World War II
|The Seeds of War - Events leading up to
Pearl Harbor - Japanese attack December 7, 1941
After Pearl - America goes to war
Operation Overlord - Landings in France June 6, 1944 here
History of the 82nd Engineers - Our Story here
European Campaign - An Overview here
|As we prepared the history of the
82nd for posting on this website, we turned on number of occasions to
the broader historical events of the war to verify or elaborate on
many aspect of
the battalion's story. If we needed these references in researching history, so might the reader.
We begin with the Seeds of World War II - a conflict years in the making, followed by the conditions and actions that prevailed after the Pearl Harbor attack. We have described Operation Overlord - the D-Day landings which initiated the broader military campaign in Europe.
Enter now, the 82nd Engineer Combat Battalion - the story of 700 men who, like thousands of others, contributed to victory and preservation of our great country. Finally, we have attempted to
describe the overall European Campaign, providing the reader with a broader view of the magnitude and historical significance of the conflict .
The Seeds of War
As World War 1 came to an end in 1918, the seeds of a second World War were already being sown! Benito Mussolini, an avowed an anti-communist, was founding a movement in Italy to be known as Fascism. Adolf Hitler, an Austrian, joined the Nazi Party in Germany. And, Japan's Military had embarked on an expansion movement intended to make Japan the dominant leader in Asia!
Benito Mussolini led the parade of dictators. In 1919 he launched his fascist movement; the"Italian Combat Fascists", forming paramilitary called "Arditi", which he used freely against his political enemies. Two years later, Mussolini joined with an existing paramilitary unit called "The National Coalition of Giolitti". Together, they garnered 35 government seats in the 1921 elections. In 1922, amid widespread unemployment and economic stagnation, Mussolini, with his Fascist Party members, marched into Rome demanding a leadership role in Italy's government. The king, wishing to avoid bloodshed, appointed Mussolini Prime Minister. As the 1924 elections approached, the Fascists had gained a substantial following and went on to capture 65% of the vote in the general elections. They used intimidation, violence and even murder to gain their victory. By 1925 Mussolini was a virtual dictator over all of Italy.Benito Mussolini was now known as the
Mussolini was an established ruler when he first met Adolph Hitler. He was less than impressed. In fact, he
tended to side with Britain & France during the early 1930s.That all changed In 1935 as he sent his armies on a
devastating expedition into Ethopia. After being condemned by Britain and France he looked elsewhere for
support and found it in Adolph Hitler. In 1936 Mussolini gave support to the Spanish rebels who were, at that
time, engaged in a war to overthrow Spain's Monarchy.
Elsewhere in Europe, during the 1920s, Adolf Hitler was the spearheading influence of the
NAZI Party (National Socialist German Workers Party). Hitler first joined the party in 1919. Although born in
Austria, he was now living in Barvaria. In 1923, reinforced with NAZI, paramilitary units, the Brown shirts, he attempted a takeover of the Barvarian government. The plot failed and Hitler spent nearly a year in prison. It was during this incarsuration that he wrote "Mein Kamfp" (my struggle). After his release, Hitler wasted no time in rejoining the
By 1925 Hitler had seized control of the party and the stage was set for his complete domination of all of
Germany. In the 1932 elections, Hitler challenged President Paul von Hinderburg for the presidency. Although
defeated, the Nazi's had captured 44% of the vote. Now, with a dominate role in the country's political system,
Hitler demanded that President Hinderburg appoint him Chancellor, a post akin to Prime Minister in other
systems. With Germany's economy in shambles, unemployment widespread, and a disenchanted younger gener-
ation, there was little opposition from the populace, since he promised to put everyone to work.
By 1934 Adolph Hitler was referred to as the Fuhrer (leader). His overriding theme was to remind Germans
of the heavy World War1 reparations being extracted by France and Great Britain. He preached German pride
and stressed the superiority of the Aryan race. At the same time he was denouncing Jews as the main cause of
all of Germany's problems. Although prohibited under the 1918 armistice, Hitler was quietly rebuilding Germany's armed forces. By 1936 it was no longer a secret that Germany had a formidable army and a growing air force.
The roundup and relocation of Jews made headlines around the world. There were outcries and condemnation
of this practice, but no one proposed to intercede. While it was known that concentration camps existed, few were aware that a major holocaust was unfolding. Then, as a warm up to his coming ambitions, Hitler used his air force to support the rebels in Spain.
Hitler's territorial march to glory began in 1938, when Austria was annexed to become part of the German State. He then demanded return of the Sudatenland and the Rhineland, strips of land lying along the Czech and French borders respectively. In 1939, Hitler signed a non- aggression pact with Joseph Stalin which cleared the way for Germany's invasion of Poland.
German forces unleashed a brutal attack on Poland on the first day of September,1939. Although France and
Great Britain retaliated by declaring war on Germany, military action that followed was limited to skirmishes
along the French German border..
On the other side of the GlobeJapan was creating a powerful military force of it's own. Al- though not completely trusting western countries, Japan had sided with the Allies during WW1. At the same time they were still smarting from the forced opening of their country to western influence in years past, and they now held to the belief that western countries were practicing racial bias against Japan In 1919 Japan filed a formal complaint with the United Nations to reverse this perceived bias. The complaint fell on deaf ears and
was rebuffed. Relations with the west were now declining rapidly.
Entering the 1920's, Japan's economy was in serious trouble . A devastating earthquake in 1923 added to their
decline and the depression of 1929 exacerbated the slide. In the normal course of events, a country experiencing
a troubled economy would concentrate all of it's effort to a recovery. Contrary to this logic, Japan's military was
expanding rapidly. Following victory in their war with Russia earlier in the century, part of which was fought in
the Chinese Province of Manchuria, Japan had established occupation forces in this northerly province and had, over time,gained almost complete control over the province.
In 1931 The Chinese government decided it had enough and began to challenge the Japanese presence. As a result Japan tightened it's grip and installed it's own puppet government in Manchuria. Then to strengthen their foothold in China, Japan began a series of vicious raids on cities all along the Chinese coastline.
Japan is a country with few natural resources, forcing it to import materials necessary to sustain its industrial-
ization program. Such resources were, however, available in countries along the Asian Pacific rim. Japan's grand
strategy was to seize control of vital materials, such as oil, rubber, coal and oil. By 1937 Japan's military was the
most powerful force in the pacific, and planning was underway to carryout their ambitions. During this time the
United States had been one of Japan's main suppliers of scrap steel and other materials necessary to sustain their
industrial base and military forces.
The seeds of war now clearly visible
Events of 1940 made it clear that a war, on a scale never seen before, could soon engulf the European Con- tinent. Hitler invaded Belgium, The Netherlands and ultimately marched into Paris. Germany continued it's aggression by sending troops to Sweden, Denmark, Finland and into the Balkan countries. Great Britain retaliated by sending troops to fight alongside France. On June 10, 1940 Mussolini joined with his NAZI partner and declared war on France and Great Britain. Italy would later invade Vichy, occupy part of Southern France and send it's armies into North Africa.
That same year Japan banned all political parties under the "National Mobilization Law." A virtual dictatorship
was now assured. Japan then extended its presence in other Asian countries and organized the "Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere", designed to to integrate Asia, both politically and economically, under Japanese rule. The United states meanwhile, one of the main suppliers of scrap steel, aviation fuel and a host of other necessary materials, protested Japan's aggression against it's neighbors, and halted all shipments..
In the meantime President Roosevelt was campaigning, for a third term, with a pledge "not to send American
Boys to fight in foreign wars" and at the same time asking congress for funds to build up the military to a level
of two million men. He followed up by seeking congressional approval to enter into lend-lease agreements for war materials with Great Britain and Russia.
The following year, Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Tripartie Pact, creating a unified bloc against the west.This alliance was characterized by the press as the" Axis Powers", a description that prevailed throughout the war.
As the events of 1940 unfolded, it was becoming clear to many that war might overtake the United States. Most Americans, however, still viewed the ongoing conflict as strictly a European event. While lamenting over the brutality of Japanese aggression against China and other southeast Asia countries, there was little concern that America would be involved
Meanwhile with only six months of fuel left, Japan needed the raw material, possessed by her neighbor, more
that ever. Her strategy was to move into Indo China and other Asian countries, not only to assure her sources of
raw materials but to complete domination of the Asian rim. There was a however a problem! The United States
Navy, based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, might interfere with their plans The Japanese military decided the problem
must be negated if they were to be successful. A preemptive attack to destroy the American fleet was set into
Although there was some opposition from within the military establishment, the Japanese Navy began prep- aration for an attack on the United States in January 1941. Perhaps the most detailed and accurate account of Japanese preparation and execution of the Pearl Harbor attack is contained in the book," At Dawn we Slept" by Gorden W. Prange. Every aspect of the attack was carefully planned and rehearsed throughout 1941. Their objective was to inflict a fatal blow, to destroy or cripple the U.S. Fleet's ability to interfere with Japan's further expansion. Once they had attained this objective, they expected to enter in peace talks.
By November everything was in readiness. The Japanese fleet, as it steamed out of Japanese ports on November 26, 1941, consisted of six aircraft carriers, 26 support craft and multiple squadrons of fighter aircraft. By 6 December the Japanese had covered 3,559 nautical miles and now lay undetected 274 miles northwest of Hawaii.
At 7:30 a.m. on December 7, 1941, without warning, Japanese planes swarmed over the American ships in
Pearl Harbor, and other military installations in Hawaii. The attack caused 3,581 casualties including 2,403
dead. On the Battleship "Arizona" alone,1,000 sailors perished as the big ship was hit repeatedly by Japanese
torpedo planes. The attack also virtually destroyed the army's air fleet and severely damaged ground install-
ations. The next day the United States Congress declared war on Japan. Four days later Germany and Italy,
in keeping with their agreement with Japan, declared war on the United States.
Thus as dawn broke on December 12, 1941, war was about to engulf most of the world!
Pearl Harbor was a wake-up call to most Americans. I recall clearly that typical Sunday afternoon when we
heard the radio bulletin telling us that the Japanese had attack military installations at Pearl Harbor. First it was
shock and, in the ensuing days, anger! Overriding all, was a sense of patriotism! I was just 18, and most con-
versations with my friends and school chums, was about our possible military service. The first draft call, in 1940,
went out to21-35 year old men. Now that we were at war, it would soon be our turn. Most of us at age 18 were
nearing graduation. For the time being, at least, we would follow the progress of the war in our newspapers and
Two major events were under way in the days following Pearl Harbor. First, on the far side of the world, the
Japanese were accelerating their campaign to take complete control of Southeast Asia. On December 8th Japanese troops captured Hong Cong and on the 10th, naval forces began the invasion of the Philippines and the island of Guam. Within days the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea also fell to Japanese forces. Although American submarines managed to sink several enemy ships during this time, the Japanese continued domination of the seas and by mid 1942 had occupied, or were in control, of vast areas of Southeast Asia.
Secondly, here at home military planners, from the President on down, were scrambling to organize for all out
war.The United States military was, only now, beginning to emerge from decades of downsizing. In early 1940,
all branches of the U.S. military only totaled about 200,000 men. They had few tanks and planes and were ex-
periencing a severe shortage of armaments. Concurrently The congress was determined to stay out of the European conflict and President Roosevelt was pledging “not to send American boys to fight in a foreign war”
During the early part of 1942 U.S. code breakers had been hard at work and were now reading Japanese trans-
missions. Midway was no longer a secret! The American fleet intercepted the Japanese carriers, turned back
the Midway landing, and heaped serious destruction to Japan’s naval forces. The Island was saved and the tide
of war in the pacific began to turn in favor of the U.S.
Although war with Japan, was the primary focus of military planners in early 1942, a strategy for engaging Germany and Italy was being formulated in the highest levels of allied governments. Much to the chagrin of General Douglas MacCarthur, supreme commander in the pacific, a decision was made to give first priority to winning the European war.
Already underway was the struggle, in North Africa between the British forces and General Edwin Rommel’s
Afrika Korps. This phase of the Atlantic side conflict began in September 1940, when Italy attacked British held
Egypt from their bases in Libya. In December of that year British troops went on the offensive, inflicting heavy
osses on Italian forces. Realizing the failure of the Italians to hold their own against the British, Hitler ordered
General Rommel and the Afrika Korps to join the fight against the British. Throughout 1941 and much of 1942.
The British slugged it out with Germany’s elite desert army.
The decision to initiate America’s entry into European the war by way of North Africa, was launched in mid
1942. On November 8, 1942, the United States landed troops in French North Africa at Oran and Cassablanca.
Defenders were French forces who, after surrender to Germany, placed their military forces at the disposal of the
Germans.This attack,the first amphibious landing by American forces, was successful. In succeeding days
American troops moved up the coast to support the British who had been fighting for months. By early 1943
North Africa was cleared of all German and Italian forces. Although the major objective was to help the British
clear Germans and Italians from bases on the Mediterranean coast, it can be assumed that planners also saw
these landings an opportunity to perfect amphibious landing techniques.
In July 1943 American and British army units launched a second amphibious assault on the Italian Island of
Sicily and on September 3rd invaded the Italian mainland. Although the Italian campaign would require many
more months of heavy fighting, the allies now had a firm foothold on the European Continent.It was time to prepare for a cross channel attack on Hitler’s fortress west wall along the coast of France.
Our story continues........
Overlord - here
History of the 82nd - here
European Campaign - here