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World War II

The Turning Point

Despite the slightly improved position in the Pacific, the late summer of 1942 was perhaps the darkest period of the war for the Allies. In North Africa, the Axis forces under Field Marshal Rommel were sweeping into Egypt; in Russia, they had penetrated the Caucasus and launched a gigantic offensive against Stalingrad (see Volgograd). In the Atlantic, even to the shores of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico, German submarines were sinking Allied shipping at an unprecedented rate.

Yet the Axis war machine showed signs of wear, while the United States was merely beginning to realize its potential, and Russia had huge reserves and was receiving U.S. lend-lease aid through Iran and the port of Murmansk. The major blow, however, was leveled at the Axis by Britain, when General Montgomery routed Rommel at Alamein in North Africa (Oct., 1942). This was followed by the American invasion of Algeria (Nov. 8, 1942); the Americans and British were joined by Free French forces of General de Gaulle and by regular French forces that had passed to the Allies after the surrender of Admiral Darlan. After heavy fighting in Tunisia, North Africa was cleared of Axis forces by May 12, 1943.

Meantime, in the Soviet stand at Stalingrad and counteroffensive resulted in the surrender (Feb. 2, 1943) of the German 6th Army, followed by nearly uninterrupted Russian advances. In the Mediterranean, the Allies followed up their African victory by the conquest of Sicily (July–Aug., 1943) and the invasion of Italy, which surrendered on Sept. 8. However, the German army in Italy fought bloody rearguard actions, and Rome fell (June 4, 1944) only after the battles of Monte Cassino and Anzio. In the Atlantic, the submarine threat was virtually ended by the summer of 1944. Throughout German-occupied Europe, underground forces, largely supplied by the Allies, began to wage war against their oppressors.

The Allies, who had signed (Jan. 1, 1942) the United Nations declaration, were drawn closer together militarily by the Casablanca Conference, at which they pledged to continue the war until the unconditional surrender of the Axis, and by the Moscow Conferences, the Quebec Conference, the Cairo Conference, and the Tehran Conference. The invasion of German-held France was decided upon, and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was put in charge of the operation.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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