Creating a list of the most important battles of any conflict is often a futile process. However, we have given it a go for World War 2.
Battle of France
Beginning on the 10th of May and ending on the 25th of June, the Battle of France describes the German invasion of France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Over the course of six weeks, German forces steamrolled Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands before using their new extended border with France to bypass many fortifications. On June 14th, the French government evacuated from Paris shortly before its capture. Armistice talks began on the 17th, however, delays with both Germany and then Italy ensured that no agreement took effect until the 25th of June when the French officially surrendered. This was a serious blow to the allies – the French were one of the biggest world powers involved in the conflict.
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain names the series of air raids conducted against the British Mainland by the Luftwaffe. These took place from July to September of 1940 and were meant to weaken the United Kingdom for an invasion by sea. British troops were outnumbered and had more limited supplies than the Luftwaffe, but clever use of radar and early warning strategies allowed the RAF to hold the line until Germany was forced to retreat. This marked a turning point in the war, one of Germany’s first significant defeats. The casualties sustained by the Luftwaffe hamstrung them for the rest of the war, and the still free British Isles were a crucial jumping-off point for the Normandy Invasion.
Battle of Moscow
The Battle of Moscow took place between October 1941 and January 1942. Germany considered the capture of Moscow to be one of their primary goals in WWII and launched this offensive with the expectation that it would be swift and successful. Intelligence indicated that the USSR had a poorly equipped army and nearly nonexistent fortifications. While this was in a sense true – the initial invasion of the USSR in June had resulted in rapid advancement by the German army – Soviet forces had been called up from reserve in large numbers and three lines of defense had been constructed around Moscow. This, combined with harsh weather conditions and a failing supply line slowed down German troops. So frustrated with their lack of progress were the Nazis that Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch was replaced by Hitler as the Supreme Commander of German Forces. In the end, these delays gave the Soviets too much time to dig into their defense – many of Germany’s troops and supplies would be diverted to this Eastern front for the rest of the war without sufficient progress to capture Moscow.
Battle of Crete
The Battle of Crete lasted for 14 days in May of 1941 and resulted in a German victory. Following the defeat in Greece, allied troops had retreated to Crete where they were followed by a massive airborne assault from Germany. German troops were delivered to Crete via parachutes and gliders, with appalling casualties. However, sheer numbers and superior equipment eventually allowed them to gain a foothold on the island and push out Ally troops (mostly from New Zealand, Greece, Britain, and Australia). The Allies then withdrew to Egypt, having lost an important staging ground in the Mediterranean from which they might have attempted to recapture the Balkans.
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad has a legendary reputation amongst both Russians and historians alike. It was the turning point of the war on the Eastern Front and became a core part of the Russian patriotic narrative. Although the main goal of the German forces was the capture of Moscow, Stalingrad was a significant prize with its heavy industry, and position as the trade hub to Southern Russia. The original plan called for the first capture of Stalingrad before turning to the South to finish conquering the Caucasus, however it was altered to capture both the Caucasus and Stalingrad simultaneously. This split in forces was just enough to overly stress the German logistics network, which would have long-term repercussions. Soviet troops in Stalingrad were told that they were to take “Not one step back.” and military leadership refused to evacuate civilians from the city. This choice to motivate soldiers with civilian presence, as well as hardline, last stand-style rhetoric, made its impact. The Eastern front proved to be extremely bloody for the rest of the war, but the USSR was not overrun.
Battle of Pearl Harbor
The bombing of Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack on the American naval base in Hawaii on December 7th of 1941. It resulted in the United States of America entering WWII. While the goal of the Japanese was to cripple the American navy and air force presence in the Pacific, their failure to destroy fuel and parts supplies on the island had more the effect of shaking a beehive. All but two of the damaged ships were repaired in a matter of weeks, and the American public was incensed. Initially, the United States sought to only go to war with Japan but was convinced by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to defeat Germany before turning their full attention to the Pacific Theatre.
Second Battle of Kharkov
The Second Battle of Kharkov was a counteroffensive by the Germans to capture a major offensive staging area from the Soviets in the Kharkov region of Russia. This location had been successfully used to launch offensives against German troops throughout the winter, but another offensive in May of 1942 had drastically different results. Soviet leadership underestimated German strength in the better weather and was surrounded. 250,000 Soviet troops were either gunned down from all sides or surrendered within a week.
Battle of Midway
The Battle of Midway (July 1942) was the first decisive American victory in the Pacific Theatre against Japan. Japanese strategy sought to lure American ships into an ambush, but American cryptographers had decoded the date and time of the ambush. This allowed the American Navy to lay a counter-ambush. Losses of several expensive aircraft carriers, cruisers, and aircraft as well as veteran crew damaged Japanese operations in the Pacific for the rest of the war. The Battle of Midway is often considered the turning point in the Pacific – if the Japanese had won as convincingly 75% of the United states’ carrier presence in the Pacific would have been destroyed.
Second Battle of El Alamein
The Second Battle of El Alamein (23 October – 11 November 1942) was a British victory against Axis forces in Egypt. Axis troops aimed to capture Egypt as a strategic launching point for African offensives, as well as the resources of the Persian oil fields. British victory at El Alamein marked the beginning of the end of the Western Desert Campaign and a massive morale boost for Ally forces.