The Reason Why

Answers to Some Key Questions About the Second World War

1. Why did Germany attack Poland?
Hitler wanted Germany to be the undisputed most powerful country in Europe. To achieve this he believed that Germany needed more land and more resources, to allow Germany's population to grow. Hitler called this need for expansion "liebensraum" - more "living space" for Germans. Germany was overcrowded. Poland had plenty of excellent farm land - once you got rid of the Poles. After his success in takeover Czechoslovakia without a fight, he believed that he could manipulate the British and French leaders into allowing Germany to take over Poland, if doing so prevented the start of a world war. He also knew that the German General Staff and spy system had spent years researching and planning a possible attack on each major European country

2. Why was the Battle of Britain important?
The battle of Britain was an entirely new form of warfare - air force versus air force fighting to conquer/defend a country. There had been nothing like it in WW1. Had the German Luftwaffe won, it is extremely likely that the German army would have invaded and conquered Britain. In that case Canada and the USA might have made peace with Germany. Britain was the vital "attack base" our side needed for a future counterattack against the Germans.

3. Why did Germans attack the USSR in 1941?
Hitler had always hated Communism and he feared the USSR because of the potential massive size of its armed forces - potentially ten times larger than the German army. The western lands of the USSR - like the Ukraine - also had huge areas of excellent farm land - "living space" for German farmers. Hitler had always planned to destroy the USSR, remove it as a danger, and give Germany farm land for 100 years of growth. June 1941 was the perfect time for a massive double cross, catching the Russians totally by surprise.

4. Why was the Battle of the Atlantic so important?
Britain needed oil and food and military equipment from North America to survive. From 1939 to 1943 the German U-Boats sank 25% of all Allied shipping - roughly 3000 supply ships per year! Had this continued after 1943 Britain might have starved to death - but more importantly, all the massive preparations for D-Day would never have happened. The million men and thousands of tanks, vehicles, artillery, aircraft needed for the invasion would never have arrived in Britain.

5. Why did the Japanese attack the US Navy at Pearl Harbor?
Japan was resource poor. It had invaded Korea and China to grab more vital resources, but the war in China used more resources than it provided. By 1941 the USA and Britain became sufficiently concerned about Japanese power that they cut off all supplies of steel, oil, rubber. This could have crippled the Japanese military. The Japanese war leaders decided that the only way to ensure control of war supplies was to drive the US and Britain out of the Pacific and SE Asia and to take control of the entire region. The attacks on the massive US bases at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines and the British fortress bases at Hong Kong and Singapore was critical to give Japan time to take over SE Asia and the eastern Pacific. It almost worked.

6. Why was US entry in the war so critical for the Allies?
Experts who have looked at economic production in WW2 realize that the USA had as much economic power as the rest of the world combined. It just took motivation to get this economy moving at 100%. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor gave the Americans this motivation.

Wartime Industrial Output by Each Major Country

         1941      1943
     USA  4.5 $Billion    37.5 $Billion
     Britain  6.5       11.1
     USSR  8.5       13.9
     Total  19.4       62.5 $Billion

     Germany 6.0      13.8
     Italy   1.0       -- (surrendered to Allies)
     Japan  2.0       4.5
     Total   9.0 $Billion   18.3 $Billion

Once the American industrial powerhouse became fully mobilized the USA produced twice as much war materials as Germany and Japan combined! By 1943 the USA alone had 45% of the world's war production. At peak wartime production the USA was producing over 100,000 tanks and 20,000 aircraft per year!!!

7. Was the 1942 Dieppe Raid important?
The disastrous Dieppe raid was Canada's first major military action of the war. Canadian soldiers had been training for 2 years - the Canadian public was very restless for a Canadian victory - and it was a complete failure! In the larger picture the raid taught the British and Canadians valuable lessons about how to attack German defended beaches and it convinced Allied planners NOT to try to attack existing French harbours on D-Day. The actual losses were small compared to what the Russians were experiencing, but it was a black day for families in Hamilton and Calgary.

8. Why did the USA, Britain start their counter-attack in North Africa and Italy?
Once the USA joined the Allies in December 1941, the American military planners wanted to win the war quickly. They wanted an all-out invasion of the French coast within 12 months. The British were convinced that such an invasion would be a disaster. The Americans had no combat experience against the veteran German soldiers. The Dieppe raid disaster helped the Americans to accept that they weren't ready for such a huge step. The British needed help in North Africa against the German Afrika Corps - so the compromise plan became a joint US-British attack in North Africa against the Germans. This gave the Americans valuable time to test their equipment, train their men, and to discover who their best battlefield commanders were. British leader Winston Churchill argued persuasively that Italy would be easier to attack than France. He called Italy the "soft underbelly of Europe" - so the Allies attacked there next. Unfortunately the German forces in Italy fought so well that they didn't surrender until 1945 - long after D-Day.

9. Why do the Russians call this the "Great Patriotic War"
Look at the size of the armies on each front - before D-Day
Eastern Front   4.1 million Germans vs 6 million USSR
        ( 24 months of non-stop fighting)
Africa/Italy   1.1 million German vs 2 million British, USA, Canadian
       ( 14 months of fighting)
Western Europe  1.4 million German vs 4.5 million USA, British, Canadian
       (still training for the invasion - not fighting yet!)

To the Russians, the major war was Germany vs the USSR. The other Allied battle areas were very minor until after D-Day. The Russians took on 70% of the German army, while the Western allies fought against 30% of the Wehrmacht. Over the four years of USSR-Germany warfare, the Russians lost an average of 15,000 soldiers and civilians killed Each Day!

The casualties tell an even more lopsided story:
USSR   10.7 million military  11.4 million civilian  22.1 million Total killed
Germany  5.5 million military   1.5 million civilian  7.0 million Total killed
USA    0.4 million military  .01 million civilian   0.4 million Total killed
Britain    0.4 million military  .07 million civilian   0.4 million Total killed

10. Why was D-Day so very important?
By 1944, the USSR had been fighting against the German for 24 months of non-stop destruction, while the major US, British and Canadian armies had been training incessantly in Britain . Soviet dictator Stalin was furious that his "allies" had done so little. The US, British, and Canadians knew that their attack had only one chance for success. If the Allies attacked France and were defeated it would take a least a full year to try again - if they still had the courage to try. This would have put huge pressure on the Soviet Red Army. D-Day was a success and the Germans had to fight massive armies on both sides of their country - USSR on the East, USA, Britain, Canada on the west. Success on D-Day doomed the Germans.

11. Why did the USA, Britain win against Japan?
The Americans and the British ( British, Indian, Australian forces) pushed back steadily against the Japanese. The Allies began to have success starting in 1943, but the Japanese forces fought incredibly hard. By 1944 the US was producing five times as many war materials as Japan. Every American or British ship, tank or plane that was destroyed was replaced by five new ones. Every American or British soldier who died was replaced by two more. As well, the Americans incorporated combat experiences into new designs in warships and in aircraft incredibly quickly. By 1943 new American ships and aircraft were superior to the older Japanese designs. The Japanese could barely replace any of their men or weapons. Japanese forces could not stand up to American and British firepower. At best they could fight tough and retreat slowly - island by island.

12. Why all the fuss over the American Atomic Bomb attacks on Japan?
The American atomic bomb attacks were not the worst air attacks the Japanese suffered. Regular American bombers killed over 250,000 Japanese civilians in air raids in 1945. The Japanese capital and main city of Tokyo was almost burned to the ground by American air raids. What made the atomic bomb attacks special was that each city - Hiroshima and Nagasaki ( each was about the size of Kingston, Ontario today ) - was destroyed in seconds by only one bomb! Each bomb used a baseball sized lump of uranium to create a "miniature sun" for only a microsecond - but this released enough atomic energy to destroy an entire city and its population. After the second atomic explosion the Japanese government realized that they could not stop the Americans. Their choice was surrender or see 60 million Japanese die in air raids. They surrendered.