America in World War II
America in World War II
Washington, after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, adopted the strategy of “getting Germany first”; if America diverted its main strength to the Pacific, Hitler might crush both the Soviet Union and Britain. If Germany was knocked out first, then Allied forces could be concentrated on Japan.
The Allies Trade Space for Time
America’s task of WWII was far more complex and hard than during WWI. It had to feed, clothe, and transport its forces to far away regions. It also had to send a vast amount of food and munitions to its allies, who stretched all the way from Australia to the USSR.
The Shock of War
American Communists had denounced the Anglo-French war before Hitler attacked Stalin in 1941, but after Pearl Harbor, they clamored for war against the axis powers.
Unlike WWI, when the patriotism of millions of immigrants was questioned, WWII actually sped the assimilation of many ethnic groups into American society. There was almost no government witch-hunting of minority groups. The exception to this was the 110,000 Japanese-Americans on the Pacific Coast who were herded into concentration camps. Washington feared that they might act as saboteurs for Japan in case of invasion. The camps deprived the Japanese-Americans of basic rights, and the internees lost hundreds of millions of dollars in property. In the Supreme Court ruling in Korematsu v. U.S. (1944), the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the concentration camps.
Many programs of the once-popular New Deal were wiped out-including the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and the National Youth Administration. President Roosevelt declared in 1943 that the New Deal reform era was over.
Building the War Machine
The lingering Great Depression was brought to an end with the massive military orders. Orchestrated by the War Production Board (WPB), American factories produced an enormous amount of weaponry, such as guns and planes. The War Production Board halted the manufacture of nonessential items such as passenger cars. It assigned priorities for transportation and access to raw materials.
The government imposed a national speed limit and gasoline rationing as America’s lifeline of natural rubber from British Malaysia and the Dutch East Indies was broken.
In 1942, a sharp inflationary surge occurred as a result of full employment and scarce consumer goods. The Office of Price Administration (OPA) eventually brought the ascending prices down.
The War Labor Board (WLB) imposed ceilings on wage increases. Unhappy with the wage ceilings, labor unions called their members to go on strike. Threats of lost production through strikes became so worrisome that Congress, in June 1943, passed the Smith-Connally Anti-Strike Act. It authorized the federal government to seize and operate tied-up businesses. Washington took control of the coal mines and, for a brief period, the railroads. Though, the vast majority of American workers were committed to the war effort.
Manpower and Womanpower
Even with certain key categories of industrial and agricultural workers being exempt from the draft, the draft left the nation’s farms and factories short of personnel. In 1942, an agreement with Mexico brought thousands of Mexican agricultural workers, called braceros, to America to harvest the fruit and grain crops of the West.
The armed services enlisted nearly 216,000 women in WWII. Most commonly known were the WAACs (army), WAVES (navy), and SPARs (Coast Guard). Millions of women also took jobs outside the house, working in the war industry. WWII foreshadowed an eventual revolution in the roles of women in American society.
The immediate post-war period witnessed not a permanent widening of women’s employment opportunities, but a widespread rush into suburban domesticity and the mothering of the “baby boomers.”
The war churned and shifted the American population. 1.6 million blacks left the South to seek jobs in the war plants of the West and North. Black leader A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, threatened a massive “Negro March on Washington” in 1941 to demand equal opportunities for blacks in war jobs and in the armed forces. As a result, Roosevelt established the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) to monitor compliance with his executive order forbidding discrimination in defense industries.
During WWII, FDR gave the South a disproportionate share of defense contracts in order to fix the economic crisis of the South.
In 1944, the advent of the mechanical cotton picker made the Cotton South’s need for cheap labor disappear. Following the invention, millions of black tenant farmers and sharecroppers headed north.
Some 25,000 Native Americans served in the armed forces. Comanches in Europe and Navajos in the Pacific made such valuable contributions as “code talkers.”
Holding the Home Front
Americans on the home front suffered little from the war, compared to the people of the other fighting nations. By war’s end, much of the world was in ruins, but in America, the war-stimulated economy was booming.
The hand of government touched more American lives more intimately during the war than every before; every household felt the constraints of the rationing system.
Following the war, the national debt rose from $49 billion in 1941 to $259 billion in 1945. Most of the war costs were borrowed.
The Rising Sun in the Pacific
Simultaneously with the assault on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched attacks on various Far Eastern strongholds, including the American outposts of Guam, Wake, and the Philippines.
In the Philippines, American forces, led by General MacArthur, held out against the invading Japanese force for 5 months. The America troops surrendered on April 9, 1942. They were treated with vicious cruelty in the 80-mile Bataan Death March to prisoner-of-war camps.
The island fortress of Corregidor held out until it surrendered on May 6, 1942, giving the Japanese complete control of the Philippines.
Japan’s High Tide at Midway
In May 1942, a crucial naval battle was fought in the Coral Sea. An American carrier task force, with Australian support, engaged in the first battle in which all the fighting was done by carrier-based aircraft.
On June 3-6, 1942, a naval battle of extreme importance to both the Japanese and the Americans was fought near Midway. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz directed a smaller but skillfully maneuvered carrier force, under Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, against the powerful invading Japanese fleet. The Japanese retreated after losing 4 carriers. Midway was a turning point in the Pacific war. Combined with the Battle of Coral Sea, the U.S. success at Midway halted the powerful Japanese.
American Leapfrogging Toward Tokyo
In August 1942, American forces gained a foothold on Guadalcanal Island, the Solomon Islands, in an attempt to protect the lifeline from America to Australia through the Southwest Pacific. After several desperate sea battles for naval control, the Japanese troops evacuated Guadalcanal in February 1943. The casualty ratio of more than 10 to 1, Japanese to American, subsisted after the battle.
The U.S. Navy had been “leapfrogging” the Japanese-held islands in the Pacific. The strategy dictated that the American forces, as they drove towards Tokyo, would reduce the fortified Japanese outposts on their flank. The new strategy of island hopping called for bypassing some of the most heavily fortified Japanese posts, capturing nearby islands, setting up airfields on them, and then neutralizing the enemy bases through heavy bombing. The outposts would then wither and die due to deprivation of essential supplies from the homeland. Success came to the United States as Admiral Chester Nimitz coordinated the efforts of naval, air, and ground units.
Saipan Island, Tinian Island, and the major islands of the Marianas fell to U.S. attackers in July and August 1944. From the Marianas, the United States’ new B-29 superbombers were able to carryout round-trip bombing raids on Japan’s home islands.
The Allied Halting of Hitler
Hitler had entered the war with a strong, ultramodern fleet of submarine U-Boats. To combat these submarines, Allies used old techniques, such as escorting convoys of merchant vessels and dropping depth bombs from destroyers, which were strengthened by air patrol and the advent of radar.
The turning point in the land-air war against Hitler came in late 1942. In October 1942, British general Bernard Montgomery delivered a withering attack on El Alamein. He drove the Germans, who were led by Marshal Erwin Rommel, all the way back to Tunisia.
In September 1942, the Soviets repelled Hitler’s attack on Stalingrad, capturing thousands of German soldiers. (The turning point in the war in the Soviet Union.)
A Second Front from North Africa to Rome
Many Americans, including President Roosevelt, wanted to begin a diversionary invasion of France in 1942 or 1943. They feared that the Soviets, unable to hold out forever against Germany, might make a separate peace as they had in 1918 and leave the Western Allies to face Germany alone.
British military planners, fearing a possible disaster, preferred to attack Hitler through the “soft underbelly” of the Mediterranean. The Americans eventually agreed.
Led by American general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, an assault on French-held North Africa was launched in November 1942. The invasion was the mightiest waterborne effort up to that time in history. The German-Italy army was trapped in Tunisia in May 1943.
At Casablanca, President Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill in January 1943. The two agreed to step up the war in the Pacific, invade Sicily, increase pressure on Italy, and insist upon “unconditional surrender” of the enemy.
After the success of Africa, Allied forces captured Sicily in August 1943. In September 1943, Italy surrendered unconditionally and Mussolini was overthrown. Although Italy surrendered, the Germans would not let the Allies take control of Italy. The Germans fiercely fought the Allies and killed the Italian civilians who had surrendered. Rome was taken on June 4, 1944. On May 2, 1945, thousands of axis troops in Italy surrendered and became prisoners of war. The Italian second front opened the Mediterranean and diverted some German divisions away from the Soviet and French battle lines.
D-Day: June 6, 1944
President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Stalin met in Teheran, Iran from November 28th to December 1st to coordinate a second front. One of the most important achievements of the conference was the agreement on broad plans, especially those for launching Soviet attacks on Germany from the east simultaneously with the Allied assault from the west.
Because the United States was to provide the most Allied troops for the invasion of Europe, American General Eisenhower was given command.
French Normandy was chosen for the point for invasion due to the fact that it was less heavily defended than other parts of the European cost. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the enormous operation took place. After desperate fighting, the Allies finally broke out of the German ring that enclosed the beach. General George S. Patton led armored divisions across France extremely fast and efficiently. Paris was liberated in August 1944.
The first important German city to fall to the Allies was Aachen in October 1944.
FDR: The Fourth-Termite of 1944
For the election of 1944, the Republicans nominated Thomas E. Dewey for the presidency and isolationist Senator, John W. Bricker for the vice presidency.
The Democrats nominated Roosevelt for the presidency and, after dispute of trust with current vice president Henry A. Wallace, Senator Harry S Truman was chosen for the vice presidency.
Roosevelt Defeats Dewey
Roosevelt won a sweeping majority of the votes in the Electoral College and was reelected. He won primarily because the war was going well. Foreign policy was a decisive factor with many voters, who concluded that Roosevelt’s experience was needed for making a future organization for world peace.
The Last Days of Hitler
On December 16, 1944, Hitler threw all of his forces against the thinly held American lines in the Ardennes Forest. His objective was the Belgian port of Antwerp, key to the Allied supply operation. The Americans were driven back, creating a deep “bulge” in the Allied line. The 10-day penetration was halted after the 101st Airborne Division had stood firm. Brigadier General A. C. McAuliffe led the Battle of the Bulge.
In April 1945, General Eisenhower’s troops reached the Elbe River, finding the concentration camps where the Nazis had murdered over 6 million Jews. Not until the war’s end did all of the atrocities of the “Holocaust” appear.
The Soviets reached and captured Berlin in April 1945. Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945.
On April 12, 1945, President Roosevelt died suddenly from a brain hemorrhage. Harry S Truman took over the presidency.
On May 7, 1945, the German government surrendered unconditionally.
Japan Dies Hard
Submarines and bombers inflicted severe damage upon Japan.
After the conquest of New Guinea, General MacArthur returned to the Philippines, en route to Japan, with 600 ships and 250,000 troops. In Leyte Gulf, a series of 3 battles took place from October 23-26, 1944, knocking out Japan’s massive and powerful navy. MacArthur then landed on the main Philippine island of Luzon in January 1945, capturing Manila in March 1945. Iwo Jima, needed as a haven for damaged American bombers returning from Japan, was captured in March 1945. The island of was needed for closer bases from which to blast and burn enemy cities and industries. The Americans finally captured the island after fighting from April to June of 1945. The American navy suffered heavy damage from the “kamikaze” Japanese pilots.
The Atomic Bombs
The Potsdam conference near Berlin in 1945 sounded the death of the Japanese. At the conference, President Truman met with Stalin and the British leaders. They issued an ultimatum to Japan: surrender or be destroyed.
On July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated. With the Japanese still refusing to surrender, the first of 2 atomic bombs was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. On August 8, Stalin invaded the Japanese defenses of Manchuria and Korea. After the Japanese still refused to surrender, the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9.
On August 10, 1945, Tokyo surrendered under the condition that Hirohito be allowed to remain the emperor. The Allies accepted this condition on August 14, 1945. The formal end to the war came on September 2, 1945.
The Allies Triumphant
American forces suffered some 1 million casualties in WWII, while the Soviet Union suffered nearly 20 million.
After the war, much of the world was destroyed while America was virtually left untouched.
The nation was better prepared for the war than any other nation because it had begun to prepare about a year and a half before the war officially began.