Fought between 1939 and 1945, the Second World War was the deadliest conflict in human history, with an estimated 45 to 60 million people killed in theaters of war that stretched from Europe to China, from Greenland to South America. The campaigns fought in 1945, as the Allies ground down Japan and Germany in bloody air and land battles, were some of the deadliest of the entire war.
Closing in on Berlin
In Europe, British and American forces closed in on Hitler’s Germany from the west while the Russians attacked from the east. Hitler’s last major campaign, the Ardennes Offensive (better known as the Battle of the Bulge) came to an end in January 1945 with more than 186,000 casualties on both sides and the Germans in retreat. In March, the Allies crossed the Rhine into Germany. In the meantime, the Russians had launched their last great western offensive against Germany -- and the last major offensive of the war in Europe -- with the Red Army capturing Berlin and effectively ending the war in Europe in May of 1945.
Fierce Bombing Attacks
During the war, both sides used their heavy bombers to launch attacks against their opponents’ industrial and population centers, but by 1945, the capacity of the German Luftwaffe to inflict damage on the Allies was severely diminished, and Allied bombers roamed at will in a sustained air campaign that lasted through the final few months of the war in Europe. In January, over 900 bombers and 550 fighter escorts bombed Berlin. In mid-February, over 800 Allied bombers dropped 4,000 tons of explosives and incendiaries on Dresden, creating a firestorm that killed 35,000 people. In the month of February alone, there were more than 360 Allied air raids on Berlin. By early April, Berlin’s air defenses had been destroyed.
Getting Closer to Mainland Japan
In the Allied war against Japan in the Pacific, the Americans continued their island-hopping campaign, getting closer to the Japanese home islands themselves. As the U.S. Army fought to recapture the Philippines, U.S. Marines attacked the Japanese island of Iwo Jima in February and invaded Okinawa in April. In this largest of the Pacific island battles, the Okinawa campaign involved over 400,000 forces fighting on both sides. The U.S. won, although it suffered nearly 40,000 casualties. The Japanese military lost upwards of 100,000 men, and Okinawan and Japanese civilian casualties equaled that.
Cities Destroyed by Incendiary Bombs
In the meantime, the United States Air Force had been pounding the home islands of Japan with a sustained bombing campaign that reached its climax in 1945. On March 9, 330 USAAF B-29s dropped incendiary bombs on Tokyo in the deadliest single air raid of World War II, killing 100,000 people. Further incendiary raids decimated 60 Japanese cities. By July, American Air Force intelligence had decided there were no more valuable targets left to bomb in Japan. When the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, ending the war, the total number of Japanese civilians killed by American bombs would add up to about one million.
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