Reaper Two-Six, home of the 26th Tactical Fighter Wing
Battle of the Bulge

The Ardennes have played a large role in all of the wars in the region. Towards the beginning of World War II, Germany passed through them to attack France, and in less than a month had captured half of the country. At the end of 1944, when Allied forces were liberating western Europe from German occupation, the German High Command decided to once again use this region for an assault.

On December 16, 1944, the German offensive launched, and by December 25 they had advanced 90 kilometers into the region, using the poor weather to their advantage and trying to take the bridges over the Meuse River. However, the weather had improved by the end of December, which allowed the Allies to call in air support. The spearhead of the attack, the 2nd Panzer Division, was surrounded, and the 5th Tank Army was under threat of suffering a similar fate. The German army began to retreat.

Except for isolated conflicts and counterattacks, by January 29 Allied forces had completely defeated the Ardennes Offensive.

The Wehrmacht lost the strategic initiative once and for all.

Siege of Malta

On June 11, one day after Italy declared war on Great Britain and France, bombers from Sicily attacked the Grand-Harbor, Hal Far, and Takali airfields. At the time of these air raids, the island only contained a small British garrison of 4000 and 6 Gloster Gladiator airplanes. Italy, aiming to invade Greece and fearing an attack from Malta, continued intensive bombing.

By 1942, carpet bombings of Maltese towns and airfields by the Italian aviation, supported by Luftwaffe, left Malta almost barren. There was a great lack of ammunition, provisions and aircraft fuel. A few convoys that were sent by the Allies from Alexandria or Gibraltar were able to reach Malta.

The air and sea blockade of the islands was only lifted by 1943 through a series of dangerous operations, the most noted of which was Operation Pedestal. The renewal of supply lines and restoration of Maltese aviation allowed the island to become an important base for containing Italy in the Mediterranean and, later, for landing in Normandy.

Battle of the Ruhr

In 1945, after defeating German forces in Ardennes, the Allies launched a counteroffensive on German territory, taking strategically important and industrial regions.

Thus, on April 18, 1945, after the encirclement of German troops by American and British forces, the Allies took over the Ruhr region. Army Group B, the last German force to offer real opposition to the Allies in their march towards Berlin, was completely defeated.

The German command lost the largest industrial region that provided the country with war-sustaining power.

Attack on Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, Japanese carrier aviation and submarines launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. This devastating strike was intended to destroy most of the U.S. ships in the Pacific and to give the Japanese a free hand for further invasions in the region.

It started the war in the Pacific; before Pearl Harbor, the U.S. might have had doubts about participating in World War II, but after the attack its choice was obvious and unanimous.

Despite the irreparable damage suffered by the American fleet, Japan was unable to keep America out of the game.

Battle of Midway

Midway Atoll and Wake Island were both home to US military bases. However, unlike the attacks of Pearl Harbor and Wake Island that had been planned by the Japanese military before the outbreak of the Pacific War, no plans to invade Midway as a strategic position had been made. The Japanese invasion of the island aimed more at challenging the U.S. navy to battle than gaining control of the base.

Thus, between June 4-6, 1942, the US Navy defeated Japan in one of the greatest naval battles of World War II near Midway Atoll. The Imperial Japanese Navy lost most of its carriers, and thereby completely losing initiative in the Pacific War.

Battle for the Kuban

The region became one of the priority goals for German command because of its location, and large amount of subsoil resources, including oil. Invading Kuban would have deprived the USSR of the natural resources essential for the war and allow Germany to establish control over the Caucasus.

While Army Group B was fighting at Stalingrad to cut off communications between the Caucasus and European Russia, Army Group A moved southward. From August 1942, many important Soviet cities were taken in a series of bloody battles in Kuban. On September 11, Novorossiysk fell. However, the German Army suffered heavy losses and thus was forced to assume the defensive.

Meanwhile, the war reached a turning point for the Red Army at Stalingrad. By 1943, the Stalingrad (South) front was posing a serious threat for the Army Group A rearward area. On January 1, 1943, the South front forces launched a counteroffensive.

Mozdok-Malgobek Defensive Operation

By the end of August 1942, the German army had captured most of Kuban. One after another, they had seized Krasnodar, Armavir, and Maykop. The 17th Army, proceeding further south to Tuapse, was stopped by Soviet troops, but the 1st Panzer Army continued to advance eastward, intending to seize the oilfields of Baku and Grozny.

Thus the German army came to face the Soviet line, which was evenly spread over the entire front on the bank of the river Terek. The battle began on the night of September 1, when German forces launched a series of diversionary attacks east of Mozdok. On the morning of September 2, with the help of air support and artillery, German troops began crossing the Terek River south of Mozdok, overwhelming the few Soviet troops in the area. They seized a bridgehead on the right bank of the river and advanced another 12 kilometers south. Soviet command responded by sending reinforcements from its reserves and from the areas unaffected by the attack, forcing the enemy back north 9 kilometers. But the Germans were not about to give up and, with the support of their motorized Viking division, they captured several settlements by September 29. Nevertheless, they had suffered heavy losses and were unable to advance further.

The Soviet attack had forced the Germans to defend their position. The advance towards Grozny was halted.

Norwegian Fjords

Norway remained neutral on the eve of World War II, but for the German command it was the key both to the Swedish mines and the North Sea. For this reason, and because of fears that Britain could base their own military operations in Norway, Germany began to plan Operation Weserübung, a simultaneous attack on Norway and Denmark.

Britain also planned to move into Norway to help Finland defend itself from the Soviet Union. In addition, the British hoped to lay mines in the neutral waters between Norway and the coastal islands to interfere with the delivery of ore from Sweden to Germany.

The German invasion began on April 9, 1940, when the first landing party entered the harbor of Narvik, where two naval battles took place. Bergen, Stavanger, Trondheim, Kristiansund, and other cities on the coast were attacked and occupied during the same day. Many cities suffered devastating bombing strikes.

The Norwegians suffered from a lack of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and so could not effectively resist the advancing German forces. On April 14, British and French troops in the region, supported by British aircraft, were heavily assaulted by the Luftwaffe. However, they not only managed to repel the attacks, but also to liberate Narvik on April 28.

The plight of affairs in France, however, forced the Allies to evacuate. Certain parts of northern Norway resisted until June 10. By June 16, the country was completely occupied by Germany. Although the German operation was successful, the Kriegsmarine suffered heavy losses, preventing the success of later attempts at invading the United Kingdom.

Battle of Peleliu

The Caroline and Mariannas Islands, excluding the island of Guam, belonged to Japan before World War II began. In 1941, after capturing Guam, the Japanese controlled the entire region. In the summer of 1944 about 30 thousand Japanese soldiers were stationed on the islands.

In the Mariannas-Palau Operation, American forces had to capture Angaur and Peleliu in order to shut down the Japanese air attacks on the flank of the American forces trying to reach the Philippines. So, on September 15, American troops landed on Peleliu, and on the 17th, they landed on Angaur. But although the fight on Angaur went well, and the island along with its airfield were captured on September 30th, the fight for Peleliu was long and hard. The Japanese used underground paths to reinforce their troops and did not engage in open conflict.

The Americans quickly captured the airfield, but bloody battles for the rest of the island ensued, in which they lost about 2,000 troops and an additional 8,000 were wounded or missing in action. The battle continued until November of 1944. After two months of fighting, the USA finally had complete control of the island.

The capture of Peleliu allowed the Americans to prepare for an offensive against the Philippines.

Battle of Wake Island

The Japanese Air Force attacked Wake Island on December 8, 1941, just a few hours after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. The first assault destroyed the majority of the aircraft stationed on the island. However, the four remaining F4F-3 and a small group of coastal artillery managed to defend the base for two weeks until the lack of ammunition, provisions, fuel, and the loss of the remaining aircraft forced the Wake garrison to surrender on December 23.

On September 4, 1945 the island was retaken by the U.S.

Battles of Khalkhyn Gol

Manchuria joined China in the 17th century but remained separate from other areas of the country. In the 19th century, when the Chinese government’s power had weakened, outlying parts of the empire began to declare their independence. Manchuria was among them, and, strengthened by Russian influence, the state gained control over Outer Manchuria (the territory north of the Amur river).

But Japan wanted the land of Manchuria, as well. This conflict of interest between the two countries led to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Japan immediately occupied its new Manchurian territory. On March 1, 1932, the puppet state of Manchukuo was established. Shortly afterwards, Japan, the real authority over Manchukuo, demanded that Mongolia recognize its new state border as the Khalkhyn Gol river, thus expanding the country’s territory west by 20 kilometers. Negotiations between Mongolia and Japan in 1935 ended at an impasse. Mongolia was forced to turn to the Soviet Union and signed a «Mutual Assistance Treaty» with it, prompting the Soviets to deploy troops into Mongolia in 1937. Japanese forces in the area then began to oppose the Soviets. The two forces met in battle in 1938, on the shores of Lake Hassan.

The tension was growing rapidly. From January 1939 onward, there were several provocative Japanese incursions across the Mongolia border. In early May, the frequency of these provocations increased, and Japan launched an offensive on May 28. On May 29, a Soviet counterattack forced the Japanese to retreat to their original position.

During the month of June, fierce air battles took place over the Khalkhyn Gol, but on land, there was not a single conflict. The superiority of the Japanese pilots was demonstrated in the first days of the war, so Soviet command decided to transfer some of its aces to the region. In July, the Japanese launched a full-scale offensive. Though initially successful, the move eventually culminated in Japan’s defeat in August. Historians believe that the battle of Khalkhyn Gol was the main reason that Japan and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact in the fall of 1941.

Battle of Guam

On the morning of December 8, 1941, just three hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese air forces began a series of bombings on the island. The next day, the bombardment continued, and on December 10, Japanese troops landed on the island and captured it in a quick and short attack, losing only one man. Thus the last of the Mariana Islands came under the control of Japan.

On July 21, 1944, the United States began an operation to liberate the island from Japanese control. The operation ended victoriously on August 10 of that same year. Japanese troops fiercely resisted the Americans and refused to surrender even when their position was hopeless. As a result, they were almost completely destroyed. Eleven Japanese soldiers chose to retreat into the jungles of Guam and were soon forgotten, assumed dead. It was only in 1972 that Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi, the last survivor of the group, was discovered by local residents and returned to Japan.

Battle of Saipan

In the autumn of 1914, the island was occupied by Japanese forces and remained under the control of Japan until July 9, 1944, when it was captured by U.S. Marines. The Battle of Saipan was the first U.S. offensive in the Mariana Archipelago and began with the bombing of the island on June 13, 1944.

On June 15, 1944, the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions and 27th Infantry Division landed on the island. The 43rd Division of the Imperial Japanese Army opposed them and, with no hope of reinforcements or resupply from the outside, decided to fight to the bitter end. The Japanese counterattacked during the nights of the 15th and 16th. On June 18, they abandoned the airfield on the south side of the island and took up position in the mountainous part of Saipan, a place more suitable for long-term protection thanks to the island’s huge number of caves, in which the soldiers would hide while preparing for the next nighttime attack.

At sunset on July 7, the Japanese, unable to retreat, made a desperate final assault. Three thousand people, including many wounded, raised their flag and charged into their last battle. The fifteen-hour fight ended with the final defeat of Japanese forces on the island as well as the destruction of the 1st and 2nd battalions of the USA’s 105th Infantry Regiment. On July 9, Admiral Turner reported the capture of the island of Saipan. The Japanese officers left on the island committed suicide.

Battle of Stalingrad

In the summer of 1942, things on the front were tense once again. After their success at Moscow, Soviet High Command suffered losses at Kharkov and lost Rostov-on-Don, as the Southern army continued their advance in two directions, to the south (group A) and east (group B). By the end of July, Paulus' 6th Army had made it several dozen kilometers from Stalingrad, and by the end of August, he had reached the Volga and had taken the river's right bank. By that time, only a quarter of the city's population had been evacuated. The remainder worked on constructing the city's defenses.

An intense, protracted conflict began as the armies battled for every street. Houses were turned into fortresses and their surroundings into minefields. By November, the German army, having suffered heavy losses, had taken 90% of the town, but this didn't stop the conflict. The Soviet army held critical points of the city, protecting the factories and manufacturing facilities that were still operating.

Battle of Stalingrad (winter)

As the Germans continued their gradual movement into Stalingrad, having taking the western coast of the Volga, Soviet Command sent more troops to Stalingrad.

On November 19, 1942, a new offensive began on the Southwestern and Don fronts, called Operation Uranus. On November 20 the offensive reached the Stalingrad front. Soviet forces fought to retake the lost ground and routed the Romanian armies. After heavy fighting, Soviet forces surrounded the German army, which now retained less than half of the Stalingrad territory the 6th Army had won during the summer assault.

However, further fighting was long and slow. The Germans held well-defended positions, waiting for reinforcements from the outside. In the middle of December of 1943 the Don army, under the command of Erich von Manstein, tried to break through to the 6th Army but, because of heavy losses, was stopped 30 kilometers away. On December 23, a retreat had to be ordered because of the critical situation on the front at Chirsk. The Battle for Stalingrad ended on February 2nd, when Paulus' 6th Army, cut in half by Soviet troops, dissolved completed and its remaining soldierswere captured.

Korsun-Shevchenkovskii Operation

The Korsun-Shenchenkovskii operation was a part of the Dnieper-Carpathian operation, which aimed to liberate western Ukraine. It was conducted from January 24 to February 17, 1944.

By the fall of 1943, Soviet forces had taken the eastern bank of the Dnieper and the bridges, which allowed them to cross over to the western bank. On January 16, the Red Army took Kirvograd, an important communications center for the German army. The 2nd Ukrainian Front began the offensive on January 24, and on January 26th the 1st Ukrainian Front began to make its way to meet them. By February 3rd the fronts had encircled the enemy. Sixty thousand troops were surrounded and began to depend on airlifted supplies. However, Soviet air forces fought the supply aircraft.

Over the next two weeks, the Germans repeatedly tried to break out of their predicament, and by February 17, with help from the outside, a portion of the army managed to escape with heavy losses. The operation was then completed. Two German corps were destroyed, and the rest retreated. Korsun-Shevchenkovskii was free.

Battle of Britain

By June of 1940, Germany had succeeded in occupying Denmark and Norway and forcing France to surrender. Great Britain had lost all of its close allies, and the German High Command believed that Britain was broken and ready to sue for peace.

In the Danish and Norwegian operations, Germany had lost a significant portion of its fleet, and this prevented it from quickly attacking Britain by sea. Instead, the Luftwaffe was tasked with establishing air superiority before Operation Sea Lion began. And so, the Battle for Britain began on July 10, 1940. It was to be the largest aerial battle in the Second World War.

The forces of the Luftwaffe began to attack ports and naval convoys which, in the opinion of the German High Command, could interfere with the planned landing. However, without gaining control of the skies over Britain, no hope could be had for an invasion by sea, and in August, German bombers began to concentrate on airfields. However, the Royal Air Force successfully resisted the Luftwaffe, and the intense bombing raids came began to slow down by the beginning of November. In May of 1941, they stopped almost completely. The German battle plans were thwarted and no land-based Battle of Britain would ever occur.