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The European War Before Pearl Harbor


Part 2: Axis Expansion

Britain and France responded almost immediately, declaring war on Germany for its invasion of Poland. Germany quickly overran Poland.

Part of the German success was its use of a new kind of war: blitzkrieg, or "lightning war." This strategy called for tanks, planes, and soldiers to attack all at the same time. The smaller armies of Germany's neighbors didn't stand a chance.

In the spring of 1940, Germany conquered Norway and Denmark, then the Netherlands and Belgium. Surprisingly, Germany also conquered France. By conquering Belgium and entering France from the northeast, Germany bypassed the Maginot Line, a massive system of reinforcements along the French-German border.

Germany now controlled all of Western Europe except Britain. Hitler decided to drop bombs on Britain for weeks at a time, hoping that it would weaken the British people enough that a German invasion would be successful. This was the Battle of Britain. For the entire summer of 1940, German bombs rained down on Britain. British fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns shot down a large number of German planes, but the bombs kept falling. Finally, in October, the bombing stopped and Hitler abandoned his plans to invade Britain.

Meanwhile, Italy had annexed Albania and was extending its influence in Eastern Europe and in the Mediterranean. Italy had joined together in an alliance with Germany called the Axis. Japan later joined.

German and Italian troops poured into Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, even into North Africa. Then, in June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Suddenly, Germany was fighting a two-front war.

The United States at this time was sending money, weapons, and ships to Britain. German submarines were sinking American ships. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States was close to war with the Axis powers anyway.

First page > Depression and Aggression > Page 1, 2

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