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Battle of Anzio
The Battle of Anzio was a battle of the Italian Campaign of World War II that took place from January 22, 1944 beginning with the Allied amphibious landing known as Operation Shingle to June 5, 1944, and ending with the capture of Rome. The operation was opposed by German forces in the area of Anzio and Nettuno. The operation was initially commanded by Major General John P. Lucas, of the U.S. Army, commanding U.S. VI Corps with the intention being to outflank German forces at the Winter Line and enable an attack on Rome.
The success of an amphibious landing at that location, in a basin consisting substantially of reclaimed marshland and surrounded by mountains, depended on the element of surprise and the swiftness with which the invaders could build up strength and move inland relative to the reaction time and strength of the defenders. Any delay could result in the occupation of the mountains by the defenders and the consequent entrapment of the invaders. Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, commander of the U.S. Fifth Army, understood that risk, but Clark did not pass on his appreciation of the situation to his subordinate, Lucas, who preferred to take time to entrench against an expected counterattack. The initial landing achieved complete surprise with no opposition and a jeep patrol even made it as far as the outskirts of Rome. However, Lucas, who had little confidence in the operation as planned, failed to capitalize on the element of surprise and delayed his advance until he judged his position was sufficiently consolidated and he had sufficient strength.
While Lucas consolidated, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, the German commander in the Italian theatre, moved every unit he could spare into a defensive ring around the beachhead. His artillery units had a clear view of every Allied position. The Germans also stopped the drainage pumps and flooded the reclaimed marsh with salt water, planning to entrap the Allies and destroy them by an epidemic. For weeks a rain of shells fell on the beach, the marsh, the harbor, and on anything else observable from the hills, with little distinction between forward and rear positions.
After a month of heavy but inconclusive fighting, Lucas was relieved and sent home. His replacement was Major General Lucian K. Truscott, who had previously commanded the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division. The Allies broke out in May. But, instead of striking inland to cut lines of communication of the German Tenth Army’s units fighting at Monte Cassino, Truscott, on Clark’s orders, reluctantly turned his forces north-west towards Rome, which was captured on June 4, 1944. As a result, the forces of the German Tenth Army fighting at Cassino were able to withdraw and rejoin the rest of Kesselring’s forces north of Rome, regroup, and make a fighting withdrawal to his next major prepared defensive position on the Gothic Line.
Battle of Belgium – 1940
The Battle of Belgium or Belgian Campaign, often referred to as the 18 Days’ Campaign in Belgium, formed part of the greater Battle of France, an offensive campaign by Germany during the Second World War. It took place over 18 days in May 1940 and ended with the German occupation of Belgium following the surrender of the Belgian Army.
On 10 May 1940, Germany invaded Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium under the operational plan Fall Gelb (Case Yellow). The Allied armies attempted to halt the German Army in Belgium, believing it to be the main German thrust. After the French had fully committed the best of the Allied armies to Belgium between 10 and 12 May, the Germans enacted the second phase of their operation, a break-through, or sickle cut, through the Ardennes, and advanced toward the English Channel. The German Army (Heer) reached the Channel after five days, encircling the Allied armies. The Germans gradually reduced the pocket of Allied forces, forcing them back to the sea. The Belgian Army surrendered on 28 May 1940, ending the battle.
The Battle of Belgium included the first tank battle of the war, the Battle of Hannut. It was the largest tank battle in history up to that date but was later surpassed by the battles of the North African campaign and the Eastern Front. The battle also included the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael, the first strategic airborne operation using paratroopers ever attempted.
The German official history stated that in the 18 days of bitter fighting, the Belgian Army were tough opponents, and spoke of the “extraordinary bravery” of its soldiers. The Belgian collapse forced the Allied withdrawal from continental Europe. The British Royal Navy subsequently evacuated Belgian ports during Operation Dynamo, allowing the British Army to escape and continue military operations. France reached its own armistice with Germany in June 1940. Belgium was occupied by the Germans until the autumn of 1944, when it was liberated by the Western Allies.
Battle of the Caucasus
The Battle of the Caucasus is a name given to a series of Axis and Soviet operations in the Caucasus area on the Eastern Front of World War II.
Battle for East Prussia
The East Prussian Offensive was a strategic offensive by the Red Army against the German Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. It lasted from 13 January to 25 April 1945, though some German units did not surrender until 9 May. The Battle of Königsberg was a major part of the offensive, which ended in victory for the Red Army.
The East Prussian Offensive is known to German historians as the Second East Prussian Offensive. The First East Prussian Offensive (also known as the Gumbinnen Operation), took place from 16–27 October 1944, and was carried out by the 3rd Belorussian Front under General I.D. Chernyakhovsky as part of the Memel Offensive of the 1st Baltic Front. The Soviet forces took heavy casualties while penetrating 30–60 km (19–37 mi) into east-northern part of Poland, and the offensive was postponed until greater reserves could be gathered.
Battle of Kiev – 1943
The Second Battle of Kiev involved three strategic operations by the Soviet Red Army, and one operational counterattack by the Wehrmacht which took place between 3 October and 22 December 1943.
Following the Battle of Kursk, the Red Army launched Belgorod-Khar’kov Offensive Operation, pushing Erich von Manstein’s Army Group South back towards the Dnieper River. Stavka, the Soviet high command, ordered the Central Front and the Voronezh Front to force crossings of the Dnieper. When this was unsuccessful in October, the effort was handed over to the 1st Ukrainian Front, with some support from the 2nd Ukrainian Front. The 1st Ukrainian Front, commanded by Nikolai Vatutin, was able to secure bridgeheads north and south of Kiev.
Battle of Kharkov, Third
The Third Battle of Kharkov was a series of battles on the Eastern Front of World War II, undertaken by the German Army Group South against the Red Army, around the city of Kharkov (or Kharkiv) between 19 February and 15 March 1943. Known to the German side as the Donets Campaign, and to in the Soviet Union as the Donbas and Kharkov operations, the German counter strike led to the recapture of the cities of Kharkov and Belgorod.
As the German Sixth Army was encircled in Stalingrad, the Red Army undertook a series of wider attacks against the rest of Army Group South. These culminated on 2 January 1943 when the Red Army launched Operation Star and Operation Gallop, which between January and early February broke German defenses and led to the Soviet recapture of Kharkov, Belgorod, Kursk, as well as Voroshilovgrad and Izium. The Soviet victories caused participating Soviet units to over-extend themselves. Freed on 2 February by the surrender of the German Sixth Army the Red Army’s Central Front turned its attention west and on 25 February expanded its offensive against both Army Group South and Army Group Center. Months of continuous operations, however, had taken a heavy toll on the Soviet forces and some divisions were reduced to 1,000–2,000 combat effective soldiers. On 19 February, Field Marshal Erich von Manstein launched his Kharkov counterstrike, using the fresh II SS Panzer Corps and two panzer armies.
The Wehrmacht flanked, encircled, and defeated the Red Army’s armored spearheads south of Kharkov. This enabled Manstein to renew his offensive against the city of Kharkov proper on 7 March. Despite orders to encircle Kharkov from the north the SS Panzer Corps instead decided to directly engage Kharkov on 11 March. This led to four days of house-to-house fighting before Kharkov was recaptured by the 1st SS Panzer Division on 15 March. The German forces recaptured Belgorod two days later, creating the salient which in July 1943 would lead to the Battle of Kursk. The German offensive cost the Red Army an estimated 90,000 casualties. The house-to-house fighting in Kharkov was also particularly bloody for the German SS Panzer Corps, which had approximately 4,300 men killed and wounded by the time operations ended in mid March.
Battle of Königsberg
The Battle of Königsberg, also known as the Königsberg Offensive, was one of the last operations of the East Prussian Offensive during World War II. In four days of violent urban warfare, Soviet forces of the 1st Baltic Front and the 3rd Belorussian Front captured the city of Königsberg – now Kaliningrad, Russia. The siege started in late January 1945 when the Soviets initially surrounded the city. There was heavy fighting for the overland connection between Königsberg and the port of Pillau, but by March 1945 Königsberg was hundreds of kilometres behind the main front line. The battle finished when the German garrison surrendered to the Soviets on 9 April after a three-day assault made their position untenable.
Battle of Leros
The Battle of Leros was the central event of the Dodecanese Campaign of the Second World War, and is widely used as an alternate name for the whole campaign. The Italian garrison in Leros was strengthened by British forces on 15 September 1943. The battle began with German air attacks on 26 September, continued with the landings on 12 November, and ended with the capitulation of the Allied forces four days later.
Battle of Moscow
The Battle of Moscow was a military campaign that consisted of two periods of strategically significant fighting on a 600 km (370 mi) sector of the Eastern Front during World War II. It took place between October 1941 and January 1942. The Soviet defensive effort frustrated Hitler’s attack on Moscow, the capital of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the Soviet Union’s largest city. Moscow was one of the primary military and political objectives for Axis forces in their invasion of the Soviet Union.
The German strategic offensive, named Operation Typhoon (German: Unternehmen Taifun), called for two pincer offensives, one to the north of Moscow against the Kalinin Front by the 3rd and 4th Panzer Armies, simultaneously severing the Moscow–Leningrad railway, and another to the south of Moscow Oblast against the Western Front south of Tula, by the 2nd Panzer Army, while the 4th Army advanced directly towards Moscow from the west. According to Andrew Roberts, Hitler’s offensive towards the Soviet capital was nothing less than an ‘all-out attack’: “It is no exaggeration to state that the outcome of the Second World War hung in the balance during this massive attack”.
Initially, the Soviet forces conducted a strategic defence of the Moscow Oblast by constructing three defensive belts, deploying newly raised reserve armies, and bringing troops from the Siberian and Far Eastern Military Districts. As the German offensives were halted, a Soviet strategic counter-offensive and smaller-scale offensive operations forced the German armies back to the positions around the cities of Oryol, Vyazma and Vitebsk, and nearly surrounded three German armies. It was a major setback for the Germans, the end of the idea of a fast German victory in the USSR. Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch was excused as commander of OKH, with Hitler appointing himself as Germany’s supreme military commander.
Battle of the Netherlands – 1940
The Battle of the Netherlands (Dutch: Slag om Nederland) was part of Case Yellow (German: Fall Gelb), the German invasion of the Low Countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) and France during World War II. The battle lasted from 10 May 1940 until the main Dutch forces surrendered on the 14th. Dutch troops in the province of Zealand continued to resist the Wehrmacht until 17 May when Germany completed its occupation of the whole nation.
The Battle of the Netherlands saw one of the first major uses of paratroopers to occupy crucial targets prior to ground troops reaching the area. The German Luftwaffe utilised paratroopers in the capture of several major airfields in the Netherlands in and around key cities such as Rotterdam and The Hague in order to quickly overrun the nation and immobilise Dutch forces.
The battle ended soon after the devastating bombing of Rotterdam by the German Luftwaffe and the subsequent threat by the Germans to bomb other large Dutch cities if Dutch forces refused to surrender. The Dutch General Staff knew it could not stop the bombers and surrendered in order to prevent other cities from suffering the same fate. The Netherlands remained under German occupation until 1945, when the last Dutch territory was liberated.
Battle of Belgium/Netherlands – 1944-45
The Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine was a phase in in the Western European Campaign of World War II.
This phase spans from the end of the Operation Overlord (25 August 1944) incorporating the German winter counter offensive through the Ardennes (commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge) up to the Allies preparing to cross the river Rhine in the early months of 1945. This roughly corresponds with the official U.S. European Theater of Operations Rhineland and Ardennes-Alsace campaigns.
Battle of the North Cape
The Battle of the North Cape was a Second World War naval battle which occurred on 26 December 1943, as part of the Arctic Campaign. The German Battleship Scharnhorst, on an operation to attack Arctic Convoys of war materiel from the Western Allies to the USSR, was brought to battle and sunk by Royal Navy (RN) forces—the battleship HMS Duke of York plus several cruisers and destroyers—off Norway’s North Cape.
The battle was the last between big-gun capital ships in the war between Britain and Germany. The British victory confirmed the massive strategic advantage held by the British, at least in surface units. It was also the second-to-last engagement between battleships, the last being the Battle of Surigao Strait in October 1944.
Battle of Ortona
The Battle of Ortona (20–28 December 1943) was a battle fought between two battalions of elite German Fallschirmjäger (paratroops) from the German 1st Parachute Division under Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich, and assaulting Canadian troops from the Canadian 1st Infantry Division under Major General Chris Vokes, most of whom were fresh recruits whose first taste of combat was during the Invasion of Sicily. It was the culmination of the fighting on the Adriatic front in Italy during “Bloody December”. The battle was known to those who fought it as the “Italian Stalingrad,” for the brutality of its close-quarters combat, which was only worsened by the chaotic rubble of the town and the many booby traps used by both sides. The battle took place in the small Adriatic Sea town of Ortona, with a peacetime population of 10,000.
Battle of Remagen
The Battle of Remagen during the Allied invasion of Germany resulted in the unexpected capture of the Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine and possibly shortened World War II in Europe. After capturing the Siegfried Line, the 9th Armored Division of the U.S. First Army had advanced unexpectedly quickly towards the Rhine. They were very surprised to see one of the last bridges across the Rhine still standing. The Germans had wired the bridge with about 2,800 kilograms (6,200 lb) of demolition charges. When they tried to blow it up, only a portion of the explosives detonated. U.S. forces captured the bridge and rapidly expanded their first bridgehead across the Rhine, two weeks before Operation Plunder. The GIs’ actions prevented the Germans from regrouping east of the Rhine and consolidating their positions.
The battle for control of the bridge caused both the American and German forces to employ new weapons and tactics in combat for the first time. Over the next 10 days, the Germans used virtually every weapon at their disposal to try to destroy the bridge. This included infantry and armor, howitzers, mortars, floating mines, mined boats, a railroad gun, and a giant 540 mm super-heavy mortar. They also attacked the bridge using the newly developed Arado Ar 234 B-2 turbojet bombers. To protect the bridge against aircraft, the Americans positioned the largest concentration of anti-aircraft weapons during World War II leading to “the greatest antiaircraft artillery battles in American history.” The Americans counted 367 different German Luftwaffe aircraft attacking the bridge over the next 10 days. The Americans claimed to have shot down nearly 30% of the aircraft dispatched against them. The German air offensive failed.
On 14 March, German Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler ordered Schutzstaffel (SS) General Hans Kammler to fire V2 rockets to destroy the bridge. This marked the first time the missiles had been used against a tactical objective and the only time they were fired on a German target. The 11 missiles launched killed six Americans and a number of German citizens in nearby towns, but failed to damage the bridge. When the Germans sent a squad of seven naval demolition swimmers wearing Italian underwater breathing apparatus, the Americans were ready. For the first time in combat, they had deployed the top-secret Canal Defence Lights which successfully detected the frogmen in the dark, and they were all killed or captured.
The sudden capture of a bridge across the Rhine was front page news in American newspapers. The unexpected availability of a bridgehead on the eastern side of the Rhine more than two weeks in advance of the planned crossing allowed Allied high commander Dwight Eisenhower to alter his plans to end the war. The Allies were able to rapidly transport five divisions across the Rhine into the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland. The bridge had endured months of aircraft bombing, direct artillery hits, near misses, and deliberate demolition attempts. It finally collapsed at 3:00 PM on 17 March. Twenty-eight American Engineers were killed and 63 were wounded. But by then U.S. Army combat engineers had finished building a tactical steel treadway bridge and a heavy duty pontoon bridge followed by a Bailey bridge across the Rhine. Over 25,000 troops crossed into Germany before the Americans broke out of the bridgehead on 25 March 1945. This was 18 days after the bridge had been captured. German and American military authorities agreed that capturing the bridge shortened the war. The Ludendorff Bridge was not rebuilt following World War II.
Battle of Sedan
The Battle of Sedan or Second Battle of Sedan (12–15 May 1940) was a Second World War battle fought during the French Campaign. The battle was part of the German Wehrmacht’s operational plan codenamed Fall Gelb (Case Yellow) for an offensive through the hilly and heavily forested Ardennes, to encircle the Allied armies in Belgium and north-eastern France. German Army Group A crossed the Meuse river with the intention of capturing Sedan and pushing northwards towards the Channel coast, in order to entrap the Allied forces that were advancing east into Belgium, as part of the Allied Dyle Plan strategy.
Sedan was situated on the east bank of the Meuse River. Its capture would give the Germans a base from which to capture the Meuse bridges and cross the river. Should this occur, the German divisions could then advance across the open and undefended French countryside, beyond Sedan, and to the English Channel. On 12 May, Sedan was captured without resistance. In the following days, the Germans defeated the French defences surrounding Sedan on the west bank of the Meuse. This was largely achieved by the Luftwaffe. As a result of German bombing and low morale, the French defenders were unable to mount a coherent defence. The Germans captured the Meuse bridges at Sedan allowing them to pour forces including armour across the river. On 14 May, the Allied air forces, the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) tried to destroy the bridges, and prevent German reinforcements reaching the west bank. The Luftwaffe prevented them from doing so. In large air battles, the Allies suffered high losses which depleted Allied bomber strength in the campaign.
The crossing of the Meuse enabled the Germans to break into the strategic depths, or undefended rear, of the Allied front and to advance to the English Channel without significant opposition. The French attempted to launch counter-attacks against the German-held bridgeheads, from 15–17 May, but the offensives fell victim to delay and confusion. Five days after consolidating their bridgeheads at Sedan, on 20 May, the German Army reached the Channel. The victory at Sedan achieved the operational goal of Fall Gelb and encircled the strongest Allied armies, including the British Expeditionary Force. The resulting battles destroyed the remaining French army as an effective fighting force, and expelled the British Army from the continent, leading to the defeat of France in June 1940. The battle at Sedan was instrumental in the fall of France.
Bombing of Berlin
Berlin, the capital of Nazi Germany, was subject to 363 air raids during the Second World War. It was bombed by the RAF Bomber Command between 1940 and 1945, by the USAAF Eighth Air Force between 1943 and 1945, and the French Air Force between 1944 and 1945 as part of the Allied campaign of strategic bombing of Germany. It was also attacked by aircraft of the Red Air Force, especially in 1945 as Soviet forces closed on the city. British bombers dropped 45,517 tons of bombs; the Americans dropped 23,000 tons. As the bombings continued more and more people moved out. By May 1945, 1.7 million people (40% of the population) had fled.
Bombing of Hamburg
The Allied bombing of Hamburg during World War II included numerous strategic bombing missions and diversion/nuisance raids. As a large port and industrial centre, Hamburg’s shipyards, U-boat pens, and the Hamburg-Harburg area oil refineries were attacked throughout the war.
The attack during the last week of July 1943, Operation Gomorrah, created one of the largest firestorms raised by the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Forces in World War II, killing 42,600 civilians and wounding 37,000 in Hamburg and practically destroying the entire city. Before the development of the firestorm in Hamburg there had been no rain for some time and everything was very dry. The unusually warm weather and good conditions meant that the bombing was highly concentrated around the intended targets and also created a vortex and whirling updraft of super-heated air which created a 1,500-foot-high tornado of fire, a totally unexpected effect. Various other previously used techniques and devices were instrumental as well, such as area bombing, Pathfinders, and H2S radar, which came together to work with particular effectiveness. An early form of chaff, code named ‘Window’, was successfully used for the first time by the RAF – clouds of shredded tinfoil dropped by Pathfinders as well as the initial bomber stream – in order to completely cloud German radar. The raids inflicted severe damage to German armaments production in Hamburg.
The Budapest Offensive was the general attack by Soviet and Romanian armies against Nazi Germany and their Axis allies from Hungary. The offensive lasted from 29 October 1944 until the fall of Budapest on 13 February 1945. This was one of the most difficult and complicated offensives that the Soviet Army carried on in Central Europe. It resulted in a decisive victory for the USSR, as it disabled the last European political ally of Nazi Germany and greatly sped up the ending of World War II in Europe.
The Continuation War (25 June 1941 – 19 September 1944) consisted of hostilities between Finland and the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1944. The Continuation War began 15 months after the end of the Winter War, which was also fought between Finland and the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union, the war was considered part of the Great Patriotic War. Germany regarded its operations in the region as part of its overall war efforts on the Eastern Front, and it provided Finland with critical material support and military cooperation.
Acts of war between the Soviet Union and Finland recommenced on 22 June 1941, the day Germany launched its invasion of the Soviet Union. Open warfare began with a Soviet air offensive to Finland on 25 June. Subsequent Finnish operations undid its post-Winter War concessions to the Soviet Union on the Karelian Isthmus and Ladoga Karelia, and captured East Karelia by September 1941. On the Karelian Isthmus, the Finns halted their offensive 30 km from Leningrad, at the pre-World War II border between the Soviet Union and Finland. In 1944, Soviet air forces conducted air raids on Helsinki and other major Finnish cities.
Eventually, in mid-1944, the Soviet strategic offensive drove the Finns from most of the territories they had gained during the war, but the Finnish Army later brought the offensive to a standstill in July 1944. A ceasefire ended hostilities on 5 September and was followed by the Moscow Armistice on 19 September. The 1947 Paris peace treaty concluded the war formally. Finland ceded Pechengsky District to the Soviets, leased Porkkala peninsula to them and paid reparations, while retaining its independence.
Defence of the Polish Post Office in Danzig
The Defence of the Polish Post Office in Danzig (Gdańsk) was one of the first acts of World War II in Europe, as part of the Invasion of Poland.
On September 1, 1939, Polish personnel defended the building for some 15 hours against assaults by the SS Heimwehr Danzig (SS Danzig Home Defense), local SA formations and special units of Danzig police. All but four of the defenders, who were able to escape from the building during the surrender, were sentenced to death by a German court martial as illegal combatants on October 5, 1939 and executed.
Demyansk Pocket / Festung Demjansk
The Demyansk Pocket (German: Festung Demjansk or Kessel von Demjansk; Russian: Демя́нский котёл) was the name given to the pocket of German troops encircled by the Red Army around Demyansk (Demjansk), south of Leningrad, during World War II on the Eastern Front. The pocket existed mainly from 8 February-21 April 1942. A much smaller pocket was simultaneously surrounded in Kholm, about 100 km (62 mi) to the southwest. These both resulted from the German retreat following their defeat during the Battle of Moscow.
The successful defence of Demyansk, achieved through the use of an airbridge, was a significant development in modern warfare. The pocket demanded an inordinate response on the part of the Soviets, stalling offensive actions elsewhere. Its success was a major contributor to the decision to try the same tactic during the Battle of Stalingrad.
The Dieppe Raid, also known as the Battle of Dieppe, Operation Rutter and, later, Operation Jubilee, was an Allied attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe during the Second World War. The raid took place on the northern coast of France on 19 August 1942. The assault began at 5:00 a.m. and by 10:50 a.m. the Allied commanders were forced to call a retreat. Over 6,000 infantrymen, predominantly Canadian, were supported by The Calgary Regiment of the 1st Canadian Tank Brigade and a strong force of Royal Navy and smaller Royal Air Force landing contingents. It involved 5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British troops, and 50 United States Army Rangers.
Objectives included seizing and holding a major port for a short period, both to prove that it was possible and to gather intelligence. Upon retreat, the Allies also wanted to destroy coastal defences, port structures and all strategic buildings. The raid had the added objectives of boosting morale and demonstrating the firm commitment of the United Kingdom to open a western front in Europe.
Virtually none of these objectives were met. Allied fire support was grossly inadequate and the raiding force was largely trapped on the beach by obstacles and German fire. Less than 10 hours after the first landings, the last Allied troops had all been either killed, evacuated, or left behind to be captured by the Germans. Instead of a demonstration of resolve, the bloody fiasco showed the world that the Allies could not hope to invade France for a long time. Some intelligence successes were achieved, including electronic intelligence.
A total of 3,367 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were either killed, wounded, or captured. The Royal Air Force failed to lure the Luftwaffe into open battle, and lost 106 aircraft (at least 32 to flak or accidents), compared to 48 lost by the Luftwaffe. The Royal Navy lost 33 landing craft and one destroyer. The events at Dieppe influenced preparations for the North African (Operation Torch) and Normandy landings (Operation Overlord).