Part IV: The main battles of World War II
The turning point of the War was the Battle of Stalingrad. The people of Stalingrad fought for every street, every house, and every inch of their city. After intense fighting lasting many months, the German army, which till then was considered ‘invincible’, was decimated and forced to surrender.
Although Britain and France had encouraged Germany to expand eastwards, after occupying Poland, Germany first turned westwards. Between April and June 1940, the Nazis occupied Denmark, Norway, Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium. In a major victory, they achieved the surrender of France in June, and occupied it for the next four years. They were poised to invade Britain, and began heavy aerial bombardment of the island. Even with its main allies in Europe almost defeated, the US offered only moral and some material support, but did not enter the War.
However, the main eye of Nazi Germany was on the vast territories and rich resources of the Soviet Union. The following year, it resumed its eastward thrust. On 22 June, 1941, Germany launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union. The combined forces of Germany, Italy, Romania, Hungary and Finland was a colossal 3 million troops. They expected a quick surrender of the Soviet Union as had happened in France, but their plans were completely frustrated.
Even before the outbreak of War in Europe, Japan in 1937 launched an invasion of China, rapidly occupying the most developed and populated areas of eastern and central China. However, although nearly 30 million Chinese people were killed and nearly 100 million became refugees, the government and people of China never surrendered. They fought heroically for eight long years, under a united front in which the Chinese communists played a major role. Their resistance helped to tie down lakhs of Japanese troops.
In September 1940, Japan invaded and conquered French Indo China which comprised the then French colonies of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. On December 8, 1941, Japan invaded the British colony of Malaya and began bombing Singapore. The invasion and occupation of the American colony of Philippines began the same day. This was followed by the invasion of the British colony of Burma in January 1942. British forces in Singapore surrendered to the advancing Japanese forces on February 15, 1942. In April 1942, the Japanese invaded and occupied the Dutch colony of Indonesia. With this, the whole of South East Asia was under Japanese occupation.
The Japanese tried to present their takeover of the countries and peoples of South East Asia as ‘liberation’ from Western imperialism, and as steps towards the creation of a “Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere”. However, the peoples of South East Asia were not fooled, and fierce resistance movements, in many cases led by communists, sprang up in each of them.
The role of the Soviet Union and the transformation of inter-imperialist war into a peoples’ war against fascism
Although World War II began as a war among imperialist powers over territories, markets and resources, it was transformed into a great war of the peoples against fascism through the struggles of the peoples of the Soviet Union and China in defence of their homelands and the valiant resistance movements that emerged in the countries under fascist occupation.
The Soviet peoples under the leadership of the CPSU and Stalin fought with death-defying courage, making untold sacrifices, including the loss of about 28 million lives. Apart from the heroic Red Army, millions of citizens in the eastern part of the country, which was occupied by the enemy forces, were organized into partisan units which fought an unyielding guerrilla war that wore down the aggressor troops. Egged on by the Western imperialist states, the Nazis had deluded themselves that they would be welcomed as liberators by the Soviet people. Instead, the Soviet peoples fought tooth and nail for the Soviet system and for every inch of their territory. Even though they initially had to temporarily cede territory to the overwhelming Axis forces, as part of the strategy to draw them deep into the interior and stretch their lines, they did not give the invaders a moment’s peace.
The Germans laid siege to the great city of Leningrad from September 1941 to 1944. The people of Leningrad endured savage bombing and extreme deprivation, but never surrendered. But it was the Battle of Stalingrad, the city on the Volga that broke the back of the fascist invaders. The capture of Stalingrad was crucial for Germany in order to get control of the energy resources of the Soviet Union. But the Red Army and the organised units of the Soviet people launched powerful counterattacks to wear down the aggressors. The people of Stalingrad fought for every street, every house and every inch of their city. After intense fighting lasting many months, the German army, which till then was considered ‘invincible’, was decimated. On February 2, 1943, the German Sixth Army surrendered. This was the turning point of the Second World War.
The Red Army then pursued the armies of Germany all the way back to Germany, liberating many countries and peoples from the jackboots of the German occupation forces.
The role of US imperialism
When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the US waited and watched, just as it did when the Germans occupied most of Western Europe. Immediately following the attack of Germany on the Soviet Union, Harry Truman, who was then a member of the US Senate but later became President after Roosevelt died during the War, said (The New York Times 24 June, 1941): “If we see that Germany is winning the war we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and in that way let them kill as many as possible.” This statement reveals the thoroughly cynical, imperialist outlook of US imperialism.
The US joined the War on the side of the Allies only after Japan bombed its naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. With its allies Britain and France greatly weakened through the loss of their colonies and homeland (in the case of France), and with the Soviet Union facing the brunt of the German war machine, the US expected to be in a commanding position.
From 1941, the Soviet Union repeatedly called on its wartime allies, the US and Britain, to open a second front through an offensive campaign in Western Europe, as this would have relieved the unrelenting pressure on the Soviet Union which was fighting singlehandedly against the Germans. However, the US and Britain deliberately delayed opening a second front until 1944, by which time it became clear that the Soviet Union had crushed the German offensive and was capable of liberating Europe from the Nazi hordes without their help. It was only then that the US led the air and seaborne landing of troops in Normandy, France, to ensure that they had forces on the ground in Europe when Germany surrendered. Their aim was to divide up Europe and establish their hegemony over the continent.
The same was the case in East Asia. By 1945, the Japanese army was clearly on the retreat in Asia. Their forces were being decimated by the Chinese resistance, while in their original stronghold in Manchuria, the Soviet Red Army had routed them. When the end of the War in Asia was clearly in sight, the US went ahead and on August 6 and August 9 dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, causing hellish destruction and killing millions of people at one go. This was to ensure that Japan surrendered to the American military leadership. After that, the US raced to airlift the forces of its preferred ally, the Chinese President Chiang Kai-shek, to Manchuria to ensure that Japanese forces there did not surrender to the Chinese communists or the Soviet Red Army.