The Great Depression & WW II
WWII On the Ground 01 Marine Takes Aim WWII On the Ground 02 Ready to Fire WWII On the Ground 03 Walking to Battle WWII On the Ground 04 Fighting in the Phill WWII On the Ground 05 Howlizer WWII On the Ground 06 Taking Cover WWII On the Ground 07 Taking Nap WWII On the Ground 08 Ike Speaks WWII On the Ground 09 Omaha Beach WWII On the Ground 11 Stuck in the Mud WWII On the Ground 12 Marines Rest

War on the Ground

In order to win the war, Allied troops had to take back land from the enemy. 
This was the job of the ground combat units—whether in armor or artillery, as an infantryman or a paratrooper, or as an Army GI or a Marine.
U.S. Army troops fought in North Africa where inexperienced American troops at first bogged down in bad weather, and lost battles to experienced German troops. But the Americans learned to use their air power and armor more effectively. By May 1943, British and American troops had captured more than a quarter million enemy troops.
American troops then moved to Europe, landing in Sicily in July 1943, and then on the Italian mainland in September 1943. Moving slowly north, the soldiers had many hard fights. 
Frequently cold and often wet, nearly always dirty and tired, Allied infantrymen would look ahead and see another mountain or river that had to be crossed, often under enemy fire. All were eventually crossed, but not without a heavy cost in lives. The battle at Anzio, Italy, in January 1944, incurred more than 30,000 casualties .
D-Day Invasion
Once they had neutralized the German air force, Allied leaders made plans for an invasion of France to push the Germans out of that country. On June 6, 1944, known as “D-Day,” American, Canadian, and British soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy in northern France. They had come across the English Channel on thousands of ships in the dark of night.
Although the Germans didn’t know when or where the Allies were coming, they were prepared with heavy artillery and land mines. 

Especially hard hit were American troops landing on Omaha Beach . Some died when their landing craft were hit by rocket shells while still in the water. Others were mowed down by machine gun bullets as they landed on the beach. One company of 197 men suffered a 96 percent casualty rate.
Allied troops were able to take all the beaches and within ten days of the landing had a half a million men and almost a 100,000 vehicles in France. Eventually three million men landed there. They advanced on foot or by riding in jeeps, trucks, or on tanks.

Edgar C. Wilson, from Powell, TN, served as a forward observer and tank commander. He described an experience advancing against the enemy in a tank.
They had told us that the Germans had planted mines all over the valley that we needed to go through….
Well, the lieutenant in the lead tank, he knew about what they said about mines, and he just plain stopped. And the company commander said, ‘Lieutenant! Move that tank! Move that tank! You keep moving…If you don’t move I’m gonna shoot you in the rear….’ But he never did move, and I don’t know what his outcome was….
Warfare was much more than front line duty. Other job responsibilities included climbing poles to string communications lines, sitting at switchboards, repairing equipment, cooking, pumping gas, or even burying the dead. All suffered through enemy rocket attacks, the cold, and wet weather.
Sam Balloff, a truck driver from LaFollette, TN, described a scary situation where the engineers were building a pontoon bridge that he would need to drive over.
,…We got to Remagen, to the river and…they were just sitting targets out there ‘cause the Germans were pretty much in on the banks of the Rhine River and these guys were out on the end of a boat being shot at. But…they built a bridge, and then I drove a truck over, over that pontoon bridge carrying ammunition. I was scared to death. I mean they were shooting at everything.
War in the Pacific
Soldiers in the Pacific Theater had different problems. The weather there was usually hot and wet. Taking land back from the enemy involved what was called island hopping. They attacked the Japanese on one island, gained control of it, and then sailed to another island. 
The procedure was to pound the Japanese positions with artillery from ships and drop bombs from airplanes. Then amphibious vehicles (which travel on land and water) took marines and soldiers from the ships and dropped them off on the beach. Most of the time this was done under heavy fire from the Japanese.
It could take days or weeks for American troops to secure an island and move on to the next. During the battle at the island of Okinawa, the Navy had 10,000 casualties.
The heavy cost of American lives in these island battles influenced President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. It was felt that an invasion of the Japanese homeland would cost thousands of U.S. lives. 
Two bombs were dropped, one at Hiroshima, the other at Nagasaki.The death and destruction of these bombs forced the Japanese government to surrender. 

Picture Credits:
  • A U.S. Marine aims at a Japanese sniper while another Marine ducks.  This photograph was taken in 1945 on the Japanese island of Okinawa.  National Archives
  • U.S. soldiers cover their ears as they get ready to fire a mortar at the enemy.  The soldier on the left is talking on a walkie-talkie radio.  Artillery units like this one would get coordinates of enemy positions from forward scouts and also instructions from their command post. Tennessee State Museum Collection
  • Combat on the ground often meant walking for miles.  Here, soldiers with the 370th Infantry Regiment have to climb the mountain in front of them in Italy.  The photograph was taken in April 1945.  National Archives
  • The First Cavalry Division takes cover behind trees and bushes as they move inland on Leyte in the  Philippines in October 1944.  The smoke in the photograph was from an enemy shell.  U.S. Army news photograph, Tennessee State Museum Collection
  • Soldiers prepare to fire a howitzer artillery gun at German positions in Italy in January 1944.  The gun is covered with a camouflage netting to hide the gun from German spotters or airplanes.  In front are sandbags for the protection of the soldiers.  If they came under fire, they would hide behind the bags.  National Archives
  • U.S. soldiers take cover in the snow from gunfire while fighting in Germany.  Franklin D. Roosevelt Library
  • Soldiers sometimes had to fight or go without sleep for long periods.  Here these two Americans take an opportunity to nap, along with a dog.  One soldier is sleeping on a bench while only the feet of the other is visible on the sidewalk.  U. S. Army Signal Corps, Tennessee State Museum Collection
  • U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower talks to soldiers in England right before they leave for the invasion of France in June 1944.  Notice that many of the soldiers already have camouflage paint on their faces.  Library of Congress
  • U.S. soldiers stand in a landing craft as it approaches Omaha Beach (a code name for the landing zone) in France as part of the D-Day invasion.  Fighting was fierce on the beach with U.S. forces suffering more than 2,200 casualties.  Army Signal Corps Collection in the National Archives
  • Sometimes the going was tough.  These men with the Third Armored Division had to push their half-track after it got stuck in the mud.  The photograph was taken near Manheim, Germany, in February, 1945.  U.S. Army Signal Corps, Tennessee State Museum Collection
  • Marines, following the Japanese retreat on Okinawa, rest at the base of a Japanese monument.  These Marines are African Americans.  The photograph was taken during the battle for Okinawa in April 1945.  National Archives

   The Great Depression & WW II >>  World War II >>  Fighting the War >>  War on the Ground

Sponsored by: National Endowment for the Humanities
Website developed and maintained by: The Tennessee State Museum.
Contact us:
Web Design and Hosting by: Icglink

: :