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Early German and Japanese Successes and the Collapse of the Axis Alliance

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. The French and British governments, having commitments to Poland, declared war on Germany three days later. After three weeks of fighting (at which time, the Soviet Union invaded the nearly defenseless eastern Poland), Polish forces surrendered to the Germans. After several months of ‘watchful waiting’, German forces struck at Denmark and Norway. On May 1940, Germany launched ‘Case Yellow’ – an operation designed to break the Allied centre in France and outflank the Maginot Line. After only a month of fighting, most of the Allied armies were trapped in a huge pocket near Calais.

Paris was captured without a fight. France sued for peace. From May 1940 to September 1942, Germany achieved military victories far conceived by its commanders. The British were driven from the Balkans. The Red Army was in full retreat in the Volga region. In North Africa, Field Marshal Rommel’s Afrika Korps were pursuing the British 8th army to Alexandria. British shipping also suffered because of attacks from U-boats (called by Admiral Karl Doenitz as the ‘wolf pack). However, in December 1942, the turned tide against the Axis in Europe. The Americans landed in North Africa. The German 6th army was trapped in Stalingrad.

The success of the German army in the field can be attributed to several factors. First, Germany was the first country which recognized the role of armor divisions in strategic military campaigns. Second, the German General Staff excelled in operational planning, unlike its British and Soviet counterparts. Third, Germany had the most powerful air force in Europe. This enabled Germany to control the skies of Europe in the opening battles of major campaigns. And lastly, excellent coordination among the army, navy, and air force provided Germany an indispensable fighting quality that neither the British nor the Russians could offer to match.

As the Second World War raged in Europe, the Japanese government (with consent from Emperor Hirohito) secretly met to discuss Japan’s future relations with the United States. For the past seven months, Japan suffered from economic sanctions imposed by President Franklin Roosevelt. The US president seemed to be fully aware of Japanese intentions in East Asia. At the same time, the radicals in the Japanese army represented by General Tojo Hideki pressured the Japanese government to adopt a more radical measure in solving the US-Japan disagreement. All took well for Tojo.

The military leaders of Japan adopted a cynical view of the United States. There was a call from top government officials to destroy the American fleet stationed in Pearl Harbor. On November 1941, a large Japanese fleet left the harbors of the Nagasaki port. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese fleet caught the US Pacific fleet unprepared. President Roosevelt called on Congress to declare war on Japan. The tide turned against the Japanese in the summer of 1942 when the Japanese Imperial Navy failed to capture important US bases in the Solomons, the Wake Island, and Guadalcanal.

Japan could not match the production capacity of the US economy, a fact which led to Japanese defeats in 1943. Bibliography Irving, David. Hitler’s War and The War Path. London: Parforce Ltd. , 2002. Kagan, Donald et al. Western Heritage. Vol. II. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987. Toynbee, Arnold. A History of the World: London: London Publishing House, 1964. Wells, Herbert. The Outline of History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947. Zaide, Gregorio. World History. Manila: Manila Publishing Company, 1966.

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