History Read Along – Inferno: The World at War, Chapters 5-6

Hey readers – it’s Fourth of July, but it’s still a great time to talk about our World War II history read-along, so here are my notes for Chapters 5 and 6.

(Kiddos, enjoy the notes on the blog, but check-out the young readers section at the library for World War II history books; the full text of Inferno isn’t for children. You can find a few of my favorite resources on the booklist here!)

Chapter 5: The Mediterranean

  • Germany wasn’t interested in land-grabbing around the Mediterranean, but Mussolini – the fascist dictator of Italy – dreamed of creating an Italian-controlled Mediterranean “lake.”
  • During 1940, Mussolini launched his small, under-equipped army against the British colonial holdings in North Africa, and German got involved.
  • For Churchill, the operations in North Africa provided a welcome distraction from the Battle of Britain and a morale booster at certain times.
  • Spain – though leaning toward Hitler’s Nazism – decided to officially stay out of the war, persuaded by Britain’s Operation Compass in Libya.

Italian tanks in North Africa

  • German commander Erwin Rommel arrived in Africa in February 1941, easily pushing back the British in a series of Allied disasters.
  • Italy and German decided to take over the Balkans area, including Greece; British defenders retreated, leaving Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Greece, and Crete to their unhappy fates.
  • German gained the upper-hand in the Mediterranean fights (Balkans, Greece, and Africa) over Italy, but the two remained wary warfare partners even though Mussolini was irritated that Hitler seized the lands he wanted.
  • The British Eighth Army advanced in North Africa, but through a series of battles, was back in Egypt by the end of June 1942.
  • Troops from the British Empire – including Australian soldiers – played important roles in the North Africa Campaigns; some Free French troops also joined in the operations.

Quote of the chapter: “I think…the masses have for the first time considered the possibility of defeat. A general trend is this: ‘Every time we meet the Germans we get driven back. We’re even losing on the sea, and we’re supposed to have command of that.’ The infallibility of the Germans is an idea that is rapidly gaining ground.” Len England, May 29, 1941. (page 121)

Chapter 6: Barbarossa

  • The German military (on Hitler’s orders) abandoned the Battle of Britain and didn’t pursue the advantages in North Africa/Mediterranean region, instead spending time, energy, and resources on an invasion of Russia.
  • Nazi German and the Soviet Union had an alliance, but Hitler broke the agreement on June 22, 1941 – launching the largest invasion ever on the European continent which was known as Operation Barbarossa.

German Panzer Unit, June 1941

  • Hitler wanted to land and resources in Russia and Ukraine, issuing orders to push back or simply eliminate (murder) the local residents.
  • Initially, Stalin dismissed reports of a coming German invasion and his political “purges” (murders) had weakened his military leadership and advisory staff.
  • At the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Stalin had 2.5 million troops on the Western Front; Hitler sent 3.6 million troops forward.
  • In eastern Europe, many communities welcomed the German troops at first, believing this invasion offered welcome relief from Soviet oppression.
  • In its first months, the German military met unparalleled successes, destroying Russian armies and taking over huge tracks of land.
  • Both sides killed prisoners of war, and Russians frequently shot their own soldiers and civilians suspected of disloyalty or cowardice.
  • With disaster looming, Stalin rallied and mobilized his country, moving industry factories and workers east and appointing himself supreme commander of the Red Army, formed of thousands of conscripts.
  • Hitler wanted to capture Moscow and pressed his generals and troops forward eventually seizing a front line 1,400 miles in length, leaving Russian military forces surrounded, but behind advancing lines.

The land and campaigns of Germany’s invasion of Russian in 1941 (Public Domain)

  • Soviet reinforcements rushed to defend Moscow and the weather aided them, creating mud, then severe freezing conditions which slowed and stopped the German divisions who were not prepared for Russian winter.
  • Between June 1941 and May 1944, this eastern front brought an average of 60,000 dead for German – a heavy drain on their manpower and resources in a desperate bid for gain land for national expansion.
  • In December 1941, Hitler’s advisers suggested a political treaty to end the war in Germany’s favor before their conquests were military lost and before Russia completely rallied; Hitler said no, believing future German victories and squabbling between the Soviets and other Allies would continue to create favorable situations for him.

Quote of the chapter: “We were following Napoleon’s invasion route, but we did not think that the lessons of the 1812 campaign applied to us. We were fighting with modern means of transport and communication – we thought that the vastness of Russia could be overcome by rail and motor engine, telegraph wire and radio. We had absolute faith in the infallibility of Blitzkrieg.” (page 144)


I didn’t know much about the beginnings of the conflicts in Mediterranean and appreciated exploring more about that. I found it particularly interesting how Spain refused to get officially involved.

Reading the chapter about the invasion of Russia, I couldn’t help comparing the military situation to Napoleon‘s invasion in 1812. Although the armies looked different and had different technology, Napoleon and the Germans both made similar mistakes – underestimating the power of the untrained Russian armies and the severe difficulties of winter.

Your Opinion?

What quotes stood out to you in the chapters? What new ideas or considerations do you have after reading these chapters or the chapter notes? Leave a comment and let the “book club discussion” continue!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Read Chapters 7 and 8 to get ready for next week…

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