World War II: Battlefield Europe
David R. Stone is the William E. Odom Professor of Russian Studies at the US Naval War College. He received his PhD in History from Yale University. He has written or edited several books on military history, including Hammer and Rifle: The Militarization of the Soviet Union, 1926–1933, which won the ASEEES Marshall D. Shulman Book Prize and the Historical Society Best First Book Prize. He is also the author of dozens of articles on Russian military history and foreign policy, and he is the expert for the Great Course World War II: Battlefield Europe.
01: The Battle of Moscow, December 1941
Start this series with an examination of what Professor Stone sees as the critical turning point of World War II: the Battle of Moscow in December 1941. At the opening of the fight, Hitler stood on the verge of total victory; by the end, a massive Soviet counteroffensive marked the beginning of the end for the Nazis.
02: Anti-Semitism and the Nazis
Hitler’s effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe is a central part of the way we think about Nazism and World War II. Here, investigate the evolution of anti-Semitism in Europe from a belief system rooted in religion to a new form of anti-Semitism that was racial and biological—an evolution that paved the way for the Holocaust.
03: Tearing Up the Treaty of Versailles
What elements in the Treaty of Versailles made it a priority for Hitler to undermine and destroy? What factors kept other global powers from stopping Hitler’s rise to power? What made the Spanish Civil War a symptom of World War II? How did the fate of Czechoslovakia weaken Stalin’s faith in an alliance with the West?
04: The War Begins, 1939
With Germany’s land grab in 1939, Britain and France reluctantly concluded that Hitler was bent on European domination. Follow the story of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union, the dramatic invasion of Poland in September 1939, and the rise of a new kind of German warfare called blitzkrieg (“lightning war”).
05: The Nazi Rise to Power, 1922–1933
Adolf Hitler launched a catastrophic war that killed an estimated 60 million people. What brought this murderous individual—and his murderous ideology—into power in Nazi Germany? In this lecture, Professor Stone puts the rise of Nazi Germany in context of the European environment of the 1920s and 1930s.
06: The Fall of France, Spring 1940
Investigate how Hitler achieved such a rapid and smashing initial advance in World War II. Topics include Germany’s campaigns in Denmark and Norway, the collapse of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s government, the French defeat in the Battle of the Meuse River, and the rise of the Vichy regime under Marshal Philippe Pétain.
07: The Battle of Britain—and the Blitz
Study the strategic decisions during one of the most dramatic chapters in World War II: the Battle of Britain. Why did Britain keep fighting from a seemingly hopeless position? Why did Hitler attempt to use air power to drive Britain out of the war? How did the island nation eventually deliver Hitler his first real failure?
08: Britain and Germany’s Standoff at Sea
Here, explore how Grand Admiral Erich Raeder and Karl Dönitz shaped Germany’s surface and U-boat fleets, how Germany and Britain faced a “whale-elephant” problem during the war at sea, and how the daring British attack on the naval base at Taranto in 1940 hinted at the attack on U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor a year later.
09: Hitler, Stalin, and Operation Barbarossa
By the spring and summer of 1940, the Hitler-Stalin Pact was under real strain. Go inside the strategic decision-making behind Hitler’s decision to break his non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and to ignite Operation Barbarossa in a grand (and flawed) effort to invade and conquer Stalin’s Russia.
10: Roosevelt, Isolationism, and Lend-Lease
Follow the transition in the United States from a period of isolationism in the 1920s to preparations for possible war with Germany in 1940. Topics include the five neutrality acts designed to prevent the United States from being drawn into war, the push for U.S. rearmament in the late 1930s, and the Plan Dog Memorandum: a classic piece of military strategy.
11: North Africa and the Battle of el-Alamein
Trace the Mediterranean and North African campaigns through 1943, with a focus on Mussolini’s ambition to create a new Roman empire—an ambition that would collapse into ignominious failure. Also, investigate the mechanics of the climactic battle of el-Alamein and the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa code-named Operation Torch.
12: The Battle of Stalingrad, 1942–1943
Turn now to the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the epic struggles of World War II—and in all of military history. Professor Stone puts the dramatic Stalingrad campaign into a broader strategic context and reveals how the German army’s losses made a possible victory in Europe impossible to imagine.
13: Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Europe
Take a step back from the chronology of World War II to think about how European countries occupied by Nazi Germany both collaborated with and resisted their occupiers. You’ll look at heroic examples of resistance and espionage in Norway, the French resistance against Germany, and important partisan movements in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
14: The Holocaust
In the second half of 1941, Hitler decided to murder every Jew in Europe. How did the extermination camp system operate? How did one escapee manage to inform others about the horrors of Auschwitz? What could the Allies have done to stop (or even slow down) the Holocaust?
15: U-Boats and the Battle of the Atlantic
First, explore the development of submarine warfare and the typical stages of a submarine encounter in the Atlantic. Then, examine how German U-boats caught the United States off guard and how British intelligence helped ships avoid German “wolf packs.” Lastly, take a closer look at the strategy of the Battle of the Atlantic, where the Allied struggle was finally won.
16: The Allies Invade Italy: Sicily to Anzio
Was the Allied invasion of Italy a strategic necessity or, as many at the time suggested, a sideshow? Consider both sides in this lecture on Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, and two key battles—at Monte Cassino and Anzio—that illustrate the incredible tenacity of Allied soldiers, but also the uninspired generalship that led to an enormous waste of lives.
17: Strategic Bombing over Germany
While precise figures are difficult to determine, it’s estimated that some 500,000 lives in Germany were lost to Allied bombing. In this lecture, ponder the costs and rewards of strategic bombing during World War II in terms of dollars and human lives. Should Britain and the United States have invested their resources in something else?
18: Allied Industry, Spying, and Wonder Weapons
Discover the ways that intelligence (from spying to espionage to assassination) contributed to the Allies’ ultimate battlefield success. Follow Germany’s desperate search for miracle weapons like the V-2 rocket. Explore why the real miracle weapon of World War II wasn’t a weapon at all, but mass industrial production.
19: Soviets, Germans, and the Eastern Front
Learn how military events on the Eastern Front from 1943 to 1945 drove political deal-making between the Germans and the Soviets. Focus on Operation Citadel, the German counteroffensive at Kursk; how Germany’s smaller allies, including Hungary and Romania, got off Hitler’s sinking ship; and the largest operation of World War II (which followed 17 days after D-Day), the Soviet offensive in Belorussia that resulted in the biggest defeat in German military history.
20: D-Day, June 1944
Go behind the scenes of the most iconic military operation of the war: the D-Day invasion of mainland Europe. Focus on Germany’s strategy for defense against the coming invasion (including debates over fighting before or after the Allies arrived ashore) and the Slapton Sands landing exercise, where hundreds of Allied soldiers died after an attack by small German attack craft known as E-boats.
21: Hitler Runs Out of Options, Fall 1944
Follow the progress of Allied forces as they steadily ground down German formations, reinforcements, and supplies. Finally, reach the last major German offensive of the Western Front at the Battle of the Bulge, which carved a hole 60 miles deep and 30 miles wide in the American line.
22: Soviet Push to Berlin and Yalta Power Play
With overwhelming advantages in men, tanks, and artillery, the Soviets smashed through German lines in Poland and made their way toward Berlin. Learn how this push set the stage for the momentous agenda at the Allied leadership conference in Yalta, where plans were made to stop a future Germany from starting another global war.
23: Eisenhower’s Endgame in Europe
Why did Hitler keep fighting even when he knew all hope was lost? Why did his generals and their armies stick with him? How did the Allies finally bring an end to German resistance? How did Eisenhower and the Soviets debate the terms of surrender? Find out in this penultimate lecture.
24: War’s End: Picking Up the Pieces
From the fate of everyday Germans and captured German leadership to the creation of NATO and the European Union, take stock of the global situation at the end of World War II. It was a time that would see a system of cooperation for the Allies—as well as the dawn of a lengthy Cold War with the Soviet Union.