Diplomatic History – From Axis Mastery to Allied Recovery 1941 to 1943

From 1941 through 1943 the Allies fought stubbornly, forged weapons, and designed a strategy to wrest the initiative from the Axis. Meanwhile, Axis exploitation of the captive nations served as a constant reminder to the Allied peoples of what was at stake in the global war.

Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere

The Japanese leaders knew the value of slogans. Wartime proconsuls pictured Japan as the liberator of Asians from Western colonial rule and appealed to the people whose lands they overran to help them in a common effort. Japan’s mission, Tokyo proclaimed, was to build a new order in Asia for the Asians. The Japanese named their far-flung dominion the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere (see Map 35). The reality of Japanese rule was considerably less appealing than the propaganda. The pattern of Japanese dominance had long been established in Korea, where a systematic policy of Japanization was pursued. In Manchuria, which had been taken from China in 1931 and renamed Manchukuo, a similar pattern evolved, although there the Japanese took greater pains to erect a facade of indigenous government. Exploitation was just as obviously the Japanese goal in occupied China. In 1940, Japan chose a well-known Nationalist defector, Wang Chingwei, as its puppet. Established at Nanking on March 30, 1940, his regime on Jan. 9, 1943, declared war on the United States and Great Britain.

Patterns of Japanese control for several other areas had to be devised after the expansion of 1940-1941. British Malaya was kept under direct military administration and scheduled for eventual incorporation in the Japanese Empire. The Netherlands East Indies also remained under Japanese military administration, but Indochina escaped such rule until March 10, 1945. Thailand, an independent state before 1941, became Japan’s ally under duress. Occupied by Japanese troops, it declared war on the United States and Great Britain on Jan. 25, 1942. Thanks to native collaborators, Burma and the Philippines also became allies of Japan. Increasingly, as the fortunes of war turned against them, the Japanese gave lip service to a goal of independence for the captive areas. Nevertheless, the grip of Japan was always maintained, and everywhere the native economies suffered. Meanwhile, Nazi Germany was ruling Europe with even greater severity than Japan employed in Asia.

Hitler’s Europe

The Nazi wartime empire (see Map 1) was an improvised makeshift, but it gave Adolf Hitler power that no modern European had ever held. Areas that had been parts of pre-1918 Germany and others that had large German-speaking populations were incorporated directly in the Third Reich. The incorporated territories were Austria; the Sudetenland; northwestern Poland, including Danzig, the Polish Corridor, and Posen (Poznan) ; and Eupen, Malmedy, and Moresnet, taken from Belgium in 1940. Other provinces-Alsace, Lorraine, Luxembourg, northwestern Yugoslavia, and northwestern Poland (Province of Bialystok ) -were not considered ready for full incorporation but were earmarked for eventual merger in the Reich. Approximately half of central-eastern Europe was scheduled to be a permanent Continental colonial realm, including the Baltic states, the Government-General of Poland (about one third of prewar Poland), White Russia, the Ukraine, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

In 1940-1941, German forces overran other territories that Hitler planned neither to incorporate in Germany nor to subordinate permanently as colonies. During the war these states were placed under a military occupation that was said to be temporary; they included Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Serbia, Greece, and France. Within these states native governments were allowed to function under varying degrees of supervision by German occupation authorities. Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania, Croatia, Slovakia, and Finland were satellite allies of Germany. They remained politically subservient, economically exploited, and occupied by German troops. Even Mussolini’s regime was subordinated to Berlin, especially after the duce’s downfall and reinstallation by Hitler in northern Italy in 1943. In that year, Germany occupied the areas in Albania and Yugoslavia that the Fascist state had previously controlled and added the South Tirol (Alto Adige), which Italy had possessed since 1919, to Greater Germany.

In all the areas except the allied and neutral countries, Germany maintained its control by ruthless terrorism. Even less defensible was the deliberate genocide that German forces practiced in order to fulfill the racist dogmas of the Nazis. By the end of the war, Hitler bore ultimate responsibility for killing possibly as many as 5,700,000 Jews. While furthering the extermination of “non-Aryans,” Nazi racial policy fostered the conversion of part Germans to full German citizenship.

By exploiting non-German peoples, Germany marshaled the human, natural, and industrial resources of the Continent between 1940 and 1944. Its economic realm produced 45 million tons of steel for the German war machine in the year of greatest output, or more than either Britain or the USSR produced. Together, however, the British and the Soviets produced more; and the United States alone, even early in the war, produced as much steel as all of Hitler’s Europe. The Nazi empire was to be broken down slowly but inexorably after the war spread to the Soviet Union and the Western Hemisphere.

Search for Solidarity in the Western Hemisphere

Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States had begun to mobilize the resources of the Americas in the struggle against the Axis powers. The success that was attained owed much to the Good Neighbor policy of the prewar decade. It also owed something to Axis agents and to the zeal of Latin American Nazis and fascists, whose activities convinced many of their countrymen that the Axis threat was not abstract and remote.

The first collective action by nations of the Western Hemisphere to meet the dangers of World War II had been taken during the first month of the conflict. In the Declaration of Panama, adopted on Oct. 3, 1939, foreign ministers of the 21 American nations south of Canada declared a “safety belt” around the hemisphere, extending from 300 to 1,000 miles from the eastern and western coastlines; the European belligerents were warned to desist from naval and military operations in this area. The foreign ministers of the American republics met again in Havana on July 21-30, 1940, to assess the implications of the Nazi conquests in western Europe. By the Act of Havana of July 30 they proclaimed that, pending final disposition, European colonies in Latin America might be made collective trusteeships of the American republics to prevent unfriendly powers from establishing control over them; any of the republics could act in an emergency while awaiting concerted measures. They also declared that any violation of “the territory, the sovereignty, or the political independence” of an American state by a non-American state should be considered an act of aggression against all of the republics. Canada, a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, was not represented at the Havana Conference, but on August 17 the United States joined with it in agreeing to create a Permanent Joint Board on Defense, which would plan the security of the northern half of the hemisphere.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama immediately declared war on the Axis powers. Meeting in Rio de Janeiro on Jan. 15-28, 1942, the foreign ministers of the American republics resolved that all of them should sever diplomatic relations with the Axis. All did so at the time except Chile, which acted in January 1943, and Argentina, which delayed until January 1944. Mexico and Brazil sent troops overseas to help in the war effort. Argentina’s refusal to cooperate with the other republics was the most troublesome facet of wartime diplomacy in the Western Hemisphere and a major problem that confronted the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace, meeting at Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City, on Feb. 21-March 8, 1945. With Argentina deliberately excluded, the other republics declared that all were joint guardians of each against any aggression; Argentina was notified that she could be admitted to the future United Nations only if she adhered to the Act of Chapultepec and entered the war. The Argentine provisional government on March 27, 1945, declared war against Germany.

Consolidation of the Allied Coalition

Concerting the policies of the American republics was an important task; maintaining the coalition and directing the energies of the great-power Allies was even more imperative. Berlin and Tokyo, not their own choices, had made them allies, and they would not regain full freedom of decision until their common foes were defeated.

During the week before the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941, Churchill advised Roosevelt of his intention to aid the Soviets when the German attack fell, and Roosevelt promised his support. Shipping difficulties caused Stalin to be dissatisfied with the amount of aid that he received, and after the war Soviet historians would contend that all Western supplies did not exceed 4 percent of the wartime production of the USSR. But the aid given in 1941-1942 came at a time when the Soviet Union needed it most. By mid-1942, Britain and the United States had sent 4,400 tanks and 3,100 planes to the Soviet Union. Quite possibly the Soviet Army could not have held out without them, as Stalin himself seemed to confess at Teheran (Nov. 28-Dec. 1, 1943 )

Coordination within the Big Three coalition in 1941-1942 was, as it always would be, imperfect. In July 1941, Churchill failed to persuade Stalin to promise the restoration of the prewar Polish-Soviet frontier. On July 30, however, Moscow established diplomatic relations with the Polish government in exile, which it previously had scorned. Other differences and signs of harmony appeared. In September, Stalin renewed his aggrieved demands for a second front in the west in 1941, and this problem caused Churchill great concern. So, too, did the revelation of Soviet war aims made to Anthony Eden when the British foreign secretary visited Moscow in December. The Soviet proposals served as a reminder that Stalin’s approval of the Atlantic Charter had been qualified. The Soviet leaders wanted Britain to agree to their retention of all the territory they had acquired while collaborating with Hitler and somewhat more for good measure. Unwilling to accept all the Soviet proposals and fearful of splitting the coalition if they rejected them, London and Washington adopted a policy of postponement and in public statements gave voice to general principles rather than to specifics.

On Jan. 1, 1942, the USSR joined the United States, Great Britain, China, France, and 21 other countries in signing the Declaration by United Nations in Washington. This pact pledged each participant “to employ its full resources, military or economic,” against the Axis powers and to make no “separate armistice or peace with the enemies.” Member nations, including the USSR, “subscribed to” the Atlantic Charter’s “common program of purposes and principles,” although these were not repeated in the declaration. The USSR remained faithful to its neutrality pact of April 1941 with Japan, but this raised no serious problems within the new coalition. To consolidate the Allied coalition an Anglo-Soviet alliance, pledging mutual support against aggression for a period of 20 years, was signed on May 26, 1942. Behind this pact lay Western hopes for friendly relations after the common victory over the Axis.

For the moment, however, Hitler allowed Stalin no security, and the Soviet dictator relentlessly reiterated his demand for an early second front in western Europe. In May-June 1942, Molotov traveled to London and Washington to press this issue. President Roosevelt finally approved a statement, made public on June 11, which implied that a second front would be created in Europe before the end of the year. This insufficiently qualified statement could not be fulfilled, for Churchill and his generals favored giving precedence to an invasion of North Africa over a cross-Channel attack. The North African invasion was launched on November 8.

The reconciliation of the French factions in North Africa was a major task for Roosevelt and Churchill when they met at Casablanca in newly liberated French Morocco on Jan. 14-24, 1943. There the rival leaders of Free France, Generals Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle, were now urged to work together. On June 3, their diverse supporters created a French Committee of National Liberation with headquarters in Algiers. This body established its control over French colonies in northern and central Africa and directed an underground resistance movement in France. Gradually de Gaulle asserted his mastery over the committee.

At Casablanca, Roosevelt and Churchill also considered their disagreements on strategy and their relations with Stalin. Their military decisions at this conference were certain to cause greater suspicion and concern in Moscow: an invasion of Sicily would be carried out at an early date, but the invasion of France, so much desired by Stalin, would be delayed, possibly until 1944. Somehow Stalin had to be assured of Western loyalty without an early second front and without specific political promises. This consideration probably was the dominant motive for the act for which the Casablanca Conference is remembered, the proclamation of a policy of unconditional surrender. After deliberation with Churchill the formula was announced by the president on January 24. Peace could come, Roosevelt said, only by eliminating German and Japanese war power, and this meant “unconditional surrender by Germany, Italy, and Japan.” While the public statement may have prolonged the war, this is by no means certain. It avoided bickering within the Allied nations that might have sapped their military energies, and it may well have forestalled serious Soviet efforts for a separate peace with Nazi Germany in 1943, when months passed without a second front in northwestern Europe.

In the spring of 1943 the British urged new delays in the creation of a second front in France, and in the Trident Conference, held in Washington on May 12-25, the Americans reluctantly acquiesced in their desire to invade the Italian Peninsula soon after Sicily was in hand. During the discussion, Churchill hinted at the desirability of limited operations in the Balkans. The American military leaders opposed this suggestion; they would do so again when Churchill and Eden later pressed it with greater vigor. Meanwhile, it was agreed to postpone the cross-Channel invasion until May 1, 1944. A storm of Soviet protests arose when Stalin was advised in June of the Trident decisions. As negotiations developed in August and September leading to the surrender of Italy, other disagreements between London and Washington developed, and Stalin ( generally omitted from the decision making) repeatedly aired his suspicions of Western policies. Then Hull and Eden traveled to Moscow for major discussions (Oct. 19-30, 1943) of political aims in the war. They assured the Russians of plans to invade France in the spring of 1944, and tensions within the coalition were eased. When Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin themselves met at Teheran at the end of November for the first Big Three talks, the Soviet dictator was given more definitive assurances on November 30 that the second front was to be established in France in May 1944. Roosevelt and Churchill also led Stalin to believe that his major political objectives would be achieved at the end of the war. Friendly relations seemed to be firmly established among the three war leaders. In Italy, meanwhile, the events of 1943 had brought the Allies closer to victory.

First Crack in the Axis – Surrender in Italy

Mussolini’s control over Italy had been shaken by the Allied victory in North Africa in the spring of 1943. On July 24-25, leading Fascists, generals, and King Victor Emmanuel conspired to remove the duce from power, and a new government was created with Marshal Pietro Badoglio as premier. On September 3, the day Allied troops landed on the Italian mainland, Badoglio’s regime signed a secret armistice with the Western Allies. Because German forces remained in the peninsula, hard fighting would continue until April 1945 between German and Allied armies in central Italy. Meanwhile, after the autumn of 1943, armed Italian underground units harried the Germans in northern Italy; in 1944 and 1945 they received increasing assistance from the Allies.

The Italian armistice and political problems in southern Italy created friction among the Allies. On Oct. 13, 1943, the Western Allies permitted the Badoglio regime to declare war on Germany, thus achieving a status of cobelligerency with the Allies. The USSR was informed of the various developments but was scarcely consulted. Then disagreements between Washington and London allowed Stalin to exert somewhat greater influence in Italy. On March 13, 1944, the Anglo-American leaders were surprised by the announcement of an agreement between the Victor Emmanuel-Badoglio regime and the USSR. While the British and the Americans were debating the future of the monarchical government, the USSR had given it diplomatic recognition and thus a new lease on life. The Western Allies arranged for Victor Emmanuel to retire in favor of his son, Crown Prince Humbert, in June. Thenceforth they would recognize the monarchical regime until the Italian people decided in favor of a republic in 1946. By their exclusive occupation of Italy, Britain and the United States guaranteed that this state would be linked closely to them in the future.

False Approaches to Peace

The events in Italy in 1943-1944 and German reversals in the Soviet Union stimulated consideration of possible ways to end the war short of total military decision. Japan had not declared war on the USSR and was free to seek a separate peace between that nation and Germany. From March 1942 through September 1944, Tokyo occasionally suggested to Berlin and Moscow the possibility of Japanese mediation, but without success. Separate Soviet overtures were made toward Germany in December 1942, June 1943, and September 1943, but Hitler did not respond. In September 1943, he told Joseph Goebbels that what he wished to win in the East, “Stalin could not renounce.” Both in 1943 and in 1944 reports of peace feelers circulated in the capitals of the Western Allies and caused anxiety. Possibly, sensing this, Stalin kept the potentiality of a separate peace open only to enhance his bargaining power. Other possibilities of shortening the war by political action were explored in these years. Nazi Germany encouraged revolution against the Kremlin, while Moscow used anti-Nazi Germans in the Soviet Union to urge German soldiers and civilians to desert or to rise against Hitler. Both efforts were made with reservations and failed to accomplish the desired results.

Meanwhile, leaders of the anti-Nazi resistance movement in Germany urged British and American representatives to give them encouragement for revolution. Apparently they received very little; certainly they requested much. In general, they wished Germany to retain Austria, the Sudetenland, and part of pre-1939 Poland. They also wanted the Western powers, after making a separate peace with a Germany purged of Hitler, to allow Germany to continue the war against the USSR. The resistance depended on the support of Wehrmacht generals, and the Western Allies were determined to crush German miltarism as well as nazism. These considerations were probably more significant than the unconditional surrender policy in causing the unenthusiastic response of the Western powers to resistance overtures. Even without Western encouragement the resistance leaders wounded Hitler in an attempt to kill him on July 20, 1944, and tried to revolt against his regime. Distrusted by the West before July 20 and brutally crushed by Hitler after the unsuccessful revolt, the German resistance movement was not destined to succeed in its efforts to shorten the war.

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