Luftwaffe Over The Ardennes – The Forgotten Aerial Battle of the Bulge

World War II History: 20 Most Important Battles of WWII

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World War II was the greatest conflict in history, carried out on a scale almost impossible to grasp. In many ways it was the first modern war, in which airpower played a vital role both on land and at sea, but many actions were ultimately won by the determination and grit of the foot soldier. Here’s the whole vast panoramic epic of the Second World War presented in 20 of its most significant battles.

20. Battle of Crete – May 1941

One of the most audacious operations in the German conquest of Europe was the air assault on the Greek island of Crete, the first action in which paratroopers were dropped in large numbers. Crete was defended by British and Greek forces who had some success against the lightly armed German soldiers jumping out of the sky. However, delays and communication failures between Allies allowed the Germans to capture the vital airfield at Maleme and fly in reinforcements. Once the Nazis gained air superiority, landings by sea followed. The Allies surrendered after two weeks of fighting.

One of the most audacious operations in the German conquest of Europe was the air assault on the Greek island of Crete, the first action in which paratroopers were dropped in large numbers. Crete was defended by British and Greek forces who had some success against the lightly armed German soldiers jumping out of the sky. However, delays and communication failures between Allies allowed the Germans to capture the vital airfield at Maleme and fly in reinforcements. Once the Nazis gained air superiority, landings by sea followed. The Allies surrendered after two weeks of fighting.

19. Battle of Iwo Jima – February to March 1945

The Battle of Iwo Jima is an iconic event, thanks largely due to Joe Rosenthal's photograph of the American flag being raised. But military analysts still argue whether the island's limited strategic value justified the costly action. Twenty thousand Japanese defenders were dug in to an elaborate system of bunkers, caves, and tunnels. The attack was preceded by a massive naval and air bombardment lasting several days covering the entire island. Although outnumbered five to one and with no prospect of victory, the Japanese put up strong resistance and virtually none surrendered. Many positions could be cleared only out by hand grenades and flamethrowers, including the fearsome M4A3R3 Sherman "Zippo" flamethrower tanks.

The Battle of Iwo Jima is an iconic event, thanks largely due to Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the American flag being raised. But military analysts still argue whether the island’s limited strategic value justified the costly action. Twenty thousand Japanese defenders were dug in to an elaborate system of bunkers, caves, and tunnels. The attack was preceded by a massive naval and air bombardment lasting several days covering the entire island. Although outnumbered five to one and with no prospect of victory, the Japanese put up strong resistance and virtually none surrendered. Many positions could be cleared only out by hand grenades and flamethrowers, including the fearsome M4A3R3 Sherman “Zippo” flamethrower tanks.

18. Battle of Anzio – January to June 1944

The Allies invaded Italy in 1943 but by 1944 had progressed only as far as the Gustav Line south of Rome. So the Allies staged a massive amphibious operation to force the defenders to split their forces or be surrounded, but quick success depended on a rapid break-out from the beachhead. Some 36,000 men landed to the enemy's considerable surprise, but while the Allies consolidated, the Germans surrounded the area with equivalent forces and dug defensive positions. After heavy fighting and failed advances, in February the Allies were pushed back almost to the beachhead. It took more than 100,000 more reinforcements and five months of fighting to finally break out of Anzio.

The Allies invaded Italy in 1943 but by 1944 had progressed only as far as the Gustav Line south of Rome. So the Allies staged a massive amphibious operation to force the defenders to split their forces or be surrounded, but quick success depended on a rapid break-out from the beachhead. Some 36,000 men landed to the enemy’s considerable surprise, but while the Allies consolidated, the Germans surrounded the area with equivalent forces and dug defensive positions. After heavy fighting and failed advances, in February the Allies were pushed back almost to the beachhead. It took more than 100,000 more reinforcements and five months of fighting to finally break out of Anzio.

17. Battle of Monte Cassino – January to May 1944

After Anzio, the Germans occupied defensive positions known as the Winter Line, consisting of bunkers, barbed wire, minefields and ditches. The four successive Allied assaults on these positions became known as the Battle of Monte Cassino. The fight resembled a WW1 battle, with artillery bombardments preceding bloody infantry assaults on fixed positions. Success was bought at the cost of more than 50,000 casualties on the Allied side. Today, the battle is mainly remembered for the destruction of the abbey of Monte Cassino (which was sheltering civilians) by more than a hundred B-17 Flying Fortresses, when the Allies mistakenly believed the abbey to be a German artillery observation position.

After Anzio, the Germans occupied defensive positions known as the Winter Line, consisting of bunkers, barbed wire, minefields and ditches. The four successive Allied assaults on these positions became known as the Battle of Monte Cassino. The fight resembled a WW1 battle, with artillery bombardments preceding bloody infantry assaults on fixed positions. Success was bought at the cost of more than 50,000 casualties on the Allied side. Today, the battle is mainly remembered for the destruction of the abbey of Monte Cassino (which was sheltering civilians) by more than a hundred B-17 Flying Fortresses, when the Allies mistakenly believed the abbey to be a German artillery observation position.

Military History: 6 Rare Facts about the Battle of the Bulge

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The Battle of the Bulge was a Hail Mary pass by a führer who was quickly running out of options. Hitler desperately needed a decisive victory on either his Western or Eastern front. Remembering his series of victories after sneaking through the Ardennes forest in 1940, he went for a repeat in 1944.

On Dec. 16, 200,000 German troops and 1,000 tanks slammed into 80,000 Allied troops. Here are six things most people don’t know about what happened next.

  1. Over 1 million men were involved in the battle.

66=699-49 Pfc M.L. Dickens, East Omaha, Nebraska, Pvt Sunny Sundquist, Bremerton, Washington, Sgt Francis H. McCann, Middleton, Conn., of the 101st Airborne Division near Bastogne, Belgium, set out to rejoin their unit. Janaury 11, 1945

The fighting started with an assault by 200,000 Germans against 80,000 Allied troops. But, as Patton’s Third Army swung north to hit the German flank and other Allied units rushed to the aid of the defenders, 600,000 Allied soldiers pushed back the German force that grew to 500,000 men.

Read the Remainder at Real Clear Defense