In the Far East, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941 and brought the United States into the war; Germany declared war on the United States shortly after. The Japanese had staggering success, overrunning most of the Pacific within a few months, conquering virtually all the British, Dutch and American.possessions in the region. Even Australia was threatened and subjected to air raids on its northern town of Darwin. Most of Burma fell next, with Japanese soldiers pushing on towards India. All of these advances were marked by extreme cruelty on the part of the Japanese whose Bushido code held that captured enemies were undeserving of decent treatment. Time and time again, captured Allied troops, nurses and civilians were abused, tortured or murdered on `death marches' and in primitive work camps.
The Royal Navy initially suffered severe setbacks in the Pacific, losing capital and other ships to Japanese air attacks off the Malayan coast and elsewhere, whereas earlier it had enjoyed much success against Germany's naval forces and had bottled up Germany's surface fleet in port. But it was the old enemy, the U-Boat, which gave the Navy its greatest trial.
During the war over 1,100 U-Boats roved the world's oceans, concentrating mainly in the North Atlantic across which stretched vital supply lines from North America. It was the setting for a desperate unending battle; millions of tons of Allied shipping went down in torpedo attacks and tens of thousands of merchant seamen were lost. On the other side well over 700 U-Boats were sunk and the Allies eventually won the Battle of the Atlantic.
The 1939-1945 War saw the raising of Commando units--army and naval personnel specially trained as raiders. Although uniformed troops, they could expect short shrift from the Nazis after Hitler issued his 'Commando Order' directing them to be shot on capture. The German innovation of parachute troops was taken up by Britain, whose airborne regiments fought in several battles. Other raiding forces flourished, most of them originating during operations in North Africa's Western Desert, but some being used throughout the rest of the war. These units included the Long Range Desert Group, the Special Air Service and the unofficially (and improbably) named 'Popski's Private Army'.
Most of the British Army in Britain, and the Canadian divisions reinforcing it, spent the mid-war years training in preparation for the expected invasion of the European continent--a period of waiting totally unlike the ceaseless land battles which marked the previous conflict. However, raiding attacks were kept up against German coastal installations, highlighted by the Dieppe Raid-in-Force, which was carried out to test invasion tactics. The practical knowledge gained by this raid would later be of enormous help in planning how to breach the walls of Hitler's 'Fortress Europe'.
Meanwhile fighting continued in North Africa. The British Eighth Army-- including Anzac, South African and Indian troops--tussled back and forth with General Rommel's Afrika Korps, which came perilously close to the Suez Canal. In Burma the British 'Forgotten' Fourteenth Army--with British, Indian, and East and West African soldiers--fought to push back the Japanese from India's border in what eventually proved to be the war's longest single campaign, lasting three and a half years.
Britain's Air Force
However, Britain's most potent attacks were now starting to come from the air; the Royal Air Force was being built up into a mighty weapon. By May 1945 it comprised more than 9,000 aircraft and over a million personnel, including the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). The RAF used Vickers Wellington, Short Stirling and Handley-Page Halifax bombers and--most effective of all--the four-engined Avro Lancaster heavy bomber and the twin-engined de Havilland Mosquito. Having suffered very high casualties in daylight raids early in the war (the USAAF lost over 8,000 four-engined bombers in such raids), the RAF decided to concentrate on night bombing, with Pathfinder aircraft going ahead to mark targets with flares, and the main (bomber) force following.
The Bombing of Germany
Although production centres and military establishments were originally the main targets in Germany, Bomber Command turned to area bombing attacks; the precedent for this was set by the Luftwaffe. The RAF bombed Nazi Germany heavily, sometimes night after night, occasionally using over 1,000 aircraft at a time. The industrial Ruhr, naval bases, and cities such as Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne took the brunt, but anti-bomber defences exacted a bloody price and RAF Bomber Command lost over 7,000 aircraft with about 50,000 men killed; another 8,000 died in accidents. Because of the nature of their duties, RAF casualties fell in every theatre of war, many with no known graves and some whose remains continue to be found to this day.
|The text on this page has been taken from Courage Remembered, by Kingsley Ward and Major Edwin Gibson.|