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Support for the WWII Online Exhibit is provided in part through a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission and The Century Fund.

 

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WW II War Front - The Road to War  

Japan began its invasion of China in the early 1930s, and Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939.  Denmark, Holland, and France fell to the Germans during the spring of 1940.  By June of 1941 the Germans had turned on their former allies, the USSR, and invaded that nation as well.
During the early years of global conflict, the U.S. military was small, and Americans were determined to stay out of the conflict.  As the war continued, however, American relations with Japan and Germany deteriorated, and it became clear that America had to prepare to fight.  American factories began producing wartime supplies for the Allies, and the nation’s first peacetime draft went into effect in October of 1940.

     
 
     
On the morning of December 7, 1941, 350 Japanese aircraft launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Fearing that continued Japanese expansion would bring American retaliation, the Japanese launched the attack hoping to destroy U.S. naval effectiveness in the Pacific.  Lehigh Valley resident Anthony Basilone, then stationed at Pearl Harbor, remembers, "They loaded me and about ten other men in my company on a truck to take us to Wheeler Field to help out over there.  And they were under attack.  Well, either a bomb struck in front of the truck, or the truck went into a shell hole and it threw me out.  And I was struck in the face with a gasoline can.  [It] knocked me unconscious."

The attack was moderately successful, destroying two battleships, one minelayer, two destroyers and 188 aircraft. More than 2,000 men were killed.  The main effect of the attack, however, was to galvanize the American public, which had previously been severely split over involvement in the war.  On December 8, the U.S. Congress declared war on Japan.  Germany, which was allied with Japan, declared war on the United States on December 11, and the U.S. declared war on Germany later the same day.