Allies gain momentum (1943–44)
Following the Guadalcanal Campaign, the Allies initiated several operations against Japan in the Pacific. In May 1943, Allied forces were sent to eliminate Japanese forces from the Aleutians, and soon after began major operations to isolate Rabaul by capturing surrounding islands, and to breach the Japanese Central Pacific perimeter at the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. By the end of March 1944, the Allies had completed both of these objectives, and additionally neutralised the major Japanese base at Truk in the Caroline Islands. In April, the Allies then launched an operation to retake Western New Guinea.
In the Soviet Union, both the Germans and the Soviets spent the spring and early summer of 1943 making preparations for large offensives in Central Russia. On 4 July 1943, Germany attacked Soviet forces around the Kursk Bulge. Within a week, German forces had exhausted themselves against the Soviets' deeply echeloned and well-constructed defences and, for the first time in the war, Hitler cancelled the operation before it had achieved tactical or operational success. This decision was partially affected by the Western Allies' invasion of Sicily launched on 9 July which, combined with previous Italian failures, resulted in the ousting and arrest of Mussolini later that month. Also in July 1943 the British firebombed Hamburg killing over 40,000 people.
On 12 July 1943, the Soviets launched their own counter-offensives, thereby dispelling any hopes of the German Army for victory or even stalemate in the east. The Soviet victory at Kursk heralded the downfall of German superiority, giving the Soviet Union the initiative on the Eastern Front. The Germans attempted to stabilise their eastern front along the hastily fortified Panther-Wotan line, however, the Soviets broke through it at Smolensk and by the Lower Dnieper Offensives.
On 3 September 1943, the Western Allies invaded the Italian mainland, following an Italian armistice with the Allies. Germany responded by disarming Italian forces, seizing military control of Italian areas, and creating a series of defensive lines. German special forces then rescued Mussolini, who then soon established a new client state in German occupied Italy named the Italian Social Republic, causing an Italian civil war. The Western Allies fought through several lines until reaching the main German defensive line in mid-November.
German operations in the Atlantic also suffered. By May 1943, as Allied counter-measures became increasingly effective, the resulting sizeable German submarine losses forced a temporary halt of the German Atlantic naval campaign. In November 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met with Chiang Kai-shek in Cairo and then with Joseph Stalin in Tehran. The former conference determined the post-war return of Japanese territory, while the latter included agreement that the Western Allies would invade Europe in 1944 and that the Soviet Union would declare war on Japan within three months of Germany's defeat.
From November 1943, during the seven-week Battle of Changde, the Chinese forced Japan to fight a costly war of attrition, while awaiting Allied relief. In January 1944, the Allies launched a series of attacks in Italy against the line at Monte Cassino and attempted to outflank it with landings at Anzio. By the end of January, a major Soviet offensive expelled German forces from the Leningrad region, ending the longest and most lethal siege in history.
The following Soviet offensive was halted on the pre-war Estonian border by the German Army Group North aided by Estonians hoping tore-establish national independence. This delay slowed subsequent Soviet operations in the Baltic Sea region. By late May 1944, the Soviets had liberated Crimea, largely expelled Axis forces from Ukraine, and made incursions into Romania, which were repulsed by the Axis troops. The Allied offensives in Italy had succeeded and, at the expense of allowing several German divisions to retreat, on 4 June, Rome was captured.
The Allies experienced mixed fortunes in mainland Asia. In March 1944, the Japanese launched the first of two invasions, an operation against British positions in Assam, India, and soon besieged Commonwealth positions at Imphal and Kohima. In May 1944, British forces mounted a counter-offensive that drove Japanese troops back to Burma, and Chinese forces that had invaded northern Burma in late 1943 besieged Japanese troops in Myitkyina. The second Japanese invasion attempted to destroy China's main fighting forces, secure railways between Japanese-held territory and capture Allied airfields. By June, the Japanese had conquered the province of Henan and begun a renewed attack against Changsha in the Hunan province.
Allies close in (1944)
On 6 June 1944 (known as D-Day), after three years of Soviet pressure, the Western Allies invaded northern France. After reassigning several Allied divisions from Italy, they also attacked southern France. These landings were successful, and led to the defeat of the German Army units in France. Paris was liberated by the local resistance assisted by the Free French Forces on 25 August and the Western Allies continued to push back German forces in Western Europe during the latter part of the year. An attempt to advance into northern Germany spearheaded by a major airborne operation in the Netherlands ended with a failure. After that, the Western Allies slowly pushed into Germany, unsuccessfully trying to cross the Rur river in a large offensive. In Italy the Allied advance also slowed down, when they ran into the last major German defensive line.
On 22 June, the Soviets launched a strategic offensive in Belarus (known as "Operation Bagration") that resulted in the almost complete destruction of the German Army Group Centre Soon after that, another Soviet strategic offensive forced German troops from Western Ukraine and Eastern Poland. The successful advance of Soviet troops prompted resistance forces in Poland to initiate several uprisings, though the largest of these, in Warsaw, as well as a Slovak Uprising in the south, were not assisted by the Soviets and were put down by German forces. The Red Army's strategic offensive in eastern Romania cut off and destroyed the considerable German troops thereand triggered a successful coup d'état in Romania and in Bulgaria, followed by those countries' shift to the Allied side.
In September 1944, Soviet Red Army troops advanced into Yugoslavia and forced the rapid withdrawal of the German Army Groups E and F in Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia to rescue them from being cut off. By this point, the Communist-led Partisans under Marshal Josip Broz Tito, who had led an increasingly successful guerrilla campaign against the occupation since 1941, controlled much of the territory of Yugoslavia and were engaged in delaying efforts against the German forces further south. In northern Serbia, theRed Army, with limited support from Bulgarian forces, assisted the Partisans in a joint liberation of the capital city of Belgrade on 20 October. A few days later, the Soviets launched a massive assault against German-occupied Hungary that lasted until the fall of Budapest in February 1945. In contrast with impressive Soviet victories in the Balkans, the bitter Finnish resistance to the Soviet offensive in the Karelian Isthmus denied the Soviets occupation of Finland and led to the signing of Soviet-Finnish armistice on relatively mild conditions, with a subsequent shift to the Allied side by Finland.
By the start of July, Commonwealth forces in Southeast Asia had repelled the Japanese sieges in Assam, pushing the Japanese back to the Chindwin River while the Chinese captured Myitkyina. In China, the Japanese were having greater successes, having finally captured Changsha in mid-June and the city of Hengyang by early August. Soon after, they further invaded the province of Guangxi, winning major engagements against Chinese forces at Guilin and Liuzhou by the end of November and successfully linking up their forces in China and Indochina by the middle of December.
In the Pacific, American forces continued to press back the Japanese perimeter. In mid-June 1944 they began their offensive against the Mariana and Palau islands, and decisively defeated Japanese forces in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. These defeats led to the resignation of the Japanese Prime Minister, Hideki Tōjō, and provided the United States with air bases to launch intensive heavy bomber attacks on the Japanese home islands. In late October, American forces invaded the Filipino island of Leyte; soon after, Allied naval forces scored another large victory during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, one of the largest naval battles in history.
Axis collapse, Allied victory (1944–45)
On 16 December 1944, Germany attempted its last desperate measure for success on the Western Front by using most of its remaining reserves to launch a massive counter-offensive in the Ardennes to attempt to split the Western Allies, encircle large portions of Western Allied troops and capture their primary supply port at Antwerp in order to prompt a political settlement. By January, the offensive had been repulsed with no strategic objectives fulfilled. In Italy, the Western Allies remained stalemated at the German defensive line. In mid-January 1945, the Soviets and Poles attacked in Poland, pushing from the Vistula to the Oder river in Germany, and overran East Prussia. On 4 February, US, British, and Soviet leaders met for the Yalta Conference. They agreed on the occupation of post-war Germany, and on when the Soviet Union would join the war against Japan.
In February, the Soviets invaded Silesia and Pomerania, while Western Allies entered Western Germany and closed to the Rhine river. By March, the Western Allies crossed the Rhine north and south of the Ruhr, encircling the German Army Group B, while the Soviets advanced to Vienna. In early April, the Western Allies finally pushed forward in Italy and swept across Western Germany, while Soviet and Polish forces stormed Berlin in late April. The American and Soviet forces linked up on Elbe river on 25 April. On 30 April 1945, theReichstag was captured, signalling the military defeat of the Third Reich.
Several changes in leadership occurred during this period. On 12 April, President Roosevelt died and was succeeded by Harry Truman. Benito Mussolini was killed by Italian partisans on 28 April. Two days later, Hitler committed suicide, and was succeeded by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz.
German forces surrendered in Italy on 29 April. Total and unconditional surrender was signed on 7 May, to be effective by the end of 8 May. German Army Group Centre resisted in Prague until 11 May.
In the Pacific theatre, American forces accompanied by the forces of the Philippine Commonwealth advanced in the Philippines, clearing Leyte by the end of April 1945. They landed on Luzon in January 1945 and captured Manila in March following a battle which reduced the city to ruins. Fighting continued on Luzon, Mindanao, and other islands of the Philippines until the end of the war. On the night of 9–10 March, B-29 bombers of the US Army Air Forces struck Tokyo with incendiary bombs, which killed 100,000 people within a few hours. Over the next five months, American bombers firebombed 66 other Japanese cities, causing the untold numbers of destruction of buildings and the deaths between 350,000-500,000 Japanese civilians.
In May 1945, Australian troops landed in Borneo, overrunning the oilfields there. British, American, and Chinese forces defeated the Japanese in northern Burma in March, and the British pushed on to reach Rangoon by 3 May. Chinese forces started to counterattack in Battle of West Hunanthat occurred between 6 April and 7 June 1945. American forces also moved towards Japan, takingIwo Jima by March, and Okinawa by the end of June. At the same time American bombers were destroying Japanese cities, American submarines cut off Japanese imports, drastically reducing Japan's ability to supply its overseas forces.
On 11 July, Allied leaders met in Potsdam, Germany. They confirmed earlier agreements about Germany, and reiterated the demand for unconditional surrender of all Japanese forces by Japan, specifically stating that "the alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction". During this conference the United Kingdom held its general election, and Clement Attlee replaced Churchill as Prime Minister.
As Japan continued to ignore the Potsdam terms issued to them on 27 July, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August. Like the Japanese cities previously bombed by American airmen, the US and its allies justified the atomic bombings as military necessity in order to avoid invading the Japanese home islands which would cost the lives of between 250,000-500,000 Allied troops and millions of Japanese troops and civilians. Between the two bombings, the Soviets, pursuant to the Yalta agreement, invaded Japanese-held Manchuria, and quickly defeated the Kwantung Army, which was the largest Japanese fighting force. The Red Army also captured Sakhalin Island and theKuril Islands. On 15 August 1945 Japan surrendered, with the surrender documents finally signed aboard the deck of the American battleship USS Missouri on 2 September 1945, ending the war.
Aftermath of World War 2.
The Allies established occupation administrations in Austria and Germany. The former became a neutral state, non-aligned with any political bloc. The latter was divided into western and eastern occupation zones controlled by the Western Allies and the USSR, accordingly. A denazification program in Germany led to the prosecution of Nazi war criminals and the removal of ex-Nazis from power, although this policy moved towards amnesty and re-integration of ex-Nazis into West German society.
Germany lost a quarter of its pre-war (1937) territory, the eastern territories: Silesia, Neumark and most of Pomerania were taken over by Poland; East Prussia was divided between Poland and the USSR, followed by the expulsion of the 9 million Germans from these provinces, as well as of 3 million Germans from the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, to Germany. By the 1950s, every fifth West German was a refugee from the east. The Soviet Union also took over the Polish provinces east of the Curzon line, from which 3 million Poles were expelled; north-east Romania, parts of eastern Finland, and the three Baltic states were also incorporated into the USSR.
In an effort to maintain peace, the Allies formed the United Nations, which officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, as a common standard for all member nations. The great powers that were the victors of the war—the United States, Soviet Union, China, Britain, and France—formed the permanent members of the UN'sSecurity Council. The five permanent members remain so to the present, although there have been two seat changes, between the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China in 1971, and between the Soviet Union and its successor state, the Russian Federation, following thedissolution of the Soviet Union. The alliance between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union had begun to deteriorate even before the war was over.
Germany had been de facto divided, and two independent states, Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic were created within the borders of Allied and Soviet occupation zones, accordingly. The rest of Europe was also divided onto Western and Sovietspheres of influence. Most eastern and central European countries fell into the Soviet sphere, which led to establishment of Communist led regimes, with full or partial support of the Soviet occupation authorities. As a result, Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia,Romania, and Albania became Soviet Satellite states. Communist Yugoslavia conducted a fully independent policy, causing tension with the USSR.
Post-war division of the world was formalised by two international military alliances, the United States-led NATO and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact; the long period of political tensions and military competition between them, the Cold War, would be accompanied by an unprecedented arms race and proxy wars.
In Asia, the United States led the occupation of Japan and administrated Japan's former islands in the Western Pacific, while the Soviets annexedSakhalin and the Kuril Islands. Korea, formerly under Japanese rule, was divided and occupied by the US in the South and the Soviet Union in the North between 1945 and 1948. Separate republics emerged on both sides of the 38th parallel in 1948, each claiming to be the legitimate government for all of Korea, which led ultimately to the Korean War.
In China, nationalist and communist forces resumed the civil war in June 1946. Communist forces were victorious and established the People's Republic of China on the mainland, while nationalist forces retreated to Taiwan in 1949. In the Middle East, the Arab rejection of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestineand the creation of Israel marked the escalation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While European colonial powers attempted to retain some or all of their colonial empires, their losses of prestige and resources during the war rendered this unsuccessful, leading to decolonisation.
The global economy suffered heavily from the war, although participating nations were affected differently. The US emerged much richer than any other nation; it had a baby boomand by 1950 its gross domestic product per person was much higher than that of any of the other powers and it dominated the world economy. The UK and US pursued a policy of industrial disarmament in Western Germany in the years 1945–1948. Due to international trade interdependencies this led to European economic stagnation and delayed European recovery for several years.
Recovery began with the mid-1948 currency reform in Western Germany, and was sped up by the liberalisation of European economic policy that the Marshall plan (1948–1951) both directly and indirectly caused. The post 1948 West German recovery has been called the German economic miracle. Also the Italian and French economies rebounded. By contrast, the United Kingdom was in a state of economic ruin, and although it received a quarter of the total Marshall Plan assistance, more than any other European country, continued relative economic decline for decades.
The Soviet Union, despite enormous human and material losses, also experienced rapid increase in production in the immediate post-war era. Japan experienced incredibly rapid economic growth, becoming one of the most powerful economies in the world by the 1980s. China returned to its pre-war industrial production by 1952.