The Price of Freedom: Americans at War Home Collection Search

World War II

Back to overview   |   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Storming Fortress Europe

American war planners had long wanted to make a direct assault on northwest Europe, but the British had refused. Roosevelt deferred to Churchill, and neither heeded appeals from Joseph Stalin—who was battling Nazi expansion eastward into Russia—to open a second front in the west. But in spring 1943, the British relented. The Allies agreed to launch an assault across the English Channel into France.

In the summer of 1943, the U.S. Army Air Corps expanded daylight bombing runs against industrial targets in Germany and occupied Europe. Squadrons of bombers flew hundreds of miles—far beyond the range of available fighter escorts—to attack oil fields, refineries, and factories. Dozens of planes and their crews were lost. In early 1944, finally accompanied by protective escorts, bombers struck aircraft plants and rail networks.

By the spring of 1944, a year of Allied bombing had weakened Germany’s war machine. The Allies finally were ready to strike directly at the heart of Nazi-occupied Europe.


D day

On the choppy waters of the English Channel, nearly 7,000 Allied navy and merchant vessels pushed toward the beaches of Normandy. Overhead, 12,000 bombers and fighter planes poured inland. Soldiers loaded with gear were crowded into open landing craft—tired, cold, stiff, soaked in sea spray. Many were seasick. Wave after wave of troops waded ashore, some in neck-deep water. They were met by withering fire from concrete pillboxes atop high bluffs. Left and right, soldiers fell, blown to bits. Survivors clawed their way forward, securing an Allied foothold in France.


Exhibition Graphics

The Stars and Stripes

The Stars and Stripes

Douglas A-20 Havoc of the Ninth Air Force bombing enemy supply lines

Douglas A-20 Havoc of the Ninth Air Force bombing enemy supply lines

General Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks to paratroopers bound for Normandy

General Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks to paratroopers bound for Normandy

Waves of paratroopers

Waves of paratroopers

Hitting the beaches at Normandy

Hitting the beaches at Normandy

On the beach

On the beach

American dead

American dead

Six hours after the D day landing

Six hours after the D day landing


Related Artifacts

Belt Life Preserver

Fighting for France

After D day, the Allies poured two million troops and tons of supplies, equipment, and munitions into France. Allied troops and armored divisions under the overall command of U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower spread inland from the beach and air-drop zones in Normandy. They stormed enemy positions, traded fire across fields, and tramped along winding roads that were often littered with shattered wagons, abandoned bicycles, burned-out trucks and tanks, and the bloated bodies of enemy dead. In towns, many with bombed-out buildings and rubble-filled streets, they advanced door-to-door in close-quarters fighting, always alert for sniper fire. During the three-month advance, 37,000 Allied infantry were killed.

Meanwhile Allied bombing and strafing battered German defenses. In August, amphibious landings from the Mediterranean poured troops and supplies diverted from Italy into southern France.

On August 29, 1944, U.S. infantrymen marched down the streets of Paris. They were greeted with cheers and kisses as residents celebrated the city’s liberation from German occupation. France had fallen to the Nazis in 1940, but an internal resistance movement had struggled to sabotage occupying forces and overthrow the German-backed Vichy government. By late summer of 1944, as Allied troops neared the city, freedom fighters took to the streets and Allied commanders dispatched a French armored division to the city. In days, the commander of German forces in Paris surrendered. By mid-September, the Allies were in control of Belgium and stood ready to strike Germany.


Exhibition Graphics

Soldier communicating by field telephone

Soldier communicating by field telephone

Urban warfare in Saint-Malo, France

Urban warfare in Saint-Malo, France

American paratroopers flushing out the enemy

American paratroopers flushing out the enemy

U.S. troops march through Paris

U.S. troops march through Paris

French civilians showing the way to Berlin

French civilians showing the way to Berlin


Related Artifacts

United States M1 Rifle
Field Telephone
United States M1919A4 Machine Gun
U.S. Thompson M1 Submachine Gun
Audie Murphy’s 'Ike' style Jacket
Audie Murphy's Medal of Honor Citation

Battle of the Bulge

On December 16, 1944, Allied troops were massed along miles of the German border when the Nazis mounted a surprise offensive in the forests of Belgium. The Allied line bulged, but did not break. A month of bitter fighting in winter cold and deep snow cost the Allies nearly 80,000 casualties; some 20,000 Americans were killed. The battle further depleted Germany’s disappearing resources and fighting forces; its army by now was deploying boys, many younger than sixteen. But the Germans’ desperate resolve hardened, setting the stage for a bloody battle for Berlin and the German homeland.


Exhibition Graphics

American infantrymen during the Battle of the Bulge

American infantrymen during the Battle of the Bulge

M4 Sherman tanks at the Battle of the Bulge

M4 Sherman tanks at the Battle of the Bulge


Related Artifacts

Overcoat and Protective Wool Hood
Pair of Mittens with Trigger Finger Attachments

On Towards Berlin

In early spring of 1945, Allied infantry and armored divisions, in concert with a massive, merciless bombing campaign, pushed toward Berlin from both west and east. Millions of Allied troops advanced across Germany, breaking through German defenses and taking thousands of prisoners of war.

Along the way, they freed Allied prisoners of war from prison camps. During the war nearly 94,000 Americans, about 200,000 Britons, and 5,700,000 Soviets were taken prisoners of war by Nazi Germany. While English and American captives were sometimes mistreated, Slavs—considered racially inferior by the Germans—were routinely brutalized, starved, left to die of disease, or executed.

Allied forces also liberated concentration and death camps where Nazis had killed six million Jews and five million more “undesirables”: Gypsies, disabled persons, homosexuals. Inside the camps, troops found piles of gaunt dead bodies, and some emaciated survivors.

In the first week of May, following Adolph Hitler’s suicide on April 30, the Nazi regime collapsed. Berlin fell to the Soviets, and Axis armies in Italy gave up. On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered, and the war for Europe was over.


Exhibition Graphics

B-17 Flying Fortresses

B-17 Flying Fortresses

U.S. Seventh Army infantrymen crossing the Rhine

U.S. Seventh Army infantrymen crossing the Rhine

Allied bombs drop on Bremen, Germany

Allied bombs drop on Bremen, Germany

Bombing destruction in Nuremberg

Bombing destruction in Nuremberg

German prisoners on the march

German prisoners on the march

American and Russian allies celebrate the fall of Berlin

American and Russian allies celebrate the fall of Berlin

Stalag Luft 3, a German POW camp for officers and pilots

Stalag Luft 3, a German POW camp for officers and pilots

General Eisenhower at the Ohrdruf concentration camp

General Eisenhower at the Ohrdruf concentration camp


Related Artifacts

German Army Steel Helmet
German Walther P38 Pistol
Dagger


Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Printable ScriptVisit the MuseumEducationCredits