The U.S. in World War II: A Historical Timeline
America During the Time of "The Good War"
With a worldwide economic depression, totalitarian dictators like Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Italy’s Benito Mussolini, and Russia’s Josef Stalin assume control and are not content with the status quo. Isolationism dictates that the U.S. remains neutral while Hitler expands into most of Europe and declares war against Great Britain and Russia; Mussolini captures Ethiopia, British Somaliland, and Egypt; Russia invades Poland and Finland; and Japan seizes Manchuria. After the Japanese attack the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the U.S. immediately begins waging war in the Pacific, in Europe, and on the homefront. New technologies are created (including the atom bomb), a new humanitarianism evolves, and the United Nations and other international authorities are established.
Rumbles of War
"Nothing to Fear."
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) formally writes to Hitler and Mussolini asking that they refrain from attacking other nations for at least ten years. Hitler responds for both Germany and Italy saying there is "nothing to fear."
Senate Blocks Aid to Britain
Isolationists in the Senate vote to prevent Roosevelt from distributing humanitarian aid to Great Britain saying that it is the role of private charities.
May 13–June 17
Jewish Refugees Refused
Loaded with 907 European Jews, the U.S. government refuses the German passenger shipSt. Louis a place to dock. The ship returns to Europe where 118 refugees are given asylum in Great Britain. The other refugees are accepted by Holland, Belgium, and France, where only 282 will survive the Holocaust.
Eleven Percent Act
The Eleven Percent Act is added to the 20% increase from 1939, and will be followed with a 70% additional increase in July. Roosevelt continues to use the expansion of the U.S. Navy to create jobs as well as ships. During the 1932 election, 313 ships were active. Just before Pearl Harbor, the Navy has 790.
Embargo Against Japan
With popular support for war against Japan higher than that for war against Germany, the U.S. prohibits selling gasoline to Japan and her newly "acquired" colonies. In September 1940, the U.S. adds iron and steel to the embargo and this "further insult" prompts Japan to join the Axis.
U.S. Redefines Neutrality
In response to the official declaration of war against the Axis by Britain and France, Congress follows Roosevelt’s request to allow sales of munitions to the Allies and allows U.S. ships to sail into war zones.
Pacific Fleet Moved to Hawaii
Acknowledging the increased threat from Japan, President Roosevelt orders the Navy’s Pacific Fleet moved from San Diego, California, to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and Army Air Force installations at Wheeler, Bellows, and Hickam Fields on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
General Marshall Assumes Command
President Roosevelt appoints General George C. Marshall as Army Chief of Staff. Although never having led troops in combat, Marshall is a skilled organizer and handpicks Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and Mark Wayne Clark to lead critical U.S. commands during World War II. Becoming Secretary of State after the war, he wins the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for the Marshall Plan, the U.S. program for rebuilding an economically strong Western Europe.
America First Committee
Beginning with a petition circulated at Yale University Law School (and signed by future President Gerald Ford and future Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart), the America First Committee achieves powerful influence in Congress after Sears, Roebuck & Co. Chairman Robert E. Wood is elected the Committee’s leader. The Committee’s published goal is to arm the nation and prevent the U.S. from going to war.
The Burk-Wadsworth Act requires that all men register with their local draft boards, and in October, draftees are signed up for a 12-month tour of duty. In August of 1941, that 12-month term is extended indefinitely, and after Pearl Harbor, the draft age is expanded to men 18 to 45. By the end of the war, over 10 million men will be inducted into the armed forces.
Roosevelt Wins Third Term
Faced with the choice of two presidential candidates (Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt and Republican Wendell Willkie) who both favor war against Germany, voters choose to "not change horses in mid-stream," and elect Roosevelt to an unprecedented third term.
Cracking Japan’s Secret Code
Japan’s "Purple" electro-mechanical code is deciphered by Frank Rowlett’s team in the U.S. Army Signal Corps Intelligence Unit.
Every few months, President Roosevelt likes to have a "fireside chat" via radio with the American people, but this pre-New Years chat signals the end of isolationism. Coining the phrase "the Arsenal of Democracy," FDR continues, "This is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war."
Preparing for War, but Still Surprised
Roosevelt proposes a "lend-lease" program to sell armaments to Britain, which will be paid for after the war. With Congressional approval, the program eventually transfers over $50 billion to 28 Allied countries. It is replaced in 1947 by the Marshall Plan.
At a time when many people believe African Americans could not learn the skills necessary to be a pilot, the segregated 99th Pursuit Squadron is formed to train African Americans as the 332nd Fighter Group. Trained at the Tuskegee Institute, the group is under the command of West Point graduate Captain Benjamin O. Davis. The "Tuskegee Airmen’s" first combat mission is in North Africa, and in the Sicily campaign, the 99th earns a Distinguished Unit Citation.
America Seizes German Ships
Roosevelt orders the Coast Guard to seize any German ships in U.S. ports and 64 are placed in "protective custody."
Office of Civil Defense (OCD)
Created by Executive Order, the OCD is directed by New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who quickly establishes:
America Defends Iceland
Before the war, Iceland was a sovereign kingdom in personal union with Denmark. Shortly after the Germans occupy Denmark, British troops occupy Iceland and now the defense of this strategically placed island is transferred to the U.S. In a short time, the 40,000 Americans stationed at the airbase and harbors outnumber the native male population of the mostly ice-covered island.
On a British battleship off Newfoundland, Roosevelt meets Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill to draft an agreement that reemphasizes the goals of freedom of the sea and freedom from want and fear, and establishes the basis of many postwar treaties and trade agreements.
National Guard Mobilized
The National Guard is mobilized for active duty, and soon guardsmen are serving in America’s Pacific Territories. Consequently, when the Japanese invade the Philippines, a guardsman artillery regiment from New Mexico and two tank battalions from all across the U.S. are captured as Prisoners of War (POWs). Forced on the Bataan Death March, over half of the guardsmen POWs do not survive captivity.
Hollywood Wants War
Isolationist Senator Gerald Nye distributes a list of mostly Jewish Hollywood filmmakers who he claims are making pictures "designed to drug the reason of the American people, set aflame their emotions, [and] set their hatred into a blaze."
But after Pearl Harbor, Washington encourages the "morale building" power of movies, and Hollywood appreciates the box office. By 1945, movie attendance soars to 90 million seats a week.
USS Reuben James Sunk
After earlier German submarine attacks off Iceland on the USS Greer and the USS Kearney, 115 sailors perish when the USS Reuben James is torpedoed. Roosevelt orders the navy to fire on any German warships, and authorizes merchant ships to carry arms. This means that in addition to civilian members of the merchant marine being onboard, trained members of the U.S. Navy Reserve’s Armed Guards are assigned to these ships.
Hollow Japanese Promises
Japan’s Ambassador Kishasaburo Nomura and special envoy Saburo Kurusu hold a peace conference in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and promise "cordial relations" with the United States.
Cracking Japan’s Secret Codes
Code breakers decipher a message sent to Japan’s embassy in Washington ordering destruction of all codebooks. Realizing that this means diplomacy is over, the cryptographers send the decoded message to the White House on the evening of December 6.
Monday morning quarterbacks argue the next morning’s chain of events could have been different if defensive actions had been taken immediately. But one thing is certain: The deciphered code enables the Allies to have prior intelligence critical to some of the most successful victories in the Pacific Theater.
Japan Attacks Pearl Harbor
Three hundred and fifty-three Japanese fighter planes and 5 midget submarines launch a surprise 7:45a.m. attack on the unprepared U.S. military installations in Hawaii. After the famous message "Air Raid, Pearl Harbor. This is not a drill," is sent from Patrol Wing 2 headquarters, 29 U.S. battleships are sunk or damaged (including the unsalvageable USSArizona, USS Utah, and USS Oklahoma), 323 aircraft are destroyed or damaged, 2,388 personnel are killed, and 1,178 are wounded. Japan loses only 5 ships, 29 planes, and 64 personnel, and one Japanese submariner is captured.
Day of Infamy
Congress declares war against Japan, and in a nationwide radio address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt describes the Japanese attack as "a day that will go down in infamy."
Japan Attacks Philippines
The U.S. has controlled the Philippines since Admiral Dewey’s Manila Bay victory in the 1848 Spanish-American War, and the country was scheduled to obtain "Independent Nation" status in 1943. Ten hours after Pearl Harbor, Japanese warplanes attack Clark Airbase and Japan’s Army lands on several northern islands.
Japan Declared Enemy
The U.S. joins the other Allied nations (except the Soviet Union) by declaring war on Japan.
Germany Declares War on U.S.
Germany and Italy formally declare war on the United States.
Selective Service Act
Congress quickly amends the Selective Service Act and requires all men 18 to 65 years of age to register for the draft.
As Japanese planes bomb Manila, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur orders that U.S. headquarters in the Philippines be shifted to the island of Corregidor and that troops be stationed at Bataan.
America Goes to War
Junk Becomes Valuable
Overnight, what used to be considered junk becomes "valuable scrap" to help the war effort. Scrap metal drives become popular as everything from rusty farm equipment to new toys is melted down and reused. Housewives are encouraged to collect used cooking grease to make explosives, to stop buying silk stockings so parachutes can be made instead, and to put blackout curtains in their windows to thwart enemy airplanes. This also builds morale, as the homefront becomes just as important as the battlefield.
With the war effort having priority, booklets of ration stamps are issued for gasoline, tires, meat, fish and poultry, butter, cooking oil, sugar, spices, coffee, shoes, and other essentials. Launched too quickly, with almost incomprehensible instructions and weekly changes in each item’s stamp value, snafus bring grousing and lots of material for radio comedians.
Chief General Eisenhower
U.S. General Dwight David Eisenhower is appointed Chief of the War Plans Division. In 1952, he is elected president of the United States and serves for two terms.
U.S. Japanese Internment
President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 authorizing local military commanders to designate "exclusion zones" and remove "any and all persons" who need to be excluded. Census Bureau records pinpoint those of Japanese ancestry, and within weeks, 118,000 people of Japanese descent (including 80,000 U.S. citizens and 7,000 residents of Latin America) are forced to leave their homes, businesses, and possessions for removal to temporary "relocation camps" at racetracks and fairgrounds. Eventually, most are sent to permanent "internment camps," but 7,300 "troublemakers" are sent to closely guarded "detention camps."
Following orders from Washington, General MacArthur leaves Corregidor Island for Australia with the famous words, "I shall return."
Songwriter Frank Loesser reads a story about Lieutenant Howell Forgy, a Chaplain aboard the USS New Orleans during the Pearl Harbor attack who encouraged sailors to "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." Loesser uses the phrase in a hit song. Other popular hits are This Is the Army Mister Jones, You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, The White Cliffs of Dover, and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.
The first retaliatory attack after Pearl Harbor is planned and led by U.S. Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle. Sixteen specially modified B-25B Mitchell Bombers are launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, fly at wavetops to avoid detection, drop bombs on Tokyo and other Japanese cities, and then crash land in China and Russia. In retaliation, the humiliated Japanese order the deaths of over 200,000 Chinese.
Since Colonel Doolittle lost all sixteen planes, he expects a court-martial and is surprised when he is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for boosting American morale and made a Brigadier General by President Roosevelt.
Donald Duck Is Drafted
As early as 1938, the animators at the Walt Disney Studios created mascots for ships, planes, and military units, but after Pearl Harbor, Disney starts making propaganda films for the U.S. government. At the request of Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morganthau, Jr., Donald Duck stars in two shorts (The New Spirit and The Spirit of '43), about how paying taxes supports the war effort. In another short (and his only Oscar-winning role), Donald gets so disgusted with Germany and its leader that he sings Der Fuhrer’s Face, a song made popular by Spike Jones and his band, and which ends with a "raspberry" noise.
The Coral Sea
In a morale-boosting strategic victory, the U.S. and Australian Navy engage ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Coral Sea (between Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands). The count of ships lost on both sides is almost equal, but in this first battle between aircraft carriers, it is the number of planes shot down (69 vs. 92) and men killed (656 vs. 956) that decides who wins.
Finally collapsing under the weight of the Japanese Army and Navy attacks, U.S. General Jonathan M. Wainwright surrenders Bataan. On May 10, the American and Filipino POWs are forced on the Bataan Death March. Denied food and water, stragglers and anyone asking for water are executed.
Battle of Midway Island
The most important naval battle in the Pacific Theater begins when Japanese Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto's Combined Fleet "lures" the "demoralized" American aircraft carriers USS Yorktown, USS Enterprise, and USS Hornet into a "trap" off Midway atoll. But the U.S. Navy has the advantage of decoded Japanese battle plans, and U.S. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz’s Pacific Battle Group wins a decisive victory by destroying twice as many Japanese ships and airplanes, and killing nearly six times as many Japanese personnel.
Rosie the Riveter
The popular song by Kay Kayser goes:
"She is part of the assembly line
She’s makin’ history
Workin’ for victory
Rosie the Riveter."
"Rosie" represents the over 20 million women working in formerly male-dominated jobs, but she is based on a real woman, Rose Will Monroe. Monroe is a widow with two young children who assembles B-24s and B-29s in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and is featured as herself in a War Bonds movie.
Joined by ships, men, and armament from Australia, New Zealand, the British Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Fiji, Operation Watchtower is the first major Allied offensive against the Japanese. While an amphibious assault lands 11,000 U.S. Marines on beaches at Guadalcanal and nearby islands, sea battles rage all around. During the 7 months of battle, the Allies lose 29 ships and 615 aircraft against 38 Japanese vessels and 800 planes, but only 10% of the Allied forces are killed compared to 95% of the Japanese ground forces. Henderson Field becomes a major airbase for the Allied effort against Japan.
President Roosevelt assigns U.S. General Leslie R. Groves to command a top-secret project designed to create a uranium or plutonium bomb. Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer is placed in charge of research, and a number of facilities are established, including the construction of the Los Alamos laboratory in the New Mexico desert. In December, FDR gives the final approval to build the weapon and delivery system.
War Crimes Commission
Advocated by Winston Churchill during his visit to the U.S., delays from Moscow keep slowing release of a final report. Finally, the U.S. and Britain announce the formulation of a United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC), which is charged with the task of identifying crimes and perpetrators, assembling evidence, and reporting their findings to appropriate governments. Headquartered in London, in 1944, the UNWCC establishes an office in Chunking, China, to investigate Japanese war crimes.
The joint British-American assault against the Vichy French territories in North Africa is commanded by U.S. General Eisenhower, who directs operations from Gibraltar and had previously sent envoys to talk the French Generals into quickly capitulating. General George S. Patton’s 35,000-strong tanks and infantrymen take Casablanca, General Lloyd Frendenhall’s 18,500 men capture Oran, and General Charles W. Ryder’s 20,000 troops seize Algiers. Logistical snafus involving low tides, sand, and landing craft prove helpful in planning D-Day.
Philippine Office of the Vice President of the Commonwealth
The Japanese-sponsored Republic of the Philippines is established, and one of the first things accomplished is to sign a trade agreement with Japan. In response, the U.S. Congress extends the terms of the Office of the Vice President of the [Philippine] Commonwealth until the constitutional government returns.
Roosevelt, Churchill, France’s General Charles DeGaulle, and Free French leader Henri Giraud are present at the Anfa Hotel in Morocco, but Russia’s Josef Stalin detests flying and declines an invitation. The conference decides on a timeline for the invasion of Sicily and Italy, the recognition of DeGaulle and Giraud as joint leaders of the Free French, and a resolution drafted by FDR that Germany and Japan must agree to "unconditional surrender."
The Battle of Guadalcanal concludes with the U.S. victory over Japan.
U.S. 6th Army becomes operational under General Walter Krueger, and the "Alamo Force" is soon dispatched to New Guinea to engage in "island hopping" attacks against the Japanese. In October 1944, in one of the turning points of of the war, the army invades Leyte Island in the Philippines.
Oklahoma Opens on Broadway
Richard Rogers teams up with Oscar Hammerstein II for the first time on a musical version of a former Broadway flop. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian with Agnes deMille’s choreography, and songs like "Surry With the Fringe on Top," "People Will Say We’re In Love," and the bombastic "Oklahoma," the show is a smash hit and runs for 2,248 performances. The original cast recording (the first ever of a Broadway play) sells over a million copies.
Isoroku Yamamoto Killed
In the longest fighter intercept mission during World War II, a squadron of U.S. P-38 Lightnings flies "the wave-tops" to covertly attack a Mitsubishi G4M aircraft carrying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Naval Marshall General and Commander in Chief of the combined fleet of the Imperial Navy. First Lieutenant Rex T. Barber is credited with shooting down Yamamoto’s plane, but the Navy doesn’t publicize the names of the U.S. pilots involved because one has a brother held by the Japanese as a POW.
In a clever ruse that was later used a plot for a spy novel, the British Secret Service attaches a briefcase with fake documents to the arm of corpse they float off the coast of Spain. The "Top Secret" messages indicate that the Allies are going to invade Europe through Greece, and the Germans withdraw forces from Sicily and move them to the Greek Isles.
Britain’s Winston Churchill meets with President Roosevelt in Washington, D.C., for the Trident Conference, where the two agree to invade Italy before France, and attack the Japanese-held Pacific Islands.
July 10–August 16
"Operation Husky" is the massive amphibious assault on the Italian island of Sicily. Under the overall command of U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Eastern Task Force is fought by General Bernard Montgomery’s British and American troops, while the Western Task Force is American General George Patton’s 8th Army. Even though Operation Mincemeat’s clever deception has reduced the number of German troops on the island, the Axis fights back strongly and is able to protect the withdrawal of over 135,000 troops across the Messina straits. In the end, the Allies lose 5,500 men and the Axis death toll is above 29,000, with over 140,000 (mostly Italian) soldiers captured. The main result of this operation is a restructuring of command communications and control—a change that will prove decisive on the battlegrounds of Europe.
July 16–October 13
Italy’s Secret Surrender
Mussolini’s Fascist government is deposed, and Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III makes a "secret" peace treaty with the Allies. Newly appointed Prime Minister Pietro Bodaglio declares martial law. Germany occupies Rome, installs Mussolini as the puppet leader of Northern Italy, and the Kingdom of Italy declares war on Germany.
Battle of Salerno
U.S. 5th Army General Mark Wayne Clark’s Operation Avalanche is intended as a surprise attack, but German General Albert Kesselring’s 16th Panzer division fights back brilliantly and the Allied troops are pinned down on the beaches. Over a thousand Americans parachute behind enemy lines, and with the aid of radar, British battleships, 5th Army artillery and Allied bombers make a breach. On September 16, the Germans retreat. The Allies lose nearly 12,000 men. The Germans lose 3,500.
Victory Garden Bounty
In 1941, Secretary of Agriculture Claude R. Wickard suggests that since commercial farmers are busy feeding the army, Americans should grow crops in their yards. In 1943, patriotic citizens plant over 20 million victory gardens and produce a third of the nation’s fresh fruits and vegetables.
Battle of Tarawa
The Japanese Samurai Code of Bushido is tellingly told by the results of the U.S. General Julian C. Smith’s 35,000-man amphibious assault on Tarawa atoll in the Gilbert Islands. Initially, Japanese forces kill hundreds of U.S. marines as they hit the beach, but after heavy equipment lands, the tide of battle turns. Following their Emperor’s orders to die fighting, only 17 of the over 5,000 Japanese soldiers on the atoll are captured alive.
New Marine Commandant
Distinguished Medal of Honor and Navy Cross recipient Lieutenant General Alexander A. Vandegrift is appointed Commandant of the Marine Corps. In April 1945, he becomes the first Marine to earn the rank of Four-Star General.
November 29–December 1
U.S. President Roosevelt wants a heads-of-state meeting between the joint powers so much that he agrees to Soviet Marshal Josef Stalin’s request the meeting be held at the Soviet Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Britain’s Prime Minister Churchill is less than conciliatory during the meeting, but Roosevelt prevails because the Allies need Stalin’s Army to defeat Germany. An agreement is reached that after the war, Russia will be allowed to set up puppet governments in Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic States, Romania, and the rest of Eastern Europe, and that Finland can negotiate its own peace treaty with the Soviets.
Stalin Toasts American Industry
At the Tehran Conference, Stalin proposes a toast: "To American production, without which this war would have been lost." War materials manufacturing statistics from July 1, 1940 to July 31, 1945 tell the tale:
Roosevelt and Churchill join the Republic of China’s Chang Kai-shek in Cairo, Egypt, and agree to push Japan for unconditional surrender. Announced through a radio broadcast, the leaders also agree that after the war, Manchuria, Taiwan, and the Pescadores will be retuned to China, and that Korea will be free and independent.
Plans for D-Day
Since the Germans had heavily fortified the closer Calais coast, Eisenhower and other Allied leaders draw up plans for an invasion force of over 4,000 ships to land on the beaches of Normandy with support from an additional 2,800 ships.
National Service Law
In his State of the Union Address, President Roosevelt chastises slackers and nay-sayers and propses a National Service Law thatprohibits strikes and " will make available for war production or any other essential services, Every able-bodied adult in this nation."
Forrestal Becomes Secretary of the Navy
When Frank Knox dies from a heart attack, the moody under-secretary James V. Forrestal is elevated to the cabinet-level position. In early 1949, President Truman selects Forrestal as his Secretary of Defense, where he implements racial integration in the U.S. Navy. Publicly fired by Truman because he supported Dewey for president, in private, the concern is over Forrestal’s mental health. Two months after being dismissed, Forrestal is found dead after "falling" from the 16th floor of the Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Nearly 3 million men, 11,000 airplanes, thousands of ships, and 2.5 million tons of supplies are gathered on the shores of England waiting for the right weather conditions to begin the Allied assault on Normandy. On June 5, Eisenhower sends the following message to the men: "You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you."
The turning point for the assault against Europe is Operation Neptune/Overlord, when Allied troops land on the beaches of Normandy. At midnight, 24,000 Allied parachutists land behind German lines. At 6:30a.m., the first of 175,000 men in tank and infantry divisions begin storming the beaches. They charge against concrete "pill-boxes" manned by machine gunners and placed with overlapping firing ranges. The result is devastating. General Eisenhower’s U.S. troops suffer 6,600 casualties including 2,499 fatalities, and British and Canadian units have similar losses. The French Resistance provides critical intelligence as well as logistical and tactical support, and eventually the beaches codenamed "Sword," "Juno," "Gold," and "Omaha" are captured by the Allies. The push toward Paris begins.
Despite heavy casualties during the Normandy invasion, death from infection and loss of blood plummet through widespread use of cross-typed blood transfusions and penicillin-infused dressings for wounds.
Battle of the Philippine Sea
When Japanese Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa’s search planes spot the U.S. fleet, he attacks with 500 warplanes. With more experienced pilots and superior aircraft, the Americans shoot down 429 Japanese planes. At the end of the battle, the Japanese have only 90 planes left in their arsenal. The American fleet has over 1,200.
Japanese Defeated at Saipan
With 3,000 Americans killed and over 10,000 wounded, the Battle of Saipan is the most costly yet for American forces in the Pacific. Nearly 33,000 Japanese soldiers and 22,000 civilians die. Many thousands of the civilians (including women and children) jump off high cliffs to their deaths because Emperor Hirohito requests by radio that they commit suicide rather than being captured. The fact that 931 Japanese soldiers and civilians are captured alive is mostly due to PFC Guy Gabaldon, a Mexican-American who uses the "street Japanese" he learned as a boy in Los Angeles to convince his prisoners the Americans would treat them with honor.
Japan’s Prime Minister Tojo Resigns
Alarmed at the sudden shift of fortunes in the Pacific, Japan’s Prime Minister Hideki Tojo resigns. After the war, he attempts suicide but is nursed back to health to be tried, convicted, and hanged as a war criminal.
Hitler Assassination Fails
Convinced Germany cannot win the war, a group of high-ranking German officers attempts to assassinate Hitler by using a briefcase bomb in the conference room at Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia. Reports indicate Hitler’s life is spared only because the bomb’s blast is deflected by a table leg. The SS tracks down the conspirators, some of whom commit suicide. The rest are tried and shot for treason against the Third Reich.
July 21–August 8
Battle of Guam
The former U.S. possession Guam was captured by the Japanese four days after Pearl Harbor. Determined to take Guam back, U.S. General Roy Geiger’s men are forced by encircling reefs to wade through the surf before reaching land, but they still manage to capture beachheads around the island by nightfall. Under command of Generals Takeshi Takeshina and Hideoyoshi Obata, the Japanese constructed an underground system of defensive tunnels and caves, but without supplies, the occupying force eventually collapses. A few Japanese soldiers refuse to surrender, and Sergeant Sioichi Yokoi is discovered still hiding on January 24, 1972. Back in Japan, he apologizes by saying, "It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive."
Allies Liberate Florence
Germans are finally flushed from the northern Italian city of Florence.
Allies Liberate Paris
Champagne corks fly as the Allies liberate the French capital city from German occupation.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
U.S. General Douglas MacArthur is assigned the role of "supreme commander of sea, air, and land forces" for the largest amphibious invasion ever attempted in the Pacific—713 American and Australian ships, and 200,000 troops aided by 3,000 Filipino guerrillas. After the three-pronged attack is successful, victorious American soldiers and marines hold the island of Leyte and General MacArthur sends a radio message to the Philippine people: "I have returned."
December 16, 1944–January 25, 1945
Battle of the Bulge
The war’s largest and bloodiest battle for Americans is fought in Belgium’s forest and snow-covered Ardennes Mountains. Germany’s forces are directed long distance by Adolf Hitler, who uses skillfully rendered topographic replicas and toy-like tanks and soldiers to plot his five armies’ moves. General Eisenhower’s four armies are commanded by U.S. Generals George S. Patton, Omar Bradley, and Courtney Hodges, with the British army commanded by General Bernard Montgomery. Rather than acting in German fashion as a cohesive unit, the Allies’ armies jockey for advantages in position and supplies. The results are deadly. Americans suffer 89,500 casualties including 19,000 killed, but the Germans may have lost even more. The German High Command lists 84,834 as killed, wounded, or missing, but estimates run 40,000 higher.
Victory In Sight
Japanese Internees Released
Based upon a Supreme Court decision, the detainees of Japanese descent in internment camps are released. Given $25 and a bus ticket to their old communities, many return to find their property and possessions damaged or stolen. In California, land laws from 1910 mean that most were tenant farmers and had lost everything. In 1948, Congress passes the American Japanese Claims Act to allow for reimbursement, but the IRS had destroyed records for 1939 through 1942, and so of the $148 million in requests, only $38 million is actually dispersed.
Churchill, Stalin, and an ailing Roosevelt meet in the Crimea and the U.S. President sums up his Stalin strategy to U.S Ambassador to Russia William C. Bullitt in private:
"I think that if I give him everything he wants and ask for nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace."
One hundred and seventy-four U.S. B-29s drop "carpets" of incendiary bombs on Tokyo. Two weeks later the destruction caused by 335 bombers is aided by strong winds. Japan publicly puts the death toll at 100,000. However, before the bombing, Tokyo was the highest density city in the world, and 1.5 to 2 million people lived in the 16-square-mile area of complete incineration. Historians now put the firebombing death toll somewhere above 1 million.
February 19–March 16
Battle of Iwo Jima
With little chance of winning against the 110,000 attacking U.S. midshipmen and soldiers, the 18,000 Japanese on Iwo Jima are determined to defend the island’s two airfields and almost all die fighting (only 216 Japanese are captured). An iconic moment is captured when Marines hoist the U.S. flag on top of Mount Suribachi.
Nineteen-year-old PFC James Hoyt is driving three other American 6th Armored Division soldiers through a wooded area in Eastern Germany when they discover the horrifying atrocities of the Buchenwald death camp. Passing under a sign reading "Jedem das Seine"(To Each His Own), they find 20,000 skeleton-like survivors, mounds of corpses, gas-fired incinerators and tens of thousands of shoes, clothes, eyeglasses, and other personal items from the countless numbers of Jews, gypsies, physically and mentally handicapped, homosexuals, and political prisoners who were exterminated and cremated by the Nazis. Since the Germans destroyed records, and some "killing units" were mobile, the number of people killed is not precise, but at least 6 million were exterminated in the Nazi Holocaust, and 1.5 million of these were children under 12.
Noticeably ill, the president travels to the "Little White House" in Warm Springs, Georgia, to recuperate, but suffers a stroke. Vice President Harry S. Truman is summoned to the White House where Eleanor Roosevelt tells him her husband has died. Truman asks if he can do anything for her and the former first lady replies, "Is there anything we can do for you? You are the one in trouble now." Truman keeps the War Cabinet intact, and when asked how he feels about becoming president, he says: "You fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you? I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me."
Hitler Commits Suicide
Forty hours after Hitler marries his mistress Eva Braun in a bombproof bunker outside Berlin, the two die in a suicide pact. When Russian troops invade the city, Stalin has Hitler’s partly burned body autopsied by Soviet counter-intelligence agency SMERSH. Unconvinced that it is really Hitler, Stalin has the remains exhumed several times for additional forensic analysis. Reportedly, Hitler’s body is buried (with Eva Braun’s) in SMERSH headquarters in Magdeburg until 1970, when the bodies are cremated and the ashes dumped into a river.
Germany Surrenders on V-E Day
Representatives of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) and the Allied Expeditionary Force officially consider and sign the "instrument of surrender." In the U.S., May 8 is called V-E (Victory in Europe) Day, but in Germany it is known as the "Day of Capitulation."
Liberation of Channel Islands
The British Islands of Jersey, Guernsey, and Alderney are formally repatriated when German occupying forces surrender to British troops and a Jersey powerline technician who had been stranded on the island for the duration. In a microcosm of postwar events, several islanders are accused of collaboration, others of war profiteering, and some women of fraternization. British troops prevent retaliations and prosecutions are eventually abandoned. Longer lasting is the demise of the Guernesiais language and culture. Since school-aged children were evacuated to Britain, when they return, most can only speak English.
President Truman quickly finds that implementation of the Morgenthau Plan "converting Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character" is impossible with the division of Germany into east and west. Stalin’s rapid incorporation of East Germany and the other newly acquired countries into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics validates Truman’s distrust of the Soviet leader.
In a March 5, 1946 speech at Missouri’s Westminster College, Winston Churchill coined a label for Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe by saying, "an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent."
U.S. troops not assigned to the Pacific Theater of War are demobilized.
War Hero Returns Home
Proud of the most decorated soldier of the war, Farmersville, Texas, welcomes Audie Murphy home with parade bands, speeches, and lots of handshakes. Earning 15 medals, including the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Croix de Guerre, the humble hero tells the crowd, "I know you probably don’t want to stand in the hot sun any longer and just look at me."
U.S. Women Help Start UN
President Truman appoints former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and educator Mary McLeod Bethune to the founding conference of the United Nations where Bethune is the only "woman of color" among the world’s representatives.
April 1–June 22
Battle of Okinawa
Referred to as the "Typhoon of Steel" because of the fierceness of fighting, the largest amphibious assault of World War II is fought on the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa. Over 183,000 U.S. and British forces storm the beaches and meet strong resistance. As seen in other battles, Japanese soldiers and civilians would rather die than suffer the indignity of surrender, and only 7,400 of the over quarter-million Japanese on the islands are captured alive.
Inspired by a John Dunne poem, Manhattan Project leader J. Robert Openenheimer names the Alamagordo bombing range 250 miles (402 km) from Los Alamos as the "Trinity" test site for the plutonium bomb. Despite concerns from some scientists that a chain reaction could destroy the planet, at 5:30a.m., with a bang, a fireball, and a mushroom-shaped cloud, the Nuclear Age begins.
The castle of Crown Prince William Hohenzollern in Potsdam, Occupied Germany, is the setting for a conference of Allied leaders. Delayed by waiting for the results of the 1945 British election, Truman, Stalin, Churchill, and soon to be British Prime Minister Clement Attlee are in attendance. They determine punishments for Japan and the defeated Nazis, including dividing Germany between east and west, and joint occupation of Berlin. Sowing the seeds of the Cold War is the distrust between Truman and Stalin. The Russian leader is furious in private that Truman told Churchill about the A-bomb test four days before letting Stalin know. Actually, Russia had two spies in the Manhattan Project and Stalin already has the information.
Under direct order of President Truman, Colonel Paul Tibbets in his B-29 Enola Gay drops the "Little Boy" plutonium bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. In seconds, over 70,000 people are vaporized and another 70,000 injured. Most of the injured die within two days. Survivors further from the blast develop radiation-related poisoning and cancers that linger for decades.
Because Japan has not surrendered, the president orders the U-235 enriched uranium bomb (code name, "Fat Man") detonated over the port of Nagasaki. At least 40,000 Japanese (and 18 British and Australian POWS) die instantly. By the end of the year, the death toll reaches 80,000. In 1950, the combined count of nuclear-related deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki reaches 200,000.
The Second World War ends when Japan unconditionally surrenders.
Emperor Hirohito of Japan broadcasts an acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam Agreement and a celebration begins in the U.S.
Japan Signs Peace Treaty
Japanese Foreign Minister Mamaru Shigamistu and U.S. General Douglas MacArthur formally sign the Instrument of Surrender onboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Witnessed by representatives from the United Kingdom Australia, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, terms of surrender include that Emperor Hirohito will keep his throne, POWs will be liberated, and that Japan and its people will be placed under authority of "The Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers" (who is General MacArthur).
Occupation of Japan
General MacArthur’s first act is to set up a food distribution network in occupied Japan. Then he courts the Japanese emperor for his support. By the time the two meet publicly on September 27, MacArthur is able to resist calls for Hirohito’s abdication, and begins to earn the trust of the Japanese people.
Nuremburg War Crimes Trials
In Germany, indictments are prepared against 24 major war criminals and six "criminal organizations" such as the Nazi Party and the Gestapo. Heard before panels of judges from Allied nations, the charges are for:
Twelve defendants are sentenced to death by hanging, three get life imprisonment, four are sentenced with 10 to 20 years in prison, three are acquitted, and the rest did in prison either from natural causes or by their own hands. Additional trials for lesser war criminals are the U.S. Nuremburg Military Tribunals, the Doctor’s Trial, and the Judges Trial.
U.S. Occupation Force
The more than 350,000 U.S. personnel are eventually stationed in Japan. They are responsible for disarmament, economic stabilization, democratization, and education reform, but their unwritten mission is to mitigate the chaos and cultural shock of Japan having lost the war.
In the U.S., male and female warriors come home to a changed country and female workers are suddenly thrust back into subservient roles. (Even Rosie the Riveter is fired. She drives a cab, starts her own construction company, and learns to fly). Things are often tumultuous behind the doors of the millions of new bungalows. The Baby Boom is one result, and a huge increase in divorces another. In the 1950 census, 1,373 women out of 100,000 are divorced, a rate three times higher than before the war.
Changes in Japan
In occupied Japan, the "koydiatsu condition" of extreme despair after defeat is compounded by the decadent, alcohol-fueled escapism of the "kasutori culture" among artists, writers and the young, and the fatalism of shigata ga nai (nothing can be done about it) among the powerless as centuries of traditions are changed almost overnight.
International Military Tribunal for the Far East
In the Ichigaya section of Tokyo, the International War Crimes Tribunal begins prosecuting war criminals representing the Empire of Japan (but excluding members of the Japanese Royal Family) on three types of crimes:
Chief Prosecutor Joseph Keenan is appointed by President Truman, and co-prosecutors from ten other nations are seated as well. After nearly three years of trials and proceedings, Japanese records indicate that of the 5,700 initial defendants, 984 are condemned to death, 475 receive life sentences, 2,944 are given prison terms, and the rest are either acquitted or not sentenced. By 1958, all who were imprisoned are free.
September 8, 1951
San Francisco Peace Treaty
World War Two finally comes to an end when the Treaty of Peace with Japan is signed in San Francisco. Using language from the U.N. Charter and Eleanor Roosevelt’s words from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the treaty formally ends Japan’s position as an Imperial power and allocates compensation to Allied civilians and former POWs who had been subjected to Japanese war crimes.
India makes a separate peace treaty with Japan, and Russia’s envoy Andrei Gromyko (who will become Russia’s Head of State in 1985), strongly objects to the "weak" language. The issue over Taiwan being a part of mainland China is still unresolved, but as Peace Treaty co-author U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles points out, the treaty cedes Taiwan to no one. "Japan merely renounced sovereignty over Taiwan," he says.