World War II
The conflict began by most Western accounts on September 1 1939 and lasted until 1945, involving many of the world's countries. Virtually all countries that participated in World War I were involved in World War II. Many consider World War II to be the only true world war due to the overwhelming number of nations involved and the extraordinary number of theatres—from Europe and the Soviet Union to North Africa, China, South East Asia and the Pacific. In World War I non-European theatres had seen quick and short colonial battles, but in World War II these theatres demanded far more resources and human sacrifice.
Attributed in varying degrees to the Treaty of Versailles, the Great Depression, and the rise in Nationalism, Fascism, National Socialism, Japanese imperialism, and Militarism, the causes of the war are a matter of debate. Similarly, the exact date at which the war commenced differs between historians, with the most common date given as the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, or the British and French declarations of war two days later. Other candidates for the starting date of the war include the entry of Hitler's armies to Prague in March 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, or the signing of the secret Hitler-Stalin Pact.
The war was fought between the Axis Powers, primarily Germany, Japan and Italy, and the Allies. 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).
About 50 million people died as a result of the war. This figure includes acts of genocide such as the Holocaust and General Ishii Shiro's Unit 731 experiments in Pingfan, incredibly bloody battles in Europe and the Pacific Ocean, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Few areas of the world were unaffected, the war involved the "home front" and bombing of civilians to a new degree. Atomic weapons, jet aircraft, rockets and radar, "the blitzkrieg", or "lightning war", the massive use of tanks, submarines, torpedo bombers and destroyer/tanker formations, are only a few of many wartime inventions and new tactics that changed the face of the conflict.
Post–World War II 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. This partition was, however, informal; rather than coming to terms about the spheres of influence, the relationship between the victors steadily deteriorated, and the military lines of demarcation finally became the de facto country boundaries. Western Europe largely aligned as NATO, and Eastern Europe largely as the Warsaw pact countries, alliances which were fundamental to the ensuing Cold War. In Asia, the United States' military occupation of Japan led to its democratisation. China's civil war continued through and after the war, resulting eventually in the establishment of the People's Republic of China. The war sparked a wave of independence for colonies of European powers, who were exhausted from fighting the war. There was a fundamental shift in power from Western Europe to the new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, though there were few actual boundary changes.
- 1 Main causes
- 2 Participants
- 3 Chronology 1937–45
- 4 Resistance
- 5 The Home fronts
- 6 Technologies
- 7 Civilian impact & atrocities
- 8 Aftermath
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- In Germany there was a strong desire to escape the bonds of the World War I Treaty of Versailles, and eventually, Hitler and the Nazis assumed control of the country. They led Germany through a chain of events: rearmament, reoccupation of the Rhineland, a merge with Austria (Anschluss), incorporation of Czechoslovakia and finally the invasion of Poland. Germany under Hitler sought vast amounts of lebensraum, mostly in Eastern Europe (especially in the USSR), and also wanted to become the central power in all of Europe. (The Nazi ideal would have had the entirety of Europe under Germany's sphere of influence)
- In Asia, Japan's efforts to become a world power and the rise of militaristic leadership led to conflicts with first China and later the United States. Japan also sought to secure additional natural resources, such as oil and iron ore, due in part to the lack of natural resources on Japan's own home islands.
Main article: Participants in World War II
The belligerents of the Second World War are usually considered to belong to either of the two blocs: the Axis and the Allies. A number of smaller countries participated in the war, though often under occupation or as proxies of one of the large powers.
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. Spain's fascist government led by Francisco Franco was a great asset in trade to the Axis powers during the war. A number of smaller countries were counted among the Axis powers.
Just before the war broke out, the USSR and Germany signed the non-aggression Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which, among other things, divided Eastern Europe into regions of influence. But Germany violated the pact when it invaded the USSR in 1941. When judged by scope, the Eastern Front of the war, between Germany and the USSR, is the centerpiece of World War II and indeed has little parallel in the history of human conflict. The USSR lost as many as 25 million people while the 3 million German battle deaths in this theatre represent a large majority of over-all losses. Here too, ideology played a much larger part, with the respective leadership of each power portraying Nazism and Communism as utterly antithetical and locked in a to-the-death struggle; the Nazi drive into Eastern Europe was further animated by powerful anti-Slavic bigotry which was not paralleled on the Western Front. This second front is often considered the mistake that caused the Nazis to lose the war.
Among the Allied powers, the "Big Three" were the United Kingdom, from September 3 1939; the Soviet Union, from June 1941; and the United States, from December 1941. China had been fighting Japan since 1937.
The U.S. entry into the war was a vital boost to the Allied cause and need not necessarily have occured. The unilateral Monroe Doctrine stated that Europe should not interfere in the Americas and in turn the U.S. would then not interfere in European affairs (including wars). But the U.S. was forced to enter the war after first Japan and then Germany declared war on it and launched direct attacks on its Navy, shipping and other interests.
Many other countries including Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, France, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Greece, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Thailand and the Philippines are also considered important Allies, although some of these were conquered and occupied by Axis forces or even officially joined the Axis as a result of coercion.
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 neighbourhood. 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.
1937: First bullet was fired
On 7 July 1937, Japan, after occupying northeastern China as Manchuria in 1931, launched another attack against China near Beijing (see Marco Polo Bridge Incident). Rather than retreating swiftly like engagements with the Japanese before, the Chinese government declared war on Japan, marking the official start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, which would soon become part of the World War. In December 1937, the capital Nanking (now Nanjing) fell and the Chinese government moved its seat to Chongqing for the rest of the war. Furious about the unanticipated level of resistance from China, the Japanese forces commited brutal atrocities against civilians and POWs when Nanking was occupied (see Nanjing Massacre), killing up to 200,000 civilians within a month.
1939: War breaks out
War broke out in Poland on 1 September 1939, with the German invasion of Poland. France and the United Kingdom honoured their defensive alliance of March 1939 by declaring war two days later on 3 September. Australia and New Zealand declared war the same day, and Canada a week later, on 10 September. Only partly mobilised, 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", or the "Sitzkrieg", lasting until May 1940.
The Soviet Union, due to its treaty relationship with Nazi Germany was satisfied not to fight the fascists, as Stalin was happy to have those he felt were his natural and true enemies—the capitalist West and Nazi Germany—fight each other. For example, the Soviets had their partisans in the U.S. press for the U.S. to remain neutral in the war, and those partisans would continue to do so until the German invasion of the USSR.
There were isolated engagements during the "Phony War" period, including the sinking of HMS Royal Oak in the anchorage at Scapa Flow and Luftwaffe bombings of the naval bases at Rosyth and Scapa Flow. The Kriegsmarine pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee was sunk in South America after the battle of the River Plate. The Tripartite Pact was signed between Germany, Italy, and Japan on 27 September, 1940, formalising their alignment as the "Axis Powers". The Soviet Union invaded Finland on 30 November 1939, beginning the Winter War, which lasted until March 1940 with Finland ceding territory to the Soviet Union.
1940: The war spreads
Europe: 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 most success at the latter. By early June, all Allied forces were evacuated, and the Norwegian Army surrendered. France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were invaded on 10 May, ending the Phony War and beginning the Battle of France. The Allies had expected a WW I-style conflict, with the Allied and Axis 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, France signed an armistice with Germany on June 22, 1940, leading to the establishment of the Vichy France puppet government in the unoccupied part of France.
In June 1940 the Soviet Union occupied Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and annexed Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina from Romania. 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. The Luftwaffe was not successful, 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. The U-Boats reduced shipments considerably; however, the United Kingdom refused to seek peace, with Prime Minister Winston Churchill stating that "We shall never surrender". President Roosevelt announced a shift in the American stance from neutrality to "non-belligerency".
The Mediterranean: 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 counter-attack deep into Albania. By mid-December they had liberated one-fourth of Albania. The North African Campaign began in 1940; Italian forces in Libya attacked British forces in Egypt. The aim was to make Egypt an Italian possession, especially the vital Suez Canal. British, Indian and Australian forces counter-attacked (see Operation Compass), but this offensive stopped in 1941 when much of the Commonwealth forces were transferred to Greece to defend it from German attack. However, German forces (known later as the Afrika Korps) under General Erwin Rommel landed in Libya and renewed the assault on Egypt. Italian troops invaded and captured British Somaliland in August 1940.
On the other hand, the Italian declaration of war challenged the British supremacy of this sea, a supremacy hinged on Gibraltar, Malta and Alexandria. While Gibraltar was never under direct attack, Alexandria and to a deadlier degree Malta were hit repetitively by Axis attacks, the thrusts towards the Suez Canal for the former, and the 1940/42 Blitz for the latter, which made the island of Malta the heaviest bombed place on earth.
Asia: In 1940, Japan occupied French Indochina (Vietnam) upon agreement with the Vichy Government, despite local Free French, and joined 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: The war becomes global
Yugoslavia's government succumbed to the pressure of Italy and Germany and signed the Tripartite Treaty on 25 March 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 27 March 1941. Hitler's forces then invaded Greece and Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941. Hitler reluctantly sent forces to assist Mussolini's forces in their attempt to capture Greece, principally to prevent a British build-up on Germany's strategic southern flank. With these new troops the Axis succeeded in driving the Greek forces back. British troops were diverted from North Africa to assist with the defence but failed to prevent Greece's capture. On 20 May 1941, the Battle of Crete began when tens of thousands of elite German paratroopers and some 1,300 aeroplanes launched a massive airborne invasion of the Greek island of Crete. Crete was defended by an ill-equipped group of about 43,000 Greek, New Zealand, Australian and British 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. After a week it was decided that so many German troops had been flown in that there was no way to defeat them, and about 17,000 Commonwealth soldiers were evacuated. However, over 10,000 Greek and 500 Commonwealth troops remained at large and caused serious problems for the German occupiers over the next four years. So heavy were the German losses that the Germans never launched another airborne assault. General Kurt Student would later say, "Crete was the grave of the German parachutists". Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the largest invasion in history, 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 (modern-day St Petersburg), Moscow, and the Caucasus. Having pushed to occupy Moscow before winter, German forces were delayed into the Soviet Winter. Soviet counter-attacks 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 (modern-day Volgograd) 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.
The Mediterranean again: In June 1941, Allied forces invaded Syria and Lebanon, capturing Damascus on 17 June (see Syria-Lebanon campaign). Meanwhile, Rommel's forces advanced rapidly eastward, laying siege to the vital seaport of Tobruk. Australian and other Allied 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.
Asia: The Sino-Japanese War
Main article: Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)
A war had begun in Asia years before World War II started in Europe. Japan had invaded China in 1931. By 1937, war had broken out as the Japanese sought control of China. Roosevelt signed an unpublished (secret) executive order in May 1940 allowing U.S. military personnel to resign from the service so that they could participate in a covert operation in China: the American 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, particularly fuel oil, Japan planned a strike on Pearl Harbor on Sunday, 7 December 1941, to cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet while consolidating oil fields in Southeast Asia. It is hard to determine whether the Japanese intended to release an advance declaration of war, however, as means of coordinating secret directives with public communication, particularly during a weekend in the U.S., were limited. Despite what warning signs remained, the attack on Pearl Harbor achieved military surprise and dealt severe damage to the American Fleet's battleships, though the primary targets, aircraft carriers, remained safely at sea. The next day, Japanese forces arrived at Hong Kong, which later led to the surrender of the British colony on Christmas Day, as well as launching numerous attacks on British and American outposts across the Pacific.
Asia: The United States enters the war Main article: Attack on Pearl Harbor
On 7 December 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 harbour. This attack resulted in 8 battleships either sunk or damaged, 3 light cruisers and 3 destroyers sunk as well as damage to some auxiliaries and 343 aircraft either damaged or destroyed. No U.S. Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers were at the harbour at the time of Japanese attack. The following day, the United States 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. In a matter of months, all these territories and more fell to the Japanese onslaught. The British island fortress of Singapore was captured in what Churchill considered one of the most humiliating British defeats of all time. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Germany declared war on the United States on 11 December 1941, even though it was not obliged 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 needed for the United States joining the fight in Europe with full commitment and with no meaningful opposition from 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.
Europe: 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 armour of the Sixth Army to the Caucasus. By early February 1943, it was clear that the Sixth Army would have to surrender. Hitler promoted General Friedrich Paulus, who was in charge of the German forces, to Field Marshal in the vain hope it would deter him from surrendering. It did not, and he surrendered completely on 2 February. 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".
The First Battle of El Alamein took place between 1 July and 27 July 1942. German forces had advanced to the last defensible point before Alexandria and the Suez Canal. However, they had outrun their supplies, and a Commonwealth defence 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 Commonwealth forces, now known as the Eighth Army. Erwin Rommel, German commander of the Afrika Corps, known as the "Desert Fox", was absent for this battle because he was recovering from jaundice back in Europe. Commonwealth forces took the offensive, and although they lost more tanks than the Germans began the battle with, Montgomery was ultimately triumphant. 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 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 successful strategic withdrawal to Tunisia. During the Arcadia Conference from December 1941 to January 1942, the Allied leaders concluded that it was essential to keep Russia in the war. This consideration led to the overall strategy "Germany First"; i.e. giving priority of knocking out Germany before Japan. This decision resulted in a long debate as to where and when to open a Second Front against Germany. The American Chiefs of Staff favoured a cross-channel (France) amphibious operation in the summer. The British opposed this because of insufficient landing craft and logistical problems. It was also thought that American forces were in a process of expansion, organisation and exercise, not capable yet of fighting an experienced German army. Only if Russia collapsed would they approve a main landing in France. Churchill put forward the idea of a small invasion in Norway or landings in French North Africa. The plan for landings in Africa was approved in July 1942.
Operation Torch was headed by General Dwight Eisenhower. The aim of Torch was to gain control of Morocco and Algiers through simultaneous landings at Casablanca, Oran and Algiers, followed a few days later with a landing at Bône, the gateway to Tunisia. The operation was launched on 8 November 1942. The first wave was almost entirely American troops, because it was thought that the French would react more favourably to Americans than British. It was hoped that the local forces of Vichy France would put up no resistance and submit to the authority of Free French General Henri Giraud. In fact, resistance was stronger than expected but still sporadic. In Algiers, 400 members of the French resistance captured much of the city, though it was retaken before Allied forces could arrive. The Vichy commander, Admiral Darlan, negotiated an end to hostilities, against orders from the Vichy government. He was allowed to retain local control by the Allies, to the annoyance of Free French leaders. Hitler invaded and occupied Vichy France in response. Rommel's Afrika Corps was not being supplied adequately because of the loss of transport shipments caused by Allied—mostly British—navies and air forces in the Mediterranean. This lack of supplies and air support destroyed any chance of a large German offensive 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 defence, and Rommel defeated the American forces decisively at the Battle of Kasserine Pass before finishing his strategic withdrawal back to the meagre German supply chain. Inevitably, advancing from both the east and west, the Allies finally defeated the German Afrika Corps on May 13 1943. Some 250,000 Axis soldiers were taken prisoner.
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. The two sides suffered roughly equal losses. A month later the planned Japanese invasion of Midway Island was discovered by U.S. signals intelligence through an ingenious ruse, and an American carrier group prepared an ambush. Through sheer luck, the Japanese planes were caught during refueling and rearming on board their carriers, presenting a window of opportunity for a devastating first strike. Four Japanese carriers were sunk in exchange for one American carrier, a loss which Japan's industry could not replace swiftly. The loss of many planes and skilled pilots (many of which took part in Pearl Harbor) was also difficult to redress. It was a spectacular victory for the Americans, often called the "Miracle at Midway", and the Imperial Navy was forced to abandon its plans for the invasion of Hawaii, falling back to the defensive. 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 39th battalion defeated the 5,000-strong Japanese army. This was one of the most significant victories in Australian military history. Prior to the American entry to the war, the Allied leaders had agreed that priority should be given to the defeat of Nazi Germany. Nonetheless, U.S. forces began to attack captured territories, beginning with Guadalcanal Island, against a bitter and determined Japanese defence. On 7 August 1942, the United States assaulted the island. 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. On Guadalcanal, the Japanese resistance failed in February 1943.
1943: The war turns
Europe: Russia: German forces repulsed Red Army offensives along the Don basin near Stalingrad in January 1943, also known as operation "Uran" which concluded with as much as 90,000 soldiers of Germany and its allies captured. 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.
Italy is invaded: Newly captured North Africa was used as a springboard for the invasion of Sicily on 10 July 1943. On 25 July Mussolini was fired from office by the King of Italy, allowing a new government to take power. Having captured Sicily, the Allies invaded mainland Italy on 3 September 1943. Italy surrendered on 8 September, but German forces continued to fight. Allied forces advanced north but were stalled for the winter at the Gustav Line, until they broke through in the Battle of Monte Cassino. Rome was captured on 5 June 1944. Mid-1943 brought the fifth and final German Sutjeska offensive against the Yugoslav Partisans before the invasion and subsequent capitulation of Italy, the other major occupying force in Yugoslavia.
Asia: (1943–45) Australian and U.S. forces then undertook the prolonged campaign to retake the occupied parts of the Solomon Islands, New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies, experiencing some of the toughest resistance of the war. The rest of the Solomon Islands were retaken in 1943, New Britain and New Ireland in 1944. As the Philippines were being retaken in late 1944, the Battle of Leyte Gulf raged, arguably the largest naval battle in history. The last major offensive in the south-west Pacific Area was the Borneo campaign of mid-1945, which was aimed at further isolating the remaining Japanese forces in South East Asia and securing the release of Allied POWs. 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 U.S. Marines 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 emerged long before the war; it continued after and, to an extent, even during the war, though more implicitly. The Japanese had 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, known as "flying the Hump". U.S. led and trained Chinese divisions, a British division and a few thousand U.S. ground troops 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 theatre 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.
1944: The beginning of the end
On "D-Day", (6 June 1944), the western Allies invaded German-held Normandy in a predawn amphibious assault spearheaded by American (82nd and 101st), British (6th) and Canadian paratroops, opening the "second front" against Germany.Template:Fn 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 almost completely destroyed in the Falaise pocket while counter-attacking. Allied forces stationed in Italy invaded the French Riviera on 15 August and linked up with forces from Normandy. The clandestine French Resistance in Paris rose against the Germans on 19 August, and a French division under General Jacques Leclerc, pressing forward from Normandy, received the surrender of the German forces there and liberated the city on August 25. 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 Centre and taking 350,000 prisoners. Finland's defence had been dependent on active, or in periods passive, support from the German Wehrmacht that also provided defence for the chiefly uninhabited northern half of Finland. After the Wehrmacht retreated from the southern shores of the Gulf of Finland, Finland's defence 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", which the Finnish public perceived as a mockery of the rule of law.
Allied paratroopers attempted a fast advance into Germany with Operation Market Garden in September but were repulsed. Logistical problems were starting to plague the Allies' advance west as the supply lines still ran back to the beaches of Normandy. A decisive victory by the Canadian First Army in the Battle of the Scheldt secured the entrance to the port of Antwerp, freeing it to receive supplies by late November 1944. Romania surrendered in August 1944 and Bulgaria in September. The Warsaw Uprising was fought between 1 August and 2 October. Germany withdrew from the Balkans and held Hungary until February 1945.
In December 1944, the German Army made its last major offensive in the West, largely because even if successful in the east it would have had no effect on the massive Red Army rolling towards the Reich. Thus, Hitler thought he could drive a wedge between the frequently feuding Western Allies, causing them to agree to a favorable armistice, after which Germany could concentrate all her efforts on the Eastern front and have a chance to defeat the Soviets. The mission was unrealistic to begin with, since German plans largely relied on capturing Allied fuel dumps in order to keep their vehicles moving with the goal of capturing the vital port of Antwerp, and thus crippling the Allies in the Battle of the Bulge. At first, the Germans scored successes against the Americans stationed in the Ardennes. The Allied forces, largely unprepared for this sudden attack, suffered heavy casualties. In addition, the weather during the initial days of the invasion favored the Germans because the bad weather grounded Allied aircraft. However, with the overcast skies clearing allowing Allied air supremacy to enter the equation, and with the German failure to capture Bastogne, as well as the arrival of Gen. Patton's Third Army, the Germans were forced to retreat back into Germany. The offensive was defeated. By now, the Soviets had reached the eastern borders of pre-war Germany.
By this time the Soviet steamroller had become so powerful that some historians argue that the U.S. and British landing at Normandy was more to prevent a coast-to-coast Soviet block than to fight Germany. In all, 80% of all German casualties were suffered on the Eastern front, and Europe became divided along Germany. Some believe that had the U.S. not invaded the sparsely defended Western Front, Stalin would have controlled all of Europe.
1945: The end of the war
Europe: Churchill, Stalin, and Franklin D. Roosevelt made arrangements for post-war Europe 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 the Führerbunker, a concrete bunker beneath the Chancellery, where on 30 April 1945, he committed suicide. Karl Dönitz became leader of the German government and quickly dispatched the German High Command to travel to Reims, France, to sign an unconditional surrender with the Allies. Field Marshal Jodl surrendered unconditionally on 7 May. The Western Allies celebrated "V-E Day" on 8 May and the Soviet Union "Victory Day" on 9 May. The Soviet Union forcefully occupied the Baltic states as part of Stalin's campaign to subjugate the nations of Eastern Europe.
U.S. capture of islands such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa brought the Japanese homeland within range of naval and air attack. Amongst dozens of other cities, Tokyo was firebombed, and on the initial attack alone, upwards of 90,000 people died as the fire raced unchecked through the city. The high loss of life was attributed to the dense living conditions around production centres and the wood and paper residential construction common to that period. Later on 6 August 1945, the B-29 "Enola Gay", piloted by Col. Paul Tibbets, dropped an atomic bomb (Little Boy) on Hiroshima, effectively destroying it. 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 9 August, the B-29 "Bock's Car", piloted by Maj. Charles Sweeney, dropped an atomic bomb (Fat Man) on Nagasaki. 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. The Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945, signing official surrender papers on 2 September 1945, aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Japan's surrender to the United States did not fully end the war, however, 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 Kuril 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 as yet not succeeded.
Main article: Resistance during World War II
Resistance during World War II occurred in every occupied country by a variety of means like guerrilla warfare, sabotage, propaganda, disinformation, hiding refugees and aiding the other side (like helping stranded pilots).
Many countries had resistance movements dedicated to fighting the Axis invaders, and Germany itself also had an anti-Nazi movement. Although mainland Britain did not suffer invasion in World War II, the British made preparations for a British resistance movement, called the Auxiliary Units, in the event of a German invasion. Various organizations were also formed to establish foreign resistance cells or support existing resistance movements, like the British SOE and the American OSS (the forerunner of the CIA).
The Home fronts
Main article: Home Front during World War II
In Britain women joined the work force in jobs that the men overseas used to occupy. Food, clothing, petrol and other items were rationed. Access to luxuries was severely restricted, though there was also a significant black market. Families also grew victory gardens, small home vegetable gardens, to supply themselves with food. Civilians also served as Air Raid Wardens, volunteer emergency services and other critical functions. Schools and organisations held scrap drives and money collections to help the war effort. Many things were conserved to turn into weapons later, such as fat to turn into nitroglycerin. A notable case was the collection of street railings as scrap iron, which changed the 'feel' of many older urban streets. This metal, however, was unsuitable for reuse and subsequently dumped.
In the United States and Canada women also joined the workforce to replace men who had joined the forces, though in lesser numbers. Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that the efforts of civilians at home to support the war through personal sacrifice were as critical to winning the war as the efforts of the soldiers themselves.
In Germany, at least for the first part of the war, there were surprisingly few restrictions on civilian activities. Most goods were freely available. This was due in large part to the reduced access to certain luxuries already experienced by German civilians prior to the beginning of hostilities; the war made some less available, but many were in short supply to begin with. For example, the famous Volkswagen "People's Cars" that Hitler had promised the German people were not actually produced until after the war. The factories meant for the cars were instead used to manufacture war materials. It was not until comparatively late in the war that the civilian German population was effectively organised to support the war effort. For example, women's labour was not mobilised as thoroughly as in Britain or the U.S. Foreign slave labour was more significant as a substitute for the males enlisted into the armed forces.
Civilian populations were heavily involved in war production and subject to propaganda from both sides.
Main article: Technology during World War II
The massive research and development demands of the war, including the Manhattan Project's efforts to quickly develop the atomic bomb, had a great impact on the scientific community, among other things creating a network of national laboratories in the United States. In addition, the pressing need for numerous time-critical calculations for various projects like code-breaking and ballistics tables accentuated the need for the development of electronic computer technology. While the war stimulated many technologies, such as radio and radar development, it retarded related yet non-critical fields such as television in the major powers.
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 Allied jet fighter. The Nazi terror weapon, the V-2 rocket, was the first step into the space age as its trajectory took it through the stratosphere, higher and faster than any aircraft. This later led to the development of the ICBM. Wernher Von Braun led the V-2 development team and later immigrated to the United States where he contributed to the development of the Saturn V rocket, which took men to the moon in 1969.
Military technology progressed at rapid pace, and over six years there was a disorientating rate of change in combat in everything from aircraft to small arms. The best jet fighters at the end of the war easily outflew any of the leading aircraft of 1939, such as the Spitfire Mark I. However, despite their technological edge, German jets were overwhelmed by Allied air superiority, frequently being destroyed on or near the airstrip. Other jet aircraft, such as the British Gloster Meteor, did not significantly distinguish themselves from top-line piston-driven aircraft. 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 "Marianas Turkey Shoot". The best late-war tanks, such as the Soviet JS-3 heavy tank or the German Panther medium tank, handily outclassed the best tanks of 1939 such as Panzer IVs. The chaotic impotence of opposed amphibious landings typical of WW I disasters was overcome: the Higgins boat, primary troop landing craft; the DUKW, a six-wheel-drive amphibious truck; and amphibious tanks were developed by the Western Allies to enable beach landing attacks, and the organisation and coordination of amphibious assaults coupled with the resources necessary to sustain them became a science.
Civilian impact & atrocities
The Second World War saw large-scale atrocities aimed against the civilian populations of many of the nations involved. Germany killed between 11 million and 24 million civilians in deliberate acts of genocide and mass murder, while the Soviet Union and Japan used labour camps and often conducted massacres of their own, with Japan killing around 6 million civilians in areas they occupied, and the Soviets approximately 4 million civilians, half of these were from among the Soviet Union's own citizens. While British and American forces did not directly massacre civilians, they carried out strategic and atomic bombings against Japanese and German cities where the industrial facilities were intermixed with the civilian populations and refugees, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. The scale of the atrocities of the Second World War are a key part of the wars legacy, and they have had a lasting impact on world civilisation.
Main Article: Holocaust
With the outbreak of war in 1939, Germany began the first stages of what would become the Holocaust, the premeditated and industrialised massacre of between 9 and 11 million people (figures are uncertain). The groups deemed as "undesirable" included especially Jews, Poles, Russian war prisoners and other Slavs, Roma and Sinti, the mentally or physically disabled, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Communists and political dissidents.
Though these groups were all targets of Nazi Germany's mass killings, it was the Jews that were the primary target of the Holocaust; between 5 and 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis or their collaborators.
Originally, the Nazis used killing squads, the Einsatzgruppen to conduct massive open-air killings, in some cases shooting as many as 33,000 people or more in a single day, as in the case of Babi Yar. By 1942, the Nazi leadership decided to implement the Final Solution, the genocide of all Jews in Europe, and increase the pace of the Holocaust. While concentration camps and labour camps to contain political enemies had existed since soon after the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Nazi leadership built six extermination camps, including Treblinka and Auschwitz, specifically to kill Jews. Millions of Jews who had been confined to diseased and massively overcrowded Ghettos were transported to these "Death-camps" where they were either gassed or shot, usually immediately after they disembarked from trains.
Concentration and labour camps
In addition to the Nazi concentration camps, the Soviet Gulags, or Labour camps, led to the death of many citizens of occupied countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as German POWs and even Soviet citizens themselves: opponents of Stalin's regime and large proportions of some ethnic groups (particularly Chechens). Japanese POW camps also had high death rates; many were used as labour camps, and starvation conditions among the mainly U.S. and Commonwealth prisoners were little better than many German concentration camps.
Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of Japanese North Americans were interned by the U.S. and Canadian governments, although these camps did not involve forced labour or other physical hardships.
War crimes and attacks on civilians
Few forms of atrocity were excluded from the Eastern European theatre, as millions of Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and Belarusians were systematically murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, as well as over million Yugoslavs in disproportionate reprisal killings for Partisan activity. The Nazis also killed approximately 3 million Soviet prisoners of war. The Soviet occupation of Poland between 1939 and 1941 was also brutal, resulting in the death or deportation of least 1.8 million former Polish citizens. In 1940, the Soviet authorities ordered the execution of more than 22,000 Polish citizens, mainly Polish officers, but also scientists, politicians, doctors, lawyers, priests and others in the Katyn Massacre. Civilian populations suffered tremendously, the population of Kiev dropped by 90% between the early 1930s and 1945, partly from starvation under Stalin, but mostly under the Nazis.
The Japanese also engaged in mass killings; millions of Asian civilians and Allied POWs were killed by its military and/or used as forced labour. The most notorious atrocities occurred in China, including the slaughter of almost half a million Chinese during the Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, and Unit 731's experiments with biological warfare in Manchuria, with a view to killing a large part of the Chinese population. Japanese war crimes also included rape, pillage, murder, cannibalism and forcing female civilians to become sex slaves, known as "comfort women". Many of these occurred in Korea, which Japan occupied from 1910 to 1945.
World War II also saw the first large-scale use of bombing against civilian areas. Germany had been bombing civilian targets from the first days of the war. In the first months of the war the British Government ordered the RAF to adhere strictly to draft international rules prohibiting attacking civilians, 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 Yugoslavia, and the USSR was responsible for over 600,000 civilian deaths. Allied strategic bombing, including the firestorm bombing of Japanese and German cities including Tokyo, Hamburg and Dresden by Anglo-American forces and the American atomic bombing of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, likely killed over 400,000 German civilians and between 350,000 and 500,000 Japanese. Compounding the issue, however, is the fact that the Japanese industrial production relied heavily on manufacturing facilities which were located in close proximity to, and in many cases intermixed with, residential property, which eliminated or greatly hampered the ability to attack the Japanese war machine without affecting the Japanese near that industrial infrastructure ().
From 1945 to 1951 German and Japanese officials and personnel were prosecuted for the war crimes they committed. Accused of genocide and atrocities, top German officials were tried at the Nuremburg Trials and other trials, and many Japanese officials at the Tokyo War Crime Trial and other war crimes trials in the Asia-Pacific region, the first international criminal tribunals, and the last until the 1993 war crimes trials in Yugoslavia. Many of the defendants in trials of war crimes claimed they were justifiably following orders, fuelling a debate that still rages over whether military officers have the right - or perhaps even the duty - to put their consciences before their orders.
Main article: Effects of World War II
Main article: World War II casualties
In total, about 50 million people lost their lives in World War II—about 20 million soldiers and 30 million civilians (estimates vary widely). This includes the estimated 10 million lives lost due to the Holocaust, consisting of about 6 million Jews and 4 million non-Jews made up of Poles, Roma, homosexuals, communists, dissidents, Afro-Germans, the disabled, Soviet prisoners and others.
Allied forces suffered approximately 17 million military deaths (of which almost 15 million were Soviet) and Axis forces 6 million (of which 4 million were German). The Soviet Union suffered by far the largest death toll—approximately 22 million Soviets died in total, of which 7 million were civilians. Of the total deaths in World War II approximately 84% were on the Allied side and 16% on the Axis side.
A world in ruins
At the end of the war, millions of refugees were homeless, the European economy had collapsed, and 70% of the European industrial infrastructure was destroyed.
The Eastern victors demanded payment of war reparations from the defeated nations, and in the Paris Peace Treaty, the Soviet Union's enemies, Hungary, Finland and Romania, were required to pay $300,000,000 each (in 1938 dollars) to the Soviet Union. Italy was required to pay $360,000,000, shared chiefly between Greece, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.
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 established 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.
In the Netherlands the original plans to demand a huge monetary compensation and even to annexate a part of Germany that would have doubled the country's size were dropped. But many Germans living in the Netherlands (often for a long time) were declared 'hostile subjects' and put into a concentration camp in an operation called Black Tulip. 3691 Germans were ultimately deported.
The war had also increased the strength of independence movements in the European powers' African, Asian, and American colonies, and most of them became independent in the following twenty years.
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), the predecessor of the European Union.
The Cold War begins
Main article: Cold War
The end of World War II is seen by many as the end of Britain's position as a global superpower and the emergence of the United States and the Soviet Union as the dominant powers in the world. Friction had been building up between the two before the end of the war, and with the collapse of Nazi Germany relations spiralled downward.
In the areas occupied by Western Allied troops, democratic governments were created; in the areas occupied by Soviet troops, including the territories of former Allies such as Poland, communist puppet governments were created, giving rise to the western betrayal sentiment in many of those countries. Many in the West have concurred, believing that Roosevelt and Churchill were treating Stalin too much like a democratic ally and have blamed them for displaying toward Stalin the same sort of "appeasement" approach at Yalta that Hitler was treated with before the war, thus not learning from prior mistakes as well as handing over Eastern Europe to the Communists. (Churchill himself remarked after the Cold War started, "We killed the wrong pig.") American General George S. Patton is notorious for having urged Eisenhower to continue east past Berlin and strike the Soviet Union, but there was no pretext upon which to justify such a strike, and Eisenhower knew that America was war-weary and would not support continued hostilities.
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 reunited and became the state of Austria. Korea was divided in half along the 38th parallel.
The partitions were however informal—rather than coming to terms about the spheres of influence, the relationship between the victors had steadily deteriorated, with the military lines of demarcation finally becoming the de facto country boundaries. The Cold War had begun, and soon two blocs would emerge: NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
- See List of military engagements of World War II for articles on specific battles, campaigns and operations.
- 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.
- WW2DB: The World War II Database
- World War II related discussions on History Forum
- World War II, Wars And Battles
- Directory of Online World War II Indexes & Records
- World War II history
- World War II Multimedia Database
- US National Archives Photos
- Color photographs of the war
- The Canadian Letters and Images Project, World War II
- World War II Memorial Pictures
- WW2 People's War - A project by the BBC to gather the stories of ordinary people from World War II
- WWII, divisive memories (en) - from an online issue of cafebabel.com
- Memories of Leutnants d.R. Wilhelm Radkovsky 1940-1945
- Germany's surrender documents.
- Online Newspaper Archive
- World War II Through Cartoons
- Veterans Of The US Armed Forces Services, information, resources, and image gallery for veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
- Front page of the 6 June 1944 edition of The New York Times.
- Using Historical Statistics To Teach about World War II. ERIC Digest.
- World War II in the Curriculum.
- German military uniforms
- World War II Reenacting
- Speech delivered by premier Benito Mussolini. (Rome, Italy, February 23 1941)
- Churchill, Winston (1948-53), The Second World War, 6 vols.
- 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
- Shirer, William L., The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Simon & Schuster, 1959
- Weinberg, Gerhard L., A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (1994) ISBN 0521443172
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