This chapter examines the rule and exploitation of conquered lands by highly mobilized states that waged “totalizing” or total wars in 1914–18 and 1937–45. The occupations of the world wars in many ways resembled other modern occupations during peacetime or low-intensity conflicts, and they shared many dynamics with regimes of imperial expansion. This chapter, however, will concentrate on the specific nexus between high-intensity warfare and military occupation. It will start by charting the military occupations of World War I and World War II. For reasons of space, some occupations will remain unexamined, such as the Entente’s occupations during World War I, the Soviet occupation of the Baltic in 1940–41, and occupations by Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria during World War II. The first issue addressed regards the aims of occupying powers – both the long-term and the immediate, wartime aims. The next issue is the practice of occupation, the quest for order and compliance with minimal troop deployment. This part of the chapter touches on the problem of imperial “overstretch.” The following section addresses occupation from the perspective of the occupied; it focuses on the diminishing realm of “ordinary” life under occupation, addressing questions of civilian compliance and defiance. The chapter ends with a reflection on the differences between the occupations of the two world wars.
The belligerent occupations of World War I were mainly confined to Europe. When the offensive operations on the western front ground to a halt in November 1914, Germany found itself occupying almost all of Belgium and all or part of nine northeastern French departments – in all, ruling over some 10 million people in one of the world’s most industrialized, urbanized areas. A year later, when the front line in the east extended from the northern tip of Courland (Lithuania) to East Galicia, the Central Powers were in control of large swaths of eastern Europe, including Russian Poland, most of the Baltic territories, which were now renamed Ober Ost (Supreme Headquarters East), Serbia, and Vardar-Macedonia. Montenegro and most of Albania were occupied shortly later.