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Overview

World War 2

World War 2 is generally said to have begun on 1 September 1939, with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by France and Britain. Germany set out to establish a large empire in Europe. From late 1939 to early 1941, in a series of campaigns and treaties Germany conquered or subdued much of continental Europe. In June 1941, the Axis powers mainly consisting of Nazi Germany launched an invasion of the Soviet Union, giving a start to the largest land theatre of war in history, which tied down the major part of the Axis' military forces. In December 1941, Japan which aimed to dominate Asia attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and quickly conquered much of the West Pacific.

The Axis advance in Europe was stopped in 1942, after they were defeated decisively, at Stalingrad.   In 1943, with a series of German defeats in Eastern Europe, the Allied invasion of Fascist Italy, and American victories in the Pacific, the Axis lost the initiative and undertook strategic retreat on all fronts. In 1944, the Western Allies invaded France, while the Soviet Union regained all of its territorial losses and invaded Germany and its allies. The war in Europe ended with the capture of Berlin by Soviet troops and the German unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945. This is known as Victory Day in Europe.  During 1944 and 1945 the United States defeated the Japanese Navy and captured key west pacific islands, and the invasion of the Japanese Islands became imminent. The war in Asia ended on August 15, 1945 when Japan agreed to surrender.

Over 600,000 Americans were killed during the war while fighting the Axis powers .

Over 20 million Russians and Soviet soldiers were killed.  The reason so many died in the Soviet Union is that their country was invaded by the Germans.
Nazi Germany established the smartest, quickest, and deadliest military the world had ever seen.  Their leader, Hitler, wanted to establish an empire and take over Europe.  While the USSR was fighting for its very survival the United States was fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. The Allies, which included the United States opened the western front against Nazi Germany. There were many battles but below were some of the most significant.

****Pearl Harbor 1941, Japanese attack the American Fleet in Pearl Harbor Hawaii.
This was the start of the war.

****Battle of Stalingrad.  1942-1943 This was the largest battle in history.  Nobody thought that the German Army could be stopped but this was Germany's first defeat in the war.  About 1.5 million people lost their lives during this battle. “Not one step back” was the rallying cry at the battle of Stalingrad.

****Battle of Kursk.  July 1943  This was last the largest tank battle in history.  Russia lost over half its tanks and 250,000 soldiers but they crushed the German Army and the Nazis was forced to retreat further back.

****Battle of Ardennes (also known as Battle of the Bulge) Winter 1944. The Nazis continued to surprise their opponents. At the start of this German offensive German soldiers dressed up as American Army soldiers and surprised the Allies. The German Army mounted a strong offensive .  The Americans (and the Allies) ultimately won this battle at great cost.  Over 120,000 soldiers on both sides lost their lives.

****Battle of Midway    June 1942     Widely considered to be the most important naval battle of the war this was the largest naval battle in history involving aircraft carriers.  The US Navy defeated the Japanese Imperial Navy.  Five aircraft carriers were sunk (four were Japanese.)

****Battle of Moscow  winter 1941  Over one million Red Army soldiers died defending their capital Moscow from the Nazis.  Mr. Matusov, the veteran we are honoring was wounded in this battle. 

****Battle of Normandy   June 1944  Allied Forces (including American) land on beaches in Normandy, France attacking the German Army to begin the liberation of France from the Nazis.  This was the beginning of the western front. This was one of the largest amphibious assaults in history.  Each side lost over 200,000 men.  The allies effectively secured the site and began pushing the Nazis back.

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Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

This is a very famous quote by Georges Santayana

Think about the meaning of this quotation. 

Learn about the reasons this war took place.

Why is it important for us to know and remember?

Wars are terrible and should be avoided.

We encourage you to learn about all the events surrounding World War 2. Learn the lessons to ensure that these events never repeat themselves.

 

Mikail L’vovich Matusov was a student of History at the University of Kiev, Ukraine, USSR in the fall of 1939. He was 17. At the university he was recruited into the Army School of Communications. He completed his training in 1941 and one June 10th received his first assignment in Moscow. The war started ten days later. Lieutenant Matusov was a communications officer assigned to an Artillery Division of the Army in Moscow. In November 1941 the Nazi’s had pushed their way to the edge of Moscow preparing for the brutal assault to conquer the city. The Battle of Moscow lasted through the winter. Lt. Matusov was charged with establishing lines of communication between Army divisions that were defending Moscow when he almost lost his life during a German artillery attack. He lay wounded in a ditch, and escaped under the cover of darkness. Over one million of his comrades died defending Moscow. After spending time recuperating from his wounds he rejoined the army and began the push west into Estonia. Once the Red Army was in the port of Tallinn Lt. Matusov was given the task of organizing the off-loading of supplies and shipments from the United States under the Lend-Lease program and overseeing the delivery of these supplies to Soviet troops. Lt. Matusov speaks five languages. He learned how to speak English when he was 69 years old.

 

Hal McNicol was a student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1941. He was in the ROTC. At the university he was recruited to be a pilot in the Navy. He went to flight school in Los Alamitos which is in the Los Angeles area. He fell in love with flying after his first solo flight. Upon graduating from flight school he was assigned to the Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia. Lt. McNicol was assigned to a utility squadron, VJ-4. As a pilot in a utility squadron he was assigned the task of preparing Naval ships for battle at sea. He pulled targets 5,000 feet behind his plane and sailors would try to hit the target with live fire. He would conduct the same exercise at night and he could actually see tracers (bullets visible at night) being fired in front of his plane. It was a harrowing experience. Lt. McNicol was reassigned to another utility squadron, VJ-16, in the Caribbean. He led the “shakedowns,” (preparations) of many Naval warships. As the intelligence was coming in from the Pacific on the tactics of Japanese pilots, it was Lt. McNicol’s task to mimic and simulate Japanese attacks on US warships to prepare the crews for battle. He flew just about every aircraft in the US inventory and prepared crews for battle by simulating dive bombings, strafing attacks, and torpedo attacks. Many crews were well prepared for battle and many lives were saved because of the preparation that Lt. McNicol provided. It is noteworthy to point out that Lt. McNicol was involved in the shakedown of the USS Midway.