World War II
World War II was a global conflict that started on 7 July 1937 in Asia and 1 September 1939 in Europe and lasted until 1945, involving the majority of the world's countries and every inhabited continent. Virtually all countries that participated in World War I were involved in World War II. It was the most extensive and expensive armed conflict in the history of the World.
Attributed in varying degrees to the Treaty of Versailles, the Great Depression, nationalism, and militarism, the causes of the war are a matter of debate. On which date the war began is also debated, cited as either the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, the Japanese invasion of China on 7 July 1937 (the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War), or earlier yet the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Still others argue that the two world wars are one conflict separated only by a "ceasefire".
Fighting occurred across the Atlantic Ocean, in Western and Eastern Europe, in the Mediterranean Sea, Africa, the Middle East, in the Pacific and South East Asia, and it continued in China. In Europe, the war ended with the surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945 (V-E and Victory Days), but continued in Asia until Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945 (V-J Day).
Approximately 57 million people died as a result of the war, including acts of genocide such as the Holocaust. As a case of total war, it involved the "home front" and bombing of civilians to a new degree. Nuclear weapons, jet aircraft, and RADAR are only a few of many war-time inventions.
Post-war Europe was partitioned into Western and Soviet spheres of influence, the former undergoing economic reconstruction under the Marshall Plan and the latter becoming satellite states of the Soviet Union. Western Europe largely aligned as NATO, and Eastern Europe largely as the Warsaw pact, alliances which were fundamental to the ensuing Cold War. In Asia, the United States' military occupation of Japan led to its Westernization, and China came to split into the Communist People's Republic of China and the Nationalist Republic of China.
Main article: Participants in World War II
The belligerents of the Second World War are usually considered to belong to either of the two blocks: the Axis and the Allies. A number of smaller countries participated in the war, more or less voluntarily, on the side of the power that in their neighbourhood was the most influential.
The Axis Powers consisted primarily of Germany, Italy, and Japan, which split the Earth into three spheres of influence under the Tripartite Pact of 1940, and vowed to defend one another against aggression. This replaced the German-Japanese Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936 that Italy had joined in 1937. A number of smaller countries were counted to the Axis powers, but these countries did not have a profound impact on the war, nor did they supply the Axis powers with any great abundance of troops or supplies.
Until attacked in June1941, the Soviet Union was effectively allied with Nazi Germany through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, invading and occupying parts or the whole of Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania.
Among the Allied powers, the "Big Three" were the United Kingdom, from 3 September 1939, the Soviet Union, from June 1941, and the United States, from December 1941. China had been fighting Japan since 1937. The independent dominions and colonies of the British Empire, Australia, France, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Canada, Greece, and Denmark were also counted among the Allies, though many would ultimately be conquered and occupied by Axis forces.
Countries that attempted to remain neutral in the conflict were often viewed with suspicion by the participants, and often pressured to make contributions to the most influential power in their neighborhood. Sovereignty was often difficult to maintain as many countries that did not directly participate in the conflict nevertheless held vested interests in seeing a particular side prevail. For example neutral Switzerland was generally considered to be "Allied-friendly" while neutral Spain was considered "Axis-friendly," despite the fact that neither country openly proclaimed any alliances. Such situations allowed neutral countries to become hotbeds of espionage.
Origins of war
The Second World War had a variety of causes. Some of the most commonly mentioned include the aggressive rise of totalitarian ideologies, and, from a narrower perspective, the severity of the war reparations demanded of Weimar Germany after World War I, coupled with the effects of the Great Depression and the lack of raw materials in Japan.
In 1922 Benito Mussolini and the Fascist party had risen to power in Italy. Mussolini's Italian fascists shared some ideological aspirations with the German Nazis and, although Mussolini distrusted Hitler, the two countries formed an agreement that became known as the "Rome-Berlin Axis" in 1936.
As a result of the Treaty of Versailles, which followed the First World War, Germany lost its colonies to the Allies and had much of its territory transferred to France and Poland. The treaty also required Germany to pay heavy war reparations and restricted its military to a small defensive force. The economic difficulties Germany suffered following the war, due in large part to the heavy reparations it was forced to pay, are commonly believed to have been key in bringing the nationalistic and militaristic Nazi Party to power in Germany. Adolf Hitler, its leader, was elected as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933, and became de facto dictator on 2 August 1934 with the death of President Paul von Hindenburg. Defying treaty conditions, Hitler created a large, rearmed military capable of offense (Wehrmacht) in 1935. The United Kingdom and Germany signed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement on 18 June 1935, allowing Germany to expand its Kriegsmarine to one-third the tonnage of the Royal Navy. Italy began the Second Italo-Abyssinian War on 3 October by invading Ethiopia, which it desired as an empire territory.
Germany reoccupied the demilitarized Rhineland region bordering France on 7 March 1936. Poland sought the activation of Franco-Polish agreements from the Locarno Treaties, but action was dismissed. France and the United Kingdom pursued a strategy of appeasement, attempting to maintain peace with Germany through diplomatic concessions. Germany annexed the nation of Austria in the Anschluss of 1938. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain then met Adolf Hitler to reach a guarantee on the extent of Germany's territorial ambitions, and came away declaring "peace for our time" with the Munich Agreement of 1938. This gave Germany the United Kingdom's assent to annex the ethnically German Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, itself not represented, and nothing further; the USSR opposed this arrangement in the League of Nations and offered Czechoslovakia military assistance. In 1939, Chamberlain resisted an April 16 offer by the USSR to form a three way defensive alliance with France against Nazi aggression. This alliance, entertained for months but not seriously negotiated (Russians claimed Britain offered to deploy only 4 divisions compared to the French 100 and the Soviet 300), may well have delayed Hitler. Its failure led to the USSR signing the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact on 23 August 1939, which secured one front for Hitler and triggered one week later the German invasion of Poland and the formal commencement of World War II.
Japan had, as early as the late nineteenth century, begun to expand across Asia. The expansion was brought about by conflict between traditional Japanese practices and changing social conditions associated with rapid industrialization and modernization. In 1905 Japan won an astounding victory over Russia, and in 1910 it occupied Korea and made it a colony.
During the 1920s democracy seemed to be taking root in Japan, but by the 1930s, the Great Depression brought to the fore many talented military leaders who took control of Japan, often ruling in the name of Emperor Hirohito, and playing on the traditional respect the Japanese people held for their emperors. In 1931, Japan invaded and occupied Inner Manchuria, setting up the puppet state of Manchukuo, and by 1937 launched a second invasion that occupied the rest of the region. For this reason, some scholars date the actual start of World War II to 1936/37.
1939: Poland, Phony War, Tripartite Pact, Winter War
War began in Europe on 1 September, 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. France and the United Kingdom honored their defensive alliance of March 1939 by declaring war two days later on 3 September.1 Only partly mobilized, Poland fared poorly against the Wehrmacht's superior numbers and strategy of "blitzkrieg". In accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet Red Army invaded Poland from the east on 17 September. Hours later, the Polish government escaped to Romania. The last Polish Army unit was defeated on 6 October.
As Poland fell, the British and French remained largely inactive in what would be termed "the Phony War," lasting until May 1940. There were isolated engagements during this period, including the sinking of the HMS Royal Oak in the British port of Scapa Flow and bombings of the naval bases at Rosyth and Scapa Flow by the Luftwaffe. The Kriegsmarine pocket battleship "Admiral Graf Spee" was sunk in South America after the battle of the River Plate.
1940: Denmark and Norway, France and Low Countries, Baltic Republics, Britain and Atlantic, Greece
Suddenly, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway on 9 April 1940 in Operation Weserübung, ostensibly to counter the threat of an Allied invasion from the region. Heavy fighting ensued on land and at sea in Norway. British, French and Polish forces landed to support the Norwegians, at Namsos, Åndalsnes and Narvik, with more success at the latter. By early June, all Allied forces were evacuated and the Norwegian Army surrendered.
France and the Low Countries were invaded on 10 May, ending the Phony War and beginning the Battle of France. The Allies had expected a WWI style of conflict, with the French and German soldiers firing at each other from the entrenchments, and were not prepared for this sudden invasion. In the first phase of the invasion, Operation Yellow, the Wehrmacht's Panzergruppe von Kleist bypassed the Maginot Line and split the Allies in two by driving to the English channel. Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands fell quickly against the attack of Army Group B and the British Expeditionary Force, trapped in the north, was evacuated at Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo. German forces then invaded France itself, in Operation Red, advancing behind the Maginot Line and near the coast. Defeated, an armistice was declared on 22 June and the Vichy France puppet government created.
Not having secured a rapid peace with the United Kingdom, Germany began preparations to invade with the Battle of Britain. Fighter aircraft fought overhead for months as the Luftwaffe and Royal Air Force fought for control of Britain's skies. The Luftwaffe initially targeted RAF Fighter Command, but turned to terror bombing London. Germany was defeated and Operation Sealion, the proposed invasion of the British Isles, was abandoned. Similar efforts were made, though at sea, in the Battle of the Atlantic. In a long-running campaign, German U-Boats attempted to deprive the British Isles of necessary Lend Lease cargo from the United States. Shipments were reduced considerably by the U-Boats, however the United Kingdom refused to seek peace, with Prime Minister, Winston Churchill stating that "We shall never surrender."
Italy invaded Greece on 28 October, 1940 from bases in Albania. Although outnumbered, Greek forces successfully repelled the Italian attacks and launched a full-scale counterattack deep into Albania. By mid-December they had liberated one-fourth of Albania and won the first Allied victories of the war, gaining the admiration of the world. Winston Churchill declared "We are used to saying that the Greeks fight like heroes, from now on we shall say that the heroes fight like Greeks."
1941: Yugoslavia, Greece, Crete, Soviet Union, Continuation War, United States enters
Yugoslavia's government succumbed to the pressure of Italy and Germany and signed the Tripartite Treaty on March 25, 1941. This was followed by anti-axis demonstrations in the country and a coup which overthrew the government and replaced it with a pro-allied one on March 27, 1941. Hitler's forces then invaded Greece and Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941. Hitler reluctantly sent forces to assist Mussolini's bogged-down forces in Greece, principally to prevent a British buildup on Germany's strategic southern flank.
Yugoslavia was occupied within eleven days of the invasion. Thousands of Yugoslavs, however, continued to fight an effective guerilla war. The struggle lasted somewhat longer in Greece. The main mass of the Greek army was already engaged against Italian forces in Albania. Seeing the bleakness of the situation, about 58,000 British soldiers were sent to the aid of the Greeks. The German invasion developed along the Greek-Bulgarian border where they met stiff resistance from the fortifications of the Metaxas Line. The rapid downfall of Yugoslavia, however, allowed German forces to pour into Greece with little resistance and were able to surround the Greek positions. German soldiers entered Athens on April 27, 1941 symbolizing the end of organized Greek resistance. The British managed to evacuate about 43,000 of their men. The intervention in Greece delayed the German invasion of the Soviet Union by six weeks which proved disastrous when the German army bogged down on the outskirts of Moscow as a result of the Russian winter.
A month later on May 20, 1941, the Battle of Crete began when tens of thousands of elite German paratroops and some 1,300 airplanes launched a massive airborne invasion of the Greek island of Crete. Crete was defended by an ill-equipped group of about 43,000 Greek, British, Australian, and New Zealand troops. The Germans attacked the island simultaneously on the three airfields. Their invasion on two of the airfields failed miserably but they successfully captured one, which allowed them to reinforce their position by landing reinforcements(about three transport planes every five minutes). After a week it was decided that so many German troops had been flown in that there was no way to defeat them. The Allied soldiers had grown exhausted and were by now numerically inferior. An evacuation took place and about 17,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers were evacuated. About 12,000 Commonwealth and 5,500 Greek troops were made prisoners, however, over 10,000 Greek troops and 500 Commonwealth remained at large and caused serious problems to the German occupiers over the next four years. The Germans suffered over 17,000 casualties in Crete. So heavy were the losses that Hitler never launched another airborne assault. General Kurt Student, who commanded the invasion of Crete would later say "Crete was the grave of the German parachutists." Airborne operations against Malta, Cyprus, and the Suez Canal never took place as a result.
Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, commenced on 22 June 1941. The "Great Patriotic War" (Russian: Великая Отечественная Война, Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voyna) had begun with surprise attacks by German panzer armies, which encircled and destroyed much of the Soviet's western military, capturing or killing hundreds of thousands of men. Soviet forces came to fight a war of scorched earth, withdrawing into the steppe of Russia to acquire time and stretch the German army. Industries were dismantled and withdrawn to the Ural mountains for reassembly. German armies pursued a three-pronged advance against Leningrad, Moscow, and the Caucasus. Having pushed to occupy Moscow before winter, German forces were delayed into the Soviet Winter. Soviet counterattacks defeated them within sight of Moscow's spires, and a rout was only narrowly avoided. Some historians identify this as the "turning point" in the Allies' war against Germany; others identify the capitulation of the German Sixth Army outside Stalingrad in 1943.
The Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union began with Soviet air attacks shortly after the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, on 25 June, and ended with an armistice in 1944. The Soviet Union was joined in the war by the United Kingdom but not by the United States.
Germany declared war on the United States on 11 December, 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was not obligated to do so under the Tripartite Pact of 1940. Hitler made the declaration in the hopes that Japan would support him by attacking the Soviet Union. Japan did not oblige him and this diplomatic move proved a catastrophic blunder which gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt the pretext he needed for the USA to join the fight in Europe with full commitment with no meaningful opposition in Congress. Some historians mark this moment as another major turning point of the war with Hitler provoking a grand alliance of powerful nations who could wage powerful attacks on both East and West simultaneously.
1942: Turning of the war in Russia and North Africa
1942: Caucasus offensive, Stalingrad
In 1942, an aborted German offensive was launched towards the Caucasus to secure oil fields and German armies reached Stalingrad. The siege of Stalingrad continued for many months, with vicious urban warfare leading to high casualties on both sides. At night, the Soviet forces were resupplied from the east bank of the Volga, and the Wehrmacht forces were eventually ground down; especially after Hitler diverted the armor of the Sixth Army to the Caucasus. By early February 1943, it was clear that the Sixth Army would have to surrender. The Fuhrer made General Friedrich Paulus, who was in charge of the German forces, a Field Marshal, in the vain hope it would deter him from surrendering. It didn't, and he surrendered completely on February 2. The results were the destruction of the city, millions of casualties, and the collapse of Germany's Sixth Army as a viable fighting force. Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels responded with his Sportpalast speech to the German people. Some historians cite this as the European war's "turning point."
1942: Operation Torch, French North Africa
Main article: Operation Torch
During 1942, Roosevelt and Churchill planned an invasion of French North Africa to create a new front against the Axis to relieve the pressure on the Russians. The invasion was named Operation Torch, and was scheduled for November 1942. It would help demonstrate the capacities of the United States naval industry and Allied ability to organize long distance large naval convoys.
The operation nearly failed due to misinformation received from Admiral William Leahy and Consul Robert Murphy, who said that the French vichyist generals ready to welcome an Allied landing. The forces of Vichy delivered a violent resistance against the Anglo-American ships and troops in Oran and Morocco, and held them off for three days.
On October 23, 1942, four hundred badly-armed French civilian resistors neutralized the coastal artillery of Sidi-Ferruch alone, and the XIX Army Corps of Algiers for about fifteen hours. The civilians, in the early morning of November 8, held a majority of the strategic points and arrested most of the vichyist military and civil rulers. One of their groups, made up by senior college pupils commanded by a young aspirant, succeeded in arresting General Alphonse Juin, Chief Commandant in North Africa, as well as Admiral François Darlan. The Allied forces were able to land and capture the port with little resistance because the Algiers garrison was prevented from being mobilized. Juin and Darlan were turned over to the armies of the United States and Great Britain, who, while refusing for several days, ordered the vichyst forces to cease their attacks on November 10.
If the civilian resistance had not been successful, the combined landing might have been compromised, and the Germans might have taken Morocco and occupied all of North Africa.
1943: Kursk, Yugoslav resistance, Italy
Red Army offensives along the Don basin near Stalingrad were repulsed by German forces in January 1943. In July, the Wehrmacht launched a much-delayed offensive against the Soviet Union at Kursk. Their intentions were known by the Soviets, and the Battle of Kursk ended in a Soviet counteroffensive that threw the German Army back.
Mid-1943 brought the fifth and final Sutjeska offensive of the Germans against the Yugoslav Partisans before the invasion and subsequent capitulation of Italy, the other major occupying force in Yugoslavia.
1944: France invaded, Soviet-Finland armistice, surrender of minor Axis, Ardennes offensive
On "D-Day", 6 June 1944, the western Allies invaded German-held Normandy, opening the "second front" against Germany. In a morning amphibious assault spearheaded before dawn by American (82nd and 101st), British (6th) and Canadian paratroops.2 Hedgerows aided the defending German units, and for months the Allies measured progress in hundreds of yards and bloody rifle fights. An Allied breakout was effected at St.-Lô, and the most powerful German force in France, the Seventh Army was destroyed in the Falaise pocket while counterattacking. The French Riviera was invaded by Allied forces stationed in Italy on 15 August, and linked up with forces from Normandy. The Allies captured Paris on 25 August.
By early 1944, the Red Army had reached the border of Poland and lifted the Siege of Leningrad. Shortly after Allied landings at Normandy, on 9 June, the Soviet Union began an offensive on the Karelian Isthmus, that after three months would force Nazi Germany's co-belligerent Finland to an armistice. Operation Bagration, a Soviet offensive involving 2.5 million men and 6,000 tanks, was launched on 22 June, destroying the German Army Group Center and taking 350,000 prisoners. Finland's defense had been dependent on active, or in periods passive, support from the German Wehrmacht that also provided defense for the northern chiefly uninhabited half of Finland. After the Wehrmacht retreated from the southern shores of the Gulf of Finland, Finland's defense was untenable. The Allies' armistice conditions included further territorial losses and the internment or expulsion of German troops on Finnish soil executed in the Lapland War, now as co-belligerents of the Allies, who also demanded the political leadership to be prosecuted in "war-responsibility trials" that by the Finnish public were perceived as a mockery of rule of law.
Romania surrendered in August of 1944 and Bulgaria in September. British forces attempted a fast advance into Germany with Operation Market Garden in September, but were repulsed. The Warsaw Uprising was fought between 1 August and 2 October. Germany withdrew from the Balkans and held Hungary until February 1945.
In December of 1944, the German Army made its last major offensive in the West, attempting to capture the vital port of Antwerp and cripple the Allies in the Battle of the Bulge. The offensive was defeated. By now, the Soviets had reached the eastern borders of pre-war Germany.
1945: Yalta Conference, push into Germany, Berlin falls, occupation
Arrangements for post-war Europe were made between Churchill, Stalin, and Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. It resulted in an April meeting to form the United Nations, nation-states were created in Eastern Europe, it was agreed Poland would have free elections (in fact elections were heavily rigged by Soviets), Soviet nationals were to be repatriated, and the Soviet Union was to attack Japan within three months of Germany's surrender.
The Red Army (including 78,556 soldiers of the 1st Polish Army) began its final assault on Berlin on 16 April. Hitler and his staff moved into a bunker beneath the Chancellery, where on 30 April 1945 he committed suicide. The Soviets took a massive toll of 100,000 men killed. Karl Dönitz became leader of the German govenment and quickly dispatched the German High Command to travel to Rheims, France to sign an unconditional surrender to the Allies. Field Marschal Jodl surrended unconditionally on 7 May. "V-E Day" was celebrated by the Western Allies on 8 May and "Victory Day" by the Soviet Union on 9 May. Whether the Baltic countries — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — were occupied or voluntarily joined the Soviet Union is a hotly debated topic.
The surrender of Japan to the United States did not end the war, because Japan and the Soviet Union never signed a peace agreement. In the last days of the armed conflict, the Soviet Union occupied the Southern Kurile Islands, an area previously held by Japan and claimed by the Soviets. Multiple efforts  to bring to a peace agreement, and officially end the War, have failed since 1945. Therefore, World War II has technically never ended.
Pacific and East Asia, 1937–45
Main article: Pacific War
1937: Sino-Japanese War
Main article: Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945)
War conflict began in Asia years before fighting started in Europe. Japan had already invaded China in 1931, long before World War II started in Europe. On March 1st, the Japanese appointed Henry Pu Yi king in Manchukuo, the puppet state in Manchuria. By 1937, war had broken out, as the Japanese sought control of China.
Roosevelt signed an unpublished (secret) executive order in May of 1940 allowing U.S. military personnel to resign from the service so that they could participate in a covert operation in China: the All Volunteer Group, also known as Chennault's Flying Tigers. Over a seven-month period, Chennault's Flying Tigers destroyed an estimated 600 Japanese aircraft, sunk numerous Japanese ships, and stalled the Japanese invasion of Burma. With the United States and other countries cutting exports to Japan, Japan planned a strike on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 without warning or declaration of war, dealing severe damage to the American Pacific Fleet. The next day, Japanese forces arrived in Hong Kong, which later led to the surrender of the British colony on Christmas Day later that month.
1940: Vichy France colonies
In 1940, Japan occupied French Indochina (Vietnam) upon agreement with the Vichy Government despite local Free French, and joined the Axis powers Germany and Italy. These actions intensified Japan's conflict with the United States and the United Kingdom which reacted with an oil boycott.
1941: Pearl Harbor, the U.S.A. enters the war, Japanese invasions in SE Asia
Main article: Attack on Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941, Japanese warplanes commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo carried out a surprise air raid on Pearl Harbor, the largest U.S. naval base in the Pacific. The Japanese forces met little resistance and devastated the harbor. This attack resulted in eight battleships either sunk or damaged, damage to three light cruisers and damage to four destroyers in addition to damage to some auxilaries and approximately 300 aircraft either damaged or destroyed. No aircraft carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were at the harbor at the time of Japanese attack. The following day, the U.S. declared war on Japan.
Simultaneously to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan also attacked U.S air bases in the Philippines. Immediately following these attacks, Japan invaded the Philippines, and also the British Colonies of Hong Kong, Malaya, Borneo and Burma with the intention of seizing the oilfields of the Dutch East Indies. All these territories, and more, fell to the Japanese onslaught in a matter of months. The British island fortress of Singapore was captured in what Churchill considered one of the most humiliating British defeats of all time.
1942: Coral Sea, Port Moresby, Midway, Guadalcanal
In May 1942, a naval attack on Port Moresby, New Guinea was thwarted by Allied navies in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Had the capture of Port Moresby succeeded, the Japanese Navy would have been within striking range of Australia. This was both the first successful opposition to Japanese plans and the first naval battle fought only between aircraft carriers. A month later the invasion of Midway Island was prevented, causing the loss of four carriers, which Japanese industry could not replace. The Japanese navy was now on the defensive.
However, in July an overland attack on Port Moresby was led along the rugged Kokoda Track. This was met with Australian reservists, many of them very young and untrained, fighting a stubborn rearguard action until the arrival of Australian regulars returning from action in North Africa, Greece and the Middle East. But amazingly, the outnumbered and untrained Australian militiamen which consited of the 19th platoon and 39th battalion defeated the 5000-strong Japanese army. This was considered one of the most significant defeats in Australian military history.
The Allied leaders had agreed even prior to the American entry to the war that priority should be given to the defeat of Nazi Germany. Nonetheless US and Australian forces began to attack captured territories, beginning with Guadalcanal Island, against a bitter and determined defense by Japanese troops. On 7 August 1942 the island was assaulted by the United States. In late August and early September, while battle raged on Guadalcanal, an amphibious Japanese attack on the eastern tip of New Guinea was met by Australian forces at Milne Bay, and the Japanese land forces suffered their first conclusive defeat. In Guadalcanal, the Japanese resistance failed in February 1943.
1943: New Guinea, submarine warfare
Exhausted Australian and US forces then strove to retake the occupied parts of New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies, experiencing some of the toughest resistance of the Pacific Theatre. The rest of the Solomon Islands were retaken in 1943, New Britain and New Ireland in 1944. The Philippines were attacked in late 1944 following the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
US and Allied submarines and aircraft also attacked Japanese merchant shipping, depriving Japan's industry of the raw materials it had gone to war to obtain. The effectiveness of this stranglehold increased as the U.S. captured islands closer to the Japanese mainland.
The Nationalist Kuomintang Army under Chiang Kai-shek and the Communist Chinese Army under Mao Zedong both opposed the Japanese occupation of China, but never truly allied against the Japanese. Conflict between Nationalist and Communist forces continued after and, to an extent, even during the war.
The Japanese captured most of Burma severing the Burma Road by which the Western Allies had been supplying the Chinese Nationalists. This forced the Allies to create a large sustained airlift of the war known as the Hump. US lead and trained Chinese divisions, a few thousand US ground forces and a British Division, cleared the Japanese forces from northern Burma so that the Ledo Road could be built to replace the Burma Road. Further south the main Japanese army in the theater were fought to a standstill on the Burma India frontier by the British Fourteenth Army (the "forgotten" army) which then counter-attacked and having recaptured all of Burma was planning attacks towards Malaya when the war ended.
1945: Iwo Jima, Okinawa, atomic bombings, Japan surrenders
Capture by the US of islands such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa close to Japan brought the homeland within range of naval and air attacks, Tokyo was firebombed and later on 6 August 1945 an atomic bomb, the "Little Boy", was dropped from the B-29 "Enola Gay" and destroyed Hiroshima. On 8 August 1945 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, as had been agreed to at Yalta, and launched a large scale invasion of Japanese occupied Manchuria (operation August Storm). On August 9, in Nagasaki, another atom bomb, "Fat Man" was dropped by the B-29 "Bock's Car".
The combination of the use of atomic weapons and the new inclusion of the Soviet Union in the war were both highly responsible for the surrender of Japan, although the importance of the Soviet incursion has been largely overlooked in conventional American histories of the conflict.
Mediterranean and North Africa, 1940–45
1940: Egypt and Somaliland
The North African Campaign began in 1940, when small British forces in Egypt turned back an Italian advance from Libya. This advance was stopped in 1941 when German forces under Erwin Rommel landed in Libya.
1941: Syria, Lebanon, Afrika Korps to Tobruk
In June 1941 the Australian Army and allied forces invaded Syria and Lebanon, capturing Damascus on 17 June. Rommel's Afrika Korps advanced rapidly eastward, laying siege to the vital seaport of Tobruk. The Australian and British troops in the city resisted all until relieved, but a renewed Axis offensive captured the city and drove the Eighth Army back to a line at El Alamein.
1942: First and Second Battles of El Alamein, Operation Torch
The First Battle of El Alamein took place between July 1 and July 27, 1942. German forces had advanced to the last defensible point before Alexandria and the Suez Canal. However they had outrun their supplies, and a British and Commonwealth defense stopped their thrusts. The Second Battle of El Alamein occurred between October 23 and November 3, 1942 after Bernard Montgomery had replaced Claude Auchinleck as commander of the Eighth Army. Rommel, the brilliant German commander of the Afrika Corps, known as the "Desert Fox", was absent for this epic battle, because he was recovering from jaundice back in Europe. Who knows what would have happened if he had been present? We can only assume with the British decoder Ultra, that Montgomery knew Rommel was absent. Commonwealth forces took the offensive, and though the British lost more tanks then the Germans began the battle with, Montgomery was ultimately triumphed over the, at first slightly hesitant without their leader, German officers. The western Allies had the advantage of being close to their supplies during the battle. In addition, Rommel was getting little or no help by this time in the war from the struggling Luftwaffe, which was now more tasked with defending Western European air space, and fighting the Soviet Union, than providing Rommel with support in North Africa. After the German defeat at El Alamein, Rommel made a brilliant strategic withdrawal. Many historians feel Rommel's successful strategic withdrawal of the Afrika Corps from Egypt was more impressive than his earlier victories, including Tobruk, because he managed to get his whole force back intact, against the overwhelming air superiority, and numbers of the British now reinforced by the Americans.
To complement this victory, on 8 November 1942, American and British troops landed in Morocco and Algeria in Operation Torch. The local forces of Vichy France put up limited resistance before joining the Allied cause. Rommel's Africa Corps was not being supplied adequately because of the loss of transport shipments by the British Royal Navy and Air Force in the Mediteranian. This lack of supplies and no air force to speek of, destroyed any chance of large offensive capabilites for the Germans in Africa. Ultimately German and Italian forces were caught in the pincers of a twin advance from Algeria and Libya. The withdrawing Germans continued to put up stiff defense, and Rommel defeated the American forces decisviely, at the "Battle of the Kasserine Pass" before finishing his strategic withdrawal back to the meager german supply chain. Inevitably, advancing from both the east and west, the Allies finally defeated the German Afrika Corps on May 13, 1943.
1943–45: Invasion of Sicily and Italy, Mussolini falls, Allied offensive north
North Africa was used as a springboard for the invasion of Sicily on 10 July, 1943. Operation control was, for the first few months, based on the island of Malta. Having captured Sicily, the Allies invaded mainland Italy on 3 September 1943. On July 25 Mussolini was fired from office by the King of Italy, allowing a new government to take power. Shortly before the main invasion of 8 September, the new Italian government surrendered. The German Army continued to fight from the Gothic Line and then Winter Line in Italy's mountains. The conflict would last until the spring of 1945.
Home front is the name given to the activities of civilians in a state of total war. During World War II, women joined the work force in jobs that the men overseas used to occupy. Families also grew victory gardens, small home vegetable gardens, to supply themselves with food during the war. They did this because the food was limited and they had to use ration stamps to get food. Sugar and coffee were especially hard to get, and gasoline was also rationed, as was silk. Schools and organizations held scrap drives and money collections to help the war effort. Many things were conserved to turn into weapons later, such as fat left over from cooking. This was later used to make explosives such as nitroglycerin. Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that the efforts of civilians at home to support the war through personal sacrifice was as critical to winning the war as the efforts of the soldiers themselves, and that the civilian populace constituted an additional front at home.
Civilian populations were heavily involved in war production and subject to propaganda from their governments.
Genocide, atrocities, warcrimes and internment
Acts of genocide against or mass internment of civilian populations occurred in the territories and/or occupied territories of most great powers of the war, including Germany, Japan, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Some of these were so unimaginably immense and horrific that they changed the psyche of Western civilization; bringing to an end the optimistic beliefs in continual improvement in human nature which had supported western civilization in its education and imperialism up to that point.
Internment and genocide – The worst conditions were imposed in Nazi concentration camps. Most camps were specialized into variously forced labour camps, starvation camps (Buchenwald) or later extermination camps (Treblinka, Sobibor); though Auschwitz, the largest and most infamous, had a separate camp devoted to each purpose. In the Holocaust "Death-camps" large numbers of people were killed using gas, usually immediately they disembarked from trains under the pretense of being given a shower to prevent disease. Grounds for this mass murder were variously racist (Jews, Roma(Gypsies)) "eugenic" (mental patients, homosexuals) and military/political opposition: initially anarchist and communist militant opponents, then ideological opponents (pacifists, Jehovah's Witnesses), then citizens of occupied countries (like Poles), later Soviet POWs and then military and underground opposition. Jews were the largest group of people killed, approximately 6 million, next in reducing order were Poles, other Slavs, Soviet POWs and then other groups.
Next worst is disputed; but the USSR's gulags and Japanese POW camps both had high death rates. Many citizens of occupied countries like Poland,Lithuania,Latvia,Estonia as well as German POW's died in the Soviet Gulags or Labor camps, along with many opponents of Stalin's regime and large proportions of some ethnic groups (particularly Chechens). Many Japanese POW camps were used as labour camps and starvation conditions among the mainly U.S. and Commonwealth prisoners were little better than many German concentration camps. Thousands of Japanese Americans were interned by the US government and this has caused postwar outrage and compensation claims; but these seem based more in insulted patriotism, anti-racial prejudice (most German Americans weren't interned) and economic loss than atrocious conditions.
Atrocity and War crimes – Few forms of atrocity were excluded from the Eastern European theatre, including the killing of millions of Ukrainians and Belorussians in the name of Lebensraum, of over a million Yugoslavs in disproportionate reprisal killings for Partisan activity, plus medical experimentation on concentration camp inmates. The population of Kiev dropped by 90% between the the early 1930s and 1945, partly from starvation under Stalin, mostly under the Nazis. The Japanese Unit 731 experimented in Biological warfare in Manchuria, with a view to eliminating Chinese populations. Japanese atrocities in China included rape, pillage, murder and cannibalism. The best known atrocity in China is the Nanjing Massacre.
Though Article XXII of the draft Hague Rules of Air Warfare 1923 stated "aerial bombardment for the purpose of terrorizing the civilian population, of destroying or damaging private property not of a military character, or of injuring non-combatants" was to be prohibited; these rules were not ratified by the Powers. In the first months of the war the RAF was ordered by the British Government to adhere strictly to the draft rules, but this restriction was progressively relaxed, and abandoned altogether in 1942. By 1945 the strategic bombing of cities had been employed extensively by all sides, German bombing of Poland, Britain and the USSR initially caused shock but was soon exceeded by allied bombing. The deliberate firestorm bombing of Japanese and German cities including Tokyo, Hamburg and Dresden by Anglo-American forces and the American atomic bombing of 2 Japanese civilian populations have been subject to criticism during the post-war era as possible war crimes, no action was taken against those responsible.
From 1945 to 1949 German and Japanese officials; but no allied personnel, were prosecuted by Allied tribunals for war crimes. Accused of genocide and atrocities, many German officials were tried at the Nuremburg Trials and many Japanese officials at the Tokyo War Crime Trial. During the Allied island advances in the Pacific surrendering troops were almost routinely killed, by Japanese, American and Australian troops; for identical behaviour against Americans during the Battle of the Bulge German SS commanders were tried for war crimes after the war. The War crimes, more than the Crimes against humanity, trials have been described as hypocritical "Winners Justice", and many allied soldiers, including Winston Churchill felt the same and many refused to testify.
Technology in World War II
The massive research and development involved in the Manhattan Project in order to quickly achieve a working nuclear weapon design greatly impacted the scientific community, among other things creating a network of national laboratories in the United States. In addition, the pressing for numerous calculations for various things like code breaking and ballistics tables kick-started the development of electronic computer technology. While the war stimulated many technologies: radio development accelerated, and radar developed; it retarded others, most notably popular television which the BBC had been developing, but which was shelved, as it also was in Germany and the USA, until the end of the war.
The Jet aircraft age began during the war with the development of the Heinkel He 178 the first true turbojet, the Messerschmitt 262 – the first jet in combat, and the Gloster Meteor the first reliable and useful jet fighter. The Nazi terror weapon, the V-2 rocket, was the first step into the space age as its trajectory took it higher than any aircraft through the stratosphere. It led directly to the development of the ICBM. The V2 development team was led by Wernher Von Braun, who later immigrated to the USA and developed the Saturn 5 rocket which took men to the moon in 1969.
All forms of military technology progressed at a forced pace faster even than modern computers and over six years there was a disorientatingly fast rate of change in combat. The best jet fighters at the end of the war could have effectively combatted twenty Spitfire Mark Is , the best early war fighters. The best late war tank, the JS-3 may well have defeated thirty of the best tanks of 1939, Panzer IVDs. The early war bombers that caused such carnage would almost all have been shot down in 1945, many with one shot, by radar aimed, proximity fuse detonated anti aircraft fire, just as the 1941 "invincible fighter", the Zero had by 1944 become the "turkey" of the "Turkey shoot". This future shock was capped by the atomic bomb.
The chaotic impotence of opposed amphibious landings typical of WW1 disasters was overcome; the DUKW, a six-wheel-drive amphibious truck, and amphibious tanks were developed by the United States to support beach landing attacks and the organization and coordination of amphibious assaults became a science; laying the foundations for the methodology of Project Management used to organize most modern large scale technological and engineering development.
In contrast to World War I, the Western victors in the Second World War did not demand compensation from the defeated nations. On the contrary, a plan created by U. S. Secretary of State George Marshall, the "European Recovery Program", better known as the Marshall Plan, called for the U.S. Congress to allocate billions of dollars for the reconstruction of Europe. Also as part of the effort to rebuild global capitalism and spur post-war reconstruction, the Bretton Woods system was put into effect after the war.
United Nations and the Cold War
Since the League of Nations had obviously failed to prevent the war, a new international order was constructed. In 1945 the United Nations was founded. Also, in order to prevent such devastating war from occurring again and to establish a lasting peace in Europe, the European Coal and Steel Community was born in 1951 (Treaty of Paris (1951)), the predecessor of the European Union.
The future Warsaw Pact countries did not subscribe to the Marshall Plan. In the Paris Peace Treaty, the Soviet Union's enemies Hungary, Finland and Romania were required to pay war reparations of $300,000,000 each (in 1938 dollars) to the USSR. Italy was required to pay $360,000,000, shared chiefly between Greece, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
In the areas occupied by Western Allied troops, democratic governments were created, in the areas occupied by Soviet troops, communist governments were created. Germany was partitioned into four zones of occupation, with the American, British and French zones grouped as West Germany and the Soviet zone as East Germany. Austria was once again separated from Germany and it, too, was divided into four zones of occupation which eventually re-united and became the state of Austria. The Cold War had begun, and soon NATO and the Warsaw Pact would form.
The repatriation, pursuant to the terms of the Yalta Conference, of two million Russian soldiers who had come under the control of advancing American and British forces, resulted for the most part in their deaths.
- List of World War II conferences
- List of World War II topics
- List of battles of World War II
- History of Europe
- History of the Balkans
- World War II in Contemporary Culture
- Total war
|Campaigns and theatres of World War II|
|Poland | Phony War | Denmark & Norway | France & Benelux countries | Britain|
|Eastern Front 1941–45 | Western Front 1944–45|
|Asian and Pacific Theatres|
|China | Pacific Ocean | South-East Asia | South West Pacific | Manchuria 1945|
|The Mediterranean, Africa and Middle East|
| Mediterranean Sea | East Africa | North Africa | West Africa | Balkans|
Middle East | Madagascar | Italy
|Atlantic Ocean | Strategic bombing | Raiding operations|
|Chinese Civil War | Winter War | Continuation War|
|Military history of World War II by nation|
|Britain | China | Egypt | Finland | France | Germany | India | Italy | Japan | Poland | Soviet Union | United States | Australia | Canada | New Zealand|
This speech is also available in OGG Vorbis format (942KB).
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- Gilbert, Martin (1995) Second World War, Phoenix, ISBN 1857993462
- Keegan, John (1989) The Second World War
- Liddel Hart, Sir Basil (1970), History of the Second World War Cassel & Co; Pan Books,1973, London
- Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. (2000) A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War ISBN 067400163X
- Overy, Richard, Why the Allies Won, Pimlico, 1995. ISBN 0712674535
- Weinberg, Gerhard L., A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (1994) ISBN 0521443172
- Color photographs of the war
- WW2 People's War – A project by the BBC to gather the stories of ordinary people from World War II
- BBC History: World War Two
- Deutsche Welle special section on World War II created by one of Germany's public broadcasters on World War II and the world 60 years after.
- Online Newspaper Archive
- WWII, divisive memories (en), 60 ans après : la guerre de la mémoire (fr), IIª guerra mundial hoy: el combate de las memorias (es), 60 anni dopo: la guerra della memoria (it), 60 Jahre später: Kampf der Erinnerungen (de), 60 anys després, la guerra de la memòria (ca), cafebabel.com