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Great Battles of World War Two - Land Battles

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

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United Kingdom
Immediate Media Company London Limited

in this issue

11 min
a line in the sand

At around 9.40pm on Friday 23 October 1942, Flight Lieutenant Tommy Thompson, a Battle of Britain and Malta veteran, was flying over the Alamein line on his return from a strafing mission. Suddenly, the guns below opened up and it seemed to Thompson that one massive flash of fire had erupted in a long line. Mesmerised, he circled around at 3,000 feet and watched. Further away, he spotted a wave of bombers pounding enemy positions too. “A magnificent sight,” he recalled. “What an artillery battle.” On the ground, 22-year-old Corporal Albert Martin of 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade had never heard anything like it in the two long years he’d been in the desert. He’d been feeling on edge and nervy all day, knowing they would be going into battle that night,…

11 min
britain’s greatest humiliation

Singapore fell to attack from Malaya by the Japanese 25th Army, led by Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita (pronounced ‘Yamashta’), in February 1942. The Axis victory was the culmination of an amphibious operation launched on the morning of 8 December 1941 along the eastern Malay and Thai coastlines. Yamashita became known as the ‘Tiger of Mal aya’ for the capture, a military feat of unusual brilliance that owed much to what he had learned touring the European battlefields in 1940 and 1941. He saw how well-equipped and defended countries had fallen like dominoes in the face of a decisive, combined arms attack, noting the immense psychological value of fast-moving armoured columns attacking with integrated artillery and air support. Japan’s plan was to capture Malaya and thereby lay siege to Singapore. These two…

7 min
the biggest tank battle in his tory?

The summer of 1943 saw the German army mount a risky operation that made even Hitler nervous. “Whenever I think of this attack, my stomach turns over,” he told a subordinate. Soviet advances after the battle of Stalingrad and subsequent German counterattacks had left a huge salient – or bulge – sticking out into the German-held territory around Kursk in the Ukraine. Hitler’s plan, which was codenamed Operation Citadel, was to mount attacks from the north and south in order to cut off and surround the Russian troops in the salient. Success would also give the overstretched German army a shorter front line to man. To build up the force to carry out this ambitious plan, the Germans brought in troops, tanks and planes from other sectors of the front. In…

12 min
war in the jungle

On 27 January 1944, British lieutenant colonel Leslie Mizen led a patrol across the Chindwin river near the Indian-Burmese border to investigate rumours that a build-up of Japanese troops was taking place along the east bank. The Japanese shouldn’t have been there – in numbers at least. After creeping across countryside in the moonlight, the Allied troops laid an ambush on a track leading into a village. At about 10 o’clock the next morning, two Japanese soldiers were seen wandering along the path, chatting casually to each other. They were immediately cut down in a hail of rifle fire. The patrol seized a crop of documents from the crumpled bodies, and found the Japanese were from the newly arrived 15th Division – one of the fighting elements of the Japanese…

4 min
background to the battle

“Marshall absolutely fails to realise what strategic treasures lie at our feet in the Mediterranean and always hankers after cross-Channel operations. He admits that our object must be to eliminate Italy and yet is always afraid of facing the consequences… He cannot see beyond the tip of his nose and is maddening.” So wrote Sir Alan Brooke, the chief of the Imperial General Staff, effectively Britain’s most senior soldier, of his opposite number in the US, George Marshall. At the Casablanca conference in January 1943, as the ring closed around Stalingrad in the east, western Allied leaders met to discuss the next move after the successful African campaign. The conference saw arguments between Britain and the US The resulting muddle and compromise reached its grim conclusion at Monte Cassino. The road that…

12 min
hell in the hills

When a lieutenant in the Scots Guards first clapped eyes on Monte Cassino at the start of 1944, he glumly noted: “Impregnable mountains, obviously with armies of Boche. Vast mountains lie in front, bleak and sinister.” His premonitions were to prove correct. The battle to take the hill was the bitterest and bloodiest of the western Allies’ struggles with the German Wehrmacht on any front of the Second World War. In fact, many Germans compared it with the vicious battle of Stalingrad the previous year. Monte Cassino lies 80 miles south of Rome in a region characterised by fast-flowing rivers and high mountains. It rises up from the narrow valley of the Liri river. Towering over the entrance to the valley is the monastery of Monte Cassino, its huge walls perched on…