Winning the War
While the home front buzzed busily in support of the war
effort, U.S. armed forces faced a two-front battle, in Europe and
Drive to Victory in Europe
The Allies and the United States agreed to focus on victory
in Europe before turning to Japan. European involvement for U.S.
troops began in 1942 with Operation Torch, a North African campaign
in which more than 100,000 Allied troops under American general Dwight
D. Eisenhower forced a Vichy (or German-controlled) France
surrender in Tunisia. In the summer of 1943, Allied troops conquered
Sicily and forced Mussolini’s overthrow. In 1944, Soviet troops,
who had succeeded in pushing the Nazis out of the Soviet Union,
advanced toward Germany and liberated Poland, Romania, Bulgaria,
and Yugoslavia from German rule.
In 1944, the U.S. launched a front against the Germans
in France in the form of Operation Overlord. This operation
centered on the June 6, 1944 “D-Day” invasion of Normandy, in which
American, British, and Canadian forces under Eisenhower (now the
supreme allied commander in Europe) undertook a massive land, sea,
and air assault. Despite heavy resistance and many casualties, the
Allies pressed on. By the end of the summer they had liberated Belgium,
Luxembourg, and most of France.
In December 1944, Hitler sent the last of his reserves
to attack the oncoming Allied troops in Belgium and Luxembourg.
The reserves penetrated the Allies’ line but were forced back in
late December and early January. Despite heavy Allied losses—55,000 Allied
troops were killed and another 18,000 taken prisoner—the Battle
of the Bulge ended with Allied victory in January 1945.
By the end of April, Berlin was encircled by
American, British, and Soviet troops. Germany surrendered unconditionally
on May 8, 1945. American citizens celebrated the Allied victory in
Europe but mourned the loss of more than six million Jews and several
million others who had died in the concentration camps discovered
by Allied forces invading Germany. The Nazi-driven persecution and
extermination of European Jews, which lasted from 1933 until the
end of the war in 1945, is called the Holocaust.
War in the Pacific
In 1942, American and Japanese forces clashed at various
strategic locations, including the Philippines, the Coral Sea (northeast
of Australia), and the Solomon Islands. Late in 1943, Americans
took a two-pronged offensive, as the army under General Douglas
MacArthur “leapfrogged” from island to island on a path north
from Australia, and the navy island-hopped toward Japan from the
Central Pacific. Securing U.S. control of these Japanese islands
put Tokyo, Japan’s capital city, within range for U.S. bombers.
In the summer of 1944, U.S. forces destroyed the imperial fleet,
wiping out Japan’s naval power. Even with their armies in shambles
and Japanese cities being bombed daily, Japanese leaders still refused
The Atomic Bombs
The final push to victory in Japan began in 1945, when
American troops won long, bloody battles on the islands of Iwo Jima
and Okinawa from February to June, losing about 65,000 men between
the two battles. Despite these American victories and the daily
bombing of Tokyo, Japanese officials refused to consider surrender.
In the U.S., a secret project to develop an atomic bomb
had been in progress since 1941. In July 1945, the Manhattan
Project and its director, J. Robert Oppenheimer, successfully
detonated an atomic bomb in the desert in New Mexico. This was the
first successful detonation of an atomic bomb in history.
While meeting with Soviet premier Joseph Stalin and
British prime minister Winston Churchill at the Potsdam
Conference, Truman issued a secret order to drop an atomic
bomb if Japan did not surrender by August 3. In late July 1945,
Truman warned Japan to surrender immediately or face “prompt and
utter destruction.” Japan ignored the threat, and on August 6, 1945,
an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped
an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing
more than 70,000 and injuring another 70,000, many fatally. Three
days later, a bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing
40,000 and injuring 60,000. On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered.
Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
on August 6 and August 9, 1945, killing more than 110,000 in the
blasts and injuring many more who died soon thereafter. This destruction
prompted Japan to surrender on August 14, ending World War II.
Although Truman claimed the use of the atomic bombs was
necessary to end the war quickly with minimal loss of American life,
his motives have been questioned. Some believe racism inspired the
bombs’ use, and some claim that Truman could have forced Japan’s
surrender simply by demonstrating the bombs’ effect on an abandoned
island. Others argue that the bombs were used mainly to intimidate
Joseph Stalin and to prevent the Soviet Union, which declared war
on Japan on August 8, 1945, from claiming a share in victory over
Japan. Truman would thereby gain a diplomatic edge over the communist Soviets.