World War II Day by Day: December 1940

The German Army conquered much of Western Europe in 1940 in a series of spectacular Blitzkrieg victories. German armor and aircraft attacked and defeated a succession of Allied armies in Scandinavia, France, and the Low Countries. Germany’s defeat in an aerial battle over Britain, however, saved that nation from any invasion. Britain’s survival now depended on North American aid. Meanwhile, the war widened, with Italian offensives in Africa and the Balkans.

6 December

Politics, Italy

Marshal Pietro Badoglio, Italy’s commander-in-chief, resigns.

9-11 December

Africa, Egypt

British, Indian and Australian troops in Egypt
British, Indian and Australian troops in Egypt

General Sir Archibald Wavell, the commander-in-chief in the Middle East and North Africa, launches the first British offensive in the Western Desert. Major General Sir Richard O’Connor’s Western Desert Force of 31,000 British and Commonwealth troops, supported by aircraft and long-range naval gunfire, is ordered to attack the fortified camps that have been established by the Italians in Egypt. Sidi Barrani is captured on the 10th and 34,000 Italians are taken prisoner as they retreat rapidly from Egypt. It is a famous victory in the face of overwhelming odds.

18 December

Politics, Germany

Adolf Hitler issues his plan for invading the Soviet Union, code-named Operation Barbarossa. His Directive No. 21 retains a three-pronged offensive but the weight of the invasion plan has now shifted northward to Lenin-grad and the Baltic area, where Army Groups North and Center are to annihilate the enemy forces, before attacking and occupying Moscow.

29 December

Politics, United States

In President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘fireside chat’ broadcast, he describes how the United States must become the ‘arsenal of democracy’ by giving maximum assistance to Britain in its fight against the Axis powers.