The Japanese captured Rangoon, the capital of Burma, in March and began to drive the British out of the country. To avoid being surrounded by enemy Forces, the British began to retreat up the Irrawaddy and Sittang valleys in appalling conditions — including crossing difficult terrain, and in the worst dry and hot weather of the year - and determined enemy forces. On 15 May , just after the monsoon broke, defeated British Forces finally retreated all the way across the Indian border.
It was the longest retreat in British history, covering a distance of 1, miles — like walking from Birmingham to Rome.
A War To Be Won
After their retreat, British Forces in India immediately started forming plans to recapture Burma, though the next year saw very little progress. They sabotaged railway lines to limit the movement of the Japanese, and encouraged Burmese resistance groups. However, they suffered heavy casualties.
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Despite their limited results, the Chindits had shown the Japanese were not invincible in the jungle. The British public was inspired by their mission and their operation raised morale among other British troops. Now, gentlemen, we are kicking our Japanese neighbours back to Rangoon. In late , the British created the 14th Army to take over offensive operations against the Japanese under the command of Lieutenant General William Slim.
These battles saw some of the worst fighting of the Second World War. At the same time, a second Chindit expedition began, the second-largest airborne invasion of the Second World War with 20, British and Commonwealth soldiers and air support provided by the 1st Air Commando, United States Army Air Force.
When relief forces arrived, the British defensive lines were reduced to a shell-shattered area of only square metres. The resolute defence by British and Indian forces, and the monsoon, defeated the Japanese. They had now been broken by multiple battles, and after fierce fighting, central Burmese cities Meiktila and Mandalay were captured in March Throughout, we see the relationship between the actual operations of the war and their political and moral implications.
It avoids a celebratory view of the war but preserves a profound respect for the problems the Allies faced and overcame as well as a realistic assessment of the Axis accomplishments and failures. Preface World War II was the deadliest conflict in modern history. It continued World War I's slaughter of soldiers but then added direct attacks against civilians on a scale not seen in Europe since the Thirty Years' War three centuries earlier.
A War To Be Won: Fighting the Second World War
On the Eastern Front, its horrors surpassed the worst battles of the first global war. At times the death struggle between the forces massed by the German Wehrmacht and Red Army never seemed to stop. From the Battle of Kursk in July to the Crimea in early May , military operations involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers continued day in and day out. Then, after a pause lasting barely a month and a half, Soviet forces attacked the German Army at the end of June , and the ferocious fighting in the east continued without letup until the collapse of Hitler's regime.
After 6 June , a similar war began on the Western Front. The amphibious assault of the Anglo-American forces on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day initiated military operations in northern Europe that would not end until May By the end of the war, the Nazis had murdered or worked to death at least 12 million non-German civilians and prisoners. In Asia, the Japanese did not adopt so coherent an ideology of racial superiority as the Nazis, but their xenophobic nationalism, combined with dreams of empire and deep bitterness at the dominance of much of Asia by the Western colonial powers, also led to vast atrocities.
With the invasion of China in summer , the Japanese embarked on a war that involved murder, rape, and devastation to a degree not seen since the Mongol conquests in the early thirteenth century.
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The Japanese added a new dimension to the slaughter when they used bacteriological weapons and poison gas against the Chinese people as well as soldiers. Faced with this unprecedented aggression by the Axis powers, nations espousing other ideologies, particularly Soviet Communism and liberal capitalist democracy, responded with a fury of their own. By the time the war was over, civilian deaths inflicted by both sides outnumbered combat deaths by a margin of two to one. The West's ideological and moral imperative to punish the Germans for their many crimes culminated in the Combined Bomber Offensive waged by the Royal Air Force and the U.
Army Air Forces. Four years of battering air attacks, followed by invasion on the ground, destroyed virtually every major city in Central Europe except Prague and Vienna. Dresden, Hamburg, Warsaw, Berlin, and Cologne, among others, lay in rubble. Yet as distasteful as these bombing campaigns are today to most citizens of the liberal democracies under sixty years of age, the Combined Bomber Offensive in Europe and the bombing of Japan reflected not only a sense of moral conviction on the part of the West but a belief that such air attacks would end a war that daily grew more horrible for soldiers and civilians alike.
Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Fascist Italy could not, in the final analysis, be defeated except by fighting. The United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and their allies had to fight their opponents in air, ground, and naval contests across the globe. Moral righteousness alone does not win battles. Evil causes do not necessarily carry the seeds of their own destruction.
Because of the Axis' operational and tactical skill, stiffened in battle by fierce nationalism and ideological commitment, as well as the controls of police states, winning the "Good War" proved a daunting task. Waging World War II required more than the mobilization and equipment of huge military forces.
And it required the creation of military power in three dimensions: in the air over both land and sea; across great land masses; and on and beneath the sea. The Germans led the way toward combined arms warfare with their Blitzkrieg of air and ground forces in May , an assault of weeks that enslaved Western Europe for four years. But the Allies adapted and developed their own forces for air-ground warfare that eventually proved superior. The air-sea-undersea-amphibious naval campaign in the Pacific doomed Japan.
Logistical superiority was crucial to the Allies' victory, and America's role as the "Arsenal of Democracy" made a critical difference. Not only did the United States carry most of the burden of the naval campaign in the Pacific and an increasing load of the combat in Europe as the war progressed, but its Lend-Lease program was essential to the military operations of its allies and to the functioning of their wartime economies.
In contrast, the Germans and the Japanese, undoubtedly misled by the successes their military forces initially achieved, did not mobilize their own economies until the tide had already turned against them in Their desperate efforts to match the Allies soon attracted the assaults on their economic systems launched by Allied air and sea forces. While the Allies' economic strength weighed heavily in their eventual victory, reinforcing and accelerating the tempo of military operations in material superiority never by itself proved decisive.
Intelligence about the capabilities and intentions of their opponents became increasingly important to the belligerents as the conflict deepened. In the contest of intelligence, the Allied powers won handily. A complete misestimate of the capabilities of the Royal Air Force cost the Luftwaffe what little chance it had of achieving its objectives in the Battle of Britain. Worse was to come.
In planning the invasion of the Soviet Union, Germany misjudged the Soviet ability to absorb defeats. The result was a catastrophic stalemate in front of Moscow, despite a series of impressive earlier victories in Operation Barbarossa. The Allies slowly achieved an intelligence advantage over their opponents as the war continued. With information gained by breaking German and Japanese codes, Anglo-American commanders were able to shape battles to their advantage and to mount deception campaigns that misled their opponents. The Russians used secret agents and signals intelligence to the same result.
With all their advantages in combined arms, logistics, and intelligence, the Allies still confronted the grim task of destroying their enemies town by town, island by island, in terrible killing battles that exhausted victor and vanquished alike. In that struggle, the greatest advantage the Allies enjoyed over the Axis was the capacity to make strategic decisions that balanced ends against means. At first the Allies were no better at strategic decision-making than their opponents. Perhaps the shock of their initial defeats provided the sobering learning the Allies needed to guide their strategy as the war continued.
In this book, we have concentrated on the conduct of operations by the military organizations that waged the war. We have not ignored the strategic and political decisions that drove the war, but what interests us most are issues of military effectiveness. We have attempted to explain the battlefield performance of armies, navies, and air forces; the decisions made by generals and admirals in the face of extraordinary difficulties; the underlying factors that shaped the outcomes of battles and campaigns; and the interrelationships among battles separated by hundreds or thousands of miles.
Thus, we have written a history of World War II that examines the reciprocal influence of strategy and operations. We try to explain how military decisions were made, and how those decisions made a difference to the outcome of the fighting. We are aware that as historians, with access to documents and accounts from both sides, we can understand events as they unfolded in a way that the participants could not. In every case, we have attempted to judge the decisions of military leaders and statesmen on the basis of what they could reasonably have known at the time that they had to act.
We also believe that individuals at every level of leadership made a difference. From Lieutenant Richard Winters, whose squad-sized force captured a German battery and its protecting company behind Utah Beach, to the German panzer commanders like Irwin Rommel and Hans von Luck who destroyed the French Army in little over three weeks, to Dwight Eisenhower who kept a strong-willed group of senior commanders focused on defeating the Wehrmacht, individuals guided the course of events.
We have attempted to identify and discuss those who made the decisions that turned the tide of the war. Although we have not written an everyman's history of the conflict, we have not overlooked the hundreds of thousands of men in arms who bore the terrible burden of carrying out those decisions.
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To the best of our ability, we have incorporated the expert research that has become available over the last thirty years into a full analysis of the war. The revelations of Ultra intelligence in the early s and its operational implications have only recently achieved a balanced place alongside other factors that contributed to the Allied victory.
Williamson Murray | Department of History
As students and teachers of military history for much of the postwar period and as veterans who profited from our own modest military experiences, we believe that we have written a history of World War II that does justice to that war's complexity and meaning. This, then, is our account. Williamson Murray Allan R. Origins of a Catastrophe 2.