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WINNING WWII: EUROPEAN WAR WON MAINLY BY SOVIETS; AMERICA BEAT JAPAN ALMOST ON ITS OWN.

The names have the ring of trumpets: Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Salerno, Cassino, Anzio, the Bulge, Remagen, Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk - and a thousand others, all landmarks in mankind's deadliest war.

Most who were there will be gone in a decade or so and the ghastly struggle called World War II will be relegated to scrapbooks, movie reels and history books.But these facts will remain basic about the war that ended when Japan surrendered Aug. 14, 1945:

The European half of the war was largely won by the Soviet Union - with a powerful assist from the United States and the British Empire.

"People must remember that eight of every 10 German soldiers who died in the war were killed by Russians," said Stephen Ambrose, a history professor emeritus at the University of New Orleans. "The Russians tore the guts out of the German army."

It's equally true that the United States almost single-handedly smashed a bumbling, inept Japan.

"Pearl Harbor was a dumb plan, launched at a dumb place at a dumb time," said Gerhard Weinberg, a University of North Carolina professor of history whose book, "A World at Arms," is one of the war's most thorough analyses.

There's little doubt that Adolf Hitler's Germany and Hideki Tojo's Japan bit off more than they could chew when they tried to establish huge empires in Europe and Asia.

They had success for four years (1939-1942). Hitler's forces overwhelmed Europe with a stunning succession of victories that advanced Germans to the English Channel and the outskirts of Moscow. The Japanese overran most of central and western Pacific.

"Hitler's great mistake was attacking Russia in 1941," Ambrose said. "He threw away an entire generation of young Germans and wound up getting Germany smashed from end to end (by Allied bombers)."

The Allies beat back Germany by pulling off two industrial miracles. The United States became the Arsenal of Democracy, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt described the war effort, and the Russians managed to move industrial plants from Western Russia and the Ukraine to behind the Ural mountains.

Those two industrial juggernauts and a fine British effort churned out tens of thousands of planes, tanks, guns, ships, trucks, bulldozers and other weapons that engulfed the opposition.

Ambrose says much of the military equipment was superb. America produced 300,000 excellent planes, 86,000 tanks, 6,500 warships (including 115 aircraft carriers), 71,000 merchant ships and 65,000 amphibious craft.

"By the beginning of 1945, the United States had the finest navy and air force in the world and its army was nearly as good as the Russians'," Ambrose said.

In contrast, the German industrial base was wrecked by British and American around-the-clock bombing. The Japanese industrial effort was pitiful.

A major Allied advantage was a galaxy of brilliant political and military leaders: Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery and Soviet Field Marshal Georgi Zhukov.

Among the Americans, there was Army Chief of Staff George Catlett Marshall, Chief of Naval Operations Ernest J. King, Pacific Fleet Commander Chester Nimitz, Air Force Chief of Staff Henry "Hap" Arnold, and scores of excellent second-line commanders: George Patton, Omar Bradley, Lucian Truscott, Walter Krueger, Robert Eichelberger, Jimmie Doolittle, Carl "Tooey" Spaatz, Curtis LeMay, Alexander Patch, Willian Simpson, Courtney Hodges, Raymond Spruance and Marc Mitscher.

"These names resonate like thunder; they were giants," said Ambrose.

"Roosevelt picked excellent subordinates and backed them up," Weinberg said.

Notably missing from the list of great leaders are Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. William Halsey.

"MacArthur had his good days and his bad days," Weinberg said. "His first year (in the Philippines and the Southwest Pacific) was very bad and he probably should have been sacked."

Halsey doesn't make Weinberg's list because he got badly suckered by the Japanese during the Battle of Leyte Gulf and twice ran his fleet into damaging typhoons.

The German military was badly misdirected by Hitler from 1941 through 1945, and the Japanese were saddled with bad commanders, notably Fleet Commander Isoroku Yamamoto.

"Yamamoto was one of the most stupid commanders of the 20th century," Weinberg said. "He insisted on attacking Pearl Harbor, a plan that contradicted Japan's prewar strategy."

Japan's initial plan called for taking the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies and Malaya, then ambushing the American fleet as it tried to reinforce the Philippines.

Instead, Yamamoto insisted on attacking the American fleet in shallow Pearl Harbor on a Sunday when none of the American aircraft carriers was in port and most crewmen were ashore.

Most of the ships sunk at Pearl Harbor were salvaged and their trained crewmen lived to fight many other days, Weinberg said.

Yamamoto made another blunder seven months later at Midway when he dispersed eight aircraft carriers. Three American flattops ambushed them and sank four.

"Japan's army was pathetic," he added. "It was a 19th-century force led by brutal and inept generals," said Ambrose. He thinks the leadership of Japan's navy was worse.

There were surprises in World War II, starting with the fall of France in the spring of 1940. The French collapsed in four weeks. Historians call it astounding.

The Royal Air Force victory over the Luftwaffe in the summer of '40 was another upset.

After 1942, the Allies rolled to one victory after another. Surprising was the relatively easy victory during D-Day's Normandy invasion and the magnificent American triumph in the Battle of the Bulge.

The Japanese tide ebbed at Guadalcanal and vanished at Tarawa, Kwajalein, the Marianas, New Guinea, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and hundreds of other atolls and islands. The war ended in the cataclysmic explosion of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

So what's next? Not another world war?

"I wouldn't totally rule out World War III during the 21st century," said Ronald Spector, George Washington University history pro-fes-sor. "But it certainly isn't on the horizon for the next 20 years."

Historians predict the 21st century will be checkered with small and medium conflicts like Bosnia and the Persian Gulf War. Spector said today's nuclear powers probably won't use their big firecrackers but he doesn't rule out nukes coming from lesser nations, particularly Arab states.

"I think the atomic bomb has relegated big-power wars to the trash heap of history," Ambrose said. "I can't imagine any nation taking the enormous losses that the Russians, Germans and Japanese suffered during World War II."

Weinberg thinks the world is full of smoldering differences that could break out: Greece vs. Turkey, Israel vs. Syria, India vs. Pakistan, Romania vs. Hungary, Russia vs. Kazakhstan, Colombia vs. Peru, Bolivia vs. Chile.

There may be civil wars which draw in other nations, notably in Africa and the Middle East. The trick for the United States will be to somehow stay out.