World War II was a global conflict. Nearly all of the countries supported either the Allies or the Axis. Also the battles took place on a large terrain and changed the global political situation irreversibly, leaving a trail of numerous deaths and significant damages behind. World War II was also one of the first conflicts making use of modern warfare, like weapons of mass destruction. However, some of the battles helped the Allies gain control over their common enemy and make sure that the authoritarian German rule has come to a close. Let us take a look at a few battles that changed the modern history for good.
The Battle of France
Having conquered Poland in September 1939, Adolf Hitler became interested in the western area of Europe. He devised a plan that would help him ultimately conquer the Soviet Union, but in order to do so he had to take out the other Allies first. Therefore, he went on to invade the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Belgium and France. The Allied forces technically outnumbered the German forces, but the Germans were better strategists. They wanted to trap the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) near the English Channel. They succeeded and when Paris fell, the BEF had to be evacuated from Dunkirk. France became divided into the German occupation zones and Vichy France. With such a stronghold, Germany gained an advantage on the British forces, which it proceeded to eliminate from the conflict.
In 1944, the Russian Red Army was heading towards Germany at an incredible pace. And, although the Russians could take out Germany on their own, they insisted that a second front be opened by the Allies, to create a diversion for the German forces. This also meant that the conflict might end sooner. Since the year 1942, the American Air Forces and the British Royal Air Force (RAF) have been continuing their bombing campaign on Germany. The Allies also invaded Italy in 1943 to further weaken the forces of the Axis. But France was where the main German Army resources could be found, so it had to be invaded to destroy Germany’s troops. Operation Overlord started with the deployment of Allies’ troops to Normandy (D-day, June 1944). By August, there were already over 3 million Allied troops on the coast of France. The Germans have been pushed back by 30th August, and had to retract, crossing the River Seine.
Battle of Guadalcanal
Until 1942, the Allied forces have been on the defensive position in the Pacific region. Japanese military forces were already weakened due to the marine battles of Coral Sea and Midway. But, Japan remained in the offensive, and was now planning to send its troops to invade Fiji, New Caledonia and also Samoa. In August 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy was already preparing for battle by building a major military base in Rabaul. For the Allies this meant an immediate threat to Australia. Therefore, the Allies made a plan to invade the Solomon Islands, in order to take away a strategic military staging point from the Japanese. They would then go on to reclaiming the Philippines and invading the Japanese mainland in the long run. On 7 August, over 11 000 Marines of the 1st Marine Division led by of Major General Alexander Vandergrift landed on Guadalcanal. Just one day later they managed to secure what would otherwise become a Japanese airfield.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
By June 1944 Japan’s inner defensive ring had already been breached by the American military forces. The Americans also secured several operational bases, enabling easy access for bombing the Japanese home islands. The Japanese forces responded with an attack on the American troops invading the island of Leyte in the Philippines. The Japanese forces were defeated by the7th Fleet Support force, which was a part of the American military force. The Battle of Leyte Gulf is now considered to be one of the largest naval battles in world history and being a turning point for the fortunes of the Imperial Japanese Navy. From this exact moment, Japan had to rely solely on land forces and Kamikaze attacks, having lost nearly all of its fleet. Also, Japan’s supplies of oil and war materials had been cut by the Allies, further hindering its military capability.
Battle of Moscow
Germany’s aim of World War II from the very beginning was to invade the Soviet Union and take Moscow. Due to its political and military importance, the annexation of the city meant an immediate win. The Axis forces wanted to invade Moscow before the winter had come. Little did they know, however, that the Soviets had Siberian forces excellently trained for harsh weather conditions. All in all, the Battle commenced in December with the temperatures falling to even 50 degrees Celsius below zero. The Germans were certainly not prepared for that. They had no clothing warm enough and the Panzer tanks simply froze at such cold. On 5th December 1941, the Germans were defeated by the Red Army and pushed back from Moscow.
Battle of Kursk
The Battle of Kursk took place almost immediately after the Battle of Stalingrad, Russian’s response to the Battle of Moscow. This was again a battle incensed by the Germans, a final offensive launched on the east. The Germans wanted to defeat the Soviets once and for all, but by this time the Red Army was already very insightful on the German tactics and could easily predict German’s next move. The Germans delayed the attack, while still waiting for a contingent of new Panzer and Tiger tanks, which in turn gave Russia the ultimate opportunity to regroup and plan a counterattack. The German attack started on 5th July. The Russian defenses were so precise that they soon hindered all German attempts at blitzkrieg offensive. The Germans were pushed back into a defensive stance until the end of World War II. When the Battle of Kursk came to an end, the Allied forces were just about to invade Italy. The good fortune had turned away from the Axis for good.
Battle of Midway
With the battles of Pearl Harbor and the Coral Sea underway, Japan had high hopes of getting rid of the US military forces from the territory of the Pacific Theater once and for all. In order to do this, the Japanese army occupied the Midway Atoll. The plan was to lure the American air force and defeat it. The Americans, however, managed to decipher the Japanese code and that gave them access to highly classified information on the strength and position of the Japanese military corps. But the Japanese did not have the same advantage regarding the Americans. This is why they had virtually no idea that they would fight against more than two American carriers, Enterprise, Hornet and the newly repaired Yorktown. Defeating Japan at Midway gave the Allies the possibility to be on the offensive in the Pacific until the war was done.
Operation Barbarossa, like operation Overlord, was not a single event, but a compilation of several decisive battles. In total, it involved over 8.9 million combatants, over 18 000 tanks, 45 000 aircraft and roughly 50 000 artillery devices on both sides of the conflict. The key battles of Operation Barbarossa took place at Smolensk, Uman, and Kiev. Panzer armies encircled and captured more than three million Soviet soldiers before they reached Moscow. But, ultimately it was the Germans, who failed miserably, with over 250 000 casualties. 2 000 aircraft and 2 700 tanks destroyed. The Soviets managed to hold Moscow, but still lost over 14% of the entire population in the course of the battle.
Battle of Stalingrad
Some historians tend to compare the Battle of Stalingrad to the Midway on the Eastern Front. The battle ended in defeat for Germany and enabled the possibility of winning the war for the East. The Red Army had already managed to succeed in Moscow, and the Eastern Front now started to stabilize in one line, from Leningrad to Rostov and further on towards the Black Sea. The Germans had reached Stalingrad by late August. The Soviets implied something called the „hugging tactic”, which basically meant that they kept their front line as close to the German forces as possible. At first the Germans took over the city, but then the tides have turned and the Red Army made a counterattack in November, encircling over 300 000 of Axis troops. The German army was defeated once again.
10. Battle of Britain
With the United Kingdom out of the way, Hitler could focus fully on exterminating the Soviet forces. This would mean that the Americans and the Soviets would have to fight the Axis without any military support, and that the British Isles could not be used to stage an Allies’ attack. If Germany was successful in securing its position over the British sky, they would go on to launch Operation Sea Lion, which meant invading the British Isles. However, RAF recovered very quickly from the German attacks and by October 1940, it was the Luftwaffe which was depleted in aircraft numbers. All in all, the Battle of Britain was won by the Allies. Winston Churchill famously summed the battle up with: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” He was referring to the Allied air force pilots.