In the following lesson we’re going to deal with history once again: in fact, we’re going to trace the most important events happened during the Second World War, a conflict that went down in history as the most expensive in terms of human lives and with Italy playing a leading role.
The Second World Conflict: dates, events and protagonists
The Beginning of the conflict and Hitler’s rise to power
– 1939 (September 1st): Adolf Hitler, dictator of Germany, decided to invade Poland, forcing France and England to intervene, in response to the violation of some agreements concluded a few years earlier and starting what would become the most important conflict in human history. The invasion of Poland was quick: it was conquered in just 20 days, thanks to the German military strategy known as flash-war (blitzkrieg), characterized by quick and violent attacks, through the use of every war vehicle at disposal. Later on, Hitler proceeded with the invasion of Northern European countries, by conquering Norway and Denmark.
– 1940: Hitler started planning the conquest of France: passing through Netherlands and Belgium, the German troops invaded France and walked into Paris, forcing then-president Charles de Gaulle to escape to London and from there he urged his people to stand up against German occupation. France ended up being occupied by the Nazis in the Northern part and under the government of Vichy, who worked with the Germans, in the Southern part.
The Attack on Great Britain and Italy’s entry into the war
– 1940: Hitler launched a military operation against Great Britain too, that included air and sea battles and that led to the bombing of some areas, including London, Coventry and Birmingham. However, the British determination and the leadership of Winston Churchill prevented the German soldiers to conquer the island, forcing Hitler to postpone the occupation of Great Britain (that would never happen).
Despite the alliance with Germany, Italy didn’t immediately enter the war, since its army wasn’t sufficiently prepared, as shown by Mussolini’s unsuccessful attempt to conquer Greece that was brought to fulfillment only thanks the support of the German troops. Even during the military campaign in Africa, the attempt to take Egypt away from British control was a failure and not even the support of Germany was enough to defeat the British.
The “Operation Barbarossa” and the Attack on Pearl Harbor
– 1941: In spite of the Non-Aggression Pact signed with Stalin, Hitler launched another military operation against the Soviet Union, named Operation Barbarossa, that saw, at first, the German army moving forward within the soviet territory until they arrived a few kilometres from Moscow, Stalingrad and Leningrad, before being halted by the resistance of the population and the Red Army, who were supported by the rigid temperatures of the Eastern European winter Hitler’s army wasn’t prepared for.
– December 7th: Meanwhile, Japan, allied with Hitler and Mussolini, after trying to invade China in 1937, launched a surprise attack on United States, more precisely on the base of Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. Therefore, the United States, led by then-president Franklin Roosevelt, entered the war alongside Great Britain against Germany, Italy and Japan.
– 1942: The Nazis, with the support of the fascists, began to arrest, deport and eliminate Italian and European Jewish people, writing one of the darkest pages in the history of mankind: the genocide of the Jewish people or Holocaust. These practices would last until the end of the war; however we’re are not going to deal with this topic in this article, actually we’d like to suggest you to read Se questo è un uomo, written by Primo Levi, a man who survived the concentration camps and that will offer you a truthful overview of this dramatic event.
The U.S. Intervention and the formation of the Partisan movements
– 1943: Hitler’s troops were forced to withdraw from the Soviet front because of the tenacious resistance of the Red Army (but mainly because of the soviet cold winter thta had caused many deaths among the ranks).
Meanwhile, the U.S. landing in Sicily, near Syracuse, and the subsequent advance northwards meant the breakdown of Fascism, leading Mussolini to be distrusted by the Grand Council of Fascism and then being arrested and replaced by the general Pietro Badoglio who became the leader of the government.
– September 3rd-8th: Pietro Badoglio signed the armistice in Cassibile, turning the German troops on the territory into enemies (previously allied).
In this chaotic situation, some civilians banded together into armed groups, known as “Resistenza”, in Europe, and “partigiani” (partisans) in Italy, in order to fight the German enemy along with the U.S. troops.
– September 23rd: Mussolini, who had been imprisoned in a hotel on the Gran Sasso, was freed by the Germans and shortly after he proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of Salò in Northern Italy, where the U.S. troops hadn’t arrived yet. As a result, Italy was divided into the kingdom of Vittorio Emanuele III, freed by the Allies, in the Southern part, and the Republic of Salò, in the Northern part, ruled by the Germans and the Fascists.
– 1944 (March 24th): The actions of the Partisans soon caused the violent response of the Nazis who started retaliating and going on killing sprees. One particularly dramatic episode was the one in which some Nazi officers ordered, in response to an attack occurred to the detriment of some German soldiers in Rome, 10 prisoners to be executed for every German soldier dead. On that occasion, 335 Italian prisoners were killed and their bodies were hidden in the Ardeatine caves. Such a dramatic event went down in history as eccidio delle Fosse Ardeatine (Massacre of the Ardeatine caves)
The defeat of Germany, Hitler and Mussolini’s demises and the Japanese surrender
– 1944 (June 6th): The U.S. forces landed on the beaches of Normandy and with more than 100000 soldiers, they managed to liberate France, leaving Germany surrounded by the Soviets and the Allies
– 1945: Many cities of Northern Italy were liberated from the Nazi-Fascist domination, also thanks to the actions of the partisans
– April 28th: Mussolini was arrested and executed by firing squad and his body was hung by his heels in the public square of Milan, Piazzale Loreto, while being exposed to the fury of the people
– April 30th: During the last moments of the bombing of Berlin, Hitler, who was already defeated, took refuge in his bunker to take his life
– August 6th and 9th: The U.S. president Harry Truman, who succeeded Roosevelt, in order to quickly end the war against Japan, that would not surrender (also to show the Soviet Union the U.S. power), gave the order to drop two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: with over 200,000 victims and the two cities burned to the ground, Japan was forced to surrender
Thus ended World War II, counting over 50 millions of victims, in 5 years. Furthermore, at the end of the conflict, Europe lost its centrality, giving the US and the Soviet Union the role of world superpowers and thus starting the cold war.
Good, our history lesson has come to an end; if you want to learn something more about the history of Italy, like how Benito Mussolini managed to rise to power and become the dictator of the Kingdom of Italy, then don’t miss our video devoted to the Italian fascist era: it’s very interesting!
Per approfondire il tema dell’olocausto, ti consigliamo di leggere “Se questo è un uomo” di Primo Levi: https://amzn.to/3h3ldpd
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