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The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which claimed the lives of nearly 2,400 American servicemen, is remembered as one of the worst tragedies of World War II. Yet the "day that will live in infamy" (in President Roosevelt's words) also produced one of the greatest success stories of the war. With a large portion of the U.S. fleet sunk or damaged, the Navy raced to recover and repair what it could, and a massive salvage operation returned most of the damaged fleet to service in time to help defeat Japan.

Japan Strikes Pearl Harbor

The Japanese striking force began their first attack at 7:49 am on December 8, and by 8:12 am had destroyed the U.S. battleships Arizona and Oklahoma, sunk California and heavily damaged four other battleships. A second wave of Japanese aircraft inflicted additional damage, destroying West Virginia, Maryland and Tennessee, damaging Pennsylvania and causing Nevada to run aground. Eleven smaller ships were hit as well, and nearly 200 aircraft destroyed; casualties numbered more than 3,400, with 2,388 killed.

To the disappointment of the Japanese, the Pacific Fleet's three carriers were absent from Pearl Harbor, with Saratoga undergoing refitting and Lexington and Enterprise delivering aircraft to Wake and Midway islands. The striking force also withdrew before destroying the base's naval dockyards and oil storage tanks--a failure that would enable the Navy to carry out the salvage operation that would return most of the Pacific Fleet to service and alter the course of the war.

The Salvage Operation

In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, work at the Navy Yard continued around the clock, and by February 1942 no fewer than 10 ships and a floating drydock had been returned to service or deemed capable of sailing to the mainland for further repairs. Even the most damaged of these rejoined the U.S. fleet by mid-1942. Among the ships quickly returned to service were three battleships that would all see action in future engagements: Pennsylvania in the Aleutians, Gilbert Islands and Battle of Leyte Gulf; Maryland in landings at Okinawa; and Tennessee at Iwo Jima. Three repaired cruisers served in the Aleutians and at Guadalcanal, and two others were essential to the Allies' later "island-hopping" campaigns. In addition, the destroyers Cassin and Downes were stripped of their weapons, machinery and equipment, which were fitted to new hulls; these two ships would join the fleet by 1944.

To deal with the remaining seven sunken ships, the Navy Yard formed a special Salvage Division. Its staff worked for more than two years, logging 20,000 hours underwater over 5,000 dives in order to refloat five ships--three battleships, a target ship and a minelayer--and recover ammunition and equipment from the other two. Battleships California and West Virginia saw action in the Pacific, while Nevada supported the D-Day invasions of Normandy before returning to the Pacific Fleet and joining its fellow Pearl Harbor survivors at Okinawa.

Of the eight battleships hit at Pearl Harbor, all but the Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah were eventually repaired and returned to service. Oklahoma was righted and refloated, the Utah was partially righted and the Arizona had its equipment removed. The hulls of the last two ships remain in Pearl Harbor; the Arizona stands as a memorial to those who lost their lives there.

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On December 7, 1941 the battleship USS Arizona was attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. Photo Credit: Getty Images

After its sinking at Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona was converted to a memorial to its more than 1,100 dead. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Among the other ships heavily damaged in the Pearl Harbor attacks was the USS West Virginia. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Following the Japanese attacks, the USS West Virginia was raised from the sea at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. Photo Credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center

After more than a year of repairs, the USS West Virginia was returned to active duty and would serve with distinction for the rest of World War II. Photo Credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center

The battleship USS Tennessee suffered damage at Pearl Harbor, but returned to service in Guam and elsewhere. Photo Credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center

USS Honolulu, a cruiser repaired after Pearl Harbor, was vital to the U.S. Allied hopping campaign in World War II. Photo Credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center

The USS Nevada was the only U.S. battleship able to set sail during the Pearl Harbor attacks. Though she suffered significant damage, by 1943 she had returned to the fleet, and was part of the Normandy invasion. Photo Credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center


1942-45 Citizens Interned

The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 led to growing suspicions, motivated largely by racism and fear, about the loyalty of Japanese Americans. In February 1942, President Roosevelt signed an executive order authorizing the War Department to remove any individual or group from areas of the country deemed vulnerable to espionage or attack. Over the next year, some 120,000 Japanese Americans were uprooted from their homes and forced into internment camps located in the American West.

Suspicion of Foreigners

Almost immediately after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government classified all citizens of Japanese ancestry as 4-C, or "enemy aliens." After the United States entered the war, pressure increased to round up groups of these "aliens" and remove them from certain "exclusion zones," or territory considered vital to national defense. Executive Order 9066, which Roosevelt signed on February 19, 1942, allowed the U.S. Department of War to greatly expand the zones of exclusion and remove "any and all persons" from such areas.

In many Japanese-American communities on the West Coast, curfews were instituted and assets were frozen, effectively preventing many families from leaving these areas voluntarily. Soon, some 120,000 Japanese Americans were informed that the government would forcibly remove them from their communities to a series of relocation centers. Two-thirds of these had been born in the United States and were either Nisei (children of immigrants) or Sansei (grandchildren of immigrants). Issei (those born outside of the United States) accounted for the remaining one-third of the population.

Relocation and Internment

Many Japanese Americans were forced to simply abandon farms, businesses and other assets, obtaining only meager compensation from the government. The first stop for most internees was a temporary federal assembly center--often no more than a field, barn or large building hastily converted for detention purposes. Eventually, they were moved to one of 10 permanent camps in seven Western states constructed by the War Relocation Authority.

Surrounded by barbed wire and gun towers, the camps turned into virtual cities almost overnight. (The Gila River camp, established on a Native American reservation in Arizona, became that state's fourth largest city.) Harsh conditions prevailed in most of the camps due to overcrowding, frequent water shortages and sub-standard facilities that provided almost no privacy and little protection against extreme weather conditions, which included the heat and dust of the desert in some cases and the bitter cold of the mountains in others. Nonetheless, the detainees attempted to create a semblance of normalcy, opening schools and forming sporting leagues and entertainment centers.

Limited Options

In 1943, all internees were required to complete a questionnaire determining their "loyalty" or "disloyalty" to the U.S. government. Those who declared themselves loyal could enter a work-release program or join the U.S. military, which nearly 8,000 men opted to do. Those who rebelled were sent to the highest-security camp, at Tule Lake in California. In addition to the 10 relocation centers, the U.S government also set up high-security isolation centers for some of the Japanese and nearly 11,000 German and 3,000 Italian immigrants and citizens that they deemed dangerously subversive.

A public proclamation and Supreme Court ruling in December 1944 finally ended the mass imprisonment, and the last internment camp was closed until 1946, one year after World War II ended. It wasn't until decades later, however, that detainees began to receive any form of redress for their losses or for the forced internment. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided for $20,000 payments to each surviving detainee; an amendment to the act in 1992 included additional funding and a formal apology from the U.S. government. By 1996, more than 82,000 Japanese-American detainees had received this payment, at a total cost of over $1.6 billion.

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A woman lays flowers on a grave at Manzanar, one of the sites where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. California. Photo Credit: Corbis

Obelisk at Manzanar War Relocation Center. The obelisk marks the 6,000-acre Manzanar War Relocation Center which held nearly 10,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, between 1942 and 1945. Photo Credit: Corbis


Even before America's entry into World War II, the U.S. government made plans to ration goods considered essential to the war effort. Weeks after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed a bill expanding the powers of the Office of Price Adjustment (OPA) to set price controls and supply levels. One immediate need was for rubber, as Japanese occupation in the Far East had essentially cut America off from its rubber supply. From sugar to gasoline, rationing eventually affected every aspect of American life.

Food Rationing and the Rise of "Victory Gardens"

Beginning in May 1942, the OPA issued a series of four ration books to be used for a variety of purchases. Each household member, including children, received a book. Within two weeks of the first issuance, nearly 122,604,000 American had registered, or more than 91 percent of the entire U.S. population. The purchaser could not use the stamps themselves as payment, but was required to present them along with the payment to prove they were eligible to buy the items.

Rationing of food items began with sugar in May 1942; rationing of coffee and red meat followed by the end of that year. Butter, milk and eggs were never rationed but were still scarce in some places. With many farmers diverting their crops to the military, Americans were encouraged to plant fruits and vegetables of their own to compensate. From 1942 through 1945, Americans planted more than 30 million "victory gardens," as they were known, including 20 million in 1943 alone. Families built these gardens not just in backyards, but also on rooftops, public parks and empty lots. American farmers produced 10 million tons of food in 1943, while victory gardens produced an additional 8 million tons.

Rationing of Gasoline

In addition to a restriction on buying vehicles, gasoline was rationed throughout the war. A national speed limit of 35 mph, known as the "Victory Speed," was imposed and carpooling was strongly encouraged, as much to save rubber tires as gasoline. Most Americans received an "A" class ration sticker, which allowed them around four gallons of gas per week; those who needed more, such as workers driving carpools to factories, were given a "B" or "C" class sticker, allowing them more gasoline. Truckers received "T" stickers, and were allowed unlimited gasoline if they were delivering war materials. Lastly, defense workers, police and fire officials and political leaders received "X" stickers, allowing them unlimited gasoline.

Goods rationed in the United States during World War II also included kerosene and other fuel oils, shoes (especially rubber-soled) and typewriters. Most of the restrictions lasted until the end of the war, though the sugar limits remained in effect until 1947.

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Throughout World War II, Americans were encouraged to limit and conserve their consumption of dozens of items. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Beginning in 1942, the Office of Price Adjustment issued a series of four ration books to every American citizen. Photo Credit: Getty Images

In an effort to control rationing and prices, U.S. officials tried to prevent the sale of items on the black market. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Food was not the only item rationed. Nearly every type of material which could be used in the war was controlled. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

World War II carpooling was encouraged to save both gasoline and rubber for the war effort. Photo Credit: Getty Images

In order to lessen the demand for rationed items, Americans were encouraged to grow their own food during World War II. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

"Victory Gardens" sprung up not only in backyards, but in any available public spaces. Photo Credit: Getty Images

By 1945, Americans had created more than 30 million "Victory Gardens." Photo Credit: Getty Images


In June 1940, with World War II on in full force in Europe and Asia, the U.S. Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act by the slimmest of margins--one vote. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill into law that September 16, establishing the first peacetime draft in American history.

Requirements for Service

The Selective Training and Service Act required all men between the ages of 21 and 36 to register with their local draft boards; if selected, they were obligated to serve for one year, and no more than 900,000 men were to be in training at one time. The act also established the Selective Service as an independent agency responsible for identification and induction. Originally, the Service relied on a network of local boards that would make selections to fulfill quotas and handle appeals.

On October 16, 1940, the first day of registration, more than 16 million American men signed up. By mid-1941, the bill was amended to lengthen service, initially to 18 months and then to the length of the war plus six months. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that December, the bill was again amended, and all men between the ages 18 and 65 were required to register, though only those up to age 45 were considered for service. At the height of the draft more than 6,000 local boards and 500 appeal boards were involved in the induction process. By 1942, selection shifted away from a local quota to a draft lottery. Each man was required to report to a local draft board, where he was assigned a classification level and lottery number. In the later years of the war, the maximum age of eligibility was lowered, as fewer soldiers were needed.

Draft Resisters and "Conscientious Objectors"

There were numerous exemptions available under the Selective Service Act, including physical and mental "deficiencies." A few men with dependent families, or those who were deemed vital to the national interest elsewhere, were excused from service. For the first time, the Selective Service Act made provisions for "conscientious objection" to the war for religious or other reasons. Many of those claiming conscientious objection were either excused or assigned non-combat positions at home and overseas. More than 72,000 men registered as conscientious objectors, and nearly 52,000 were granted this status. Approximately 4 percent of all men drafted avoided service entirely, and more than 16,000 were imprisoned for draft evasion.

There were also protests against the draft, including several violent events where African Americans protested their induction into a segregated army. The leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, served time in federal prison from 1942 to 1946 for his role in inciting draft resistance. In addition to African-American inductees, tens of thousands of men from various ethnic groups were drafted and served.

By the end of World War II, more than 45 million men had registered with the Selective Service, and more than 10 million had been drafted, or approximately 66 percent of all U.S. Armed Forces. The Selective Service Act expired in 1947, but President Harry S. Truman successfully pushed for its extension on the grounds that the United States needed to maintain its peacetime army in order to uphold its commitments to global security. The last induction through the Selective Service system occurred in 1973, during the Vietnam War.

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1940-45 United States

During World War II, American women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers, as widespread male enlistment left gaping holes in the industrial labor force. Between 1940 and 1945, the female percentage of the U.S. workforce increased from 27 percent to nearly 37 percent, and by 1945 nearly one out of every four married women worked outside the home. An additional 350,000 women served in the U.S. Armed Forces, both at home and abroad.

"Rosie the Riveter"

While women worked in a variety of positions previously closed to them, the aviation industry saw the greatest increase in female workers. More than 310,000 women worked in the U.S. aircraft industry in 1943, representing 65 percent of the industry's total workforce (compared to just 1 percent in the pre-war years). The munitions industry also heavily recruited women workers, as represented by the U.S. government's "Rosie the Riveter" propaganda campaign. Based in small part on a real-life munitions worker, but primarily a fictitious character, the strong, bandanna-clad Rosie became one of the most successful recruitment tools in American history, and the most iconic image of working women during World War II.

In movies, newspapers, posters, photographs, articles and even a Norman Rockwell-painted Saturday Evening Post cover, the Rosie the Riveter campaign stressed the patriotic need for women to enter the work force--and they did, in huge numbers. Though women were crucial to the war effort, their pay continued to lag far behind their male counterparts: Female workers rarely earned more than 50 percent of male wages.

Women in the Armed Forces

In addition to factory work and other home front jobs, some 350,000 women joined the Armed Services, serving at home and abroad. At the urging of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and women's groups, and impressed by the British use of women in service, General George Marshall supported the idea of introducing a women's service branch into the Army. In May 1942, Congress instituted the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, later upgraded to the Women's Army Corps, which had full military status. Its members, known as WACs, worked in more than 200 non-combatant jobs stateside and in every theater of the war. By 1945, there were more than 100,000 WACs and 6,000 female officers. In the Navy, members of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) held the same status as naval reservists and provided support stateside. The Coast Guard and Marine Corps soon followed suit, though in smaller numbers.

One of the lesser-known roles women played in the war effort was provided by the Women's Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. These women, each of whom had already obtained their pilot's license prior to service, became the first women to fly American military aircraft. They ferried planes from factories to bases, transporting cargo and participating in simulation strafing and target missions, accumulating more than 60 million miles in flight distances and freeing thousands of male U.S. pilots for active duty in World War II. More than 1,000 WASPs served, and 38 of them lost their lives during the war. Considered civil service employees and without official military status, these fallen WASPs were granted no military honors or benefits, and it wasn't until 1977 that the WASPs received full military status.

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One of the most iconic images of World War II was "Rosie the Riveter," a public relations tool highlighting the role of women in the war effort. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Throughout World War II, U.S. women entered the work force in unprecedented numbers. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The aviation industry saw a dramatic increase in female workers during the war. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

African-American women found work in a variety of home-front industries. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

By the end of the war, nearly 25 percent of married women were employed outside the home. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

In addition to new industrial jobs, millions of women performed administrative duties related to the war. Photo Credit: Getty Images

More than 300,000 women joined the Armed Forces during World War II. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Women who joined the Women's Army Corps (WAC) served both stateside and overseas. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Women were recruited by the Navy to join the WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. Photo Credit: Getty Images


At the time World War II broke out in Europe, America's scientific community was fighting to catch up to German advances in the development of atomic power. Building on the groundbreaking work of scientists like Enrico Fermi--who would direct the first nuclear chain reaction in December 1942--the U.S. government authorized a top-secret program of nuclear testing and development, codenamed "The Manhattan Project." Its goal was the development of the world's first atomic bomb.

Background of the Project

In 1939, a group of American scientists--many of them refugees of fascist regimes in Europe--began advocating the development of ways to use nuclear fission for military purposes. The government provided limited funding in early 1940, and in late 1941 the Office of Scientific Research and Development, headed by scientist Vannavar Bush, took control of the project. After the U.S. entry into the war, the War Department took joint responsibility, and the Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with building the great quantity of necessary plants, laboratories and other research and testing facilities.

As much of the initial research had been performed at Columbia University in New York City, the engineering corps' Manhattan district initially managed the work, and the top-secret research became known by the code name Manhattan Project. More than 30 laboratories and sites and more than 130,000 people were eventually involved in different facets of nuclear research and development, with three primary locations--in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Richland, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico--that became virtual top-secret atomic cities.

Atomic Cities

Oak Ridge, located in the Tennessee Valley near the Norris Dam, met the project's considerable requirements for labor, water and power (provided by the government's Tennessee Valley Authority). More importantly, its isolated location would allow the installation to grow and operate in secrecy. From an initial settlement of 3,000, Oak Ridge's population grew to more than 75,000 by 1944. An entire community was created, with pre-fabricated housing, facilities and entertainment centers. The medium-sized reactor built at Oak Ridge produced uranium-235 and plutonium, both of which would be used as vital components in the atomic bomb. K-25 produced the majority of uranium used to build the "Little Boy" bomb that would be dropped over the Japanese city of Hiroshima in August 1945.

The second principal production plant, Hanford Engineer Works, was a series of laboratories, support facilities and factories built in 1943 on the Columbia River near Richland, Washington. Within a year, the world's first large-scale plutonium reactor was in service at Hanford, and by early 1945 shipments of enriched plutonium from the plant's three reactors were being sent to Los Alamos every five days. This material would be used in the first atomic bomb testing, as well as in "Fat Man," the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki.

Los Alamos & Trinity

The facility at Los Alamos served as the primary "think tank" of the Manhattan Project. Its engineers, led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, were responsible for the final construction, testing and delivery of the bombs. The residents of Los Alamos, which was officially known only as site or project "Y," lived highly restricted lives: Their mail was censored, their phone calls were monitored, and even their interaction with family members was tightly controlled. All mail, and even birth certificates for workers' children, listed the site's location solely as P.O. Box 1663, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

On July 16, 1945, Los Alamos scientists detonated the first atomic device at the Trinity test site at Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16, 1945. That August, in an attempt to force the unconditional surrender of Japan, President Truman approved the use of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He did so over the protests of many of the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project, who urged the president to consider the moral implications of releasing such a devastating weapon into the world.

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Every country involved in World War II used some form of propaganda to promote its own cause and attack that of its opponents. The U.S. government employed various mediums--including films, photographs, and advertisements--to get its pro-Allied, anti-Axis message across. Many of these featured racist and ethnic stereotypes of the enemy; others encouraged individual patriotic sacrifices to support the war effort. In 1942, the Office of War Information (OWI) began coordinating all official propaganda efforts.

The Power of Hollywood

On the home front, the Hollywood movie-making machine was called into action to provide films with a patriotic, pro-democratic message, or more often documentaries and newsreels focusing on the Axis threat and highlighting American successes. The Bureau of Motion Picture Affairs advised the studios on how their films could boost morale and influence American thinking on all facets of the war. Some tactics were subliminal: showing characters walking instead of driving (to reinforce the idea of rationing), for example. Others were more overt, such as featuring fictitious wounded soldiers in films in order to prepare the American public for the eventuality of actual wounded and dying GIs, or trying to put a positive spin on early defeats in the Pacific. A government Office of Censorship ensured that no film would show the United States in a negative light.

As the war continued, relatively light-hearted (if xenophobic) features like "The Devil with Hitler" (1942) gave way to far more serious films depicting the gravity of the war. Several Hollywood directors, such as George Stevens, served in the Army's Signal Corps, filming Allied efforts at D-Day and elsewhere. Other prominent directors worked directly for the government, producing documentary films like Frank Capra's series "Why We Fight," which chronicled the history of the conflict and stressed the need for American involvement as well as John Ford's "The Battle of Midway" (1942) and John Huston's "The Battle of San Pietro" (1944). Finally, Walt Disney and others produced cartoons featuring such popular characters as Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny alongside unflattering depictions of German, Japanese and Italian forces.

Advertising for America

Thousands of propaganda posters were created during the war, including a famous series based on the artist Norman Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" paintings. The posters served various purposes, from extolling American strength and righteousness to condemning the dangers of fascism to advising U.S. soldiers about how to be model GIs. They were also used to rally support on the home front, urging people to buy war bonds, follow rationing and support the government and troops. In 1942, the OWI created Voice of America, the official broadcast arm of the U.S. government. It aired radio programs with a pro-democracy message in more than 40 languages.

Overseas, the United States created and dropped over 8 billion paper leaflets over enemy territory, including more than 27 million on D-Day alone. Specially devised bombs were created which held as many as 80,000 leaflets; they automatically opened at 1,000 feet, showering the ground below. These leaflets, printed in various languages, aimed to present an image of American strength and get enemy soldiers to ponder the costliness of the war effort and the likelihood of defeat, and to consider surrender as an honorable alternative.

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U.S. propaganda posters encouraged work efforts on the home front to defeat the Axis powers. Photo Credit: Corbis

Fear of war secrets being leaked prompted the U.S. Office of War Information to warn soldiers of the dangers of espionage. Photo Credit: Corbis

Soldiers were warned not to divulge military secrets during World War II. Photo Credit: Corbis

Propaganda posters often used exaggerated racial stereotypes to negatively portray the Axis enemies. Photo Credit: Corbis

World War II was partially funded by the sale of war bonds, and all Americans were encouraged to support the war effort. Photo Credit: Corbis


By 1944, the United States began to look ahead to the end of World War II. The lives of millions of servicemen and women had been disrupted, and there was great concern about how to assimilate them back into civilian life. That year, Congress debated and passed the GI Bill of Rights, which would provide returning veterans with financial assistance for education, government guarantees on low-cost loans and overall improvements in care.

Learning from the Past

Following World War I, returning American servicemen had been treated with indifference, offered little in additional compensation or benefits upon their return. Congress had tried to amend this by issuing the Bonus Act of 1924, but most veterans would not receive this money for years. Frustration over the delay, fueled by the economic collapse of the Great Depression, led thousands of "Bonus Marchers" to descend on Washington in 1932. After a tense standoff, they were forced to leave by the U.S. military, which had the unpleasant duty of suppressing its own veterans.

Hoping to avoid a similar situation, and fearing a general post-war employment and housing crisis, Congress passed legislation in 1944 that would provide returning veterans with benefits for education and training as well as loan guarantees for homes, farms or businesses and fair pay for unemployment. On June 22, 1944, President Roosevelt signed the GI Bill of Rights, formally known as the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, into law. The initial program lasted until 1952, but has been modified and adjusted to provide benefits to veterans of later military conflicts.

Effects of the GI Bill

The Veterans Administration (or VA) was responsible for carrying out the main provisions of the GI Bill. In the area of education, the VA would directly reimburse colleges, schools or training program for tuition and supplies, and provide each student with a monthly living stipend. The length of the benefit plan depended solely on the veteran's length of military service (they had to have served a minimum of 90 days), but could extend to 48 months. The benefits were not determined by military rank, financial need, previous educational experience or race, leveling the playing field for all. By 1956, 7.8 million veterans had participated in an education or training program.

The VA also administered GI Bill Loans, the second large component of the program. The government would guarantee a portion of the loan (usually up to 50 percent), and in return the lenders would set low interest rates of around 4 percent. The government guarantees encouraged developers and bankers to allow millions of veterans to purchase land, homes and businesses, often with little or no deposit. These loans enabled many families to leave overcrowded urban areas and greatly contributed to the growth of suburban America.

Finally, the GI Bill included unemployment benefits for veterans: $20 a week for 52 weeks. This became known as the "52-20" club. Very few veterans took advantage of this program, however, and only 20 percent of its funding was ever used.

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Harry Belafonte: After serving in the US Navy, Belafonte returned to New York and enrolled in the theatre department of the New School for Social Research at the age of 19, going on to successful career as an actor, singer and Civil Rights activist. Photo Credit: Corbis

Johnny Carson: Before entering show business, Carson attended the University of Nebraska on the GI Bill after his service in the U.S. Navy. Photo Credit: Corbis

Bob Dole: After receiving two Purple Hearts and a Bronze star for WWII bravery, Dole attended college on the GI Bill. His education enabled him to pursue a political career in Congress and as a Presidential candidate. Photo Credit: Corbis

Gene Hackman: Hackman quit school, lied about his age and joined the Marines at the age of 16. After serving in the Pacific, he attended the University of Illinois on the GI Bill. Photo Credit: Corbis

Joseph Heller: After flying more than 60 combat missions as a bombardier in Europe, Heller returned home and attended several schools via the GI Bill. His 1961 novel ÒCatch-22Ó was based on his war-time experience. Photo Credit: Corbis

William H. Rehnquist: Long before his tenure as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Rehnquist served in the Armed Services, then attended Stanford and Harvard on the GI Bill. Photo Credit: Corbis


In early 1942, the German navy launched a series of U-boat raids on America's Eastern Seaboard. For more than six months, U-boats hovered along the East Coast, posing a serious menace to U.S. merchant shipping. The Germans referred to this period as the "Second Happy Time," after their run of successes against Allied shipping earlier in the war. They would lose fewer than two dozen U-boats during this period, while sinking nearly 400 Allied ships and killing some 2,000 crew members and Merchant Marines.

Warnings from the British

The long-running Battle of the Atlantic had begun on the first day of the war in September 1939, when German submarines or Unterseeboots (U-boats) sank the British passenger liner Athena. Though heavy losses sustained by the Allies in the North Atlantic in 1940-41 (during the first "Happy Time") had shown the danger of ships sailing individually or without escorts, the U.S. command ignored British recommendations that they group their ships into convoys, believing that more ships would simply provide more targets. The U.S. Navy was also undersupplied, with few effective anti-submarine vessels, having already sent a number of ships to the British under the lend-lease program.

The U.S. also gave little credence to British reports of increased U-boat presence heading towards their eastern coast. The British had suggested coastal black-outs or brown-outs near major cities, to limit the nighttime exposure of U.S. ships; this was not fully implemented. As a result, the U.S. command guarding the east coast was forced to rely on obsolete equipment and an outdated strategy.

"Operation Drumbeat"

Admiral Karl Donitz, Germany's leading U-boat strategist, had originally requested a dozen long-range U-boats for his operation against the U.S. coast, codenamed "Operation Drumbeat." He received only five, but even with this limited number he was able to inflict a great amount of damage in the first wave of raids, which began on January 13, 1942. Within weeks, U-boat attacks accounted for nearly 157,000 tons of U.S. shipping losses. Donitz was soon given additional shorter-range boats, which were refueled in the Atlantic by German "milk-boats." Though no troop transports were lots, Germany was able to sink U.S. supply and merchant ships along the length of the East Coast and as far south as the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

Though the U.S. government tried to keep these attacks secret, some of them occurred close enough to the coast to be clearly visible to those on shore. German successes continued unchecked until early summer, when the United States began linking ships in convoy and received anti-submarine vessels from Britain. Almost immediately, the Allies sank their first U-boat of the campaign, and continuing successes would force Donitz to begin removing his fleet in late summer 1942. Intermittent attacks continued into 1943, however, and U-boats remained in surveillance mode off the East Coast throughout the war. All in all, German U-boats sank nearly 400 Allied ships during the "Second Happy Time," with an estimated loss of 2 million tons of cargo, supplies and ship tonnage.

In September 2009, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered the wreckage of a U.S. Navy patroller, YP-389, that had been sunk by a U-boat on June 19, 1942, at the loss of six American lives. The ship was located 20 miles off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in the so-called "Graveyard of the Atlantic," the watery resting place of numerous Allied and German vessels lost in World War II.

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In 1939, in an attempt to maintain U.S. neutrality while aiding the Allies, Congress passed legislation allowing the purchase of American war materials with cash. By 1941, Britain could no longer afford these cash-and-carry payments, but warned it could collapse without such goods. That year, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act, giving the president the authority to "sell…lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of…any defense article" to any nation whose defense he considered critical to that of the United States.

From Cash-and-Carry to Lend-Lease

When U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt committed his government to aiding the enemies of fascism in mid-1940, he had to do so under the existing legislation, which limited such sales to payments in cash (usually in gold). After British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warned Roosevelt of his country's dwindling resources, Roosevelt proposed the concept of lend-lease. The Lend-Lease Act, passed in March 1941, maintained a cover of U.S. neutrality by claiming that loans were made in the interest of national defense; goods not destroyed or lost in battle were to be returned, or paid for.

The act stated that the United States could accept repayment "in kind or property, or any other direct or indirect benefit which the President deems satisfactory." An initial form of repayment (primarily from the British) was in the form of rent-free leases on air force and military bases. Aid was eventually extended to China, the Soviet Union and more than 30 additional countries, including France, Mexico, Brazil, Iraq and several African nations.

Effects of the Lend-Lease Act

The lend-lease program allowed the United States to provide its allies with aid in the form of tanks, planes, ammunition and construction supplies such as aluminum and telephone wires. Basic supplies--which the Allied nations had ceased production of--were also shipped, including food rations, boots, clothing and even a shipment of cigars sent to the Soviet Union. These supplies were vital to maintaining the Allied war effort until the America entered the war, and was fully deployed.

Supplies continued to be sent even after the U.S. entered the war. Lend-lease accounted for nearly a quarter of all British munitions in use in 1943, almost 20 percent of all Soviet military aircraft and nearly two-thirds of all trucks in use after 1944. Shipments were made to Europe via the Atlantic Convoy, and to the Soviet Union along the Alaska-Siberia Air Route or by ship to Vladivostok and then along the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

The lend-lease program ended in 1945, and repayment terms were worked out with Allied nations. Britain eventually negotiated a loan of nearly $586 million dollars ($5.3 billion), a fraction of its original debt, with a 2 percent interest rate and annual payments. The final installment of the British Lend-Lease loan was paid in December 2006. Negotiations with the Soviet Union continued, and partial repayment was made prior to its collapse in 1991, with hundreds of millions of dollars still outstanding.

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Europe & Africa


Dubbed "Operation Overlord," the Allied invasion of Western Europe that began on D-Day (June 6, 1944), was the largest amphibious assault in history, with more than 150,000 troops and 5,000 vehicles landing along a 50-mile stretch of the northern French coast. Though the Allied attack took the combined effort of many, it would have been impossible to achieve if not for the ingenuity of one Louisiana ship builder and the craft he originally created for use in the shallow waters of the Mississippi Delta.

Building a Better Boat

The U.S. Navy and Marines had long been attempting to develop multi-use landing crafts capable of delivering men and supplies during amphibious landings. In the years before World War II, many prototypes were abandoned. Some could easily breach a beachhead, but had to be towed by other vessels. Others were fast and powerful, but unable to negotiate shallow waters and beaches. As war approached, the Marines turned to Andrew Higgins, a private shipbuilder from New Orleans, who had previously submitted ship plans for consideration.

Higgins' prototype for a barge-like boat, dubbed the Eureka, had a solid hull that limited damage and a recessed propeller that prevented debris from clogging its advance. It was able to travel through water with depths as shallow as 18 inches. The bowed front enabled it to easily slide on shore and--more importantly--to reverse direction and leave shore, preventing bottlenecking and grounding of ships, which would limit a second wave of advance. The boat could carry 36 troops, or a standard-issue Army Jeep along with a dozen soldiers.

Perfecting the Design of the Higgins Boat

One drawback of the design was that troops were forced to disembark the boat over the front or sides, a time-consuming process that was dangerous under enemy fire. In May 1941, Higgins was shown photographs of a Japanese vessel with a forward-lowering ramp on its front, allowing for easier removal of troops. Higgins returned to Louisiana and adapted this feature to his Eureka prototype. The bow of the new boat, known as a LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) or simply a Higgins boat, lowered to a full-width ramp, allowing troops and supplies to disembark directly onto the beachhead and not into water, limiting their exposure to enemy fire. After several test runs, the Navy selected the Higgins boat for mass production.

On D-Day, thousands of Higgins boats allowed the Allies to make a largely successful landing on the beaches of Normandy, sustaining far fewer losses than anticipated--with the exception of Omaha Beach, where they met with heavy German resistance--and establishing a solid presence on French soil. As Allied commander Dwight D. Eisenhower later noted, "Andrew the man who won the war for us....If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different."

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On June 6, 1944 more than 175,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches at Normandy. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The D-Day invasion stretched across more than 50 miles of the French coastline. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The movement of large amounts of men and troops was instrumental to the D-Day invasion. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Higgins boat was capable of carrying both troops and vehicles, and was prized for allowing soldiers to quickly disembark. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Higgins Industries in Louisiana produced more than 20,000 LCVP boats during World War II. Photo Credit: Library of Congress


After World War I, German engineers began development on a series of fast-moving, armored vehicles that would allow for quick assaults over varied terrain. Beginning in 1926, they produced a series of armored tanks known as the Panzerkampfwagen. One of the most successful was the Panzer IV, which saw action in various theaters during World War II and was a major weapon in the North Africa campaign led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel from 1941 to 1943.

Building a Better Panzer

While the Panzer III and beginning model Panzer IVs were durable, sturdy tanks, they lacked the firepower to halt most Allied tanks. By May 1942, the Germans began to introduce a new variation of the Panzer IV, which almost immediately made an impact on the battlefield. The most important improvement of this later IV model was the addition of a 43- or 48-inch long 7.5cm main gun, capable of piercing Allied armor almost a mile away. The Panzer IV also had thicker frontal armor than earlier versions, and better cross-country mobility. From the outset, the long-gunned Panzer IV "special" was highly feared by Allied forces, who referred to it as the "Mark" IV.

On June 10, 1940, Italy had declared war on Britain and France; that September, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini ordered an invasion of British-held Egypt. Hoping to open up a second front in the war and prevent the Axis from cutting off oil supply lines in the Middle East, the Allies had launched a counterattack against Italian forces in Egypt in late 1940. Though initially outnumbered, they were able to push the Italians back, forcing Hitler to deploy the German Afrika Korps in support.

Rommel, who would earn the nickname "Desert Fox" for his strategy and daring over the course of the campaign, assumed command of the Afrika Korps in February 1941. Though originally ordered to hold the defensive line, Rommel began a series of attacks that pushed the Allied troops back. The 5th and 8th Panzer Regiments initially had only the short-gunned Panzer IVs, along with Panzer IIIs and dangerous 88-mm anti-tank guns. The first long-gunned Panzer IV "specials" arrived in May 1942, in time to take part in Rommel's last successful advance east into Egypt.

The Panzer IV "Special" in North Africa

Though their performance proved them to be technically superior to most Allied vehicles, the new Panzer IVs were not deployed in large enough numbers to turn the tide of battle for the Axis in North Africa. Though more than 9,000 long-gunned Panzer IVs were eventually produced during the war, Rommel received fewer than 200 during the entire North Africa campaign, as the German high command became increasingly focused on the invasion of the Soviet Union. As the two sides lost and gained ground across the desert throughout the next year, the Allies were able to fully supply and support their forces, while Rommel suffered from weakened supply lines and limited material, eventually wearing down his strength.

In October 1942, the Allied Eight Army under Bernard Montgomery broke through German lines at El Alamein, Egypt. For the next six months, Montgomery pursued Rommel and the Afrika Korps in their retreat across North Africa. Though Rommel managed to secure victories against the newly entered American forces, the campaign would ultimately end with the German army's surrender in Tunisia on May 13, 1943, paving the way for the Allied invasion of Sicily and later Italy.

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The Panzer III tank was one of Germany's primary weapons in North Africa. Photo Caption: Getty Images

Technological advances to the German Panzer IV tank included a 43-inch-long main gun. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Thousands of German and Italian POWs were captured during the North African campaign. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Following the U.S. Army's arrival in North Africa, Gen. George Patton surveyed the scene. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Allied forces in North Africa benefited from stable supply lines and weaponry. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Allied victory in North Africa paved the way for the later invasions of Sicily and Italy. Photo Credit Getty Images


Beginning in 1936, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's desire for Lebensraum (or "living space") for the German race to expand guided a series of aggressive foreign policy actions that would lead to the outbreak of world war. After moving troops into the demilitarized Rhineland, Hitler went further, annexing Austria and pressuring Britain to yield to his territorial demands in Czechoslovakia. His invasion of Poland in September 1939 led both France and Britain to declare war on Germany, setting the stage for World War II.

The Need for Lebensraum

In the first volume of "Mein Kampf," written in 1924, Hitler established the twin goals that would motivate both his foreign and domestic policy once he took power. The first, based on his racist ideology and hatred of Jews, extolled the superiority of the "Aryan" master race in Germany; it would reach its horrific fulfillment in the death camps of the Holocaust. The second goal was the pursuit of sufficient territory for the German master race to expand. For Hitler, this Lebensraum lay in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, home to various Slavic peoples and Marxists (other targets of Hitler's derision and hatred).

Before expansion was possible, Germany had to break free from the restrictions imposed on it after World War I by the Treaty of Versailles. Almost from the moment he took power, Hitler worked steadily to repudiate the treaty--withdrawing from the League of Nations in 1933, introducing conscription in 1935--while claiming that he wanted only peace and had limited ambitions for Germany. On March 7, 1936, Hitler overrode the council of his generals and sent troops into the western German territory of the Rhineland. Occupied by Allied forces since 1920, the zone had served as a buffer between Germany and France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The Germans faced little opposition and were welcomed by many ethnic Germans in the area, and most of the international community ignored this relatively peaceful action.

From Anschluss to Czechoslovakia

In March 1938, after reaching an alliance with Fascist Italy, Hitler made his next move. Knowing that many German-speaking citizens in Austria favored political union with Germany, Hitler began pressuring Austrian leaders to install Nazis in key government posts. When they refused, he instructed Austrian Nazi leaders to declare a provisional government and request Germany military intervention, then used this as a pretext for an invasion. On March 13, Hitler declared Anschluss, or the formal annexation of Austria. A referendum on the issue, which the Nazis tightly controlled, was held a month later, and 99.7 percent of the Austrians voted in favor of political union with Germany.

Just a few months later, Hitler was again eyeing territory, demanding the formal annexation of the German-speaking Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Unlike his previous actions, this plan met with resistance from the international community. In September 1938, Hitler met with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and others in Munich to discuss a solution to the crisis. Fearing a larger showdown if Hitler was denied, Chamberlain and the others agreed to his demands for Sudetenland and accepted his claim that they were his last territorial ambitions in Europe. Many believed that the British had betrayed the Czechs, and that the "appeasement" strategy would never satisfy Hitler. Less than six months later, these doubters would be proven correct when the German army seized the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Poland and the Outbreak of War

In the summer of 1939, the growing European crisis came to a head as Hitler increased his demands for access to Danzig, part of the German-speaking enclave of East Prussia, which had been taken from Germany after World War I. Poland refused, and France and Britain--having finally been pushed too far--issued a joint declaration guaranteeing the independence of Poland. Hitler then entered into a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, by which the two agreed to divide the nation between them. When Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, France and Britain immediately declared war on Germany. World War II had begun.

By the summer of 1940, the German army had greatly expanded Hitler's empire in Europe, attacking Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Britain and conquering all but the British. Hitler, meanwhile, would build on his pursuit of Lebensraum, announcing plans for a "New Order" that would extend Nazi power throughout the world. By 1942, he had made secret agreements with Japan to divide Asia, invaded the Soviet Union and even developed plans for German colonial domination in Africa and South America. These ambitious plans would end in failure, however: By 1943, the Soviets had checked his advance eastward and the United States had entered the war, turning the tide against the Axis in Europe and the Pacific.

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On October 1, 1938 Germany occupied the Sudetenland, along the Czechoslovakian border. Many of the area's ethnically German residents celebrated the Nazi arrival. Photo Credit: Getty Images

As the German invasion of Poland began on September 1, 1939, hundreds of thousands refugees attempted to flee the Nazi onslaught. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Much of Warsaw was destroyed during the German bombing of Poland in September 1939. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Following the German invasion, hundreds of thousands of Poland's Jews were forced into ghettos, like this one in Warsaw. Photo Credit: Getty Images

By 1943, most of Poland's ghettos had been liquidated, and nearly all of the country's Jews had been sent to German concentration camps. Photo Credit: Getty Images

More than 400,000 people were forced into the Warsaw Ghetto, where food rations were scare and conditions harsh. Photo Credit: Getty Images

In May 1940 the Nazis launched their Blitzkrieg assault on the Low Countries of Europe. The Dutch city of Rotterdam quickly surrendered after heavy German bombings. Photo Credit: Getty Images

By May 14, 1940 Nazi troops had captured the Netherlands, including Rotterdam. Photo Credit: Getty Images

After overrunning French defenses, the Germans captured Paris in June 1940. Photo Credit: Getty Images


In 1933, Jews in Germany numbered some 523,000, or less than 1 percent of the total population. Over the next six years, Nazi persecution forced nearly 300,000 to flee their homeland. These Jewish refugees included more than 9,000 children evacuated to Britain through the Kindertransport program of 1938-40 and 937 passengers aboard the SS St. Louis, a German passenger ship that landed in Cuba in May 1939.

Nazi Policies of Forced Emigration

After Adolf Hitler's National Socialist (Nazi) party rose to power in Germany in 1933, Jews were increasingly subject to legal repression, deprivation of property, violence and other measures designed to force large-scale emigration. Fearing a huge influx of refugees, many European countries limited their immigration quotas, or in some cases closed their doors entirely. Their options dwindling, German Jews turned to unlikely places of refuge: More than 18,000 would find a home in Japanese-occupied Shanghai, and several South American nations saw their Jewish population more than double.

Spurred by the appeals of relief organizations after the violence of the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) pogroms in late 1938, the British government agreed to temporarily allow the immigration of children under the age of 17 from Germany and its annexed territories (including Austria and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia). Over the next 16 months, more than 9,000 refugees would be evacuated through the Kindertransport (Children's Transport). Priority was given to those whose parents were already in concentration camps, orphans and the destitute. The children were forced to travel without parents or guardians, with babies often left in the care of children who were just slightly older. Refugees were placed with foster families or housed in schools or farms; private sponsors had to provide all costs involved. After the war, many of the children remained in Britain or emigrated elsewhere. Few were ever reunited with their parents, many of whom died in the Holocaust.

The Long Voyage of the St. Louis

In May 1939, the SS St. Louis sailed from Hamburg to Havana, Cuba. All but one of its 938 passengers were Jewish refugees from Germany and elsewhere in Europe, many of whom hoped to obtain visas to enter the United States. The much-publicized voyage of the St. Louis aroused passionate opposition among many Cubans and Americans, who feared that refugees would compete for the scarce jobs available in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Antisemitism and xenophobia ran rampant by the time the ship arrived in Havana, and the Cuban government ended up admitting only 28 passengers (all with valid U.S. visas or other entry documents), refusing to allow the other passengers to disembark.

The refugees appealed to the United States for immediate asylum, but due to restrictive U.S. immigration quotas, their request was denied. The St. Louis eventually returned to Europe, where Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands agreed to admit them. Sadly, more than 500 of the ship's passengers were later trapped by the Nazi invasion of Western Europe; 254 of them would die in the Holocaust.

An Overview of the Holocaust

America's Response to the Holocaust


By the late summer of 1940, Germany seemed to have the British Royal Air Force on the ropes in the Battle of Britain, and German leader Adolf Hitler launched an aerial assault that he hoped would inflict a crushing blow to British morale and force the country to surrender. Newly elected Prime Minister Winston Churchill proved to be a vital source of strength and inspiration for the British people during this period of devastation, helping his country emerge from the "Blitz" battered but not broken.

Britain Under Fire

In July 1940, Germany launched the Battle of Britain, designed to defeat the British air force in advance of a large-scale invasion. For more than two months, Luftwaffe (German Air Force) and Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots battled over the English skies. The Germans repeatedly changed tactics, bombing first convoy ships and coastal defenses, then British radar installations and airfields. Throughout the earlier stages of the battle, Hitler had expressly ordered that London and other urban centers not be targeted, hoping he could still bring Churchill to the bargaining table. On August 23 and 24, however, Luftwaffe pilots accidentally bombed the outskirts of London. The following night, the British launched a retaliatory attack on Berlin, killing several German civilians. Furious, Hitler reversed his position, ordering the bombing of several British cities, including London.

On September 7, German bombing raids targeted the East End and the Port of London. Luftwaffe planes bombed the city for the next 57 consecutive nights, killing more than 40,000 British civilians and leaving more than one out of every six Londoners homeless. Terrified Britons dubbed the intensive raids "the Blitz," from the German word Blitzkrieg (literally "lightning war"). Despite pre-war warnings of potentially lethal bombing attacks, London and many other cities were woefully unprepared to provide shelter. The British government encouraged residents to construct their own backyard shelters, but hundreds of thousands were still forced to flee their homes, and many Londoners took to the underground subway tunnels for protection. In addition to the capital, raids were launched on Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester, and the cities of Hull and Coventry were almost completely destroyed by German attacks.

A Much-Needed Voice of Calm

A calming voice throughout the Blitz was Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had entered office just two months before the Battle of Britain began. As France fell, and the British suffered a demoralizing defeat at Dunkirk, Churchill addressed Parliament and the British people in a series of speeches. He warned of the imminent threat of Nazi attacks, but declared that the nation would defend itself at any cost and "never surrender." In June 1940, Churchill again rallied the nation for the ensuing battle, noting that a British victory meant the victory of freedom, while British failure would likely result in the defeat of a free world.

Once the Battle of Britain had begun, Churchill visited air defense stations, bombing sites and hospitals and lifted the morale of an entire nation. During the Blitz, Londoners inspired by Churchill's words and actions rallied to their city's defense. Those not already in military service became Home Guards, air raid wardens or volunteers for the fire department. By December 1940, the initial phases of the Battle of Britain had ended, though Germany continued bombing Britain's larger cities through the following May. The RAF, no longer forced to defend innumerable airfields and defenses, was able to throw all of its firepower at the Luftwaffe, downing Germany's bombers faster than new ones could be supplied. By the spring of 1941, Hitler had abandoned plans for an invasion of England and had shifted his focus to the Eastern Front.

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On July 10, 1940 the Germans launched the Battle of Britain, with the aim of forcing an English surrender. The Luftwaffe began its attack by hitting British convoys and coastal defenses along the English Channel. Photo Credit: Getty Images

In September 1940 the Germans switched tactics in the Battle of Britain and began bombing raids on major English cities, including London. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Beginning on September 7, London would be bombed for 57 consecutive nights during the start of the infamous â"Blitz." Photo Credit: Getty Images

Prime Minister Winston Churchill's speeches and radio addresses bolstered British resolve during the Battle of Britain. Photo Credit: Getty Images

More than 1 million buildings were damaged during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Royal Air Force pilots bravely fought the German Luftwaffe. Winston Churchill would later praise their valor, saying â "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few." Photo Credit: Getty Images

Approximately one in six Londoners were left homeless by the London "Blitz." Photo Credit: Getty Images

Iconic London locations including Trafalgar Square were bombed by Luftwaffe aircraft throughout World War II. Photo Credit: Corbis

More than 40,000 civilians lost their lives in the Battle of Britain. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The final major bombing raid of the London Blitz came on May 10, 1941, though Germany would continue small scale attacks throughout the war. Photo Credit: Getty Images


In February 1945, the leaders of the three leading Allied powers--the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union--met in Yalta, on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine. Among the issues on the agenda were the future occupation of defeated Germany, the fate of Poland and other countries liberated from Nazi rule and the continued war in the Pacific. The controversial agreements made at the Yalta Conference set the stage for the rise of communism in Eastern Europe and the dawn of the Cold War.

The Future of Germany

Earlier in the war, Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain and President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States had discussed various ways to partition post-war Germany: Churchill favored a three-state solution, while Roosevelt proposed that the country be divided into multiple new nations. By the time of the Yalta Conference, however, the Big Three powers had decided that the country should instead be divided into several zones, to be occupied and reconstructed by the victorious Allies.

At the insistence of Premier Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union, France had been left out of German post-war governance. Stalin eventually agreed to France's involvement, provided French territory came out of the U.S. and British zones. Berlin, then under Soviet control, was to be administered by all four countries--a decision that would create some of the Cold War's biggest conflicts. In addition, the Big Three decided that Nazi war criminals would be tried before an international court, which would lead to the Nuremberg Trials.

The Fate of Poland & Eastern Europe

One of the most pressing issues discussed at the Yalta Conference was the fate of Poland. Roosevelt, and especially Churchill, pushed for a freely elected democratic government, while Stalin backed a communist-led committee already installed in the Polish city of Lublin. With Soviet troops occupying much of Eastern Europe, Stalin had the upper hand in the negotiations. Bent on getting Soviet assistance against Japan in Manchuria and the Pacific, Roosevelt and Churchill accepted Stalin's pledge to open the Lublin government to non-communist political parties and hold free elections in the wake of a German defeat. Stalin also refused to return Poland to its pre-war borders, retaining control over eastern lands that the Red Army had occupied. In exchange, Poland would receive territory to its west, which had been seized from the defeated Germans.

In the United States, the initial public reaction to the Yalta Conference was celebration, and the expectation of continued U.S.-Soviet collaboration in the post-war era. As it turned out, however, Stalin quickly reneged on his promises, repressing political opposition in Poland and refusing to hold elections. Communist governments were eventually established in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. When the agreements made at Yalta were made public in 1946, Churchill and Roosevelt (who died in April 1945) were heavily criticized for abandoning Poland, which had fought alongside the Allies since the war began, and for accepting Stalin's empty promises regarding Eastern Europe.

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Leaders at the Yalta Conference: Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Photo Credit: Corbis

Visitors attend the opening of Winston Churchill's study at Levadia Palace in Yalta. Photo Credit: Corbis


After being overrun by Germany in World War I, French military strategists focused on the need for a secure line of defense along the French-German border, designed to stop any German invasion. In 1930, work began on the vast network of fortifications that would become known as the Maginot Line. During World War II, the Maginot Line provided a solid defense along much of France's eastern border, but had glaring deficiencies that the Germans would effectively exploit.

Advantages of the Maginot Line

The state-of-the-art Maginot Line was named for Andre Maginot, its principal creator and France's minister of war from 1929 to 1931. It took nearly 10 years to construct, and consisted of a series of large ouvrages, or forts, made of reinforced steel and designed to withstand almost any type of artillery fire. Located nine miles apart, each housed some 1,000 soldiers. Between the ouvrages lay series of smaller, less heavily defended forts big enough for 200-500 soldiers. In addition, hundreds of gun turrets and large casements and miles of anti-tank guns and ditches were spread along the line.

The Maginot Line provided adequate housing for hundreds of thousands of men, eliminating the squalid conditions faced in the trenches of World War I. Radio and telephone wires were installed in all bases, while underground tunnels and a specially designed railroad track connected each link to the next, allowing for the quick movement of men and supplies as needed. In addition the line boasted recreational facilities, supply storehouses and living quarters far superior to any previous fortification. Foreign dignitaries made the celebrated Maginot Line a required visit, while French propaganda about the line's invincibility lulled the nation into a false sense of security.

The Ultimate Failure of the Line

Some French military leaders, however, thought the defensive mentality of the Maginot was outdated. They urged the government to build up its armed forces and develop and produce modern, more effective weapons. Others thought that groups of smaller, heavily defended outposts would serve France better than a long, moderately defended line. These detractors were ultimately proved right, as Germany was able to exploit the weaknesses of the Maginot Line and break down France's defenses with relative ease.

When war broke out in 1939, French military command believed that the strength of the Maginot Line on their eastern border would deter a German assault and force Germany to attack neutral Belgium instead. Anticipating this, the French positioned the bulk of their troops to the north, leaving the line along the Belgian border to the English Channel relatively lightly defended. The French also believed that the dense Ardennes Forest to the north of its main fortresses provided a natural line of defense, so they positioned fewer forces and supplies in this area.

Ultimately, however, German leader Adolf Hitler split his army in two parts. On May 10, 1940, he sent some troops to Belgium, mostly to act as a smoke screen for his real plans. He then sent 1 million men and 1,500 tanks through the lightly guarded, supposedly impenetrable Ardennes. Once these troops had entered France, they met up with the smaller group near Belgium, effectively cutting off the Maginot Line and the men defending it from the rest of the French army. Meanwhile, the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) essentially ignored the line, simply flying over it. In a matter of days, German strategy rendered the Maginot Line useless, breaking the great promise of French defense and resistance.

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Designed to deter a German invasion, the Maginot Line stretched hundreds of miles along the French border. Photo Credit: Corbis

Begun in 1930, work on the Maginot Line continued for nearly 10 years. Photo Credit: Corbis

Bell shaped "cloches" made of alloy steel were designed to provide protection for French soldiers at nearly every portion of the Maginot Line. Photo Credit: Corbis

More than 100 retractable machine gun turrets ran the length of the Maginot Line. Photo Credit: Corbis

The Maginot Line defenses were connected by hundreds of miles of underground tunnels. Photo Credit: Corbis

Thousands of French soldiers and tons of supplies could be housed in bunkers along the Maginot Line. Photo Credit: Corbis


As the former capital and birthplace of the Russian Revolution as well as the home of the Baltic Fleet, the city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) was both a symbolic and strategic target for German leader Adolf Hitler in his army's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II. Hitler's attempt to seize Leningrad, beginning in the fall of 1941, resulted in one of history's longest and most brutal sieges, leaving more than 1 million civilians dead over the course of 872 days.

Germany Attacks

On June 22, 1941, Germany launched a surprise attack on the Soviet Union, breaking the non-aggression pact the two sides had signed in 1939. Codenamed Operation Barbarossa, it was the largest military attack of the war, with more than 3 million German troops and 3,500 tanks deployed along a 1,700-mile front. Less than a week after Barbarossa's launch, work was underway to protect the perimeter of Leningrad. Tens of thousands of civilians were put to work constructing fortifications to support 200,000 Red Army forces, including miles of barbed wire, anti-tank ditches and trenches.

By the end of August, German troops had reached the outskirts of the city, joined by Finnish troops advancing from the north. By September 8, Leningrad had been cut off from all land access, including rail and other supply lines, with the Soviet interior. Instead of confronting the Red Army directly, the Germans settled in for a long-term bombardment, and for the next 872 days, Leningrad was under siege.

A City Under Siege

German forces deliberately bombed both military and civilian targets, hoping to crush the city's resistance. But the Soviet people refused to bow to Hitler's will. Women served in the front-line defense and filled positions in factories, producing vital war materials for the Red Army, while children formed "Night Watches" to extinguish fires caused by the bombardment.

Food shortages began almost immediately, and later rose to desperate levels. Rationing varied according to one's job, with soldiers and office workers receiving the largest portions, and non-workers and children receiving less. Rations were continually lowered, there was no heating and little electricity in the city and safe drinking water was scarce to non-existent. By the early winter of 1941 nearly 5,000 people were dying in Leningrad every day, most from starvation and related diseases. In January 1943 alone, more than 130,000 people were found dead; many more were reportedly buried under the winter snow, undiscovered.

"The Road of Life"

Leningraders' only source of food and fuel came via convoys crossing the massive Lake Ladoga, located to the east of the city. In the summer and spring, ferries and barges brought food and material across the river, while in the winter it was used as an ice road, with trucks driving its length and then continuing on to the city itself. Over 1 million evacuees from Leningrad, along with tons of military supplies for the Red Army, crossed Lake Ladoga in the opposite direction, braving thin ice and constant German bombardment.

In January 1943, the Soviets were able to create a small break in the German lines and open a 10-mile-wide corridor along the southern end of Lake Ladoga that allowed additional supplies to enter the city. Leningrad remained under fire, however, and it would take another year until the Germans were pushed back and the siege was fully lifted.

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Soviet propaganda during Operation Barbarossa and the Siege of Leningrad encouraged defense of the city at any cost.

Following the German invasion of the USSR, the Russian people answered the call to fight in the "Great Patriotic War." Photo Credit: Getty Images

The deadly battle at Stalingrad was commemorated in World War II propaganda posters. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Soviet citizens adopted a scorched earth policy to deprive Germany of valuable resources in their invasion of Russia. Photo Credit: Getty Images

At least 12 million Russian civilians died in World War II, many in the defense of "Mother Russia." Photo Credit: Getty Images


At the end of World War II, most of Europe was in ruins, both physically and economically. Industry, transportation and agriculture had been decimated, and many nations faced severe rationing, instability and--in the worst cases--death and starvation. On June 5, 1947, in an address at Harvard University, U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposed the creation of an economic assistance program to rebuild war-torn Europe. The program was to be designed and created by the European nations, and funded by the United States.

Benefits of U.S. Assistance

As the only major world power to escape wholesale destruction in World War II, the United States was in a unique position to help rebuild the European continent. In addition to relieving the humanitarian crisis, the administration of President Harry S. Truman hoped that providing aid would help the democracies of Western Europe stabilize politically, blocking further encroachment by the Soviet Union and communism.

During its debate in Congress, the Marshall Plan was met with resistance from members of both parties. Some on the right feared further involvement in European affairs, while others on the left worried that the U.S. government would antagonize relations with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Eventually, a compromise was reached, and President Truman signed the plan into law on April 3, 1948. Initial funding was set at $5 billion, but over the next four years would amount to more than $13 billion in aid.

The Marshall Plan and Its Effects

The fund was primarily constructed to provide credits for purchase of American goods. In the first few years, the majority of these purchases were in food and basic supplies; they eventually included larger amounts of construction materials and equipment to help rebuild industrial centers and transportation lines. Though the initial plan called for repayment of these purchases, few countries were held to this, and the debt was erased. The exception was West Germany, which continued to make payments until the 1970s, although its total debt amount had been significantly lowered.

Though aid was primarily allotted to each country on a per capita basis, the major industrial nations received a larger share and preference was given to those who had fought on the Allied side, as opposed to Axis and neutral powers. Fascist Spain was originally excluded from the program, but eventually received a small amount of aid. The Soviet Union, for its part, refused to accept the aid it was offered, as did the Eastern European countries under its influence.

The Marshall Plan was in effect from 1948 through 1952. By its completion, every participating country with the exception of West Germany had not only economically recovered from the war, but were far surpassing pre-war production levels. Increases in the gross national products of participating countries ranged from 15 to 25 percent. George Marshall later received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

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In early August 1945, U.S. forces dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 100,000 people and exposing tens of thousands more to deadly radiation. On August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender, citing the devastating power of "a new and most cruel bomb." Hiroshima soon became a center for pacifism and anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan, which was the first nation to abolish the use of nuclear weapons and maintains one of the strongest anti-weapons positions in the world.

"A New and Most Cruel Bomb"

On August 6, 1945, the U.S. B-29 plane Enola Gay dropped a 9,700-pound uranium bomb, nicknamed "Little Boy," on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The bomb's blast, equivalent to that of 13 kilotons of TNT, destroyed or damaged more than 90 percent of the city, killing 70,000 to 80,000 people instantly. Tens of thousands more exposed to the powerful radiation died in the weeks and months that followed. When Japan still refused to surrender, another B-29 dropped a second, stronger (21-kiloton) bomb, "Fat Man," on Nagasaki. That bomb killed 40,000 people, with at least 20,000 additional deaths by the end of 1945.

In a radio address on August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan, partially blaming the enemy's use of the atomic bomb, with its "incalculable" power to damage and kill. "Should we continue to fight," Hirohito stated, "it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization."

"No More Hiroshimas"

During the post-war Allied Occupation, Japan significantly amended its constitution. This new set of laws, passed in 1947, was known as the "Peace Constitution." In addition to establishing a parliamentary government and legal rights, the document contained a clause that formally renounced Japan's right to wage war of any kind, settle any international dispute by force or even maintain a true standing army. To this day, Japan's armed forces are considered extensions of its internal police force, though opposition to this stance has grown in recent years as military spending has increased and Japan's role in the world has grown.

The phrase "No More Hiroshimas" (first uttered by the city's then-mayor in a 1948 speech) has become a rallying cry for pacifist and anti-nuclear weapon sentiment in the country. Each August 6, Hiroshima's mayor issues a Peace Declaration that stresses the importance of education about the effects of nuclear weapons and calls for a worldwide ban of all nuclear weapons. The mayor also issues a formal protest following every nuclear test held throughout the world. "Mayors for Peace," a group begun in Hiroshima and designed to allow other cities to join in the fight to abolish nuclear weapons, includes more than 3,000 member cities in more than 140 countries.

The Story of Sadako Sasaki

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, opened in the 1950s, contains more than 50 memorials to various groups affected by the A-bomb attacks. One of the largest is the Children's Monument, also known as the "Tower of a Thousand Cranes." Though this monument honors all Hiroshima's children, it has become well known for the story of one girl, Sadako Sasaki, who is depicted in the 30-foot statue holding a golden crane.

Sadako was only an infant during the attack, but 10 years later she developed leukemia from her exposure to the radiation. In Japanese culture, cranes are thought to bring good luck, and Sadako believed that if she could fold and create 1,000 origami cranes, she would be able to beat her disease. For months she tried to reach her goal, but by the time of her death in 1955, she had folded only 644. In her memory, Sadako's classmates folded the remaining 356 paper cranes, and they were buried with her. To this day, Japanese children fold cranes and bring them to Peace Memorial Park to place them on the Children's Monument in memory of Sadako.

World War II: The Battle of Iwo Jima

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The Atomic Bomb Photo Gallery

Six months after the atomic bombing, this aerial view of Hiroshima shows the extensive damage. Photo Credit: Corbis

The Atomic Bomb Memorial Dome, also known as the Genbaku Dome, has become an iconic symbol of the nuclear age. Originally built in 1915, it survived the Hiroshima bombing, and was preserved to commemorate the city's dead. Photo Credit: Corbis

This March, 1946 photo shows the widespread devastation of Hiroshima following the atomic bombing. Photo Credit: Corbis

On October 5, 1945, nearly two months after the bombing of Nagasaki, Japanese soldiers observe the damaged lands and industry of the city. Photo Credit: Corbis

Taken on the same day, only rubble remains in this area of Nagasaki. Much like Hiroshima, Nagasaki suffered irreparable damage. Photo Credit: Corbis


In April 1942, Japanese forces defeated a combined U.S. and Filipino army in the Battle of Bataan, in the Philippines. They then forced more than 70,000 captured soldiers to march more than 60 miles north in brutally hot weather to a captured U.S. Army base. Along the way, the marchers were starved, deprived of sleep and beaten; those who fell or complained were executed. Only 54,000 POWs survived the grueling death march, which claimed the lives of some 7,000-10,000 soldiers, including 1,000 Americans.

Battle and Defeat at Bataan

Coming four months after the United States declared war on Japan in World War II, the defeat on the Bataan Peninsula marked the largest military surrender in American history, capping a disastrous beginning to the war in the Pacific. The captured force included approximately 11,800 American troops, with the rest comprised of Filipino and Chinese- Filipino soldiers. Many of them were already malnourished and suffering from various diseases, having survived on limited rations during three long months of battle.

At the time of the surrender, the American commanding officer, General Edward King, believed he received assurances from the Japanese that the captured troops would be treated fairly. He would soon be proven otherwise, as the mistreatment of prisoners began almost immediately. The decision was made to transport the POWs to Camp O'Donnell, a former U.S. Army base already captured by Japanese troops. The Japanese were unprepared for the number of POWs, and instead of transporting them by train decided to force the majority of the soldiers to march to the camp, exposing them to the brutally hot Philippines weather. They set out on April 10, 1942, from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula.

Death March and Aftermath

It took more than a week for the POWs to reach Camp O'Donnell. Sleep deprivation and beatings were common, and the marching POWs were denied almost all food and water (or given stagnant water and contaminated food) and forced to sit for hours in the mid-day sun. Any soldier who complained, collapsed or tried to assist others was summarily executed. Those soldiers carrying Japanese materials or "souvenirs" were killed instantly, under the assumption that they had killed Japanese soldiers to obtain such objects. Japanese troops in trucks following the march were known to hold their bayonets out the windows, slashing the throats of marchers along the side of the road.

Official death rates of the Bataan Death March vary. Original estimates are that 6,000-11,000 prisoners were killed, but later Allied estimates claim that the total loss (including the thousands of POWs who managed to escape Japanese captors and disappear into the jungle) was nearly 18,000, or 25 percent of the surrendered forces. Conditions inside Camp O'Donnell were no better, and by the time the camp was liberated in 1945, nearly 29,000 additional troops had perished. Lieutenant General Homma Masaharu, the Japanese commander who had official control of the prisoners, was later tried for war crimes by an American military tribunal in Manila and executed by firing squad.

World War II: Events and Results

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In late 1941, the United States responded to appeals from China's Nationalist government to aid in its battle against the Japanese. The result was the formation of the American Volunteer Group (AVG), a small but elite group of pilots led by the retired U.S. Army captain Claire Chennault and known as the Flying Tigers. Over the next year, these airborne fighters used surprise tactics, mobility and precision flying to score a string of victories over the much-larger Japanese air force.

China Calls for Help & America Responds

By 1940, China was struggling in its ongoing battle against Japan, which had seized many of China's ports and transportation systems and cut the Nationalist government off from the outside world. Earlier in the war, the Soviet Union had supplied China with planes and trained pilots; when that support was withdrawn, Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek turned to the United States for assistance.

Unable to openly provide such material at the risk of violating American neutrality, President Roosevelt agreed to allow the formation of a volunteer force recruited from the U.S. Navy, Marine and Army Air Corps. The 99 pilots selected by the end of 1941 were discharged from active duty in the military and promised a high base pay raise (equal to nearly $9,000 per month in today's dollars) as well as a bonus of $500 per Japanese plane shot down.

The Flying Tigers

The AVG would come to be known as the Flying Tigers, for the Walt Disney-designed tiger emblem painted on the nose of their Curtiss P-40 planes. Though not fully equipped with armament and radios, the planes were fast and sturdily constructed, with sufficient gun power and body armor. Chennault had spent several years in China and was familiar with Japanese planes and flying tactics. The primary Japanese fighter plane, the Ki-27, was under-armed, not nearly as durable as the P-40, and vulnerable to surprise and frontal attacks, all facts that Chennault would exploit.

The Tigers' primary mission was to protect the Burma Road connecting the vital port at Rangoon with the rest of China. On December 20, 1941, just two weeks after the U.S. entry into the war, the Tigers destroyed four Japanese bombers, losing no planes of their own. Over the next several weeks, they scored a series of small victories, downing nearly 50 Japanese planes at a loss of only 20 P-40s.

Campaign in Burma

In February 1942, the Japanese launched a major land and air offensive against Burma (Myanmar). Japanese troops poured into the area, eventually taking Rangoon. The Tigers retreated to the north, where they continued to engage Japanese bombers and fighters. Though they outperformed their Japanese counterparts, their increasingly small numbers prevented any major success. In July 1942, the group was disbanded. Remaining pilots who wished were allowed to re-join the U.S. military and fly with the newly constituted China Air Task Force, also commanded by Chennault.

Official U.S. war records show that the AVG destroyed nearly 300 Japanese planes in all, though Japanese records claim the number is closer to 100. In any case, the Flying Tigers lost only 22 pilots (16 killed in action, two in bombing raids and six in accidents), attaining one of the highest kill-loss ratios of World War II.

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On February 19, 1945, 30,000 Marines began their assault on Iwo Jima, a small island in southern Japan some 600 miles south of Tokyo. The Battle of Iwo Jima would produce one of the highest casualty rates of World War II, as well as perhaps the conflict's most iconic image: a photograph of a group of U.S. Marines raising an American flag over Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima's highest point. The photograph is one of the most reproduced photos in American history, and one of the most controversial.

The Japanese Defend Their Homeland

A volcanic outcropping measuring only eight square miles, Iwo Jima ("Sulfur Island" in Japanese) was of tremendous strategic importance to both U.S. and Japanese forces. Japan had built three airstrips on the island and fortified it heavily, using it to provide vital protection for the Japanese homeland. In turn, capturing Iwo Jima would allow the United States an advance base for bombers and fighter planes raiding targets in Japan.

By early 1945, between 18,000 and 22,000 Japanese troops were stationed on Iwo Jima, in underground caves and bunkers connected by miles of trenches. The Japanese commander, Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, knew his forces were outnumbered, but planned a skillful defense in order to inflict the maximum number of casualties on the invading enemy and further invasions of Japan. When the U.S. attack began on February 19, the Japanese held their fire until a large number of the first wave of U.S. forces and material were gathered on the beach and heading inland. The Americans suffered enormous losses on that first day--nearly 600 dead and 1,800 wounded--and were continually surprised by hidden Japanese forces and ambushes.

Taking Mount Suribachi

Despite these setbacks, U.S. forces pressed on to the south of the island, and after four days had approached Mt. Suribachi, the location of much of the Japanese gun power. On the morning of February 23, the Marines succeeded in capturing Suribachi. They raised a small American flag, but it was too small to be seen from the nearby beaches, so a larger flag was found and sent on its way to the top of Mt. Suribachi.

Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal heard about the capture on Suribachi and hurried to the scene, arriving at the summit as preparations were underway to raise the second flag. Rosenthal rushed to prepare for the shot and nearly missed the action, capturing the moment without the use of his viewfinder. He then took two additional photos of the men steadying the flag and posing with it. Within 24 hours, the image of the flag raising had flashed across newspaper wires worldwide. A few days later, asked about the possibility that he had staged the photo, Rosenthal, thinking the reporter was speaking about the final group photos, said he had. For years afterwards, Rosenthal would have to defend his photo, which was erroneously reported as a photo-op.

A Costly Victory

Fighting continued for several weeks after the capture of Mount Suribachi. U.S. Marines declared the island secure on March 16, though sporadic fighting would continue for more than a week after that. Thousands of Japanese soldiers were killed, and thousands more committed suicide rather than surrender. By the end of the battle, only around 1,000 allowed themselves to be captured.

The United States lost more than 27,000 troops, including 6,000 killed in action, at Iwo Jima. Among those 6,000 killed were three of the men who had raised the second flag on Suribachi. The three surviving men were ordered home by President Roosevelt to capitalize on the photo's instant popularity. They appeared along with the iconic image in a war bonds drive that raised more than $20 million. The image was later used as the model for the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington's Arlington National Cemetery.

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Battle of Iwo Jima Photo Gallery

On February 23, 1945 American soldiers raised the first US flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, Japan. Photo Credit: Getty Images

American photographer Joe Rosenthal received a Pulitzer for this iconic photograph of the second flag raising on Iwo Jima. Photo Credit: National Archives

The "7th War Loan" poster was based on the Joe Rosenthal photo depicting the raising of the second flag on Iwo Jima. The poster was part of a government advertisement aimed at increasing government war bond sales. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Rosenthal's Iwo Jima photo became the basis for the Marine Corps Memorial statue outside Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. It was officially dedicated by President Eisenhower on November 10, 1954, "In honor and memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who had given their lives to their country since 10 November 1775."


In late 1937, over a period of six weeks, Imperial Japanese Army forces brutally murdered hundreds of thousands of people--including both soldiers and civilians--in the Chinese city of Nanking (or Nanjing). The horrific events are known as the Nanking Massacre or the Rape of Nanking, as between 20,000 and 80,000 women were sexually assaulted. Nanking, then the capital of Nationalist China, was left in ruins, and it would take decades for the city and its citizens to recover from the savage attacks.

Preparing for Invasion

Following a bloody victory in Shanghai during the Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese turned their attention towards Nanking. Fearful of losing them in battle, Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek ordered the removal of nearly all official Chinese troops from the city, leaving it defended by untrained auxiliary troops. Chiang also ordered the city held at any cost, and forbade the official evacuation of its citizens. Many ignored this order and fled, but the rest were left to the mercy of the approaching enemy.

A small group of Western businessmen and missionaries, the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, attempted to set up a neutral area of the city that would provide refuge for Nanking's citizens. The safety zone, opened in November 1937, was roughly the size of New York's Central Park and consisted of more than a dozen small refugee camps. On December 1, the Chinese government abandoned Nanking, leaving the International Committee in charge. All remaining citizens were ordered into the safety zone for their protection.

Arrival of the Troops

On December 13, the first troops of Japan's Central China Front Army, commanded by General Matsui Iwane, entered the city. Even before their arrival, word had begun spreading of the numerous atrocities they had committed on their way through China, including killing contests and pillaging. Chinese soldiers were hunted down and killed by the thousands, and left in mass graves. Entire families were massacred, and even the elderly and infants were targeted for execution, while tens of thousands of women were raped. Bodies littered the streets for months after the attack. Determined to destroy the city, the Japanese looted and burned at least one-third of Nanking's buildings.

Though the Japanese initially agreed to respect the Nanking Safety Zone, ultimately not even these refugees were safe from the vicious attacks. In January 1938, the Japanese declared that order had been restored in the city, and dismantled the safety zone; killings continued until the first week of February. A puppet government was installed, which would rule Nanking until the end of World War II.

Aftermath of the Massacre

There are no official numbers for the death toll in the Nanking Massacre, though estimates range from 200,000 to 300,000 people. Soon after the end of the war, Matsui and his lieutenant Tani Hisao, were tried and convicted for war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and were executed. Anger over the events at Nanking continues to color Sino-Japanese relations to this day. The true nature of the massacre has been disputed and exploited for propaganda purposes by historical revisionists, apologists and Japanese nationalists. Some claim the numbers of deaths have been inflated, while others have denied that any massacre occurred.

Once one of China's most prosperous cities and industrial centers, Nanking took decades to recover from the devastation it experienced. Abandoned as the national capital in 1949 for Beijing, it grew into a modern industrial city during the communist period and today is home to many of China's largest state-owned firms.

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In December, 1937 the Japanese Army descended upon Nanjing, then the capital of China. It is estimated that in the following weeks between 260,000 and 350,000 Chinese were killed. The Memorial Hall of Victims of the Nanking Massacre honors their memory.

The 300,000 outside the entrance of the Memorial Hall to the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre represents China's official number of victims to Japanese war crimes. Photo Credit: Corbis

In 1985, an excavation of a southwestern corner of Nanjing revealed skeletal remains of victims. Photo Credit: Corbis

A second excavation of the same area in 1998 led to the discovery of more remains. The excavated sites are collectively known as the 'Mass Grave of 10,000 Corpses." Photo Credit: Corbis

Despite the city's tragic history, Nanjing is currently one of China's most modern cities, often considered China's capital of the electronics, automotive, petrochemical, iron and steel industries. Photo Credit: Corbis

Today, Nanjing is the center of Chinese auto manufacturing. China is now one of the world's largest car manufacturers. Photo Credit: Corbis


Beginning in the 1930s, Japan launched a series of assaults and invasions that would drastically increase its sphere of influence throughout Manchuria, China and French Indochina. By the end of 1941, these aggressive policies led to a declaration of war by the United States, expanding World War II into the Pacific. Japan's initial advance was swift and unchecked as they captured one Pacific island after another, forcing the United States to develop a new strategy that would change the course of the war.

Escalating Tensions Lead to War

In September 1940, the U.S. government issued a protest after Japan entered French Indochina; that same month, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, cementing its status as part of the Axis. The following July, the United States placed an embargo on the trade with Japan of vital raw materials like steel, oil and iron. Japan viewed the embargoes as an act of aggression and by the spring of 1941, planning was underway for war with the West.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the huge U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. They also launched simultaneous attacks on Guam, Wake Island and the Philippines, and within weeks had captured Thailand and Hong Kong. In the early months of 1942, as the Allies struggled to respond, Japanese forces continued to bulldoze through the Pacific, capturing dozens of islands as well as Burma. They even seized the westernmost of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska--another direct attack on American soil.

The Tide Begins to Turn

In mid-1942, after a momentous victory in the Battle of Midway, the United States launched an amphibious assault against Japanese troops on Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific. Following this victorious struggle, the United States began devising a strategy to recapture Japanese-held islands and provide bases and airfields from which to stage attacks on Japan directly.

U.S. General Douglas MacArthur pushed for the immediate recapture of the Philippines, while Admiral Chester Nimitz was in favor of bypassing the Philippines for weaker positions. They reached a compromise, of sorts: Nimitz and the U.S. Navy moved northwest through the Central Pacific, focusing on strategically important locations in the Gilbert, Marshall, Mariana and Carolina island chains. At the same time, MacArthur and combined American, British, Australian and New Zealand forces moved along the northern coast of New Guinea, leapfrogging Japanese strong points such as Rabaul and eventually recapturing the Philippines, fulfilling MacArthur's pledge to return to the islands he had abandoned in 1942. In both cases, the Allies would use each captured location as a springboard towards the next.


The strategy, known as "island hopping," was designed to keep the Japanese unsure of which island or location the Allies would attack next, forcing them to keep their forces deployed while limiting possible U.S. losses. For the most part, the strategy was effective; however, MacArthur's insistence on the capture of Peleliu, an island east of the Philippines, turned out to be one of the most controversial decisions of the war. Heavily fortified, and with a warren of Japanese defenses along a coral ridge and hillside, the island proved costly to take. Of the approximately 28,000 Marines and infantry troops involved, the U.S. lost 9,800 men (1,800 killed in action; 8,000 wounded), the highest U.S. casualty rate of any battle of the war.

In late 1944, the two prongs of the Allied assault against Japan came together in the final advance on the Philippines at the Battle of Leyte Gulf and the capture of Luzon. U.S. forces would move on from there to capture Iwo Jima and Okinawa, utilizing techniques and strategies they had learned in the hard move across the Pacific.

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The most decorated U.S. naval ship of World War II, the 19,800-pound aircraft carrier USS Enterprise participated in more battles than any other American ship. Commissioned in 1938, it was based in the Pacific by 1941, and was returning to Pearl Harbor at the time of the Japanese attacks that December. By the end of the war, the "Big E" would serve in more than a dozen major engagements and receive 20 battle stars for its exploits.

From Pearl Harbor to Santa Cruz

Following the attacks at Pearl Harbor, Enterprise spent several months supplying convoys in Samoa, engaging Japanese carriers at Kwajalein and providing escort duties for Colonel James Doolittle and the USS Hornet during the raid against Tokyo and other targets in April 1942. On June 4, it joined with Hornet and others during the U.S. victory in the Battle of Midway, a turning point in the Pacific.

Damaged during the Allied offensive at Guadalcanal, Enterprise was repaired at Pearl Harbor before returning to the South Pacific in time for the Battle of Santa Cruz on October 26, 1942. Hit twice by bombs, it suffered more than 100 casualties. Hornet was abandoned later that day, leaving Enterprise as the only U.S. aircraft carrier still in service in the Pacific. Crewmembers posted a sign on the ship's flight deck reading "Enterprise vs. Japan." That November, Enterprise helped lead the assault in the Naval Battle at Guadalcanal, in which its guns and planes shared in sinking 16 ships and damaging eight more.

Assault on Japan

After nearly a year of much-needed repairs, Enterprise made history on November 26, 1943 when it became the first ship to launch carrier-based night fighters. Four months later it carried out the first night radar bombings. Throughout early 1944, Enterprise supported actions against Kwajalein, the Marshall Islands and Truk, in the Caroline Islands. As the Allies launched the Normandy Invasion in Western Europe, Enterprise joined the Pacific Fleet in attacking the Mariana Islands and covered the landing of troops on Saipan. On June 19, in the Battle of the Philippines Sea, U.S. forces--including Enterprise--sunk three Japanese carriers and destroyed more than 400 aircraft, in a devastating defeat for Japan's navy.

Scheduled for additional repairs, Enterprise was rushed back into service for the Battle of Leyte Gulf, where its planes launched attacks on all three of the primary Japanese assault forces. Prior to the Iwo Jima landings in February 1945, the Enterprise played a large part in softening Japanese defenses. At one point, the ship's efforts kept aircraft aloft over Iwo Jima for more than 174 continuous hours.

A few weeks later, Enterprise was in service again off Okinawa, launching planes around the clock. On May 14, 1945, a Japanese plane hit "Big E" in a kamikaze attack; the ship lost more than a dozen men and suffered serious damage. Once again sent for repairs, Enterprise was docked when the Japanese surrendered and was used to transport returning troops from Europe before being decommissioned in 1947. Though plans were initially developed to maintain the ship as a museum or memorial, the necessary fundraising was unsuccessful and Enterprise was eventually sold for scrapping in 1958.

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The USS Enterprise was on its way back to base at Pearl Harbor on the morning of the Japanese attack there. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The USS Enterprise was the most decorated vessel of WWII, involved in more than a dozen major battles in the Pacific. Photo Credit: Getty Images


In the months following the Pearl Harbor attacks, Japan quickly gained supremacy in the air with its "Zero" fighter planes. After the United States used its knowledge of the Zero to construct better planes, taking away Japan's aerial advantage by 1943, the Japanese changed tactics, forming a squad of kamikaze pilots who flew planes loaded with explosives directly into enemy vessels. These suicide attacks proved devastatingly effective, inflicting heavy losses on U.S. forces in the Pacific in late 1944-45.

Learning from the Zero

Japan's lightweight, versatile Zero--nicknamed for the craft's model number "0"--was far more advanced than any Allied fighters and was used as both a carrier- and land-based fighter. The plane's long range and maneuverability made it extremely difficult for U.S. pilots to engage it. The Zero was not without its flaws, however; its lightweight construction often left it with little body armor, and few of the planes had self-sealing fuel tanks, which resulted in numerous explosions after fairly little damage.

After recovering a nearly intact Zero in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, U.S. forces were able to study the plane and the aspects that made it so successful. This knowledge led them to modify their own plane designs, and by 1943 far more advanced Allied planes had entered the skies. The Zero continued to be produced throughout the war, though there were manufacturing problems with later models, and its great advantages had been lost.

The Kamikaze Strategy

Realizing they no longer held air superiority in either technology or quantity of planes, the Japanese made plans to turn what had been their greatest asset into a last-ditch effort at victory. Rather than use the Zero as a fighter, they would use the planes to hit American ships directly, hoping to inflict great losses in ships and men. For this purpose, the Imperial Japanese Navy recruited a small group of volunteer pilots into its Special Attack Corps. The Americans appropriated the Japanese word kamikaze, meaning "divine wind," to refer to the corps' strategy of suicide attacks. (The Japanese themselves reserved the word kamikaze to refer to a typhoon that was believed to have saved Japan from a Mongol invasion in the 13th century.)

Japan launched the first kamikaze attacks in October 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Their immediate success led to the expansion of the suicide attack program, which reached its peak in mid-1945 off the coast of Okinawa. There, the Japanese launched more than 1,500 planes in two months, sinking more than 30 American ships and damaging hundreds of others. Though they didn't change the course of the war, kamikaze attacks killed nearly 5,000 U.S. forces at Okinawa and left 5,000 more wounded--the greatest losses ever suffered by the U.S. Navy in a single battle.

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In October 1944, Japan and the United States waged the largest naval battle of World War II--and one of the largest in history--for control of the Philippine Islands in the South Pacific. Miscommunication and flawed decision-making on both sides, but primarily by the Japanese, resulted in a U.S. victory that crippled Japan's navy and prevented it from mounting any significant resistance to future Allied advances.

Operation Victory

Japan prepared for the Battle of Leyte Gulf by assembling the largest fleet its navy would ever put together, including more than 60 battleships, carriers, cruisers and destroyers, and hundreds more support vessels. Code-named Sho-Go or "Operation Victory," it was designed to strike during the opening phases of the expected U.S. invasion of the Philippines.

The tactical success of Sho-Go relied on two key elements: The attack had to move fast enough to avoid U.S. detection, and the Japanese aimed to divide and conquer U.S. forces. One of the Japanese groups (the Northern Force) was designated as a decoy group, designed to lure a portion of the U.S. fleet to an area of water north of the central island of Leyte. The remaining Japanese forces (the Center Force and two groups of the Southern Force) would launch a combined attack from both ends of Leyte Gulf, destroying U.S. landing forces and any remaining vessels.

The Battle Plays Out

On October 23, submarines from the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet discovered the Center Force heading towards the Philippines; they attacked near Palawan Passage, sinking two Japanese ships. The next day, U.S. forces continued their attack off the Sibuyan Sea, but the bulk of Center Force was able to continue to its target position in Leyte Gulf. Meanwhile, U.S. scouts also spotted the two wings of Japan's Southern Force (Second Attack and Force "C") as they approached the Leyte Gulf from the south. On the night of October 24, U.S. boats intercepted Force "C" at Surigao Strait, sinking six of its seven heavy ships.

The Japanese now pinned their hopes on the decoy group. Though post-war reports indicate that Admiral Bill Halsey was aware that Northern Force was a strategic front, he nonetheless took Japan's bait. Believing that the 7th Fleet was covering the Leyte landings, he pulled nearly all of his 3rd Fleet to the north, pursuing and eventually destroying the Northern Force. Halsey had made a critical error: with the 7th Fleet pre-occupied with Southern Force, the newly landed U.S. Marines on Leyte were left dangerously vulnerable. When Halsey was informed of his mistake, he raced his fleet back towards Leyte.

At the same time, Center Force, led by Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, made its advance from the north of Leyte through the San Bernardino Strait. After inflicting some damage to the U.S. fleet, he was blocked from entering the Gulf by a group of destroyers and carriers, determined to make a stand. At this moment, Kurita made his own critical error. Unaware that Northern Force had indeed lured Halsey away from the battle, Kurita was convinced that he now faced an enormous combined American fleet. Rather than risk total annihilation, he withdrew from battle. The remainder of the Japanese fleet limped home, and would not launch a successful offensive attack for the remainder of the war.

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Inside WWII

Go inside World War II and get new insight into the people, battles and events you thought you knew.

Related Interactives (3)

Related Videos (10)

  • Battle 360: Big E
    Battle 360: Big E

    Video Clip (2:20)

    In this Battle 360 video clip, we go aboard the Enterprise to take a look at some of the crew that keep the ship going. Take a look at some of the young men who come from all across America to live on the Enterprise year round.

    Video Clip (2:20)
  • Battle 360: Carrier Flight
    Battle 360: Carrier Flight

    Video Clip (3:04)

    In this History 360 video clip, take a look at the aircraft used on the USS Enterprise during World War II. The planes included the dive bomber, torpedo bomber, and wildcat fighter. At that time, the Japanese had more advanced technology than the US.

    Video Clip (3:04)
  • Battle 360: Dive Bombers
    Battle 360: Dive Bombers

    Video Clip (2:02)

    In this Battle 360 video clip, we learn a bit about dive bombers and how their motive is to get close to their target and destroy it instantly. Traveling over 250 mph, the pilot takes their dive at 75 degrees. Check it all out here.

    Video Clip (2:02)
  • Battle 360: Floating City of Steel
    Battle 360: Floating City of Steel

    Video Clip (1:50)

    In this Battle 360 video, we get to take a look at the floating city of steel known as the USS Enterprise. In this short, you will realize just how dominant this aircraft holder really is. It has the ability to blast planes out of the sky as well.

    Video Clip (1:50)
  • Battle 360: Making of Battle 360
    Battle 360: Making of Battle 360

    Video Clip (1:35)

    Battle 360 provides us a glimpse into the technical aspect of creating Battle 360.

    Video Clip (1:35)
  • Battle 360: Meet the Men
    Battle 360: Meet the Men

    Video Clip (2:32)

    In this USS Enterprise video short, from History 360, we reflect on the history of the USS Enterprise, and meet the proud men who worked on the massive navy ship. Many joined during the time of the depression when no other job could be found.

    Video Clip (2:32)
  • Battle 360: Sea Soldiers Marines
    Battle 360: Sea Soldiers Marines

    Video Clip (2:12)

    In this Marine video clip from The History Channel, learn about the history of the US Marine Core. Ex Marines are interviewed and they talk about their different experiences as a marine.

    Video Clip (2:12)
  • Battle 360: Task Force
    Battle 360: Task Force

    Video Clip (2:30)

    In this Battle 360 video clip, we take a look at how the Enterprise is company to the naval Task Force. Learn a little bit about the task force and how much punch they pack in one blow. Check it all out in this interesting short on warfare.

    Video Clip (2:30)
  • Battle 360: The Crew
    Battle 360: The Crew

    Video Clip (1:41)

    In this Battle 360 video clip, we go aboard the Enterprise to take a look at some of the crew that keep the ship going. Take a look at some of the young men who come from all across America to live on the Enterprise year round.

    Video Clip (1:41)
  • Battle 360: The Doolittle Raid
    Battle 360: The Doolittle Raid

    Video Clip (3:08)

    In this Battle 360 video clip, we go back to when Pearl Harbor was attacked. See how soldiers were in mode to fight and get revenge. From bombers to air craft carriers, the U.S. was packing heat to go to Tokyo.

    Video Clip (3:08)

Related Photo Galleries (10)

  • Voices of D-Day
    Voices of D-Day

    9 Photos

    Our most powerful and genuine accounts of D-Day come from the veterans who live through this momentous piece of history.

    (9 Photos)
  • Controversial Generals
    Controversial Generals

    9 Photos

    Throughout American history, a number of controversial generals have clashed with presidents and other officials.

    (9 Photos)
  • G.I. Bill: Famous Recpients
    G.I. Bill: Famous Recpients

    6 Photos

    By 1956, more than 7.8 million veterans had received benefits under the Servicemen's Readjustmen Act, also known as the G.I. Bill.

    (6 Photos)
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
    Franklin D. Roosevelt

    20 Photos

    See pictures from the life and presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

    (20 Photos)
  • World War II Posters
    World War II Posters

    16 Photos

    View photos of famous posters from the World War II era.

    (16 Photos)
  • Remembering D-Day
    Remembering D-Day

    11 Photos

    On June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, the Allies invaded Normandy, France, in the largest amphibious assault in history. View photos from this historic military operation.

    (11 Photos)
  • Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    Hiroshima and Nagasaki

    12 Photos

    See pictures from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

    (12 Photos)
  • Remembering the Holocaust
    Remembering the Holocaust

    14 Photos

    View photos from the Holocaust.

    (14 Photos)

Related Speeches & Audio (10)

  • Eisenhower Broadcasts D-Day Invasion Order
    Eisenhower Broadcasts D-Day Invasion Order

    Audio Clip (1:43)

    On June 5, 1944, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower orders the massive Allied Expeditionary Force into action.

    Audio Clip (1:43)
  • Reaction to North Korean Surprise Attack
    Reaction to North Korean Surprise Attack

    Audio Clip (1:57)

    On July 10, 1950, at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Ambassador Warren R. Austin reports on North Korea's refusal to retreat from its armed invasion of the Republic of Korea. By the end of the session, the U.N. officially supported sending U.S. forces into Korea.

    Audio Clip (1:57)
  • FDR Asks Congress to Declare War on Japan
    FDR Asks Congress to Declare War on Japan

    Audio Clip (7:47)

    On the day after the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt tells a joint session of Congress that the United States must take up arms in response.

    Audio Clip (7:47)
  • Franklin Roosevelt Returns From Yalta
    Franklin Roosevelt Returns From Yalta

    Audio Clip (3:41)

    In February 1945, "Big Three" leaders, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, met at Yalta to discuss the reorganization of post-war Europe. In an address to Congress on March 1, 1945, President Roosevelt reports the achievements of the gathering.

    Audio Clip (3:41)
  • Marshall Plan Announced
    Marshall Plan Announced

    Audio Clip (1:58)

    On June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall gives a speech at Harvard University initiating the postwar program to rebuild the economies of western Europe, known as the Marshall Plan.

    Audio Clip (1:58)
  • Post-Pear Harbor Blackout in California
    Post-Pear Harbor Blackout in California

    Audio Clip (5:46)

    In this Speeches podcast, brought to you by The History Channel, learn about the battle of Pearl Harbor during World War II.

    Audio Clip (5:46)
  • Iowa Celebrates V-J Day
    Iowa Celebrates V-J Day

    Audio Clip (4:01)

    Live coverage of the V-J Day celebration from Des Moines' WHO radio captures the excitement of revelers in the streets at the end of World War II.

    Audio Clip (4:01)
  • WAC Recruits Take Oath of Enlistment
    WAC Recruits Take Oath of Enlistment

    Audio Clip (2:53)

    An October 28, 1943, oath ceremony grants to women who had served in the military the official membership of the Armed Forces. Though women had established a long record of military service dating to the early 1900s, it wasn't until the Women's Army Corps bill was signed into law on July 1, 1943, that they received full status.

    Audio Clip (2:53)
  • Albert Einstein Calls for an End to Atomic Proliferation
    Albert Einstein Calls for an End to Atomic Proliferation

    Audio Clip (0:29)

    Though an outspoken pacifist since World War I, Albert Einstein had urged the United States to build nuclear weapons in the face of rising Nazism and the atrocities of World War II. However, after the bombs were dropped on Japan, Einstein once again took up his cause. In a speech, he warns the world of the dangers they now faced following the invention of the atomic bomb.

    Audio Clip (0:29)
  • Conditions at Japanese Internment Camps
    Conditions at Japanese Internment Camps

    Audio Clip (3:47)

    In a 1943 radio broadcast, Dillon S. Meyer, director of the War Relocation Authority, conveys his disapproval of the Japanese internment camps, which he has been overseeing since they were instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942.

    Audio Clip (3:47)