Monday 21 May 2018

 The Second World War was a global war that lasted from September 1939 to May 1945, although related conflicts began earlier. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. It was the largest global war in history. It directly involved more than 100 million people from over 30 countries.

Germany started the war in September 1939 when it marched into Poland and Japan entered the war in December 1941 when it attacked Pearl Harbour and countries in the Far East.        

The two largest nations whose armed forces did more than all the other Allied nations in bringing an end to the Second World War were the United States and the Soviet Union (Russia). The Americans fought the war in Europe and Africa and they also fought the war in the Pacific and countries the Far East. The Soviet Union fought the war in their own country and finally into the eastern part of Germany including Berlin.    

Without the assistance of the USA and the Soviet Union, it is conceivable that the Allies war against Germany and Japan would have been lost.
Prior to the American’s full participation in the war, the Americans had to some degree, assisted the British by sending them small warships as part of a lend/lease program along with food.

The Americans finally entered the war against Germany when Adolf Hitler, Germany’s dictator foolishly declared war on the United States on the same day that the Japanese bombers bombed Pearl Harbour. (December 7, 1941) That was the excuse that President Roosevelt needed for the American’s entrance into the war against both Japan and Germany. The American Congress gave its approval.

The Russians react nervously to any narrative about World War II that differs from their own. When the United States, Britain or France pay tribute to their countrymen who fought and defeated Adolf Hitler, it is seen in Moscow as an attempt to diminish Russia’s contribution. Russians hold it as self-evident that they bore the brunt of Hitler’s fury and did the lion’s share of fighting with only minimal support from the Allies.

The people of Russia  suffered greatly in their war with Germany. An estimated 26 million Soviet citizens died during World War II, including as many as 11 million of its soldiers.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that the Russian involvement played a very important role in the war in Europe. But the American forces and those of Canada and Great Britain under the leadership of the American General Eisenhower played an equally important role in the defeat of Germany. With their participation in the war, it made it much easier for the Soviet armed forces to advance into Eastern Germany since half of Germany’s forces were drawn to the Western and Southern parts of Europe.

Hitler was face with three fronts—the Western Front, Southern Front and the Eastern Front. This made it impossible for him to win the war.  The Western Front and the Southern Front were led by the Americans. The Eastern Front was led by the Russians.

It is obvious that both the Americans and the Russians were the two main countries that won the war against Germany and it was the Americans that won the war in the Pacific and the Far East.

I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that if the Americans concentrated all their forces in the Pacific and the nations in the Far East, the Soviets could have won the war against Germany on their own.  However, with the Americans fighting the Germans in Europe including Africa, it became possible for the Russians to get to Berlin much sooner. 

I am not trying to belittle the efforts of all the other nations that fought the German forces  and the Japanese forces because their contribution was of considerable assistance to General MacArthur in the Far East and General Eisenhower in Europe. 

The United States and Canada sent thousands of soldiers to both Europe and the Far East. Great Britain sent thousands of its soldiers, airmen and sailors to Europe, Africa and the Atlantic. Australia and New Zealand sent thousands of their soldiers to fight the Japanese forces in the Far East. Polish and French soldiers fought the Germans in Europe.

All the Allied nations including the United States and Russia won the war but in my respectful opinion, it was the United States and Russia alike who were the countries that brought an end to the Second World War. I will explain why I have arrived at that opinion.

The Russians inflicted more casualties on Germans than other allies and suffered more casualties than all other countries combined. But that was, in a large measure, the result of Stalin’s disastrous preparations. Britain suffered far fewer losses and less destruction, however, it maintained a strong navy and mobilized the defense of its mainline, thus discouraging Hitler from ordering a land invasion.

When the Soviet Union entered the war 70 years ago, it never had to stand alone. It was supported by Britain despite Stalin’s previous alliance with Hitler and the United States promptly established a program to supply Moscow with war materiel, food and clothing by sending ships to thr northeastern section of Russia, In reality, with the United States entering the war in December 1941, even the possible loss of Moscow, would not have meant a Soviet defeat. While German supply lines were dangerously stretched, Soviet troops could have regrouped east of the capital thanks to a U.S. commitment to also supply the Red Army through Northeastern Siberia.

The Russians have every right to mourn their losses and be proud of the heroism of their people. However, Russia should also acknowledge that all the allies of the anti-Hitler coalition made vital contributions and huge sacrifices to achieve the final victory. The war was fought and won, as a direct result of the entire alliance of cooperation of those nations fighting the German forces.

 I will take a quote from my autobiography, Whistling in the Face of Robbers, vol. 1) beginning at Chapter ten on page 141.

“I remember the day when Canada unofficially declared war on Germany. I say 'unofficially' because the King's signature wasn't obtained until later to make it official.                                                        
We were still living above the store at 251 Symington Avenue in Toronto and I had just finished my lunch and was returning to school. I was in grade two then and no sooner had I walked to the front of the store when I saw thousands of postcard-size pieces of paper falling from the sky. The planes that flew over Toronto that had been dumping the paper over the city were long gone. On each sheet of paper, was a notice that Canada was at war with Germany. I ran all over the place grabbing paper as it fell in front of me. I was late for school and the teacher was astounded at what she read when I showed her the papers. She was also angry at me for being late for school. It must be remembered that not everyone had radios then and newspapers were not sold at stores or brought to our homes. If you wanted to read a newspaper, you had to go to a newspaper vendor who could only be found at a major intersection. The announcement from the sky was the quickest way to bring the news of the Canadian declaration of war on Germany to us. If anyone dropped leaflets from the sky nowadays, they would be charged with littering.” unquote

Later on that same page

It was on September 10th, Canada declared war on Germany independently. Prime Minister William Lyon McKenzie said in the House of Commons: "For months, indeed for years, the shadow of impending conflict in Europe has been ever present. Through these troubled years, no stone has been left unturned, no road unexplored in the patient search for peace. Unhappily for the world, Herr Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany have persisted in their attempt to extend their control over other peoples and countries, and to pursue their aggressive design in wanton disregard of all treaty obligations, and peaceful methods of adjusting international disputes. They have had to resort increasingly to agencies of deception, terrorism and violence. It is this reliance upon force, this lust for conquest, this determination to dominate throughout the world, which is the real cause of the war that today threatens the freedom of mankind.” Unquote

At this time in Canadian history, there were a little over 11 million Canadians and about 8 million over the age of eighteenmany of them unemployed men who then rushed to the nearest armoury in their city or town to enlist.

I also remember the day when Japanese bombers bombed Pearl Harbour. I was eight years old then. I will again quote from my autobiography at page 370.

 At 7:53 a.m. the first Japanese assault wave, with 51 Val dive bombers, 40 Kate torpedo bombers, 50 high level bombers and 43 Zero fighters, commenced the attack with flight commander, Mitsuo Fuchida, sounding the battle cry "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!) At that precise moment, I was outside playing with the other kids in our small town.                                                       
 The Americans were taken completely by surprise. The first attack wave targeted airfields and battleships. The second wave targeted other ships and shipyard facilities. The air raid lasted until 9:45 a.m. Eight battleships were damaged, with five sunk. Three light cruisers, three destroyers and three smaller vessels were lost along with 188 aircraft. The Japanese lost 27 planes and five midget submarines which attempted to penetrate the inner harbor and launch torpedoes.         Minutes later while I was playing outside, a nearby neighbor who had a powerful radio, began screaming out loud, THE JAPS HAVE BOMBED PEARL HARBOUR.”  That is when I learned of the attack.”

I also remember the surrenders of both Germany and Japan. Again I will quote from my autobiography first on the surrender of Germany (Vol 2) in Chapter twelve beginning on page 191.

News of the German surrender broke in the West on May 8th, and celebrations erupted throughout Europe. In the U.S., Americans awoke to the news and declared the 8th of May V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day). As the Soviet Union was to the east of Germany it was the 9th of May Moscow Time when German military surrender became effective, which is why Russia and many other European countries east of Germany commemorate Victory Day on May 9th.                                                   
The news flash reached Canada at 9:36 pm, Eastern Daylight Time on May 7th, 1945—“Germany has surrendered unconditionally.” British Columbia was three hours earlier than the east coast but for some reason which I cannot explain, those of us living in that small town of Wells in Central British Columbia didn’t know about the surrender until the earlier hours of the 9th. I was eleven years of age then and I and the other 2,500 people living in Wells learned of the surrender when someone had set off the air raid siren attached to the Community Centre building that was also used to call the volunteer firemen to the fire station. Instead of it wailing up and down the register, it was a steady high-pitched wailing sound. Then I heard people shouting that Germany had surrendered. 

Later that day (Tuesday) we were told that there would be no school and the mines would be shut down for the day and in the afternoon, there would be a community celebration held in an open field just below the hospital. There would be beer for the adults and soft drinks for the children and hot dogs for everyone. Of course, there were also speeches for those inclined to give them. When that day finally came, it was like no other day that anyone in Wells who is still living at the time of this writing, (2016) will remember. That day had a flavor of its own, an extemporaneousness one which gave it something of the quality of a vast, happy village fete as people wandered about, sat, sang, and danced on that warm and sunny day against the background of trees on the mountain behind us and grass of the field we were on. Many of my school chums were happy because this meant that their fathers, uncles and older brothers would be returning home. My father had already returned home from the Canadian air force because of a back injury he received when his bomber crashed in the desert in Egypt. Some of the people however were sad because their loved ones were killed in the war so they wouldn’t be returning to their loved ones. Of course, celebrations in the larger cities and towns were much greater. There were official celebrations across Canada, including a parade on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, crowds filled the streets of Toronto and Montreal and there were even victory parades in small towns.                                                                                                        

In London, England, the streets were filled with people and there were street parties. Bands played, flags flew and the air was filled with fireworks. At Buckingham Palace, Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared with the Royal Family on a balcony overlooking a huge ecstatic crowd that packed the square below. The city brimmed with unbridled joy. Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were given permission by their parents to mingle with the crowd just outside of the gates of Buckingham Palace. Thousands of King George's subjects wedged themselves in front of the Palace throughout the day, chanting ceaselessly “We want the King!” and cheering themselves hoarse when he and the Queen and their daughters appeared, but when the crowd saw Churchill on the balcony, there was a deep, full-throated, almost reverent roar. He later was at the head of a procession of Members of Parliament, walking back to the House of Commons from the traditional St. Margaret's Thanksgiving Service. Instantly, he was surrounded by people who were running or standing on tiptoe, holding up babies so that they could be told later they had seen him and shouting affectionately the first name of Winnie the Poo “Winnie, Winnie.”

The crowds milled back and forth between the Palace, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, and Piccadilly Circus, and when they got tired they simply sat down wherever they happened to be—on the grass, on doorsteps, or on the curb and watched the other people or spread handkerchiefs over their faces and took a nap. Everybody appeared determined to see the King and Queen and Prime Minister Churchill at least once during the day. By lunchtime, in Piccadilly Circus, the buses had to slow to a crawl in order to get through the tightly packed, laughing and singing crowds. The Government decided against sounding the sirens in a triumphant ‘all clear’ for fear that the noise would revive too many painful memories. For the same reason, there were no salutes of guns however there was the pealing of the church bells. The whistles of tugs on the Thames River sounding the doot, doot, doot, dooooot of the letter V, and the roar of the planes, which could be heard everywhere, swooped back and forth over the city, dropping red and green signals toward the blur of smiling, upturned faces. The police reported that there was barely any criminal activity throughout the day despite the boisterous behavior of tens of thousands of people.                                

Each nation made its announcement in its own way. People all over the world were taking to the streets in an outpouring of emotion. In New York City, especially in Times Square, two million people gathered onto the streets leading into and out of the Square. The streets were packed right against the buildings. The crowds were still there long after the sun went down.                                          

Russia normally celebrates VE day on May 9th because of the time change, but there was no celebration in May of 1945. The first Victory Day parade was held at the Red Square on June 24th, 1945 under the order of Joseph Stalin. Perhaps he gave that order so that the soldiers who fought in the war that were still in Germany and other European countries could return home to enjoy the celebration. Moscow’s Red Square filled with veterans, soldiers, dignitaries and special guests in honour of Victory Day on May 9th. Though civilians were not generally allowed inside the Red Square, they were however able to view Russian soldiers and cadets march into the Square along with a parade of tanks and they heard an address from the Russian leaders from various vantage points around the Kremlin. That night a massive firework display drew a close to the victorious holiday. unquote

I will refer you to Volume two of my Memoirs and specifically to Chapter Fourteen and beginning on page 235;

On August 14, 1945, an official announcement of Japan's unconditional surrender to the Allies was made public to the Japanese people. Even though Japan's War Council, urged by Emperor Hirohito, had already submitted a formal declaration of surrender to the Allies, via ambassadors, on August 10th, fighting continued between the Japanese and the Soviets in Manchuria and between the Japanese and the United States in the South Pacific.                                                                                                  

When V.J. day came, (Victory over Japan) on August 14, 1945, again the siren at the Community Hall in Wells went off in the early hours in the morning of August 15th, 1995 (Tuesday) and again everyone was yelling in the streets that the war with Japan was finally over and again we celebrated with a big bonfire and hot dogs and soft drinks and of course, speeches by those so inclined to give them. That day didn't have the same impact on me that V.E. Day did months earlier because there was no school attendance in August so we kids didn't have that added benefit. unquote    

There were thousands of celebrations in the Commonwealth nations including Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand along with every town and city in the United States and nations in the Far East including China and Korea.       

None of us really understood what the war with Japan cost in human life. I didn’t really comprehend the loss of life in both wars until I was much older.

What a bloody waste that war was. The responsibility of all those deaths rested on the shoulders of three men—Hitler who committed suicide, Mussolini who was executed by Italian partisans and Tojo who was hanged at the end of the war by the Americans.

It is a cruel irony when you think of it. They brought about all those deaths so that they could enjoy the benefits of power which was fleeting at best and it was all for nothing. It brought them an early death as they had also brought the same to so many millions of the victims of that war.  

World War II brought about an enormous amount of deaths on both sides of the world and on both sides of the belligerents.    

The Russians lost most of the members of their armed forces in the war. As many as 8,800,000 were killed, the Germans lost 5,53,000, the Chinese lost 3.500,000, the Japanese lost 2,120,000, the Americans lost 416,800, the British lost 383,800 (including the colonies), the Italians lost 301,400 including African conscripts, Poland lost 240,000, India lost 87,000, the Canadians lost 45,400, the Australians lost 39,800, and the New Zealanders lost 11,900. Then there are the civilian casualties to consider. Millions of them lost their lives also because of the war.  The figures aren’t necessary accurate since it is impossible to determine the total loss of life but the estimate of the loss of life during that particular war ranges between 62,171,600 to 78,041,700.      

Of course my two volumes of my memoirs have hundreds of pages in each volume dealing with the Second World War.

I hope this article has given you some idea of what took place at the beginning of the Second World War  with Germany and Japan being the two countries that started the war and the final surrenders of those two countries.

If the Americans and the Russians hadn’t been forced into the war, they would not have declared war against both Germany and Japan.  The might of the United States and Russia were so powerful—Germany and Japan didn’t have the military might to fight those two powerful nations successfully. Notwithstanding the assistance from other nations, it was both the United States and Russia that actually won the Second World War.

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