Many of these battles during the World Wars had a lasting significance upon the economies, society, and armed forces of those involved. Here are 10 of the most important battles of the World Wars.
10. Battle of Moscow - World War II
Capturing Moscow, the capital city of the Soviet Union, was one of the main goals during the Nazi invasion of the country (Operation Barbarossa). This battle started during October of 1941, and raged until January of 1942. The defensive posture that the Soviet troops had set up frustrated Hitler and his armed forces, turning this battle into somewhat of a stalemate in terms of military goals for the Nazi troops. This battle has symbolic meaning within Russian culture and history. Moscow is even referred to as "Hero City" today, for the sacrifices people made in order to defeat the Nazis. Casualties for the Axis troops range between 170,000 and 400,000 and casualties for the Soviet Union are thought to have been as high as 700,000!
9. Battle of Kursk - World War II
The Battle of Kursk took place from July 5 until August 23 of 1943 in the city of Kursk, located in the Western Soviet Union. Kursk saw around 6,000 tanks, up to 2,000,000 troops, and approximately 4,000 aircraft battling for this strategic piece of land within the Soviet Union. Casualties were much more balanced for both sides during this battle; the Nazis lost almost 200,000 men and the Soviet Union lost almost 250,000. This battle involved the largest tank and armored vehicle clashes in history, and ended with the Soviet Union reclaiming much of its own land that had been captured during Operation Barbarossa. This battle also made it possible for the Soviet Union to conduct its eventual offences into German territory during 1944.
8. Battle of Verdun - World War I
The Battle of Verdun was the largest, as well as longest, battle of World War 1. This battle took place on the 21th of February and lasted until 18 December, 1916. German forces were optimistic in the fact they believed if France was captured, the United Kingdom would seek peace, or be defeated. The viciousness of this battle is well documented - many troops from both sides deserted due to the extremely poor conditions as well as suffering "shell shock". This battle was also extremely costly for each party involved, and some argue that Germany could not recover from this failed invasion economically. Casualties have been approximated to 377,231 French and 337,000 German, with both sides losing a combined 70,000 troops per month.
7. D-Day - World War II
After a campaign of aerial and naval bombardment in the days leading up to the landing, 24,000 Allied troops invaded a 50 mile stretch of coastline in Nazi occupied Normandy, Northern France, on June 6, 1944. This would become (and still is to this day), the largest invading force by sea in human history. In the planning stages, the Allied troops divided the coastline into 5 sectors - naming them Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword, and Utah. The operation was code-named Operation Neptune. Casualties for the Allied invading force were up to 10,000 men (4414 Allied soldiers confirmed dead) and approximate casualties for the Axis troops hover between 4,000 and 9,000. This battle lead to a decisive victory for the Allied troops, setting up 5 beach heads in which operations into the European continent could commence.
6. Battle of the Marne - World War I
The Battle of the Marne was a battle during World War 1 that took place from 7 September until 12 September 1914. This Battle is also known as "The Miracle of the Marne", due to the notion that Allied countries and troops were overwhelmed by German forces early on during the war. This battle involved 1.1 million troops from France and The United Kingdom, as well as approximately 1.5 million troops from the German Empire. Despite the massive number of troops, casualties only reached a combined 150,000 for both sides. This battle was deemed an Allied victory, but it also set the stage for a long, drawn out trench war.
5. Operation Barbarossa - World War II
On 22 June, 1941, 4 million Axis soldiers invaded the western border of the Soviet Union along an 1800 mile front line. Interestingly, both nations had previously signed documents explicitly stating they would not attack each other, otherwise known as a "non-aggression pact". Despite this, Hitler ordered an already planned invasion to occur. At this point of World War 2, Hitler seemed almost unstoppable as several European countries came under his control from 1939 onward. The military campaign of Operation Barbarossa would last almost 6 months, and see Hitler's forces take heavy loses in the bitter Russian winter. Casualties for the German troops are estimated at over 1 million, while Russian troops lost almost 5 million of their own defending their homeland. The failure of Operation Barbarossa to capture Moscow and cripple the Soviet Union would provide a major turning point during WWII.
4. Battle of the Somme - World War I
This battle was fought between Allied troops and the German Empire during World War 1. The River Somme, in France, was the location for this battle which took place from 1 July until 18 November, 1916. This was a very violent and costly battle of World War 1, and left a lasting legacy upon military culture within both sides. It is a well-known fact that the British lost almost 60,000 troops on the very first day of this battle alone! Casualties for both sides were extremely high - the Allies lost close to 650,000 troops and the German Empire lost approximately 480,000 of their own. The outcome of this battle was inconclusive, as no major changes in territory occurred and neither side met their military goals. This battle epitomizes the horrors of trench warfare, and of World War 1.
3. Gallipoli Campaign - World War I
The Battle of Gallipoli took place between 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916 and was fought between Allied troops and the Ottoman and German Empires. Invading by sea, the Allied forces goal was to recapture an important passage of water, The Dardanelles. After 8 months of battle, the invading forces withdrew and diverted to Egypt. Allied casualties numbered just over 300,000, and the Ottoman Empire lost approximately 250,000 of it's own troops. This battle was the only major victory for the Ottoman Empire during the entirety of World War 1. The Gallipoli campaign is still remembered in Australia and New Zealand every year, on April 25, which is the anniversary of the first landing.
2. Battle of Midway - World War II
Between 4 and 7 June 1942, the Battle of Midway took place. This was a naval and aerial battle between the United States of America and Japan, 6 months after the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. The goal of the Japanese during this battle was to open up the Pacific Theater in order to fulfill territorial goals, including expelling the American Navy from the Pacific. The Japanese attack was not a well kept secret, and due to this, it failed. The American armed forces knew of an impending attack and were well prepared. The decisive victory for the United States of America lead to a weakening of the Japanese air force and navy, and gave the United States room to operate within the Pacific Theater of WW2.
1. Battle of Stalingrad- World War II
The Battle of Stalingrad, which took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943, had a massive impact upon the outcome of World War 2. Both sides dug-in during this conflict, refusing to retreat until defeated, and casualties were incredibly high. The Soviet Union lost up to 1.1 million troops, while the German troops experienced almost 730,000 casualties. This battle exhausted German resources, and after defeat, the Germans retreated, surrendered, or were captured. The city, named after Joseph Stalin (the Soviet Leader at the time), was considered a major Soviet city in terms of military morale and strategy. If Hitler was successful in this operation, there was no doubt the city would have been re-named.
About the Author
Justin has a Bachelor's degree (Honors) in Political Science and Media and Communications, specializing in modern Middle Eastern politics. He has been writing for World Atlas since September 2016.
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