How Poland Proved Vital to the Allied War Effort in World War Two

On 1 September 1939, 62 German divisions poured across the Polish border. More than 1,000 aircraft carried out bombing raids on the Polish capital and destroyed most of the Polish Air Force on the ground.

Two weeks later, the Red Army invaded from the east.

Warsaw surrendered on 27 September following 18 days of continuous air assault. By October, the country was under German and Soviet control.

The battle for Poland was over in a matter of weeks. Yet many Poles continued fighting the Nazis until the last day of the war.

Polish pilots excelled during the Battle of Britain

In the summer of 1940, Britain battled for survival against Hitler’s war machine; the result would define the course of the Second World War. It is known simply as The Battle of Britain.

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In the aftermath of the German invasion of Poland, tens of thousands of Polish servicemen escaped occupation and travelled west to France and Britain. The skills of Polish airmen were initially held in low regard by their adopted nations but in the summer of 1940, they proved a vital asset to Britain’s Fighter Command.

Polish pilots in Britain found themselves training in unfamiliar aircraft, practising unfamiliar tactics and communicating in French with their English counterparts. But their proficiency in the air shone through and their eagerness to get back in the fight won the admiration of their colleagues.

As well as serving in existing RAF squadrons, after August 1940 Polish pilots also served in two Polish Fighter Squadrons, designated 302 and 303. The latter clocked up more kills than any other squadron in the Battle of Britain, with their tally reaching an astonishing 126. Meanwhile, nine of its pilots became “aces”, meaning they had achieved five or more kills.

Polish pilots served alongside their Allied counterparts for the duration of the war.

The pilots of 303 Squadron.

Polish codebreakers contributed to breaking Enigma

Five weeks before the German invasion of Poland, two British intelligence officers – Alastair Denniston and Dilly Knox – met with Polish cryptographers in Warsaw. The Poles gave the British two replica Enigma machines and a raft of documentation covering their decryption work on the cipher since 1932.

The Enigma machine was invented by German engineer Arthur Sherbius in the early 1920s. By the early 1930s, the German army and navy had developed their own versions of the machine and were using them to communicate encrypted messages.

In 1932, alarmed by Germany’s growing militancy, Polish Intelligence assembled a team to crack the code. Key to the success of the Polish team was their application of mathematical rather than merely linguistic methods of decryption. Among the key members of the team were mathematicians Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zegalski.

The Polish team swiftly discerned the secrets of the specially adapted military Enigma machines. In 1938, Rejewski developed a purpose-built machine known as the bomba to search for solutions and by 1938 the Poles were successfully reading 75 per cent of intercepted German communications.

Colossus at Bletchley Park.

Their achievements put the Poles streaks ahead of the British, who had struggled to make progress with Enigma. But in 1938, as war approached, the Germans added two additional rotors to the Enigma set-up, massively increasing the number of possible solutions and locking the Poles out.

It was at that moment that Polish Intelligence chose to share its findings with the French and British. In doing so, it laid the foundations for the work of Bletchley Park, which would ultimately change the course of World War Two.

Polish forces earned a ferocious reputation in the desert

In late 1939, tens of thousands of Poles were evacuated from Romania, where they had been interned, to French-held Syria. Most opted to continue their journey to France but several thousand chose to remain in Syria and formed the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade, or SBSK. Following the fall of France, the SBSK defied Vichy French authorities and marched into British-held Palestine.

In 1941 the SBSK was sent to Libya, where it formed part of the force heading to Tobruk to relieve the besieged 9th Australian Division.

The Australians were intrigued by the Poles. Their enthusiasm and hunger for battle proved particularly surprising. But when the Australians heard what their Polish comrades had witnessed in their home country, they understood why they were so eager at the prospect of battle.

The Polish resistance helped retrieve an unexploded rocket that was found in marshland near Sarnaki.

Having successfully loaded the rocket on board, the crew of the Dakota were distressed to discover that the extra weight had caused the plane’s wheels to sink into the muddy ground. The AK operatives, with help from local villagers, dug the wheels out of the mud with their bare hands.

With the hours before dawn ticking away, oxen were then attached to the aircraft to pull it clear of the mud. Finally, with no more time to spare and all involved having risked capture and certain death, the aircraft took off.

When it arrived in London, the Dakota’s cargo yielded components, diagrams and photographs documenting the German V2 rocket. This crucial intelligence was passed to the Crossbow Committee, the organisation responsible for operations against Germany’s long-range weapons, and provided key details for a defence against the V weapons.

The exiled Polish government informed the Allies about mass killings in Poland

After the fall of Poland, the Polish government-in-exile was based first in France and later in Britain. As well as working with the Polish resistance movement to carry out operations against the German occupying forces in Poland, the government-in-exile also played an important role in circulating reports from the Polish underground movement about mass killings and concentration camps.

As early as May 1941, the government-in-exile informed Allied governments about mass deportations to Auschwitz and atrocities committed against Jews in the first 15 months of the occupation.

In this exclusive interview with Miroslaw Obstarczyk, a curator at Auschwitz, we hear about the horrors of the camp and the bravery of the people who died there.

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In December 1942, Foreign Minister Edward Raczynski made the first official governmental denunciation of the mass extermination of Jews. By June 1944, dispatches from Poland were reporting on the mass deportation of Czech Jews and the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Despite a concerted effort to encourage the Allies to act on the information coming out of Poland, the government-in-exile was unable to prompt international intervention.

The 1st Polish Armoured Division sealed victory in Normandy

The conclusive action of the Normandy campaign came in August 1944, when Allied commander Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery ordered the envelopment of German Army Group B inside what would become known as the “Falaise Pocket”.

With British and Canadian forces sweeping around to the north, and the Americans from the south, some 100,000 German soldiers faced encirclement. By 19 August their only escape route was a two-mile-wide gap.

The Polish memorial at Hill 262, which features a Sherman M4 bearing the name of General Maczek.

The 1st Polish Armoured Division arrived in Normandy in early August and was attached to the Canadian Army. On 19 August, under the command of General Stanislaw Maczek, the Poles captured Hill 262 on the Mount Ormel ridge, overlooking the German escape route.

Cut off from reinforcements and short of ammunition, 1,500 Poles held this position for two days and nights, even in the face of ferocious German assaults. Finally, on 21 August, they were reinforced by the Canadians and the pocket was shut, sealing 60,000 German soldiers inside.


Koskodan, Kenneth 2009 No Greater Ally: The Untold Story of Poland’s Forces in World War II London: Osprey

While the United States was wallowing in neutrality and isolationism, events were occurring in Europe and Asia that were causing increasing tension across the regions. These events included:

  • Totalitarianism as a form of government in the USSR (Joseph Stalin), Italy (Benito Mussolini), Germany (Adolf Hitler), and Spain (Francisco Franco)
  • A move toward fascism in Japan
  • The creation of Manchukuo, Japan's puppet government in Manchuria, beginning the war in China
  • The conquest of Ethiopia by Mussolini
  • Revolution in Spain led by Francisco Franco
  • Germany's continuing expansion including taking the Rhineland
  • The worldwide Great Depression
  • World War I allies with large debts, many of whom were not paying them off

The United States passed the Neutrality Acts in 1935–1937, which created an embargo on all war item shipments. U.S. citizens were not allowed to travel on "belligerent" ships, and no belligerents were allowed loans in the United States.

World War II and Popular Culture

World War II touched virtually every part of American life, even things so simple as the food people ate, the films they watched, and the music they listened to.

Primary Image: (Image: US Department of Defense.)

World War II touched virtually every part of American life, even things so simple as the food people ate, the films they watched, and the music they listened to. The war, especially the effort of the Allies to win it, was the subject of songs, movies, comic books, novels, artwork, comedy routines—every conceivable form of entertainment and culture. Moreover, in many cases these works and their creators were actually part of the war effort. Writers, illustrators, cartoonists, filmmakers, and other artists used their skills to keep the public informed about the war and persuade people to cooperate with the government’s Home Front programs—like scrap drives and rationing. In short, World War II and the popular culture of that era are interconnected the story of one cannot be fully told without the story of the other.

Poster advertising Warner Brothers’ Confessions of a Nazi Spy, 1939.
(Image: Courtesy of Warner Brothers, Inc.)

The prospect of another world war began creeping into the American imagination even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Authors John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway and playwright Maxwell Anderson each wrote fictional portrayals of wartorn Europe, while Hollywood turned out movies about risky trips across the submarine-infested Atlantic, daring attempts to rescue loved ones from Nazi concentration camps, and nefarious spy rings lurking right under America’s nose. These stories reflected the growing anxiety in America about the war and how it might affect their lives. In 1939, for example, Warner Brothers released the movie Confessions of a Nazi Spy based on actual FBI investigations into German espionage in the United States. Some people worried that the movie was too political and risked damaging the fragile neutrality of the United States in Europe. Others praised the movie as patriotic because it helped alert Americans to what was considered a very real danger. “I feel I am serving my country,” lead actor Edward G. Robinson told one interviewer after the film’s premiere. “The dangers of Nazism must be removed for all time.”

After Pearl Harbor, war themes exploded into virtually every artistic medium and form of entertainment. Movies like Saboteur, Sahara, and Casablanca captured the wartime drama faced by servicemembers and civilians alike. Song lyrics often referred to the conflict, highlighting the ups and downs of both the battlefield and the Home Front. Some songs were upbeat, witty, and fun to dance to, like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” by the Andrews Sisters. Others, like Walter Kent and Nat Burton’s “The White Cliffs of Dover,” were slower and more solemn, touching on both the seriousness of the war and the hope that peace would soon return. Even newspaper comic strips picked up elements of the war in their plots. Longtime favorite characters like Superman, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, and Mickey Mouse all dealt with various aspects of the war effort, from raising victory gardens to dealing with rationing to fighting the Axis powers on the front. A few comics like Bill Mauldin’s Willie and Joe were created specifically because of the war and offered readers a unique glimpse into the daily lives of American GIs.

For many wartime writers, actors, and artists, these contributions weren’t enough. It was one thing to produce material about the war, but many of them also wanted to use their skills to actually help the Allies win. Soon after Pearl Harbor, several organizations sprang up voluntarily to help the entertainment industry do exactly that. Hollywood’s War Activities Committee, for example, helped smooth the way for cooperation between the federal government, major film studios, and thousands of theaters across the United States. The Hollywood Victory Committee organized appearances by stage, screen, television, and radio personalities at events promoting war bond sales, scrap collection, and military recruitment, plus shows to boost troop morale. By the end of the war, the organization had put on 7,700 events featuring 4,147 stars, 38 film shorts, and 390 broadcasts for war relief and charity. Writers and publishers got in on the action as well by forming the Council on Books in Wartime. The organization promoted books that would be useful “weapons in the war of ideas” and arranged sales of suitable books to libraries and the armed forces. In 1943, the Council launched its Armed Services Edition line of reprints of popular books and ultimately sold over 122 million copies to the military at an average cost of about six cents apiece.

Actresses Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth serve food to soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen in Hollywood, California.
(Image: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-113250.)

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration recognized the powerful influence of the entertainment industry early on and looked for ways to harness that energy to encourage public support for the war effort. The Office of War Information (OWI) was the main arbiter of this relationship. OWI worked with film studios, screenwriters, radio stations, newspapers, cartoonists, and artists across the United States to produce films, posters, songs, and radio broadcasts urging everyday Americans to cooperate with the government’s wartime programs and restrictions. Even though much of this work was essentially propaganda, some of it became highly popular. In 1942, for example, the War Department asked the Writers’ War Board to come up with material to help recruit volunteers for the Army Air Forces beyond just pilots. The Board’s creative artists responded with 52 nonfiction articles, 12 fictional stories, a novel, and even a song called “I Wanna Marry a Bombardier.” The resulting surge of bombardier recruits was so large the War Department eventually had to ask the Writer’s War Board to suspend their campaign.

Women in the Armed Forces in World War II

In addition to factory work and other home front jobs, approximately 350,000 women joined the Armed Services, serving at home and abroad. At the urging of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and women’s groups, and impressed by the British use of women in service, General George Marshall supported the idea of introducing a women’s service branch into the Army. In May 1942, Congress instituted the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, later upgraded to the Women’s Army Corps, which had full military status. Its members, known as WACs, worked in more than 200 non-combatant jobs stateside and in every theater of the war. By 1945, there were more than 100,000 WACs and 6,000 female officers. In the Navy, members of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) held the same status as naval reservists and provided support stateside. The Coast Guard and Marine Corps soon followed suit, though in smaller numbers.

Did you know? On March 10, 2010, nearly 70 years after they were disbanded, the Women Airforce Service Pilots received the Congressional Gold Medal.

Women in World War Two

As in World War One, women played a vital part in this country’s success in World War Two. But, as with World War One, women at the end of World War Two , found that the advances they had made were greatly reduced when the soldiers returned from fighting abroad.

At the end of World War Two, those women who had found alternate employment from the normal for women, lost their jobs. The returning soldiers had to be found jobs and many wanted society to return to normal. Therefore by 1939, many young girls found employment in domestic service – 2 million of them, just as had happened in 1914. Wages were still only 25p a week.

When women found employment in the Civil Service, in teaching and in medicine they had to leave when they got married.

However, between the wars, they had got full voting equality with men when in 1928 a law was passed which stated that any person over the age of 21 could vote – male and female.

The war once again gave women the opportunity to show what they could do.

Young mothers with young children were evacuated from the cities considered to be in danger. In all, 3.5 million children were evacuated though many went with a teacher. As young children were normally taught by females, many of those who went with the children were women. The fact that women were seen to be the people who taught the youngest was something that had been going on for years.

As in World War One, women were called on to help on the land and the Women’s Land Army (WLA) was re-formed in July 1939. Their work was vital as so many men were being called up into the military.

In August 1940, only 7,000 women had joined but with the crisis caused by Hitler’s U-boats , a huge drive went on from this date on to get more women working on the land. Even Churchill feared that the chaos caused by the U-boats to our supplies from America would starve out Britain.

The government tried to make out that the work of the WLA was glamorous and adverts showed it as this. In fact, the work was hard and young women usually worked in isolated communities. Many lived in years old farm workers cottages without running water, electricity or gas. Winter, in particular, could be hard especially as the women had to break up the soil by hand ready for sowing. However, many of the women ate well as there was a plentiful supply of wild animals in the countryside – rabbit, hares, pheasant and partridges. They were paid 32 shillings a week – about £1.60.

WLA women sawing wood in winter

In 1943, the shortage of women in the factories and on land lead to the government stopping women joining the armed forces. They were given a choice of either working on the land or in factories. Those who worked on land did a very valuable job for the British people.

Many women decided that they would work in a factory. They worked in all manner of production ranging from making ammunition to uniforms to aeroplanes. The hours they worked were long and some women had to move to where the factories were. Those who moved away were paid more.

Skilled women could earn £2.15 a week. To them this must have seemed a lot. But men doing the same work were paid more. In fact, it was not unknown for unskilled men to get more money that skilled female workers. This clearly was not acceptable and in 1943, women at the Rolls Royce factory in Glasgow went on strike. This was seen as being highly unpatriotic in time of war and when the female strikers went on a street demonstration in Glasgow, they were pelted with eggs and tomatoes (presumably rotten and inedible as rationing was still in) but the protesters soon stopped when they found out how little the women were being paid .The women had a part-victory as they returned to work on the pay of a male semi-skilled worker – not the level of a male skilled worker but better than before the strike.

The Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS):

During the Blitz on London women in voluntary organisations did a very important job. The Women’s Voluntary Service provided fire fighters with tea and refreshments when the clear-up took place after a bombing raid. The WVS had one million members by 1943. Most were quite elderly as the younger women were in the factories or working on farms and were too exhausted to do extra work once they had finished their shift. The WVS also provided tea and refreshments for those who sheltered in the Underground in London. Basically, the WVS did whatever was needed. In Portsmouth, they collected enough scrap metal to fill four railway carriages…… just one month. They also looked after people who had lost their homes from Germans bombing – the support they provided for these shocked people who had lost everything was incalculable. When the WVS were not on call, they knitted socks, balaclavas etc. for service men. Some WVS groups adopted a sailor to provide him with warm knitted clothing.

A WVS tea van at a bomb site

The Auxiliary Territorial Service:

In the military, all three services were open for women to join – the army, air force and navy. Women were also appointed as air raid wardens.

In the army, women joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Like soldiers, they wore a khaki uniform. The recruiting posters were glamorous – some were considered too glamorous by Winston Churchill – and many young ladies joined the ATS because they believed they would lead a life of glamour. They were to be disappointed. Members of the ATS did not get the glamour jobs – they acted as drivers, worked in mess halls where many had to peel potatoes, acted a cleaners and they worked on anti-aircraft guns. But an order by Winston Churchill forbade ATS ladies from actually firing an AA gun as he felt that they would not be able to cope with the knowledge that they might have shot down and killed young German men. His attitude was odd as ATS ladies were allowed to track a plane, fuse the shells and be there when the firing cord was pulled……By July 1942, the ATS had 217,000 women in it. As the war dragged on, women in the ATS were allowed to do more exciting jobs such as become welders (unheard of in ‘civvie’ street), carpenters, electricians etc.

The recruiting poster for the ATS banned by Churchill

The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force:

Women who joined the Royal Air Force were in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). They did the same as the ATS (cooking, clerical work etc) but the opportunities were there for slightly more exciting work. Some got to work on Spitfires. Others were used in the new radar stations used to track incoming enemy bomber formations. These radar sites were usually the first target for Stuka dive-bombers so a post in one of these radar stations could be very dangerous. However, the women in this units were to be the early warning ears and eyes of the RAF during the Battle of Britain. For all of this, women were not allowed to train to be pilots of war planes. Some were members of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) which flew RAF planes from a factory to a fighter squadron’s base. There were 120 women in this unit out of 820 pilots in total. The women had fewer crashes than male pilots but they were not welcome as the editor of the magazine “Aeroplane” made clear : they (women ATA) “do not have the intelligence to scrub the floor of a hospital properly.” He , C.G. Grey, claimed that they were a “menace” when flying.

Women were also used as secret agents. They were members of SOE (Special Operations Executive) and were usually parachuted into occupied France or landed in special Lysander planes. Their work was exceptionally dangerous as just one slip could lead to capture, torture and death. Their work was to find out all that they could to support the Allies for the planned landings in Normandy in June 1944. The most famous female SOE members were Violette Szabo and Odette Churchill. Both were awarded the George Cross for the work they did – the George Cross is the highest bravery award that a civilian can get. Both were captured and tortured. Violette Szabo was murdered by the Gestapo while Odette Churchill survived the war.

Women were also extremely important in entertainment. The two most famous female entertainers during the war were Vera Lynn (now Dame Vera Lynn) and Gracie Fields. Vera Lynn’s singing (“There’ll be blue birds over the White Cliffs of Dover” and “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when”) brought great happiness to many in Britain. She was known as the “Forces Sweetheart”. Gracie Fields was another favourite with the forces.

The war in Europe ended in May 1945. At this time there were 460,000 women in the military and over 6.5 million in civilian war work. Without their contribution, our war effort would have been severely weakened and it is probable that we would not have been able to fight to our greatest might without the input from women. Ironically, in Nazi Germany, Hitler had forbidden German women to work in German weapons factories as he felt that a woman’s place was at home. His most senior industry advisor, Albert Speer, pleaded with Hitler to let him use German female workers but right up to the end, Hitler refused. Hitler was happy for captured foreign women to work as slaves in his war factories but not German. Many of these slave workers, male and female, deliberately sabotaged the work that they did – so in their own way they helped the war effort of the Allies.

Second World War, 1939–45

On 3 September 1939 Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies announced the beginning of Australia's involvement in the Second World War on every national and commercial radio station in Australia.

Almost a million Australians, both men and women, served in the Second World War. They fought in campaigns against Germany and Italy in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, as well as against Japan in south-east Asia and other parts of the Pacific. The Australian mainland came under direct attack for the first time, as Japanese aircraft bombed towns in north-west Australia and Japanese midget submarines attacked Sydney harbour.

On 7 May 1945 the German High Command authorised the signing of an unconditional surrender on all fronts: the war in Europe was over. The surrender was to take effect at midnight on 8–9 May 1945. On 14 August 1945 Japan accepted of the Allied demand for unconditional surrender. For Australia it meant that the Second World War was finally over.

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) participated in operations against Italy after its entry into the war in June 1940. A few Australians flew in the Battle of Britain in August and September, but the Australian army was not engaged in combat until 1941, when the 6th, 7th, and 9th Divisions joined Allied operations in the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Accession Number: P01103.005

At sea off Crete in the Mediterranean, 19 July 1940: Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni under attack from HMAS Sydney near Cape Spada.

Following early successes against Italian forces, the Australians suffered defeat with the Allies at the hands of the Germans in Greece, Crete, and North Africa. In June and July 1941 Australians participated in the successful Allied invasion of Syria, a mandate of France and the Vichy government. Up to 14,000 Australians held out against repeated German attacks in the Libyan port of Tobruk, where they were besieged between April and August 1941. After being relieved at Tobruk, the 6th and 7th Divisions departed from the Mediterranean theatre for the war against Japan. The 9th Division remained to play an important role in the Allied victory at El Alamein in October 1942 before it also left for the Pacific. By the end of 1942 the only Australians remaining in the Mediterranean theatre were airmen serving either with 3 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) or in the Royal Air Force (RAF).

North Africa, 6 January 1941: Australian troops advance into Bardia.

Japan entered the war in December 1941 and swiftly achieved a series of victories, resulting in the occupation of most of south-east Asia and large areas of the Pacific by the end of March 1942. Singapore fell in February, with the loss of an entire Australian division. After the bombing of Darwin that same month, all RAN ships in the Mediterranean theatre, as well as the 6th and 7th Divisions, returned to defend Australia. In response to the heightened threat, the Australian government also expanded the army and air force and called for an overhaul of economic, domestic, and industrial policies to give the government special authority to mount a total war effort at home.

In March 1942, after the defeat of the Netherlands East Indies, Japan's southward advance began to lose strength, easing fears of an imminent invasion of Australia. Further relief came when the first AIF veterans of the Mediterranean campaigns began to come home, and when the United States assumed responsibility for the country's defence, providing reinforcements and equipment. The threat of invasion receded further as the Allies won a series of decisive battles: in the Coral Sea, at Midway, on Imita Ridge and the Kokoda Trail, and at Milne Bay and Buna.

Milne Bay, Papua, September 1942: a Bofors gun position manned by the 2/9th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, Royal Australian Artillery, at Gili-Gili airfield. In the background a Kittyhawk is about to land.

Further Allied victories against the Japanese followed in 1943. Australian troops were mainly engaged in land battles in New Guinea, the defeat of the Japanese at Wau, and clearing Japanese soldiers from the Huon peninsula. This was Australia's largest and most complex offensive of the war and was not completed until April 1944. The Australian army also began a new series of campaigns in 1944 against isolated Japanese garrisons stretching from Borneo to Bougainville, involving more Australian troops than at any other time in the war. The first of these campaigns was fought on Bougainville and New Britain, and at Aitape, New Guinea. The final series of campaigns were fought in Borneo in 1945. How necessary these final campaigns were for Allied victory remains the subject of continuing debate. Australian troops were still fighting in Borneo when the war ended in August 1945.

While Australia's major effort from 1942 onwards was directed at defeating Japan, thousands of Australians continued to serve with the RAAF in Europe and the Middle East. Athough more Australian airmen fought against the Japanese, losses among those flying against Germany were far higher. Australians were particularly prominent in Bomber Command's offensive against occupied Europe. Some 3,500 Australians were killed in this campaign, making it the costliest of the war.

Over 30,000 Australian servicemen were taken prisoner in the Second World War and 39,000 gave their lives. Two-thirds of those taken prisoner were captured by the Japanese during their advance through south-east Asia in the first weeks of 1942. While those who became prisoners of the Germans had a strong chance of returning home at the end of the war, 36 per cent of prisoners of the Japanese died in captivity.

Singapore Straits Settlements, 19 September 1945: members of 2/18th Australian Infantry Battalion, prisoners of war of the Japanese, in Changi prison.

Nurses had gone overseas with the AIF in 1940. However, during the early years of the war women were generally unable to make a significant contribution to the war effort in any official capacity. Labour shortages forced the government to allow women to take a more active role in war work and, in February 1941, the RAAF received cabinet approval to establish the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF). At the same time, the navy also began employing female telegraphists, a breakthrough that eventually led to the establishment of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) in 1942. The Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) was established in October 1941, with the aim of releasing men from certain military duties in base units in Australia for assignment with fighting units overseas. Outside the armed services, the Women's Land Army (WLA) was established to encourage women to work in rural industries. Other women in urban areas took up employment in industries, such as munitions production.

The Treachery of the Unions in the Second World War

The defence of the nation must always be high among the core responsibilities of a federal government. When we were at war and under the threat of invasion in the Second World War, the defence of the realm was obviously the government’s paramount duty. In Australia’s Secret War: How Unionists Sabotaged Our Troops in World War II, Hal Colebatch reveals what was no doubt obvious to those brave Australian servicemen who were most affected: there were in Australia, from 1939 until 1945, powerful forces undermining our war effort.

The servicemen would also have been well aware that the Curtin government hardly provided the heroic leadership for which it is now so lavishly praised. (However, it is important to add that Curtin, although naive, was essentially a good and indeed noble man. He suffered terribly because of his inability to act to protect the armed forces in a way that Churchill, Roosevelt or indeed Menzies would have.) Supported by overwhelming evidence, Colebatch’s book demonstrates that the Curtin government failed to protect our soldiers, sailors and airmen from the traitors who inflicted enormous damage on them.

Strong and early action—a few examples of firmness, the use of martial law—would have stopped this insidious campaign. And it would have undoubtedly had the overwhelming support of the Australian people. But the Curtin government was too weak to prevent the injury, capture and death of significant numbers of servicemen—the direct consequences of this treachery.

The traitors went almost totally unpunished. They were able to maintain their anonymity within their union, and after the war, to profit from the peace which they had so diligently tried to thwart.

So why then is the Curtin government usually portrayed as if it were the Antipodean equivalent of Churchill’s? Why has the academy refused to let in daylight on this dark side of our wartime government? Only the academy can answer. They certainly have some explaining to do.

But more importantly, how can we ensure that in future hostilities, this serious breach of duty will not be repeated by some future government as weak and as fundamentally divided as Curtin’s was? What is essential now is for the Abbott government to appoint an inquiry to find the facts and to report on those measures which should be taken in any conflict in the future to ensure that our defences are not again seriously impaired as they were by government weakness and inaction during the Second World War. The government owes this not only to those who fought and died in the Second World War, but also to present and future generations who have reasonable expectations that a government will attend to its core duties.

Those who scoff and naively believe that peace is inevitable should remember that there can be no possible guarantee that this country will never again be threatened with invasion or that there will never again be enemy action on our territory. Federal governments must always be ready for this eventuality.

Unlike Britain, Australia was not governed during the war by a national government, a broad coalition of parties. Menzies proposed such a grand coalition both when he was in power early in the war and later when he was in opposition, but Labor always refused. When RSL leaders also called for a coalition, Labor’s left-wing leader Eddie Ward dismissed these men, who had served and fought for Australia, as “fifth columnists”.

To understand Ward’s extreme ideological position, Hal Colebatch reminds us that the historian Ross Fitzgerald concluded that Ward had actually coined the pejorative epithet, “five-bob-a-day murderers”. This term of abuse was used by waterside workers and others to jeer at Australian soldiers, especially in the earlier part of the war—that is, before Hitler invaded the territory of his former ally and their principal, the Soviet Union.

Hal Colebatch’s book raises many questions and offers possible answers. One is why such a grand coalition, clearly in the national interest, was so vehemently rejected by the Labor Party. The answer is obvious, and Hal Colebatch’s compendium of evidence corroborates this. This was because the left wing knew that Menzies and the United Australia Party would have not long tolerated the treachery that the waterside workers and others had initiated and maintained against our servicemen. As a coalition partner, Menzies would have put steel into the heart of the government. But that was never to be.

Why? It seems likely that Curtin remained extremely conscious of the First World War split in the Labor Party over conscription, which led to the Labor leader W.M. Hughes crossing the floor. Curtin did not wish to see a repeat, with the Left walking out of the party and the Right joining Menzies. A harsh conclusion cannot be avoided: Curtin placed greater value on maintaining the facade of unity in the Labor Party than in properly protecting our armed forces and nurses from treachery at home.

Little discussed today, and probably not touched on at all in the national curriculum, is the fact that communists and their left-wing allies in the Labor Party controlled crucial parts of the trade union movement. By the end of the Second World War communist elements constituted a majority on the Australian Council of Trade Unions, despite the fact that, as in other Anglosphere countries, the communists never had any significant electoral presence. The communists and their allies achieved their dominance of the unions through the rigging of elections and through the strong-arm tactics which they used to rule the unfortunate countries which fell under their sway. This hold was eventually broken in the 1950s by the Catholic-inspired anti-communist industrial groups movement led by B.A. Santamaria.

During and after the war, the Australian communists acted as the puppets of the Soviet Union led by the megalomaniac dictator Joseph Stalin. They were prepared to use their power in the unions to further Soviet foreign policy, knowing they could rely on the protection of the Labor Left both in parliament and in the government. Stalin and his communists were in many ways similar to Hitler and the Nazis. Above all, both were violently opposed to democracy. In the infamous 1939 MolotovRibbentrop Pact they formed an alliance which involved secret protocols in relation to their illicit ambitions in Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland.

Stalin even tried to become the fourth member of the Axis with Germany, Italy and Japan, seeking to push their position in Turkey and down into India against the British. But Hitler had other plans. When Stalin was warned by the British that Hitler was planning to betray him, Stalin did not believe it and purged and liquidated anyone he suspected of holding similar fears and suspicions, including the high command of the Red Army. Hitler moved against the USSR in 1941, seizing most of Eastern Europe including lands formerly controlled by Stalian.

All this is crucial to an understanding of Australian politics and why the Curtin government failed to stop the secret war waged by traitors against our armed forces.

Both the rapprochement between Moscow and Berlin, and Hitler’s betrayal of Stalin, had immediate domestic effect in Australia. The Left reversed its opposition to the war with Nazi Germany. But what is often overlooked is that Stalin remained neutral in the war against Japanese aggression until a few days before the Japanese surrendered, invading Manchukuo, China, Inner Mongolia, Korea and certain Japanese islands, incorporating some of these into the USSR, setting up puppet states, or as in the case of China, giving arms and support to the local communist movement. Until then, Moscow seldom instructed its agents to get behind the Allied war effort in the Pacific, except on one memorable occasion reported in this book.

So the neutrality of the Soviets towards Japan may well explain the ambivalent attitude of the communist-controlled unions to the war against Japan. In any event, the fact that Japan had attacked Australian territory and treated Australian POWs with appalling brutality did not to stop the communist unions from undermining the war effort or Eddie Ward’s Left faction in the Labor caucus continuing to protect them and vehemently opposing the deployment of conscripts beyond our borders.

The absence of the conservatives in a national government did not mean that the Labor government was united. The Curtin government was an uneasy coalition between those who, like Curtin, genuinely wanted to win the war, and a powerful left wing intent on undermining that effort. The left wing was close to the Communist Party and probably contained some communists, although this was formally forbidden. The communists were little interested in the success of Australian military operations or indeed those of the United States, at least in the Pacific. Their agenda was to maintain and increase their political and trade union power in Australia. They seemed to believe that by extracting the maximum advantage for waterside workers, miners and others in protected industries, they would further that agenda. This powerful left-wing faction made Curtin’s life hell. He was reported to have been sometimes so upset that he left the caucus in tears. Curtin’s successor, Ben Chifley, blamed Curtin’s premature death in 1945 on Eddie Ward and, unsurprisingly, the strikers.

Curtin’s close friend, West Australian Labor Premier Philip Collier, later confirmed that Curtin was shocked and hurt by the unions. Curtin said: “Don’t they know the nation is fighting for its life? They don’t give a damn!” “They hurt him very much,” Collier said, “nearly worked him into his grave … They broke his heart, the strikers. And some of the men inside the party. Some of his own men.”

What was this fifth column doing? For the first time, Hal Colebatch reveals in great detail that between 1939 and 1945 nearly every major Australian warship was targeted by strikes, go-slows, sabotage and pillage.

After experiencing the treachery of waterside workers at Townsville, one trooper declared that “waterside workers were responsible for more hardships, shortages and deaths than the Japs”. He slammed them as “gutless traitors”, an assessment which was common among those who went off to war to defend the nation.

This treachery was not limited to the wharves. There were well over one million days lost in coal-mining strikes in 1940, which had a disastrous impact on electricity supplies. When the Soviet Union was invaded, the communists changed sides, declaring the war now to be a patriotic one. But there was still an extraordinary number of strikes in 1942, coinciding with the greatest threat of a Japanese invasion.

Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea was a crucial 1942 battle. As the Americans and Australians were attempting to move urgently-required equipment to the troops, the Sydney waterfront went on strike. When the industrial commission ordered everybody back to work, they laughed. They refused to comply even when the prime minister pleaded with them and reminded them that the Japanese were not far from Milne Bay. They went back only when the Soviet embassy intervened.

In the meantime, waterside workers at Townsville did what waterside workers were doing everywhere across the nation—using their position to claim extra money, allegedly because of the dangers involved in loading live ammunition or for some similar reason. When an American officer said he would load the ships with his own men and also, for good measure, throw the waterside workers into the harbour, work reluctantly recommenced. But the waterside workers were to have their revenge. When the troops arrived in New Guinea they found that all the accumulators on their radios had been stolen. How many soldiers died as a result of this treachery?

Not only did they steal food and beer meant for the troops, in Townsville they even raided the Comfort Funds boxes, small amounts of money from people who had saved their pennies for months. They left the accompanying notes from mothers and children for the soldiers to contemplate.

The soldiers could not help but notice that the waterside workers were paid at more than double the rate of the soldiers. Nor did they fail to notice that when the soldiers themselves loaded a ship, they did it far more efficiently than the waterside workers.

Pilfering was a way of life on the wharves, and the attitude of the waterside workers was that the war was not going to stop this practice. When the Americans inspected watersiders’ bags in Brisbane, they recovered a large number of cigarettes intended for the American troops. A strike followed, but the Americans would not agree to abandon the inspections. The waterside workers were eventually persuaded to go back to work.

As a vicious act of revenge, the wharfies wrecked four P-38 fighter planes. They just attached the lifting cranes to the planes without unbolting the planes from the decks. When the cranes lifted the planes, they were torn to pieces. Had martial law prevailed on the wharf, the wharfies would have received short shrift.

In another retaliatory incident in Adelaide, they were unloading Allison Aero Engines, letting the cargo drop on the concrete wall, which of course damaged the engines. Told to stop, the wharfies took no notice. The Americans fired a few bursts from their submachine guns, which quietened the wharfies for a while. Subsequently the Americans dropped stun grenades into the holds to quieten them.

When a radar station was being set up at Green Island near New Britain, it was found that all the valves for the radar sets had been stolen by waterside workers in Townsville. The radio station could not go on air as scheduled, just when a violent tropical storm caught a force of American dive bombers flying back from a raid on the Japanese base at Rabaul. The storm affected the aircraft’s compasses and they could not find their bearings. Sixteen of the eighteen aircraft were lost, with all thirty-two men on board. The view of the airmen at the location was that had the radar been available, the doomed aircraft could probably have been directed back to base.

In the meantime, strikes on the Darwin waterfront had become so frequent that the Americans demanded that soldiers load the ships. The government refused. Its policy was not to allow servicemen to be used until all local labour had been absorbed. It should have declared martial law and ordered the waterside workers to do their duty. The result of this dereliction of duty by the government meant that the port of Darwin was filled with ships waiting to be loaded when the Japanese attacked. There is no doubt that the communist waterside workers there can be held directly responsible for the scale of the resultant carnage when the Japanese bombed the city.

Colebatch’s book is replete with evidence of similar crimes which were left not only unpunished but unprosecuted. But his book is not only the history of the criminal campaign that ran the length of the war. The book also relates how this campaign was preceded by another serious dereliction of duty by the federal government. To an extent, this has been echoed by the actions of the Gillard and Rudd governments, in allowing the proportion of the GDP spent on defence to fall to levels not known since before the Second World War.

During the first half of the 1930s defence expenditure fell to less than 1 per cent of the national income, which was itself significantly reduced by the Depression. As Colebatch notes, the mood in the Labor Party was for disarmament, with an unrealistic reliance on international treaties and the League of Nations. They even closed the military and naval colleges at Duntroon and Jervis Bay. A number of warships, including a flotilla of “S”-class destroyers, were taken out to sea and sunk along with other ships. A gift of ships from the British government was rejected.

Both parties breathed a sigh of relief when Chamberlain announced the Munich agreement to appease Hitler, although the Left has rather successfully claimed that only Menzies was comforted. When it became obvious that Hitler would not be stopped, Menzies was the first to react with strength, risking his future political career. In early 1939 he resigned as Attorney-General in the Lyons government, in part because of the refusal of the government to introduce conscription to strengthen home defence. Lyons died shortly afterwards and Menzies succeeded him as prime minister a few months before the declaration of war.

Even with all the resources of the nation under its control a government can still fail in its duty to defend the nation. The only possible conclusion from this book is that the wartime Curtin government failed adequately to protect those who volunteered and even those they had conscripted to fight for and at times to die for their country. What is extraordinary is that until this book, there has been no serious attempt to publish the true story of this evil campaign against our armed forces.

These events are unique to Australia. Of those democracies who fought from the beginning to the end of the Second World War—almost all from the British Empire—there is no other example of such a long campaign of treachery and of its toleration by the government. Nor is this true of the United States which, although it came later into the war, was to become the leader of the West.

In writing this book Hal Colebatch has performed a singular service not only to honour the memory of those Australians who fought in the Second World War, but as a warning to this and future generations to ensure that governments pay attention to and fulfil their primary duty to the nation: defending Australia and protecting its soldiers, sailors, airmen and nurses from both foreign and domestic enemies.

David Flint is the author with Jai Martinkovits of Give Us Back Our Country (Connor Court, 2013).

The American Family in World War II

With war comes devastation, depression, deprivation and death. World War II was uppermost in U.S. history with costs exceeding $350 billion and more than 292,000 American servicemen killed in action. The families on the home front were profoundly affected. An immediate political, psychological and economic shift took place following the Pearl Harbor Attack in 1941, because the United States found itself unprepared. The onset of war necessitated numerous adjustments while American forces were fighting overseas or training in U.S. military camps, families also were fully engaged in the war effort. The American home front geared up for an all-out effort to rush into war production, and American society experienced dramatic changes. The first major impact was felt with labor shortages when the men went off to war. More and more women now entered the work force. Once reserved for men, women now took up jobs in industry, and Rosie the Riveter became a popular icon in America. Widening their horizons, many women were now working full time and yet were still trying to maintain their home life. Attracted by waiting jobs, the number of high school dropouts increased significantly, resulting in the teenage work force swelling from one million to three million youngsters. In the meantime, federal inspectors ignored laws that regulated the employment of children. Although the war had opened up new opportunities, it also brought much sadness and a far more serious reality regarding life in its normal state. Separation from fathers or sons left devastating effects, and in a sense, many felt robbed of their childhood. With the family shifting roles, each member was initially shocked and filled with mixed emotions. With added stresses it was an emotional time, to say the least — the American family would undoubtedly be changed forever. While adjusting to sacrifices, there was an added excitement about the war and uncertain fear of the consequences as well. The war brought vast changes: While there was an increase in marriages, job opportunities, and patriotism there was also a definite decline in morale among some Americans. Despite the increase in rising wages, poverty increased and some families were forced to move in search of work. Some 20 million people existed on the border of starvation as families faced a severe shortage of housing, lack of schools, hospitals and child-care facilities. Those factors contributed to an upsurge in divorce, resulting in severe problems among the young. There were five million "war widows" trying to care for their children alone. Women employed outside the home left tens of thousands of "latchkey" children who were unsupervised much of the day. The rates of juvenile delinquency, venereal disease and truancy rose dramatically. The impact on the family was evident, attended by much anxiety about the breakdown of social values. The war also aggravated systemic racism. On the West Coast there was actual hysteria when the war broke out. Thousands of Americans of Japanese descent were relocated and interned in camps. As for African Americans, they were usually "the last to be hired and the first to be fired." Low wages were the rule and even though they were accepted into the armed forces, they were assigned menial jobs. Discrimination continued its divisive role in society during that era. With 25 percent of the American workers earning less than 64 cents per hour while skilled workers earned an average of $7 per hour, there was a definite division of rich versus poor citizens. Poverty increased as the federal deficit escalated. By 1945, longer working days were implemented, which inflicted more hardships on families — with women comprising 36 percent of the nation's work force. The federal government encouraged Americans to conserve and recycle numerous items, so that factories could use them for wartime production materials. Getting their first taste of recycling, Americans were encouraged to salvage their tin cans, bottles, rubber items, paper, scrap metal, and even fats left over from cooking. The government conducted "salvage drives" throughout the country to aid the war effort. Food rationing was the rallying cry on the American home front. The Office of Price Administration (OPA) was set up to determine rationing regulations. With the military as top priority, American families began to feel the pinch. There were now such substitute foods as dried powdered eggs and liquid paraffin instead of cooking oil. For those who violated the rationing rules, the punishment was strict. "Victory Gardens" were started as the government encouraged Americans to grow their own food. Statewide competitions were conducted and winning recipes published to optimize use of home-grown vegetables. That endeavor was successful, and at one point during the war, 50 percent of the the nation's vegetables were grown in victory gardens. Although the nation’s farm population declined 17 percent during the war, modern farm machinery, good weather, and improved fertilizers actually increased agricultural production. The sale of war bonds and war stamps also helped the United States to stage a rapid economic recovery. Unfortunately, only about one third of the American people could afford to contribute to the cause. Changes were felt all the way to the top. As the federal government continued to cut funding for many social programs, many idealists left their government positions. War necessities directly influenced American fashion. The War Production Board (WPB) became the nation’s premier clothing consultant in the spring of 1942. They influenced the appearance of civilian apparel by dictating the conservation of cloth and metal, changing the very style — especially women’s garments. Dependence on fewer materials led to the two-piece bathing suit. Nieman Marcus called them "patriotic chic." Taxes skyrocketed. It was not possible to purchase a car because none were being produced. To obtain a telephone, one had to be in a critical occupation of the war effort — and yet the U.S. standard of living actually rose during those years! The country had pulled out of an awesome economic depression thanks to greatly expanded war production. The end of the war revealed pent-up demand. Prices skyrocketed with the removal of Price Controls, but women stayed on the job to buy items needed for the family. The American Dream now became a reality as families found it possible to buy a home, a car, a washing machine, and to give their children everything they had been deprived of for so long. As a result of the war, the nation had become more urbanized because 1.5 million Americans had moved from rural areas into the cities. Women’s labor force participation continued to increase after the war and has been rising ever since. The vast changes in wartime society and domestic adjustments are evident even today. The Americans who survived the devastating effects of World War II hold deeply embedded memories. Fortunately, they were willing to share them.

Operation Barbarossa

In June 1941, the German army launched an invasion of the Soviet Union, opening the largest land theater of war in history and trapping most of the Axis’ military forces in a war of attrition.

Learning Objectives

Analyze the significance of Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Nazi Germany’s World War II invasion of the Soviet Union, which began on June 22, 1941.
  • The operation was driven by Adolf Hitler ‘s ideological desire to destroy the Soviet Union as outlined in his 1925 manifesto Mein Kampf, which characterized Eastern Europeans as “sub-humans.”
  • The Germans won resounding victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union, mainly in Ukraine, both inflicting and sustaining heavy casualties.
  • Despite their successes, the German offensive stalled on the outskirts of Moscow and was subsequently pushed back by a Soviet counteroffensive, bolstered by the fact that the German army was unprepared for the harsh Soviet winter.
  • The failure of Operation Barbarossa was a turning point in the fortunes of the Third Reich, including opening up the Eastern Front, to which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in world history, and transforming the perception of the Soviet Union from aggressor to victim.

Key Terms

  • Weltanschauungen: A particular philosophy or view of life the worldview of an individual or group.
  • Mein Kampf: An autobiography by the National Socialist leader Adolf Hitler, in which he outlines his political ideology and future plans for Germany German for “my struggle.”
  • Einsatzgruppen: Paramilitary death squads of Nazi Germany that were responsible for mass killings, primarily by shooting, during World War II.

Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Nazi Germany’s World War II invasion of the Soviet Union, which began on June 22, 1941. The operation was driven by Adolf Hitler’s ideological desire to destroy the Soviet Union as outlined in his 1925 manifesto Mein Kampf.

Setting the Stage for the Invasion

In the two years leading up to the invasion, the two countries signed political and economic pacts for strategic purposes. Nevertheless, on December 18, 1940, Hitler authorized an invasion of the Soviet Union with a planned start date of May 15, 1941. The actual invasion began on June 22, 1941. Over the course of the operation, about four million Axis soldiers invaded the Soviet Union along a 1,800-mile front, the largest invasion force in the history of warfare. In addition to troops, the Germans employed some 600,000 motor vehicles and between 600,000 and 700,000 horses. It transformed the perception of the Soviet Union from aggressor to victim and marked the beginning of the rapid escalation of the war, both geographically and in the formation of the Allied coalition.

The Germans won resounding victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union, mainly in Ukraine, both inflicting and sustaining heavy casualties. Despite their successes, the German offensive stalled on the outskirts of Moscow and was subsequently pushed back by a Soviet counteroffensive. The Red Army repelled the Wehrmacht ‘s strongest blows and forced the unprepared Germany into a war of attrition. The Germans would never again mount a simultaneous offensive along the entire strategic Soviet-Axis front. The failure of the operation drove Hitler to demand further operations inside the USSR of increasingly limited scope that eventually failed, such as Case Blue and Operation Citadel.

The failure of Operation Barbarossa was a turning point in the fortunes of the Third Reich. Most importantly, the operation opened up the Eastern Front, to which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in world history. The Eastern Front became the site of some of the largest battles, most horrific atrocities, and highest casualties for Soviets and Germans alike, all of which influenced the course of both World War II and the subsequent history of the 20th century. The German forces captured millions of Soviet prisoners of war who were not granted protections stipulated in the Geneva Conventions. A majority m never returned alive Germany deliberately starved the prisoners to death as part of a “Hunger Plan” that aimed to reduce the population of Eastern Europe and then re-populate it with ethnic Germans. Over a million Soviet Jews were murdered by Einsatzgruppen death squads and gassing as part of the Holocaust.

Motivations for Invading USSR

As early as 1925, Adolf Hitler vaguely declared in his political manifesto and autobiography Mein Kampf that he would invade the Soviet Union, asserting that the German people needed to secure Lebensraum (“living space”) to ensure the survival of Germany for generations to come. On February 10, 1939, Hitler told his army commanders that the next war would be “purely a war of Weltanschauungen…totally a people’s war, a racial war.” On November 23, once World War II already started, Hitler declared that “racial war has broken out and this war shall determine who shall govern Europe, and with it, the world.” The racial policy of Nazi Germany viewed the Soviet Union (and all of Eastern Europe) as populated by non-Aryan Untermenschen (“sub-humans”), ruled by “Jewish Bolshevik conspirators.” Hitler claimed in Mein Kampf that Germany’s destiny was to “turn to the East” as it did “six hundred years ago.” Accordingly, it was stated Nazi policy to kill, deport, or enslave the majority of Russian and other Slavic populations and repopulate the land with Germanic peoples, under the Generalplan Ost (“General Plan for the East”). The Germans’ belief in their ethnic superiority is discernible in official German records and by pseudoscientific articles in German periodicals at the time, which covered topics such as “how to deal with alien populations.”

Overview of the Battles

The initial momentum of the German ground and air attack completely destroyed the Soviet organizational command and control within the first few hours, paralyzing every level of command from the infantry platoon to the Soviet High Command in Moscow. Therefore, Moscow failed to grasp the magnitude of the catastrophe that confronted the Soviet forces in the border area. Marshal Semyon Timoshenko called for a general counteroffensive on the entire front “without any regards for borders” that both men hoped would sweep the enemy from Soviet territory. Timoshenko’s order was not based on a realistic appraisal of the military situation at hand and resulted in devastating casualties.

Four weeks into the campaign, the Germans realized they had grossly underestimated Soviet strength. The German troops used their initial supplies without attaining the expected strategic freedom of movement. Operations were slowed to allow for resupply and adapt strategy to the new situation. Hitler had lost faith in battles of encirclement as large numbers of Soviet soldiers had escaped the pincers. He now believed he could defeat the Soviets by economic damage, depriving them of the industrial capacity to continue the war. That meant seizing the industrial center of Kharkov, the Donbass, and the oil fields of the Caucasus in the south and the speedy capture of Leningrad, a major center of military production, in the north.

After a German victory in Kiev, the Red Army no longer outnumbered the Germans and no more trained reserves were available. To defend Moscow, Stalin could field 800,000 men in 83 divisions, but no more than 25 divisions were fully effective. Operation Typhoon, the drive to Moscow, began on October 2. The Germans initially won several important battles, and the German government now publicly predicted the imminent capture of Moscow and convinced foreign correspondents of a pending Soviet collapse. On December 2, the German army advanced to within 15 miles of Moscow and could see the spires of the Kremlin, but by then the first blizzards had already begun. A reconnaissance battalion also managed to reach the town of Khimki, about 5 miles away from the Soviet capital. It captured the bridge over the Moscow-Volga Canal as well as the railway station, which marked the farthest eastern advance of German forces. But in spite of the progress made, the Wehrmacht was not equipped for winter warfare, and the bitter cold caused severe problems for their guns and equipment. Further, weather conditions grounded the Luftwaffe from conducting large-scale operations. Newly created Soviet units near Moscow now numbered over 500,000 men, and on December 5, they launched a massive counterattack as part of the Battle of Moscow that pushed the Germans back over 200 miles. By late December 1941, the Germans had lost the Battle for Moscow, and the invasion had cost the German army over 830,000 casualties in killed, wounded, captured, or missing in action.


Operation Barbarossa was the largest military operation in human history—more men, tanks, guns, and aircraft were committed than had ever been deployed before in a single offensive. Seventy-five percent of the entire German military participated. The invasion opened up the Eastern Front of World War II, the largest theater of war during that conflict, which witnessed titanic clashes of unprecedented violence and destruction for four years that resulted in the deaths of more than 26 million people. More people died fighting on the Eastern Front than in all other fighting across the globe during World War II. Damage to both the economy and landscape was enormous for the Soviets as approximately 1,710 towns and 70,000 villages were completely annihilated.

More than just ushering in untold death and devastation, Operation Barbarossa and the subsequent German failure to achieve their objectives changed the political landscape of Europe, dividing it into eastern and western blocs. The gaping political vacuum left in the eastern half of the continent was filled by the USSR when Stalin secured his territorial prizes of 1939–40 and firmly placed his Red Army in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the eastern half of Germany. As a consequence, eastern Europe became Communist in political disposition and western Europe fell under the democratic sway of the United States, a nation uncertain about its future policies in Europe. Instead of profiting the German people, Operation Barbarossa’s failure instigated untold suffering when an estimated 1.4 million ethnic Germans died as a result of their forced flight from the East to the West, whether during the German retreat or later following the surrender.

Operation Barbarossa: Clockwise from top left: German soldiers advance through Northern Russia, German flamethrower team in the Soviet Union, Soviet planes flying over German positions near Moscow, Soviet prisoners of war on the way to German prison camps, Soviet soldiers fire at German positions.

What contribution did the Canadian Navy make to the Allied war effort in World War 2?

The Canadian navy made many contributions to the battle of the Atlantic. Canada's navy had an enormous effect on the success of Operation Overlord (D-Day). They bombarded Hitler's Atlantic wall for hours before the landings, helping pave the way for the liberation of Europe.

Early on, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) was a small-scale force, made up of Corvettes, Patrol boats and Destroyers. Their main job was escorting ship convoys across the Atlantic Ocean to Britain. The navy and the convoys would be constantly pestered by the German U-Boats, something which would come to be known as The Battle of the Atlantic. It was both the longest, and arguably the most important battle of World War II. Had the Germans succeeded in destroying the allied shipping, the British would have been starved into submission from lack of supplies.

At the beginning of the war the RCN had only six ships and about 3,000 sailors, but by the end of the war it was the third largest navy in the world, with over 400 ships and 125,000 men. The RCN sank the largest number of U boats in the Atlantic and was the best antisubmarine group in the world.

However, the Royal Canadian Navy's operations aren't limited only to the battle of the Atlantic. Canadian ships were also present in the pacific theater of war, contributing greatly to the joint US-Canadian effort to secure the Aleutian Islands and by extension the Western seaboard of the North American continent. The RCN was involved in the Mediterranean as well, being a major participant in the invasions of Sicily and Italy.

Watch the video: Beginn des Zweiten Weltkriegs. Geschichte Hitlers Blitzkrieg (January 2022).