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World War II
US Involvement in WWII
Rosie the Riveter
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US Involvement in the Second World War
An US soldier stands next to a sign erected by the U.S. Army to mark the site of the Nammering atrocity, one of many atrocities committed by Hitler’s SS. It reads:

The United States was a latecomer in the Second World War. By the time the United States entered the war in December, 1941, Germany had occupied most of Europe and Japan was also starting to attack countries in Asia. But the US decision to enter the World War meant that the entire country turned to devoting all its human and material resources to defeating the Axis countries.

Committing the nation

About 16 million Americans served in World War II from late1941 to 1945. The total population of the country at that time was only 130 million. So this was a major investment for the United States. More than 400,000 soldiers did not return. Another 670,000 were wounded on foreign soil.

To succeed against the Axis powers, the entire US economy had to revert to a war economy. It became crucial to quickly and efficiently build guns, ammunition, ships, planes and tanks for the war effort.

The involvement of the United States and the Soviet Union in the war gradually turned a successful German military campaign into a disaster for the German forces. In 1942 and 1943, the German forces lost many battles and it became clear that they would be defeated. The Japanese forces also started to lose ground. But the Holocaust, the systematic murder of Europe’s Jews, continued without delay. It became a high priority for a Nazi government that realized it was going to lose the war.

D-Day (Operation Overlord)

Operation Overlord was to prove one of the Allies most dramatic achievements during World War Two. "Operation Overlord" was the official name for the invasion of occupied Europe, now called D-Day. At a conference in Tehran (Iran) in November 1943, President Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin agreed on a date for the invasion to liberate occupied Europe. The German army had already surrendered in January 1943 in Stalingrad (Soviet Union) and Soviet forces were pushing back the defeated German army.

Although the invasion began on June 6, 1944, the troops embarked several days earlier. On June 5, British, Free French, Canadian and American forces set sail across the British Channel to Normandy, France.

The first forces to attack German occupied Normandy beaches were the American troops at Ste-Mere-Eglise ("Utah" beach) and Vierville ("Omaha" Beach). The British attacked beaches at Arromanches and Ouistreham, where they fought alongside French troops. These beaches were given the code names of "Gold" and "Sword." Canadian and British troops attacked at Courseilles, or "Juno."

A total of around 156,000 allied troops landed in Normandy. The American forces numbered 73,000 of these: 23,250 on Utah Beach, 34,250 on Omaha Beach, and 15,500 airborne troops. Some 1500 US soldiers lost their lives on D-Day and many more were wounded.

The crossing was wet and windy. Many soldiers suffered terrible seasickness. Others had to deal with their landing craft taking on water. Many soldiers had to bail the vessels out with their helmets.

It is surprising that the operation successfully caught German forces by surprise. Today, in the age of satellites and sophisticated equipment, it is hard to imagine decoy techniques being used such as inflatable tanks in England to throw enemy scouts off the scent. But D-Day was a military success for the allies and they could start with the liberation of occupied Western Europe. In the East, the Soviet army was already approaching the German border.


The Surrender of the German and Japanese forces in 1945 meant the end of the Second World War, but the beginning of a new period of tension, known as the Cold War. New allies and enemies found themselves poised to fight again.
Photo Credit: USHMM, courtesy of Seymour Schenkman
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This day in history
Today: 11 December 2018
Then: 11 December 1941

Germany and Italy declare war on the United States; the U.S. respond in kind.

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