The Allies' Road to Success
The end of 1942 proved a favourable turning-point for the Allies. In October, General Sir Bernard Montgomery's Eighth Army defeated General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps at the Battle of El Alamein in Egypt, driving it back through Libya and into Tunisia. Within a few weeks the Russians had a great triumph against the Germans at Stalingrad (now Volgograd) and the Americans defeated the Japanese at Guadalcanal in the Pacific. That November, Anglo-American forces landed in Algeria, helping to hasten the expulsion of German troops from North Africa by moving to meet the westward-bound Eighth Army in Tunisia.
|In June 1943 Allied troops set foot in Europe again, when a combined Canadian, British and American force invaded Sicily. On 3rd September they crossed to the Italian mainland and Italy's forces surrendered (later to re-enter the war on the Allied side). But German armies continued to resist strongly, using the country's mountain ranges and innumerable rivers to contest every inch of ground. Twice the Allies tried to hasten their advance by making amphibious landings behind enemy lines, forming large bridgeheads at Salerno and Anzio; both were expensive in casualties but ultimately successful.|
A slow struggle continued for possession of Italy, the Americans taking the west-coast route and the British and Commonwealth troops--generally--the Adriatic side. Along with them marched a truly international force of Frenchmen, Poles, Palestinians and even a battalion of Brazilian infantry. It was to be a further year and a half before victory was won there; not until Mussolini had been shot by his own people and tens of thousands of Allied servicemen had died. Most operations in the South Pacific theatre were waged by the United States, supported by Australian and New Zealand forces. The USA conducted a war of 'island-hopping', making amphibious assaults to regain control of Japanese-occupied territory in a vast war-zone, from the Solomon Islands to Iwo Jima and Okinawa. This far-flung American offensive was based on a strategy aimed at occupying islands for use as bases for the aerial bombardment of Japan and as staging-areas for the projected invasion of Japan itself. In addition to heavy Army casualties, over 20,000 US Marines died during this three-year campaign against a fanatically brave enemy. Many sailors also died aboard ships attacked by kamikaze (divine wind) suicide-pilots, who crashed their explosives-laden aircraft onto vessels of the US Navy and of the British Commonwealth fleet which helped support the Okinawa assault.
Allied RetaliationThe first Axis capital to fall was Rome, captured on 4th June 1944. This great event was somewhat overshadowed two days later, on 6th June, when D-Day of Operation 'Overlord', the long-awaited invasion, dawned over the Normandy coast. A huge armada of 4,000 ships landed 130,000 troops that first day and the Allies established a firm beach-head at a cost of 'only' 9,000 casualties, many fewer than had been expected. With Montgomery in command of 21st Army Group, the Commonwealth US ground forces, the British Second Army (which included the 3rd Canadian Division) landed opposite the inland cities of Caen and Bayeux to the east and the US First Army between the Cherbourg Peninsula and St Laurent on the west.
The enemy units counter-attacked with characteristic determination, but the Allies landed over 300,000 men within a week, despite unseasonable gales, and made steady progress inland. While the Americans attacked towards Cherbourg, the British and Canadians headed for Caen. Here Montgomery clashed once more with Rommel, his old adversary from the desert war. Rommel had many SS Panzer (tank) divisions in position and the subsequent fighting for Caen was hard. Canadian and British troops took heavy losses but captured the city on 9th July, opening the way for the pursuit of the enemy as they gradually retreated northwards.
Revenge WeaponsAt this time Britain became the victim of a new form of 'Blitz', as Hitler launched an aerial campaign, using unmanned missiles. Their name, Vergeltungswaffen (revenge weapons), made it clear that they were designed entirely for the destruction of civilian targets. The V1 flying bomb became known as the 'doodle bug' or 'buzz-bomb' from the sound of its engine; it carried a one-ton high-explosive warhead and was aimed against London and south-east England, where it killed over 6,000 people in a few months. V1s were launched from the French coast until their sites were cleared by the Canadians in September. By then, however, a new phase in London's ordeal had begun, as on 8th September Luftwaffe troops in the Netherlands launched the first V2, a high-altitude rocket, also with a one-ton warhead. During a bombardment that continued into the new year, in excess of 1,000 of these V2s exploded in England, causing much loss of life, though the worst suffering was in Antwerp, where 14,000 people were killed.
The Lines Move BackParis was liberated on 25th August, a symbolic day for the free world which raised high hopes of a swift final victory. But that was not to be, as the Germans withdrew into Belgium and the Netherlands with no sign of slackening their resolve. They opened the dykes of the extensive drainage works throughout the Netherlands to cause flooding--to act as an efficient military barrier--while positioning themselves along the Scheldt Estuary to deny Allied shipping use of the port of Antwerp. This ensured that supplies still had to be brought to the front from Normandy, hundreds of miles away. But eventually Antwerp was captured and reopened to become the Allies' main seaport.
As winter approached the Allies attempted to breach the formidable barrier blocking entry into Germany: the Siegfried Line. On 17th September a large airborne army of British, Polish and American formations attempted to outflank the German defences. They landed by parachute and glider behind the River Rhine with the task of holding the bridges at Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem until joined by a corps coming up from the south. The Germans quickly moved heavy reinforcements into the area, held off the relief force and encircled the airborne troops at Arnhem. The Allied attempt ended in failure after a nine-day battle and the British 1st Airborne Division was virtually destroyed.
|The text on this page has been taken from Courage Remembered, by Kingsley Ward and Major Edwin Gibson.|