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The Western Front is the name given to the engagement between the United Kingdom and her allies and the German Empire and her allies during the Great European War, that occurred in Western Europe from Norway to France, therefore excluding the Greek and Italian campaigns.
This engagement is usually divided in several periods.
- The Phoney War.
- The Fall of Western Europe
- The Battle of Britain
- The Bombing Campaign
- The European Invasion
- The Truce and Negotiation
This period comprise from the declaration of War by Britain, Australia and New Zealand to Germany, on September 3, 1939, after the invasion of Poland, to the invasion of Denmark in 1940.
While the invasion of Poland has a harsh act of war, followed by a process of cultural cleansing, the western front was merely a declared war with very few armed engagement. France was the only Allied country with borders to Germany. All other western German neighbors were neutral: Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. And France was confident behind the defensive system known as the Maginot Line. While there were some military actions, these actions were reduced to raids (mainly air raids) targeting specific military installations, as well as some armed engagement at sea. However, the general population in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia, did not suffer from the war in the Western front. This lead to the French term: drôle de guerre or phoney war.
While there was no massive armed engagement on land. It is not true that there were no military actions between the belligerent sided.
Fall of Western Europe
Despite the phoney war, there was an armed engagement between the belligerent powers, mainly at sea. The Great German Empire had urgent need of raw materials, and the French and British blockade made it difficult. Germany also suspected on the neutrality of the neutral countries in western Europe and wanted to expand her influence.
Also, resolving the western front was a need before expanding the Lebensraum into the east.
On April 9, 1940, Germany begun her western expansion by invading Denmark and Norway. Encircled Sweden, Germany could control the Swedish economy without invading her. France was the next target and the Germans decided to outflank the Maginot Line by invading the Netherlands and Belgium first. France fell in July 1940. Italy had declared war to France and Britain just before the fall of France.
By these Blitzkrieg tactics, in less than three months Germany had control over most of continental Western Europe.
Battle of Britain
After the fall of France, Germany still had a declared enemy in Great Britain. Actually Australia, New Zealand and Canada had also declared war to Germany but there was no feasible way to defeat them for now and they would be unimportant if England fell, so the idea was to invade England and for this a plan was devised called Operation Sealion.
For the invasion of England, Germany needed first control of the air and the seas, and begun a campaign of bombardments to reduce the British military strength. Originally aimed at the airfields and industries, after a couple of German bombs accidentally reached a residential suburb in London, the British responded in kind bombing Berlin. This soon led the Germans to shift from military targets into bombing cities with the aim to diminish the people's morale.
By spring 1941, the race for air superiority was lost for Germany. The British bombing campaigns were more effective than the German ones, and Hitler needed to free resources for the Eastern front. Particularly after the Soviet Union invaded.
Bombing Campaign over Germany
A reaction to the German bombings on Britain, the United Kingdom begun a bombing campaign over Germany. The campaign increased to include German cities after Germany bombed a residential suburb in London, and continued up to the surrender of the Great German Empire.
The European invasion began in November 1943 when the British assaulted Northern Norway beginning a land fight in the Western Front. The foothold was further strengthened in March 1944 when the British assaulted German controlled Belgium, establishing and securing beachheads, soon followed by beachheads in Pass-de-Calais and Normandy.
After the German invasion of Denmark and Norway, the United Kingdom attempted to secure the Danish and Norwegian territories in the North Atlantic, taking control of the Feroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland, and attempting to secure Svalbard. In mid 1941, Iceland and Greenland were transferred to US control.
A final try for Svalbard was in the earlier summer of 1943, and using Svalbard as a base, and practicing a combination of commando raids and amphibian troop transportation, the British invaded Narvik, establishing a security perimeter which they began to expand. The Western front was officially inaugurated. Given the Royal Navy superiority in the North Sea, during the fall of 1943 it was easier for the Britons to supply their troops in northern Norway than for the Germans and collaborationist Norwegians to keep the supply lines, unless Swedish neutrality was compromised. As a preemptive measure, Sweden signed an agreement with Britain to be backed by the British Empire if Germany attempted an invasion, but would remain neutral otherwise, even allowing the passing through of unarmed German soldiers.
As the Winter approached, the order for the British was to secure the positions and resist a Germain counter-attack. During the winter, the Germans attempted some skirmishes, but no serious attempt to break the British positions was attempted. The War with Russia was still hot, and intelligence suggested that the British were preparing for a real invasion of the European continent.
As the spring of 1944 begun, the British, now with a closer logistic collaboration by the US and Canada, kept supplying their troops in northern Norway and expanding their area of control. However most of the British effort had switched to Belgium and France.
Belgium and France
By spring 1944, Britain and her allies were already breaking into the European continent, from Greece, Italy, and Norway. Plus the air bombing campaigns. However they needed to open a western front in the continent.
Aware of the German spy network, the Britons used it to their advantage. German knew that the British were planing an invasion, and thought that the most probable point would be Pas-de-Calais, and the British begun to make maneuvers to enforce that perception.
The British actually chose four points to establish the beachheads: Dunkirk, Pais-de-Calais, Normany, and Cote-d'Azur, this last one by arranging a massive buildup in Corsica, Toscana and Genoa. Giving the current warfare between the pro-British Italian government in Rome and the German puppet government in northern Italy, the British expected that the preparations to open a front in southern France would not be noticed.
On March 8, 1944, the British made a massive movements in Dover, preceded by commando raids on Calais which attempted to blind the air defenses and radar positions. A massive fleet was deployed with air cover directed to Calais, however at mid way, a massive bombardment was delivered on German defense positions in Dunkirk and the fleet moved at Dunkirk, establishing the first beachhead.
On March 9, troop transports from Genoa and Corsica moved into Nice securing a beachhead by the end of the day, while heavy artillery was still attempting to break German defenses in Dunkirk.
On midnight to March 10, commando raids attempted to blind air defenses in Normandy while a fleet crossed the Channel, establishing the third beachhead in the early morning.
That same day, the Soviets relaunched the offensive over Prussia and Hungary.
The fourth and last of the original beachheads were established with little resistance in Calais on March 12. Dunkirk and Nice were secured by this date.
While the British had the honor to man the whole first beachhead at Dunkirk, all the following invasions had complete divisions from the French Liberation Army (the French being the first to land in Calais), Free Poland, Italy, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as volunteers from Belgium, Netherlands, Brazil and the USA.
By March 31, Paris was freed, the French Liberation Army being the first to reach the Arch of Triumph. Most major cities in northern and southern France and in Belgium were controlled by the allies.
In April 8, 1944, the French State government in Vichy declared the end of the French State and commanded all French troops to fight the Nazis for the restoration of the French Republic. The next step for the allies was to cross the Rhine.
Truce and Negotiation
The Soviet Union renewed her offensive in March 1944 just after the British had secured their beachheads in Belgium and Southern France. The Soviet offensive soon took East and West Prussia and Hungary.
The 13 May, 1944, the announcement was made: Adolf Hitler was killed, and most of the Nazi highest leaders had been arrested. General Rommel had been appointed the General Command of all German arms (except of Nazi paramilitaries, such as the SS, who were proscribed). A negotiated peace was offered to both Britain and the Soviet Union.
While Britain was demanding an unconditional surrender, they acceded to enter negotiations. German negotiators sat with Soviet and British peers in Stockholm on May 25, 1944. A Truce was agreed effective June 1st.
The German government offered to retreat to 1939 borders, and to dissolve the Anschluss. Both Britain and the Soviet Union demanded also demilitarization of Germany. The Soviet Union demanded recognition of the pro-Soviet governments in occupied territories, as well as the incorporation of the Baltic republics, eastern Poland and Bessarabia into the Soviet Union. The Germans did not contest those demands, but the British insisted on the existence of Poland. Germany opposed to any initiative that would reduce German pre-war borders.
By mid July, the Wehrmacht had retired from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Northern Italy, Norway, Denmark and any other pre-Anschluss territory. Some pro-Nazi governments still tried to control those territories with support of some SS, but the German negotiators in Stockholm rejected any link of the new German government with those parties. Soon Free France, backed by the British took control of France, Northern Italy surrendered to the Italian government in Rome, and Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway proclaimed pro-British governments.
Poland, and the demilitarization of Germany were the main unresolved problems in Stockholm.
Finally, Germany acceded on three main points:
- Germany would be confined to pre-1937 borders. With Danzig and Breslau transfered to Poland.
- The Anschluss was over. Germany and Austria would have separate governments.
- Germany and Austria would demilitarize. Both Germany and Austria would be occupied by the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Poland, and France, however these occupation zones would not be annexed to any of these powers.
The Soviet Union acceded to
- Retire from Poland west of the Curzon line, allowing the Polish government in exile to decide the Polish fate.
- Not to annex the occupied zones in Germany or Austria into the Soviet Union or any other pro-soviet state.
Britain acceded to
- Recognize the pro-soviet governments in Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, and the annexation of the Baltic Republics, Bessarabia and eastern Poland into the Soviet Union.
The agreement of these points, on September 19, 1944, is declared as the end of the Second Great European War. And, for many, the beginning of the Cold War.