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The Turning Points Of World War II

The turning point in World War II happened in 1942 as a result of key Allied victories, but more importantly of German attrition. There were a few decisive battles but it was the entry of the USA that boosted Allied supplies while the German provisions ran down.

World War II has been going on for the past three years now and the Americans have just entered the war. There were three key victories for the Allies in this year. The first was the battle in North Africa for El Alamein. This was an important fight because the victor would have access to the Suez Canal and the oil in the Middle East. Oil was used for everything so everyone fought over it. This fight took place from October 23 to November 3, 1942 originally between the British and the Italian troops. The Italians were losing and lost Tobruk, Libya, and El Alamein to the British. Hitler responded by sending in General Erwin Rommel, nicknamed the `desert fox’ and the battle-hardened Afrika Korps. Rommel was a brilliant general and had retaken the territory that the Italians had lost. The current British general was dismissed and General Bernard Montgomery was called in to take command of the British troops called the desert rats. The current battlefield was now at El Alamein. Montgomery had just received some new tanks called the Sherman tanks. They had 75mm guns capable of penetrating a panzer 2000m away with a 6lb shell. Between the two armies lay the “Devil’s Garden”, a mine field laid by the Germans. It was 5 miles wide, with a number of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. Montgomery launched Operation Bertram, in which dummy tanks and a dummy pipeline were built in the south to cause Rommel to believe that an attack come from the south. In the north, the real tanks were covered up so they would look like non-threatening lorries. The start of the Allied attack was code named Operation Lightfoot. In this operation, the infantry had to attack first. The soldiers were to run across the mine field and as they were too light, the mines wouldn’t be set off. The soldiers were light and ran over on foot, hence its name Operation Lightfoot. As the infantry attacked, the engineers had to clear a path for the tanks. Each stretch of land cleared of mines was 24 feet wide- just enough for a line of tanks in single file. Clearing mines was very dangerous, as one mine was connected with others via wires. If one mine was set off, many others would blow up as well and if one tank broke down, it held up all tanks that were behind it. There were also many traffic jams because of the one lane traffic they were forced to move in. When the tanks became jammed, they became easy targets for the German gunners. After two nights, the British were still unsuccessful and losing too many people so the operation was called off. Now, Australians forces attacked Rommel from the Mediterranean Sea so Rommel moved a lot of his troops north. Montgomery is still in the south and he attacks as well. Rommel is outnumbered so he is defeated. The Battle of El Alamein was over but Rommel escaped with some of his troops. At this time, General Dwight D. Eisenhower launched Operation Torch. He led American and British troops into Morocco and Algeria. After the defeat at El Alamein, Rommel retreats to Tunisia. Eisenhower attacks from the west while Montgomery attacks from the east to corner Rommel. The Allies have now won the fight in North Africa. This showed that some of Hitler’s best fighters the Afrika Korps weren’t unbeatable and it also exposed Italy for an attack from the south. The biggest issue, like in many fights, was that Hitler lost irreplaceable men and supplies while the Allies continued to replace their losses with more materials from the United States.

Another key Allied victory was the Battle of Midway, in the war in the Pacific. The war in the Pacific started with the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The USA declared war on Japan and it began. The Japanese had the early advantage in the war because they had experience from fighting and were willing to fight to the death for their emperor but the Americans had more money, soldiers and resources. Eventually, the Americans would overwhelm the Japanese with this. The two main battles were the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. The Coral Sea fight took place in May 1942 and was fought entirely by planes supported by aircraft carriers. It ended in a draw but it prevented the Japanese from taking Port Moresby and expanding further south to Australia. The Japanese only had four carriers and the Americans saw how vital they were. Destroying these carriers would effectively take Japan out of the air. Also in May, American code breakers had cracked Japanese secrets and already knew the Japanese plans for Midway. On June 4, 1942, the Battle of Midway started. The Japanese had planned to capture the island of Midway and use it as an advance base to attack the US Pacific Fleet. An American reconnaissance plane saw the Japanese fleet coming and communication intelligence allowed the US to surprise the Japanese fleet. The Japanese fighter planes called `zeros’ attacked Midway Island while American bombers tried to sink the Japanese carriers. At the end of this battle, all of the Japanese carriers had been sunk while only one American one was. The Japanese also lost many pilots, 275 planes, 3 destroyers and one heavy cruiser. Prior to this, Japan had the general naval advantage on the US because of Pearl Harbor but now, the air and sea power had shifted to the US. Now the Allies could take the offensive in the Pacific.

Despite the victories in the Pacific and in North Africa, the turning point in the war was due mostly to the Battle for Stalingrad on the Eastern front. Hitler had many of reasons to attack the Soviet Union. There was still the need for lebensraum, they wanted Russia’s resources and they wanted to get rid of Communism. It began with the launch of Operation Barbarossa by the Germans. Hitler betrayed Stalin in the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact and attacked with 153 divisions. The Soviets had just had their veteran officers purged so they had no experience. Hitler’s senior commanders wanted to concentrate their attack on Moscow because `once they cut out the country’s heart, it will fall.’ Hitler was stubborn and insisted on three equal forces. He was the leader, he always had his way. Leningrad was under siege and Moscow and Stalingrad were next. Moscow was nearly encircled but the cold winter forced the Germans to stop. It was the coldest winter in 50 years at -40oC. The Soviets were losing badly so Stalin appeals to the people by telling them to fight for Mother Russia and never take a step back. In the summer of 1942 the Wehrmacht was to capture Stalingrad and the Caucasus fields to deprive the Russians of their fuel supply. Hitler wanted Stalingrad pretty badly because it was named after his communist counterpart and it was the key manufacturing and communications centre in southern Russia. Lend-lease support from the US was also coming to Russia through Iran to Stalingrad so it was crucial to hold it. Stalingrad was a long strip along the west bank of the Volga River. One army was to advance down the Volga River to Baku and eventually the Caucasus fields. The German Sixth Army was to occupy Stalingrad and cut off communications between the Don and Volga Rivers. The Caucasus campaign was going pretty well. By August, Hitler had it at his mercy but he decided to pull out some troops to help at Stalingrad. The Caucasus campaign was now ruined. The Soviets are retreating but they destroy the land and poison wells as they go so the Germans can’t use it. Winter comes around and the Soviets are saved. They have winter clothes while the Germans are in summer clothes. Metal became so brittle that it cracked so the planes and tanks were useless. They also got stuck in the frozen mud. Hitler assumed that he would win before the winter but he was wrong and this mistake would cost him the battle. General Friedrich Paulus, commander of the German Sixth Army, still manages to reach Stalingrad despite the intense cold. The two opposing sides’ infantry house to house battle for the city. The territory that the Germans gained by day with their superior fire power was regained by the Soviets at night with their snipers. The Russian forces under General Zhukov attacked the German flanks and made a pincer around the German Sixth Army within five days. 300,000 Germans were trapped and running out of ammunition. Paulus was promised some air support but it never came. The Russians gave Paulus a chance to surrender but Hitler wouldn’t allow it. He made Paulus a Field Marshal, knowing that no field marshal has ever been taken alive. Paulus cared more for his life and surrendered on February 2, 1943. Germany was now on the defensive and the Soviet Union’s forces were now racing towards Berlin to claim as much land as possible.

To win a war, a nation has to be able to support its own forces in offensively and defensively. Early in the war, Germany could do this in a series of small, quick blitzkrieg campaigns. By 1942, there were no longer quick campaigns, but prolonged battles. The Soviet Union could supply its army with supplies with the help of the United States. Statistics from some web sites show that Germany was not at optimum war production until 1944. Weapon production peaked in 1944 with 19000 tanks, 275300 submarines, and 39600 planes. In 1942, Germany just couldn’t produce as much as it needed. There were many big battles where the Germans lost countless soldiers, tons of equipment and showed they weren’t unbeatable. In the end, Germany lost the Second World War not because of any single military fight but of economic and human attrition resulting from these fights.

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