World War II
or the Second World War
, often abbreviated as WWII
, was a global war
that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries
—including all the great powers
—forming two opposing military alliances
: the Allies
and the Axis powers
. In a state of total war
, directly involving more than 100 million personnel
from more than 30 countries, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort
, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. Aircraft played a major role
in the conflict, including the strategic bombing
of population centres, and, with the development of nuclear weapons
, the only two uses of such in war. World War II was the deadliest conflict
in human history, resulting in 70 to 85 million fatalities
, with more civilians than military personnel killed. Tens of millions of people died due to genocides
(including the Holocaust
, and disease
. In the wake of the war, Germany
and Japan were occupied
, and war crimes
tribunals were conducted against German
and Japanese leaders
World War II is generally considered to have begun on 1 September 1939, when Nazi Germany
, under Adolf Hitler
, invaded Poland
. The United Kingdom
subsequently declared war
on the 3rd. Under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact
of August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union
had partitioned Poland and marked out their "spheres of influence
" across Finland
and the Baltic states
. From late 1939 to early 1941, in a series of campaigns
, Germany conquered or controlled much of continental Europe
, and formed the Axis alliance
(along with other countries later on). Following the onset of campaigns in North Africa
and East Africa
, and the fall of France
in mid-1940, the war continued primarily between the European Axis powers and the British Empire
, with war in the Balkans
, the aerial Battle of Britain
, the Blitz
of the UK, and the Battle of the Atlantic
. On 22 June 1941, Germany led the European Axis powers in an invasion of the Soviet Union
, opening the Eastern Front, the largest land theatre of war in history
and trapping the Axis powers, crucially the German Wehrmacht
, in a war of attrition
Japan, which aimed to dominate Asia and the Pacific
, was at war
with the Republic of China
by 1937. In December 1941, Japan attacked American and British territories with near-simultaneous offensives against Southeast Asia and the Central Pacific
, including an attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor
which forced the US to declare war against Japan; the European Axis powers declared war on the US in solidarity. Japan soon captured much of the western Pacific, but its advances were halted in 1942 after losing the critical Battle of Midway
; later, Germany and Italy were defeated in North Africa
and at Stalingrad
in the Soviet Union. Key setbacks in 1943—including a series of German defeats on the Eastern Front, the Allied invasions of Sicily
and the Italian mainland
, and Allied offensives in the Pacific—cost the Axis powers their initiative and forced it into strategic retreat on all fronts. In 1944, the Western Allies invaded German-occupied France
, while the Soviet Union regained its territorial losses
and turned towards Germany and its allies. During 1944 and 1945, Japan suffered reversals in mainland Asia, while the Allies crippled the Japanese Navy
and captured key western Pacific islands.
The war in Europe concluded with the liberation of German-occupied territories
, and the invasion of Germany by the Western Allies
and the Soviet Union, culminating in the fall of Berlin
to Soviet troops, Hitler's suicide
and the German unconditional surrender
on 8 May 1945
. Following the Potsdam Declaration
by the Allies on 26 July 1945 and the refusal of Japan to surrender on its terms, the United States dropped the first atomic bombs
on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima
, on 6 August, and Nagasaki
, on 9 August. Faced with an imminent invasion of the Japanese archipelago
, the possibility of additional atomic bombings, and the Soviet entry into the war against Japan and its invasion of Manchuria
, Japan announced its intention to surrender on 15 August, then signed the surrender document on 2 September 1945
, cementing total victory in Asia for the Allies.
World War II changed the political alignment and social structure of the globe. The United Nations
(UN) was established to foster international co-operation and prevent future conflicts, and the victorious great powers
—China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States—became the permanent members
of its Security Council
. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as rival superpowers
, setting the stage for the nearly half-century-long Cold War
. In the wake of European devastation, the influence of its great powers waned, triggering the decolonisation of Africa
. Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved towards economic recovery and expansion
. Political integration, especially in Europe
, began as an effort to forestall future hostilities, end pre-war enmities and forge a sense of common identity.
World War I
had radically altered the political
European map, with the defeat of the Central Powers
and the Ottoman Empire
—and the 1917 Bolshevik seizure of power
, which led to the founding of the Soviet Union
. Meanwhile, the victorious Allies of World War I
, such as France, Belgium
, Italy, Romania
, and Greece
, gained territory, and new nation-states
were created out of the collapse of Austria-Hungary
and the Ottoman
and Russian Empires
The German Empire was dissolved in the German Revolution of 1918–1919
, and a democratic government, later known as the Weimar Republic
, was created. The interwar period saw strife between supporters of the new republic and hardline opponents on both the right
. Italy, as an Entente ally, had made some post-war territorial gains; however, Italian nationalists were angered that the promises made
by the United Kingdom and France to secure Italian entrance into the war were not fulfilled in the peace settlement. From 1922 to 1925, the Fascist
movement led by Benito Mussolini
seized power in Italy with a nationalist, totalitarian
, and class collaborationist
agenda that abolished representative democracy, repressed socialist, left-wing and liberal forces, and pursued an aggressive expansionist foreign policy aimed at making Italy a world power
, and promising the creation of a "New Roman Empire
, after an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the German government
in 1923, eventually became the Chancellor of Germany
in 1933 when Paul Von Hindenburg
and the Reichstag appointed him. He abolished democracy, espousing a radical, racially motivated revision of the world order
, and soon began a massive rearmament campaign
Meanwhile, France, to secure its alliance, allowed Italy a free hand in Ethiopia
, which Italy desired as a colonial possession. The situation was aggravated in early 1935 when the Territory of the Saar Basin
was legally reunited with Germany, and Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles, accelerated his rearmament programme, and introduced conscription
The United Kingdom, France and Italy formed the Stresa Front
in April 1935 in order to contain Germany, a key step towards military globalisation
; however, that June, the United Kingdom made an independent naval agreement
with Germany, easing prior restrictions. The Soviet Union, concerned by Germany's goals of capturing vast areas of Eastern Europe
, drafted a treaty of mutual assistance with France. Before taking effect, though, the Franco-Soviet pact
was required to go through the bureaucracy of the League of Nations, which rendered it essentially toothless.
The United States, concerned with events in Europe and Asia, passed the Neutrality Act
in August of the same year.
Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935) Spanish Civil War (1936–1939)
The bombing of Guernica
in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War
, sparked fears abroad in Europe that the next war would be based on bombing of cities with very high civilian casualties.
When civil war broke out in Spain, Hitler and Mussolini lent military support to the Nationalist rebels
, led by General Francisco Franco
. Italy supported the Nationalists to a greater extent than the Nazis did: altogether Mussolini sent to Spain more than 70,000 ground troops and 6,000 aviation personnel, as well as about 720 aircraft.
The Soviet Union supported the existing government of the Spanish Republic
. More than 30,000 foreign volunteers, known as the International Brigades
, also fought against the Nationalists. Both Germany and the Soviet Union used this proxy war
as an opportunity to test in combat their most advanced weapons and tactics. The Nationalists won the civil war in April 1939; Franco, now dictator, remained officially neutral during World War II but generally favoured the Axis
His greatest collaboration with Germany was the sending of volunteers
to fight on the Eastern Front
Japanese invasion of China (1937)
In July 1937, Japan captured the former Chinese imperial capital of Peking
after instigating the Marco Polo Bridge Incident
, which culminated in the Japanese campaign to invade all of China.
The Soviets quickly signed a non-aggression pact with China
to lend materiel
support, effectively ending China's prior co-operation with Germany
. From September to November, the Japanese attacked Taiyuan
, engaged the Kuomintang Army around Xinkou
and fought Communist forces in Pingxingguan
.Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek
deployed his best army
to defend Shanghai
, but after three months of fighting, Shanghai fell. The Japanese continued to push the Chinese forces back, capturing the capital Nanking
in December 1937. After the fall of Nanking, tens or hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and disarmed combatants were murdered by the Japanese
Soviet–Japanese border conflicts
In the mid-to-late 1930s, Japanese forces in Manchukuo
had sporadic border clashes with the Soviet Union and Mongolia
. The Japanese doctrine of Hokushin-ron
, which emphasised Japan's expansion northward, was favoured by the Imperial Army during this time. With the Japanese defeat at Khalkin Gol
in 1939, the ongoing Second Sino-Japanese War
and ally Nazi Germany pursuing neutrality with the Soviets, this policy would prove difficult to maintain. Japan and the Soviet Union eventually signed a Neutrality Pact
in April 1941, and Japan adopted the doctrine of Nanshin-ron
, promoted by the Navy, which took its focus southward, eventually leading to its war with the United States and the Western Allies.
European occupations and agreements
In Europe, Germany and Italy were becoming more aggressive. In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria
, again provoking little response
from other European powers.
Encouraged, Hitler began pressing German claims on the Sudetenland
, an area of Czechoslovakia
with a predominantly ethnic German
population. Soon the United Kingdom and France followed the appeasement policy of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
and conceded this territory to Germany in the Munich Agreement
, which was made against the wishes of the Czechoslovak government, in exchange for a promise of no further territorial demands.
Soon afterwards, Germany and Italy forced Czechoslovakia to cede additional territory
to Hungary, and Poland annexed Czechoslovakia's Zaolzie
The situation reached a general crisis in late August as German troops continued to mobilise against the Polish border. On 23 August, when tripartite negotiations about a military alliance between France, the United Kingdom and Soviet Union stalled,
the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact
This pact had a secret protocol that defined German and Soviet "spheres of influence" (western Poland
and Lithuania for Germany; eastern Poland
, Finland, Estonia
for the Soviet Union), and raised the question of continuing Polish independence.
The pact neutralised the possibility of Soviet opposition to a campaign against Poland and assured that Germany would not have to face the prospect of a two-front war, as it had in World War I. Immediately after that, Hitler ordered the attack to proceed on 26 August, but upon hearing that the United Kingdom had concluded a formal mutual assistance pact with Poland and that Italy would maintain neutrality, he decided to delay it.
In response to British requests for direct negotiations to avoid war, Germany made demands on Poland, which only served as a pretext to worsen relations.
On 29 August, Hitler demanded that a Polish plenipotentiary
immediately travel to Berlin to negotiate the handover of Danzig
, and to allow a plebiscite
in the Polish Corridor
in which the German minority would vote on secession.
The Poles refused to comply with the German demands, and on the night of 30–31 August in a stormy meeting with the British ambassador Nevile Henderson
, Ribbentrop declared that Germany considered its claims rejected.
Course of the war
War breaks out in Europe (1939–40)
Soldiers of the German Wehrmacht
tearing down the border crossing into Poland
, 1 September 1939
On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland
after having staged
several false flag border incidents
as a pretext to initiate the invasion.
The first German attack of the war came against the Polish defenses at Westerplatte
The United Kingdom responded with an ultimatum to Germany to cease military operations, and on 3 September, after the ultimatum was ignored, France and Britain declared war on Germany, followed by Australia, New Zealand
, South Africa
and Canada. The alliance provided no direct military support
to Poland, outside of a cautious French probe into the Saarland
The Western Allies also began a naval blockade of Germany
, which aimed to damage the country's economy and the war effort.
Germany responded by ordering U-boat warfare
against Allied merchant and warships, which would later escalate into the Battle of the Atlantic
Finnish machine gun nest aimed at Soviet Red Army
positions during the Winter War
, February 1940
The Soviet Union forced the Baltic countries
—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were in the Soviet "sphere of influence" under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact—to sign "mutual assistance pacts"
that stipulated stationing Soviet troops in these countries. Soon after, significant Soviet military contingents were moved there.
Finland refused to sign a similar pact and rejected ceding part of its territory to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union invaded Finland in November 1939,
and the Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nations.
Despite overwhelming numerical superiority, Soviet military success was modest, and the Finno-Soviet war
ended in March 1940 with minimal Finnish concessions
German advance into Belgium and Northern France, 10 May-4 June 1940, swept past the Maginot Line
(shown in dark red)
On the same day, Germany launched an offensive against France
. To circumvent the strong Maginot Line
fortifications on the Franco-German border, Germany directed its attack at the neutral nations of Belgium
, the Netherlands
, and Luxembourg
The Germans carried out a flanking manoeuvre through the Ardennes
which was mistakenly perceived by Allies as an impenetrable natural barrier against armoured vehicles.
By successfully implementing new blitzkrieg
tactics, the Wehrmacht
rapidly advanced to the Channel and cut off the Allied forces in Belgium, trapping the bulk of the Allied armies in a cauldron on the Franco-Belgian border near Lille. The United Kingdom was able to evacuate a significant number of Allied troops
from the continent by early June, although abandoning almost all their equipment.
In November 1939, the United States was taking measures to assist China and the Western Allies and amended the Neutrality Act
to allow "cash and carry"
purchases by the Allies.
In 1940, following the German capture of Paris, the size of the United States Navy
was significantly increased
. In September the United States further agreed to a trade of American destroyers for British bases
Still, a large majority of the American public continued to oppose any direct military intervention in the conflict well into 1941.
In December 1940 Roosevelt accused Hitler of planning world conquest and ruled out any negotiations as useless, calling for the United States to become an "arsenal of democracy
" and promoting Lend-Lease
programmes of aid to support the British war effort.
The United States started strategic planning to prepare for a full-scale offensive against Germany.
At the end of September 1940, the Tripartite Pact
formally united Japan, Italy, and Germany as the Axis powers
. The Tripartite Pact stipulated that any country, with the exception of the Soviet Union, which attacked any Axis Power would be forced to go to war against all three.
The Axis expanded in November 1940 when Hungary, Slovakia and Romania
later made major contributions to the Axis war against the Soviet Union, in Romania's case partially to recapture territory ceded to the Soviet Union
In early June 1940, the Italian Regia Aeronauticaattacked and besieged Malta
, a British possession. From late summer to early autumn, Italy conquered British Somaliland
and made an incursion into British-held Egypt
. In October, Italy attacked Greece
, but the attack was repulsed with heavy Italian casualties; the campaign ended within months with minor territorial changes.
Germany started preparation for an invasion of the Balkans to assist Italy, to prevent the British from gaining a foothold there, which would be a potential threat for Romanian oil fields, and to strike against the British dominance of the Mediterranean.
In December 1940, British Empire forces began counter-offensives
against Italian forces in Egypt and Italian East Africa
The offensives were highly successful; by early February 1941, Italy had lost control of eastern Libya, and large numbers of Italian troops had been taken prisoner. The Italian Navy
also suffered significant defeats, with the Royal Navy putting three Italian battleships out of commission by means of a carrier attack at Taranto
, and neutralising several more warships at the Battle of Cape Matapan
Axis attack on the Soviet Union (1941)
With the situation in Europe and Asia relatively stable, Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union made preparations. With the Soviets wary of mounting tensions with Germany and the Japanese planning to take advantage of the European War by seizing resource-rich European possessions in Southeast Asia
, the two powers signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact
in April 1941.
By contrast, the Germans were steadily making preparations for an attack on the Soviet Union, massing forces on the Soviet border.
Hitler believed that the United Kingdom's refusal to end the war was based on the hope that the United States and the Soviet Union would enter the war against Germany sooner or later.
He, therefore, decided to try to strengthen Germany's relations with the Soviets or failing that to attack and eliminate them as a factor. In November 1940, negotiations took place
to determine if the Soviet Union would join the Tripartite Pact. The Soviets showed some interest but asked for concessions from Finland, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Japan that Germany considered unacceptable. On 18 December 1940, Hitler issued the directive to prepare for an invasion of the Soviet Union.
German soldiers during the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Axis powers
Soviet civilians leaving destroyed houses after a German bombardment during the Battle of Leningrad
, 10 December 1942
The diversion of three quarters of the Axis troops and the majority of their air forces from France and the central Mediterranean to the Eastern Front
prompted the United Kingdom to reconsider its grand strategy
In July, the UK and the Soviet Union formed a military alliance against Germany
and in August, the United Kingdom and the United States jointly issued the Atlantic Charter
, which outlined British and American goals for the postwar world.
In late August the British and Soviets invaded neutral Iran
to secure the Persian Corridor
, Iran's oil fields
, and preempt any Axis advances through Iran toward the Baku oil fields or British India.
By October Axis operational objectives
in Ukraine and the Baltic region were achieved, with only the sieges of Leningrad
A major offensive against Moscow
was renewed; after two months of fierce battles in increasingly harsh weather, the German army almost reached the outer suburbs of Moscow, where the exhausted troops
were forced to suspend their offensive.
Large territorial gains were made by Axis forces, but their campaign had failed to achieve its main objectives: two key cities remained in Soviet hands, the Soviet capability to resist
was not broken, and the Soviet Union retained a considerable part of its military potential. The blitzkrieg phase
of the war in Europe had ended.
By early December, freshly mobilised reserves
allowed the Soviets to achieve numerical parity with Axis troops.
This, as well as intelligence data
which established that a minimal number of Soviet troops in the East would be sufficient to deter any attack by the Japanese Kwantung Army
allowed the Soviets to begin a massive counter-offensive
that started on 5 December all along the front and pushed German troops 100–250 kilometres (62–155 mi) west.
War breaks out in the Pacific (1941)
Following the Japanese false flag Mukden Incident
in 1931, the Japanese shelling of the American gunboat USS Panay
in 1937, and the 1937-38 Nanjing Massacre
, Japanese-American relations deteriorated
. In 1939, the United States notified Japan that it would not be extending its trade treaty and American public opinion opposing Japanese expansionism led to a series of economic sanctions, the Export Control Acts
, which banned U.S. exports of chemicals, minerals and military parts to Japan and increased economic pressure on the Japanese regime.
During 1939 Japan launched its first attack against Changsha
, a strategically important Chinese city, but was repulsed by late September.
Despite several offensives
by both sides, the war between China and Japan was stalemated by 1940. To increase pressure on China by blocking supply routes, and to better position Japanese forces in the event of a war with the Western powers, Japan invaded and occupied northern Indochina
in September 1940.
German successes in Europe encouraged Japan to increase pressure on European governments in Southeast Asia
. The Dutch government agreed to provide Japan with some oil supplies from the Dutch East Indies
, but negotiations for additional access to their resources ended in failure in June 1941.
In July 1941 Japan sent troops to southern Indochina, thus threatening British and Dutch possessions in the Far East. The United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western governments reacted to this move with a freeze on Japanese assets and a total oil embargo.
At the same time, Japan was planning an invasion of the Soviet Far East
, intending to capitalise off the German invasion in the west, but abandoned the operation after the sanctions.
Since early 1941 the United States and Japan had been engaged in negotiations in an attempt to improve their strained relations and end the war in China. During these negotiations, Japan advanced a number of proposals which were dismissed by the Americans as inadequate.
At the same time the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands engaged in secret discussions for the joint defence of their territories, in the event of a Japanese attack against any of them.
Roosevelt reinforced the Philippines (an American protectorate scheduled for independence in 1946)
and warned Japan that the United States would react to Japanese attacks against any "neighboring countries".
Frustrated at the lack of progress and feeling the pinch of the American–British–Dutch sanctions, Japan prepared for war. On 20 November, a new government under Hideki Tojo
presented an interim proposal as its final offer. It called for the end of American aid to China and for lifting the embargo on the supply of oil and other resources to Japan. In exchange, Japan promised not to launch any attacks in Southeast Asia and to withdraw its forces from southern Indochina.
The American counter-proposal of 26 November required that Japan evacuate all of China without conditions and conclude non-aggression pacts with all Pacific powers.
That meant Japan was essentially forced to choose between abandoning its ambitions in China, or seizing the natural resources it needed in the Dutch East Indies by force;
the Japanese military did not consider the former an option, and many officers considered the oil embargo an unspoken declaration of war.
The Japanese invasion of Thailand led to Thailand's decision to ally itself with Japan and the other Japanese attacks led the United States
, United Kingdom
, China, Australia, and several other states to formally declare war on Japan, whereas the Soviet Union, being heavily involved in large-scale hostilities with European Axis countries, maintained its neutrality agreement with Japan.
Germany, followed by the other Axis states, declared war on the United States
in solidarity with Japan, citing as justification the American attacks on German war vessels that had been ordered by Roosevelt.
Axis advance stalls (1942–43)
During 1942, Allied officials debated on the appropriate grand strategy
to pursue. All agreed that defeating Germany
was the primary objective. The Americans favoured a straightforward, large-scale attack
on Germany through France. The Soviets were also demanding a second front. The British, on the other hand, argued that military operations should target peripheral areas to wear out German strength, leading to increasing demoralisation, and bolster resistance forces. Germany itself would be subject to a heavy bombing campaign. An offensive against Germany would then be launched primarily by Allied armour without using large-scale armies.
Eventually, the British persuaded the Americans that a landing in France was infeasible in 1942 and they should instead focus on driving the Axis out of North Africa.
At the Casablanca Conference
in early 1943, the Allies reiterated the statements issued in the 1942 Declaration and demanded the unconditional surrender
of their enemies. The British and Americans agreed to continue to press the initiative in the Mediterranean by invading Sicily to fully secure the Mediterranean supply routes.
Although the British argued for further operations in the Balkans to bring Turkey into the war, in May 1943, the Americans extracted a British commitment to limit Allied operations in the Mediterranean to an invasion of the Italian mainland and to invade France in 1944.
Map of Japanese military advances through mid-1942
By the end of April 1942, Japan and its ally Thailand
had almost fully conquered Burma
, the Dutch East Indies
, and Rabaul
, inflicting severe losses on Allied troops and taking a large number of prisoners.
Despite stubborn resistance by Filipino and US forces
, the Philippine Commonwealth
was eventually captured in May 1942, forcing its government into exile.
On 16 April, in Burma, 7,000 British soldiers were encircled by the Japanese 33rd Division during the Battle of Yenangyaung
and rescued by the Chinese 38th Division.
Japanese forces also achieved naval victories in the South China Sea
, Java Sea
and Indian Ocean
and bombed the Allied naval base
, Australia. In January 1942, the only Allied success against Japan was a Chinese victory at Changsha
These easy victories over the unprepared US and European opponents left Japan overconfident, as well as overextended.
In early May 1942, Japan initiated operations to capture Port Moresby
by amphibious assault
and thus sever communications and supply lines between the United States and Australia. The planned invasion was thwarted when an Allied task force, centred on two American fleet carriers, fought Japanese naval forces to a draw in the Battle of the Coral Sea
Japan's next plan, motivated by the earlier Doolittle Raid
, was to seize Midway Atoll
and lure American carriers into battle to be eliminated; as a diversion, Japan would also send forces to occupy the Aleutian Islands
In mid-May, Japan started the Zhejiang-Jiangxi campaign
in China, with the goal of inflicting retribution on the Chinese who aided the surviving American airmen in the Doolittle Raid by destroying Chinese air bases and fighting against the Chinese 23rd and 32nd Army Groups.
In early June, Japan put its operations into action, but the Americans, having broken Japanese naval codes
in late May, were fully aware of the plans and order of battle, and used this knowledge to achieve a decisive victory at Midway
over the Imperial Japanese Navy
With its capacity for aggressive action greatly diminished as a result of the Midway battle, Japan chose to focus on a belated attempt to capture Port Moresby
by an overland campaign
in the Territory of Papua
The Americans planned a counter-attack against Japanese positions in the southern Solomon Islands
, primarily Guadalcanal
, as a first step towards capturing Rabaul
, the main Japanese base in Southeast Asia.
Both plans started in July, but by mid-September, the Battle for Guadalcanal
took priority for the Japanese, and troops in New Guinea were ordered to withdraw from the Port Moresby area to the northern part of the island
, where they faced Australian and United States troops in the Battle of Buna–Gona
Guadalcanal soon became a focal point for both sides with heavy commitments of troops and ships in the battle for Guadalcanal. By the start of 1943, the Japanese were defeated on the island and withdrew their troops
In Burma, Commonwealth forces mounted two operations. The first, an offensive into the Arakan region
in late 1942, went disastrously, forcing a retreat back to India by May 1943.
The second was the insertion of irregular forces
behind Japanese front-lines in February which, by the end of April, had achieved mixed results.
Despite considerable losses, in early 1942 Germany and its allies stopped a major Soviet offensive in central and southern Russia, keeping most territorial gains they had achieved during the previous year.
In May the Germans defeated Soviet offensives in the Kerch Peninsula
and at Kharkov
and then launched their main summer offensive
against southern Russia in June 1942, to seize the oil fields of the Caucasus
and occupy the Kuban steppe
, while maintaining positions on the northern and central areas of the front. The Germans split Army Group South
into two groups: Army Group A
advanced to the lower Don River
and struck south-east to the Caucasus, while Army Group B
headed towards the Volga River
. The Soviets decided to make their stand at Stalingrad on the Volga.
Western Europe/Atlantic and Mediterranean (1942–43)
Exploiting poor American naval command decisions, the German navy ravaged Allied shipping off the American Atlantic coast
By November 1941, Commonwealth forces had launched a counter-offensive, Operation Crusader
, in North Africa, and reclaimed all the gains the Germans and Italians had made.
In North Africa, the Germans launched an offensive in January, pushing the British back to positions at the Gazala line
by early February,
followed by a temporary lull in combat which Germany used to prepare for their upcoming offensives.
Concerns the Japanese might use bases in Vichy-held Madagascar
caused the British to invade the island
in early May 1942.
An Axis offensive in Libya
forced an Allied retreat deep inside Egypt until Axis forces were stopped at El Alamein
On the Continent, raids of Allied commandos
on strategic targets, culminating in the disastrous Dieppe Raid
demonstrated the Western Allies' inability to launch an invasion of continental Europe without much better preparation, equipment, and operational security.[page needed]
In June 1943 the British and Americans began a strategic bombing campaign
against Germany with a goal to disrupt the war economy, reduce morale, and "de-house
" the civilian population.
The firebombing of Hamburg
was among the first attacks in this campaign, inflicting significant casualties and considerable losses on infrastructure of this important industrial centre.
Allies gain momentum (1943–44)
After the Guadalcanal Campaign, the Allies initiated several operations against Japan in the Pacific. In May 1943, Canadian and US forces were sent to eliminate Japanese forces from the Aleutians
Soon after, the United States, with support from Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islander forces, began major ground, sea and air operations to isolate Rabaul by capturing surrounding islands
, and breach the Japanese Central Pacific perimeter at the Gilbert and Marshall Islands
By the end of March 1944, the Allies had completed both of these objectives and had also neutralised the major Japanese base at Truk
in the Caroline Islands
. In April, the Allies launched an operation to retake Western New Guinea
In the Soviet Union, both the Germans and the Soviets spent the spring and early summer of 1943 preparing for large offensives in central Russia. On 4 July 1943, Germany attacked Soviet forces around the Kursk Bulge
. Within a week, German forces had exhausted themselves against the Soviets' deeply echeloned and well-constructed defences,
and for the first time in the war Hitler cancelled the operation before it had achieved tactical or operational success.
This decision was partially affected by the Western Allies' invasion of Sicily
launched on 9 July, which, combined with previous Italian failures, resulted in the ousting and arrest of Mussolini
later that month.
On 12 July 1943, the Soviets launched their own counter-offensives
, thereby dispelling any chance of German victory or even stalemate in the east. The Soviet victory at Kursk marked the end of German superiority,
giving the Soviet Union the initiative on the Eastern Front.
The Germans tried to stabilise their eastern front along the hastily fortified Panther–Wotan line
, but the Soviets broke through it at Smolensk
and by the Lower Dnieper Offensive
In September 1944, Soviet troops advanced into Yugoslavia
and forced the rapid withdrawal of German Army Groups E
and Yugoslavia to rescue them from being cut off.
By this point, the Communist-led Partisans
under Marshal Josip Broz Tito
, who had led an increasingly successful guerrilla campaign
against the occupation since 1941, controlled much of the territory of Yugoslavia and engaged in delaying efforts against German forces further south. In northern Serbia
, the Soviet Red Army
, with limited support from Bulgarian forces, assisted the Partisans in a joint liberation of the capital city of Belgrade
on 20 October. A few days later, the Soviets launched a massive assault
Hungary that lasted until the fall of Budapest
in February 1945.
Unlike impressive Soviet victories in the Balkans, bitter Finnish resistance
to the Soviet offensive
in the Karelian Isthmus
denied the Soviets occupation of Finland and led to a Soviet-Finnish armistice
on relatively mild conditions,
although Finland was forced to fight their former ally Germany
By the start of July 1944, Commonwealth forces in Southeast Asia had repelled the Japanese sieges in Assam
, pushing the Japanese back to the Chindwin River
while the Chinese captured Myitkyina. In September 1944, Chinese forces captured Mount Song
and reopened the Burma Road
In China, the Japanese had more successes, having finally captured Changsha
in mid-June and the city of Hengyang
by early August.
Soon after, they invaded the province of Guangxi
, winning major engagements against Chinese forces at Guilin and Liuzhou
by the end of November
and successfully linking up their forces in China and Indochina by mid-December.
Axis collapse, Allied victory (1944–45)
On 16 December 1944, Germany made a last attempt on the Western Front by using most of its remaining reserves to launch a massive counter-offensive in the Ardennes
and along with the French-German border
to split the Western Allies, encircle large portions of Western Allied troops and capture their primary supply port at Antwerp
to prompt a political settlement.
By January, the offensive had been repulsed with no strategic objectives fulfilled.
In Italy, the Western Allies remained stalemated at the German defensive line. In mid-January 1945, the Soviets and Poles attacked in Poland, pushing from the Vistula to the Oder
river in Germany, and overran East Prussia
On 4 February Soviet, British, and US leaders met for the Yalta Conference
. They agreed on the occupation of post-war Germany, and on when the Soviet Union would join the war against Japan.
In February, the Soviets entered Silesia
, while Western Allies entered western Germany
and closed to the Rhine
river. By March, the Western Allies crossed the Rhine north
of the Ruhr
, encircling the German Army Group B
In early March, in an attempt to protect its last oil reserves in Hungary and to retake Budapest, Germany launched its last major offensive
against Soviet troops near Lake Balaton
. In two weeks, the offensive had been repulsed, the Soviets advanced to Vienna
, and captured the city. In early April, Soviet troops captured Königsberg
, while the Western Allies finally pushed forward in Italy
and swept across western Germany capturing Hamburg
. American and Soviet forces met at the Elbe river
on 25 April, leaving several unoccupied pockets in southern Germany and around Berlin.
The German Reichstag
after its capture by the Allied forces, 3 June 1945.
In May 1945, Australian troops landed in Borneo
, overrunning the oilfields there. British, American, and Chinese forces defeated the Japanese in northern Burma
in March, and the British pushed on to reach Rangoon
by 3 May.
Chinese forces started a counterattack in the Battle of West Hunan
that occurred between 6 April and 7 June 1945. American naval and amphibious forces also moved towards Japan, taking Iwo Jima
by March, and Okinawa
by the end of June.
At the same time, American submarines cut off
Japanese imports, drastically reducing Japan's ability to supply its overseas forces.
The Allies established occupation administrations in Austria
. The former became a neutral state, non-aligned with any political bloc. The latter was divided into western and eastern occupation zones controlled by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. A denazification
programme in Germany led to the prosecution of Nazi war criminals in the Nuremberg trials
and the removal of ex-Nazis from power, although this policy moved towards amnesty and re-integration of ex-Nazis into West German society.
In an effort to maintain world peace
the Allies formed the United Nations
, which officially came into existence on 24 October 1945,
and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
in 1948 as a common standard for all member nations
The great powers that were the victors of the war—France, China, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States—became the permanent members
of the UN's Security Council
The five permanent members remain so to the present, although there have been two seat changes, between
the Republic of China
and the People's Republic of China
in 1971, and between the Soviet Union and its successor state
, the Russian Federation
, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union
in 1991. The alliance between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union had begun to deteriorate even before the war was over.
Germany had been de facto
divided, and two independent states, the Federal Republic of Germany
(West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic
were created within the borders of Allied
and Soviet occupation zones
. The rest of Europe was also divided into Western and Soviet spheres of influence
Most eastern and central European countries fell into the Soviet sphere
, which led to establishment of Communist-led regimes, with full or partial support of the Soviet occupation authorities. As a result, East Germany
, and Albania
became Soviet satellite states
. Communist Yugoslavia
conducted a fully independent policy
, causing tension with the Soviet Union
Post-war division of the world was formalised by two international military alliances, the United States-led NATO
and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact
The long period of political tensions and military competition between them, the Cold War
, would be accompanied by an unprecedented arms race
and proxy wars
The global economy suffered heavily from the war, although participating nations were affected differently. The United States emerged much richer than any other nation, leading to a baby boom
, and by 1950 its gross domestic product per person was much higher than that of any of the other powers, and it dominated the world economy.
The UK and US pursued a policy of industrial disarmament in Western Germany
in the years 1945–1948.
Because of international trade interdependencies this led to European economic stagnation and delayed European recovery for several years.
The Soviet Union, despite enormous human and material losses, also experienced rapid increase in production in the immediate post-war era.
Japan recovered much later.
China returned to its pre-war industrial production by 1952.
Casualties and war crimes
World War II deaths
The Soviet Union alone lost around 27 million people during the war,
including 8.7 million military and 19 million civilian deaths.
A quarter of the people in the Soviet Union were wounded or killed.
Germany sustained 5.3 million military losses, mostly on the Eastern Front and during the final battles in Germany.
An estimated 11
to 17 million
civilians died as a direct or as an indirect result of Nazi racist policies, including mass killing
of around 6 million Jews
, along with Roma
, at least 1.9 million ethnic Poles
and millions of other Slavs
(including Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians), and other ethnic and minority groups.
Between 1941 and 1945, more than 200,000 ethnic Serbs
, along with gypsies and Jews, were persecuted and murdered
by the Axis-aligned Croatian Ustaše
Also, more than 100,000 Poles were massacred by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
in the Volhynia massacres
, between 1943 and 1945.
At the same time about 10,000–15,000 Ukrainians were killed by the Polish Home Army
and other Polish units, in reprisal attacks.
In Asia and the Pacific, between 3 million and more than 10 million civilians, mostly Chinese (estimated at 7.5 million
), were killed by the Japanese occupation forces.
The most infamous Japanese atrocity was the Nanking Massacre
, in which fifty to three hundred thousand Chinese civilians were raped and murdered.
Mitsuyoshi Himeta reported that 2.7 million casualties occurred during the Sankō Sakusen
. General Yasuji Okamura
implemented the policy in Heipei and Shantung
Genocide, concentration camps, and slave labour
The Soviet Gulag
became a de facto
system of deadly camps during 1942–43, when wartime privation and hunger caused numerous deaths of inmates,
including foreign citizens of Poland and other countries
occupied in 1939–40 by the Soviet Union, as well as Axis POWs
By the end of the war, most Soviet POWs liberated from Nazi camps and many repatriated civilians were detained in special filtration camps where they were subjected to NKVD
evaluation, and 226,127 were sent to the Gulag as real or perceived Nazi collaborators.
Japanese prisoner-of-war camps
, many of which were used as labour camps, also had high death rates. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East
found the death rate of Western prisoners was 27 per cent (for American POWs, 37 per cent),
seven times that of POWs under the Germans and Italians.
While 37,583 prisoners from the UK, 28,500 from the Netherlands, and 14,473 from the United States were released after the surrender of Japan
, the number of Chinese released was only 56.
At least five million Chinese civilians from northern China and Manchukuo were enslaved between 1935 and 1941 by the East Asia Development Board
, or Kōain
, for work in mines and war industries. After 1942, the number reached 10 million.
, between 4 and 10 million rōmusha
(Japanese: "manual labourers"), were forced to work by the Japanese military. About 270,000 of these Javanese labourers were sent to other Japanese-held areas in South East Asia, and only 52,000 were repatriated to Java.
In Europe, occupation came under two forms. In Western, Northern, and Central Europe (France, Norway, Denmark, the Low Countries, and the annexed portions of Czechoslovakia
) Germany established economic policies through which it collected roughly 69.5 billion reichsmarks (27.8 billion US dollars) by the end of the war; this figure does not include the sizeable plunder
of industrial products, military equipment, raw materials and other goods.
Thus, the income from occupied nations was over 40 percent of the income Germany collected from taxation, a figure which increased to nearly 40 percent of total German income as the war went on.
In the East, the intended gains of Lebensraum
were never attained as fluctuating front-lines and Soviet scorched earth
policies denied resources to the German invaders.
Unlike in the West, the Nazi racial policy
encouraged extreme brutality against what it considered to be the "inferior people
" of Slavic descent; most German advances were thus followed by mass executions
Although resistance groups
formed in most occupied territories, they did not significantly hamper German operations in either the East
or the West
until late 1943.
In Asia, Japan termed nations under its occupation as being part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
, essentially a Japanese hegemony
which it claimed was for purposes of liberating colonised peoples.
Although Japanese forces were sometimes welcomed as liberators from European domination, Japanese war crimes
frequently turned local public opinion against them.
During Japan's initial conquest it captured 4,000,000 barrels (640,000 m3
) of oil (~5.5×105
tonnes) left behind by retreating Allied forces, and by 1943 was able to get production in the Dutch East Indies up to 50 million barrels (~6.8×106
t), 76 per cent of its 1940 output rate.
Home fronts and production
Allies to Axis GDP ratio between 1938 and 1945
In Europe, before the outbreak of the war, the Allies had significant advantages in both population and economics. In 1938, the Western Allies (United Kingdom, France, Poland and the British Dominions) had a 30 percent larger population and a 30 percent higher gross domestic product than the European Axis powers (Germany and Italy); if colonies are included, the Allies had more than a 5:1 advantage in population and a nearly 2:1 advantage in GDP.
In Asia at the same time, China had roughly six times the population of Japan but only an 89 percent higher GDP; this is reduced to three times the population and only a 38 percent higher GDP if Japanese colonies are included.
The United States produced about two-thirds of all the munitions used by the Allies in WWII, including warships, transports, warplanes, artillery, tanks, trucks, and ammunition.
Though the Allies' economic and population advantages were largely mitigated during the initial rapid blitzkrieg attacks of Germany and Japan, they became the decisive factor by 1942, after the United States and Soviet Union joined the Allies, as the war largely settled into one of attrition
While the Allies' ability to out-produce the Axis is often attributed[by whom?]
to the Allies having more access to natural resources, other factors, such as Germany and Japan's reluctance to employ women in the labour force
Allied strategic bombing
and Germany's late shift to a war economy
contributed significantly. Additionally, neither Germany nor Japan planned to fight a protracted war, and had not equipped themselves to do so.
To improve their production, Germany and Japan used millions of slave labourers
about 12 million people, mostly from Eastern Europe,
while Japan used
more than 18 million people in Far East Asia.
Advances in technology and warfare
Aircraft were used for reconnaissance
, as fighters
, and ground-support
, and each role was advanced considerably. Innovation included airlift
(the capability to quickly move limited high-priority supplies, equipment, and personnel);
and of strategic bombing
(the bombing of enemy industrial and population centres to destroy the enemy's ability to wage war). Anti-aircraft weaponry
also advanced, including defences such as radar
and surface-to-air artillery. The use of the jet aircraft
was pioneered and, though late introduction meant it had little impact, it led to jets becoming standard in air forces worldwide.
Although guided missiles
were being developed, they were not advanced enough to reliably target aircraft
until some years after the war.
Advances were made in nearly every aspect of naval warfare
, most notably with aircraft carriers
. Although aeronautical
warfare had relatively little success at the start of the war, actions at Taranto
, Pearl Harbor
, and the Coral Sea
established the carrier as the dominant capital ship in place of the battleship.
In the Atlantic, escort carriers
proved to be a vital part of Allied convoys, increasing the effective protection radius and helping to close the Mid-Atlantic gap
Carriers were also more economical than battleships
because of the relatively low cost of aircraft
and their not requiring to be as heavily armoured.
Submarines, which had proved to be an effective weapon during the First World War
were anticipated by all sides to be important in the second. The British focused development on anti-submarine weaponry
and tactics, such as sonar
and convoys, while Germany focused on improving its offensive capability, with designs such as the Type VII submarine
tactics.[better source needed]
Gradually, improving Allied technologies such as the Leigh light
, and homing torpedoes
proved victorious over the German submarines.
changed from the static front lines of trench warfare
of World War I, which had relied on improved artillery
that outmatched the speed of both infantry
, to increased mobility and combined arms
. The tank
, which had been used predominantly for infantry support in the First World War, had evolved into the primary weapon.
In the late 1930s, tank design was considerably more advanced than it had been during World War I,
and advances continued throughout the war
with increases in speed, armour and firepower.
At the start of the war, most commanders thought enemy tanks should be met by tanks with superior specifications.
This idea was challenged by the poor performance of the relatively light early tank guns against armour, and German doctrine of avoiding tank-versus-tank combat. This, along with Germany's use of combined arms, were among the key elements of their highly successful blitzkrieg tactics across Poland and France.
Many means of destroying tanks
, including indirect artillery
, anti-tank guns
(both towed and self-propelled
, short-ranged infantry antitank weapons, and other tanks were used.
Even with large-scale mechanisation, infantry remained the backbone of all forces,
and throughout the war, most infantry were equipped similarly to World War I.
The portable machine gun spread, a notable example being the German MG34
, and various submachine guns
which were suited to close combat
in urban and jungle settings.
The assault rifle
, a late war development incorporating many features of the rifle and submachine gun, became the standard postwar infantry weapon for most armed forces.
While various other dates
have been proposed as the date on which World War II began or ended, this is the time span most frequently cited.
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The weeks after the fall of Rome saw a dramatic upswing in German atrocities in Italy (Mazower 2008, pp. 500–02). The period featured massacres with victims in the hundreds at Civitella (de Grazia & Paggi 1991; Belco 2010), Fosse Ardeatine (Portelli 2003), and Sant'Anna di Stazzema (Gordon 2012, pp. 10–11), and is capped with the Marzabotto massacre.
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