Topics for this Section:

Introduction

Though the United States was not formally engaged in the Second World War until December 1941, fighting had in fact been raging in Europe since September 1939. Moreover, war (in Spain and in Africa) and the threat of war had been a constant theme throughout the 1930s as diplomatic attempts to secure the peace (e.g., the League of Nations ) failed to prevent rearmament or aggression.

Germany (like Japan) began the war with victories that were dramatically quick and overwhelming (called Blitzkrieg or "lightning war"). But the early German victories could not be sustained against the logistical and industrial strength of the Allies, especially that of the United States. By the summer of 1943, the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) were in retreat on all fronts.

This was an era of " total war ." Fighting was intense and sometimes brutal on the various fronts. Moreover, both sides felt that the war could only be won by the mobilization and regimentation of the civilian population. Hence there was little distinction between soldier and civilian, and little scruple about attacking either. In the end, total war demanded unconditional surrender .

This module contains six sections: the first traces Hitler-s largely successful attempts to reconstitute Germany as a great power . In the second section, the focus is on the early German triumphs in Poland, Scandinavia, and France. The progress of the war in the Mediterranean follows. The fourth section traces Germany's victories and then final defeat in Eastern Europe . The fifth section focuses on the western front . The final section provides an in-depth view of the critical battle of Normandy .

By the time the United States entered the war in December of 1941, continental Europe from Spain to Norway, from the Atlantic to the Caucasus Mountains, from the Arctic to the Sahara Desert was under direct or indirect Axis control . The United States made its presence felt not only by sending men and resources to the Mediterranean and Western theaters, but also by providing critical material to help the Russian effort in the East.