The United States In World War Ii

The U.S. was reluctant to get involved in Europe or the Pacific. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed that and Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S.A.

Prelude, 1939

The Second World War began when Germany invaded Poland on September 1. England and France both declared war on Germany. The German army had crossed the Vistula and the San; then demanded the surrender of Warsaw. The Soviet Union invaded Poland on Sept. 17 and Warsaw fell on September 27. The Soviets and Germans partitioned and occupied Poland.

The U.S. Position was presented to the American people in this way: President Roosevelt, in a fireside chat on September 3, 1939, declared: "This nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well." Under the Neutrality Act, American exports of ammunition and military equipment to the warring nations was prohibited. On November 4, the Neutrality Act was amended to allow the sale of arms.


In September, Secretary Hull warned the Japanese that acts of aggression towards French Indo-China (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos) would bring a response from the United States. Japan reached an agreement with France to allow Japanese bases in Indo-China.

On September 27 Japan signed on with Germany and Italy of the Axis. Other countries eventually signed the pact, including Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia. President Roosevelt called for an embargo on all exports of scrap iron and steel outside of the Western Hemisphere, except for Great Britain. Japan protested the ban as an "unfriendly act".

In Europe, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway on April 9. An Anglo-French force was sent to the aid of Norway but abandoned the effort on May 2. The Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium fell to the invading Germans. Italy attacked France from the east and Germany moved in from the north. France signed an armistice and a puppet government was established at Vichy.

The British resisted an all-out offensive by the German Luftwaffe, which had more than 2,600 fighters and bombers. The Battle of Britain came to a climax on September 15, when 56 German aircraft were destroyed. The success of British resistance prevented a German invasion of the British Isles. Although not yet involved in the war, the U.S. took steps to upgrade her defenses. Canada and the U.S.A established a permanent Joint Board on Defense. America transferred 50 older naval destroyers to the British Fleet in exchange for 99-year leases on naval and air bases in British colonies.

On September 16, 1939, the Selective Training and Service Act was introduced and allowed peacetime call-ups for compulsory military service. All men between the ages of 21 and 35 were required to register. The Act provided for the training of 1,200,000 troops and 800,000 reserves within one year. As an aid to the Allies in Europe, the Office of Production Management was set up by President Roosevelt to speed up the supply of materiel to non-Axis powers. The president also authorized the establishment of a two-ocean navy at a cost of $4 billion; two hundred warships were built.

Meanwhile, on the warfront, the Axis conquered Romania while the Italians invaded Greece. British naval aircraft severely damaged the Italian fleet at Taranto in the Mediterranean. A surprise attack by the British on the Italian army in North Africa resulted in the defeat of the Italians and the capture of 113,000 prisoners.


President Roosevelt approved the Lend-Lease Act, which allowed the U.S. to lend money and supplies to Britain, which was financially drained by the massive war effort. Russia was invaded by German, Romanian and Finnish forces on a front that extended from the Arctic Circle to the Ukraine. The U.S. extended $1 billion of credit to Russia. America reached agreements with Iceland and Denmark for the establishment of U.S. bases in Iceland and Greenland.

German submarines were sinking many commercial and naval vessels in the Atlantic, as far south as Brazil. The U.S. still hesitated to get involved directly but approved the arming of commercial vessels and provided naval escorts to merchant ships. The U.S. had suspected an attack from Japan due to ever hardening relations between the two countries.

On Sunday, December 7, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, while simultaneously launching powerful offensives in Guam, the Philippines, Midway Island, and on British forces in Hong Kong and the Malay Peninsula. The U.S. declared war on Japan the following day. On December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. A supreme command was set up for American, British, Australian and Dutch forces in the Far East under General Sir Archibald P. Wavell.


Between January and May Japanese forces occupied the East Indies and British troops withdrew from Malaya to Singapore and then surrendered on February 15. Japan pushed into Rangoon, Burma and cut off a major British supply line. The Battle of the Java Sea, fought by the U.S. fleet between Feb. 27 and Mar. 1, resulted in the largest U.S. naval losses since Pearl Harbor. Japan completed their conquest of the East Indies, Java and New Guinea.

The Allies stiffened their resistance and on April 18, U.S. bombers from an aircraft carrier raided Tokyo. In the Battle of the Coral Sea, the first naval battle fought entirely by aircraft from carriers, one Japanese carrier was sunk and two badly damaged. The U.S. carrier Lexington was lost but the battle stopped the Japanese advance towards Australia. In the Battle of Midway, June 3-6, the Japanese suffered their first major defeat. Japan lost four aircraft carriers and 275 fighter aircraft. The victory eliminated the threat to Hawaii and established a balance of power in the Pacific Ocean.

In June the Japanese bombed Fort Mears, Alaska, and shelled an oil refinery in Santa Barbara, California. To stop Japanese advances, U.S. marines landed at Guadalcanal and other nearby islands on August 7. The resulting Battle of Savo Island resulted in the loss of 3 U.S. and one Australian heavy cruiser. The Japanese victory deprived the remaining U.S. forces on Guadalcanal of any supplies and resulted in a six-month fight for the island. U.S. naval victories were won at the Battle of Cape Esperance (Oct. 11-12), the Battle of Santa Cruz (Oct. 26-27), and the Battle of Guadalcanal (Nov. 12-15).

In Europe and the Mediterranean, the British Eighth Army was dueling with Germany's Rommel in North Africa and the Russians had mounted a counterattack at home. U.S. forces arrived in Northern Ireland on January 26. In an Allied attempt to regain part of the mainland, 6,000 British and Canadian troops, with a company of U.S. Rangers, raided Dieppe. 3,350 Allies were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. In the air, Britain sent 1,000 bombers on raids of Cologne, Essen, the Ruhr and Bremen. On August 17 the Eighth Air Force B-17's carried out the first independent U.S. air attack. U.S. and British forces landed in North Africa on November 8 at Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers and advanced into Tunisia.


General Eisenhower was appointed as Allied commander in chief on Jan. 24. Major General George S. Patton Jr. led U.S. forces to victory in Tunisia while General Montgomery approached from the east. On April 7, U.S. and British forces surrounded the enemy in Tunisia and 250,000 Axis troops surrendered. The war in North Africa came to a formal end on May 13. Russia turned the tide on the Germans and marched all the way into Poland.

U.S. and British forces invaded and captured Sicily, assuring increased security for Allied shipping in the Mediterranean. U.S. casualties were about 7,400. The first Italian campaign lasted from September to December. The British attacked Italy from Sicily while the U.S. Fifth Army landed at Salerno. German resistance at Salerno ended and they moved to capture Rome. German paratroopers rescued Mussolini, who had been placed under arrest by the Italian government. Italy was now cut in half along the Garigliano and Sangro rivers.

In the Pacific, the Allies made more gains. Ground fighting in New Guinea cleared out the Japanese and the Battle of the Bismarck Sea resulted in Japanese losses of 22 ships and the death of Admiral Yamamoto. American forces under General MacArthur re-took part of New Guinea, while American and Canadian troops succeeded in pushing the Japanese out of the Aleutians. U.S. Pacific offensives liberated the Solomon Islands, from where they could attack the Philippines. The U.S. Pacific fleet aimed to advance within bombing distance of Japan itself.


1944 saw U.S. forces advance through the Marshall and Mariana Islands in the central Pacific while invading Japanese positions in the Admiralty Islands and New Guinea in the south. On June 16, the U.S. air offensive against mainland Japan was started. The U.S. then took the Philippines and in the last major naval battle of the war, the majority of Japan's sea power was destroyed.

In Europe, an Allied air offensive began on January 11 and peaked in April and May. On May 6, 800 U.S. planes bombed Berlin. On June 4, the U.S. Fifth Army took Rome. On June 6, Operation Overlord was launched from southern England along sixty-miles across the coast of Normandy. The Battle of France had begun, as the Allies were able to land one million soldiers, half a million tons of supplies and over 150,000 military vehicles. British forces took Caen and the Americans, led by General Patton, captured St. Lo. On August 15, the U.S. Seventh Army, led by General Alexander M. Patch, landed in the south of France and proceeded up another flank to the Rhone Valley.

Paris was liberated on August 25 and on the 28th the U.S. Third Army reached the Marne. September 4, Belgium and Holland were liberated by British and Canadian forces. U.S. troops entered Germany on September 12. Aachen was the first major German city captured. The U.S. Third Army took Metz (Nov. 22) and Strasbourg (Nov. 23).

In The Battle of the Bulge, a German counteroffensive in the Ardennes, the Germans inflicted heavy losses on the outnumbered Americans. However, the Germans were unsuccessful in splitting the Allied lines. American casualties heavy at 77,000: 8,000 dead, 48,000 wounded and 21,000 captured or missing in action.


On the eastern front, the Russians were keeping the Germans worried by advancing into Prussia, Yugoslavia and Hungary. The initial assault on Germany was launched by a British offensive from Holland while the U.S. Third Army crossed at the Saar River. Allied forces crossed the Rhine and 325,000 German troops soon surrendered. U.S. and Russian troops met at Torgau on April 25. Between May 2 and 4, remaining German forces in Italy, Holland, Denmark and northwest Germany also surrendered. May 8 was V-E Day, the official end of the war in Europe.

In the Pacific, U.S. forces were successful in pushing the Japanese out of the Philippines and Tokyo was bombed by 90 B-29's. The Fourth and Fifth Divisions of marines landed on Iwo Jima, a mere 750 miles from the Japanese capital. The marines conquered the island but casualties were heavy. The combined forces of Britain, America and China successfully pushed the Japanese out of Southeast Asia.

The U.S. Twentieth Air Force began a massive air and sea bombardment of the Japanese mainland. When Japan refused unconditional surrender on July 29, the first nuclear bomb ever used in war was dropped on Hiroshima August 6. It destroyed 4 square miles of the city and killed more than 160,000 people. Another was dropped on Nagasaki and the Japanese finally surrendered.

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