World War II was bloody, with millions of civilian, as well as military, deaths globally. There were many battles, with some being more important than others. The effects of this war remain with us, even until this day, as top countries battle to become the world power. This article covers the top five battles of the Second World War, which kicked off on the 1st of September 1939.
Battle of Stalingrad (August 1942 – February 1943)
The Battle of Stalingrad occurred between August 1942 and February 1943. This battle is considered by historians as one that destroyed the undefeated German army, as well as her allies, while fighting in Russia, against the Soviet’s Red Army. In Europe, this battle was considered the game changer of WW II. Army Groups A and B were about to invade South West Russian Caucasus when Adolf Hitler ordered a massive attack on Stalingrad. This battle spanned for months, with over two million deaths involved. Joseph Stalin was determined to protect the Caucasus oil fields at all cost. Thus, citizens who could fight took to arms, and women were asked to dig tunnels. The war involved air strikes from the German Air Force (Luftwaffe), long-range attacks, and hand-to-hand combats.
Although Germany captured different parts of Stalingrad, these areas were reclaimed at night by the Russians. November 19th, 1942 marked the beginning of the end, as Georgy Zhukov, the Red Army marshal, ordered one million soldiers to surround Stalingrad. This singular move trapped the Germans in the city, unable to leave. This could have been avoided at the early stages when the German general, Friedrich Paulus, detected the trap. Unfortunately, Hitler forbade retreat, leading them to destruction. By winter, temperatures dropped below zero, and the trapped Germans ran out of ammunition, heating supplies, and food. Despite the harsh conditions, Hitler urged the Germans to fight and even promoted Paulus to field marshal. However, the Russians witnessed Germany’s capitulation in January 1943. Approximately 91,000 German soldiers were captured, while they had 850,000 casualties. Hitler declared a national day of mourning and stripped Paulus of his marshal rank for failing.
Battle of the Bulge (December 1944 – January 1945)
The Battle of the Bulge, or the Ardennes Counteroffensive, spanned from December 16th 1944 to January 25th, 1945. According to the National WWII Museum report, almost one million soldiers from enemy camps were killed. This remains the biggest and bloodiest battle the U.S had fought, as approximately 80,000 soldiers were either captured, mutilated, or killed. At this point, Hitler seemed defeated and was a fugitive. But he deemed it a perfect time to launch a counter attack on the Allied forces. This was spearheaded by Marshalls Walther Model and Gerd von Rundstedt on a 75-mile dense Ardennes Forest radius. The attack was launched on December 16th, with almost 1,000 tanks and 250,000 German soldiers.
The Germans faced off against wounded and tired American troops who were resting. Within the first day, the Germans broke through, circled the American infantry division, captured major roads, and headed for the Meuse River. They disguised in American uniform and massacred the Allied soldiers. By December 25th, they had moved 50 miles into enemy territory and had forced the commander of the Allied Forces, General Dwight, to send reinforcements.
Around 500,000 young soldiers were sent to war, fighting in forests with extremely cold temperatures and poor visibility. Many suffered frostbite, while the majority of the wounded troops froze to death. Their victory was short-lived, as a reprisal attack by the U.S. Army unit controlled by General Patton attacked German flanks. Shortly after, the weather improved, and air strikes from the Allied were launched. Within days of incessant attacks, Patton’s Third Army captured Bastogne, while the second division blocked Germany’s tanks from approaching Meuse River. January 1st, 1945 marked the final effort of Germany to win the Ardennes Counteroffensive, as they launched Operation Bodenplatte. To execute the plan, they assembled 1,000 German aircraft to attack the enemy’s airfield. The Luftwaffe succeeded in destroying around 100 Allied war planes but suffered irreplaceable losses. With this, the Germans were back to square one.
Battle of Midway (June 1942)
While Craig Symonds, a naval historian, referred to the war as one of the world’s most significant naval battles, ranking side by side with Trafalgar, Salamis, and Tsushima Strait as strategically influential and tactically decisive, John Keegan described it as the most decisive and stunning blow in naval warfare history.
The Battle of Midway took place between June 4th and June 7th of 1942, with Japan inciting the war. Japan intended to defeat the United States’ Pacific Fleet, after which it would seize Midway. Its strategy involved using Midway as a base to launch an attack on Pearl Harbor. The Commander in Chief of Japan’s fleet, Admiral Yamamto, launched an all-out naval attack on America because he believed that was the only option Japan had to control the Pacific. Controlling the Pacific would make Japan the Pacific’s dominant power, but unfortunately, the U.S. Navy had decoded their communication codes. This communication interception became the game changer the U.S. needed in winning the Battle of Midway. On June 4th, four Japanese aircraft carriers bombed the U.S. base, unknown to them that their enemy had been strategically positioned east of the Island, awaiting their return.
Upon their return, U.S. dive and torpedo bombers were sent to attack Japan’s fleet. This attack destroyed three Japanese fleet carriers. In a revenge mission, the surviving fleet carrier bombed USS Yorktown, which was eventually sunk on the 7th of July by a Japanese submarine. By afternoon, a United States scout plane found Hiryu, and then, dive bombers bombed and destroyed it. This made it unable to launch air strikes, and within the next two days, the US Navy intensified attacks that made Japan abandon the battle. While the U.S. lost only 307 men, 100 aircraft, an aircraft carrier, and a destroyer, Japan lost four aircraft carriers, 4,800 men, hundreds of aircraft, and a cruiser.
The Battle of Moscow (October 1941 – January 1942)
The Battle of Moscow encompasses Moscow’s defense and counter-offensive by the Soviet, which spanned from October 1941 to January 1942. This battle took place on the Eastern Front of WW II against Germany. Moscow, being the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ capital and the biggest Soviet city, became Hitler’s target during the Soviet Union’s invasion.
Despite the Soviets having a large army, their organization was very poor. Unlike the disorganized Soviet Army, the Germans were strategic, organized, and had the equipment and expertise to win any war. Hitler’s order to raze the city to the ground as against capturing it made the German side throw over a million soldiers into the battle against Moscow. However, because they were unable to receive supplies via the Panzer Army and the temperature was below zero, the Russians were able to protect their territory and hold off the opposition. Russia’s bad roads further helped their defense, as it took out 40 percent of Germany’s truck fleet. When the German troops were within 24km of Moscow, they were already exhausted and battered. The Soviets successfully defended the city by deploying new armies, building three defensive belts, and transporting soldiers from the Far Eastern and Siberian Military Districts. All these plots were masterminded by Russian Marshal Zhukov.
The Battle of Britain (July 1940 – October 1940)
This war between Britain and Germany was fought in the air, and it took place after France fell in 1940. At the initial stage, Adolf Hitler intended on making an alliance with Britain, whose economy he admired. But after invading Poland in 1939, France, as well as Britain, declared war on Germany. This left him with only one option, war.
After subduing, defeating, and taking over France in June 1940, its air force regrouped for Operation Sea Lion. Hitler’s focus was on destroying the military and economic infrastructure, and the Royal Air Force was first. He focused on this vital infrastructure because its destruction would force Britain to negotiate for peace. The German Air Force planes started by testing their air defense systems between July 10th, 1940 and October 31st, 1940. Dornier Do 17, Junkers Ju 88, and Heinkel He 111 executed the daytime bombings. They focused their attacks on airfields and factories which produced aircraft. This battle spanned for 12 weeks, with Germany losing 1,733 aircraft, while GBR lost 915. Hitler retreated shortly after this.
The Second World War featured carnage, incessant killings and bombings, starvation, brutality, and power tussle. The soldiers were not the only active participants in the battles; women and children got involved as well. Such decimation has not been seen since its end in 1945. World War II remains the most devastating period one could have ever lived in.