In a few weeks of Blitzkrieg (lightning war), mechanized German divisions easily overwhelmed the ill-equipped Poles, taking western Poland. The Soviets seized the eastern part. In 1940 Germany swallowed Denmark, Norway, and the Low Countries and invaded France, which rapidly collapsed. With relish, Hitler forced the French to sign an armistice in the same train car where the Treaty of Versailles had been imposed on Germany 20 years earlier. Hitler then blockaded Britain and launched air raids and bomb attacks (see London Blitz). In 1941, to aid faltering Italian forces, he sent troops to North Africa, Greece, and Yugoslavia. Then he suddenly turned toward the east and invaded the USSR, breaking his nonaggression pact. As the Soviets retreated eastward, German armies engulfed the agriculturally rich Ukraine.
At this point, Hitler was master of continental Europe, although Britain was still resisting. In 1942 the United States entered the war after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and dramatically increased its shipments of supplies and personnel to Britain and the USSR. Hitler then ordered total mobilization of people and resources. Throughout Europe, conquered peoples, especially Slavs and Jews, were executed or enslaved in German war factories, while occupied countries were drained of food and raw materials.
By 1943 the tide had begun to turn. The German army’s supply lines in the USSR were overextended, and following Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad (modern Volgograd), the Germans were forced to retreat westward. The Allies defeated Axis forces in North Africa and invaded Italy. Meanwhile, from 1942 on, German cities and factories were systematically bombed from air bases in England, resulting in huge civilian casualties. The single-night fire bombings of Hamburg in 1943 and Dresden in 1945 caused 60,000 and 135,000 fatalities respectively. Although defeat appeared inevitable, Hitler refused to surrender. The war dragged on as British and U.S. forces invaded Normandy (Normandie) in June 1944 (see D-Day Invasion) and swept inexorably east, while the Soviets closed in from the other front. Just before Soviet tanks rolled into Berlin in April 1945, Hitler committed suicide. Germany surrendered the following month. "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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