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1941 Axis momentum accelerates in WW2

World War II saw Axis powers gain momentum in 1941, with Bulgaria joining their side and Rommel pushing the British back in North Africa. However, overconfidence led to stretching their forces thin, especially when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Japan launched a major offensive in the Pacific, leading to the U.S. entering the war.

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] As we've already seen in the last few videos, with the war officially starting in September of 1939, the Axis powers get momentum through the end of 1939, all the way into 1940. That was the last video that we covered and that takes us to 1941 and what we're gonna see in 1941 which is the focus of this video is that the Axis powers only seem to gain more momentum. Because of all of that momentum they perhaps gets a little bit overconfident and stretch themselves or begin to stretch themselves too thin. So let's think about what happens in 1941. So, if we talk about early 1941 or the Spring of 1941, in March, Bulgaria decides to join the Axis powers. You can imagine there's a lot of pressuring applied to them and they kind of see where the momentum is. Let's be on that side. Bulgaria joins the Axis and then in North Africa you might remember that in 1940, the Allies, in particular, the British, were able to defeat the Italians and push them back into Libya but now in March of 1941, the Italians get reinforcements, Italian reinforcements and also German reinforcements under the command of Rommel the Desert Fox, famous desert commander and they are able to push the British back to the Egyptian border and they also take siege of the town of Tobruk. Now, you might have noticed something that I just drew. The supply lines in the North Africa campaign are very, very, very long and that's part of the reason why there's one side. One side has supply lines and as they start to make progress and as the Allies make progress and push into Libya, their supply lines got really long and so the other side has an easier timely supply. Then as the Axis pushes the Allies back into Egypt, then their supply lines get really long and the other side...it makes it easier for them to resupply and so North Africa is kind of defined by this constant back and forth. But, by early 1941, it looks like the Axis is on the offensive, able to push the British back into Egypt lay siege to the town of Tobruk. So, let me write this down as North Africa. So, I'll just say North Africa over here or I'll could say Rommel in North Africa pushing the British back. And then we can start talking about what happens in the Balkans and this is still in Spring as we go into April of 1941 and just as a little bit of background here, and frankly I should have covered it a couple of videos ago. As far back as 1939, actually before World War II officially started, in Spring of 1939, Italy actually occupies Albania so this actually should have already been red. This is in 1939 that this happens and then at the end of 1940, Italy uses Albania as a base of operation to try to invade Greece but they are pushed back. Actually one of the reasons why the British we able to be pushed back in North Africa is after they were successful against the Italians, most of the bulk of the British forces we sent to Greece to help defend Greece at the end of 1940. So, in 1939, Albania gets taken over by Italy and at the end of 1940...October 1940, Greece is invaded by Italy but they are then pushed back but to help the Greeks, the Allies send many of the forces that were in North Africa after they were successful against the Italians in Libya. Now, as we go into April of 1941... that was all background, remember Albania before the war started in April 1939, October 1940 was Italy's kind of first push into Greece and it was unsuccessful. Then the Greeks get support from the Allies in North Africa and now as we go into 1941, the Germans start supporting and really take charge in Balkans and in Greece and so with the help of the Germans the Axis is able to take over Yugoslavia and Greece and start aerial bombardment of Crete. So, once again, we're not even halfway through the year in 1941 and we see a huge swath of Europe is under the control of the Axis powers. And now we go into the summer of 1941. This is actually a pivotal move, what's about to happen. Now you can imagine that the Axis powers, in particular, Hitler, are feeling pretty confident. We are only about that far into the war. So we're not even two years into the war yet and it looks like the Axis is going to win. Now you might remember that they have a pact with the Soviet Union. Hey, we're gonna split a lot of Eastern Europe into our spheres of influence so to speak, but now Hitler's like, well, I think I'm ready to attack and when you attack the Soviet Union really matters. You do not want to attack the Soviet Union in the winter...or Russia in the winter. Russia's obviously at the heart of the Soviet Union. That something that Napoleon learned. Many military commanders have learnt. You do not want to be fighting in Russia over the winter, so summer of 1941, Hitler figures, hey, this is the Axis chance. And so, in June, he decides to attack the Soviet Union. So, this is a very, very, very bold move because now they're fighting the British. Remember, the British are kind of not a joke to be battling out here in Western Europe and now they're going to be taking on the Soviet Union in the east, a major, major world power. But at first, like always, it seems like it's going well for the Germans. By September, they're able to push up all the way to Leningrad. So, this is September of 1941 and lay lay siege and begin laying siege to that town. This is kind of a long bloody siege that happens there. So, we're right now, right about there. And most historians would tell you that this was one of the mistakes of Adolph Hitler because now he is stretched very, very, very thin. He has to fight two world powers, Soviet Union and Great Britain and the United States hasn't entered into the war yet and that's what we're about to get into because if we go into Asia it was still in 1941 what happens in July. So, little bit after Hitler decides to start invading the Soviet Union going back on the pact, the non- aggression pact. In July, you could imagine the US, they were never pleased with what's been happening, what the Empire of Japan has been doing in the Pacific, what they've been doing in China, in Manchuria or even in terms of the war in China, the second Sino Japanese War. They weren't happy of the Japanese taking over French Indochina. There's a big world power here, the Empire of Japan. There's a big world power here, the United States, that has a lot of possessions in the Pacific and so, the United States in July of 1941...So remember, this is still all 1941, this is the same year...decides to freeze the assets of Japan and probably the most important part of that was an oil embargo of Japan. This is a big, big deal. Japan is fighting a major conflict with the Chinese. It's kind of flexing it's imperial muscles but it does not have many natural resources in and of itself and in fact, that's one of the reasons why it's trying to colonize other places to get more control of natural resources. And now if it's fighting a war it doesn't have it's own oil resources and now there's an oil embargo of Japan and the United States at the time was major oil producer and even today, it's major oil producer. This was a big deal to the Japanese because some estimates say they only had about two years of reserves and they were fighting a war where they might have to touch their reserves even more. So, you could imagine the Japanese, they want to have their imperial ambitions. They probably want, especially now with this oil embargo, they probably want to take over more natural resources and they probably want to knock out the US or at least keep the US on its heels so the US can't stop Japan from doing what it wants to do. So, all it wants in December 1941, that's over the course of December 7th and 8th, and it gets a little confusing because a lot of this happens across the International Date Line. But over the course of December 7th and 8th, Japan goes on the offensive in a major way in the Pacific. Over the course of several hours, at most, a day, Japan is able to attack Malaya, which is a British possession. It's able to attack Pearl Harbor, where the US Pacific fleet is in hope to knock out the US Pacific fleet so the US will have trouble stopping Japan from doing whatever Japan wants to do. In the US, we focus a lot on Pearl Harbor but this was just one of the attacks in this whole kind of several hours of attacks where Japan went on the offensive. So, we have Malaya, we have Pearl Harbor, we have Singapore, we have Guam, we have (which was the US military base), Wake Island. You have the Philippines, which was a US possession ever since the Spanish American war. You have Hong Kong, which is a British possession and then shortly after that as you get further into December, so this is kind of when you have Japan offensive. Then as you go on into later Decemeber, the kind of real prize for Japan was what we would now call Indonesia but the Dutch East Indies. On this map it says Netherlands East Indies. You have to remember the Netherlands had been overrun. They're the low countries they were already overrun by German forces so the Japanese say hey, look there are a lot of resources here, natural resources, especially oil. Let's go for this and so by the end of 1941, they're also going for the Dutch East Indies and for Burma so you could imagine it's a very aggressive, very, very bold move on Japan but they kind of had imperial ambitions. They were afraid of they access to natural resources so they went for it but obviously one of the major consequence of this is the United States was not happy about this and they were already sympathetic to the Allies. They didn't like what was going on in Europe either. They didn't like what was going on in China and so that causes the United States to enter into World War II on the side of the Allies and then the Axis powers to declare war on the United States, which was a big deal.