Stages of war

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By José Carlos Palma * 

World War II lasted for six years and reached a level of mobilization called total war by historians. These years can be divided into three phases, which are:

  • 1st phase (1939-1941): was marked by the supremacy of German and Japanese forces in the conflict. The Germans, through blitzkrieg, managed to conquer a number of European nations. The Japanese, in turn, began their expansion across Southeast Asia, conquering the British, French and Dutch colonies. In addition, the Japanese carried out an attack that caused great damage to the Americans, in Pearl Harbor.
  • 2nd phase (1942-1943): this is the moment when the picture of the Second World War began to reverse itself. The Germans were stopped by the Soviets in the famous Battle of Stalingrad, and the war power of the Germans began to decline. The same happened with the Japanese, who, after the defeat in the Battle of Midway, lost a considerable part of their war power and were slowly being defeated by the North Americans.
  • 3rd phase (1944-1945): moment in which the members of the Axis are defeated. Allied forces in Europe surrounded the Germans and led the invasion of German territory at the turn of 1944 to 1945. The Japanese began to suffer increasingly from US bombing. Internally the country was collapsing, but the Japanese refusal to surrender led the Americans to hit Japan with two atomic bombs. The Axis defeat brought the war to an end.

Defining moments

The Second World War was an extensive conflict, marked by a multitude of events and many twists and turns. As mentioned, the war began with the invasion of Poland in September 1939. Polish territory was conquered by the Germans in a few weeks and was divided between Germans and Soviets due to a clause in the Non-Aggression Treaty. Let’s look at the main events.

  • Blitzkrieg

From 1939 to 1940, there was a period of low action known as the Lie War. From 1940 onwards, the Germans began their offensives across Europe and conquered Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, France, Yugoslavia, Greece, etc. The great German achievements left the Nazi High Command excited about the country’s war capability.

These advances were only possible because of the blitzkrieg, an innovative war tactic for the time that coordinated multiple attacks by different forces of the German army. Moved by the success of the blitzkrieg, Adolf Hitler ordered an attack against the Soviet Union. This event changed the course of World War II.

  • Invasion of the Soviet Union

Operation Barbarossa was initiated by the Germans on June 22, 1941, and mobilized more than three million soldiers, in addition to thousands of planes, tanks, and artillery pieces. The attack began based on the blitzkrieg tactic and enabled rapid advances for the Germans. The objective was to conquer the Soviet Union within eight weeks.

Gradually, the war effort of the Soviets and Germany’s lack of resources to fight on two war fronts were decisive for the interruption of the Germanic advance. At the end of 1941, the Germans had three major targets to conquer in the USSR.

These targets were:

  • Leningrad, the city that the Germans planned to conquer by letting the population die of starvation. Only in 1944 was the German siege against Leningrad broken;
  • Moscow, the Soviet capital. The Germans reached the outskirts of Moscow and were less than 30 km from the Kremlin, but the weakening of their forces repelled them from the outskirts of the city;
  • Stalingrad, a city in the south of the USSR. The Germans tried to conquer it as a way to control the Caucasus and thus guarantee them important resources, such as oil. The division of German forces and stubborn resistance led them to defeat in the biggest battle of World War II. It is estimated that the death toll at Stalingrad was two million people.

Defeat at Stalingrad weakened Germany considerably. The amount of resources available to the country was drastically reduced and its industrial capacity dropped. Basically, the Germans did not have the material and financial conditions to support the effort that the war in the USSR demanded, and they knew that since the end of 1941.

Defeat of  Nazi Germany

There were significant defeats suffered by the Germans on Soviet territory after Stalingrad. The biggest highlight, in this sense, is Kursk, a fundamental battle for the Germans that ended with their defeat because they were forced to retreat in order to reinforce their lines in Italy. The Germans had been expelled from North Africa, and with that, Italy was invaded from the south.

They lost control over Italy, reconquered by the Allies. The leader of Italian fascism, Mussolini, was killed by partisans fighting the Nazis. In Eastern Europe, the Germans were pushed back by millions of Soviet soldiers. Places like Estonia, Poland, Hungary, among others, were reconquered as Soviet forces advanced.

D-Day, on June 6, 1944, opened a new Allied warfront against the Nazis and increased pressure on the Germans. In 1945, the Allies entered German territory, and Berlin, the country’s capital, was conquered in April. Adolf Hitler committed suicide, and in May 1945, Germany surrendered.

Defeat of Japan

The defeat of Japan officially took place in September 1945. The fight against the Americans had begun in December 1941, when the Japanese attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The supremacy of the Japanese over the Americans in the Pacific War was short-lived: in June 1942, Japanese power was severely impaired.

That month, the Battle of Midway took place, an important air-naval attack that resulted in the destruction of four aircraft carriers of the Japanese navy. After that, the Japanese were never able to regain their strength in the fight against the US. Little by little, those accumulated defeats and were pushed back to their territory.

The Japanese suffered in countless battles, such as Guadalcanal, the Philippines, Okinawa, etc. In 1945, the Americans carried out massive bombing raids on major Japanese cities. Their last step was to invade Japan’s main island, but to avoid that, they made use of a cruel weapon.

Two atomic bombs were dropped, one on Hiroshima and the other on Nagasaki, on August 6 and 9, respectively. The launch was not enough to convince members of the Japanese government to offer to surrender. The invasion of Manchuria by Soviet troops, starting on August 9, was the final straw for the Japanese government. On September 2, 1945, the Japanese surrendered and ended World War II.

*Expert in international relations, such as foreign policy, international trade, domestic security, international security, developing nations, and domestic security, intelligence.

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