Top 10 Major Battles Of World War II (WW2)
World War II began on September 1, 1939 with the Nazi German invasion of Poland and ended on September 2, 1945 when Imperial Japan formally signed its surrender terms to become the last of the Axis powers to fall. It pitted the Allied powers led by Britain, the United States, Russia, and France against the Axis powers of Hitler-led Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. A series of great battles were fought between these superpowers that claimed millions of military and civilian lives on all sides, and left marks on the historical record as never before experienced in warfare to date. Below is a list of some of the most influential battles that were fought in World War II, in Western Europe and beyond. Here are Top 10 Major Battles Of World War II (WW2)
Top 10 Major Battles Of World War II (WW2)
- Operation Torch (November 1942)
Operation Torch was an Allied invasion of what was then French North Africa that lasted from November 8 to 10, 1942. It was planned during a June 1942 Washington Conference, attended by President Franklin Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It was the first time the British and Americans had worked together on an invasion plan, and the first time American forces had fought alongside their European counterparts.
Operation Torch was intended to open up the Mediterranean for Allied shipping by opening a way to access southern Europe through North Africa. It was also intended to take some pressure off the Soviet Union and the Eastern Front. The Allied Forces were joined by the Eighth Army which drew forces from India, Canada, Australia and other countries that are part of the British Commonwealth.
Operation Torch was ultimately successful. It was also significant for marking the first time that Americans saw the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe firsthand.
- Siege of Leningrad (September 1941 to January 1942)
The Siege of Leningrad began on September 8, 1941 and lasted until January 27, 1944. This 900-day siege counts as the most tragic period in the city’s history, in which an estimated 700,000 people out of a population Some 2.5 million died in the blockade due to bombing, cold and hunger.
The siege was instigated by Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. The Germans attacked Leningrad for the first time with artillery shells on September 1, 1941. The city was also one of the targets of the Germans, within the framework of Operation Barbarossa, which targeted the entire Soviet Union-USSR. More than 3 million Axis soldiers and 3,500 tanks took part when Operation Barbarossa began on June 22, 1941. Hitler expected the City to “fall like a leaf” and even prepared an event to celebrate. He told the German generals that once Leningrad was surrounded and bombarded from the air and with artillery fire, the city’s residents’ resolve to fight would fade. German bombers also dropped propaganda leaflets claiming that residents would starve if they did not surrender. General Markian Popov took over the Leningrad government, while Andrei Zhdanov became the head of the local party committee. Zhdanov urged all residents of Leningrad to prepare to defend the city to the death from the German invaders.
The Germans were first repelled by a determined Russian defense and were unable to attack and occupy the city, hence the blockade. By September 8, the German tanks were within 10 miles of Leningrad. The city was cut off from Russia and from air and river supply lines that were constantly under attack. The nearest railway head outside the city was 100 miles to the east in the city of Tikhvin, which fell to the Germans. His bombardment also destroyed power plants, and the city suffered from chronic food shortages. By November 1941, famine had claimed the lives of 11,000 people, and the number increased during the winter. Thousands of people built a 200-mile highway out of the city in 27 days to Zaborie. On December 6, 1941, the route called “Camino de la Vida” was opened, but the 300 trucks that transported supplies were paralyzed due to breakdowns and blizzards. In one day they traveled at most 20 miles. On December 9, the Soviets recaptured the Tikhvin railhead and killed 7,000 German soldiers, with the rest advancing 50 miles from there. The Soviets repaired the line within a week, and food supplies began arriving in Leningrad. Food and fuel supplies that arrived via the “Road of Life” and the frozen Lake Ladoga proved insufficient. The city required 1,000 tons of food in one day, but the most it received was 100 tons, which was rationed by the authorities.
According to city records, in December 1941, 52,000 people died due to lack of food and exposure to cold, while many more may have died unaccounted for. At the end of 1942, Leningrad had less than a million inhabitants. Those who stayed in the city were starving. The siege ended as the Germans retreated west, when the Red Army’s winter offensive forcibly expelled them from Leningrad, ending the siege on January 27, 1944. Since Leningrad never surrendered, the Soviet authorities granted to his people the Order of Lenin, to pay tribute to his resistance in the harrowing siege.
- Battle of the Atlantic (September 1939 to May 1945)
The Battle of the Atlantic of World War II, which began in September 1939 and ended with the surrender of the Germans in May 1945, was the longest uninterrupted military campaign of the war. It started when the British declared war on Germany. The six-year naval war pitted German U-boats, aircraft, surface ships, warships, and later Italian submarines, against Allied escort warships and convoys carrying military equipment and supplies, to across the Atlantic to Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. It was fought to control the Atlantic sea lanes and involved thousands of ships spread over thousands of miles in the dangerous ocean. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, declared victory in the Battle of the Atlantic as needed. When the battle broke out, the German navies had fewer than 50 submarines, and the British had some warship escorts to counter them. In the early days of the battle, the Germans launched many U-boats, causing the British to suffer convoy ship losses at a high rate. Although the US was neutral, President Franklin Roosevelt agreed to Churchill’s request to provide the British Navy with fifty destroyers and four obsolete Pipers in exchange for the use of British bases in the Caribbean. The United States also agreed to build escort vessels for the British under the Lend Lease Program.
When the US Navy fleet at Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, the United States entered the war. But the US was unprepared for the threat of submarines that sank hundreds of Allied ships in the eastern US. Before destroyer escorts were available, the US Navy relied on ships of escort that were inadequate. Consequently, 1942 was the worst year for the Allies, as more than 1,000 Allied ships were sunk by German submarines and aircraft in the Atlantic and off the US East Coast. But when destroyer escort ships came into the Battle of the Atlantic in January 1943, proved deadly to German U-boats throughout the Atlantic. Due to their technological sophistication such as radar that allowed them to detect submarines on the surface, submerged or by day or night despite the weather conditions. By May, the tide had turned against the Germans in the Battle of the Atlantic, as more U-boats were sunk than Allied merchant ships. On June 4, 1944, the Allies took great steps toward victory by capturing the German submarine U-505. She had the Enigma code machine and books, which allowed the Allies to crack German codes and significantly improve their tactics against submarines. The Germans finally surrendered in May 1945. From 1939 to 1945, 2,700 Allied merchant ships were lost to German attacks, and 1,000 of those were to U-boats alone. More than 130,000 Allied sailors lost their lives in the Battle of the Atlantic. Although Allied losses were heavy, they would have been worse and worse if destroyer escorts had not joined the battle, thus reducing German U-boat successes. Of the 1,100 German U-boats produced for the war, 800 were lost in the Allied assault, and 28,000 of the 40,000 U-boat sailors were killed, mostly by destroyer escorts.
- Battle of Britain (July 1940-October 1940)
From July 10 to October 31, 1940, the Battle of Britain was an air battle between the Germans and the British. It pitted the Royal Air Force (RAF) against the three numerically superior Luftwaffe fleets, the German Air Force. The Battle of Britain was the first major military campaign in history to be fought entirely in the air. In 1940, the Germans had the largest and most superior air force in Europe and wanted to use it to destroy the British air force and gain air superiority over southern Britain and the English Channel. The battle began when three Luftwaffe fleets attacked the south-east of England, the western half of England and the north of Great Britain, mainly where the RAF was stationed, as well as radar installations and airfields. Hitler intended to use the Battle of Britain as preparation for invading Britain. The Luftwaffe had 1,350 bombers and 1,200 fighters, ordered to attack Britain. Despite their superiority, the Luftwaffe bombers incurred heavy losses to the inferior RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes.
Overconfidence, poor bombing tactics and inept training for long-range missions and equipment for the Luftwaffe resulted in losses for the RAF. The RAF also had the advantage of radar tracking and guidance, and could better defend against attacks from widely separated airfields, and was on familiar British territory. The Battle of Britain reached its climax on September 15, 1940, when the Luftwaffe lost 56 aircraft and the RAF 28. In the 12-week battle, 1,733 German aircraft were destroyed, 2,662 pilots were killed, and more than 6,000 were captured or wounded. . The RAF lost 915 aircraft and 537 of its pilots were killed. On September 17, Hitler recognized the futility of the battle and postponed the invasion of Britain. However, the Luftwaffe continued to indiscriminately bomb cities such as London, Plymouth and Coventry. They were reduced on October 31, although some random Luftwaffe attacks would occur until 1941.
- Operation Barbarossa (June to December 1941)
On December 18, 1940, Adolf Hitler issued a directive for an invasion of the Soviet Union to bring its population and economic potential under German control. The invasion that began on June 22, 1941 and ended on December 5, 1941 was called Operation Barbarossa. The German attack was intended to start from the port of Archangel in northern Russia, to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea. The operation is named after the Roman Emperor Frederick I. More than 3.5 million German and Axis troops with 3,400 tanks attacked the 1,800-mile front. In the air they were supported by 2,700 Luftwaffe aircraft. To date, this is the largest invasion force in history.
The German-led forces were divided into three groups: Army Group North was to invade the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and also Leningrad. Army Group South would invade Ukraine towards kyiv and the Donbass Industrial Region. Army Group Center would invade Minsk, Smolensk, and Moscow. Hitler had expected the invasion to last about ten weeks. Although the Red Army had 23,000 tanks and 5 million soldiers ready to repel German attacks, they were unprepared. That’s because Josef Stalin, the Soviet leader, did not believe that a German attack would happen as soon as it did. The Germans found the Russian forces in disarray and made great gains aided by Luftwaffe bombing of Soviet airfields, artillery positions, and troop concentrations. On the first day of Operation Barbarossa, 1,800 Soviet aircraft were destroyed while most were on the ground. Army Group North under Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter Leeb headed for Leningrad, while General Erich Hoepner’s Panzer Group 4 was in the lead.
The Army Group center led by Field Marshal Fedor von Bock also targeted Moscow. By June 28, Panzer Group 2, led by General Heinz Guderian and Panzer Group 4 under General Hermann Hoth, had surrounded three Russian armies and taken 320,000 men hostage at Bialystok-Minsk. Two more Panzer troops advanced on the other side of Smolensk on July 27 and two more Russian armies were trapped and annihilated, with 300,000 Red Army taken prisoner. But Army Group South commanded by Gerd Von Rundstedt faced the most Soviet resistance as most of the Russian defense was in the Ukraine. But von Rundstedt’s troops advanced beyond the pre-1939 Polish border. Army Group 1 led by General Ewald von Kleist was slowed by Soviet troops as it headed toward the Ukrainian capital of kyiv and the river basin. Donuts. On August 8, the Germans besieged two Soviet armies and captured 100,000 men in the Uman pocket and reached the Dnieper River. The naval port of Odessa on the Black Sea was also surrounded.
Until that moment, the Germans seemed unstoppable. However, Soviet resistance began to mount. A German salient at Yelnya, southeast of Smolensk, was recaptured by the Soviets at great cost. Since supplies for Army Group Center were lacking, Hitler decided to stop Moscow’s advance in order to boost Army Groups North headed for Leningrad and Army Group South headed for kyiv. Instead, Hitler chose to invade the Crimea and the Donets Basin, because they are rich in resources.
In kyiv, five Soviet armies were trapped and kyiv fell, and more than 650,000 Russian soldiers were trapped or captured. In October, the city of Kharkov was captured by the Germans. By now the German troops were depleted and supplies and ranks had been depleted. In September 1941, with the help of Finland, the Germans besieged Leningrad from the rest of Russia for 890 days, but were unable to capture it. Hitler turned his attention back to Moscow, believing that the Russian defense was too exhausted to defend the capital. But the Red Army had been reinforced with 1 million soldiers ready to defend Moscow. The German offensive attacked with 1 million men, 1,700 tanks and 600,000 Russian soldiers were captured at Bryansk and Vyazma, leaving around 90,000 men in the Russian army. After three months of attack, the Luftwaffe was weakened. As the German forces approached Moscow, the rains and mud slowed their advance and they chose to stop momentarily. Low temperatures in mid-November again slowed the German advance, giving the Soviets time to reinforce themselves with reservists and troops from Siberia and the eastern borders. Even though sections of the German troops came within 12 miles of Moscow, they were exhausted, exhausted, and frozen in deep, heavy snow. The Germans withdrew on December 5 as the Soviets launched a counterattack and crushed their various troop formations. Army Group Center was pushed back 150 miles from Moscow, and an angry Hitler fired Walther von Brauchitsch, the German army commander.
- Battle of Stalingrad (August 1942 to February 1943)
From July 17, 1942 to February 2, 1943, the Battle of Stalingrad took place. Historians consider this battle to have decimated the invincible German Army and its allies as they fought the Soviet Red Army in Russia. The Battle of Stalingrad is considered the turning point of World War II in Europe. Hitler ordered the attack on Stalingrad as Army Groups A and B were about to invade Russia’s southwestern Caucasus. In September 1942, General Friedrich Paulus and his Fourth Panzer Army approached Stalingrad with the aim of securing the oil fields in the Caucasus. To accomplish this, Hitler ordered Paulus to capture Stalingrad with the Germans’ ultimate goal being Baku. For Russia, Stalingrad was a center of communications and manufacturing. Josef Stalin motivated his troops to fight for Stalingrad, which is named after him. The determined Russians were determined never to let the city fall to ensure that the Germans did not capture the Caucasus oil fields. What followed was one of the most brutal battles of World War II, with individual street battles fought hand-to-hand.
Although the Germans captured many parts of Stalingrad, the Russians often recaptured them at night. On November 19, 1942, Red Army Marshal Georgy Zhukov mobilized a million-strong army to surround Stalingrad. That resulted in the German soldiers being trapped in the city. When German General Friedrich Paulus noticed the trap in the early stages, he would have prevented it, but Hitler forbade him. With the Germans trapped in Stalingrad, winter came and temperatures dropped well below freezing, and food, ammunition, and heating facilities were inadequate. German soldiers began to freeze and lose appendages, while Hitler urged Paulus to fight to the last bullet. He even promoted him to field marshal, but at the end of January 1943, the German soldiers led by Paulus in the south of Stalingrad surrendered. Then, on February 2, 1943, General Julius Schreck with the soldiers from North Stalingrad were the last to surrender to the Red Army. In the Battle of Stalingrad, one German army unit lost an entire army group while 91,000 German soldiers were taken prisoner. Historical scholars estimate that the German-led Axis alliance had 850,000 casualties. They also lost a lot of military equipment. Hitler, furious, ordered a national day of mourning for the shame of losing a battle and stripped Von Paulus of his rank of field marshal for his “failure”.
- Battle of Okinawa (April to June 1945)
Described as the largest sea, land, and air battle in history, the Battle of Okinawa occurred from April 1 to June 22, 1945. It was also the last major battle of the Pacific Campaign in the war. For the battle, America had 300 warships plus 1,139 other ships. More than 100,000 Okinawans perished and there were more than 72,000 American deaths, 107,000 Japanese deaths, and 7,400 taken prisoner. The Americans intended to capture the Okinawa Islands as part of a three-point plan to win the war in the Far East. The Americans also intended to reconquer the Far East and destroy the remaining Japanese merchant fleet, and use the four airfields there to launch bombing raids on Japan’s industrial centers. General Mitsuru Ushijima commanded the 130,000 Japanese troops out of the 450,000 population on the island and was ordered to hold the island at all costs. General Ushijima moved his forces to the southern sector of the island and placed them in structured secure fortifications. To capture these fortifications, the Americans would have to engage the Japanese in frontal attacks. The Japanese also recruited Kamikaze suicide pilots as part of their defense.
General Simon Buckner, the opposing US ground commander, had 180,000 troops under his command. Before landing on Okinawa to anchor, the Americans bombarded Hagushi Bay for seven days before April 1. By March 31 they had secured him for their 77th Division of 60,000, with little opposition. The Kamikaze also launched 193 suicide bomber strikes that destroyed 169 units of the US carrier fleet. But many kamikaze flights were countered by the Americans. Aside from guerrilla activity, by April 20 all Japanese resistance in northern Okinawa had been eradicated. Okinawa’s most intense battle was to the south of the island, on April 4 US troops ran into the Machinato line which halted their advance. They breached it on April 24 and then ran into the Shuri line, which slowed them down again. In the south, kamikazes sank 21 American warships and damaged 66 others. When a Japanese counterattack failed, Ushijima ordered his troops to withdraw from the Shuri line. The Japanese continued to stand firm, but by June they had lost the Battle of Okinawa to the Americans. The Americans declared it safe on July 2, a few days before General Ushijima had committed suicide. The Japanese also lost 4,000 aircraft and 16 of their ships were sunk in the Battle of Okinawa.
- Battle of Midway (June 1942)
From June 4 to 7, 1942, the Battle of Midway occurred on Midway Atoll, 1,300 miles northwest of Oahu in Hawaii. The Japanese-instigated battle was intended to defeat the US Pacific Fleet and capture Midway to use as a base to attack Pearl Harbor. The Japanese Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, believed that an all-out naval battle with the Americans was the only way for Japan to gain control of the Pacific, defeating them. In this way, Japan would become the dominant power in the Pacific. Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet, had inklings that the Japanese were planning an attack in the Pacific. The US Navy had also been able since early 1942 to break Japanese communication codes. The United States intercepted the encrypted message about the impending attack, by the Imperial Japanese Navy. On June 4, 1942, four Japanese aircraft carriers commanded by Admiral Chuici Nagumo of the 1st Carrier Division attacked and destroyed the American base at Midway. But the Japanese were unaware that American carrier forces were east of the island and ready for battle.
As the Japanese planes returned from those first attacks, their navy was kept aware of the presence of the US naval force in the area. American units of torpedoes and dive bombers were sent to attack the Japanese fleet. Three Japanese aircraft carriers were hit, razed to the ground, and abandoned. The surviving carrier Hiryu retaliated with two strikes and bombed the USS Yorktown, severely damaging it. The USS Yorktown was later sunk by a Japanese submarine on July 7. In the afternoon, an American scout plane located Hiryu and the USS Enterprise, commanded by Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, sent dive bombers to attack it. Hiryu was bombed and burned and lost the ability to launch fighter planes. Attacks by the Navy and US forces on Midway Atoll intensified over the next two days, forcing the Japanese to abandon the battle and return to Japan. In the battle, Japan lost 4,800 men, four aircraft carriers, a cruiser, and hundreds of aircraft and other hard-to-replace experienced crews. The United States lost about 307 men, an aircraft carrier, a destroyer, and more than 100 aircraft. This American victory stopped Japanese expansion in the Pacific. The United States also reduced the expansion of the Japanese empire in the Pacific islands in the following years, through other larger naval battles.
- Battle Of Berlin (April To May Of 1945)
The final destruction of Hitler’s stronghold in Europe began on the 16th of April 1945 and ended on the 2nd of May in 1945 during what would be known as the Battle of Berlin. Soviet leader Josef Stalin unleashed 6,300 tanks, 8,500 aircraft, and 20 armies to capture Berlin and crush the German resistance. Stalin was in a hurry to capture Berlin before the Americans who had crossed the Rhine River on the Swiss-German border. To expedite the capture, Stalin split the Berlin operation between Marshall Georgy Zukhov to the center, and Marshall Ivan Konev to the south. These two senior most Soviet commanders were competitive and each desired to be credited with the fall of Berlin. On the 15th of April, Soviet forces fired over a million shells into German positions west of the Oder River. An advance by Zukhov’s troops to the bridgeheads, found the Germans in fortified positions on Seelow heights further inland, having learned of a looming Soviet attack, from a captured Russian soldier. It took Zukhov and his troops from him three days to advance past the German resistance. His plan for him almost derailed when the Germans fired back aggressively with machine guns. Scores of Red Army also died from friendly fire, as the Soviet artillery was firing without proper guidance. Many Soviet tanks were lost for being used as battering rams against German positions. Over 30,000 Red Army soldiers also died, while the Germans lost 10,000.
The high Soviet casualty rate was due to Stalin’s hurry to reach Berlin. On April 22nd Hitler, was almost admitting defeat as the route to Berlin was open, but his deputy Martin Bormann urged him to fight on. The hope was on 70,000 General Walther Wenck commanded, 12th army, and located south-west of the city. Hitler ordered them to unite with General Theodor Busse’s 9th army retreating from the Oder River, and counter attack the Red Army. It proved vain as Marshall Konev’s forces cut off and surrounded the 9th Army at a forest south of Berlin, near Halbe a small town. In this forest there was a massacre of over 50,000 soldiers and civilians, with the majority of the dead being Nazis. Today corpses of those who died in that forest are still being found. Zukhov and Konev troops aggressively advanced to Berlin both sides eager to take credit for its capture. In the process they sometimes accidentally shot at each other.
The Soviets used tanks in the Berlin street fights in a similar manner that the Germans had disastrously done earlier in Stalingrad. The Russian tanks were fired upon by German soldiers with bazookas in destroyed buildings. But the 90,000 German soldiers had little chance against over a million Red Army troops. Though the first wave of Red Army into Berlin was disciplined, the second ones were violent and raped women. Their out of control indulgence was fueled by alcohol stocks they found in Berlin. Reports say in the last six months of World War Two, up to two million German women were raped 100,000 of them in Berlin. With the Battle of Berlin nearly ending, on 30th April 1945, Hitler and Eva Braun his mistress committed suicide hours after marrying in the bunker they were hiding. On May 2nd 1945 the Reichstag the old German parliament fell. Berlin surrendered to Marshall Zukhov who got the conqueror of Berlin “honor.” In the Battle of Berlin, the Soviets had over 70,000 troops dead mostly due to Stalin’s haste to take Berlin hence the battlefield mistakes. The capture of Berlin by the Red Army of Stalin before the Americans’ arrival was a source of Soviet prestige and led to German mistrust of the west.
- Battle of the Bulge (December 1944 to January 1945)
Fought in the Ardennes Forest from December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945, the Battle of the Bulge pitted German forces against those of the advancing Allied powers. Nearly a million soldiers from opposing sides participated in this battle, reports the National World War II Museum. This was also the largest and bloodiest battle the Americans had ever fought, as nearly 80,000 soldiers were killed, maimed, or captured. At that time, Hitler was a fugitive and seemed defeated, and World War II seemed to be over. But he intended to reverse the gains the Allied troops had made, when they landed in France on D-Day. His army, led by Marshalls Gerd von Rundstedt and Walther Model, launched a counterattack into a dense 75-mile stretch of forest. the Ardennes, on a misty winter morning on December 16. They had around 250,000 German soldiers and almost 1,000 tanks. This stretch was occupied by battle-worn, wounded, and inexperienced American divisions that were resting. After a day of fighting, the Germans broke through the American front and surrounded the infantry division. They then seized vital road junctions, bridges and moved towards the Meuse River. On that first day, Allied losses were enormous, as in some sections the Germans outnumbered them ten to one. Allied soldiers were massacred by German soldiers dressed in American uniforms. By Christmas, the German offensive had advanced 50 miles into Allied territory and forced 4,000 Americans to surrender in one day. This was the largest surrender since the Battle of Bataan. This forced the commander of the Allied Forces, General Dwight David Eisenhower, to send reinforcements.
More than half a million young soldiers were sent into battle in the rolling hills and dark, dense forests of Belgium and Luxembourg. Soldiers fought in freezing conditions in heavy snow that made it difficult to see for 10 to 20 yards. Some suffered cold bites and the injured in some cases froze to death. The German advance was stopped by Gen. George S. Patton Jr.’s US Army 3rd unit in the north, which attacked the German flanks in late December. The weather also improved and Allied bombing flights resumed. At the critical road junctions of Saint Vith and Bastogne, American tanks and paratroopers fought off relentless attacks from the Germans. Within days, Bastogne fell to Patton’s Third Army to the north, and the US 2nd Armored Division stopped German tanks approaching the Meuse River on Christmas Day. The last German effort to win the Battle of the Bulge occurred on January 1, 1945 when they assembled 1,000 aircraft for Operation Bodenplatte. The Germans aimed to attack the Allied airfield and destroy their aircraft in France and the Low Countries (Netherlands and Belgium). They managed to destroy over 100 Allied aircraft on the ground, but the Luftwaffe incurred irreplaceable losses. On January 25, 1945, the Germans were pushed back to their starting point, in what was a precursor to the final destruction of Hitler’s reign on April 30, 1945. The Germans lost over 100,000 men, who would prove to be irreplaceable in his defense.
Top 10 Major Battles Of World War II (WW2)