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Hitler’s Juggernaut

German Dornier DO-17s on a bomb run over London. (U.S. Air Force photo)

German Dornier DO-17s on a bomb run over London. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Me 109s of JG/2 (the Richthofen Squadron) at a Luftwaffe airfield in Western Europe in the summer of 1940. The plane in the foreground was assigned to Oberleutnant Helmut Wick, a Luftwaffe ace with 56 victories at the time he was shot down on Nov. 28, 1940. Wick had 32 victory bars on the rudder of his plane at the time this photo was taken. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Me 109s of JG/2 (the Richthofen Squadron) at a Luftwaffe airfield in Western Europe in the summer of 1940. The plane in the foreground was assigned to Oberleutnant Helmut Wick, a Luftwaffe ace with 56 victories at the time he was shot down on Nov. 28, 1940. Wick had 32 victory bars on the rudder of his plane at the time this photo was taken. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Luftwaffe's major bomber of the 1940 period, the HE-111, is pictured on its way to the target. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Luftwaffe's major bomber of the 1940 period, the HE-111, is pictured on its way to the target. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The dreaded Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber was used effectively by the German Luftwaffe  in Poland in 1939 and western Europe in 1940. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The dreaded Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber was used effectively by the German Luftwaffe in Poland in 1939 and western Europe in 1940. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Adolf Hitler at the time he came to power in 1933. At this early period, many considered him a buffoon, not to be taken seriously. It was not many years before the world realized his full intentions. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Adolf Hitler at the time he came to power in 1933. At this early period, many considered him a buffoon, not to be taken seriously. It was not many years before the world realized his full intentions. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Hitler's juggernaut invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, and another World War began. The rapidity with which Poland fell to the invaders, largely due to the Luftwaffe, had a stunning effect upon many Americans. What little lethargy remained was shattered in April-June 1940 when Norway, Holland, Belgium and France fell before the Nazis, leaving the British Isles as the Free World's only bastion in Western Europe. In but a few months, the words Stuka and Blitzkrieg became commonplace in the English language, feared symbols of supposedly invincible Nazi military strength.

The Luftwaffe then directed its attention across the English Channel and attempted to bomb the British into submission. During the Battle of Britain, which took place from Aug. 8, 1940, to the spring of 1941, the Luftwaffe suffered such heavy losses that it finally was forced to call off its concentrated air offensive.

Click here to return to the Early Years Gallery.

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