War in the West

For British and Commonwealth forces the war against Nazi Germany was a battle for the very survival of freedom, liberty and democracy. From the beaches of Dunkirk to the deserts of North Africa and from the Normandy beaches to the bridges of Arnhem, the fighting in the west was some of the most ferocious of the Second World War.

© IWM (N 182) Royal Artillery gunners (from Exeter, Devonshire) preparing a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun and crew at Harstad, 14 May 1940.

Norway

On 9 April 1940, Germany invaded Norway. After a campaign that lasted two months, German forces occupied the whole of the country.

© IWM (FX 7529) DUNKIRK AND THE RETREAT FROM FRANCE 1940

The Dunkirk Evacuation

Between 26 May and 4 June 1940, more than 338,000 Allied forces were evacuated from Dunkirk's beaches on the north coast of France.

© IWM (E 3142E) A British lorry and trailer burning after being attacked by Luftwaffe aircraft, 25 June 1941.

The Battle for Crete

In May 1941, Crete became the scene of a fierce struggle when German forces launched a large-scale airborne assault.

© IWM (A 8701) BOMB DAMAGE IN VALLETTA, MALTA, 1 MAY 1942.

The Siege of Malta

From 1940 to 1942, the island of Malta was the location of a raging battle for naval control of the Mediterranean.

© IWM (E 3734E) New Zealand 2-pdr anti-tank gun mounted on a truck in the portee role, 3 December 1941.

Africa

Between 1940 and 1943, Africa played a key role in the war. British and Commonwealth forces fought in Africa and on Madagascar.

© IWM (A 11212) A 20 mm Oerlikon Mark I gun on board a destroyer in action with enemy aircraft during the Combined Operations daylight raid on Dieppe. Both the crew are wearing anti-flash gear.

THE Dieppe Raid

On 19 August 1942, Allied forces launched a large-scale amphibious raid on the French coast around the port of Dieppe.

On the second anniversary of the Italian entry into the war, the Italians have dealt a heavy blow to the enemy and gained a firm footing on the coast road to Trieste. Photo shows: Italian infantry waiting for the order to go over the top and advance over the broken ground in their front. The Austrians have dug themselves in on the edge of the wood seen in the photograph.

The Italian Campaign

On 10 July 1943, combined Allied forces invaded Sicily with airborne and amphibious landings on the island’s southern shores.

© IWM (B 5245) Commandos of 47 (RM) Commando coming ashore from LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) on Jig Green beach, Gold area, 6 June 1944. LCTs unloading priority vehicles of 231st Brigade, 50th Division, can be seen in the background.

The Normandy Campaign

On 6 June 1944, Allied forces invaded Normandy. It became the largest naval, air and land operation in history.

© IWM (BU 1089) Men of the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment entering Oosterbeek along the Utrechtsweg on their way towards Arnhem, 18 September 1944.

THE Battle for Arnhem

On 17 September 1944, more than 35,000 American and British forces were dropped behind enemy lines by parachute and gliders at Arnhem.

© IWM (HU 61122) General Equipment Department. Display of wireless sets concealed in a variety of goods including books, flask, water bottle, Belgian tea can, clock, scales, etc. On the branch is a radio aerial disguised as cord.

Special Operations

In July 1940, a secret British organisation was formed to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers.