|A New Leader
In the midst of the German invasion of the Low Countries,
Britain’s conservative government at last ditched its leader, Neville
Chamberlain, and chose Winston Churchill to be new Prime Minister of
Great Britain. On May 15, 1940, Churchill assumed the reins of
government during his country’s darkest hour.
|The Battle of Britain
Britain now braced for the expected German invasion. From
airfields in northern France, Germany’s air force pounded Britain’s
cities. Churchill spoke for his countrymen when he vowed they would
fight Hitler by land, by sea, and by air: “We shall never
Britain’s valiant RAF fighters forayed daily against the Messerschmitt
fighters and Junker bombers of Germany’s Luftwaffe, suffering terrible
losses. Nevertheless, Britain managed to maintain their fighting
spirit against terrible odds. As Winston Churchill remarked in
tribute to the RAF: “Never in the field of human conflict have so
many owed so much to so few.”
London's historic St. Paul's Cathedral, designed by
Sir Christopher Wren,
as seen through the smoke of the Blitz. The Cathedral managed
to survive the war
|The Battle of the Atlantic
Meanwhile, Germany’s U-boats targeted British merchant shipping,
sinking tons of vital war materiel—much of it purchased from the United
States. To help Britain, the U. S. sold her old destroyers;
secretly, FDR also
ordered the U. S. Navy to provide escorts for British convoys—in
declaring war on Germany. Inevitably, U-boats sank some Navy
nearly drawing the U. S. into war.
|Operation Barbarossa: The Invasion of
the Soviet Union
Following the surrender of France, the British awaited the inevitable
German invasion, but it never came. Instead, on June 22, 1941,
Hitler attacked his fellow dictator, Josef Stalin, launching a massive
invasion of the Soviet Union—”Operation Barbarossa.” This is
exactly what Hitler said he would do in Mein Kampf—he wanted the East
as “living room” for
Germans, and he considered the Slavic people only worthy to be slaves.
Hitler’s generals had warned him of embarking upon a two-front war, but
his gamble—as it always had in the past—seemed to pay off. German
troops rapidly advanced across a wide front, closing in on Leningrad in
north and Stalingrad in the south. Hitler’s ultimate goal was the
oil fields along the Black Sea.
for a map of Operation Barbarossa.
|The Atlantic Conference
On July 28 and 31, 1941, FDR and Churchill met secretly
aboard HMS Prince of Wales off the coast of Newfoundland to cement the
alliance of the “Big Three”: The U.S., Britain, and the Soviet
Union. FDR agreed to extend Lend-Lease aid to the Soviets.
At the end of the conference, FDR and Churchill issued a joint
declaration, the Atlantic Charter, summarizing the war aims of their
|Developments in Asia
Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union drew the attention of Russia’s
historical rival in the East: Japan. (Recall the
War, 1904-05.) Japan, stuck in its “Chinese Quagmire,” now faced
a choice: expand north, against a weakened USSR, or south,
the oil and rubber supplies of British Malaysia and the Dutch East
In July of 1941, Japan signed a Tri-Partite Agreement with Germany
and Italy, in which the three countries agreed not to attack one
another. It did not require the signatories to aid the others in
case of attack
by an outside power.
The agreement allowed the Japanese to benefit from German intelligence
in case the former decided to attack the Soviet Union.
Meeting in Council, Japan’s government determined to
attack south towards British Malaysia and the Dutch East Indies.
Neither Britain nor Holland presented a strong military threat to
still reeling from German bombardment, and Holland was occupied by the
Nazis. However, Japan knew that any attack on these countries
might bring the United States into the war.
To forestall U.S. involvement, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto drew
up an ingenious plan for a surprise attack against the U. S. Pacific
Fleet anchored in Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941, Japanese
fighter planes struck, knocking out 8 U. S. battleships; however, the
primary targets, the
three U. S. aircraft carriers, were still out to sea. Thus, the
not only pulled America into the war, but left it with the capability
|The Dumbest Decision of All Time
On Dec. 8, FDR went before Congress and asked it to declare war on
Japan. On Dec. 11, Congress did. Now the U. S. could
embark upon its desire to avenge Pearl Harbor.
FDR's critics later blamed FDR for the huge loss at Pearl Harbor.
They alleged that the president knew of the Japanese plans and
let them attack, let them kill over 3,000 sailors, soldiers, and
marines, so he could fufill his ultimate goal: to get the United
States into a war against Germany, as Churchill, his great friend, had
so long urged. Yet events tell a
different story. Even if it could be believed that FDR was
such a massively amoral act, "letting" the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor
not have advance his supposed aim of engaging in a war with Germany.
Dec. 8, he asked Congress to declare war on Japan, and Japan alone, and
Dec. 11, that is what they did.
So how did the U. S. end up in a war with Germany anyway? The
Tripartite Agreement of 1941 between Japan, Italy, and Germany did not
require any of the signatories to come to the aid of the other in event
of attack, so Hitler was in no way obliged to come to Japan's aid when
the U.S. declared war. But,
in what was surely one of the dumbest decisions of all time, Adolf
then engaged in a two-front war in Europe as well as an ongoing battle
North Africa, declared war on the United States on Dec. 14, 1941!!
Why on earth would Hitler declare war on the greatest industrial power
then in existence? Frankly, it's hard to come up with a rational
answer. Perhaps Hitler, like the Japanese, did not respect the
Americans as fighters. After all, we had come late to the First
World War, when Germany
was already exhausted from four years of losses. Our victory,
could hardly stand as proof of our indominatble fighting prowess.
Perhaps Hitler was so full of megolomaniacal grandeur that he
believed he could take on the U. S. as well as the rest of the world.
Perhaps, based on our isolationism of the past, he thought the U.
S. would tire quickly of war and
sue for peace as soon as he had defeated Britain and the Soviet Union.
is, we'll never know. Whatever its origins, Hitler's decision
changed the war. He had opened the way for the U. S. to finally
fully with Britain in a war to stop Hitler's expansionist dreams...or