Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

World War II

World War II also known as The Great Patriotic War (in Russia and other parts of the former USSR for the war after June 1941) and The War Against Aggression (before the involvement of the United States and Japan) was fought chiefly between the Allies and the Axis Powers. Most of the fighting occurred in the European theatre in and around Europe, and in the Asian theatre in the Pacific and East Asia.

Table of contents
1 Introduction
2 Preliminaries
3 European Theatre
4 Asian Theatre
5 African and Middle Eastern Theatre
6 Historical significance
7 Military engagements
8 Defensive lines
9 Political and Social Aspects of the War
10 Production and logistics
11 Related articles
12 Lists
13 External links
14 References


The war in Europe began on September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland (Polish September Campaign). However, Japan had invaded China already in 1937 the (Second Sino-Japanese War), which sometimes is considered the start of the Second World War (Withdrawal of the Japanese after their defeat also catalysed the Chinese Communist Revolution.) Nazi Germany surrendered on May 7, 23:50 PM 1945, ending the war in Europe. The war in the Pacific ended on September 2, 1945, when Japan surrendered.

It was the largest armed conflict in history, spanning virtually the entire world and involving more countries than any other war, introducing powerful new weapons, and culminating in the first use of nuclear weapons. However, despite the name, not all countries of the world were involved; some through maintained neutrality (such as Éire, Sweden and Switzerland), others through strategic insignificance (as Mexico). However, whilst not all countries were involved, it is clear that the Second World War has had a lasting effect in shaping the political climate of the world as we know it today.

The war ravaged civilians more severely than any previous conflict (bringing to its first fruition the concept of total war) and served as a backdrop for genocidal killings by Nazi Germany as well as several other significant mass slaughters of civilians.

These included the massacre of millions of Chinese and Korean nationals by Japan, internal mass killings in the Soviet Union, and the bombing of civilian targets in German and Japanese cities by the Allies, and bombing of European cities by Nazi Germany. In total, World War II produced about 50 million deaths (about 2% of the population of the world), more than any other war to date (see the List of World War II casualties by country).


Resentment of Germany's treatment in the aftermath of World War I and economic difficulties allowed Adolf Hitler's extreme nationalist Nazi party to come to power in Germany, and he assumed emergency power and virtual total control of the country. Defying post-World War I treaties he redeveloped the German military. He remilitarized the border zone next to France, enforced the unification of Germany with Austria, and annexed parts of Czechoslovakia.

In 1922 Benito Mussolini and the Fascist party had risen to power in Italy, and formed the Axis with Germany.

Germany entered into a treaty (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) with the Soviet Union, and in 1939 laid claim to parts of Poland. Poland refused the claim, and Britain and France declared support for Poland. Germany then invaded Poland, and on 3rd September 1939 Britain and France declared war on Germany.

This needs something on the pre-war Japanese situation

See Preceding events of the European Theatre of World War II

European Theatre

See: European Theatre of World War II and The end of World War II in Europe

From the declaration of war by Britain and France in September 1939 till May 1940 became known as the Phoney War. The German forces were moved from the attack on Poland to the west. France mobilised and manned its heavy defended border against the Rhine and the British sent a large expeditionary force to France. Apart from a brief attack by the French across the Rhine there was little hostilities as both sides built up their forces.

In May of 1940 Germany attacked the Low Countries and then France. Their Blitzkrieg tactics succeeded in defeating the French and British armies in France. The British army evacuated from Dunkirk leaving their heavy equipment behind, and the French government made a peace, which left Germany in control of the North and the Vichy French government in charge of the South.

Germany was unable to defeat the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain and gain the air superiority needed to invade Britain. Instead they began a strategic bombing campaign which the British called the Blitz, and to blockade Britain into submission in the Battle of the Atlantic. Britain failed to succumb to either.

The Italian army attacked the British and Commonwealth troops in Egypt, but were driven back until Germany reinforced them. Seesaw battles across the North African desert between Rommel's Afrika Korps and the Eighth Army came to an end with the British Commonwealth victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein. In November 1942, after America joined the war, Allied troops landed in Vichy controlled West Africa, linked up with the Eighth Army and succeeded in driving the Axis from the continent.

In June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union, with whom they had a non-aggression pact, in Operation Barbarossa. The Russians were caught largely by surprise and Germany conquered vast areas of territory, and captured hundreds of thousands of troops. The Soviets withdrew, and managed to move most of their heavy industry away from the front line and re-establish it in more remote areas. Tenacious, sacrificial defence prevented Germany from capturing Moscow by the time winter set in. Germany, expecting the campaign to be over in a few months, had not equipped their armies for winter fighting.

In Spring the German army made further attacks, but appeared to be unable to choose between a direct attack on Moscow and the capture of the Caucasian oilfields. Moscow was again spared, and at the end of 1942 the Soviets succeeded in surrounding and destroying the German 6th Army of 300,000 at the horrendously bloody Battle of Stalingrad. In 1943 Germany made successful assaults at Kharkov, but their offensive at the massive Battle of Kursk was so unsuccessful that the Soviets were able to counterattack and regain the ground previously lost. From that time forward the Soviets had the initiative in the East.

In 1943, using North Africa as a springboard, the Allies invaded Italy, which Churchill described as "the soft underbelly of Europe". Italy surrendered, but German troops moved to disarm the Italians and set about defending the country on their own. They established a series of tough defensive lines in mountainous country that was ideally suited to defence, and progress by the Allies was slow.

The Allies invaded Northern France in Operation Overlord in June 1944 and liberated most of France and the Low Countries by the end of the year. After a desperate counteroffensive by the German army in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, the Allies entered Germany in 1945. By now the Soviets had reached the Eastern borders of Germany, and her fate was sealed. Following Hitler's suicide as the Russians entered Berlin, Germany surrendered unconditionally on 7 May 1945.

Asian Theatre

Main Article: Asian theatre of World War II

The Japanese had already invaded China before World War II started in Europe. With the United States and other countries cutting exports to Japan, Japan decided to bomb Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 without warning or declaration of war. Severe damage was done to the American Pacific Fleet, although the aircraft carriers escaped as they were at sea. Japanese forces simultaneously invaded the British possessions of Malaya and Borneo and the American occupied Philippines, with the intention of seizing the oilfields of the Dutch East Indies. The British island fortress of Singapore was captured in what Churchill considered one of the most humiliating British defeats of all time.

In May 1942 a Japanese invasion of Port Moresby, which had it succeeded would have put them within striking range of Australia, was thwarted by US naval forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea, becoming both the first successful opposition to Japanese plans and the first naval battle fought mainly between aircraft carriers. A month later the US Navy again prevented the invasion of Midway island, this time destroying four Japanese carriers, which Japanese industry could not replace, and putting the Japanese on the defensive.

The Allied leaders had agreed even prior to the American entry to the war that priority should be given to the defeat of Germany. Nonetheless US and other forces, including Australian, began in mid 1942 to retake the territories captured, beginning with , against the bitter and determined defense of Japanese troops. Guadalcanal was assaulted by sea by the US marines, while US Army forces under General MacArthur strove to retake the occupied parts of New Guinea. The Solomon Islands were retaken in 1943, New Britain and New Ireland in 1944. The Phillipines were attacked in late 1944 following the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

The US Navy also attacked Japanese merchant shipping, depriving Japanese industry of the raw materials she had gone to war to obtain. The effectiveness of this stranglehold increased as the US captured islands closer to the Japanese mainland.

The Nationalist Kuomintang Army under Chiang Kai-shek and the Communist Chinese Army under Mao Zedong managed to put aside their differences and in opposition to the Japanese in the occupied areas of China, but never cooperated.

Capture by the Allies of islands such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa close to Japan brought the homeland within range of naval and air attacks, and in early 1945 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, attacking her posessions in Manchuria in August. After Tokyo was firebombed and nuclear bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese surrendered.

African and Middle Eastern Theatre

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. In addition, in June 1941 the Australian Army and allied forces invaded Syria and Lebanon, capturing Damascus on June 17. Rommel's Afrika Korps advanced rapidly eastward, laying siege to the vital seaport of Tobruk. The mainly Australian 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.

The First Battle of El Alamein took place between July 1 and July 27, 1942. Germany had advanced to the last defensible point before Alexandria and the Suez Canal. However they had outrun their supplies, and a British and Commonwealth defence stopped their thrusts. The Second Battle of El Alamein occurred between October 23 and November 3, 1942 after Montgomery had replaced Auchinleck as commander of the Eighth Army. Commonwealth forces took the offensive and destroyed the Afrika Korps. Rommel was pushed back, and this time did not stop falling back until Tunisia.

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. Ultimately German and Italian forces were caught in the pincers of a twin advance from Algeria and Libya. Advancing from both the east and west, the Allies completely pushed Germany out of Africa and on May 13, 1943, the remnants of the Axis forces in North Africa surrendered. 250,000 prisoners were taken; as many as at Stalingrad.

North Africa was used as the jumping-off point for the invasions of Sicily and Italy in 1943.

Historical significance

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 "Economic Recovery Program", better known as the Marshall Plan, called for the US Congress to allocate billions of dollars for the reconstruction of Europe.

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.

The portion of Europe occupied or dominated by the Soviet Union did not benefit from 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 USSR and her satellites. Italy was required to pay $360,000,000, shared chiefly between Greece, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

In the areas occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of the war, puppet communist regimes were installed, over the objections of the other Allies and the governments in exile. Germany was partitioned into two countries, with the Eastern part becoming a separate communist state. In Churchill's words, "an Iron Curtain has descended across Europe". In due course this would lead to a commitment from America to help protect Western Europe, the formation of NATO and the Cold War.

The repatriation, pursuant to the terms of the Yalta Conference, of two million Russian soldiers who had came under the control of advancing American and British forces, resulted for the most part in their deaths.

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 the military sphere, it seems World War II marked the coming of age of airpower, mostly at the expense of warships. While the pendulum continues to swing in this never-ending competition, air powers are now a full partner in any military action.

The war was the high-water mark for mass armies. While huge armies of low-quality troops would be seen again (during the Korean War and in a number of African conflicts), after this victory the major powers relied upon small highly-trained and well-trained militaries.

After the war, many high-ranking Nazis were prosecuted for war crimes, as well as the mass murder of the Holocaust committed mainly on the area of General Government, in the Nuremberg trials. Similarly Japanese leaders were prosecuted in the Tokyo War Crime Trial. In other countries, notably in Finland, the Allies demanded the political leadership to be prosecuted in "war-responsibility trials" - i.e. not for crimes of war.

The defeat of Japan, and her occupation by American Forces, led to a Westernisation of Japan that was surely more far-reaching than would otherwise have occurred. Japan approximated more closely to a Western style democracy and, because of her defeat by the USA, set out to ape the United States. This huge national effort led to the post-war Japanese economic miracle and Japan's rise to become the world's second largest economy.

Military engagements


Naval engagements

Major bombing campaigns

See also Strategic bombing survey for the overall impact of the bombing.

Defensive lines

Political and Social Aspects of the War

Production and logistics

The Allies won, and the Axis lost, at least partly because the Allies had greater productive resources, and were able to turn these resources into greater numbers of soldiers and weapons than the Axis.

Related articles


External links


simple:World War II