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(WAR in EUROPE, 1941-45 – continued)

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WAR in EUROPE, 1941-45 (3 of 10)

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The Tide Turns

Soviet armies began their big counteroffensive in the cold of December, 1941. In places in the coming three months they pushed the Germans back 150 miles – almost to Smolensk, in Belarus.

The brutal German occupation of Belarus had been underway, with the Germans determined to wipe out all partisan supporters of the Soviet Union and all Jews – until it was decided that some of them were needed as laborers. Some Belarussian young men served as policemen for the occupiers and some served in other ways as opportunists rather than for ideological reasons. The Partisans, meanwhile, were becoming a strain on Germany's war effort.

With the mud that came with the winter thaw the German war effort bogged again.  During the summer of 1942 the German offensive resumed, but by then the Germans were weakened. They had suffered too many losses along the Soviet front. The Hitler regime decided to just hold the line in front of Moscow and to focus on a drive into the Caucasus for the sake of oil, with Baku on the shore of the Caspian Sea as the ultimate destination – Hitler's economists having told him that without oil from that region Germany could not continue the war. By the end of August the Germans were near Grozny, about 500 kilometers northeast of Baku. And in September they captured the Soviet navy base on the Black Sea at Novorossiisk.

On the way to Baku, Hitler had decided to capture the city named after Stalin, Stalingrad, on the west side of the Volga River more than 400 kilometers (roughly 300 miles) north of Grozny. Rather than take control of the Volga River north of Stalingrad and cut the river traffic that was supplying Stalingrad, Hitler chose a frontal assault. He refused arguments from General Halder to forget about the city. Hitler had decided that "the city of Stalin" had to be taken at all costs. In August 1942 the great battle for Stalingrad began, and the drive toward Baku stopped.

On November 19 the Soviet Union counterattacked and surrounded the Romanians and Germans in Stalingrad. A German force attempted to rescue the encircled men, but on December 27 that effort was was brought to a standstill. German troops not encircled escaped westward. German troops at Stalingrad were without winter clothing and short of food and ammunition, but Hitler ordered them to stay. Annihilation, he believed, was better than retreat.

North Africa

In late October 1942 the British launched a counteroffensive westward in Egypt, around 100 miles west of Alexandria, at El Alamein, stopping the drive led by Erwin Rommel toward the Suez Canal.  This was followed on November 8 by US and British landings around Casablanca and Algiers in French controlled North Africa. Stalin was unhappy because he wanted a landing somewhere in France – which Roosevelt had promised would happen that year. Hitler was relieved because he had feared a landing closer to home.

The success of the Americans and British in North Africa included a deal with Admiral Darlan, who defected to the side of the Americans and British. Hitler responded to the Allied invasion in North Africa by moving troops into what had been the unoccupied area of France, which included its Mediterranean coastline. The regime at Vichy accepted the German move while declaring that it would defend itself against the Allies on its North African territory. With Darlan's defection some of the French combatants had gone over to the side of the Allies, while others continued to resist the North African invasion, including the Allied landing near Tunis in mid-November.

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