World War II: The American Experience
World War II: The American Experience
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World War II remains as a highly relevant conflict in the United States’ history. The war itself has many lessons a prospective historian could learn. Not only in military strategy; weapons, and countries, but in how the future and relevance of a country can change as the result of an armed conflict. In the same way, the war made a point on how countries can set aside their differences and fight a common enemy who not only threats a few countries but intends to carry a flawed idea to the rest of the world. In this essay, we shall analyze the United States involvement in World War II, along with analysis and recounts of the main campaigns and operations conducted by the army during the conflict.
There is no doubt about how horrible World War II was; not only to the warring countries but the rest of the world. Many countries who fought the war still suffer from economic and social consequences that stemmed from the war. In the same way, what began as a conflict of interests ended up with the arrival of a new regime to Germany. The National Socialist Party, led by Adolf Hitler reshaped the country. Breaking the treaty of Versailles, signed after World War I, decided to rearm the country, and invade Poland on 1 September 1939 (Dzwonchyk & Skates, 1992). After that operation, known as blitzkrieg, the world’s eyes were in Germany, waiting for them to make the next move.
Historians mark that day as the beginning of the war. To the Americans, the war in Europe, at least at its very beginning when Germany was still rearming, remained largely as a Europe-only conflict. The Americans did not sign the Versailles treaty after World War I and decided to isolate from the European interests. However, this situation began to change as the aggressive expansion conducted by Japan, the only industrial power in Asia. In the same way, Japan’s alliance with Germany raised suspicion in the American army, who decided to equip the Navy corps and strengthen the country’s coastal defenses. However, at the beginning of the interwar period, the labor of the country was mainly diplomatic. In 1937 the country signed a neutrality act that made unlawful trade weapons with belligerent armies (Dzwonchyk & Skates, 1992) as a way to cut the armament supply from Germany and Japan, as a way to protect their economic interests in Europe and the Pacific without entering into a full-scale conflict.
American Homefront Experience
There are many causes for the American involvement in World War II. However, the most obvious one came with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Nevertheless, before the incident, the country’s involvement in war pointed to the fact that sooner or later, the conflict would have sucked the country into the war. When France fell in 1940, the United States started to support its ally Great Britain by trading arms with them, as long as it paid in cash and collected the weapons themselves (History.com, 2014). This act, authorized by the Fourth Neutrality Act called for the importance of the country’s economic involvement in the war effort. In the same way, given that the Act only benefited those countries whose defense the President deemed a necessity to defend the country’s interests, it shaped the future alliances during wartime. Arguably the Fourth Neutrality Act marked what a full-fledged involvement in the war became. It seems that President Roosevelt started to realize that without the help of the United States, a country industrially prepared to withstand the problems a war ensued, the German troops would have disembarked in Britain. In this part of the essay, we shall focus on the economic characteristics of the American Homefront.
“Most historians agree that World War II was won as surely on the American home front as it was on the battlefield.” (NPS, 2007) With those words, the authors of the cited text want to show the importance of the American Homefront in the war effort. The vast contribution of the industry to the war often passes unnoticed by casual readers and scholars, but it was as important as the battles. American industry provided almost the 70 percent of the war equipment the allies used during the war. “297,000 aircraft, 193,000 artillery pieces, 86,000 tanks, two million trucks” (NPS, 2007). During the war years, the country’s production, already the biggest in the world doubled its output to face the needs of the war, and the people in the country.
Nevertheless, this effort did not come easy, the mobilization of the Homefront came slowly. It was not until 1940, six months after France fell to the Nazis that President Roosevelt decided that the country had to arm itself as a way to protect democracy. Also, not only in the industrial sector the country underwent a significant mobilization. The farming sector also grew exponentially during the war; this allowed to maintain the domestic food production and allowed the state to send the surplus to the allies.
Within a week of Pearl Harbor attack, the Congress passed the War Powers Act, with transferred all the powers and competences to the president to conduct the war effort. This caused the gradual increase of the U.S. Army, passing from 1.2 million members during peacetime to 12 million during the war (UShistory.org, 2015). This rapid militarization made possible the swift response the government had in attacking Japan, and organizing with Britain to keep the other fronts busy to prevent any move from the German troops toward America. However, the average American also contributed to the war effort. Those who stayed in the country worked in the war industries, helping the country with their jobs to secure a constant supply of war material to the front lines. About 6.5 million females entered the workforce during the war years, actually replacing men in the manual work field. This situation meant a victory for women, who wanted to take part in the war, and help during the dire straits the country was passing.
It is also important to note that it was World War II, along with the need for workers in new positions what propelled the country out of the Great Depression and turned the country into the industrial power it is today (Smithsonian, 2007). By the end of the war, the United States, a country with 5 percent of the world’s population produced at least half of the world’s manufactured goods (Smithsonian, 2007).
Military Campaigns of World War II
Although there were many campaigns and battles during the war, we will focus only on two campaigns, along with a couple of decisive moments of each campaign.
By 1944, the war was still raging. German troops still occupied France and large portions of Europe. To the allies, it became apparent that the best route to ease the pressure on Britain was to attack France. However, said attack could not be an unplanned offensive. It needed to be thoroughly calculated and perfectly executed to be useful (Fig. 1). After thinking about the possibilities, it became apparent to the allies that they would have to launch an amphibious operation to the coast of France to create a beachhead that would allow the troops safe passage to inland France. The codename for this plan was “Operation Overlord”.
D-Day. July 6, 1944, marked one of the most important dates in the U.S. History. More than 150,000 men; 12,000 aircrafts, and almost 7,000 sea boats were prepared to invade the coasts of Normandy. D-Day is still the largest amphibious invasion in the history (Rives, 2014). However, to say the attack was easy would be false. Despite the preparation, there were a series of elements the Army could not control, such as the climatic conditions and the ever-present risk of spies. Before the invasion, the Allies had sent at least 18,000 paratroopers with the mission to fall behind enemy lines and began labors of sabotage as a way to secure key points and stall German troops’ advances. Canadians and British fought and overcame the Germans in Juno; Sword, and Gold beaches. The Americans were also able to take Utah beach with relative ease. Nevertheless, the task was much harder in Omaha, where 2,000 soldiers died. By the end of the day, the Allies had secured passage to mainland France and had overcome one of the greatest defenses of the German army.
The Liberation of Paris. In June 1940, the German troops occupied Paris. As a sign of occupation they executed curfews; took hostages and forbade certain kinds of music, such as jazz. It took the allies, and the French resistance forces to finally break German troops and retake the city. In August 1944, after a month of slowly advancing through the hedgerows of the French countryside, the allies, along with the troops of Major General Leclerc, were able to seize the capital. However, the inexperience of Leclerc in combat caused the American troops a lot of headaches. The Frenchman was inexperienced, and although he was able to assemble and train an army, he was ill-suited to follow the chain of command (Historynet, 2015). During the advance of the Allied troops, many rumors grew through the city, and if General Eisenhower did not have a military reason to take the city, he now had one. Germans and the French resistance had agreed to an armistice, and if that truce ended the bloodshed was a sure thing.
The Pacific Campaign
It is important to note that the Pacific Theater was mainly composed of naval battles. The United States had diverted most of his manpower to the European campaign, letting their Navy take the lead and fighting the Japanese in the sea (Dzwonchyk & Skates, 1992). In the same way, the war in the Pacific was mainly an American war, and most of the command decisions did not have to be debated with the rest of the Allied commanders, which gave the Americans almost free reign to execute their will in the Pacific theater.
Battle of Midway. On June 4, 1942, aircraft from four Japanese carriers attacked and damaged the American base on Midway Island. However, the Japanese troops did not know that the U.S. forces were aware of their movements thanks to an intercepted and decrypted communication (NWW2M, 2015). When the attackers returned to refuel, the U.S. forces attacked, severely sinking three Japanese carriers (Fig. 4). From the four carriers that attacked, only one survived and responded, damaging USS Yorktown. After the initial attacks, USS Yorktown sent a scout plane to find the remaining carrier. The plane found the ship, called Hiryu, and sent dive bombers to attack it. The attack crippled the boat, who was unable to launch planes. After that battle, both forces continued attacking each other. After a couple of days, the Japanese were compelled to retreat. They lost 4,800 men; four carriers and an undisclosed amount of airplanes. The U.S. Army lost 307 men; one carrier, and 100 planes (NWW2M, 2015). The victory in Midway stopped Japanese ambitions in the Pacific and forced them to fight defensively.
Battle of Guadalcanal. After the Battle of Midway, land and sea clashed between Allied forces and Japanese troops revolved around Guadalcanal, one of the southern Solomon Islands. (Fig. 5) The battle of Guadalcanal, on August 7, 1942, meant the first major offensive of the Allies in the Pacific Theater. 6,000 U.S. Marines landed ion the UIsland, taking the 2,000 defenders by storm. However, that was not the end of the battle, as both parties sent wave after wave of reinforcements as a way to assert their position on the island. Guadalcanal was not only a fight but a campaign that lasted for moths; a campaign where fights lasted for days and jungle incursions were not rare. At the peak of their strength, Japanese had 36,000 troops stationed in the island. However, since the Americans had created a defensive field around the airport, the Japanese were not able to retake the island. (Britannica, 2015). By February 1943, the remaining 12,000 Japanese soldiers were forced to retreat from the island. Guadalcanal campaign marked another important point for the Allies expansion in the Pacific theater. The battles left 24,000 Japanese casualties, and 1,600 on the American side. Along with the lives lost, both sides of the conflict lost a substantial amount of war material. However, the island proved to serve as a good strategic spot for a prospective invasion of Japan.
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Fig. 1 Normandy Campaign
(Source: Irdp.com, 2015)
Fig. 2. The D-Day
(Source: Normandybattlefields.com, 2015)
Fig. 3 The Liberation of Paris
(Source: Parttimepartisan.com, 2014)
Fig. 4. The Battle of Midway
(Source: Glogster, 2015)
Fig. 5 The Guadalcanal Campaign
(Source: Kent, 2015)
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