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Battle front lines against Germany - January 1944
  • White: Axis territory

  • Pink: Allied territory

  • Grey: Neutral Nations

Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15 1945 (1945) The Chief of Staff of the United States Army

In a hindsight, from mid-1943 WW II entered a decisive phase, setting a stage for the ultimate victory of the Allies. In turn, 1944 was a harbinger of post-war world order. The Nazis suffered more and more defeats and heavy losses, but the war was not over yet.

By 1943, British and American forces had defeated the Axis powers in North Africa. Meanwhile, in the Pacific, after the initial Japanese victories, the US Pacific Fleet won in June 1942 the Battle of Midway which proved to be a turning point of the war in the region. In mid-1943 the Allies began counterattack in Japan moving on to the full-scale invasion of mainland Japan and its eventual surrender in 1945.

The US offensive across the central and southwest Pacific. The National WWII Museum

In 1944 Europe remained the main theatre of war. Advancing from West and the East, Allied forces excerpted more and more pressure on Nazi Germany. In Eastern Europe, the Red Army was progressing toward Berlin, steadily pushing out German army. On January 15th the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) - the dominant force in Polish resistance - started Operation Tempest (Operacja „Burza”); I aimed at seizing control of cities from withdrawing German army before the arrival of the Soviet Red Army and establishing Polish civil authorities there. This was of crucial importance to the Polish Government-in-Exile, whose goal was to restore Poland's 1939 borders with the USSR. What they did not know then was the fact that the „Big Three” had already decided on the fate of the post-war Polish eastern border at the conference in Teheran in November 1943. Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt settled on the Curzon line in the east, which meant annexation by USSR of 1/3 of Polish pre-war territory. This decision was kept secret from the Polish government and Polish citizens as the US president F.D. Roosevelt – in light of the upcoming 1944 presidential election – feared of its impact on the Polish voters in the US.

During the Teheran Conference the Western Allies committed also to the opening of the second front against Nazi Germany on the Western front to alleviate the German pressure on the Soviet Red Army on the Eastern Front. The cross-channel invasion of France in June 1944 (called Operation Overlord, the codename for the Battle of Normandy) was planned to coincide with the Soviet offensive in Belarus, Ukraine, Baltic States and Eastern Poland (called Operation Bagration), preventing the German forces from transferring from the Eastern to the Western Front. On June 6th, 1944 (the D-Day) the Normandy Landings were launched.

Massive landings at Omaha Beach, with scores of ships unloading men and materials. (D-Day was the largest amphibious invasion in military history). National Archives

156,000 American, British and Canadian troops stormed 50 miles of Normandy's beaches in northern France / Bodies of dead GIs covered with sheets near the seashore, 17 June 1944. Estimates for Allied D-Day fatalities range from 5,000 to 12,000. German casualties on D-Day have been estimated

On June 22nd, 1944, the Red Army attacked and destroyed German Army in Belarus and on July 4th liberated Minsk. German resistance was in this way effectively blocked, allowing the Soviet offensive into the Baltic States, Poland, and Romania over the course of July and August. On July 13th Vilnius was occupied by the Soviet troops leading to the reimposition of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialistic Republic. The same scenario was implemented in Latvia: on October 13th its capital was taken over by the Red Army and the Soviet system reinstated.

German POWs after liberation of Minsk Operation Bagration, 1944

The Red Army is greeted in Bucharest, Romani, August 1944 / Red Army soldiers in Riga, October 1944

When the Red Army entered Lublin, the first major city on the Polish territory, Stalin had a plan ready to install Soviet rule in Poland, and the communist Polish Committee of National Liberation/ Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego (PKWN) was already established in Moscow. PKWN functioned in opposition to the Polish Government-in Exile. On July 22nd it proclaimed power over Polish territory seized from Nazi Germany and continued this takeover of more parts of Poland as German army was withdrawing. Eventually Operation Bagration allowed the Red Army to reach the outskirts of Warsaw.

The Manifest PKWN presented 22 July 1944 in Chełm / Bierut, members of PKWN, Soviet officers - 15 August 1944, Lublin. Field mass in celebration of the Day of the Polish Army (Święto Wojska Polsiego), the only such gathering in the post WW / Every Pole...

The Soviet advance was a major factor in the Warsaw Uprising, which was initiated on August 1st by the Polish underground resistance, as part of the Operation Tempest, to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. The plan of the Home Army was to cooperate with the advancing Red Army, while Polish civil authorities came out from underground, took power and asserted the Polish sovereignty. However, the Soviet troops halted all combat operations as Stalin’s premediated move to allow the Uprising to fail, crush Polish resistance, and establish Soviet rule in Poland. On October 2nd the Warsaw Uprising surrendered to the German forces. As „punishment” for the Uprising, Hitler demanded the total destruction of Warsaw. By January 1945, 75% of the city’s infrastructure and 85% of the buildings were destroyed. The Easter Front stalled on the Vistula-river line until January 1945. Red Army together with Polish troops under Soviet command liberated Warsaw on January 17th, 1945. The Soviet-backed Polish Committee of National Liberation took power.

The W hour, August 1, 1944

Generał Antoni Chruściel "Monter" (in the middle) head of Warsaw District of AK and his Bureau of Information and Propaganda officers outside of Main Post Office, Napoleon Square, August, 1944 / Batalion "Kliński" during funeral on Zgida St., Sept. 1944. Phot. Tadeusz Bukowski.

At the same time, the Western Front suffered equally heavy battles. On January 17th, 1944, the Battle of Monte Cassino began in Italy. On May 18th, Polish II Corps under the command of Władysław Anders captured the monastery after severe struggles. The road to Rome was open, and on June 4th Rome fell to the Allies as the first capital of the Axis powers. The Allies started bombings of Berlin, Bucharest, and Belgrade. On June 2nd, French Provisional Government was formed. D-Day on June 6th, when Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, marked the beginning of the Operation Overlord. It helped to liberate Paris in August, then France, and significantly weakened Germany’s hold of Europe. There followed liberation of Belgium, Netherlands, and other Western countries from Nazi occupation. Allied land invasion of Germany began, and on October 21st Aachen was the first German city that fell to the Allies.

A unit of the U.S. Fifth Army passing through liberated Livorno (Leghorn), Italy, July 1944 / A British soldier helping an elderly woman amid the ruins of Caen, France, July 1944. British Information Service

Aerial photo of Aachen, Germany after the battle, 1 January 1945. Dept. of the Air Force archives.

Although Nazi army suffered more and more defeats it continued its plan of „final solution of the Jewish problem”. In any country they invaded, they deported local Jews to Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

In light of the dramatically changed military situation, approaching victory of the Allies and the fall of Nazi Germany, the Big Three started preparations for the Yalta Conference, to take place in February 1945, to discuss the postwar fate of Germany and organization of Europe.

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