On December 7th 1941 Japan made a devastating surprise attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbour. Instead of knocking America out of the war quickly the Japanese plan backfired. Just months later in June 1942 the Japanese navy was decisively beaten at the Battle of Midway. Japan’s hunger for territorial expansion across the Pacific would ultimately lead to her destruction.
December 7 1941
Greedy to expand her Pacific empire Japan launches a surprise air and sea attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbour. Within days Nazi Germany declares war on the United States. Now, with the exception of a few neutral countries, the entire world is at war.
The US naval victory at the Battle of Midway proves a key turning point in the Pacific War. The Nazis organise the industrial mass murder of European Jews known as the “final solution” at Auschwitz and other purpose built death camps.
Germany starts to reap the whirlwind of fighting on two fronts. The news from both North Africa and Russia is bad. February 1943 sees the decisive Soviet victory over the German 6th Army at Stalingrad. The battle is regarded as one of the bloodiest in the history of warfare with around two million dead. The Soviet victory at Stalingrad is a vital turning point in the war. In the summer, the German offensive at Kursk is blunted. The Russians then launch their own successful counter-offensive. Allied victory in North Africa enables the invasion of Fascist Italy. Italy quickly surrenders, changes sides and finds herself occupied by the Germans. British and Indian forces fight the Japanese in Burma.
Bogged down in a bloody war of attrition in the East, Hitler knows it’s only a matter of time before the Allies attempt a landing in Western Europe. But what Hitler cannot imagine is the sheer scope or daring of the Allied invasion plans. Commander of the so-called Atlantic Wall, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel knows that once the Allied armies are ashore in strength there will be no stopping them – until Germany is beaten.
June 6 1944, D-Day
In one night and day 175,000 men and all their equipment including 50,000 vehicles ranging from bicycles to tanks cross the English Channel and land on Normandy’s heavily defended shores. Codenamed Overlord, it is the largest armada the world has ever seen. A fleet of over 5,000 ships of every possible size and shape from supply vessels and minesweepers to infantry landing craft known as Higgins boats. Giant harbours, oil pipelines under the sea plus 11,000 aircraft, all massed for the mighty task ahead.
The D-Day landings on the Normandy coast of France are conducted in two phases. First, shortly after midnight a huge airborne assault by parachute and glider drops 24,000 troops to secure the flanks of the battlespace. Next, a massive amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armour begins at 6:30am.
The D-Day landings take place along a 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors code-named: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. Allied casualties are heavy but not as bad as initially predicted. The American 1st and 29th infantry divisions are badly mauled along the Omaha sector.
After the breakout from the Normandy bridgehead, the battle for Normandy lasts 3 months. The British and Canadians see some of the worst fighting around Caen where they are opposed by battle-hardened German panzer divisions. To begin with the Americans are bogged down in the battle of the hedgerows or “Bocage” of the Cotentin Peninsula. Finally the Germans are pushed back into the Falaise pocket where they are defeated. The Battle of Normandy cost 425,000 Allied and German casualties killed, wounded and missing.