There’s no argument that WW2 was the greatest – or, indeed, the worst – conflict in history. The Second World War reached a scale that was previously (and to date) unprecedented – a scale that is close to impossible to actually grasp.
In many respects, WW2 was the first modern war whereby airpower was to play a vital role over land and at sea. Nevertheless, and again in many respects, the War was ultimately won by the sheer grit and determination of the foot soldier.
Here we revisit 3 land-based WW2 battlefields in Europe to rediscover why they were among the most significant of battles.
D-Day: June 6, 1944
D-Day, which comprised the largest amphibious operation that had ever been seen, involved over 5,000 ships that were deployed as a way of landing American, British, Canadian, and French troops on a 50-mile stretch of heavily defended Normandy coastline. Simultaneously, many thousands more were to take part in a supporting airborne assault.
A major deceptive operation – Operation Fortitude – made the German high command believe that the allied landings were nothing more than a deception strategy. Hence, at four from the five chosen landing sites, German resistance was relatively light.
At the fifth, Omaha Beach, it was mostly U.S. forces that were to suffer as they came under heavy fire from German artillery. Some 2,000 U.S. personnel died while trying to fight their way out of the beachhead.
Nevertheless, the Germans failed in their attempt to organise rapidly enough in order to counteract the invasion. In less than a week, the Allies managed to land over 300,000 troops during the D-Day landings.
Battle of the Bulge: December 1944 – January 1945
Following on from the D-Day invasion which occurred in June of 1944, the Allies managed to break out of Normandy, after which, they rapidly advanced through France and Belgium.
Hitler’s aim was to halt this advance by way of a surprise Blitzkrieg, while a number of German armoured divisions amassed in the Ardennes. The goal was to smash through the Allied lines.
In spite of the heavy casualties where over 19,000 lives were taken, the American forces, led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Omar Bradley, stubbornly held on.
The Germans’ supplies were limited – only enough to last a few more days prior to ammunition and fuel running dry. Thus, the German offensive quickly ran out of steam.
While allied lines did bulge, they refused to break and many hundreds of thousands of Allied reinforcements deluged the area.
After the Battle of the Bulge, which ended in January 1945, the Germans lacked resources to muster yet a further offensive. The end was inevitable.
Battle of Berlin: April – May 1945
In the Soviet Union, the Battle of Berlin is referred to as the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation. And, as it turned out, it was, at least in Europe, the last major offensive of the War.
Upon the January – February 1946 Vistula-Oder Offensive, some 60 kilometers to the east of Berlin the Red Army halted. In defense against the Soviet attack, the Germans instigated Operation Clausewitz.
On April 16, the Soviet offensive resumed and Berlin was attacked from the south and the east, while a third force attacked from the north.
The city was encircled by the Soviet army, and the 1st Belorussion Front started to shell the city center on April 20, 1945. Simultaneously, the 1st Ukrainian Front entered the southern suburbs.
On May 2, after Hitler committed suicide (April 30), the city surrendered. The War, at least in Europe, ended on May 8, 1945.
After the Battle of Berlin, the city was, as agreed by the allied nations, divided into four.
You could, if you are so inclined and you have plenty of time, put together your own WW2 battlefield tour itinerary. With that in mind, do be aware that you will need to find the sights, not to mention suitable parking.
However, the key is to have a good comprehension of what occurred. Otherwise, it’s not possible to take real value from the experience. And how better to achieve this than to use a WW2 battlefield tour company?
Frequently, the historians that lead WW2 battlefield tours are leaders within their chosen historic field, and sometimes they are world-renowned authors. These gifted individuals are dedicated to making their own personal portrayal of history really come alive, and that’s even when they are not, in fact, leading tours but rather when writing books, giving lectures, advocating for veterans, or when being interviewed.