|Early Stages of War: Germany on the Offensive
After taking Poland, Germany turned towards Northern Europe. In April, 1940 Hitler attacked Denmark and Norway. It took only two months to take these countries. He then turned towards Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium in May. The Blitzkrieg proved to be too much for these countries as well.
Battle for France:
After WWI France had developed an intricate line of defense known as the Maginot Line. This was a heavily armed tunnel system that spanned the entire border between France and Germany. It made the French feel safe from any German attack. On May 12, 1940 Germany invaded France. Instead of attacking the Maginot line, the Germans simply went around it. The Maginot line proved to be an expensive joke that was never used.
When France was invaded Britain sent in troops to help defend the country. Both France and Britain though were not prepared for the speed of the Blitzkrieg. The German army forced the allies back to the French city of Dunkirk where they remained trapped. The allies faced certain defeat while Hitler prepared the Luftwaffe for the final blow. In his delay the British sent out a call for help. Nearly 900 ships (including fishing boats and passenger craft) came across the fogy English Channel. Between May 27 and June 4 over 300,000 soldiers were evacuated to England from Dunkirk. It was expected that only 10,000 would have survived.
On June 13, 1940 Paris was occupied by Germany and two weeks later France surrendered.
On July 10, 1940 Hitler ordered an air attack on British ships in the English Channel signaling the start of the Battle of Britain. Hitler’s plan was to destroy Britain’s fighter planes, factories and the morale of the people. This would allow him to mount a ground attack. At first the German Luftwaffe was extremely successful by knocking out airfields and supply factories. The Royal Air Force (RAF) despite being badly outnumbered held it’s ground. On September 7, 1940 two German planes bombed London which prompted Churchill to retaliate with a strike on Berlin. An infuriated Hitler ordered an all-out assault on London which peaked on September 15th. This allowed the RAF time to recover and turned the tide of the Battle. By the end of the summer Hitler realized that he could not win control of British air space. The RAF won the Battle of Britain.
On June 22, 1941 Hitler violated the non-aggression pact by invading Russia during Operation Barbarossa. The blitzkrieg was successful at first, reaching within 39 km of Moscow. Russia used a ‘scorched earth’ policy in its retreat, which involved destroying all resources that could be of use to the enemy- livestock, crops, and supplies. By winter, Hitler’s troops were ill prepared for the temperatures (-50 degrees Celsius) and they along with their equipment began to freeze. Russia’s unlimited supply of soldiers along with the weather forced Germany to retreat by January 1943. the Soviet Union suffered over 21,000,000 casualties during WWII.