Great Battles of World War Two - Land Battles

Great Battles of World War Two - Land Battles

From north Africa to the Pacific, this special edition from BBC History Magazine explores the decisive ground campaigns that shaped World War Two. Discover: - Why Hitler’s invasion of France was his biggest gamble - How Montgomery masterminded victory at El Alamein - The inside story behind the brutal battle of Okinawa - Why the Germans were crushed at Stalingrad - How the Allies liberated Normandy after D-Day - The psychological effects of battlefield trauma on Allied and Axis soldiers

United Kingdom
Immediate Media Company London Limited

in this issue

2 min

The Second World War may be fading from living memory, but discussion of this era-defining conflict shows no sign of abating. In this special edition – published to mark 75 years since the end of the war – we bring together the work of Britain’s top military historians as we explore the major land battles that shaped 1939–45. From the punishing heat of the Egyptian desert to the deep freeze of the Russian winter, we pursue the tactics, the technology and the human stories that continue to make the war a deep source of fascination for so many. We discuss Hitler’s shocking invasion of France in 1940, the Allies’ against-all-odds defence of Tobruk, the bloody struggle to liberate the Philippines, the massive tank showdown at Kursk and much more, as we highlight the…

4 min
the sound and the fury

When the Second World War started, none of the protagonists were prepared. Since the mid-1930s Hitler had planned on going to war in 1943, but if the Nazis were under-equipped in 1939, they at least had a high command that was pugnacious and progressive. Not so their adversaries. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery reflected in his memoirs that, by 1939, most of the senior British officers had outstayed their welcome. “They remained in office far too long, playing musical chairs with the top jobs but never taking a chair away when the music stopped,” he wrote. It was the same in France, where, according to the military theorist Basil Liddell Hart, the army’s high command was “20 years out of date”. An advocate of mechanised warfare between the wars, Liddell Hart was scathing…

13 min
going for broke

Adolf Hitler was one of the greatest risk-takers in history. As he told Hermann Göring, just before the Second World War began: “I always go for broke!” So, in a lifetime of living on the edge, what do you think was the single greatest gamble Adolf Hitler ever took? Most people, I think, would point to the decision to invade the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 as the craziest of all Hitler’s risks. Not least because it was Red Army troops who would, as a consequence, eventually enter Berlin in victory nearly four years later, after the most destructive single war ever fought. This gamble obviously went spectacularly wrong for the Germans. But that is not how it seemed to most people at the time. Both the British and Americans…

12 min
tobruk surviving the siege

Lieutenant Philip Brownless, a 21-year-old officer in the 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment, stood on the deck of HMS Havock as it raced through the darkness off the north African coast, his eyes searching the murky gloom ahead. Suddenly, far in the distance, he could see flashes lighting up the horizon. They were from anti-aircraft guns, mixed with explosions from bombs dropped from Italian Savoia 79 planes flying out of the Libyan province of Tripolitania, and German Heinkels coming in from Crete. Along the coast, searchlights stabbed into the night, occasionally picking out a bomber at high altitude, while the weaving aircraft sought to escape the beam. It was mid-October 1941. Tobruk was in the grip of one of the longest sieges in the history of the British empire, the men of…

1 min

October 1940 An Italian force under the command of Lieutenant General Graziani invades Egypt, but stops short of Mersa Matruh. Early December The British counter-attack and sweep the Italians from Cyrenaica. Bardia and Tobruk are captured, and the Italians surrender at Beda Fomm. 12 February 1941 The Germans arrive in north Africa and Rommel immediately counterattacks. Tobruk is cut off by 10 April. 10–14 April Rommel’s first panzer assault penetrates the Red Line perimeter defences around Tobruk, but is thrown back by Australian infantry, British artillery and tanks. 30 April Rommel’s second fierce assault secures a small indentation in the Red Line at Point 209 but makes no further headway. Tobruk remains safe. 15 May Operation Brevity is launched from Egypt, but grinds to a halt after a day as British tanks are unable to penetrate German and Italian positions. 15 June Operation…

11 min
moscow or bust

It was meant to be a ‘decisive’ battle. The plan of Operation Typhoon, launched at the very end of September 1941, anticipated that the crippled remains of the Red Army would have to defend the western approaches to Moscow, and there it would be smashed. The Barbarossa campaign had begun when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941; this defeat before Moscow would bring the war in the east to a triumphant close. The essence of Germany’s Barbarossa plan had been to conduct a war of movement. The original intention had been for full-scale fighting in the Soviet Union to last only a couple of months. Under the overall command of Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, three army groups would advance to the line of the Daugava and Dnieper…