By attacking from the North, Hitler effectively bypassed France's only real defense against invasion. Within two weeks, Paris was under Nazi control, and still seething from the harsh terms of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, Hitler demanded that the surrender terms be signed in the very same spot as the armistice that ended that war, and in the very same railroad car, which he had brought out from its museum display for that purpose3. Belgium had surrendered to Germany without firing a shot, effectively dooming France to Nazi occupation, and nearly sealing the fate of more than a quarter million British troops sent to support Britain's ally, France. Only a last-
3. Hayes & Faissler p.444 minute scramble saved the British from capture, at the port city of Dunkirk, where the British used thousands of ships, boats, and dinghies to rescue them all and ferry them back to England after Belgium surrendered.. Italy, a Nazi ally, then declared war on France and Britain, hoping to be included in any post-war negotiations to her benefit4.
Hitler prepared to invade England from occupied France, and began a vicious and extensive aerial bombing campaign, using incendiary bombs on civilian population centers of England. Though vastly outnumbered, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) rallied to the defense. Using superior aircraft in the Spitfire and Hurricane, in combination with the timely invention of Radar, the RAF handed the mighty Luftwaffe its first major combat defeat in the Battle of Britain in Summer of 1940. Churchill, who had since replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister, famously credited the RAF pilots, saying, "Never have so many owed so much to so few." Despite 40,000 civilian dead and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses destroyed, the British people spent months in blackout conditions and underground shelters, living by the phrase "We'll get used to it." 5
Under their Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, Germany had occupied Western Poland and Russia took control of Poland in the east. However, Stalin never trusted Hitler and both sides regarded their agreement as more of a way of postponing their inevitable conflict rather than as a lasting peace agreement. Stalin used the opportunity to reoccupy Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, restoring her pre-1919 borders and providing
Lukacs, J. p.66
Commager, H. p.93 additional protection against invasion from Germany, should their pre-war alliance fail6.
Indeed, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, inadvisably opening up a war on two fronts. The Nazis inflicted some of their most brutal warfare on Soviet civilians, implementing a scorched earth policy on occupied territory and establishing death camps throughout Eastern Europe to carry out Hitler's "Final Solution" war against the Jews in Europe. By the Winter of 1942, the Nazi war machine was spread too thin to accomplish the monumental task of defeating Russia, and the attack stalled, short of essential war material, fuel, and cold weather clothing for the long brutal Russian winter.
Hoping to stay out of a second costly war on the European continent, the United States had provided both Russia and Britain with vast amounts of equipment, including aircraft, mechanized armor, and ships through its Lend Lease policy instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A tremendous amount of these shipments were lost to German U- boats, who prowled the Atlantic intending to starve Britain into submission by interrupting the flow of essential goods and war materials from the United States.
The United States finally entered the war after the infamous attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, taking on the Japanese Imperial Navy and Air Force throughout the Pacific, and landing troops in Sicily in 1942. Based in England, American forces launched the greatest amphibious attack in the history of warfare, crossing the English Channel and landing on five beaches across the French coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944, effectively marking the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. By Spring 1944, American forces had liberated France, overcome fierce Nazi resistance, crossed deep into Germany, and linked up with Soviet forces across the Elbe River.
6. Hayes & Faissler p.443
Commager, H.S., Miller, D.L. The Story of World War II: Revised, Expanded & Updated from the Original Text by Henry Steele Commager (2002)