operations. Instead of trying to reach Moscow, the objective was changed to Stalingrad (now Volgograd) near the Caucasus region of Russia. Stalingrad was captured, however the course of the campaign took a turn for the worse due to disparate objectives, and a lack of focus.

Indecision by Hitler, dissent among the higher ranked German officers, and extended supply lines combined in a prolonged battle in the streets of Stalingrad. In an attempt to capture the city, almost all Germans in the area were funneled into the city leaving only weak Romanian and Hungarian forces on the flanks of the salient. After a Soviet counteroffensive destroyed these forces, the German 6th Army was cut off in the city itself, along with part of the 4th Panzer Army. Starved of food, fuel and ammunition, the pocket was gradually reduced, with the last portion surrendering in early 1943. In a cynical attempt to prevent the surrender, Hitler promoted the commander of 6th Army to Field Marshal, because no German of that rank had ever surrendered. Heavy losses affected both sides in the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the bloodiest battles in history. An estimated 2 million people perished in this battle, including 500,000 civilians.

After Stalingrad, the initiative had passed from the Germans but had not yet been seized by the Soviets. A desparate counterattack in the spring of 1943 by the forces of von Manstein halted the Soviet advance for the moment, and set up the largest tank battle in history, Kursk. Kursk was the last major offensive by the Germany Army on the eastern front. The Soviets had intelligence of what was to come and prepared massive defences in huge depth in the Kursk salient. They stopped the German armoured thrusts after a maximum penetration of 17 miles. After Kursk the Red Army never ceased being on the offensive until Berlin was captured in May 1945.

The Soviets bore the brunt of World War II; the second front in Europe did not begin until D-Day, apart from the invasion of Italy. More Soviet citizens died during World War II than those of all other countries combined. Approximately 27 million Soviets, among them more than 13 million civilians, were killed in the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Civilians were rounded up and burned or shot in many cities conquered by the Nazis. Since the Nazis considered Slavs to be "subhuman", this was ethnically targeted mass murder.

It would be wrong however to say the Soviets fought alone. Supply convoys sailed to Soviet ports at great risk. Allied activities may have tied up only a few divisions in actual fighting, but many more were forced to guard lonely coasts against raids that never came or to man antiaircraft guns throughout Europe. It should also be mentioned that the Soviets took virtually no part in the great naval campaigns of the war, had a very limited effect on the strategic bombing offensive, and contributed very little to the defeat of Japan.



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