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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 Prokhorovka
The Battle of Prokhorovka was fought on 12 July 1943 near Prokhorovka, 87 kilometers (54 mi) southeast of Kursk in the Soviet Union, during the Second World War. Taking place on the Eastern Front, the engagement was part of the wider Battle of Kursk and occurred when the 5th Guards Tank Army of the Soviet Red Army attacked the II SS-Panzer Corps of the German Wehrmacht in one of the largest tank battles in military history.
In April 1943, the German leadership began preparing for Operation Citadel, with the objective of enveloping and destroying the Soviet forces in the Kursk salient, by attacking and breaking through the base of the salient from north and south simultaneously. The German offensive was delayed several times due to the vacillation of the leadership and the addition of more forces and new equipment. The Soviet high command, Stavka, had learned of the German intentions and therefore used the delay to prepare a series of defensive belts along the routes of the planned German offensive. The Soviet leadership also massed several armies deep behind their defenses as the Stavka Reserve. This army group, the Steppe Front, was to launch counteroffensives once the German strength had dissipated. The 5th Guards Tank Army was the primary armored formation of the Steppe Front.
On 5 July 1943, the Wehrmacht launched its offensive. On the northern side of the salient, the German forces bogged down within four days. On the southern side, the German 4th Panzer Army, with Army Detachment Kempf on its eastern flank, attacked the Soviet defenses of the Voronezh Front. They made slow but steady progress through the Soviet defensive lines.
After a week of fighting, the Soviets launched their counteroffensives – Operation Kutuzov on the northern side and a coinciding one on the southern side. On the southern side of the salient near Prokhorovka, the 5th Guards Tank Army engaged the II SS-Panzer Corps of the 4th Panzer Army, resulting in a large clash of armor. The 5th Guards Tank Army suffered significant losses in the attack but succeeded in preventing the Wehrmacht from capturing Prokhorovka and breaking through the third defensive belt – the last heavily fortified one. The German high command, unable to accomplish its objective, canceled Operation Citadel and began redeploying its forces to deal with new pressing developments elsewhere.
The Red Army went on a general offensive, conducting Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev on the southern side and continuing Operation Kutuzov on the northern side. The Soviet Union thus seized the strategic initiative on the Eastern Front, which it was to hold for the rest of the war.
Battle of Radzymin – 1944
The Battle of Radzymin was one of a series of engagements between the Red Army’s 1st Byelorussian Front and the German Army’s XXXIXth Panzer Corps that occurred as part of the Lublin-Brest Offensive between 1 and 10 August 1944 at the conclusion of the Belorussian strategic offensive operation near the town of Radzymin in the vicinity of Warsaw, part of which entailed a large tank battle at Wołomin. It was the largest tank battle on the territories of Poland during World War II
The approach of the Red Army forces into the proximity of Warsaw served to initiate the Warsaw Uprising by the Home Army with the expectation of help from the Red Army. The battle ended with the Soviets’ defeat; it is unclear to what extent this defeat contributed to Soviet’s decision not to aid the Warsaw Uprising.
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.
Battles of Rzhev
The Battles of Rzhev were a series of Soviet operations in World War II between January 8, 1942, and March 31, 1943. Due to the high losses suffered by the Red Army, the campaign became known by veterans and historians as the “Rzhev Meat Grinder.”
The operations took place in the general area of Rzhev, Sychyovka (later known as Sychevka) in Sychyovsky District, and Vyazma against German forces.
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.
Siege of Sevastopol – Battle of Sevastopol
The Siege of Sevastopol also known as the Defence of Sevastopol or the Battle of Sevastopol (German: Schlacht um Sewastopol) was a military battle that took place on the Eastern Front of the Second World War. The campaign was fought by the Axis powers of Germany, Romania, and Italy against the Soviet Union for control of Sevastopol, a port in the Crimea on the Black Sea. On 22 June 1941, the Axis invaded the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa. Axis land forces reached the Crimea in the autumn of 1941 and overran most of the area. The only objective not in Axis hands was Sevastopol. Several attempts were made to secure the city in October and November 1941. A major attack was planned for late November, but heavy rains delayed the Axis attack until 17 December 1941. Under the command of Erich von Manstein, Axis forces were unable to capture Sevastopol during this first operation. Soviet forces launched an amphibious landing on the Crimean peninsula at Kerch in December 1941 to relieve the siege and force the Axis to divert forces to defend their gains. The operation saved Sevastopol for the time being, but the bridgehead in the eastern Crimea was eliminated in May 1942.
After the failure of their first assault on Sevastopol, the Axis opted to conduct siege warfare until the middle of 1942, at which point they attacked the encircled Soviet forces by land, sea, and air. On 2 June 1942, the Axis began this operation, codenamed Störfang (Sturgeon Catch). The Soviet Red Army and the Black Sea Fleet held out for weeks under intense Axis bombardment. The Luftwaffe played a vital part in the siege, its 8th Air Corps bombing the besieged Soviet forces with impunity, flying 23,751 sorties and dropping 20,528 tons of bombs in June alone. The intensity of the German campaign of airstrikes was far beyond previous German bombing offensives against cities such as Warsaw, Rotterdam or London. At the end of the siege, there were only 11 undamaged buildings left in Sevastopol. The Luftwaffe sunk or deterred most Soviet attempts to evacuate their troops by sea. The German 11. Army suppressed and destroyed the defenders by firing 46,750 tons of artillery ammunition on them during Störfang.
Finally, on 4 July 1942, the remaining Soviet forces surrendered and the Germans seized the port. The Soviet Separate Coastal Army was annihilated, with 118,000 men killed, wounded or captured in the final assault and 200,481 casualties in the siege as a whole for both it and the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. Axis losses in Störfang amounted to 35,866 men, of which 27,412 were German and 8,454 Romanian. With the Soviet forces neutralized, the Axis refocused their attention on the major summer campaign of that year, Case Blue and their advance to the Caucasus oilfields.
Battle of Smolensk
The First Battle of Smolensk was a battle during the second phase of Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, in World War II. It was fought around the city of Smolensk between 10 July and 10 September 1941, about 400 km (250 mi) west of Moscow. The Wehrmacht had advanced 500 km (310 mi) into the USSR in the 18 days after the invasion on 22 June 1941. During the battle the German Army encountered unexpected resistance, leading to a two-month delay in their advance on Moscow.
Three Soviet armies (the 16th, 19th and the 20th army) were encircled and destroyed just to the south of Smolensk, though significant numbers from the 19th and 20th armies managed to escape the pocket. Some historians have asserted that the losses of men and materiel incurred by the Wehrmacht during this drawn-out battle and the delay in the drive towards Moscow led to the defeat of the Wehrmacht by the Red Army in the Battle of Moscow of December 1941.
Battle of Tali-Ihantala
The Battle of Tali-Ihantala from June 25 to July 9, 1944, was part of the Finnish-Soviet Continuation War (1941–1944), which occurred during World War II. The battle was fought between Finnish forces and Soviet forces using war materiel provided by Germany. To date, it is the largest battle in the history of the Nordic countries.
The battle marked a point in the Soviet offensive when the Finnish forces first prevented the Soviets from making any significant gains. Earlier at Siiranmäki and Perkjärvi the Finns had halted advancing Soviet forces. The Finnish forces achieved a defensive victory against overwhelming odds.
After the Soviets had failed to create any breakthroughs at Tali-Ihantala, Vyborg Bay, or Vuosalmi, the Soviet Leningrad Front started the previously planned transfer of troops from the Karelian Isthmus to support Operation Bagration, where they were encountering particularly fierce resistance. Though the Leningrad Front failed to advance into Finland as ordered by the Stavka, some historians state that the offensive did eventually force Finland from the war.
Battle of Tunisia
Battle of Tunisia (also known as The Tunisia Campaign) was a series of battles that took place in Tunisia during the North African Campaign of the Second World War, between Axis and Allied forces. The Allies consisted of British Imperial Forces, including Polish and Greek contingents, with American and French corps. The battle opened with initial success by the German and Italian forces, but the massive supply and numerical superiority of the Allies led to the Axis’s complete defeat. Over 230,000 German and Italian troops were taken as prisoners of war, including most of the Afrika Korps.
Battle of Villers-Bocage
The Battle of Villers-Bocage took place during the Second World War on 13 June 1944, one week after the Normandy Landings by the Western Allies that began the conquest of German-occupied France. The battle was the result of a British attempt to improve their position by exploiting a gap in the German defenses west of the city of Caen. After one day of fighting in and around the small town of Villers-Bocage and a second day defending a position outside the town, the British force retired.
The Allies and the Germans regarded control of Caen as vital to the Normandy battle. In the days following the D-Day landings on 6 June, the Germans rapidly established strong defenses in front of the city. On 9 June, a two-pronged British attempt to surround and capture Caen was defeated. On the right flank of the British Second Army, the 1st US Infantry Division had forced back the German 352nd Infantry Division and opened a gap in the German front line. Seizing the opportunity to bypass the German Panzer-Lehr Division blocking the direct route south in the area of Tilly-sur-Seulles, a mixed force of tanks, infantry, and artillery, based on the 22nd Armoured Brigade of the 7th Armoured Division, advanced through the gap in a flanking maneuver towards Villers-Bocage. British commanders hoped that the appearance of a strong force in their rear would force the Panzer-Lehr-Division to withdraw or be surrounded.
Under the command of Brigadier William “Loony” Hinde, the 22nd Armoured Brigade group reached Villers-Bocage without serious incident on the morning of 13 June. The leading elements advanced eastwards from the town on the Caen road to Point 213, where they were ambushed by Tiger I tanks of the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. In fewer than 15 minutes, numerous tanks, anti-tank guns, and transport vehicles were destroyed, many by SS-Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann. The Germans then attacked the town and were repulsed, losing several Tigers and Panzer IVs. After six hours, Hinde ordered a withdrawal to a more defensible position on a knoll west of Villers-Bocage. The next day the Germans attacked the brigade box, arranged for all-around defense, in the Battle of the Island. The British inflicted a costly repulse on the Germans and then retired from the salient. The Battle for Caen continued east of Villers-Bocage, the ruins of which was captured on 4 August, after two raids by strategic bombers of the Royal Air Force.
The British conduct of the Battle of Villers-Bocage has been controversial because their withdrawal marked the end of the post-D-Day “scramble for ground” and the start of an attritional battle for Caen. Some historians have written that the British attack was a failure caused by a lack of conviction among some senior commanders, rather than the fighting power of the German army, while others judge the British force to have been insufficient for the task.
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 Cologne*
The city of Cologne was bombed in 262 separate air raids by the Allies during World War II, all by the Royal Air Force (RAF) but for a single failed post-capture test of a guided missile by the United States Army Air Forces. A total of 34,711 long tons of bombs were dropped on the city by the RAF. 20,000 people died during the war in Cologne due to aerial bombardments.
While air raid alarms had gone off in the winter/spring of 1940 as British bombers passed overhead, the first bombing took place on 12 May 1940. The 30/31 May 1942 attack on Cologne was the first 1,000 bomber raid.
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 center, 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.
Defense of the Polish Post Office in Danzig
The Defense 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).