The Second World War lasting from 1939 to 1945 was one of the deadliest events in the history of humankind. The war that devoured over 60 million lives across the globe, saw may battles that were lost and won by the two warring sides. Some lasted for minutes while others went on for months and even years. Here are the 10 major battles fought during the Second World War.
10. Battle of Kursk, July to August 1943
The Battle of Kursk was fought during the Second World War from July to August 1943. It was a series of offensives between the German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near Kursk, 450 kilometers South West of Moscow. Operation Citadel was the German codename for the offensive. It led to one of the largest armored clashes which became the Battle of Prokhorovka, fought on July 12, 1943. The Battle of Kursk was an unsuccessful attempt of the German side to take over the Soviet forces.
The Soviet line was at Kursk protruding into enemy territory and the Germans attempted to attack from different directions. The Soviet forces held off the offensive and launched a counterattack named Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev and Operation Kutuzov which helped reclaim the cities of Orel and Kharkov. This was the first time during the war that a German strategic offensive was halted before it could break through the enemy defenses and penetrate the depths. The German advance was 8 to 12 kilometers in the North and 35 kilometers in the South. The German side lost extensive number of men and tanks which ensured the victory of the Red Army.
9. Battle of Berlin, April to May 1945
Known also as the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union, the Battle of Berlin was the final major offensive of the Second World War in Europe. After the Vistula-Oder Offensive of January-February 1945, the Red Army had halted on a line 60 kilometers East of Berlin. Operation Clausewitz was the German defense plan against the Soviet attack. After resuming the Soviet Offensive on April 16, the city was attacked from the East and South and a third troop countered the German forces in the North. The amount of equipment deployed for the attack was extremely huge as described by a Soviet soldier.
The Soviet army was successful in encircling the city and on April 20, 1945, also Hitler’s birthday, the 1st Belorussian Front started shelling the city’s centre, while the 1st Ukrainian Front advanced to the Southern suburbs. Hitler and a number of his followers committed suicide before the battle was over. The city surrendered on May 2 while fighting continued to the North West, West and South West of the city until May 8, when the war finally ended in Europe. After this battle, the city of Berlin was divided into four as per the agreement between the Allies.
8. Battle of Moscow, October 1941 to January 1942
The Battle of Moscow represents two significant fighting on the Eastern Front during the Second World War from October 1941 to January 1942. By early October after 4 million casualties on the Soviet side, the German army had reached within 200 miles of Moscow. This was when Operation Typhoon was started, an offensive to seize the capital of the Soviets and put an end to the campaign. But the reality turned out to be far from what neither of the sides had expected.
The Soviets had a huge but unorganized army. Hitler’s side on the other hand with their expertise and equipment could have won any war on the planet. But due to the freezing weather and inability to supply the Panzer Army with supplies, the Soviet defense was able to fight off the German side. The Russian roads which were of poor quality and few in number had consumed about 40% of the German truck fleet. By the time the German side reached within 15 miles of Moscow, they were battered and exhausted. The Soviets defended the city by constructing three defensive belts and deploying new armies and brining troops from the Siberian and Far Eastern Military District.
7. Second Battle of Kharkov, May 1942
The Second Battle of Kharkov was fought from 12 to 28 May in 1942. It was an Axis counter-offensive in the region around Kharkov against the Red Army on the Eastern Front. The objective of the offensive was to eliminate the Izuim bridgehead over Seversky Donets or the “Barvenkovo bulge”, an area known for staging Soviet offensives. After the Battle of Moscow which drove away the German forces from the Soviet capital, the Kharkov offensive was a new attempt from the Soviet side to expand their strategic initiative.
On May 12, 1942 under the command of Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, the Soviet forces attacked the German 6th Army from a salient established during the winter counterattacks. This offensive further depleted the Red Army’s reserves and failed to gain a significant element of surprise. Initially there were promising signs for the Red Army but the offensives were stopped by German counterattacks. Joseph Stalin and several staff officers endured critical errors in estimating the 6th Army’s potential and overestimated their own forces. This cut off the advancing Soviet troops from the rest of the front. The battle costed almost 300,000 casualties to the Soviets and 20,000 to the Germans and their allies.
6. Battle of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
The Battle of Pearl Harbor also known as Attack on Pearl Harbor, the Hawaii Operation or Operation AI by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, was a surprise attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii territory. The battle was fought on December 7, 1941 and was heavily one sided. This attack was the climax of the worsening relationship between Japan and the Unites States. Once the US fleet was out of their way, the road to conquering all of Southeast Asia and Indonesian Archipelago would open for the Japanese.
On November 26 a Japanese fleet including 6 aircrafts, 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, 11 destroyers sailed within 275 miles North of Hawaii. About 360 planes were launched from the point for the final assault. Four of the US Navy battleships were sunk and the remaining four were damaged. Additionally three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and one minelayer were also sunk or damaged. 2,403 Americans died in the attack and 1,178 others were wounded. This undeclared attack came as a shock to the American people and led to the entry of US into the Second World War in both the European and Pacific areas. On December 8, US declared war on Japan.
5. Battle of France, May to June 1940
The German invasion of France and the Low Countries in 1940 is known as the Battle of France or the Fall of France. In a short span of six weeks starting May 10, 1940 the German forces defeated the Allied forces using mobile operations. The German forces conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Italy also tried to invade France by entering the war on June 10, 1940. The land operations on the Western Front from the German side ended by June 6, 1944.
The Battle of France saw two main operations from the German side, Fall Gelb (Case Yellow) where the armored German units broke through the Ardennes along the Somme Valley which cut off and surrounded the Allied units advancing to Belgium. After the Belgian and French forces were cornered to the sea, the British evacuated their troops and several French divisions from Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo. After the British troops left, Fall Rot (Case Red) began on June 5. The remaining French divisions resisted but were unable to. Paris was occupied by German forces on June 14. After the battle, France was divided and occupied by Germany, Italy and the neutral Vichy government.
4. Battle of Britain, July to October 1940
After the Fall of France, Hitler had expected the British to seek peace settlement with Germany, but Britain continued to fight. To bring the war to a quick end Hitler sought out to invade Britain which was codenamed Operation Sealion. For the operation to generate results, the Germans had to first secure the skies of the United Kingdom guarded by the Royal Air Force (RAF). Germany was banned from having an air force after the First World War but the Nazi government had reestablished it and was one of the most formidable air forces in the world. The RAF met the German side with the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire, some of the best fighter aircrafts in the world.
Unable to gain advantage over the RAF, the Germans shifted their focus to London. This would be a critical error from the German side despite causing the residents of London much devastation, as it gave the British defense time to recover. On September 15, the British side resisted another massive assault and caused severe loss to the Germans. Later, Hitler postponed Operation Sealion indefinitely. This victory was one of the most important for Britain and a proof that air power alone could be used to win a major battle.
3. Battle of Midway, June 1942
The Japanese side had planned to eliminate the United States’s position as a strategic power in the Pacific area by launching the Battle of Midway. At the start of the battle, the American side was outnumbered about 2 to 1. Between 4 and 7 June 1942, the Battle of Midway began with the US side commanded by Admirals Chester Nimitz, Frank Jack Fletcher, and Raymond A. Spruance and the Imperial Japanese Navy under Admirals Isoroku Yamamoto, Chuichi Nagumo, and Nobutake Kondo. Largely due to the developments in code breaking the US side was able to predict the date and location of attack giving them the upper hand.
The Japanese plan was a failure also due to faulty assumptions of the American reaction and poor initial dispositions. All of the four Japanese large aircrafts which were a part of the force that attacked Pear Harbor were sunk while the US only lost the carrier Yorktown and a destroyer. Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Americans earned a decisive victory over the Japanese gaining an offensive position for the Allies. The Battle of Midway has been called one of the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare by military historian John Keegan.
2. Battle of Normandy, June 1944 to August 1944
The Battle of Normandy was codenamed Operation Overlord. With Operation Overload the Allies side launched the largest amphibious invasion of Normandy to free the German occupied Western Europe during the Second World War. Commonly known as D-Day, the operation was launched on June 6, 1944 with the Normandy landings. About 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on the same day and over two million Allied troops reached France by the end of August. Special technology was developed to meet the conditions on the Normandy beachhead, including two artificial ports- Mulberry Harbors and series of specialized tanks named Hobart’s Funnies.
The Allies carried out substantial military deception, Operation Bodyguard, using electronic and visual misinformation tricking the Germans with the date and location of the main landings. The Allies did not attain their objectives for the first day but gained substantial momentum and captured the port at Cherbourg on June 26 and the city of Caen on July 21. Operation Dragoon was launched to invade Southern France followed by liberation of Paris on August 25. By August 30, 1944 the German forces had retreated across the Seine which marked the closing of the Operation Overlord.
1. Battle of Stalingrad, July 1942 to February 1943
Considered by many historians as the turning point of the Second World War, the Battle of Stalingrad was fought between July 1942 and February 1943. This battle bled the German army over Russian soil after which the German side began its full retreat and the war started favoring the Allies. Russians consider this battle to be the greatest of the Second World War also known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia. The battle was equally devastating with nearly 2 million in casualties combining the military and the civilians, one of the highest numbers in history.
The Sixth Army of the German side was not required to fight the battle. Army Groups A and B were on their way to the Caucasus in South West Russia to secure the oil fields there, when Hitler ordered the attack on the city. While it was unwise to leave a major city unconquered during an advance, some historians believe that it was Hitler’s hatred of the Russian Leader Stalin whose name was a part of the city’s identity. Likewise, for simple reasons of morale the Russian army could not afford the loss of the city.
These battles of the many others fought during the war were the most prominent and had lasting impact on the final outcome. These offensives and assaults bought in millions of casualties on both the military side and the civilians. Some battles were directly targeted towards cities like London, Stalingrad, Moscow and others. Led by Generals, Admirals and Commanders with tremendous strength on both the sides, each battle with its victories, mistakes and errors slowly paved the way for the final Allied victory in 1945.