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The history of Germany during World War II closely parallels that of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler. Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933. From that point onward, Germany followed a policy of rearmament and confrontation with other countries. During the war German armies occupied most of Europe; Nazi forces defeated Francemarker, took Norwaymarker, invaded Yugoslavia and Greecemarker, and occupied much of the European portion of the Soviet Unionmarker. Germany also forged alliances with Hungarymarker, Romaniamarker, Bulgariamarker, and later Finlandmarker, as well as collaborators in several other nations. The German defeat at the Battle of Stalingradmarker in 1942 was considered the decisive victory that turned the tide of the war against Germany and her Anti-Cominterm allies. The Second World War culminated in Germany's unconditional surrender to the Allies, the fall of Nazi Germany, and the death of Adolf Hitler.

The Invasion of Poland

On September 1 1939, Germany invaded Polandmarker (see Invasion of Poland). The invasion led to World War II and the United Kingdommarker and Francemarker to declare war on Germany, in accordance with the agreement that they had with Poland. Following Britain, Australia, Canadamarker, New Zealandmarker, South Africa, and Indiamarker also declared war on Germany. After the end of the campaign in Poland the war entered a period of relative inactivity known as the Phoney War. This ended when Germany invaded Denmarkmarker and Norwaymarker in April of 1940 (see Operation Weserübung) and the Netherlandsmarker, Belgiummarker, Luxembourgmarker and Francemarker in May (see Battle of France). All of the invaded countries swiftly capitulated and the forces of the United Kingdom and its allies suffered a humiliating defeat in Norway (see Allied campaign in Norway) and a near-disastrous retreat from France (see Battle of Dunkirk). The United Kingdom was threatened with an amphibious invasion (see Operation Sealion) but during the Battle of Britain the Luftwaffe failed to achieve air superiority and the invasion was postponed indefinitely. One piece of British territory, the Channel Islands, was occupied by Germany right until the end of the war.

North Africa

In June 1940, after the Battle for Francemarker was all but over, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini finally joined Germany in the war and Italy declared war on the United Kingdom and France. In August, Italian colonial forces took the initiative in Italian East Africa by occupying British Somaliland. In September, Italian colonial forces in Libya staged a limited invasion of Egypt. The British and Commonwealth forces, despite being outnumbered by 500,000 available troops to 35,000 (of whom 17,000 were non-combatants), made a fighting withdrawal and after reinforcements were sent to the region in December, counterattacked. The British soon dealt out several humiliating defeats to the Italians and captured over 130,000 prisoners in a two-month campaign in eastern Libyamarker. In January of 1941 the Afrika Korps were sent to Libya to reinforce their Italian allies and a hard fought campaign ensued. This theatre of war is known as the North African Campaign.

South Eastern Europe

The Italian invasion of Greecemarker in November 1940 was a disaster and Italian forces were driven back into Albaniamarker which Italy had occupied in 1939. Nazi Germany attacked Yugoslaviamarker and Greece in April 1941 to assist their allies and prevent any possibility of disruption to the production of oil from their oilfields by hostile forces.
German conquests in Europe during World War II.

Soviet Union

The Soviet Unionmarker had in 1939 invaded Poland together with Nazi Germany in accordance with the secret part of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, and remained outside the main conflict for two years, Stalin assuming that he was safe from an attack from Hitler, not wishing to fight a war on two fronts.

For the Germans, however, the war in the West was seen as only the overture to the great operations against Communist Russia. The successful campaigns against Poland, Scandinavia and France, and the bad standing of the Red Army after the Great Purge in the 1930s, as indicated by the fiasco of the Winter War, made Hitler believe the power relations between Nazi Germany and Russia would not again become as favorable. The crusade against Bolshevism, codenamed Operation Barbarossa, was to be launched sooner rather than later. It was planned to unite Western Europe behind Nazi Germany's leadership for the common goal to fight Communism.

The German campaigns in Greece and North Africa delayed the planned invasion by several weeks, and a great deal of the good summer weather was already lost by the time the invasion was launched on June 22 1941. The massive attack still turned out to be an initial success, conquering whole areas of the Soviet Union's western region. Their only significant strategic failure was the advance on Moscowmarker, which was halted by stiff resistance, and subsequently driven back by a Russian counter-attack. The following years, however, were less successful on the Eastern Front.

Italian armistice and loss of allies

The German and Italian defeat in North Africa allowed the Allied forces to contemplate opening up a new theatre of war in the south. Sicily was invaded in July 1943 leading to the overthrow and imprisonment of Mussolini. In September the Italian mainland was invaded. Shortly afterwards an armistice was signed and Italian troops found themselves arrested and imprisoned by the Germans. The Germans fought on in Italy and in October the new Italian government declared war on Germany. The campaign in Italy eventually bogged down as the focus of attention for the Western allied was drawn to opening up a new front.

One by one, Germany's other allies left the war. Throughout 1944, the governments of Romania, Bulgaria, and Finland found ways to switch sides.

War crimes

Many units of the German army actively participated in war crimes, such as the massacre of prisoners and the civilian population, especially on the Eastern front. Those actions were in addition to the massacres carried out by the Einsatzgruppenmarker who were specifically detailed to kill innocent civilians and Jews. The Einsatzgruppen were assisted by other Axis forces, including designated members of the Wehrmacht, including generals Walther von Reichenau and Erich von Manstein, as well as the Waffen-SS. For example, von Manstein issued an order on November 20, 1941: his version of the infamous "Reichenau Order", which equated "partisans" and "Jews" and called for draconian measures against them. Hitler commended the "Reichenau Order" as exemplary and encouraged other generals to issue similar orders. Von Manstein was among the minority that voluntarily issued such an order. It stated that:

"This struggle is not being carried on against the Soviet Armed Forces alone in the established form laid down by European rules of warfare.
Behind the front too, the fighting continues. Partisan snipers dressed as civilians attack single soldiers and small units and try to disrupt our supplies by sabotage with mines and infernal machines. Bolshevists left behind keep the population freed from Bolshevism in a state of unrest by means of terror and attempt thereby to sabotage the political and economic pacification of the country. Harvests and factories are destroyed and the city population in particular is thereby ruthlessly delivered to starvation.
Jewry is the middleman between the enemy in the rear and the remains of the Red Army and the Red leadership still fighting. More strongly than in Europe they hold all key positions of political leadership and administration, of trade and crafts and constitutes a cell for all unrest and possible uprisings.
The Jewish Bolshevik system must be wiped out once and for all and should never again be allowed to invade our European living space.
The German soldier has therefore not only the task of crushing the military potential of this system. He comes also as the bearer of a racial concept and as the avenger of all the cruelties which have been perpetrated on him and on the German people."
"The soldier must appreciate the necessity for the harsh punishment of Jewry, the spiritual bearer of the Bolshevik terror. This is also necessary in order to nip in the bud all uprisings which are mostly plotted by Jews."
(Nuremberg trials proceedings, Vol. 20, pp. 639–645)

In the Baltics and Ukrainemarker, they also recruited local collaborators - Hiwis to assist in the killing. Such behaviour was officially sanctioned and two heads of the army, Generals Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl, were prosecuted at the Nuremberg Trialsmarker. They were both found guilty and executed.

On the defensive

In the east the Germans had been steadily withdrawing in the face of increasingly capable Red Army offensives. After the Battle of Kurskmarker in July 1943 the Germans' arsenal was depleted of much needed armoured vehicles and Germany was unable to launch another serious offensive in the east. By the time of D-Day invasion on 6 June 1944, German forces were thinly stretched across three fronts. By August 1944, Soviet forces had crossed into parts of eastern Germany, and in December, the last ditch Ardennes Offensive ground to a halt in the west due to lack of supplies and bitter allied opposition.

Defeat of the Reich

Allied forces established a bridgehead at the Rhinemarker in March 1945 and the Battle of Berlin began on April 16. A planned last defense from the Alpenfestung ( ) never happened, and Hitler's Demolitions on Reich Territory order was largely ignored. Hitler subsequently committed suicide and designated Karl Dönitz the President. Berlin surrendered on the night of May 2/3, and after the May 7 German Instrument of Surrender was signed, the members of the provisional government were arrested on May 23 and subsequently found guilty of war crimes at Nurembergmarker.

References and Notes

  1. "...among the decisive battles in the long history of war". Editorial The New York Times, 2 February 1943, quoted in Roberts, Geoffrey (2002), Victory at Stalingrad: The Battle that Changed History page 4. London: Pearson. ISBN 0-582-77185-4

  • Calvocoressi, Peter and Guy Wint. Total War New York, New York Penguin press, 2001
  • Keegan, John. The Second World War. New York Penguin press, 1990
  • Lubbeck, William and David B. Hurt. "At Leningrad's Gates: The Story of a Soldier with Army Group North.", Philadelphia, PA: Casemate, 2006 (ISBN 1-932033-55-6).

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