East Germany Table of Contents
By the end of September, Hitler's armies had overrun western Poland; Soviet armies occupied eastern Poland two weeks after the German invasion. In April 1940, German forces conquered Norway and Denmark, and in May they struck at the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. Skirting the northwestern end of the Maginot Line, German troops drove deep into northern France. British and French troops offered ineffective resistance against the lightning-like strikes (blitzkrieg) of German tanks and airplanes. A large part of the French armies surrendered, and more than 330,000 British and French soldiers were trapped in Dunkirk on the coast of northern France. However, because Hitler, for a combination of political and military reasons, had halted the advance of his armored divisions, the British were able to rescue the men in Dunkirk. When France fell in June 1940, Hitler, who had originally hoped that Britain would stay out of the war, approached Winston Churchill with the offer of a separate peace; but the new British prime minister was intransigent. The Third Reich experienced its first military defeat in the Battle of Britain in which the Royal Air Force, during the summer and fall of 1940, prevented the German Luftwaffe from gaining the air superiority necessary for an invasion of Britain. As a result, Hitler postponed the planned invasion.
In the winter of 1940-41, after Japan had joined the Axis powers, Hitler began to plan the invasion of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Italy, which had made advances in North Africa and the Mediterranean region, was experiencing setbacks, and Hitler sent German troops to its assistance. As preparation for a campaign against Greece designed to protect Romanian oil fields from British air strikes, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia were taken into the Berlin-Rome Axix of 1936, and German troops were sent to Romania in November 1940. Bulgaria joined the pact in March 1941. That year, in spite of resistance by the army and the civilian population, German troops also occupied Yugoslavia.
As a result of the campaign in the Balkans, the German invasion of the Soviet Union was delayed until June 1941. By late fall, Hitler's armies stood before Moscow. The führer had anticipated victory in the Soviet Union within three months, but the early onset of winter stopped German advances. A counteroffensive, launched in the winter of 1941, drove the Germans back from Moscow. In the summer of 1942, Hitler shifted the attack to the south of the Soviet Union and began a large offensive directed at the Caucasian oil fields. By September 1942, the Axis controlled the area from Norway to North Africa and from France to Stalingrad.
Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, had brought the United States into the war, and the United States joined forces with Britain and the Soviet Union to defeat the Third Reich. The British began to bomb German civilian populations in 1942, and Soviet armies assumed the offensive after defeating German troops in the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-43. The Allied road to victory had begun. By May 1943, Allied armies had driven the Axis forces out of Africa and had landed in Italy, and in 1943, also, the Americans, using precision daylight bombing, had begun a series of raids on the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt and Regensburg. Area bombing, however, failed to bring about the submission of the German people, and the daylight raids, although temporarily seriously hindering the production of war matériel, proved to be extremely costly. As early as 1943, however, the American and British navies had succeeded in substantially reducing the German submarine threat to shipping, thereby clearing the way for the shipment of arms and troops to Britain in preparation for the Normandy invasion.
In June 1944, American, British, and Canadian forces invaded France, driving the Germans back and crossing the German frontier in September. The strategic bombing of oil dumps and oil plants after the Normandy landings crippled the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes, which took place in December. Soviet troops, meanwhile, advanced from the east. Hitler, however, remained determined to fight on and called for the "total mobilization of all Germans" for the war effort. In March 1945, American forces reached the Rhine River; simultaneously Soviet armies overran most of Czechoslovakia and pressed on toward Berlin. Although faced with certain defeat, Hitler insisted that every German city, every village, and finally "every square meter" would have to be defended or left behind as "scorched earth." The western Allied and Soviet armies in Germany made their first contact in Saxony on April 27. Three days later, Hitler and his bride, Eva Braun, committed suicide in a Berlin bunker. Berlin fell to the Soviets on May 2; on May 7 the Third Reich surrendered unconditionally. German military casualties in World War II are estimated at 3.5 million dead; more than 600,000 German civilians were killed in the bombing offensive.
Data as of July 1987
East Germany Table of Contents