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Important Events of WWII 1942-1943

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

Villa in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, site of the conference, now a Holocaust memorial.

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked an American naval base in Pearl Harbor forcing the USA to fully engage in World War II. Earlier that year, after Russia’s first defeats following the German invasion on June 22 1941 in operation “Barbarossa”, it recovered and started to strike back. Now, with the USSR and the USA in an anti-Hitler coalition, the fate of war and the ultimate defeat of Germany was apparent. However, it can be stated only in hindsight.

In Europe, as a result of the Wannsee conference of January 20, 1942, Germany implemented the " final solution of the Jewish question" methodically exterminating Jews across Europe. On 16 July, 1942 in France, the Vel' d'Hiv' Roundup – the biggest mass arrest of French Jews took place. On 22 July, 1942, Nazis started the first deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to death camps.

The 1st page of the participants’ list: 15 administrative leaders of various government departments led by the director of the Reich Main Security Office SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich.

16 August, 1942 marks the beginning of the Battle of Stalingrad – one of the most important campaigns of WWII on the Eastern front. The German army began the offensive of the city, but the Soviets withstood the prolonged siege and ultimately defeated the invaders (in January of 1943).

German soldiers marching in Russian summer of 1942 (IWM). On the outskirts of Stalingrad, August Sept. 1942 (RHP).

The Battle of Stalingrad in numbers

On 11 November, 1942, despite the Vichy government being formally neutral, the Axis forces launched “Operation Anton” and started the occupation of Vichy-administered France. In North Africa, German forces commenced the offensive against British forces and captured Tobruk on 21 June. In November, the British recaptured Tobruk and defeated Axis forces at El Alamein. On 8 November, the Allied forces – in Operation “Torch” – landed in Algeria and Morocco.

Torch landings, Nov. 1942

In Far Asia, Japan captured Burma, Singapore, Bali, Timor, Java and the Philippines. In June, 1942, in the Battle of Midway – a major naval battle of WWII in the Pacific – Japan was conquered by American forces.

On the Pacific front - on board USS Yorktown (CV-5) hit by Japanese bombs on 4 June 1942. The U.S. National Archives

In Europe, from January 14 to 24, 1943, the Casablanca Conference, with Churchill, Roosevelt and de Gaulle present, took place. Its aim was to discuss and agree on the plan of the Allies for the next stage of WWII. They concluded that the purpose of the war was "unconditional surrender" of the Axis powers.

Dinner party given by President Roosevelt at his villa at Casablanca for Sidi Mohammed, Sultan of Morocco, during the Casblanca Conference. Seated - Sidi Mohammed, FDR, Churchill. Gen. Patt

Stalin did not attend officially due to the ongoing Battle of Stalingrad. The Soviets defended it fiercely and, on January 31, 1943, German field marshal Friedrich Paulus surrendered. For the first time, the German people were informed by the Nazi government about a failure in the war effort. The next German defeats in Soviet Russia followed. Over the span of 1943, the Soviets recaptured Kursk, Kharkov, Voronezh, Rostov-on Don, Smolensk, Kiev and were progressing steadily to the West. The Allies started bombings of the German cities and industrial plants of Ruhr, in accordance with the Casablanca Conference agreement,on total annihilation of the enemy forces.

Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, commander of 6th Army, captured at Beketovka, near Stalingrad, Jan. 31, 1943 & interrogated by gen. K. Rokossovsky (left) & Marshal N. Voronov. Bundesarchiv & NKVD files

In Warsaw, after German officials acting on "the final solution of the Jewish question" ordered liquidation of the Jewish ghetto, the Jews resisted and started the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (April 19 – May 16, 1943). It was the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II. However, Jews had no sufficient means of defense. Germans destroyed the ghetto, killing about 14,000 Polish Jews; another 40,000 Jews were sent to death camps. The Germans liquidated, in a similar manner, the Jewish ghetto in Kraków.

Two auxiliary police officers attached to the SS surveying the bodies of Jews killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. National Archives United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Deportation of Jews from the Krakow Ghetto, March 1943. Yad Vashem Photo Archives

On April 13, 1943, Radio Berlin reported the discovery by Wehrmacht of mass graves -

of more than 22,000 Polish prisoners of war - near the city of Smolensk purportedly killed by NKVD, known as the Katyn massacre (mass execution carried out by the Soviet Union in April-May 1940).

In May, 1943 Allies started bombings of Italian territory - Sicily, Sardinia, Naples. Lampedusa, Rome, Pisa, Bari, Salerno - marking an offensive against Italian forces and taking control, over the span of several months, over large parts of Italian land. German and Italian forces began to evacuate. Mussolini was arrested and relieved of his offices.

On July 4, 1943, General Władysław Sikorski - the Prime Minister of Polish Government-in-Exile and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces - died in an air crash in Gibraltar. His death was a heavy blow for the Polish morale and its freedom cause.

On September 3, 1943, Italy signed an armistice, surrendered and eventually dropped out of the war. However, it was not over yet for the Italian people. The Italian resistance took over and, on October 13, declared war on Germany. At the same time as the fights in Italy, the Allies and the Nazis heavily battled in Greece. On November 9, 1943, General de Gaulle became President of the French Committee of National Liberation.

Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, on behalf of the Allies, and Gen. Giuseppe Castellano, on behalf of Italy, signing the Italian Armistice at Cassibile, Sicily.

A German tank from the 1st SS Panzer Division in front of the Duomo Cathedral, Milano, during the rapid German takeover of Italy after the Italian armistice. Bundesarchiv

In Africa, in January 23, 1943, the Allies took Tripoli in Libya, in February - Tunisia. On May 13, the remaining German Afrika Korps and Italian troops surrendered to Allies which secured command in North Africa.

In Asia, Japanese and American forces were fighting with changing success. However, the United States was winning. Also, Allies with colonies in Asia joined the effort against the Axis powers in the Solomon Islands, Goa, Burma, Australia, Aleutian Islands and Trobriand Islands.

The end of the year was marked by two significant conferences. During the first, the Cairo Conference (November 22–26, 1943), American President Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Churchill and Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek discussed the ways to defeat Japan. Two days after the Cairo Conference ended, the first of "the Big Three" conferences between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill was held in Tehran.

Gen. Chiang Kai-Shek, FDR, WInston Churchill meeting in Cairo to discuss Japan's future. Imperial War Museums

The participants of The Tehran Conference (November 28 - December 1, 1943) - which preceded the 1945 Yalta and Potsdam conferences - discussed the planned June 1944 invasion of Europe (at Normandy), codenamed "Operation Overlord," and named General Eisenhower as its head. At Tehran, they also discussed the formation of the United Nations - a new international body to replace the League of Nations, which proved to be incapable of preventing war – in the near future and post-war division of Germany to neutralize its ability to wage future wars.

Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill sit for photographs during the Tehran Conference. Air Ministry Collection

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