The approach of war

A renewal of hostilities?

It is a commonplace that the war beginning in 1939 is a continuation of the one which ended in 1918, much as European conflicts of the 18th century (such as the Seven Years' War) were often a return to unfinished business. In many respects the commonplace is true, and it is reflected in everyday vocabulary. No other wars are numbered I and II, like kings in a line of succession or blockbuster films in a series.

The idea of a progression from World War I to World War II is unavoidable, and several factors make it so.

The same nation, Germany, is the participant most actively responsible for each of the two wars. In 1914 this had been a panic reaction, through fear of losing advantage if not moving first. In 1939 it is the deliberate result of the policy of one man, Adolf hitler.

That policy can in many respects be traced back to the after-effects of World war i. Hitler, in his vengeful and expansionist plans for Germany, is able to play on German resentment of the terms imposed by the Treaty of versailles. He is helped also by another undercurrent from 1918 - the feeling that Germany was not really defeated at the end of that war. Her politicians capitulated before a single foreign soldier had trodden on German soil. If the match were replayed, the result could be different.

This sense of aggrieved military self-confidence is to a large extent supported by a striking fact. For eight years of the 20th century (1914-18, 1941-5) Germany almost single-handedly holds at bay the three other great European powers, Russia, France and Britain, united against her and for much of the time aided by the USA.

Yet within the broad pattern of continuity there are differences. The most profound of these lies in the reasons for the two wars. The causes of World war i are notoriously hard to discern, shrouded in the posturing of Imperial powers. It has come to seem the most pointless of conflicts, and until that time the most Wasteful of human life.

By contrast World War II, even more costly in terms of lives lost, is the war with the clearest moral purpose - to curtail the apparently boundless aggression of Hitler, and to destroy the most successful of the extremist creeds of the 1930s, Fascism.

This relates to another distinction. Germany and Austria (linked from 1938 by the Anschluss) have very different partners the second time round, in Italy and Japan. Italy and Germany share the creed of Fascism, and distant Japan is like Germany in being an aggressive and authoritarian military society. Even so, the three make strange bedfellows in the group which is formed in 1936 and becomes known as the Axis.

The Axis Powers

In October 1936 an agreement between Germany and Italy establishes much common ground in foreign policy. The arrangement is described by Hitler (in conversation with Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law and foreign secretary) as an alliance between the two most vigorous European nations, rearming faster than any others and capable together of defeating Great Britain if necessary.

Mussolini has, this very summer, overwhelmed Ethiopia and proclaimed a new Italian empire. Hitler has been the first head of state to recognize this dubious enterprise. Mussolini now accidentally gives the new alliance its familiar name, describing it as an axis 'round which all those European states which are animated by a desire for collaboration and peace may work together'.

Before the end of the year the group has a new adherent, animated no more than Italy or Germany by a desire for peace. Japan has recently seized much of northern China and has set up the puppet state of Manchoukuo (the recognition of which is one of the clauses in the 'axis' agreement).

In this region Japan has a hostile neighbour in a nation which is also geographically close to Germany and is profoundly loathed by Hitler. Germany in the extreme west and Japan in the extreme east share a hatred and fear of the USSR. This is the basis for the agreement reached between the two nations in November 1936. It is called the Anti-Comintern Pact, to present it as an alliance against international communism rather than a single country.

Hitler sees this as the beginning of a military alliance between anti-Communist nations, and it is German policy to tie the knot tighter (culminating in the Tripartite Pact with Italy signed in September 1940). The collaboration within the trio is never very close. Hitler rarely takes Mussolini into his confidence on strategic matters, and Japan operates in a world of its own. Germany enters World War II without the involvement of either of its Axis partners, and ends it with only one of them as an ally.

But in the years after the establishment of the Axis, in the late 1930s, it is convenient for Hitler to have such an alliance while he pushes to the limit the patience of the other European powers - benefiting greatly from their instinct that aggression may be calmed by appeasement.

Expansion and appeasement: AD 1935-1939

The policy which becomes known as appeasement (the belief that compromise with Europe's fascist dictators will provide the best chance for peace) is associated particularly with the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain. But it already characterizes the foreign policy up to 1937 of his predecessor, Stanley Baldwin. And it is, to a lesser extent, the policy also of the government in France.

As the two major European powers in the League of nations, Britain and France inevitably have to play the leading role in trying to keep Hitler and Mussolini in check.

A conciliatory attitude, partly made necessary by the lack of readiness in each nation for another war, is evident as early as 1935. In this year Samuel Hoare and Pierre Laval, foreign ministers of the two countries, concoct a peace plan which would allow Italy to annexe large slices of Ethiopia (an independent state, recently invaded by Italian armies).

The plan is rejected, but its very existence encourages Mussolini to complete his conquest of Ethiopia. And this de facto state of affairs is soon accepted by an increasingly enfeebled League of nations.

Earlier in the same year there has been another affront to the League's authority. In March 1935 Hitler informs Britain and France that he is creating an air force, is launching a major programme of military and naval rearmament, and is introducing conscription.

These plans directly contravene the terms of the treaty of Versailles. But in June, to the outrage this time of France, Hoare establishes an Anglo-German Naval Agreement, tacitly accepting the naval aspect of Hitler's plans in return for a pact that German strength at sea will not exceed 35% of the combined fleets of Britain and the Commonwealth.

In March 1936 Hitler makes his first military move in defiance of existing treaties. He marches his troops into the Rhineland, a region permanently demilitarized under the terms agreed at Versailles. At the same time he declares (in what is to become a recurring pattern) that this is his last territorial claim.

The Spanish Civil War, beginning in July 1936, absorbs much of Europe's attention over the next two years (and provides Hitler's new forces with their first unofficial outing). But from 1938 the German dictator's provocative moves come at an ever increasing pace, each of them taking to the brink the good faith of the appeasers.

On March 12 he marches into Austria to reunite the ancient German reich, an event known as the Anschluss (literally 'joining on'). On the previous day he assures the world that he has no designs on Czechoslovakia.

The very next month, in April, he develops a secret plan to annexe the western part of Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland. He is considerably helped in this ambition by the principles of Versailles, for the region has a predominantly German population. Many of these Germans are already Nazi sympathisers. It is easy to argue, against Czech interests, that the principle of self-determination gives these people the right to merge with Germany. During the summer of 1938 Hitler threatens the Czech government at the diplomatic level, while massing troops on the border.

Chamberlain flies from London to confer with Hitler, on September 15 and 22, but by September 27 it seems certain that Hitler's forces will cross the Czech border. France has a defensive treaty with Czechoslavakia. Britain would have to support France. The result would be war.

On September 27 Chamberlain broadcasts to the British people, expressing his appalled dismay at being dragged into the affairs of such a 'faraway country'. The next day he sends a telegram to Hitler, offering to fly again to Germany to discuss the peaceful transfer of the Sudetenland. Hitler postpones the invasion, planned for September 28, and invites Chamberlain, Daladier (the French premier since April) and Mussolini to an immediate meeting in Munich.

Munich and after: AD 1938-1939

The discussion in Munich between Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini lasts a little over twelve hours, beginning in the middle of the day on September 29 and ending with the signing of an agreed document at 1.30 a.m. on September 30. Though the dismantling of their country is under discussion, Hitler refuses to allow any Czech representative to take part. Two Czech diplomats sit in a nearby hotel, effectively waiting to be told what has been decided.

The conclusion is all that Hitler would wish. The Sudeten areas are to be ceded to Germany during the next ten days. Thereafter plebiscites, organized by the four Munich powers and Czechoslovakia, will reveal exactly where the new border should run.

Before boarding his plane, later on September 30, Chamberlain has another meeting with Hitler in which he asks him to sign a joint declaration. This is the document which Chamberlain waves in the air for the cameras on his return to Britain, stating that he has brought back from Germany 'peace for our time... peace with honour'.

The text above Hitler's signature, on which Chamberlain bases his optimism, declares a determination to remove possible sources of difference between countries 'and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe'. Chamberlain's hope is that the sacrifice of the Sudetenland has preserved not only peace but the rest of Czechoslovakia.

The occupation of Sudetenland brings some 3.5 million people within Nazi Germany, 75% of them German and 25% Czech. But in the event these Czechs are no more unfortunate than their compatriots elsewhere. Three weeks after signing Chamberlain's document, Hitler orders the German army to prepare for a move into the rest of Czechoslovakia. The invasion comes in March 1939. Hitler, in Prague, declares that Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia are now under the protection of the German Reich.

But such a brutal betrayal of the Munich agreement transforms the appeasers. When it becomes evident that Poland is the next likely victim, Britain and France are suddenly resolute.

Danzig and the Polish corridor: AD 1938-1939

At the very moment of the Munich agreement the Polish government presents its own demand for a slice of Czechoslovakia. There is logic to the claim. If the Sudetenland with its largely German population is to be annexed by Germany, then there is a clear case for the rich industrial area of Teschen Silesia, inhabited mainly by Poles, to be transferred to Poland. On the day the Munich agreement is announced, 30 September 1938, Poland asserts this claim - not for the first time, but now it is instantly acceded to by Czechoslavakia.

Unfortunately the ethnic-majority argument has dangerous implications for Poland herself, confronted by a Hitler increasing day by day in confidence.

The great port of Gdansk (in Polish) or Danzig (in German) has long been a bone of contention between Polish and German interests. Though first brought to prominence by the Hanseatic merchants, the city and its hinterland (eastern Pomerania, or in its Polish name Pomorze) have historically been part of Poland. But from time to time they have been seized by Germans - first by the Teutonic knights in 1308 - and in recent times they have again been German, from the late 18th-century Partitions of poland until the end of World War I.

In 1919 the treaty of Versailles restores Pomorze to Poland and gives Danzig, with its almost entirely German population, the status of a free city within the borders of Poland.

This arrangement is probably unworkable at the best of times, and more so from the mid-1930s when Danzig has an elected Nazi city council. Moreover in this area the provisions of Versailles provide a further cause for German grievance. In returning Pomorze to Poland, and restoring her historical access to the sea at Danzig, the treaty has the effect of severing the province of East Prussia from the rest of Germany.

Pomorze becomes known in the terminology of the 1920s as the Polish corridor, linking Poland and the sea. Hitler now demands a more literal German corridor - a narrow strip of German territory through Poland to East Prussia. Together with this goes his claim to bring Danzig within the Reich.

Both claims are pressed by Hitler with new vigour in October 1938, within days of his winning the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. The Polish government firmly rejects the German demands. Unlike unfortunate Czechoslovakia, this stance wins a positive response from the western powers.

In March 1939 Neville Chamberlain, speaking with the approval of both France and the USSR, gaurantees help to Poland if her independence is threatened. In April Hitler abrogates his own ten-year nonaggression treaty with Poland, signed in 1934, and secretly orders his army to prepare for a Polish invasion. In May France commits herself to military action against Germany if a conflict begins. But then, in August, Hitler produces a diplomatic bombshell.

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: AD 1939

In August 1939 a Franco-British military mission is in Moscow trying to persuade Stalin to commit to a treaty for the defence of Poland. Little progress is made, ostensibly because the Poles are refusing to allow Soviet troops to cross their territory to attack Germany. But there is another hidden reason which soon becomes apparent.

The Soviet Union and Communism have always been twin forces of demonic evil in Hitler's oratory, but he now proves himself happy to sup with the devil for a very real strategic advantage. It is important to his plans that he shall not be distracted by a major war on his eastern front. In August he opens negotiations with Stalin. Poland is his bait.

Stalin, invited by the western powers to join an alliance which will almost certainly involve him in a costly war against Germany for no very evident benefit, now finds himself offered a more attractive option - inactivity and a sizable increase in his territory.

It takes the Russian dictator little time to choose. The world is astonished on August 21 by the announcement from Berlin that Ribbentrop is flying to Moscow to sign a nonaggression pact with his opposite number, the Russian foreign minister Molotov. This sudden friendship of two implacable enemies would seem less inexplicable if people knew of the secret protocol which accompanies the pact.

The protocol agrees a new set of international boundaries. As modified slightly in a second visit by Ribbentrop to Moscow, in September, it acknowledges Germany's approval of the Russian annexation of the independent nations Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (should any such opportunity occur). And it establishes an agreed division of Poland between Germany and Russia.

With this much achieved, Hitler is ready to take his next step - launched, for propaganda purposes, with a Grisly little charade.


The act of war: AD 1939

During the night of August 31 a group of German soldiers, dressed as Poles, attack the German radio station in the border town of Gleiwitz. They have brought with them a German criminal, taken for the purpose from a concentration camp. They shoot him and leave his body as evidence of the night's dark deeds.

Berlin radio broadcasts to the world the news of this act of Polish aggression, together with details of the necessary German response. In the early hours of the morning of September 1 Hitler's tanks move into Poland. His planes take off towards Warsaw on the first bombing mission of a new European war.

After a final desperate day of diplomacy, attempting even at this late stage to find a peaceful solution, Chamberlain and Daladier each sends an ultimatum to Hitler. When no answer is received, both nations declare war on September 3.

The Polish army, airforce and civilian population put up a brave resistance to massive German force - increased, from September 17, by a Russian invasion from the east. Within a few weeks 60,000 Polish soldiers and 25,000 civilians die. By September 28 Warsaw has fallen. Poland is once again partitioned, with an eastern slice going to Russia (as so recently agreed in Moscow) and the lion's share to Germany.

This History is as yet incomplete.

The Phoney War: AD 1939-1940

In France and Britain the immediate aftermath of the declaration of war is a return to the defensive tactics of World War I. The French rush troops to the Maginot Line, an elaborate complex of concrete fortifications connected by underground railway lines, which has been constructed along the Franco-German border between 1929 and 1938. (It is named after André Maginot, minister of war from 1929 to 1931.)

France's border with Belgium, running northwest to the sea, is not similarly protected. So, as in World War I, a British Expeditionary Force is immediately sent across the Channel to dig in along this line.

Here the troops of both nations await attack from the conqueror of Poland. But nothing happens.

It is not that Hitler is inactive against his new enemies. He is energetically demonstrating, with the deployment of his U-boats (Unterseebooten, or submarines), that Britain can no longer rely on her famed mastery of the seas. The aircraft carrier Courageous is sunk at sea in September, the battleship Royal Oak is torpedoed at anchor in Scapa Flow in October. Hitler also has a devastating new weapon to unveil - the magnetic mine, dropped into the sea from the air to cling to a passing vessel and explode. Inevitably indiscriminate, one such mine sinks the Dutch passenger liner Simon Bolivar in November.

Nor is there a lack of conflict in Europe. Stalin, assured of a free hand with Finland by the terms of his Nonaggression pact with Hitler, sends troops across the Finnish border in November 1939 (provoking the Russo-Finnish war, also known as the Winter War, in which Finland resists her large neighbour with magnificent resolve). And in early April 1940 the French and British finally agree on their first joint offensive. They will send troops to seize the Norwegian North Sea ports, even though Norway is neutral. The strategic reason is the need to cut the supply of iron ore from Swedish mines to Germany. But they delay in putting the plan into action.

Meanwhile on the western front all is quiet.

As a result the war acquires in Britain and France a name suggesting a dangerous sense of relaxation. In Britain it is known as the Phoney War, in France le Drole de Guerre (the Joke War). By the spring of 1940 the western nations have been able to spend eight useful months building up their armaments. On April 5 Chamberlain is sufficiently confident to declare to the house of commons that one thing is now certain - Hitler has 'missed the bus'.

Four days later a German fleet of warships invades Denmark and Norway. All the important harbours of these two neutral nations are rapidly occupied. Within days British and French troops are on hand to assist the Norwegian resistance. But they have arrived too late and little is achieved.

Enter Churchill: AD 1940

The military failure in Norway heightens dissatisfaction in Britain with Chamberlain's conduct of the war. On May 7-8 he narrowly survives a censure debate in the house of commons (notable for Leo Amery's revival of Cromwell's famous words 'You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing... In the name of God, go!'). Then, on May 10, alarming news from the continent sets the seal on his term as leader.

In the early hours of that morning German divisions smash their way into the Netherlands and Belgium. In this new crisis Chamberlain realizes that an all-party government is essential. But the Labour party refuses to serve under a man associated so strongly with appeasement.

The only possible leader in the circumstances is a controversial figure waiting in the wings. Winston Churchill, after a brilliant early career (first as Soldier and author, subsequently in several high cabinet roles), has been on the sidelines during the 1930s because of his implacable opposition to Appeasement. He has described Chamberlain's 'Peace with honour' at Munich as 'a total and unmitigated defeat'.

Pugnacious and inspirational, Churchill is the ideal man for the crisis now facing the nation. Appointed prime minister on May 10, he asks for a vote of confidence from the house of commons on May 13 - and receives it unanimously.

The leading candidate to succeed Chamberlain in these circumstances is a controversial figure waiting in the wings. Winston Churchill, after a brilliant early career (first as Soldier and author, subsequently in several high cabinet roles), has been on the sidelines during the 1930s because of his implacable opposition to Appeasement. He has described Chamberlain's 'Peace with honour' at Munich as 'a total and unmitigated defeat'.

Pugnacious and inspirational, Churchill is the ideal man for the crisis now facing Europe. Appointed prime minister on the very day when Hitler's troops move west into the Netherlands and Belgium, his first task is to confront the famous German blitzkrieg.

On this occasion, and on many subsequently, Churchill reveals the power of harsh truth transformed by the magic of oratory. His message to the commons is bleak - 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.' But as the robust phrases roll on, the speech becomes a clarion call to the nation.

In a similar way each significant moment in this summer of 1940, the most dangerous in British national history, is marked by a high point of Churchillian peroration. The completion, on June 4, of the extraordinary evacuation from Dunkirk is the occasion for 'We shall fight on the beaches'. The loss of France as an ally, after an armistice signed with Germany on June 18, produces the vision of Britain now confronting her 'finest hour'.

Whenever there is a chink in the storm clouds, the prime minister proves as powerful in his commemoration of victory. In August 1940 his young pilots begin to turn the tables on the Luftwaffe in the Appeasement. Churchill coins in their honour perhaps his most famous sentence: 'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.'

The first successful allied land offensive against German troops, driving Rommel westwards through north Africa in November 1942, is the occasion for the cautious but resonant hope: 'This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.'

Thanks to film and news reels, Churchill in person becomes an inspirational figure to a British public suffering the first prolonged and intense bombing campaign in the history of warfare. His trademark cigar (never seen in a much reduced state) and his famous V-sign are always in evidence when he visits a devastated area in the aftermath of an air raid.

On the international front Churchill's main challenge is enlisting the support of the USA. This is achieved in stages, with the start of lend-lease in 1941 followed by the Atlantic Charter. But the task is completed for Churchill by the Japanese action at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Hitler's invasion of the USSR, in June 1941, brings Churchill his other major ally. The trio of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin become the high command of the allied effort against the Axis powers.

While the Russians sap the German military strength in the bitter campaigns of 1942-3, Churchill and Roosevelt plan the western offensive which eventually takes place on D-Day (6 June 1944). By the time the three leaders meet at Yalta, in February 1945, it is evident that the war is all but won. Much of the discussion now centres on postwar dispensations. But for Churchill himself the last weeks of the war bring a rude shock, from a British public adjusting rapidly to a new social and political environment.

Netherlands and Belgium

When German tanks cross the border into the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium, in the early hours of May 10, it is the start of the most dramatic demonstration of the new German strategy of blitzkrieg ('lightning war'). The technique has been used with devastating success against Poland in September 1939, bringing the fall of Warsaw within just four weeks. But on the western front the defending forces are stronger, the terrain of rivers and canals more difficult, and the speed of success and the range of offensive tactics even more astonishing.

German troops arrive out of the blue (dropping by parachute, landing in gliders) to seize strategic bridges, while the armoured corps and the infantry move at unimagined speed to separate the defending forces.

In the Netherlands, within two days of the start of the invasion, a German division reaches the coast near Rotterdam. The following day, May 13, Queen Wilhelmina and her government depart for England. On the 14th the caretaker government surrenders to the invader.

In Belgium the agony lasts a little longer, involving French and British armies as well as the Belgian defenders of the country. On May 14-15 the German advance is briefly checked, but at the same time a development to the south is making this almost irrelevant. Another Germany army, driving west through Luxembourg, reaches the Meuse by the evening of May 12. If the Germans can cross the river, there is a danger that they will cut off the Allied armies to the north.

A thousand German aircraft are on hand to assist this river crossing. Ceaseless attacks by divebombers demoralize the French defenders on the south bank of the river near Sedan, while German infantry cross in inflatable boats. Once on the opposite bank, they establish bridgeheads to which tanks can be safely ferried. By May 15 the vanguard, under Heinz Guderian, is already moving on. On May 17 Guderian crosses the Oise. On May 20 he reaches Abbeville and the coast. Just nine days ago his men were in Germany.

To the north the Belgians are still holding out, though not for long (their surrender comes on May 27). But large numbers of British and French troops are now trapped. Their only escape is westwards to the sea. And the Germans are moving up the coast to complete the encirclement.


One part of the Allied force at risk of being captured in Belgium is the British expeditionary force. Sent from Britain in September 1939, the BEF has spent the winter dug in along the Franco-Belgian border. Sharing the present danger with them is the French 1st Army.

Even before the fall of Belgium, Churchill decides that the only safe course is to evacuate the BEF. In these desperate circumstances the admiralty enlists the help of every small craft in southern England capable of crossing the Channel and going into shallow water off a beach. The result is the most improbable of flotillas, but one which - in conjunction with the ships of the British navy - achieves an astonishing feat, far exceeding expectations.

Even so, but for an intervention by Hitler, the miracle of Dunkirk would not have happened. It is the most northerly port in France, the last before the Belgian border. With Belgium about to capitulate, the British and French forces must cross the border and reach Dunkirk to have a chance of escape. They are at least two days away, on May 23, when a German army moving north up the coast arrives near the town. But it stops short. Hitler himself, on May 24, orders its commander to hold back.

The reason is not clear. It is possible he wants to safeguard his army for the more important drive south to Paris. It may be that he feels Britain will be less likely to make peace if humiliated by the capture of so many troops.

Another reason may be that Goering, in command of the German air force, is urging Hitler to leave it to his pilots to prevent any British rescue attempt. Whatever Hitler's motive, he changes his mind three days later. But by then it is too late. The British and French have reached Dunkirk and have constructed defences.

On May 26 the first troops are embarked. The following day the harbour is partly disabled by German bombs, so the evacuation is extended to a long stretch of beach east of the town, where the civilian craft - the fishing smacks, private cruisers, river ferries - come into their own. For ten days, until June 4, under a hail of bombs and beneath a constant battle between German and British planes, some 860 vessels ply back and forth with their precious cargo.

Some 200,000 British and 140,000 French troops are safely ferried across (and another 200,000 Allied troops are taken on board from the Brittany peninsula in subsequent weeks). It is not a victory, but it is a sensational avoidance of defeat. Churchill greets it in his most pugnacious mood, with his famous declaration to the House of Commons that 'we shall fight on the beaches...' And he goes out of his way to praise the Young men of the airforce fighting above Dunkirk, implying with considerable foresight that the safety of the country may lie in their hands.

For Hitler too it may not be a victory, but he has had victory enough in the past four weeks. A million Allied soldiers have been captured by his armies since May 10. And now he has his sights on Paris.

The fall of France: AD 1940

On June 5, the day after the last departures from Dunkirk, the German army turns its attention southwards. Erwin Rommel, whose panzer division has spearheaded the rapid German thrust to the coast, is now again in the vanguard with his tanks. By June 9 the Germans have taken Rouen and crossed the Seine. On June 14 they enter Paris. The French government withdraws to Bordeaux, but the Germans press on relentlessly. By June 16 they are in the Rhone valley.

Meanwhile a similar drive southwards on the eastern front makes the famous Maginot line redundant. Moving behind it to reach the Swiss frontier, the Germans seal off the French divisions which have been attempting to hold these eastward-facing fortifications.

This impressive sequence of events tempts a newcomer into the war. In spite of their Axis agreement, Mussolini declined in September 1939 to commit Italy to war as an ally of Germany. Now, nine months later, he realizes that if he is to hope for any of the spoils of victory he had better get into the fray. Just in time, on June 10, he declares war on France and Britain. Within less than a week, on June 16, the French ask for an armistice. Mussolini has not yet managed to launch an attack on southeastern France, but he does so on June 20 - two days before France and Germany sign their armistice.

There has been much debate within France whether to seek an armistice or to accept the fall of France and fight on from north Africa.

The premier, Paul Reynaud, has long been anti-Appeasement and now argues that France must fight on as Britain's ally. But he is in the minority. On June 16 he resigns. He is followed by a figure from the past, Philippe Pétain, one of France's most distinguished and popular commanders from World War I. Pétain immediately asks for an armistice.

Before dictating terms, Hitler meets in Munich his very recent companion in arms, Mussolini, to discuss what is to be demanded. Mussolini has wildly ambitious plans. In pursuit of his dream of dominating the Mediterranean, he wants Italy to annexe all French imperial possessions in north Africa together with Corsica and the coast of France herself as far west as Nice.

But Hitler is in more practical mood. His main concern is to ensure that France does not go on fighting against him as an ally of Britain (with whom he has not yet given up hope of coming to amicable terms). So he intends only to occupy the northern two thirds of France, already in possession of his armies. He will not even commandeer the powerful French fleet and airforce, insisting merely that they remain non-combatant (much of the fleet is subsequently Destroyed by the british). Italy is to have just the tiny bit of southeastern France which her troops have managed to capture during June 20-22.

But if the terms of the armistice are calculated to minimize France's humiliation, the signing of the treaty is stage-managed with precisely the opposite intention.

This is to be the moment when Hitler avenges Germany's humiliation of the Armistice at the end of World War I, and he plans it with his usual theatrical flair. The railway carriage in which that Armistice was signed has been in a Paris museum. It is now brought to the precise place, at Rethondes, used on the previous occasion. Hitler arrives in person on June 22 to savour his triumph. He even sits in the very chair used by Foch. Then he travels to Paris to see the famous sights. The conqueror plays the tourist (it is his first visit).

The area left to France, officially neutral under Pétain but in effect a German puppet state, has a curving northern boundary from the Swiss border to the Pyrenees. Vichy is selected as the capital, and the region becomes known as Vichy France.

Yet France remains in the war in a different guise. On June 6 Reynaud has brought into his government a young brigadier general, Charles de Gaulle, as undersecretary of state for war. When the Armistice is requested, on June 16, de Gaulle crosses to Britain.

From there, on June 18, four days before the Armistice is signed, he makes a famous radio broadcast to the people of France. He urges them to continue the fight, and declares himself to be the leader of the Free French. Until the liberation of France, in September 1944, he remains in London as the symbol of French resistance (and frequently as something of a thorn in the side of his more powerful political ally, Winston Churchill).

Sections are as yet missing at this point.

Battle of Britain and the Blitz

With the fate of France settled by the middle of June, Hitler turns his attention to Britain. His first task is to achieve a position in which he can ferry troops across the Channel. Dunkirk has proved (if proof were needed) that this will be impossible without command of the air.

On July 16 Hitler orders his commanders to prepare for an invasion of Britain, codenamed Operation Sea Lion. But during June there have already been the first attempts to assert control of the Channel. Bombing raids are launched against British convoys. On July 6 German bombers risk a daylight bombing raid as far inland as the barracks at Aldershot, where several soldiers are killed. On July 10 seventy German bombers attack docks in South Wales.

In these attacks the Germans are taking a major risk. The British planes are as good as their German equivalents, if not better. The Hurricane can match any German fighter except the Messerschmitt 109 - and this is equalled by Britain's newest and fastest machine, the Spitfire. Over British soil the Spitfire has the great advantage of fighting much closer to its fuel supply than the Messerchmitt. And British pilots, bailing out over home territory, can fly and fight again whereas the Germans face only captivity.

Moreover the British enjoy one other crucial advantage. Since 1938 tall thin masts have been constructed at intervals along the British coast. Receiving and transmitting radio signals, they are the world's most advanced application of the new technology of radar.

So the British can tell when and where an attack is coming (a significant fact of which the Germans are at first unaware). Even so, with German superiority in the number of planes available, the dogfights and bombing raids of the summer of 1940 are a period of extreme peril for Britain. In recognition of its decisive nature, this struggle in the air becomes known as the Battle of Britain.

During August, the most intense period of the campaign, the German purpose is to bomb the radar masts and the airfields of Fighter Command. Sometimes as many as 1500 German planes are involved in a single day's assault. But they lose more of their planes than the British, and they fail in their aim. The radar masts stand. The Hurricanes and the Spitfires keep taking off.

In September the German policy changes. Night-time bombing raids on large cities, to destroy the nation's infrastructure and to demoralize the population, now become the main thrust of the attack. The first raid is on London during the night of September 7. The event is described in the Daily Express of September 9 as 'blitz bombing', treating it as part of Germany's strategy of blitzkrieg.

The name sticks. Throughout that winter London and other British cities suffer the Blitz. Sometimes, as in Coventry on November 14, the weight of explosives is such that the technique becomes known as carpet bombing (of which the most intense example, later in the war, is the controversial British attack on Dresden during the night of 13 February 1945).

But the Blitz fails to break the spirit of Britain's city-dwellers. Even by the time it begins, it seems evident that Hitler will not be able to achieve mastery of the air around or over Britain. As early as August 20, after Britain's young fighter pilots have consistently had the better of their opponents in an intense series of air battles over the previous week, Churchill makes his famous speech to the House of Commons which gives them their lasting name - The few, to whom so many owe so much.

But if Germany has failed to control the air, the outcome of a much longer battle for the shipping routes of the Atlantic is as yet far from undecided.

War in the Atlantic

As in World war i, Germany's best chance of starving Britain of supplies is through submarine warfare against merchant ships in the Atlantic. The danger is immediately evident as soon as Britain declares war. On the very first day of the conflict, 3 September 1939, a German U-boat sinks the British passenger liner Athenia with the loss of 112 civilian lives.

This is against Hitler's specific order that no passenger vessel shall be attacked (remembering the damage done by the sinking of the lusitania), but on the military front German U-boats also make an immediate impact. On September 14 a German torpedo strikes the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. It fails to explode. But three days later another British aircraft carrier is less fortunate.

On September 17 a German U-boat scores a direct hit on the Courageous. The carrier sinks in fifteen minutes with the loss of 518 men. And on October 14 a U-boat achieves an even more sensational feat. Its captain, with great bravado, steers his way between the ships guarding the entrance to the supposedly secure anchorage of Scapa Flow. Once inside, he torpedoes and sinks the battleship Royal Oak, killing 833 men. He then succeeds in evading his pursuers to arrive back, a hero, in German waters.

But the main U-boat target is merchant ships carrying supplies, of which 114 are sunk before the end of 1939. As in World war i, the solution is convoys. But Britain lacks sufficient escort vessels to cover the entire Atlantic crossing. Convoys travel unprotected in mid-ocean.

This deficiency is not crucial in 1939 and early 1940, when the U-boats have to travel from their bases in the Baltic round the north coast of Scotland before they reach the Atlantic (the Channel, by far the shorter route, being densely seeded with British mines).

But with the Battle of britain, in June 1940, a long stretch of captured coastline provides much more convenient home ports for the Atlantic hunters. Their range suddenly extends far beyond what the British destroyers can cover. For the rest of that year the tonnage of British ships sunk in the Atlantic is on average five times higher each month than it was in May. And these are the very months when another struggle for survival is taking place in the air, in the World war i.

The Germans, in this same summer, use another effective device to prey on any unescorted Atlantic shipping. Six naval ships are disguised, with cranes and cargo on their decks, to look like unarmed merchant vessels. Trusted by their unsuspecting victims, they despatch them easily at close quarters.

But October 1940 brings the first practical help from the USA. In exchange for the use of eight British bases in the western hemisphere, Britain receives fifty antiquated but serviceable US destroyers for Atlantic duty. They enable the convoys to be escorted further into the danger zone in mid-ocean. And the US soon finds other ways to help the beleaguered British.


The Russian campaign: AD 1941-1942

As early as the autumn of 1940, when the Battle of britain casts doubt on his invasion plans across the Channel, Hitler's thoughts turn to an attack on his eastern ally, Stalin. He orders plans to be prepared under the codename Barbarossa. In a directive dated 18 December 1940 he states: 'The German armed forces must be prepared to crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign before the end of the war against England.'

Hitler's intention is that his quick campaign should begin early in May 1941, but precious weeks are lost and it is not until June 22 that three army groups cross the Russian border on a broad front from southern Poland to the Baltic coast.

In charge of this campaign are the army commanders who together carried out such a brilliant blitzkrieg to the west a year earlier. The first signs are that they will repeat their triumph. Guderian's armoured corps advances 50 miles in the first day. Four days later, on June 27, he reaches Minsk, 200 miles inside Russia. 300,000 Russians, encircled by the German thrust, are taken prisoner.

Guderian crosses the obstacle of the Dnieper river on July 10 and reaches Smolensk on July 16. The route he is taking leads directly to Moscow. Less than four weeks have passed, and 400 miles have been travelled. The Russian capital is now only 200 miles away. There is surely time.

Guderian and other commanders urge the strategy of pushing straight on towards Moscow, but Hitler makes a priority of disabling as much as possible of the Russian army. Guderian is ordered to swing south towards Kiev, where a pincer movement succeeds in capturing another 500,000 men (bringing the total number of prisoners in the campaign so far to about a million).

The move towards Moscow is resumed in early October. At the end of the month a victory at Vyazma brings another 600,000 Russian prisoners. But Moscow is still 125 miles ahead. The weather is deteriorating. The roads are deep in mud, soon to freeze. A few advance detachments struggle to the suburbs of the capital, in early December. But now the Russian winter has started in earnest.

Further to the north another German army, pushing along the Baltic coast, has made similarly spectacular progress in the early weeks of the campaign. Russia's second city, Leningrad, is reached in August. But the Germans prove unable to capture it. They begin a siege, which they hope will be over before the winter. It turns out to last for 900 days, until January 1944.

The Germans, confident in their technique of blitzkrieg, have come unprepared for winter conditions. They now receive orders from Hitler that no one is to turn back on any front. Remembering what happened to Napoleon's army on the march to Moscow, the shivering commanders and their men know all too well the hidden strengths brought out in the Russians by depths of winter and extremes of danger.

In December the Russians begin their counteroffensive, using divisions brought from Siberia. They make progress, rolling the Germans back on some fronts as much as 150 miles. But in an astonishing feat of endurance, in appalling conditions, the German resolve holds firm. It is fifteen months before the Russians dislodge the enemy from Vyazma, just 125 miles from the capital.

So when summer returns, in 1942, the Germans are in place for a renewed offensive. This time it is directed to the south. Hitler has his eye on the oil fields of the Caucasus. Once again, even though the German divisions are much weakened by their deprivations, the assault is carried out with extraordinary verve.

The strategy is to capture three salient points which protect the Caucasus, the valuable region between the Black Sea and the Caspian. They are Sebastopol on the Black Sea coast, Rostov at the mouth of the Don and blitzkrieg on the Volga.

The campaign is launched in early June. A month later the Crimea and Sebastopol are in German hands. Rostov falls on July 25, enabling a German army to press on towards the oil fields. But the third target, blitzkrieg, proves elusive. With extreme tenacity, fighting from house to house, the Russians defend this city which protects routes from the north and east. So the Germans begin a second winter on Russian soil, in the blitzkrieg that went wrong.

Japan's blitzkrieg: AD 1941-1942

Japan enters World War II with a ruthlessness unmatched by any other combatant, and achieves in a few months a blitzkrieg to rival anything achieved by the Germans. Even Hitler is not informed of the secret strike being prepared. It comes, literally, out of a clear sky.

In the early hours of Sunday, 7 December 1941, nearly 400 Japanese planes take off from aircraft carriers in the mid-Pacific. Their target is the American fleet at anchor, and the crews asleep, in Pearl Harbor - the deep-water port stretching inland from Honolulu, in Hawaii. All eight US battleships in the harbour are hit and five are sunk. Eleven other warships sink, 188 planes are destroyed on the ground. More than 2400 Americans die in the sudden attack.

On this same day the Japanese launch air attacks on American and British airfields in the Philippines, Guam, Midway, Hong Kong and Singapore, destroying numerous planes on the tarmac. It is a dramatic beginning to a campaign which for the next few months continues at almost the same intensity, by sea and land as well as air.

Within the next three days Japanese air strikes off the coast of Malaya sink the British battleship prince of wales (which so recently ferried Churchill across the Atlantic) and the battle cruiser Repulse. 5000 Japanese soldiers land on the US base of Guam and rapidly overwhelm it. In Thailand, Bangkok is easily taken. All this happens in the three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and even now there is little slackening in the pace.

Hong Kong surrenders on Christmas Day. By then Sarawak is already in Japanese hands. Brunei follows early in the new year. Before the end of January 1942 the Japanese hold the whole of Malaya, and February brings Singapore, Bali, Timor and the Dutch spice island of Amboina. On March 9 the Dutch surrender their prize possession in southeast Asia, the island of Java. In early May the USA loses its last foothold in the Philippines.

By this time Japanese attention is focused on Burma. The Burma road, through extremely difficult terrain, is the only route by which supplies from the west can reach Nationalist China. It is crucial to the Japanese to sever this lifeline. By the end of May all Burma is in their hands. China is in danger, and India is threatened.

The Japanese next turn their attention to Midway Island, a coral atoll some 1300 miles northwest of Honolulu which the US is developing as an air and submarine base. In early June 1942 a large Japanese fleet, including their four largest aircraft carriers, moves towards Midway. The Americans, anticipating the attack, await them with their own carriers. And for the first time, the tide begins to turn.

The assault from both sides is by planes launched at sea. On 4 June US planes succeed in sinking all four of the Japanese heavy aircraft carriers. The Americans have losses too, including one carrier. But the Japanese fleet, suffering a major reverse for the first time in this war, sails for home this same night without even coming close to the mid-Pacific atoll.

War in the Mediterranean

In any major European war the Mediterranean is certain to be an important sphere of conflict. It is one in which Britain holds a strategic advantage, controlling the two ocean entrances to the sea through possession of Gibraltar at one end and the Suez canal at the other.

During the first nine months of the war all the countries bordering the Mediterranean are allies of Britain or are non-combatant, until two events in the summer of 1940 transform the situation. France is conquered by Germany and the Italians enter the war on Germany's side. Two powerful navies in the Mediterranean are now threats to British interests - one certainly so (the Italian), and the other potentially so.

Hitler, in establishing Vichy France, has agreed to leave the French fleet under French command on condition that its active role is limited to minesweeping. The British, unwilling to trust this assurance, take what they decide to be the necessary action (described by Churchill as 'a hateful decision, the most unnatural and painful in which I have ever been concerned').

There is no difficulty in taking control of the many French warships in British ports, or of those moored with the British navy at Alexandria. The hateful decision concerns the major part of the French fleet, including two powerful new battle cruisers, lying in the harbour at Mers el-Kébir in Algeria.

On 3 July 1940 a British force blockades the port. The French admiral is given six hours to choose whether to join the British side in the war, to accept a way of mothballing his fleet in safe waters, or to scuttle his ships. If no agreement is reached, the British will open fire.

When the deadline passes, in the early evening, the bombardment begins. Much of the French fleet is destroyed, though one of the battle cruisers escapes to the harbour of Toulon in Vichy France. More than 1250 French sailors, who just two weeks previously were Britain's allies, die in the attack - a distressing fact which causes Mers el-Kébir to be among the most widely remembered engagements of the war.

The next challenge for Britain in the Mediterranean is the threat from the Italian navy. Italy's most powerful warships are cautious about leaving port, but even there they prove insecure when aircraft from the British carrier Illustrious sink three battleships at their moorings in Taranto harbour in November 1940.

However the Italians acquire a clear purpose when the British (aided for the first time by information from Bletchley Park and Enigma) send convoys to Greece early in 1941. In a naval battle off Cape Matapan, the southern extremity of mainland Greece, the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto is severely damaged. She escapes back to port but several other Italian ships are sunk in a British victory which much diminishes any future threat from the Italian navy.

However a new danger in the Mediterranean is developing during this same year. The one variety of enemy vessel which can slip unnoticed through the Straits of Gibraltar is the U-boat. By the end of 1941 German submarine activity is having a devastating effect on the British fleet in the Mediterranean.

The aircraft carrier Ark Royal falls victim to a torpedo attack on November 13, as does the battleship Barham later in the month. In December a British cruiser is torpedoed, and two other warships fall victim to mines. But the most devastating attack is suffered by British battleships in Alexandria, in a sweet revenge for the Italians.

In an exceptionally bold stroke, Italian frogmen penetrate Alexandria harbour. They guide underwater vehicles armed with warheads. In effect they are human torpedoes. They aim well. On 19 December 1941 two British battleships, the Queen Elizabeth and the Valiant, are crippled as they lie at anchor.

These cumulative losses severely reduce the power of the British navy in the Mediterranean. And they mean that Hitler can for the first time deliver adequate supplies to his commander in north Africa, Erwin Rommel, who is even now preparing for a great push east.

North and East Africa

At the end of June 1940, with Italy in the war and Vichy france neutralized, the Allied position in north Africa is perilous. Britain has some 50,000 troops in Egypt and the Sudan, the region on which the defence of the Suez canal depends. To the east of the Sudan, in Eritrea and Ethiopia, there are about 200,000 Italian troops. To the west of Egypt some 300,000 Italian troops are in Libya. Beyond them the French colonies of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are out of the combat, following the lead of Vichy france.

It looks on paper easy for Mussolini to overwhelm Egypt, bringing great strategic advantage to the Axis powers. But Wavell, the British commander in Egypt, takes a boldly aggressive line against the superior forces confronting him on all sides. And he achieves astonishing results.

Wavell strikes first to attack the Italians in Cyrenaica, the eastern province of Libya. Moving armoured divisions fast through the desert in a series of surprise attacks from 7 December 1940, Wavell's commanders capture large numbers of Italian soldiers and tanks. On 22 January 1941 they take the coastal fortress of Tobruk. Two weeks later they reach the coast beyond Benghazi, cutting off the Italian army.

With the threat from the west eliminated, Wavell turns his attention to the Italian colonies on the east African coast. British troops move from the Sudan into Eritrea and (with Haile Selassie) into Ethiopia. Asmara is taken in April and Addis Ababa in May, clearing the Italians out of both their recently acquired colonies.

North Africa

Wavell's rapid success in the Egyptian desert and Libya turns out to be merely the first in a series of see-saw reversals of fortune in this region over the next two years. The central figure is Rommel, the brilliant tank commander who has already distinguished himself in France in the summer of 1940.

In February 1941 Hitler realizes that he must extricate his incompetent ally, Mussolini, from the disaster looming in north Africa. He puts Rommel in command of a small armoured force of two divisions being shipped to Libya. From March 1941 Rommel carries out the most prolonged feat of inspired generalship by any commander in the entire war, frequently winning victories by tactical brilliance against far superior forces.

By mid-April 1941 Rommel pushes the British out of Libya and back over the Egyptian border. In doing so he bypasses and isolates the British garrison in Tobruk. Unsuccessful attempts are made to reach and relieve Tobruk (causing Churchill to deprive Wavell of his Middle East command, replacing him with Claude Auchinleck), until a much strengthened British and Commonwealth army pushes Rommel west again in November.

During the winter of 1941-2 both sides receive reinforcements. Rommel's strength remains considerably less than that of the Allies, but it is he who launches the next big campaign in May 1942. It will bring him within an ace of reaching his target, Alexandria.

On 21 June 1942 Rommel succeeds at last in taking Tobruk, capturing 33,000 British soldiers and an immensely valuable supply of equipment and stores (his chief of staff reports that during the next stage of the campaign 80% of the German supply system uses captured British vehicles). By now the British are in full retreat. On June 30 Rommel reaches El Alamein, a village on the coast 100 miles west of Alexandria. Mussolini, hearing the good news, flies to Africa to be ready for a triumphal ride into Cairo.

But now, as so often in this long north Africa campaign, the tide turns. Auchinleck takes personal command of the situation. At El Alamein he rallies the exhausted and demoralized British troops just sufficiently to achieve a limited purpose.

The first battle of El Alamein does not push Rommel back, but it halts him in his tracks. Rommel himself recognizes its significance, but Churchill is disappointed - and uses the occasion once again to change his generals. Harold Alexander is given Auchinleck's Middle East role and Bernard Montgomery becomes commander of the 8th army.

The turning point comes when Rommel launches a new offensive, on August 30, which is successfully resisted by the British at Alam al-Halfa. Eight weeks later Montgomery, by now commanding a force which has been built up to far greater strength than Rommel's, is ready to go on the offensive. On 23 October 1942 he launches the second battle of El Alamein.

After twelve days of complex tactical manoeuvres Rommel is too weak to continue. He beats a retreat so rapid and efficient (700 miles in two weeks) that he leaves few prisoners or supplies in Allied hands. Subsequently, when the 8th army catches up with him to launch new attacks, he withdraws another 550 miles until he is across the border of Libya and into Tunisia.

By now it is January 1943 and there is an entirely new element in the conflict. Two months previously British and American forces have landed at several places on the coast of northwest Africa. They are already pressing into Tunisia from the west. The final theatre of war in this long campaign is becoming clearly identified as the region round Tunis.



The build-up to the Allied attack on Tunis, in May 1943, involves a succession of important new developments. The landing of Allied armies in Morocco and Algeria includes the first major participation by US troops. And since these regions are defended by some 120,000 French soldiers under the command of Vichy France, the invasion poses an unprecedented dilemma and tug of loyalty for the local French commanders.

Once the plan of invasion is finalized, in the summer of 1942, Allied diplomats begin the task of trying to discover which of the French generals may have the courage to defy orders and change sides - a difficult assessment, since the negotiators dare not divulge too much of the invasion strategy or timing.

To a large extent the Allies fail in this preparatory task. As a result the landing parties are at first vigorously opposed by the French army. The invasion, under the overall command of Dwight Eisenhower, takes place simultaneously on 8 November 1942 on three fronts - near Casablanca on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, and in the Mediterranean at the Algerian ports of Oran and Algiers.

There are three days of fighting before the French commanders tell their troops to offer no further resistance. By then the situation in Vichy france is itself undergoing sudden transformation. On November 11 Hitler, abandoning the armistice agreement, sends troops over the border from occupied France. At the same time Italian divisions invade from the southeast.

By the end of November 11 Vichy france is a German-occupied territory like any other. From the Allied point of view, there is one major disappointment. The French commanders in north Africa, having themselves changed sides, send instructions to the admiral of the remaining French fleet (mothballed in Toulon) to brings his warships across the Mediterranean.

He delays doing so, thus giving the Germans time to mine the exit from the harbour. But there is compensation. Just as the Germans are on the verge of commandeering these valuable ships, the French crews succeed is scuttling the fleet. France is now fully back in the Allied camp, and is about to contribute to one of Germany's major setbacks of the war in the final battle for north Africa.

Hitler is constitutionally unable to contemplate failure on the battlefield. So instead of withdrawing his army from north Africa, he decides to strengthen it - even though it is threatened by far superior forces on both flanks. Large-scale reinforcements are shipped to Tunis during the winter of 1942-3, and by February it looks as though Rommel may once again be able to work his magic. Making maximum use of surprise, he manages at first to push west into Algeria against American and French opposition.

But his advance falters, while Allied pressure continues to mount on both fronts. To the east the 8th Army is building up strength for a push against a line the Germans are holding from the coast at Mareth, close to Medenine.

From mid-March the trap begins to close. American and French forces move east across the border from Algeria. British and Commonwealth troops make their way north up the peninsula towards Tunis. Finally, on 7 May 1943, British armoured divisions reach and capture the city. On the same day American and French forces take the nearby port of Bizerte, thus cutting off the escape of more than 250,000 German and Italian troops.

The end of this long campaign is a very significant moment in the development of the war. There is now major American involvement. The ambiguous position of France has been abruptly ended. And the loss of north Africa is a blow to Germany's military reputation and self-confidence - just a few months after another major setback, at Stalingrad.


The battle for the city of Stalingrad, bitterly fought from building to building, lasts from August to November 1942. Neither side is able to gain absolute control of the city and evict the other, even though Germany's entire Sixth Army is involved. But the Germans, even if they achieve possession, are in the graver danger. They are fighting far from their sources of supply. And the city they are struggling so hard to occupy may prove a trap, as the Russians are even now planning.

A Russian pincer campaign is launched on November 19. It has a simple aim, to encircle the Germans. Just four days later the noose is complete, though not yet tight. It surrounds a large area between the Volga and the Don. Inside it are more than 200,000 of the enemy.

The commander of the Sixth Army, General Friedrich Paulus, is well aware that this is the last possible chance to extricate his men. He sends a request to Hitler to begin a withdrawal. The answer comes back: No. Meanwhile German and Italian efforts to break the noose from outside are repulsed with heavy losses. Attempts to break out, and the freezing winter conditions, cause massive losses in the Sixth Army.

Eventually, in mid-January 1943, Paulus protests to Hitler that it is beyond human strength to continue fighting in these circumstances. Hitler's reply, as to the commanders near Moscow a year earlier, is that not an inch of ground is to be given up; 'the Sixth Army will do its historic duty at Stalingrad to the last man'.

At the same time Hitler promotes von Paulus to the rank of field marshal. No German field marshal, the Führer remarks at the time, has ever been taken prisoner. But at the end of the month (on 31 January 1943) von Paulus, with just 91,000 survivors, surrenders to the Russians. Hitler is apoplectic, declaring himself personally betrayed. He protests that the new field marshal should have taken his own life, like an ancient Roman, rather than face captivity.

Hitler's personal obstinacy succeeds in maintaining a German front in russia for another year and more. But the more significant fact is that his obsessive refusal to yield has now lost him an entire German army - and will soon lose him another, in North africa.

Malta and Sicily

The capture of the German army in north Africa in May 1943 dramatically alters the balance of advantage within the Mediterranean, and brings one immediate benefit for the Allies. It ends the three-year siege and bombardment which has been endured with great heroism by the citizens of the tiny island of Malta.

From the entry of Italy into the war, in June 1940, Italian and German planes take off from Sicily on frequent bombing sorties to subdue this small British outpost, of huge strategic importance as the only staging post available to the Allies between Gibraltar and Alexandria and the only base for attacks on the enemy's supply route between Italy and north Africa. At the worst times of the siege, food and fuel can only be delivered to Malta by submarine.

The people hold firm and in token of their endurance, in 1942, George VI awards Britain's highest civilian medal for courage, the George Cross, to the entire 'Island Fortress of Malta'. In the summer of 1943, with the whole north African coast now in Allied hands, the strategic importance of Malta is finally reduced and the agony ends.

During the north Africa campaign there has been much debate among the Allies as to what should be their next target. Is an attack on Italy better launched from Sardinia or Sicily? The decision is taken for Sicily. On July 9 the southern coast of the island is invaded by landing craft, paratroops and gliders carrying the vanguard of the US 7th Army and the British 8th Army - respectively under the command of George Patton and Montgomery.

Italy changes sides

Soon nearly half a million Allied troops are in Sicily. Between them they clear it by August 16 of its German and Italian defenders, though they fail to prevent them escaping the short distance to safety in mainland Italy.

This campaign in Sicily (the first penetration by the Allies of any Axis territory) has immediate repercussions in Italian politics. During the night of July 24 the Fascist Grand Council in Rome passes a vote of no confidence in Mussolini. The next day the dictator is arrested on the order of the king, Victor Emmanuel III, who appoints in his place a field marshal, Pietro Badoglio. Badoglio's main task is to extricate Italy from the war. But this is complicated by two factors.

One difficulty is that the Germans, whose cause Italy is now eager to abandon, are all around. The other is that the Allies have resolved (at a conference in Casablanca in January 1943) that they will accept only unconditional surrender from any of the Axis powers.

Surrender on this basis is an alarming leap into the unknown, but secret negotiations with the Allies (held in Spain and Portugal) bear fruit. On September 8 Italy surrenders. Three weeks later Badoglio signs an agreement committing Italy to change sides. And on October 13 Italy declares war on her recent ally, Germany. But meanwhile the Germans, in possession of most of Italy, have had time to bring in reinforcements and improve their defences.

The shape of Italy, long and thin with a spinal range of mountains, is perfectly designed for defence against an army attempting to move up the peninsula. As a result the Italian campaign is a long and arduous one for the Allies.

The initial thrust goes reasonably well. A small force is landed without difficulty on September 3 just across the Straits of Messina, in the toe of Italy. A much larger invasion follows on September 8, up the coast at Salerno. Here there is strong German resistance. Even so, within three weeks the Allies are in Naples. It is only at a point further north, near Monte Cassino, that the slow-down begins.

The Italian campaign

About 30 miles up the coast from Naples the Germans create the Gustav Line, a defensive position stretching across the peninsula from the Garigliano river in the west to the Sangro in the east. High on a hill above the Garigliano is the rich and ancient monastery of Monte Cassino, the cradle of the Benedictine movement.

The Germans succeed in holding the Allies along this line for six months, from November 1943, in spite of the landing of an Allied force at Anzio, behind the German lines, in January 1944. Anzio remains an ineffective bridgehead until May, when at last an Allied thrust from both directions breaks the German resistance. In the battle the monastery and the nearby town of Cassino are demolished.

The multinational Allied force (including US, British, Canadian, French and Polish troops) at last moves fast, capturing Rome on June 5. But the German resistance further north does not collapse as hoped. It is another ten weeks before Florence is taken, on August 13, and by now the Germans have established a strong defensive line just a little further ahead. The so-called Gothic Line stretches through hilly country from Pisa in the west to Rimini in the east. Again the Allies grind to a halt, this time until the spring of 1945.

But meanwhile there has been an interesting political development in northern Italy.

Since his arrest, Mussolini has been held in various places. At the time of the announcement of Italy's armistice with the Allies, on 8 September 1943, he is being guarded in a small hotel high in the Abruzzi mountains, northeast of Rome.

When Hitler hears the news of Italy's defection, his sense of outrage reinforces the loyalty which he always shows to his incompetent Fascist ally. On September 10 he speaks on the radio to the German nation, describing Mussolini as 'the greatest son of Italian soil since the collapse of the Roman empire'. At the same time he takes more practical steps, ordering a parachute raid by the Ss to rescue the fallen dictator.

Mussolini might well have preferred a quiet life in a small hotel. After being rescued by the Ss, and taken to see Hitler, he is appointed puppet dictator of a new Fascist republic of Italy - meaning now just the northern part still under German control. Mussolini remains a prisoner, for his palace on Lake Garda has the Ss guarding it. And he must do whatever Hitler tells him.

In the end the Ss fail even to give him protection. As the Allies make their final advance up Italy, in April 1945, Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, are captured and shot by Italian partisans. Their bodies are hung upside down from a gibbet in Milan, where nine years earlier he first described his alliance with Hitler as a new Axis in world politics.


The western front

Almost exactly four years after Hitler's preparations to send an invasion force across the Channel to England, the Allies are at last ready to do the same in the opposite direction. D-day (a World War I codename for the launch date of an operation, standing for 'day-day') is fixed for 6 June 1944. On the first day of the operation ships carrying about 130,000 troops (roughly half American, half British and Canadian) assemble to the southeast of the Isle of Wight. From there they move south to the Normandy beaches between Cherbourg and Caen. Another 20,000 men are dropped in by air.

Events do not go according to plan. Montgomery, in command of the British sector, expects to take Caen on the first day. He is in for a disappointment.

A German panzer division denies Caen to Montgomery for a month. Further west along the coast Cherbourg resists the Americans, under Patton, until June 20. It is mid-August before the Allies begin to make real progress eastwards.

The German defence, though extremely effective, is handicapped by several factors. One is a desperate lack of troops in the region, compared to the Allied forces being landed every day. Another is a false optimism on Hitler's part, based on his knowledge that he can now deploy two extraordinary new weapons with which to overawe civilians in Britain. Named Vergeltungswaffen ('reprisal weapons), they become known as the V-1 and V-2 (an aerial torpedo and the first space-age rocket). These are impressive achievements and are terrifying to those in their immediate path. But the damage they do turns out to be relatively insignificant.

A third complication is an unwelcome distraction at this time of crisis. On July 20 the Stauffenberg plot nearly succeeds in killing Hitler. More than 5000 people are executed for a link, sometimes remote, with this attempted insurrection. Among them is Germany's greatest general, now commanding the panzer forces in the west. The conspirators' papers reveal that Rommel is in sympathy with their aims. He is arrested and is forced to take poison.

And finally, Hitler's character provides a fatal flaw. Once again, as at Stalingrad, he gives the order that no German forces are to withdraw. The result is that the chance to fall back to a strong defensive position is lost. So when the Allies eventually move, they move fast.

Patton and the Americans reach Orléans on August 17. A week later a French division is placed in the vanguard, to enter and liberate Paris on August 24. On September 3 the British enter Brussels, and a day later they are in Antwerp. Meanwhile Patton's armies have crossed the Meuse at Verdun and have moved on to the Moselle, near Metz.

The Germans are by this time in such disarray that they could offer little resistance if the Allies, with huge superiority in numbers of tanks and aircraft, pushed straight on into Germany's industrial heartlands. But in mid-September the Americans and British pause, partly from shortage of fuel, partly because of a disaster at Arnhem, partly because of differences of opinion in the Allied high command.

The event at Arnhem, in mid-September, frustrates the first Allied attempt to cross the Rhine. Montgomery, pushing north towards the river, drops paratroops and gliders on the other side to seize the northern end of the Arnhem bridge. They succeed in doing so, but the main army fails to reach the southern end in time. 7500 men are trapped and captured.

This is a tactical disaster, but it is disagreements between Montgomery and Patton which most delay the campaign. Urging different strategies for the next stage, they make incompatible demands on the US general, Dwight Eisenhower, who has been in overall command of the Normandy campaign from the start.

Eisenhower tries to find a solution which will accomodate both his army commanders, but precious time is lost - so much so that the Germans, after frantic searches for reinforcements, are able to astonish the Allies by mounting a counter-offensive in mid-December in the wooded region of the Ardennes.

Their intention is to break through towards the coast, thus dividing the British army to the north from the Americans in the south. The element of surprise enables three German armies to push west almost as far as the Meuse. But by mid-January 1945 their bridgehead has been contained and squeezed back (the campaign is known as the battle of the Bulge). It turns out to be the last German offensive of the war.

Yalta and Dresden

A few weeks after the battle of the Bulge the three Allied leaders, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, meet in Yalta, a resort on the Black Sea. Their focus, when they gather on 4 February 1945, is no longer on how to conduct the war in the west. It is on what to do when it is over.

Each leader has a different and in many ways incompatible agenda. Roosevelt and Churchill want to secure Stalin's cooperation in establishing the United nations. Stalin is more interested in extending Russia's borders in the west to those of the old empire, before the humiliating peace treaty made with Germany in 1917 and the subsequent provisions of the Treaty of versailles. This would mean absorbing much of eastern Poland, together with the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The other main concern of Roosevelt, by now a very sick man, is a swift end to the war in the Pacific against the still extremely powerful Japanese empire. He wants to ensure that Stalin declares war on Japan as soon as the European conflict is over. To achieve this purpose he is in a mood to compromise with the Russian dictator.

Churchill, well aware of an obligation to Poland (on whose behalf Britain entered the war), has a greater interest in standing up to Stalin. But militarily he is the weakest of the three leaders. And the unavoidable fact is that the Russian armies have been making much faster inroads on German-held territory than the Allies. They are already occupying Poland, Rumania and Bulgaria. Is Britain on her own likely to use force to drive them out after the war?

Compromises are reached. The eastern part of prewar Poland is to be sacrificed to Stalin. In return he offers an olive branch on a topic of great importance to both Roosevelt and Churchill. In keeping with the democratic principle of self-determination, Stalin guarantees that the nations of eastern Europe will enjoy free postwar elections. Yet all three leaders at Yalta must certainly be aware that this is an empty and unenforceable promise.

Stalin also promises to enter the war against Japan within two or three months of the surrender of Germany. In reward for this it is agreed that Russia shall after the war annexe some of the territory held by Japan on the Chinese coast, together with the Japanese Kuril islands.

The conference at Yalta ends on February 11. Three days later there occurs one of the most controversial Allied actions of World War II. The Russians, with a justifiable fear that Hitler will move divisions to the eastern front to halt their advance, have requested Allied bombing raids in eastern Germany to prevent this happening. The Allies decide that Dresden is the best target for the purpose.

The city, famous for the beauty of its buildings, is full of refugees fleeing from the Russians when nearly 800 British bombers strike during the night of 14 February 1945. Their target is the railway marshalling yards which would be of use to German divisions moving eastwards.

This initial assault is followed by 450 American bombers the following morning. The result of this vast weight of explosive is a fire storm which rages through the streets of Dresden, destroying eleven square miles of the city and killing countless numbers of people. Estimates have varied widely, but the modern consensus is around 35,000 (by comparison the immediate deaths at Hiroshima will be about 80,000).

Done for a military purpose, this calamitous event probably does nothing to hasten the end of the war. For as the three leaders at Yalta are well aware, the end is now clearly in sight for Hitler's Thousand-year reich.

The noose tightens: AD 1945

During the spring of 1945 the collapse of Germany comes, after so long, with surprising speed. German commanders in the field, no longer feeling any enthusiasm for a fight which is clearly lost, begin to disregard the stream of hysterical instructions from Hitler to stand firm whatever the cost. To the armies defending the Rhine his order includes the statement that the battle shall be conducted 'without consideration for our own population'.

A scorched earth policy within Germany is now the order of the day. All public utilities in the path of the Allies (water, gas, electricity) are to be destroyed. To protests from within his inner group, Hitler replies that if the war is lost, the German nation is lost. There is no need to consider the future requirements of a vanquished people.

In this situation, and with Hitler's final reserves sent to the eastern front, the Allies meet little opposition when they cross the Rhine at various points on March 22-4 (first the Third US Army led by George Patton in the south, followed by the British and Canadians in the north). Both groups, pressing on east, reach the Elbe in mid-April. On the way they discover the horrors which bring home to the west, more powerfully than ever before, the true nature of the Nazi regime.

On April 10 the Americans reach the concentration camp at Buchenwald. Five days later the British come across Belsen, where there are 35,000 unburied bodies and as many emaciated prisoners still just alive. And these are not even the Death camps - merely places where prisoners are subjected to hard work, little food and Nazi indifference.

Meanwhile the Russians, pushing westwards, have entered Vienna on April 6. Within three weeks, by April 25, they reach and encircle Berlin, where Hitler is at last beginning to recognize that there can be no miraculous outcome.

News of the death of Roosevelt, on April 12, has been enough to make him hope for a sudden reversal of fortune. But on April 29, against his specific orders, the German army in Italy surrenders to the Allies. Hitler also knows that Himmler, his trusted SS commander, has been making peace overtures behind his back. Livid with anger at this betrayal, he now recognizes the end and prepares to meet it. In the elaborate bunker beneath the Chancellery he puts his affairs in order.

The traitor Himmler is formally expelled from the party. Admiral Dönitz is appointed as Hitler's successor and the names of his cabinet are selected. Hitler then retires for a while to dictate his last will and testament, a tract of self-justification in which the Jews are still blamed for the war and the Nazi party is urged to continue the necessary campaign against them.

On this same day, April 29, in the early hours of the morning, Hitler rewards a woman who has always been quietly faithful to him. He marries his mistress, Eva Braun, following the ceremony with a small champagne party at which Goebbels (the Nazi minister of propaganda) and Martin Bormann (Hitler's secretary and close adviser) are the principal guests.

On April 30 Hitler holds his usual daily conference while the Russians, in the streets above, are only two blocks away from the Chancellery. Then Hitler and Eva Braun retire to their quarters. She takes poison, he shoots himself in the mouth. On the following day Goebbels orders SS men to give his six children lethal injections and to shoot his wife and himself.

Hitler was appalled that his nation had surrendered in World War I without a single foreign soldier setting foot on German soil. His own unbreakable resolve results in the opposite extreme. When he dies, the enemy is in the heart of Berlin. A week later, on May 7, the unconditional surrender of all the German forces is signed at General Eisenhower's headquarters. May 8 is celebrated by the Allies as V-E Day - victory in Europe.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Amphibious war against Japan

Victory in Europe, in May 1945, leaves the Allies free to concentrate on their remaining enemy, Japan. From the summer of 1942 Japan has been in control of a vast swathe of southeast Asia, captured in the months after the attack on Pearl harbor. This rapidly acquired territory consists of two main parts.

One is a cluster of the many islands, large and small, to the south of Japan, including the Philippines, the Marianas, Borneo, the islands of Indonesia, half of New Guinea, and the many smaller island groups and archipelagos north of Australia. The other is a new mainland empire consisting of much of the coast of China and the whole of southeast Asia from Vietnam to Burma.

In many respects the whirlwind Japanese Campaign of 1941-2 has been too successful. So many conquered territories mean too many fronts to defend. In subsequent years Allied armies tie down Japanese troops in Burma in the west. In the east US ships and planes nibble their way towards Japan through the Pacific islands.

The US victory at Midway in June 1942 is the turning point. From then on American pressure in the Pacific is relentless, in the first prolonged example of a new form of combat developed in World War II - amphibious warfare, in which ships, carriers, planes and marines fight together in a closely coordinated effort. The first strategic objective is to secure supply lines between the Pacific coast of the USA and Australia.

The first selected target is the island of Guadalcanal, to the northeast of Australia, where the Japanese are building a strong base. From August 1942 there is continuous fighting here on land, at sea and in the air, until at last in February 1943 US forces secure the island.

Large numbers of ships have been destroyed on both sides in this six-month engagement, but in terms of manpower the Japanese losses greatly outnumber those of the Americans. A pattern is set, of painful Allied progress (mainly American, sometimes Australian) through the islands towards Japan, with every step bitterly and bravely contested by the Japanese.

A significant step in the slow move north towards Japan is the US assault, in February 1944, of a strong naval base in the volcanic cluster of the Truk Islands. Eleven Japanese warships and more than 300 planes are destroyed here, in the first radar-guided night attack. After this it is clear that the next target must be the Marianas, a group of islands which the Japanese rightly regard as a crucial line of defence. From here US planes will be within bombing range of Japan herself.

On 15 June 1944 American marines land on Saipan, one of the Marianas. 30,000 Japanese defenders are in secure positions in bunkers and caves. After three weeks of fierce fighting the two Japanese commanders commit suicide (an example immediately followed by hundreds of Japanese civilians, some of them by jumping off cliffs).

During this same period there has been a mighty battle at sea, west of the Marianas, between Japanese and American fleets and naval aircraft. It proves a disaster for the Japanese. The action of this two-day Battle of the Philippine Sea begins on June 19 with waves of Japanese planes, 430 in all, launched to attack the US fleet. More than 300 of them are immediately shot down by US pilots. By the end of the next day the Japanese have lost another 100 planes and three aircraft carriers. The American loss is 130 planes and some damage to several of their ships.

The capture of Saipan, soon followed by the other Marianas, is of crucial significance. The first large B-29 bombers, developed specifically for this purpose, take off from Saipan on 24 November 1944 on the long trip to bomb Tokyo.

With the process of battering the Japanese people into submission now under way, American attention turns also to a nearer target and one closely involved with American history - the Philippines. The campaign to recover them is close to the heart of the US commander, Douglas MacArthur. It was he who had to relinquish them to the Japanese in 1942, after a heroic struggle against superior forces.

This time he has the greater might, but the Japanese resist with their usual tenacity. The first US landing is on Leyte on 20 October 1944. Within days sea and air battles are raging in the area (including the first Kamikaze attack). Leyte is not secured until Christmas Day. The capital of the Philippines, Manila, withstands a four-week siege before MacArthur enters it in March 1945.

Attrition in Burma

While the Allies make gradual progress island-hopping towards Japan, the confrontation between the two sides on the mainland is occurring in Burma. Here the Japanese pose a threat westwards into British India, and from here they could strike north towards the inland capital of the nationalist Chinese leader, Jiang Jieshi (also spelt Chiang Kai-shek). Forced back from the coast by the Japanese invaders, he has made his headquarters at Chongqing, a port on the Yangtze river to the northeast of Burma.

During 1943 the only Allied activity in Burma is guerrilla warfare behind the Japanese lines. It is carried out by the Chindits, a combined force of British, Gurkha and Burmese troops under the command of Orde Wingate.

Destroying bridges and blowing up railway lines in the Burmese jungle, the Chindits are entirely dependent on supplies dropped from the air - and this method of supply proves crucial when the Allies at last send a conventional army, under William Slim, east from India into Burma. A battle on a double front, at Imphal and Kohima in March-June 1944, is Slim's first success. But the downpour of the monsoon and the jungle conditions make progress slow, and it is not until February 1945 that he is in a position to cross the Irrawaddy. He takes Mandalay on March 20 and moves south to seize Rangoon, just in time before the arrival of the next monsoon.

The British recovery of Burma coincides with the American recapture, much nearer to Japan, of the Philippines.


The second summit of 1945 is held by the three western leaders in July and August at Potsdam, close to Berlin in occupied Germany. It involves two changes of cast since the gathering at Yalta. The US president is now Harry Truman, following the death three months earlier of Roosevelt. And during the conference a general election replaces Churchill with Attlee, who takes the British chair in the later stages of the discussion.

Agreements are reached (and disagreements registered) on many aspects of the postwar settlement. But the main topic is the continuing war against Japan. Stalin is now let in on an important secret - that the USA has developed and in the past few days (on July 16) has successfully tested an atom bomb in the New Mexican desert.

Stalin is not as yet at war with Japan (though he has revoked an existing treaty of neutrality, in keeping with his pledge made at Yalta) so his name is not on a Declaration sent to the Japanese from Potsdam on July 26. It is issued in the names of Truman, Churchill and the Chinese nationalist commander Jiang Jieshi (or Chiang Kai-Shek), who transmits by radio his agreement to the text.

The declaration demands unconditional surrender and warns that the Allies will disarm Japan, dismantle the Japanese empire and prosecute war criminals. But it also guarantees that the Japanese will neither be 'enslaved as a race nor destroyed as a nation'. The phrase proves influential in the debate about surrender which occupies the Japanese high command during the final horrifying months of the war.

Six months to Nagasaki: AD 1945

The final stage in the US advance towards Japan has begun in February 1945. At this time the B-29 bombers heading for targets in Japan are flying a round trip of some 3000 miles from the Marianas. This distance will be halved if the small island of Iwo Jima, midway along the route, can be captured.

The island's obvious strategic importance means that it is defended by numerous heavily armed Japanese troops in a network of fortified rock shelters and caves. US marines meet fierce resistance when they land on February 19. With every yard of the US advance hotly contested, more than 20,000 men are dead or injured on each side before the island is finally in US hands on March 16.

On the second day of the engagement a US light carrier is sunk by a desperate new Japanese method of warfare - a suicide attack by a pilot flying a plane full of explosives into the side of the ship. This technique, called Kamikaze from a famous event in Japanese history, was pioneered in an attack on a US fleet in the Pacific on 25 October 1944. During the intervening four months it has become a familiar danger, with an apparently unlimited supply of Japanese pilots willing to sacrifice their lives.

The largest Kamikaze attack awaits the Americans as they take the next step towards Japan. With Iwo Jima secure, attention turns to the island of Okinawa - at a distance of only about 300 miles from Kyushu, the southernmost of the four main islands of Japan.

US troops land on Okinawa on 1 April 1945. Five days later no fewer than 355 Kamikaze planes are launched against them, while on April 12 the US destroyer Abele is sunk by a further development of the Kamikaze weapon. This is the baka, in effect a human guided missile. It takes the form of a glider, packed with explosives and powered by rockets, which is carried by a bomber to near its target. When released, the rockets ignite and the pilot of the baka steers it to the appointed site of his death.

Okinawa is in US hands by the end of June, after the most costly battle in the entire Pacific campaign. US deaths are in the region of 12,000, and the Japanese equivalent is possibly more than 100,000.

The intended target for the next wave of invasion has been Kyushu. But Japanese defence of such courage and ferocity at every stage makes it more attractive to contemplate bombing Japan into submission. In this context there have been devastating successes, partly thanks to a new US weapon first used in the assault on Iwo jima - napalm.

On 9 March 1945 napalm is used in a raid on a crowded part of Tokyo where the buildings are of timber. In the resulting fire storm some 80,000 people die and a million are made homeless, with a quarter of Tokyo's buildings burnt. In the next few weeks there are similarly heavy raids on all the major cities of Japan. But as with the Blitz on britain and Germany, there is no sign that these horrors increase the likelihood of Japan surrendering.

Japan's surrender is now deemed to require the use of an even more terrifying new US weapon, the atom bomb. No response is received to the declaration from Potsdam, demanding unconditional surrender (it is later discovered that the emperor, Hirohito, has pressed the case for surrender but has failed to persuade his generals). So President Truman authorizes the dropping of the new bomb.

On 6 August 1945 a specially adapted B-29 takes off from Tinian Island, in the Marianas, with the bomb on board. It explodes over Hiroshima at 8.15 a.m., demolishing some four square miles of the city and bringing instant death to about 80,000 people (many more die later from the effects of radiation). Even this does not bring immediate surrender, partly through the rigidity of the Japanese imperial system and partly because the scale of the horror is not immediately realized in Tokyo.

A mere three days later a second bomb is dropped on Nagasaki. Between the two events, on August 8, Stalin declares war on Japan and launches a predatory attack on occupied Manchuria. On August 10 Japan announces that the surrender terms specified at Potsdam are accepted.

The use of the atom bombs has remained the subject of intense controversy. Would Japan have surrendered if the force of the weapon had been demonstrated on a deserted island? Would conventional warfare have eventually prevailed? Or would either of these courses have led to even greater loss of life by prolonging the war? These are questions which cannot be answered. And on the other side it may be argued that the evidence of Hiroshima made the Cold War, paradoxically, a period of world peace.

After the war

Postwar occupations

A delay of some three weeks separates the Japanese surrender from its formal acceptance by General MacArthur on 2 September 1945 in a ceremony in Tokyo Bay on board the US battleship Missouri. In the interim the Allies have already celebrated victory in Japan with V-J Day, on August 15, as the equivalent of V-E Day three months earlier.

The intervening weeks are a practical necessity in preparing the Japanese people to accept the disaster which has befallen them. Their traditional faith in the god-like invincibility of their emperor has first to be disabused. When Hirohito himself speaks on radio to explain the situation, and to say that defeat must be accepted, it is a shock to many to discover that the emperor has an ordinary human voice. They must also accept the fact that after defeat comes foreign occupation.

The government of occupied Japan is placed in the hands of Douglas MacArthur. Although in name an Allied undertaking, the occupation is in fact an almost entirely US concern. MacArthur's first task is to complete the demilitarization of the country, followed by the introduction of democratic institutions to replace imperial rule.

By 1950, with the Korean war under way and Mao Ze Dong in control in China, the emphasis changes. By now the most important requirement seems to be building up Japan as a bulwark against Communism. An independent, democratic, capitalist Japan emerges with the end of the Allied occupation in 1952.

In Europe the only territories occupied by the Allies after the war are Germany and Austria. The other nations which were on Germany's side for at least part of the war - Italy, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and Finland - all have their independence immediately restored, though in practice the three east European nations are already under the dark shadow of Russia.

The occupation arrangements for Germany and Austria have been agreed by the western powers at Potsdam. Both are to be divided into four zones separately controlled by the USSR, the USA, Britain and France. But Austria is to be treated leniently, as a country liberated from the German Occupation of 1938.

This History is as yet incomplete.

The intention therefore is to restore Austria to democratic independence as soon as possible. In the event the occupying forces remain in place for ten years because the Russians quibble over the frontier agreements required for the eventual peace treaty - which is not finally signed until May 1955. With this achieved, Austria at last returns to independence within approximately her prewar boundaries.

The occupation of Austria, even if unduly prolonged, has been relatively uneventful. The opposite is true in Germany, where the agreement at Potsdam has provided for four zones of occupation, as for Austria, but with Berlin itself similarly divided between the four powers - even though it is deep inside the Russian zone.

Friction between the three western powers and the USSR escalates until in March 1948, in an effort to impose their will, the Russians block the access corridor from the western zones to Berlin. The blockade of Berlin, to which the Allies respond with the Berlin airlift, lasts for more than a year before the corridor is opened to traffic again in June 1949.

The western intention, after removing the remains of the Nazi system and restoring democracy, has been to return Germany to independence as a single nation. But this aim is frustrated by the Cold War and the descent of the Iron Curtain across Europe.

On 23 May 1949, some ten days after the ending of the Berlin blockade, the western powers hand over the administration of their three zones to the government of a new Federal Republic of Germany. The troops remain in place. But now they are part of the western defence against the eastern bloc, rather than an occupying force.

A week later, on May 30, the Russians follow the same logic and proclaim a constitution for a new German Democratic Republic. The heart of Hitler's Reich is thus split into two nations, with the rigid division reflected in miniature in the two increasingly isolated parts of Berlin. Germany and Berlin will remain divided in this way for forty years, until the symbolic battering down of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

War crimes and trials

With the determination of the Allies to stamp out the taint of Nazism in Germany and to end the traditional militarism of Japan, there goes also a desire to bring to trial those who are guilty of war crimes.

The concept of war crimes is new in the 20th century. In 1919 the Treaty of versailles calls for the prosecution of William II, the German kaiser, for launching World war i through his violation of the neutrality of Luxembourg and Belgium. But the trial never takes place. International pressure causes a few German officers to be tried in German courts for acts of cruelty inconsistent with the customs of war. But they are either acquitted or are given light sentences, and are seen by the German public as victims.

After World War II the mood is very different, fuelled by knowledge of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and of Japanese cruelties in their occupied territories.

The German trials take place first, in Nuremberg over a period of ten months from November 1945. The main perpetrators of the Nazi tyranny are unavailable. Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler have all committed suicide in the days before or immediately after the German surrender. Goering too escapes the hangman's noose. He sits in the dock through the long months of the trial and is sentenced to death. But on the day before his execution he takes a hidden phial of poison.

Of the twenty-two defendants at Nuremberg three are acquitted, twelve are sentenced to death and seven are given terms of imprisonment ranging from ten years to life - among them one of Hitler's earliest colleagues, Rudolf Hess, and his provider of architecture and armaments, Albert Speer.

A similar trial begins in Tokyo in May 1946 and lasts for more than two years. When sentences are finally passed on twenty-five defendants, in November 1948, seven are sentenced to death and the rest to imprisonment.

The human cost

Notorious though World war i is for its wanton waste of life in the trenches, the tally of death in World War II is far greater. The estimated figures for the first war suggest that some 8 million service personnel and 7 million civilians lose their lives. This total of 15 million is more than doubled in the second war, largely owing to two factors - the staggering cost in lives of the heroic Russian resistance to the German armies, and the evils perpetrated by the Nazis on the Jews.

It is calculated that Russia suffers the loss of 7.5 million serving men and women and 10 million civilians. The number of murdered Jews is estimated to be in the region of 6 million, the majority of them from Poland.

China too, in her long war against Japan, has exceptionally high losses, particularly of civilians - 2.2 million military and 6 million civilian dead. Of the other combatant nations, the two main Axis powers lose the most. Germany's dead are 3.5 million military, 500,000 civilian. Japan's equivalent figures are 1.5 million and 600,000.

For the other nations in the war the statistics are markedly lower. For military and civilian deaths the approximate figures are: France 200,000/400,000; Britain and the Commonwealth 300,000/65,000; Italy 200,000/150,000; USA 300,000/6000.

Postwar remedies and reactions

As with the genesis of the League of nations in World War I, there are discussions among the Allies during the next war as to what more effective international organization can be devised to secure world peace. The first steps are taken by Roosevelt and Churchill during the meeting which produces the Atlantic charter of 1941.

In the following year twenty-six states publish a Declaration of the United Nations, setting out their reasons for opposing the Axis powers and their vision of a just world. And in 1945 fifty-one states sign a Charter of the United Nations, thereby setting up the new organization which replaces the League of nations. Though often unequal to the numerous challenges facing it, the UN will prove the most successful international forum yet devised.

With a blueprint in place for diplomatic cooperation, the next immediate task is the reconstruction of the shattered European economies. The dire situation in many of the war-ravaged countries prompts the US secretary of state, George C. Marshall, to propose a programme of US aid. The resulting Marshall Plan distributes some $13.5bn to sixteen European countries during the period 1948-52. It provides an invaluable boost to the process of recovery.

There is an element of self-interest in Marshall's proposal. The most urgent problem confronting the capitalist west is now perceived to be the spread of Communism, with Stalin plainly intent on extending his global influence. A prosperous western Europe will provide a vital bulwark against this threat.

The reality of a dividing line through Europe, perceived already as a danger at the Yalta conference early in 1945, is unmistakable once the dust of war settles. Speaking in the USA in March 1946 Churchill expresses the new situation with brutal clarity. The new Europe, he says, is very far from the one the Allies were fighting to save; in its place, 'from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent'. The recent war has led directly to another of a different kind, to be known as the Cold War.

The dangers of the new situation prompt the creation of the next postwar remedy. In 1949 eleven European nations and the USA together form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

NATO is a defensive pact, with the members pledging themselves to treat an attack on any as an attack on all. As such it does not immediately provoke a similar response from the USSR. This comes only after the western powers agree to the rearming of the Federal Republic of Germany and invite their previous enemy to join NATO. Russia responds by forming in 1955 the Warsaw Treaty Organization (usually known as the Warsaw Pact) with her enforced allies on the eastern side of the iron curtain.

From the Kremlin's point of view the pact has the added advantage of making it easier to suppress the eastern European countries, since the Warsaw Treaty allows for large numbers of Russian troops to be moved for defensive purposes towards the border with west Germany.

Meanwhile the Cold War has also incidentally provided a remedy for Japan, whose recovery is not catered for in the Marshall plan. The year 1950 brings the first flaring of the Cold War into a major conflict. It breaks out within the territory of Japan's nearest neighbour, Korea. Japan becomes an important base for the troops and material pouring into south Korea to halt what the United Nations has identified as aggression from the north. With this boost the Japanese economy makes rapid strides.

At the same time the economy of west Germany is growing fast as new industries are constructed from the rubble.

Germany is the west's frontier state along most of the iron curtain. Japan is the only developed country close to Communist China. Thus the first few years after World War II bring an extraordinary realignment. The USSR and China, two of the five main Allied nations during the war, are now the feared enemies of the west. Meanwhile the two main Axis powers, bombed to complete devastation by the Allies, reconstruct to become pillars of western capitalism. Within a few decades the world's three largest economies are the USA, Germany and Japan.

World War I led, almost inexorably, to World War II. But World War II conclusively ends that earlier chapter, introducing something very different in the Cold War years.


Lend-lease and the Atlantic Charter

In March 1941 the US Congress, after much pressure from President Roosevelt, passes the Lend-lease Act enabling the president to provide aid to any nation whose defence he believes to be vital to US interests. The first recipient is Britain, but by the end of the war thirty-eight nations have received aid and materials amounting in value to some $50 billion. Some of this is given, some of it is in the form of long-term loans (not until 1972 do repayments finally come to an end).

This support is gratefully received. But the more urgent aim of the British leader, Winston Churchill, is to involve the USA as a combatant. The obstacle is the strong streak of isolationism among US voters. Though not shared by President Roosevelt himself, it is a major factor.

In July 1941 Roosevelt invites Churchill to cross the Atlantic for a secret conference. The two men have established a warm personal relationship in correspondence over the past year, but they have not as yet met. Churchill eagerly accepts and travels in Britain's most modern battleship, the Prince of Wales, to the rendezvous - in Placentia Bay, off Newfoundland.

Churchill's aim is to extract the strongest possible public commitment of the president to the Allied cause. Roosevelt, on the other hand, has to tread a cautious line. He has been re-elected for a third term, in November 1940, on the platform of keeping the USA out of Europe's war. Nevertheless he is profoundly committed to an Allied victory.

As a result of these conflicting requirements the document emerging from the talks, published on 14 August 1941 as the Atlantic Charter, is a very general statement of the basic principles of democracy, free trade and international law. Indeed its clauses are subsequently made part of the Declaration of the United nations.

But there is one phrase, strikingly different in tone, which serves Churchill's purpose admirably. The two leaders state that they will together seek a peace which will 'for ever cast down the Nazi tyranny'. With this made known to the world, there is no doubting where the USA stands. Churchill can press no further at this stage. And in the event it is something entirely beyond his control which achieves his purpose - in December 1941 at Pearl harbor.

Germany and the Balkans: AD 1939-1941

In the late 1930s the countries of the Balkans still harbour many resentments from the past, casting acquistive glances at patches of their neighbours' territories. The Balkan Entente of 1934 reveals that they also share a wish to coexist in harmony. But from 1938, after the Anschluss, the growing power and aggression of their German neighbour is a factor overriding all others in the region.

Most of the Balkan countries are ruled at this time as right-wing dictatorships inclined to anti-Semitism, so there is considerable sympathy for Hitler's politics. Nevertheless the main concern in each nation is to preserve recent and hard-won independence. But by the outbreak of World War II this already seems impossible to achieve.

By the autumn of 1939 Czechoslovakia has already been overrun by Hitler. Poland is even now being divided between Germany and the ussr. Moreover there is an unexpected unanimity between the USSR, Germany and Italy. These three nations surround the Balkan countries and Hungary - now isolated by the German occupation of Czechoslovakia to the north.

Late in 1940 the familiar Balkan chaos returns to the area, as the nations desperately try to adjust to new pressures. A few months later, by May 1941, the entire region is under German occupation.

The jostling for position begins in October 1940 when Italian troops cross the Albanian border to invade Greece - a neutral country, but one which has a guarantee of protection from Britain (granted in April 1939 when Italy seized Albania).

Mussolini hopes for a swift success in Greece, but his plans go drastically wrong. The Greeks not only drive back the invaders. They advance into Albania and soon occupy about a quarter of its territory. The initial Greek peril triggers a response from Britain, in fulfilment of the guarantee. And the subsequent Greek success makes Hitler realize that he will have to intervene to rescue his Italian ally.

Hitler can only reach Greece through Yugoslavia, which in early 1941 is still trying to preserve a degree of independence. But further north he has secured his position by a mixture of alliances and force.

The first German alliance is with Hungary which in February 1939 has signed Hitler's Anti-comintern pact, though with considerable subsequent misgivings. In 1940 German forces, allied with local Fascists, bring Romania to heel (Hitler needs the rich Romanian oilfields). Outlying sections of Romanian territory are assigned to Hungary and Bulgaria. In March 1941 an enthusiastic Bulgaria signs the Anti-Commintern Pact. So by the spring of 1941 the regions north of Yugoslavia are all under German control.

On 6 April 1941 German troops invade Yugoslavia from Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. Within a few days the country is overrun, after the government and king make their escape. Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria divide up the conquered territory between them. The German army then presses on into Greece, where a small British force has arrived during the previous month. The country is occupied almost as rapidly as Yugoslavia. The British are driven from the mainland by the end of April, and from Crete a month later.

The Balkans immediately become the scene of courageous and persistent resistance from partisans, in Greece, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. But the region remains in German hands until 1944.

This History is as yet incomplete.

A turning point

By May 1941, after twenty months of war, almost everything has gone Hitler's way.The nations of continental Europe are now either neutral (Switzerland, Sweden), neutral but Fascist (Spain, Portugal), merged with Germany (Austria), occupied by Germany (Czechoslovakia, Poland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, most of France, most of the Balkans), forcibly neutralized (Vichy France) or allied to Germany (Italy, Hungary, USSR).

For a dictator who found himself at war with the world a year or two earlier than he would have wished, it is a most satisfactory achievement. The only failure has been the Battle of Britain, frustrating his plans to cross the Channel - but these were anyway somewhat half-hearted.

Admittedly in the very month when this situation is achieved, May 1941, there is one major setback. Germany's newest and most magnificent battleship, the Bismarck, has been launched earlier this year at Kiel. On her first sortie out of the Baltic she is spotted by the British navy. After doing much damage to the pack pursuing her, the vast ship is sunk on May 27 with the loss of nearly all her crew of 2222 sailors.

The state of the navy is a sore point between Hitler and his naval commander in chief, Erich Raeder. In the mid-1930s Hitler has assured Raeder, responsible for building up the fleet, that the coming war will not begin until 1944. Raeder therefore regards Germany's strength at sea as inadequate. After the loss of the Bismarck, his naval campaign focuses largely on U-boats.

If this is one of the significant turning points of 1941, two more are to follow before the end of the year. The first is Hitler's own doing. The second he has regarded as inevitable sooner or later. But together they will have a decisive effect on the outcome of the war.

The first involves Hitler's eastern policy. The USSR, the proselytizing force of world communism, has always been seen by Hitler as his main enemy. And it is to the east, through Poland and into the Ukraine, that his policy of lebensraum and German expansion has been directed. An attack into these regions is part of his grand strategy. Hitler's skill has been to create the lull, with the Molotov-ribbentrop pact, which enables him to secure his western flank before turning his attention eastwards.

In this strategy he is, in effect, carrying out the Schlieffen plan which his predecessors in World War I had been unable to achieve. They failed in the first part of the plan, the conquest of France. With that behind him, Hitler is now ready to move on to stage two - the Attack on russia. His mistake, failing to learn the lesson of Napoleon's campaign, is to believe that this can be a quick affair (though he might reasonably expect the speed of motorized transport to make the difference).

When the first Russian winter is bringing home the harsh reality, the other great turning point of 1941 takes place without Hitler even being forewarned. His Japanese allies tell him nothing of their plan for a secret attack on the US fleet in Pearl harbor on December 7.

The events of the second half of 1941 add four major powers to the cast list of the world war. Hitler has dragged in the USSR, just as Japan's action forces the full involvement of the USA. Japan herself, until now engaged only in a regional conflict with China, also becomes a new player on the global scene. And China, as Japan's enemy, is automatically now an ally of the western powers.

Thus by the end of 1941 the final alignment of the war is established, in terms of the major powers involved. The Allies are Britain and the Commonwealth, France, the USA, the USSR and China; the Axis powers are Germany, Italy and Japan. (In fact even this alignment is not yet quite final - in 1943 Italy changes sides.)

German-occupied Europe

By the autumn of 1943, the year in which Hitler takes direct control of Southern france and Northern italy, the area of Europe occupied by Germany or under puppet rulers is greater than ever before. It includes the entire continental coastline from the Pyrenees to Norway; the Baltic nations from Poland to Estonia; Russia west of the Urals (a line approximately from the Baltic coast near Leningrad to the Black Sea); Czecholsovakia and Hungary (from 1944); and the Balkans.

This is the broad canvas on which Hitler is free to put into practice his vision of a new order. In his ideal world Germans will rule as a master race, inferior groups such as Slavs will be made use of as slave labour, and undesirables (Jews, Gypsies, Communists) will be exterminated.

These principles underlie the gradual development of the Nazis' murderous schemes. The appalling story unfolds in three separate stages.

Before the outbreak of war, with Germany and Austria exposed to the eyes of the world, persecution of Hitler's hated groups is limited to intimidation and violence. His underlying aim is to rid German territory of Jews by terrifying them into moving elsewhere. Visas to leave Germany are freely available, and the willingness to do so can even bring release from a concentration camp. By 1939 more than half the Jews in Germany and Austria have moved to other countries.

With the outbreak of war and the closing of borders, escape by emigration becomes difficult (though not at first absolutely impossible). And the German authorities are now free to carry out atrocities unobserved by the wider international community.

At first they largely refrain from doing so, at any rate on a systematic basis (the exception is Poland in 1939-40). After Germany's first conquests in the west, in the summer of 1940, the newly occupied countries (Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, northern France) experience the horrors of an alien police state and the anti-Semitic measures long familiar within Germany. But German rule here is less brutally repressive than in the east. And the explanation lies in Hitler's theories.

Germans are to rule the united Europe of Hitler's dreams, but they will need assistance. This can only be provided, he believes, by 'Aryans' in the countries to the west of Germany, in those regions settled in the distant past by Germanic peoples such as Franks, Goths, Angles, Saxons and Vikings. He expects, ultimately, cooperation from the west. And he likes to emphasize that the future belongs not to a dominant nation, but a dominant race.

By contrast the regions to the east of Germany, inhabited by the Slavs whom he categorizes as Untermenschen ('subhumans'), are suitable only for subjugation. This explains the treatment of the Poles in 1939, and the sudden gear-change in German brutality with the invasion of Russia in 1941.

German treatment of Russian prisoners of war symbolizes the change. On June 27, five days after the invasion, the town of Minsk is surrounded. More than 100,000 Russian soldiers are captured and are herded into open fields, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. They are given no food, and so over the next few weeks they starve to death. When winter comes, hundreds of thousands of Russian prisoners captured elsewhere on the front are even more easily got rid of. They freeze.

Subsequently the Germans realize that this policy is losing them a valuable reserve of slave labour. It is better that such people should die working for the Reich. In a speech to SS leaders Himmler emphasizes that there is no need to be concerned about 'what happens to a Russian'.

The invasion of Russia provides the same turning point in the German treatment of the Jews. In planning the campaign, Hitler and Himmler set up four Einsatzkommando (Special Task Commandos) to follow in the wake of the army. The special task for these SS men is to exterminate two groups of people, the most potent figures in Hitler's demonology, Communist officials and Jews.

The work is carried out with ruthless efficiency. Victims are rounded up in villages and towns, are herded into the countryside, are forced to dig long trenches and then are machine-gunned to fall into the ready-made graves. Within the first few weeks of the German presence in Russia tens of thousands of Jews are murdered in this systematic way. It is the beginning of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust: AD 1941-1942

The term holocaust, originally meaning a sacrifice consumed by fire in a Greek temple, has been used since the early 19th century for the murder of a large number of people. In recent decades it has acquired a much more specific significance. It now defines, almost exclusively, the systematic attempt by Hitler and the Nazis to exterminate the Jewish people. In the 20th century, which far outstripped all others in the horrors perpetrated by humans on their own kind, the Holocaust has come to stand as the defining atrocity.

It is also the atrocity, in the whole of world history, most deliberately planned as the fulfilment of a theory. A flawed and fanatic theory, but one of fatal potency.

The theory, articulated by Hitler in mein kampf and in frequent ranting speeches, taps into a deep-rooted European tradition of Anti-semitism, blends in some 19th-century fantasies about ethnic identity and racial purity, and finally adds a dash of 20th-century neurosis about socialism. The troubles of Germany and Austria are thereby blamed on a conspiracy of Jews , working like a virus in all spheres of national life to take over the economy and even, through sexual intermingling, to degrade the pure Aryan stock.

The misfortune underlying the tragedy of the Holocaust is that someone with these views succeeds in becoming the leader of a powerful nation and then, for a brief while, the conqueror of Europe.

From achieving power in 1933 until the outbreak of war in 1939 (an event for which he holds the Jews responsible), Hitler's ambition is to rid Germany and Austria of the nations' long-resident Jews by making them move elsewhere. But with his invasion of Russia in 1941 he begins to conceive a more drastic outcome. The 'final solution of the Jewish problem' (a phrase used in Nazi documents from early in 1942) will be death.

Within the first few days of the Russian campaign Hitler's Special task forces round up and shoot large numbers of Jews. In two weeks of continual executions in early July, in the city of Kishinev alone, one such task force kills 10,000 people.

On June 27, in Bialystok, German soldiers chase Jews through the narrow streets around a blazing synagogue, like devils in a medieval scene of the Last Judgement. Hundreds of Jews have been locked into the synagogue before it is set on fire. Once it is blazing, the doors are broken down and others are shoved into the cauldron.

But the Nazis are already working on a less visible and more efficient method of achieving their purpose. It is first employed at Chelmno, in Poland, during 1941. Three vans are specially adapted for the killing of people through exposure to lethal gas. During the first six months 97,000 Jews die in these vans. The scheme is considered highly successful. So steps are taken to provide larger-scale death camps with permanent buildings.

These death camps are built on Polish or Russian soil. One of the first and largest is Treblinka (in Poland) where more than 750,000 Jews are killed during 1942, most of them brought there from the Warsaw ghetto.

The placing of the concentration camps in the east, relatively out of sight, is a practical measure of discretion by the Nazi high command. On 20 January 1942 a meeting is convened at Wannsee, a lakeside villa near Berlin, by Himmler's second-in-command in the SS, Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich has been put in charge of the 'final solution'. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the practical arrangements.

It is taken for granted by now in these high Nazi circles that the solution must apply to Jews in all the nations occupied by the Germans. But death camps in France or the Netherlands will be more exposed to view. So it is decided that Jews from such countries must be brought to the Polish camps.

Thus begins one of the abiding images of the holocaust - trains of cattle trucks into which Jews are crowded, heading for an unknown destination. The programme is described as 'transportation of the Jews towards the Russian East'. Early in 1942 the prospect facing these people is immediate death. But later there are two possibilities - immediate death by gas, or slow death by hard labour and deprivation.

The Holocaust: AD 1942-1945

During 1942 it occurs to the Nazis that, as with the Soviet prisoners of war, they are wasting valuable slave labour in their policy of automatic murder of the Jews. So a new form of camp is planned in which those on the trains will be classified, on arrival, as 'fit' or 'unfit' to work. The fit go one way, to the prison huts where they will live for a while as unpaid and underfed labourers. The unfit go the other way, to the gas chambers.

The first camp of this kind, ready for use in March 1942, is built at Auschwitz in Poland. An unknown number of people (certainly well in excess of a million) die in this camp in the next three years. More than half of them - the unfit, the elderly, the children - are killed in the four gas chambers within a day or two of their arrival.

Those judged fit 'to be worked to death' (a phrase used by Himmler) are put to the service of Germany's war production. Factories are moved from the vulnerable Ruhr, in the west, to the neighbourhood of Auschwitz - beyond the range of Allied bombers. Several of Germany's great industrial enterprises tarnish their reputation by benefiting during these years from Jewish slave labour.

By the end of 1942 knowledge of what is going on is not limited to those actively involved on the German side. On December 17 Anthony Eden tells the House of Commons in London that reliable reports have been received 'regarding the barbarous and inhuman treatment to which Jews are being subjected in German-occupied Europe'.

Eden is putting before the House an international declaration, published on that day, which is more direct in its account of what is actually going on. Issued jointly by the USA, the USSR, Great Britain and the governments in exile of nine occupied European countries, the declaration condemns in the strongest possible terms Germany's 'bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination'.

This is straightforward language, in stark contrast to the terms used in Nazi documents about a solution to the Jewish question and journeys to the east. But it is this veil of German euphemism which has enabled a few extreme right-wing historians to argue the preposterous theory that Hitler did not know what the terms meant and so was perhaps personally unaware of the Holocaust.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Although by far the largest group of victims to die because of Hitler's theories (about 6 million), the Jews are not alone. Gypsies too are considered a polluting threat to an Aryan society. Rounded up and sent to the camps, most of them are marked down for Sonderhandlung ('special treatment' - another Nazi euphemism, meaning murder). It is calculated that in all some 400,000 Gypsies are killed.

Even 'Aryans' are not immune from the obsession with purity and perfection. In 1939 Hitler signs an ultra-secret decree authorising the death of any German judged 'incurably ill'. This covers mental illness, and the victims (probably about 100,000 in the next two years) are later described as 'useless defectives'. They too should be considered victims of the Holocaust.

Resistance and partisans

For Jews in towns or ghettos, as for any civilians living in a modern police state, resistance to the authorities is almost impossible (though the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943 demonstrates how much can be achieved by desperate people fighting in extreme circumstances). The only effective form of resistance in an occupied country is to vanish into a hidden underworld of secret cells, building up a network of like-minded partisans who will undertake any task to frustrate the occupying regime - from securing safe havens for hunted men to acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare.

Each of the German-occupied countries has a resistance movement of this kind, helped as far as possible by secret agents and weapons parachuted in by the Allies.

For several reasons the Communists are the most widely represented group within the various resistance movements. They are themselves targets for extermination by their hated rivals, the Fascists. They have a ready-made political structure in place, from their peacetime activities of subversion and disruption. And they hope to build up a wartime presence in each country which will enable them to seize power when the Nazis are finally pushed out.

These international aims place the Communist partisans in direct opposition to the other main group of resistance fighters, those whose devotion is to a nationalist cause and who usually owe allegiance to a government or royal family in exile.

The Balkans is the region in which the rivalry between Communist and nationalist guerrillas reaches its most extreme level, to the point of seriously reducing the benefit to the Allies.

Yugoslavia has by far the largest resistance movement in wartime Europe. It is so successful that by early 1942 two rival groups are in control of areas large enough to be adminstered as separate independent territories. The rivals are the Communists, led by Tito, and the Serbian nationalists. Competing with each other as much as against the Germans, they are already struggling for the future control of Yugoslavia. So are two similar groups in Greece, whose enmity is transformed into open civil war once the Germans have been driven out.

One of the tasks in which partisan movements can greatly help the Allied cause is in preparing for a future invasion. This element gives particular significance to the resistance movement in France, with a long Atlantic coastline suitable for a surprise landing.

There are many separate French resistance movements, among whom the Communists are one of the strongest. But here an umbrella organization, promoted by De gaulle from London, does succeed in making the rivals cooperate. The French Résistance becomes famous under the general name of the maquis (a word meaning shrubby vegetation or undergrowth, suggestive both of a hiding place and of the nature of an underground movement).

On 1 February 1944 the various groups of the maquis are formally merged into a single administrative unit, to be known as the Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur. This grand title (French Forces of the Interior) fits well a new role being prepared for them.

When the Allied invasion of occupied France finally comes, in June of this same year, the maquis play a significant role in the interior. In the early stage they carry out acts of sabotage behind the German lines. And then they adjust to the role of conventional troops, helping to drive the Germans further and further back from the liberated areas.

Second Fronts

From the time of the first German onslaught against Russia, in 1941, Stalin has been demanding that Churchill launch a second front across the Channel to divert German troops from the east. Churchill argues in telegrams that such a move would fail because Britain has as yet neither the landing craft nor the divisions to attempt an amphibious assault on a strongly protected coast. Stalin merely reiterates his demand, with the added implication that the British are afraid of confronting the Germans head-on and should derive courage from the Russian example.

By August 1942 Churchill becomes convinced that he must meet Stalin in person to persuade him that a landing in France is not possible until 1943 at the earliest - and to bring him news of another landing soon to take place.

Churchill flies to Moscow by the only safe route, skirting round the European theatre of war - first to Cairo, then to Teheran and thus, east of the fierce battle developing at Stalingrad, northwest to the Russian capital. In talks lasting five days Stalin still refuses to accept that an immediate invasion of France is not possible, but he responds warmly to news of Operation Torch - the codename for the imminent invasion of Northwest africa by US and British troops.

In the event Stalin's expectation of an invasion of France is frustrated even during 1943, a year in which the western Allies decide to make Italy their next target - and in which U-boat activity in the Atlantic is seriously reducing the flow of supplies from the USA to Britain.

The German production of bigger and faster U-boats, and the increase of the fleet to 240 under Karl Dönitz (a World War I submarine officer recently given command of the German navy), results in a massive increase in the number of merchant ships sunk in the early months of 1943. The crucial Battle of the atlantic is reaching its climax, and Germany seems poised to win it.

But the Allies also have new weapons in the pipeline, including longer-range bombers and short-wave radar (which can detect U-boats without them being aware of it). In April and May 1943 fifty-six U-boats are sunk, with the result that from now on the convoys suffer greatly reduced losses. Just in time, victory in the Atlantic goes to the Allies.

There is yet another front on which the advantage swings during 1943. During 1940 the civilian victims of night-time bombing raids have mainly been the inhabitants of British towns. But in 1942-3 the strategy which the Germans first used to such effect is turned upon them with a new intensity.

During 1943, from March to July, Britain's Bomber Command mounts an almost nightly campaign against the industrial targets in the Ruhr. And with heavier bombs the technique of carpet bombing, pioneered at Coventry, leads to a devastating new phenomenon, the fire storm. The one that rages through the narrow streets of Wuppertal, during the night of May 29, kills some 3400 people - compared to about 550 in Coventry.

The assault on the Ruhr is followed by equally intense attacks on Hamburg (July to November 1943, causing a million people to flee the city) and on Berlin (November 1943 to March 1944). The destruction is devastating, but there is also a huge loss of bombers and their crews. And as with Britain in 1940, the Blitz fails to break the morale of the German people. More effective, at minimal cost, is the brilliantly daring and ingenious raid in which two hydroelectric schemes in the Ruhr valley are destroyed in May 1943 by the bouncing bombs of the Dam Busters.

Thus in Italy, in the Atlantic and in the air over Germany there are second fronts of various kinds during 1943. But the one which Stalin most wants, in France, has still not materialized.

Churchill accepts reluctantly the need to postpone by a year the planned invasion of Normandy (codenamed Overlord), which cannot happen with any reasonable chance of success before the summer of 1944. Meanwhile Russian advances early in 1944 suggest that Stalin can perhaps succeed without the controversial second front. In January the Russians finally push back the German army besieging Leningrad. On fronts further south they press ahead into Poland, cross the borders of Romania and almost reach Hungary. In April they recapture the Crimea.

It is another two months before the western Allies will be ready to cross the Channel. There are alarming signs of a race developing. Which of Stalin's forces or the western Allies will penetrate furthest into central Europe and Germany?
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