World War II

World War II (often abbreviated to WWII or WW2), also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 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. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.[1][2][3][4]

Japan, which aimed to dominate Asia and the Pacific, was at war with China by 1937,[5][b] though neither side had declared war on the other. World War II is generally said to have begun on 1 September 1939,[6] with the invasion of Poland by Germany and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by France and the United Kingdom. From late 1939 to early 1941, in a series of campaigns and treaties, Germany conquered or controlled much of continental Europe, and formed the Axis alliance with Italy and Japan. Under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union partitioned and annexed territories of their European neighbours, Poland, Finland, Romania and the Baltic states. 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. War in the Balkans, the aerial Battle of Britain, the Blitz, and the long Battle of the Atlantic followed. On 22 June 1941, the European Axis powers launched an invasion of the Soviet Union, opening the largest land theatre of war in history. This Eastern Front trapped the Axis, most crucially the German Wehrmacht, into a war of attrition. In December 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in the United States as well as European colonies in the Pacific. Following an immediate U.S. declaration of war against Japan, supported by one from Great Britain, the European Axis powers quickly declared war on the U.S. in solidarity with their Japanese ally. Rapid Japanese conquests over much of the Western Pacific ensued, perceived by many in Asia as liberation from Western dominance and resulting in the support of several armies from defeated territories.

The Axis advance in the Pacific halted in 1942 when Japan lost the critical Battle of Midway; later, Germany and Italy were defeated in North Africa and then, decisively, at Stalingrad in the Soviet Union. Key setbacks in 1943, which included a series of German defeats on the Eastern Front, the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy, and Allied victories in the Pacific, cost the Axis its 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 toward Germany and its allies. During 1944 and 1945 the Japanese suffered major reverses in mainland Asia in Central China, South China and Burma, while the Allies crippled the Japanese Navy and captured key Western Pacific islands.

The war in Europe concluded with an invasion of Germany by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union, culminating in the capture of Berlin by Soviet troops, the suicide of Adolf Hitler 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 under its terms, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August respectively. With an invasion of the Japanese archipelago imminent, the possibility of additional atomic bombings, the Soviet entry into the war against Japan and its invasion of Manchuria, Japan announced its intention to surrender on 15 August 1945, cementing total victory in Asia for the Allies. Tribunals were set up by fiat by the Allies and war crimes trials were conducted in the wake of the war both against the Germans and the Japanese.

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; the victorious great powers—China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States—became the permanent members of its Security Council.[7] The Soviet Union and 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 and Asia. Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved towards economic recovery and expansion. Political integration, especially in Europe, emerged as an effort to end pre-war enmities and create a common identity.[8]

Chronology

The start of the war in Europe is generally held to be 1 September 1939,[9][10] beginning with the German invasion of Poland; the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany two days later. The dates for the beginning of war in the Pacific include the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War on 7 July 1937,[11][12] or even the Japanese invasion of Manchuria on 19 September 1931.[13][14]

Others follow the British historian A.J.P. Taylor, who held that the Sino-Japanese War and war in Europe and its colonies occurred simultaneously, and the two wars merged in 1941. This article uses the conventional dating. Other starting dates sometimes used for World War II include the Italian invasion of Abyssinia on 3 October 1935.[15] The British historian Antony Beevor views the beginning of World War II as the Battles of Khalkhin Gol fought between Japan and the forces of Mongolia and the Soviet Union from May to September 1939.[16]

The exact date of the war's end is also not universally agreed upon. It was generally accepted at the time that the war ended with the armistice of 14 August 1945 (V-J Day), rather than the formal surrender of Japan, which was on 2 September 1945 that officially ended the war in Asia. A peace treaty with Japan was signed in 1951.[17] A treaty regarding Germany's future allowed the reunification of East and West Germany to take place in 1990 and resolved most post-World War II issues.[18] No formal peace treaty between Japan and the Soviet Union was ever signed.[19]

Background

Europe

World War I had radically altered the political European map, with the defeat of the Central Powers—including Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire—and the 1917 Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia, which eventually 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.

Bundesarchiv Bild 102-09042, Genf, Völkerbund, Sitzungssaal
The League of Nations assembly, held in Geneva, Switzerland, 1930

To prevent a future world war, the League of Nations was created during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The organisation's primary goals were to prevent armed conflict through collective security, military and naval disarmament, and settling international disputes through peaceful negotiations and arbitration.

Despite strong pacifist sentiment after World War I,[20] its aftermath still caused irredentist and revanchist nationalism in several European states. These sentiments were especially marked in Germany because of the significant territorial, colonial, and financial losses incurred by the Treaty of Versailles. Under the treaty, Germany lost around 13 percent of its home territory and all of its overseas possessions, while German annexation of other states was prohibited, reparations were imposed, and limits were placed on the size and capability of the country's armed forces.[21]

Nürnberg Reichsparteitag Hitler retouched
Adolf Hitler at a German National Socialist political rally in Nuremberg, August 1933

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 and left. 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, promising the creation of a "New Roman Empire".[22]

Adolf Hitler, after an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the German government in 1923, eventually became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933. He abolished democracy, espousing a radical, racially motivated revision of the world order, and soon began a massive rearmament campaign.[23] 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.[24]

The United Kingdom, France and Italy formed the Stresa Front in April 1935 in order to contain Germany, a key step towards military globalization; 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.[25] The United States, concerned with events in Europe and Asia, passed the Neutrality Act in August of the same year.[26]

Hitler defied the Versailles and Locarno treaties by remilitarising the Rhineland in March 1936, encountering little opposition due to appeasement.[27] In October 1936, Germany and Italy formed the Rome–Berlin Axis. A month later, Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, which Italy would join in the following year.[28]

Asia

The Kuomintang (KMT) party in China launched a unification campaign against regional warlords and nominally unified China in the mid-1920s, but was soon embroiled in a civil war against its former Chinese Communist Party allies[29] and new regional warlords. In 1931, an increasingly militaristic Empire of Japan, which had long sought influence in China[30] as the first step of what its government saw as the country's right to rule Asia, used the Mukden Incident as a pretext to launch an invasion of Manchuria and establish the puppet state of Manchukuo.[31]

China appealed to the League of Nations to stop the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Japan withdrew from the League of Nations after being condemned for its incursion into Manchuria. The two nations then fought several battles, in Shanghai, Rehe and Hebei, until the Tanggu Truce was signed in 1933. Thereafter, Chinese volunteer forces continued the resistance to Japanese aggression in Manchuria, and Chahar and Suiyuan.[32] After the 1936 Xi'an Incident, the Kuomintang and communist forces agreed on a ceasefire to present a united front to oppose Japan.[33]

Pre-war events

Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935)

Mussolini truppe Etiopia
Benito Mussolini inspecting troops during the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935

The Second Italo–Ethiopian War was a brief colonial war that began in October 1935 and ended in May 1936. The war began with the invasion of the Ethiopian Empire (also known as Abyssinia) by the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia), which was launched from Italian Somaliland and Eritrea.[34] The war resulted in the military occupation of Ethiopia and its annexation into the newly created colony of Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana, or AOI); in addition it exposed the weakness of the League of Nations as a force to preserve peace. Both Italy and Ethiopia were member nations, but the League did little when the former clearly violated Article X of the League's Covenant.[35] The United Kingdom and France supported imposing sanctions on Italy for the invasion, but they were not fully enforced and failed to end the Italian invasion.[36] Italy subsequently dropped its objections to Germany's goal of absorbing Austria.[37]

Spanish Civil War (1936–1939)

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H25224, Guernica, Ruinen
The bombing of Guernica in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, sparked fears abroad 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. The Soviet Union supported the existing government, the Spanish Republic. Over 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.[38] His greatest collaboration with Germany was the sending of volunteers to fight on the Eastern Front.[39]

Japanese invasion of China (1937)

Shanghai1937IJA ruins
Japanese Imperial Army soldiers during the Battle of Shanghai, 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.[40] 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,[41] and fought Communist forces in Pingxingguan.[42][43] 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 of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and disarmed combatants were murdered by the Japanese.[44][45]

In March 1938, Nationalist Chinese forces won their first major victory at Taierzhuang but then the city of Xuzhou was taken by Japanese in May.[46] In June 1938, Chinese forces stalled the Japanese advance by flooding the Yellow River; this manoeuvre bought time for the Chinese to prepare their defences at Wuhan, but the city was taken by October.[47] Japanese military victories did not bring about the collapse of Chinese resistance that Japan had hoped to achieve; instead the Chinese government relocated inland to Chongqing and continued the war.[48][49]

Soviet–Japanese border conflicts

Battle of Lake Khasan-Red Army gunners in the interval
Red Army artillery unit during the Battle of Lake Khasan, 1938

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[50] 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.[51][52]

European occupations and agreements

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R69173, Münchener Abkommen, Staatschefs
Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini, and Ciano pictured just before signing the Munich Agreement, 29 September 1938

In Europe, Germany and Italy were becoming more aggressive. In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, again provoking little response from other European powers.[53] 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 counsel 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.[54] Soon afterwards, Germany and Italy forced Czechoslovakia to cede additional territory to Hungary, and Poland annexed Czechoslovakia's Zaolzie region.[55]

Although all of Germany's stated demands had been satisfied by the agreement, privately Hitler was furious that British interference had prevented him from seizing all of Czechoslovakia in one operation. In subsequent speeches Hitler attacked British and Jewish "war-mongers" and in January 1939 secretly ordered a major build-up of the German navy to challenge British naval supremacy. In March 1939, Germany invaded the remainder of Czechoslovakia and subsequently split it into the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and a pro-German client state, the Slovak Republic.[56] Hitler also delivered the 20 March 1939 ultimatum to Lithuania, forcing the concession of the Klaipėda Region.[57]

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H27337, Moskau, Stalin und Ribbentrop im Kreml
German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (right) and the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, after signing the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, 23 August 1939

Greatly alarmed and with Hitler making further demands on the Free City of Danzig, the United Kingdom and France guaranteed their support for Polish independence; when Italy conquered Albania in April 1939, the same guarantee was extended to Romania and Greece.[58] Shortly after the Franco-British pledge to Poland, Germany and Italy formalised their own alliance with the Pact of Steel.[59] Hitler accused the United Kingdom and Poland of trying to "encircle" Germany and renounced the Anglo-German Naval Agreement and the German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact.[60]

The situation reached a general crisis in late August as German troops continued to mobilise against the Polish border. In August 23, when tripartite negotiations about a military alliance between France, the United Kingdom and Soviet Union stalled,[61] the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Germany.[62] This pact had a secret protocol that defined German and Soviet "spheres of influence" (western Poland and Lithuania for Germany; eastern Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Bessarabia for the Soviet Union), and raised the question of continuing Polish independence.[63] The pact neutralized 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.[64]

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.[65] 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.[65] 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 Neville Henderson, Ribbentrop declared that Germany considered its claims rejected.[66]

Course of the war

War breaks out in Europe (1939–40)

Germans at Polish Border (1939-09-01)
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 attack.[67] The Battle of Westerplatte is often described as the first battle of the war. The United Kingdom responded with an ultimatum to Germany to cease military operations, and on 3 September, after the ultimatum was ignored, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand declared war on Germany. This alliance was joined by South Africa (6 September) and Canada (10 September). The alliance provided no direct military support to Poland, outside of a cautious French probe into the Saarland.[68] The Western Allies also began a naval blockade of Germany, which aimed to damage the country's economy and war effort.[69] Germany responded by ordering U-boat warfare against Allied merchant and warships, which would later escalate into the Battle of the Atlantic.[70]

Polish infantry marching -2 1939
Soldiers of the Polish Army during the defence of Poland, September 1939

On 8 September, German troops reached the suburbs of Warsaw. The Polish counter offensive to the west halted the German advance for several days, but it was outflanked and encircled by the Wehrmacht. Remnants of the Polish army broke through to besieged Warsaw. On 17 September 1939, after signing a cease-fire with Japan, the Soviets invaded Eastern Poland[71] under a pretext that the Polish state had ostensibly ceased to exist.[72] On 27 September, the Warsaw garrison surrendered to the Germans, and the last large operational unit of the Polish Army surrendered on 6 October. Despite the military defeat, the Polish government never surrendered.[73] A significant part of Polish military personnel evacuated to Romania and the Baltic countries; many of them would fight against the Axis in other theatres of the war.[74] The Polish government in exile also established an Underground State and a resistance movement; in particular the Polish partisan Home Army would grow to become one of the war's largest resistance movements.[73]

Germany annexed the western and occupied the central part of Poland, and the Soviet Union annexed its eastern part; small shares of Polish territory were transferred to Lithuania and Slovakia. On 6 October, Hitler made a public peace overture to the United Kingdom and France, but said that the future of Poland was to be determined exclusively by Germany and the Soviet Union. The proposal was rejected,[66] and Hitler ordered an immediate offensive against France,[75] which would be postponed until the spring of 1940 due to bad weather.[76][77][78]

A Finnish Maxim M-09-21 machine gun nest during the Winter War
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, the states that 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.[79][80][81] 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,[82] and the Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nations.[83] Despite overwhelming numerical superiority, Soviet military success was modest, and the Finno-Soviet war ended in March 1940 with minimal Finnish concessions.[84]

In June 1940, the Soviet Union forcibly annexed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania,[80] and the disputed Romanian regions of Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Hertza. Meanwhile, Nazi-Soviet political rapprochement and economic co-operation[85][86] gradually stalled,[87][88] and both states began preparations for war.[89]

Western Europe (1940–41)

WWIIEuropeMay40
German advance into Belgium and Northern France, 10 May-4 June 1940, swept past the Maginot Line (shown in dark red)

In April 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway to protect shipments of iron ore from Sweden, which the Allies were attempting to cut off.[90] Denmark capitulated after a few hours, and Norway was conquered within two months[91] despite Allied support. British discontent over the Norwegian campaign led to the appointment of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister on 10 May 1940.[92]

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.[93] The Germans carried out a flanking manoeuvre through the Ardennes region,[94] which was mistakenly perceived by Allies as an impenetrable natural barrier against armoured vehicles.[95][96] 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 of their equipment.[97]

On 10 June, Italy invaded France, declaring war on both France and the United Kingdom.[98] The Germans turned south against the weakened French army, and Paris fell to them on 14 June. Eight days later France signed an armistice with Germany; it was divided into German and Italian occupation zones,[99] and an unoccupied rump state under the Vichy Regime, which, though officially neutral, was generally aligned with Germany. France kept its fleet, which the United Kingdom attacked on 3 July in an attempt to prevent its seizure by Germany.[100]

View from St Paul's Cathedral after the Blitz
London seen from St. Paul's Cathedral after the German Blitz, 29 December 1940

The Battle of Britain[101] began in early July with Luftwaffe attacks on shipping and harbours.[102] The United Kingdom rejected Hitler's ultimatum,[103] and the German air superiority campaign started in August but failed to defeat RAF Fighter Command. Due to this the proposed German invasion of Britain was postponed indefinitely on 17 September. The German strategic bombing offensive intensified with night attacks on London and other cities in the Blitz, but failed to significantly disrupt the British war effort[102] and largely ended in May 1941.[104]

Using newly captured French ports, the German Navy enjoyed success against an over-extended Royal Navy, using U-boats against British shipping in the Atlantic.[105] The British Home Fleet scored a significant victory on 27 May 1941 by sinking the German battleship Bismarck.[106]

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.[107] 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.[108] Still, a large majority of the American public continued to oppose any direct military intervention in the conflict well into 1941.[109] 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.[103] The United States started strategic planning to prepare for a full-scale offensive against Germany.[110]

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.[111] The Axis expanded in November 1940 when Hungary, Slovakia and Romania joined.[112] Romania and Hungary would make major contributions to the Axis war against the Soviet Union, in Romania's case partially to recapture territory ceded to the Soviet Union.[113]

Mediterranean (1940–41)

9 Div Tobruk(AWM 020779)
Soldiers of the British Commonwealth forces from the Australian Army's 9th Division during the Siege of Tobruk; North African Campaign, August 1941

In early June 1940 the Italian Regia aeronautica attacked and besieged Malta, a British possession. In late summer through 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 days with minor territorial changes.[114] 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.[115]

In December 1940, British Empire forces began counter-offensives against Italian forces in Egypt and Italian East Africa.[116] 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 a carrier attack at Taranto and neutralising several more warships at the Battle of Cape Matapan.[117]

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-783-0109-11, Nordafrika, Panzer III in Fahrt
German panzers of the Afrika Korps advancing across the North African desert, 1941

Italian defeats prompted Germany to deploy an expeditionary force to North Africa, and at the end of March 1941 Rommel's Afrika Korps launched an offensive which drove back the Commonwealth forces.[118] In under a month, Axis forces advanced to western Egypt and besieged the port of Tobruk.[119]

By late March 1941 Bulgaria and Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact. However, the Yugoslav government was overthrown two days later by pro-British nationalists. Germany responded with simultaneous invasions of both Yugoslavia and Greece, commencing on 6 April 1941; both nations were forced to surrender within the month.[120] The airborne invasion of the Greek island of Crete at the end of May completed the German conquest of the Balkans.[121] Although the Axis victory was swift, bitter and large-scale partisan warfare subsequently broke out against the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia, which continued until the end of the war.[122]

In the Middle East, in May Commonwealth forces quashed an uprising in Iraq which had been supported by German aircraft from bases within Vichy-controlled Syria.[123] Between June and July they invaded and occupied the French possessions Syria and Lebanon, with the assistance of the Free French.

Axis attack on the Soviet Union (1941)

Second world war europe animation large de
European theatre of World War II animation map, 1939–1945 — Red: Western Allies and Soviet Union after 1941; Green: Soviet Union before 1941; Blue: Axis powers

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.[124] By contrast, the Germans were steadily making preparations for an attack on the Soviet Union, massing forces on the Soviet border.[125]

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.[126] 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.[127]

German troops in Russia, 1941 - NARA - 540155
German soldiers during the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Axis powers, 1941

On 22 June 1941, Germany, supported by Italy and Romania, invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, with Germany accusing the Soviets of plotting against them. They were joined shortly by Finland and Hungary.[128] The primary targets of this surprise offensive[129] were the Baltic region, Moscow and Ukraine, with the ultimate goal of ending the 1941 campaign near the Arkhangelsk-Astrakhan line, from the Caspian to the White Seas. Hitler's objectives were to eliminate the Soviet Union as a military power, exterminate Communism, generate Lebensraum ("living space")[130] by dispossessing the native population[131] and guarantee access to the strategic resources needed to defeat Germany's remaining rivals.[132]

Although the Red Army was preparing for strategic counter-offensives before the war,[133] Barbarossa forced the Soviet supreme command to adopt a strategic defence. During the summer, the Axis made significant gains into Soviet territory, inflicting immense losses in both personnel and materiel. By the middle of August, however, the German Army High Command decided to suspend the offensive of a considerably depleted Army Group Centre, and to divert the 2nd Panzer Group to reinforce troops advancing towards central Ukraine and Leningrad.[134] The Kiev offensive was overwhelmingly successful, resulting in encirclement and elimination of four Soviet armies, and made possible further advance into Crimea and industrially developed Eastern Ukraine (the First Battle of Kharkov).[135]

RIAN archive 2153 After bombing
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[136] prompted the United Kingdom to reconsider its grand strategy.[137] In July, the UK and the Soviet Union formed a military alliance against Germany[138] The British and Soviets invaded neutral Iran to secure the Persian Corridor and Iran's oil fields.[139] In August, the United Kingdom and the United States jointly issued the Atlantic Charter.[140]

By October Axis operational objectives in Ukraine and the Baltic region were achieved, with only the sieges of Leningrad[141] and Sevastopol continuing.[142] 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[143] were forced to suspend their offensive.[144] 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.[145]

By early December, freshly mobilised reserves[146] allowed the Soviets to achieve numerical parity with Axis troops.[147] 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,[148] 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.[149]

War breaks out in the Pacific (1941)

In 1939, the United States had renounced its trade treaty with Japan, and beginning with an aviation gasoline ban in July 1940, Japan became subject to increasing economic pressure.[103] During this time, Japan launched its first attack against Changsha, a strategically important Chinese city, but was repulsed by late September.[150] 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.[151] Afterwards, the United States embargoed iron, steel and mechanical parts against Japan.[152]

Chinese nationalist forces launched a large-scale counter-offensive in early 1940. In August, Chinese communists launched an offensive in Central China; in retaliation, Japan instituted harsh measures in occupied areas to reduce human and material resources for the communists.[153] Continued antipathy between Chinese communist and nationalist forces culminated in armed clashes in January 1941, effectively ending their co-operation.[154] In March, the Japanese 11th army attacked the headquarters of the Chinese 19th army but was repulsed during Battle of Shanggao.[155] In September, Japan attempted to take the city of Changsha again and clashed with Chinese nationalist forces.[156]

Carrier shokaku
Mitsubishi A6M2 "Zero" fighters on the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Shōkaku, just before the attack on Pearl Harbor

German successes in Europe encouraged Japan to increase pressure on European governments in Southeast Asia. The Dutch government agreed to provide Japan some oil supplies from the Dutch East Indies, but negotiations for additional access to their resources ended in failure in June 1941.[157] In July 1941 Japan sent troops to southern Indochina, thus threatening British and Dutch possessions in the Far East. The United States, United Kingdom and other Western governments reacted to this move with a freeze on Japanese assets and a total oil embargo.[158][159] 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.[160]

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.[161] 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.[162] 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".[162]

The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor - NARA 195617 - Edit
The USS Arizona was a total loss in the Japanese surprise air attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941

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.[161] 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.[163] 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;[164][165] the Japanese military did not consider the former an option, and many officers considered the oil embargo an unspoken declaration of war.[166]

Japan planned to rapidly seize European colonies in Asia to create a large defensive perimeter stretching into the Central Pacific. The Japanese would then be free to exploit the resources of Southeast Asia while exhausting the over-stretched Allies by fighting a defensive war.[167][168] To prevent American intervention while securing the perimeter, it was further planned to neutralise the United States Pacific Fleet and the American military presence in the Philippines from the outset.[169] On 7 December 1941 (8 December in Asian time zones), Japan attacked British and American holdings with near-simultaneous offensives against Southeast Asia and the Central Pacific.[170] These included an attack on the American fleets at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, landings in Thailand and Malaya,[170] and the Battle of Hong Kong.

These 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.[171] Germany, followed by the other Axis states, declared war on the United States[172] in solidarity with Japan, citing as justification the American attacks on German war vessels that had been ordered by Roosevelt.[128][173]

Axis advance stalls (1942–43)

Casablanca-Conference
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British PM Winston Churchill seated at the Casablanca Conference, January 1943

On 1 January 1942, the Allied Big Four[174]—the Soviet Union, China, the United Kingdom and the United States—and 22 smaller or exiled governments issued the Declaration by United Nations, thereby affirming the Atlantic Charter,[175] and agreeing to not to sign a separate peace with the Axis powers.[176]

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.[177] 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.[178]

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.[179] 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.[180]

Pacific (1942–43)

Second world war asia 1937-1942 map en6
Map of Japanese military advances through mid-1942

By the end of April 1942, Japan and its ally Thailand had almost fully conquered Burma, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, and Rabaul, inflicting severe losses on Allied troops and taking a large number of prisoners.[181] Despite stubborn resistance by Filipino and US forces, the Philippine Commonwealth was eventually captured in May 1942, forcing its government into exile.[182] 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.[183] Japanese forces also achieved naval victories in the South China Sea, Java Sea and Indian Ocean,[184] and bombed the Allied naval base at Darwin, Australia. In January 1942, the only Allied success against Japan was a Chinese victory at Changsha.[185] These easy victories over unprepared US and European opponents left Japan overconfident, as well as overextended.[186]

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.[187] 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 Alaska.[188] 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 air bases and fighting against the Chinese 23rd and 32nd Army Groups.[189][190] 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.[191]

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.[192] 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.[193]

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.[194] 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.[195] 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.[196] The second was the insertion of irregular forces behind Japanese front-lines in February which, by the end of April, had achieved mixed results.[197]

Eastern Front (1942–43)

RIAN archive 44732 Soviet soldiers attack house
Red Army soldiers on the counterattack during the Battle of Stalingrad, February 1943

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.[198] In May the Germans defeated Soviet offensives in the Kerch Peninsula and at Kharkov,[199] and then launched their main summer offensive against southern Russia in June 1942, to seize the oil fields of the Caucasus and occupy 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.[200]

By mid-November, the Germans had nearly taken Stalingrad in bitter street fighting. The Soviets began their second winter counter-offensive, starting with an encirclement of German forces at Stalingrad,[201] and an assault on the Rzhev salient near Moscow, though the latter failed disastrously.[202] By early February 1943, the German Army had taken tremendous losses; German troops at Stalingrad had been forced to surrender,[203] and the front-line had been pushed back beyond its position before the summer offensive. In mid-February, after the Soviet push had tapered off, the Germans launched another attack on Kharkov, creating a salient in their front line around the Soviet city of Kursk.[204]

Western Europe/Atlantic and Mediterranean (1942–43)

8th AF Bombing Marienburg.JPEG
American 8th Air Force Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombing raid on the Focke-Wulf factory in Germany, 9 October 1943

Exploiting poor American naval command decisions, the German navy ravaged Allied shipping off the American Atlantic coast.[205] 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.[206] In North Africa, the Germans launched an offensive in January, pushing the British back to positions at the Gazala Line by early February,[207] followed by a temporary lull in combat which Germany used to prepare for their upcoming offensives.[208] Concerns the Japanese might use bases in Vichy-held Madagascar caused the British to invade the island in early May 1942.[209] An Axis offensive in Libya forced an Allied retreat deep inside Egypt until Axis forces were stopped at El Alamein.[210] On the Continent, raids of Allied commandos on strategic targets, culminating in the disastrous Dieppe Raid,[211] demonstrated the Western Allies' inability to launch an invasion of continental Europe without much better preparation, equipment, and operational security.[212]

In August 1942, the Allies succeeded in repelling a second attack against El Alamein[213] and, at a high cost, managed to deliver desperately needed supplies to the besieged Malta.[214] A few months later, the Allies commenced an attack of their own in Egypt, dislodging the Axis forces and beginning a drive west across Libya.[215] This attack was followed up shortly after by Anglo-American landings in French North Africa, which resulted in the region joining the Allies.[216] Hitler responded to the French colony's defection by ordering the occupation of Vichy France;[216] although Vichy forces did not resist this violation of the armistice, they managed to scuttle their fleet to prevent its capture by German forces.[216][217] The Axis forces in Africa withdrew into Tunisia, which was conquered by the Allies in May 1943.[216][218]

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.[219] 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.[220]

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.[221] Soon after, the United States, with support from Australian and New Zealand forces, began major operations to isolate Rabaul by capturing surrounding islands, and breach the Japanese Central Pacific perimeter at the Gilbert and Marshall Islands.[222] 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.[223]

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,[224] and for the first time in the war Hitler cancelled the operation before it had achieved tactical or operational success.[225] 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.[226]

Soviet troops and T-34 tanks counterattacking Kursk Voronezh Front July 1943
Red Army troops in a counter-offensive on German positions at the Battle of Kursk, July 1943

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,[227] giving the Soviet Union the initiative on the Eastern Front.[228][229] 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 Offensives.[230]

On 3 September 1943, the Western Allies invaded the Italian mainland, following Italy's armistice with the Allies.[231] Germany with the help of fascists responded by disarming Italian forces that were in many places without superior orders, seizing military control of Italian areas,[232] and creating a series of defensive lines.[233] German special forces then rescued Mussolini, who then soon established a new client state in German-occupied Italy named the Italian Social Republic,[234] causing an Italian civil war. The Western Allies fought through several lines until reaching the main German defensive line in mid-November.[235]

German operations in the Atlantic also suffered. By May 1943, as Allied counter-measures became increasingly effective, the resulting sizeable German submarine losses forced a temporary halt of the German Atlantic naval campaign.[236] In November 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met with Chiang Kai-shek in Cairo and then with Joseph Stalin in Tehran.[237] The former conference determined the post-war return of Japanese territory[238] and the military planning for the Burma Campaign,[239] while the latter included agreement that the Western Allies would invade Europe in 1944 and that the Soviet Union would declare war on Japan within three months of Germany's defeat.[240]

The Battle of Cassino, January-may 1944 C4363
Ruins of the Benedictine monastery, during the Battle of Monte Cassino, Italian Campaign, May 1944

From November 1943, during the seven-week Battle of Changde, the Chinese forced Japan to fight a costly war of attrition, while awaiting Allied relief.[241][242][243] In January 1944, the Allies launched a series of attacks in Italy against the line at Monte Cassino and tried to outflank it with landings at Anzio.[244]

On 27 January 1944, Soviet troops launched a major offensive that expelled German forces from the Leningrad region, thereby ending the longest and most lethal siege in history.[245] The following Soviet offensive was halted on the pre-war Estonian border by the German Army Group North aided by Estonians hoping to re-establish national independence. This delay slowed subsequent Soviet operations in the Baltic Sea region.[246] By late May 1944, the Soviets had liberated Crimea, largely expelled Axis forces from Ukraine, and made incursions into Romania, which were repulsed by the Axis troops.[247] The Allied offensives in Italy had succeeded and, at the expense of allowing several German divisions to retreat, on 4 June, Rome was captured.[248]

The Allies had mixed success in mainland Asia. In March 1944, the Japanese launched the first of two invasions, an operation against British positions in Assam, India,[249] and soon besieged Commonwealth positions at Imphal and Kohima.[250] In May 1944, British forces mounted a counter-offensive that drove Japanese troops back to Burma by July,[250] and Chinese forces that had invaded northern Burma in late 1943 besieged Japanese troops in Myitkyina.[251] The second Japanese invasion of China aimed to destroy China's main fighting forces, secure railways between Japanese-held territory and capture Allied airfields.[252] By June, the Japanese had conquered the province of Henan and begun a new attack on Changsha in Hunan province.[253]

Allies close in (1944)

Approaching Omaha
American troops approaching Omaha Beach, during the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, 6 June 1944

On 6 June 1944 (known as D-Day), after three years of Soviet pressure,[254] the Western Allies invaded northern France. After reassigning several Allied divisions from Italy, they also attacked southern France.[255] These landings were successful, and led to the defeat of the German Army units in France. Paris was liberated on 25 August by the local resistance assisted by the Free French Forces, both led by General Charles de Gaulle,[256] and the Western Allies continued to push back German forces in western Europe during the latter part of the year. An attempt to advance into northern Germany spearheaded by a major airborne operation in the Netherlands failed.[257] After that, the Western Allies slowly pushed into Germany, but failed to cross the Ruhr river in a large offensive. In Italy, Allied advance also slowed due to the last major German defensive line.[258]

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-97906, Warschauer Aufstand, Straßenkampf
German SS soldiers from the Dirlewanger Brigade, tasked with suppressing the Warsaw Uprising against Nazi occupation, August 1944

On 22 June, the Soviets launched a strategic offensive in Belarus ("Operation Bagration") that destroyed the German Army Group Centre almost completely.[259] Soon after that, another Soviet strategic offensive forced German troops from Western Ukraine and Eastern Poland. The Soviet advance prompted resistance forces in Poland to initiate several uprisings against the German occupation. However, the largest of these, a city-wide uprising in Warsaw and a national uprising in Slovakia, did not receive Soviet support and were subsequently suppressed by the Germans.[260] The Soviet Red Army's strategic offensive in eastern Romania cut off and destroyed the considerable German troops there and triggered a successful coup d'état in Romania and in Bulgaria, followed by those countries' shift to the Allied side.[261]

In September 1944, Soviet troops advanced into Yugoslavia and forced the rapid withdrawal of German Army Groups E and F in Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia to rescue them from being cut off.[262] 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 against German-occupied Hungary that lasted until the fall of Budapest in February 1945.[263] 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,[264] although Finland was forced to fight their former ally Germany.[265]

Douglas MacArthur lands Leyte1
General Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines, during the Battle of Leyte, 20 October 1944

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[266] while the Chinese captured Myitkyina. In September 1944, Chinese forces captured Mount Song and reopened the Burma Road.[267] In China, the Japanese had more successes, having finally captured Changsha in mid-June and the city of Hengyang by early August.[268] Soon after, they invaded the province of Guangxi, winning major engagements against Chinese forces at Guilin and Liuzhou by the end of November[269] and successfully linking up their forces in China and Indochina by mid-December.[270]

In the Pacific, US forces continued to press back the Japanese perimeter. In mid-June 1944, they began their offensive against the Mariana and Palau islands, and decisively defeated Japanese forces in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. These defeats led to the resignation of the Japanese Prime Minister, Hideki Tojo, and provided the United States with air bases to launch intensive heavy bomber attacks on the Japanese home islands. In late October, American forces invaded the Filipino island of Leyte; soon after, Allied naval forces scored another large victory in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, one of the largest naval battles in history.[271]

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 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.[272] By January, the offensive had been repulsed with no strategic objectives fulfilled.[272] 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.[273] 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.[274]

In February, the Soviets entered Silesia and Pomerania, while Western Allies entered western Germany and closed to the Rhine river. By March, the Western Allies crossed the Rhine north and south of the Ruhr, encircling the German Army Group B.[275] 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 and Nuremberg. American and Soviet forces met at the Elbe river on 25 April, leaving several unoccupied pockets in southern Germany and around Berlin.

Ruins of the Reichstag in Berlin, 3 June 1945. BU8573
The German Reichstag after its capture by the Allied forces, 3 June 1945

Soviet and Polish forces stormed and captured Berlin in late April. In Italy, German forces surrendered on 29 April. On 30 April, the Reichstag was captured, signalling the military defeat of Nazi Germany,[276] Berlin garrison surrendered on 2 May.

Several changes in leadership occurred during this period. On 12 April, President Roosevelt died and was succeeded by Harry S. Truman. Benito Mussolini was killed by Italian partisans on 28 April.[277] Two days later, Hitler committed suicide in besieged Berlin, and he was succeeded by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz.[278]

Total and unconditional surrender was signed on 7 and 8 May, to be effective by the end of 8 May.[279] German Army Group Centre resisted in Prague until 11 May.[280]

In the Pacific theatre, American forces accompanied by the forces of the Philippine Commonwealth advanced in the Philippines, clearing Leyte by the end of April 1945. They landed on Luzon in January 1945 and recaptured Manila in March. Fighting continued on Luzon, Mindanao, and other islands of the Philippines until the end of the war.[281] Meanwhile, the United States Army Air Forces launched a massive firebombing campaign of strategic cities in Japan in an effort to destroy Japanese war industry and civilian morale. A devastating bombing raid on Tokyo of 9–10 March was the deadliest conventional bombing raid in history.[282]

Shigemitsu-signs-surrender
Japanese foreign affairs minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on board USS Missouri, 2 September 1945

In May 1945, Australian troops landed in Borneo, over-running 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.[283] 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.[284] At the same time, American submarines cut off Japanese imports, drastically reducing Japan's ability to supply its overseas forces.[285]

On 11 July, Allied leaders met in Potsdam, Germany. They confirmed earlier agreements about Germany,[286] and reiterated the demand for unconditional surrender of Japan, specifically stating that "the alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction".[287] During this conference, the United Kingdom held its general election, and Clement Attlee replaced Churchill as Prime Minister.[288]

The Allied call for unconditional surrender was rejected by the Japanese government, which believed it would be capable of negotiating for more favourable surrender terms.[289] In early August, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Between the two bombings, the Soviets, pursuant to the Yalta agreement, invaded Japanese-held Manchuria and quickly defeated the Kwantung Army, which was the largest Japanese fighting force,[290] thereby persuading previously adamant Imperial Army leaders to accept surrender terms.[291] The Red Army also captured the southern part of Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands. On 15 August 1945, Japan surrendered, with the surrender documents finally signed at Tokyo Bay on the deck of the American battleship USS Missouri on 2 September 1945, ending the war.[292]

Aftermath

Destroyed Warsaw, capital of Poland, January 1945
Ruins of Warsaw in January 1945, after the deliberate destruction of the city by the occupying German forces

The Allies established occupation administrations in Austria and Germany. 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.[293]

Germany lost a quarter of its pre-war (1937) territory. Among the eastern territories, Silesia, Neumark and most of Pomerania were taken over by Poland,[294] and East Prussia was divided between Poland and the Soviet Union, followed by the expulsion to Germany of the nine million Germans from these provinces,[295][296] as well as three million Germans from the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. By the 1950s, one-fifth of West Germans were refugees from the east. The Soviet Union also took over the Polish provinces east of the Curzon line,[297] from which 2 million Poles were expelled;[296][298] north-east Romania,[299][300] parts of eastern Finland,[301] and the three Baltic states were incorporated into the Soviet Union.[302][303]

Ww2 170
Defendants at the Nuremberg trials, where the Allied forces prosecuted prominent members of the political, military, judicial and economic leadership of Nazi Germany for crimes against humanity

In an effort to maintain world peace,[304] the Allies formed the United Nations, which officially came into existence on 24 October 1945,[305] and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 as a common standard for all member nations.[306] 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.[7] 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.[307]

EasternBloc BorderChange38-48
Post-war border changes in Central Europe and creation of the Eastern Bloc

Germany had been de facto divided, and two independent states, the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic,[308] 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.[309] 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,[310] Poland, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Albania[311] became Soviet satellite states. Communist Yugoslavia conducted a fully independent policy, causing tension with the Soviet Union.[312]

Post-war division of the world was formalised by two international military alliances, the United States-led NATO and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.[313] 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.[314]

In Asia, the United States led the occupation of Japan and administrated Japan's former islands in the Western Pacific, while the Soviets annexed Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.[315] Korea, formerly under Japanese rule, was divided and occupied by the Soviet Union in the North and the United States in the South between 1945 and 1948. Separate republics emerged on both sides of the 38th parallel in 1948, each claiming to be the legitimate government for all of Korea, which led ultimately to the Korean War.[316]

In China, nationalist and communist forces resumed the civil war in June 1946. Communist forces were victorious and established the People's Republic of China on the mainland, while nationalist forces retreated to Taiwan in 1949.[317] In the Middle East, the Arab rejection of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine and the creation of Israel marked the escalation of the Arab–Israeli conflict. While European powers attempted to retain some or all of their colonial empires, their losses of prestige and resources during the war rendered this unsuccessful, leading to decolonisation.[318][319]

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.[320] The UK and US pursued a policy of industrial disarmament in Western Germany in the years 1945–1948.[321] Because of international trade interdependencies this led to European economic stagnation and delayed European recovery for several years.[322][323]

Recovery began with the mid-1948 currency reform in Western Germany, and was sped up by the liberalisation of European economic policy that the Marshall Plan (1948–1951) both directly and indirectly caused.[324][325] The post-1948 West German recovery has been called the German economic miracle.[326] Italy also experienced an economic boom[327] and the French economy rebounded.[328] By contrast, the United Kingdom was in a state of economic ruin,[329] and although receiving a quarter of the total Marshall Plan assistance, more than any other European country,[330] it continued in relative economic decline for decades.[331]

The Soviet Union, despite enormous human and material losses, also experienced rapid increase in production in the immediate post-war era.[332] Japan experienced incredibly rapid economic growth, becoming one of the most powerful economies in the world by the 1980s.[333] China returned to its pre-war industrial production by 1952.[334]

Impact

Casualties and war crimes

World War II Casualties2
World War II deaths

Estimates for the total number of casualties in the war vary, because many deaths went unrecorded. Most suggest that some 60 million people died in the war, including about 20 million military personnel and 40 million civilians.[335][336][337] Many of the civilians died because of deliberate genocide, massacres, mass-bombings, disease, and starvation.

The Soviet Union lost around 27 million people during the war,[338] 8.7 million military and 19 million civilian deaths.[339] A quarter of the people in the Soviet Union were wounded or killed.[340] Germany sustained 5.3 million military losses, mostly on the Eastern Front and during the final battles in Germany.[341]

Of the total number of deaths in World War II, approximately 85 per cent—mostly Soviet and Chinese—were on the Allied side.[342] Many of these deaths were caused by war crimes committed by German and Japanese forces in occupied territories. An estimated 11[343] to 17 million[344] 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, homosexuals, at least 1.9 million ethnic Poles[345][346] and millions of other Slavs (including Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians), and other ethnic and minority groups.[347][344] Between 1941 and 1945, over 200,000 ethnic Serbs, along with gypsies and Jews, were persecuted and murdered by the Axis-aligned Croatian Ustaše in Yugoslavia.[348] Also, over 100,000 Poles were massacred by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the Volhynia massacres, between 1943 and 1945.[349] At the same time about 10,000–15,000 Ukrainians were killed by the Polish Home Army and other Polish units, in reprisal attacks.[350]

Chinese civilians to be buried alive
Chinese civilians being buried alive by soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army, during the Nanking Massacre, December 1937

In Asia and the Pacific, between 3 million and more than 10 million civilians, mostly Chinese (estimated at 7.5 million[351]), were killed by the Japanese occupation forces.[352] The most infamous Japanese atrocity was the Nanking Massacre, in which fifty to three hundred thousand Chinese civilians were raped and murdered.[353] Mitsuyoshi Himeta reported that 2.7 million casualties occurred during the Sankō Sakusen. General Yasuji Okamura implemented the policy in Heipei and Shantung.[354]

Axis forces employed biological and chemical weapons. The Imperial Japanese Army used a variety of such weapons during its invasion and occupation of China (see Unit 731)[355][356] and in early conflicts against the Soviets.[357] Both the Germans and Japanese tested such weapons against civilians,[358] and sometimes on prisoners of war.[359]

The Soviet Union was responsible for the Katyn massacre of 22,000 Polish officers,[360] and the imprisonment or execution of thousands of political prisoners by the NKVD, along with mass civilian deportations to Siberia, in the Baltic states and eastern Poland annexed by the Red Army.[361]

The mass-bombing of cities in Europe and Asia has often been called a war crime, although no positive or specific customary international humanitarian law with respect to aerial warfare existed before or during World War II.[362] The USAAF firebombed a total of 67 Japanese cities, killing 393,000 civilians and destroying 65% of built-up areas.[363]

Genocide, concentration camps, and slave labour

The Liberation of Bergen-belsen Concentration Camp, April 1945 BU4031
Schutzstaffel (SS) female camp guards remove prisoners' bodies from lorries and carry them to a mass grave, inside the German Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, 1945

The German government led by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party was responsible for the Holocaust (killing approximately 6 million Jews), as well as for killing 2.7 million ethnic Poles[364] and 4 million others who were deemed "unworthy of life" (including the disabled and mentally ill, Soviet prisoners of war, Romani, homosexuals, Freemasons, and Jehovah's Witnesses) as part of a programme of deliberate extermination. Soviet POWs were kept in especially unbearable conditions, and, although their extermination was not an official goal, 3.6 million Soviet POWs out of 5.7 died in Nazi camps during the war.[365][366] In addition to concentration camps, death camps were created in Nazi Germany to exterminate people at an industrial scale. Nazi Germany extensively used forced labourers; about 12 million Europeans from German occupied countries were used as a slave work force in German agriculture and war economy.[367]

The Soviet Gulag became a de facto system of deadly camps during 1942–43, when wartime privation and hunger caused numerous deaths of inmates,[368] including foreign citizens of Poland and other countries occupied in 1939–40 by the Soviet Union, as well as Axis POWs.[369] 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 a significant part of them were sent to the Gulag as real or perceived Nazi collaborators.[370]

Czeslawa Kwoka - Brasse
Prisoner identity photograph taken by the German SS of a Polish girl deported to Auschwitz. Approximately 230,000 children were held prisoner, and used in forced labor and medical experiments.

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 27.1 per cent (for American POWs, 37 per cent),[371] seven times that of POWs under the Germans and Italians.[372] 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.[373]

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.[374] In Java, 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.[375]

Occupation

Palmiry before execution
Polish civilians wearing blindfolds photographed just before their execution by German soldiers in Palmiry forest, 1940

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 reichmarks (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.[376] Thus, the income from occupied nations was over 40 per cent of the income Germany collected from taxation, a figure which increased to nearly 40 per cent of total German income as the war went on.[377]

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-031-2436-03A, Russland, Hinrichtung von Partisanen retouched
Soviet partisans hanged by the German army. The Russian Academy of Sciences reported in 1995 civilian victims in the Soviet Union at German hands totalled 13.7 million dead, twenty percent of the 68 million persons in the occupied Soviet Union.

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.[378] 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.[379] Although resistance groups formed in most occupied territories, they did not significantly hamper German operations in either the East[380] or the West[381] 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.[382] Although Japanese forces were originally welcomed as liberators from European domination in some territories, their excessive brutality turned local public opinion against them within weeks.[383] 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.[383]

Home fronts and production

WorldWarII-GDP-Relations-Allies-Axis-simple
Allied to Axis GDP ratio

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 British Dominions) had a 30 per cent larger population and a 30 per cent higher gross domestic product than the European Axis powers (Germany and Italy); if colonies are included, it then gives the Allies more than a 5:1 advantage in population and nearly 2:1 advantage in GDP.[384] In Asia at the same time, China had roughly six times the population of Japan, but only an 89 per cent higher GDP; this is reduced to three times the population and only a 38 per cent higher GDP if Japanese colonies are included.[384]

The United States provided about two-thirds of all the ordnance used by the Allies in terms of warships, transports, warplanes, artillery, tanks, trucks, and ammunition.[385] 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.[386] While the Allies' ability to out-produce the Axis is often attributed 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,[387] Allied strategic bombing,[388] and Germany's late shift to a war economy[389] contributed significantly. Additionally, neither Germany nor Japan planned to fight a protracted war, and were not equipped to do so.[390] To improve their production, Germany and Japan used millions of slave labourers;[391] Germany used about 12 million people, mostly from Eastern Europe,[367] while Japan used more than 18 million people in Far East Asia.[374][375]

Advances in technology and warfare

Aircraft were used for reconnaissance, as fighters, bombers, and ground-support, and each role was advanced considerably. Innovation included airlift (the capability to quickly move limited high-priority supplies, equipment, and personnel);[392] and of strategic bombing (the bombing of enemy industrial and population centres to destroy the enemy's ability to wage war).[393] 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.[394] 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 and submarines. 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.[395][396][397] 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.[398] Carriers were also more economical than battleships because of the relatively low cost of aircraft[399] and their not requiring to be as heavily armoured.[400] Submarines, which had proved to be an effective weapon during the First World War,[401] 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 and wolfpack tactics.[402] Gradually, improving Allied technologies such as the Leigh light, hedgehog, squid, and homing torpedoes proved victorious.

Bundesarchiv Bild 141-1880, Peenemünde, Start einer V2
A V-2 rocket launched from a fixed site in Peenemünde, 21 June 1943

Land warfare 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 and cavalry, 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.[403] In the late 1930s, tank design was considerably more advanced than it had been during World War I,[404] 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.[405] 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.[403] Many means of destroying tanks, including indirect artillery, anti-tank guns (both towed and self-propelled), mines, short-ranged infantry antitank weapons, and other tanks were used.[405] Even with large-scale mechanisation, infantry remained the backbone of all forces,[406] and throughout the war, most infantry were equipped similarly to World War I.[407] 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.[407] 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.[408]

Trinity device readied
Nuclear Gadget being raised to the top of the detonation "shot tower", at Alamogordo Bombing Range; Trinity nuclear test, New Mexico, July 1945

Most major belligerents attempted to solve the problems of complexity and security involved in using large codebooks for cryptography by designing ciphering machines, the most well known being the German Enigma machine.[409] Development of SIGINT (signals intelligence) and cryptanalysis enabled the countering process of decryption. Notable examples were the Allied decryption of Japanese naval codes[410] and British Ultra, a pioneering method for decoding Enigma benefiting from information given to the United Kingdom by the Polish Cipher Bureau, which had been decoding early versions of Enigma before the war.[411] Another aspect of military intelligence was the use of deception, which the Allies used to great effect, such as in operations Mincemeat and Bodyguard.[410][412]

Other technological and engineering feats achieved during, or as a result of, the war include the world's first programmable computers (Z3, Colossus, and ENIAC), guided missiles and modern rockets, the Manhattan Project's development of nuclear weapons, operations research and the development of artificial harbours and oil pipelines under the English Channel.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Although open hostilities existed between Japan and China from 1937, neither belligerent formally declared war on the other until after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

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External links

Aftermath of World War II

The Aftermath of World War II was the beginning of a new era, defined by the decline of all European colonial empires and simultaneous rise of two superpowers: the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (US). Allies during World War II, the US and the USSR became competitors on the world stage and engaged in the Cold War, so called because it never resulted in overt, declared hot war between the two powers but was instead characterized by espionage, political subversion and proxy wars. Western Europe and Japan were rebuilt through the American Marshall Plan whereas Central and Eastern Europe fell under the Soviet sphere of influence and eventually behind an "Iron Curtain". Europe was divided into a US-led Western Bloc and a Soviet-led Eastern Bloc. Internationally, alliances with the two blocs gradually shifted, with some nations trying to stay out of the Cold War through the Non-Aligned Movement. The War also saw a nuclear arms race between the two superpowers; part of the reason that the Cold War never became a "hot" war was that the Soviet Union and the United States had nuclear deterrents against each other, leading to a mutually assured destruction standoff.

As a consequence of the war, the Allies created the United Nations, an organization for international cooperation and diplomacy, similar to the League of Nations. Members of the United Nations agreed to outlaw wars of aggression in an attempt to avoid a third world war. The devastated great powers of Western Europe formed the European Coal and Steel Community, which later evolved into the European Economic Community and ultimately into the current European Union. This effort primarily began as an attempt to avoid another war between Germany and France by economic cooperation and integration, and a common market for important natural resources.

The end of the war also increased the rate of decolonization from the great powers with independence being granted to India (from the United Kingdom), Indonesia (from the Netherlands), the Philippines (from the US) and a number of Arab nations, primarily from specific rights which had been granted to great powers from League of Nations Mandates in the post World War I-era but often having existed de facto well before this time. Independence for the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa came more slowly.

The aftermath of World War II also saw the rise of communist influence in Southeast Asia, with the People's Republic of China, as the Chinese Communist Party emerged victorious from the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

Allies of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

At the start of the war on 1 September 1939, the Allies consisted of France, Poland and the United Kingdom, as well as their dependent states, such as British India. Within days they were joined by the independent Dominions of the British Commonwealth: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. After the start of the German invasion of North Europe until the Balkan Campaign, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, and Yugoslavia joined the Allies. After first having cooperated with Germany in invading Poland whilst remaining neutral in the Allied-Axis conflict, the Soviet Union perforce joined the Allies in June 1941 after being invaded by Germany. The United States provided war materiel and money all along, and officially joined in December 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. China had already been in a prolonged war with Japan since the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of 1937, but officially joined the Allies in 1941.

The alliance was formalised by the Declaration by United Nations, from 1 January 1942. However, the name United Nations was rarely used to describe the Allies during the war. The leaders of the "Big Three"—the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States—controlled Allied strategy; relations between the United Kingdom and the United States were especially close. The Big Three together with China were referred as a "trusteeship of the powerful", then were recognized as the Allied "Big Four" in the Declaration by United Nations and later as the "Four Policemen" of the United Nations. After the war ended, the Allied nations became the basis of the modern United Nations.

Members

Axis powers

The Axis powers (German: Achsenmächte; Italian: Potenze dell'Asse; Japanese: 枢軸国 Sūjikukoku), also known as "Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis" (also acronymized as "Roberto"), were the nations that fought in World War II against the Allies. The Axis powers agreed on their opposition to the Allies, but did not completely coordinate their activity.

The Axis grew out of the diplomatic efforts of Germany, Italy, and Japan to secure their own specific expansionist interests in the mid-1930s. The first step was the treaty signed by Germany and Italy in October 1936. Benito Mussolini declared on 1 November that all other European countries would from then on rotate on the Rome–Berlin axis, thus creating the term "Axis". The almost simultaneous second step was the signing in November 1936 of the Anti-Comintern Pact, an anti-communist treaty between Germany and Japan. Italy joined the Pact in 1937. The "Rome–Berlin Axis" became a military alliance in 1939 under the so-called "Pact of Steel", with the Tripartite Pact of 1940 leading to the integration of the military aims of Germany, Italy and Japan.

At its zenith during World War II, the Axis presided over territories that occupied large parts of Europe, North Africa, and East Asia. There were no three-way summit meetings and cooperation and coordination was minimal, with slightly more between Germany and Italy. The war ended in 1945 with the defeat of the Axis powers and the dissolution of their alliance. As in the case of the Allies, membership of the Axis was fluid, with some nations switching sides or changing their degree of military involvement over the course of the war.

Battle of Iwo Jima

The Battle of Iwo Jima (19 February – 26 March 1945) was a major battle in which the United States Marine Corps landed on and eventually captured the island of Iwo Jima from the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) during World War II. The American invasion, designated Operation Detachment, had the goal of capturing the entire island, including the three Japanese-controlled airfields (including the South Field and the Central Field), to provide a staging area for attacks on the Japanese main islands. This five-week battle comprised some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of the Pacific War of World War II.

After the heavy losses incurred in the battle, the strategic value of the island became controversial. It was useless to the U.S. Army as a staging base and useless to the U.S. Navy as a fleet base. However, Navy Seabees rebuilt the landing strips, which were used as emergency landing strips for USAAF B-29s.The IJA positions on the island were heavily fortified, with a dense network of bunkers, hidden artillery positions, and 18 km (11 mi) of underground tunnels. The American ground forces were supported by extensive naval artillery, and had complete air supremacy provided by U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aviators throughout the entire battle.Japanese combat deaths numbered three times the number of American deaths although, uniquely among Pacific War Marine battles, American total casualties (dead and wounded) exceeded those of the Japanese. Of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima at the beginning of the battle, only 216 were taken prisoner, some of whom were captured because they had been knocked unconscious or otherwise disabled. The majority of the remainder were killed in action, although it has been estimated that as many as 3,000 continued to resist within the various cave systems for many days afterwards, eventually succumbing to their injuries or surrendering weeks later.Despite the bloody fighting and severe casualties on both sides, the American victory was assured from the start. Overwhelming American superiority in numbers and arms as well as complete air supremacy—coupled with the impossibility of Japanese retreat or reinforcement, along with sparse food and supplies—permitted no plausible circumstance in which the Americans could have lost the battle.Joe Rosenthal's Associated Press photograph of the raising of the U.S. flag on top of the 169 m (554 ft) Mount Suribachi by six U.S. Marines became an iconic image of the battle and the American war effort in the Pacific.

Battle of Okinawa

The Battle of Okinawa (Japanese: 沖縄戦, Hepburn: Okinawa-sen) (Okinawan: 沖縄戦, translit. Uchinaa ikusa), codenamed Operation Iceberg, was a major battle of the Pacific War fought on the island of Okinawa by United States Marine and Army forces against the Imperial Japanese Army. The initial invasion of Okinawa on April 1, 1945, was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The 82-day battle lasted from April 1 until June 22, 1945. After a long campaign of island hopping, the Allies were planning to use Kadena Air Base on the large island of Okinawa as a base for Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands, 340 mi (550 km) away.

The United States created the Tenth Army, a cross-branch force consisting of the 7th, 27th, 77th, and 96th infantry divisions of the US Army with the 1st, 2nd, and 6th divisions of the Marine Corps, to fight on the island. The Tenth was unique in that it had its own tactical air force (joint Army-Marine command), and was also supported by combined naval and amphibious forces.

The battle has been referred to as the "typhoon of steel" in English, and tetsu no ame ("rain of steel") or tetsu no bōfū ("violent wind of steel") in Japanese. The nicknames refer to the ferocity of the fighting, the intensity of Japanese kamikaze attacks, and the sheer numbers of Allied ships and armored vehicles that assaulted the island. The battle was one of the bloodiest in the Pacific, with approximately 160,000 casualties on both sides: at least 75,000 Allied and 84,166–117,000 Japanese, including drafted Okinawans wearing Japanese uniforms. 149,425 Okinawans were killed, committed suicide or went missing, a significant proportion of the estimated pre-war 300,000 local population.In the naval operations surrounding the battle, both sides lost considerable numbers of ships and aircraft, including the Japanese battleship Yamato. After the battle, Okinawa provided a fleet anchorage, troop staging areas, and airfields in proximity to Japan in preparation for the planned invasion.

Causes of World War II

Among the causes of World War II were, to a greater extent, the political takeover in 1933 of Germany by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party and its aggressive foreign policy, and to a lesser extent, Italian Fascism in the 1920s, and Japanese militarism preceding an invasion of China in the 1930s. The immediate cause was Germany invading Poland on September 1, 1939, and Britain and France declaring war on Germany on September 3, 1939.

Problems arose in Weimar Germany that experienced strong currents of revanchism after the Treaty of Versailles that concluded its defeat in World War I in 1918. Dissatisfactions of treaty provisions included the demilitarization of the Rhineland, the prohibition of unification with Austria (including the Sudetenland) and the loss of German-speaking territories such as Danzig and Eupen-Malmedy despite Wilson's Fourteen Points, the limitations on the Reichswehr making it a token military force, the war-guilt clause, and last but not least the heavy tribute that Germany had to pay in the form of war reparations, which became an unbearable burden after the Great Depression. The most serious internal cause in Germany was the instability of the political system, as large sectors of politically active Germans rejected the legitimacy of the Weimar Republic.

After his rise and take-over of power in 1933 to a large part based on these grievances, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis heavily promoted them and also ideas of vastly ambitious additional demands based on Nazi ideology, such as uniting all Germans (and further all Germanic peoples) in Europe in a single nation; the acquisition of "living space" (Lebensraum) for primarily agrarian settlers (Blut und Boden), creating a "pull towards the East" (Drang nach Osten) where such territories were to be found and colonized; the elimination of Bolshevism; and the hegemony of an "Aryan"/"Nordic" so-called Master Race over the "sub-humans" (Untermenschen) of inferior races, chief among them Slavs and Jews.

Tensions created by those ideologies and the dissatisfactions of those powers with the interwar international order steadily increased. Italy laid claim on Ethiopia and conquered it in 1935, Japan created a puppet state in Manchuria in 1931 and expanded beyond in China from 1937, and Germany systematically flouted the Versailles treaty, reintroducing conscription in 1935 with the Stresa Front's failure after having secretly started re-armament, remilitarizing the Rhineland in 1936, annexing Austria in March 1938, and the Sudetenland in October 1938.

All those aggressive moves met only feeble and ineffectual policies of appeasement from the League of Nations and the Entente Cordiale, in retrospect symbolized by the "peace for our time" speech following the Munich Conference, that had allowed the annexation of the Sudeten from interwar Czechoslovakia. When the German Führer broke the promise he had made at that conference to respect that country's future territorial integrity in March 1939 by sending troops into Prague, its capital, breaking off Slovakia as a German client state, and absorbing the rest of it as the "Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia", Britain and France tried to switch to a policy of deterrence.

As Nazi attentions turned towards resolving the "Polish Corridor Question" during the summer of 1939, Britain and France committed themselves to an alliance with Poland, threatening Germany with a two-front war. On their side, the Germans assured themselves of the support of the USSR by signing a non-aggression pact with them in August, secretly dividing Eastern Europe into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence.

The stage was then set for the Danzig crisis to become the immediate trigger of the war in Europe which started on 1 September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France then gave Germany an ultimatum to withdraw, which Germany ignored, and Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. Following the Fall of France in June 1940, the Vichy regime signed an armistice, which tempted the Empire of Japan to join the Axis powers and invade French Indochina to improve their military situation in their war with China. This provoked the then neutral United States to respond with an embargo. The Japanese leadership, whose goal was Japanese domination of the Asia-Pacific, thought they had no option but to pre-emptively strike at the US Pacific fleet, which they did by attacking Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

Meanwhile, Nazi Germany had brought the Soviet Union into the war as an active belligerent by attacking eastwards in Operation Barbarossa (June 1941).

End of World War II in Europe

The final battles of the European Theatre of World War II as well as the German surrender to the Allies took place in late April and early May 1945.

European theatre of World War II

The European theatre of World War II, also known as the Second European War, was a huge area of heavy fighting across Europe, from Germany's invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 until the end of the war with the Soviet Union conquering most of Eastern Europe along with the German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945 (Victory in Europe Day). The Allied powers fought the Axis powers on two major fronts (the Eastern Front and Western Front) as well as in a massive air war and in the adjoining Mediterranean and Middle East theatre.

Invasion of Normandy

The Western Allies of World War II launched the largest amphibious invasion in history when they assaulted Normandy, located on the northern coast of France, on 6 June 1944. The invaders were able to establish a beachhead as part of Operation Overlord after a successful "D-Day," the first day of the invasion.

Allied land forces came from the United States, Britain, Canada, and Free French forces. In the weeks following the invasion, Polish forces and contingents from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece and the Netherlands participated in the ground campaign; most also provided air and naval support alongside elements of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the Royal Norwegian Navy.The Normandy invasion began with overnight parachute and glider landings, massive air attacks and naval bombardments. In the early morning, amphibious landings commenced on five beaches codenamed Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah, with troops from the United States landing on Omaha and Utah, Great Britain landing on Gold and Sword and Canada landing on Juno. During the evening the remaining elements of the airborne divisions landed. Land forces used on D-Day sailed from bases along the south coast of England, the most important of these being Portsmouth.

Italian Campaign (World War II)

The Italian Campaign of World War II consisted of Allied operations in and around Italy, from 1943 to 1945. The Joint Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) was operationally responsible for all Allied land forces in the Mediterranean theatre and it planned and led the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, followed in September by the invasion of the Italian mainland and the campaign in Italy until the surrender of the German Armed Forces in Italy in May 1945.

It is estimated that between September 1943 and April 1945, 60,000–70,000 Allied and 38,805–150,660 German soldiers died in Italy. The number of Allied casualties was about 320,000 and the German figure (excluding those involved in the final surrender) was over 330,000. Fascist Italy, prior to its collapse, suffered about 200,000 casualties, mostly POWs taken in the Allied invasion of Sicily, including more than 40,000 killed or missing. Over 150,000 Italian civilians died, as did 35,828 anti-Fascist partisans and some 35,000 troops of the Italian Social Republic.In the West, no other campaign cost more than Italy in terms of lives lost and wounds suffered by infantry forces of both sides, during bitter small-scale fighting around strongpoints at the Winter Line, the Anzio beachhead and the Gothic Line. The campaign ended when Army Group C surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on May 2, 1945, one week before the formal German Instrument of Surrender. The independent states of San Marino and the Vatican, both surrounded by Italian territory, also suffered damage during the campaign.

Military history of the United States during World War II

The military history of the United States in World War II covers the war against Germany, Italy, and Japan, starting with the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. During the first two years of World War II, the United States had maintained formal neutrality as made official in the Quarantine Speech delivered by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937, while supplying Britain, the Soviet Union, and China with war material through the Lend-Lease Act which was signed into law on 11 March 1941, as well as deploying the U.S. military to replace the British invasion forces in Iceland. Following the "Greer incident" Roosevelt publicly confirmed the "shoot on sight" order on 11 September 1941, effectively declaring naval war on Germany and Italy in the Battle of the Atlantic. In the Pacific Theater, there was unofficial early U.S. combat activity such as the Flying Tigers.

During the war, over 16 million Americans served in the United States Armed Forces, with 405,399 killed in action and 671,278 wounded. There were also 130,201 American prisoners of war, of whom 116,129 returned home after the war. Key civilian advisors to President Roosevelt included Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, who mobilized the nation's industries and induction centers to supply the Army, commanded by General George Marshall and the Army Air Forces under General Hap Arnold. The Navy, led by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and Admiral Ernest King, proved more autonomous. Overall priorities were set by Roosevelt and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chaired by William Leahy. Highest priority went to the defeat of Germany in Europe, but first the war against Japan in the Pacific was more urgent after the sinking of the main battleship fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Admiral King put Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, based in Hawaii, in charge of the Pacific War against Japan. The result was a series of some of the most famous naval battles in history. The Imperial Japanese Navy had the advantage, taking the Philippines as well as British and Dutch possessions, and threatening Australia but in June 1942, its main carriers were sunk during the Battle of Midway, and the Americans seized the initiative. The Pacific War became one of island hopping, so as to move air bases closer and closer to Japan. The Army, based in Australia under General Douglas MacArthur, steadily advanced across New Guinea to the Philippines, with plans to invade the Japanese home islands in late 1945. With its merchant fleet sunk by American submarines, Japan ran short of aviation gasoline and fuel oil, as the U.S. Navy in June 1944 captured islands within bombing range of the Japanese home islands. Strategic bombing directed by General Curtis Lemay destroyed all the major Japanese cities, as the U.S. captured Okinawa after heavy losses in spring 1945. With the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and an invasion and Soviet intervention imminent, Japan surrendered.

The war against Germany involved aid to Britain, her allies, and the Soviet Union, with the U.S. supplying munitions until it could ready an invasion force. U.S. forces were first tested to a limited degree in the North African Campaign and then employed more significantly with British Forces in Italy in 1943–45, where U.S. forces, representing about a third of the Allied forces deployed, bogged down after Italy surrendered and the Germans took over. Finally the main invasion of France took place in June 1944, under General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Air Forces and the British Royal Air Force engaged in the area bombardment of German cities and systematically targeted German transportation links and synthetic oil plants, as it knocked out what was left of the Luftwaffe post Battle of Britain in 1944. With the Soviets unstoppable in the east, and the Allies unstoppable in the west, Germany was squeezed to death. Berlin fell to the Soviets in May 1945, and with Adolf Hitler dead, the Germans surrendered.

The military effort was strongly supported by civilians on the home front, who provided the military personnel, the munitions, the money, and the morale to fight the war to victory. World War II cost the United States an estimated $341 billion in 1945 dollars – equivalent to 74% of America's GDP and expenditures during the war. In 2015 dollars, the war cost over $4.5 trillion.

Nazi Germany

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich (German Reich) until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich (Greater German Reich) from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich (Drittes Reich), meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by the President of the Weimar Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, on 30 January 1933. The NSDAP then began to eliminate all political opposition and consolidate its power. Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934 and Hitler became dictator of Germany by merging the offices and powers of the Chancellery and Presidency. A national referendum held 19 August 1934 confirmed Hitler as sole Führer (leader) of Germany. All power was centralised in Hitler's person and his word became the highest law. The government was not a coordinated, co-operating body, but a collection of factions struggling for power and Hitler's favour. In the midst of the Great Depression, the Nazis restored economic stability and ended mass unemployment using heavy military spending and a mixed economy. Extensive public works were undertaken, including the construction of Autobahnen (motorways). The return to economic stability boosted the regime's popularity.

Racism, especially antisemitism, was a central feature of the regime. The Germanic peoples were considered by the Nazis to be the master race, the purest branch of the Aryan race. Discrimination and persecution against Jews and Romani people began in earnest after the seizure of power. The first concentration camps were established in March 1933. Jews and others deemed undesirable were imprisoned, and liberals, socialists, and communists were killed, imprisoned, or exiled. Christian churches and citizens that opposed Hitler's rule were oppressed, and many leaders imprisoned. Education focused on racial biology, population policy, and fitness for military service. Career and educational opportunities for women were curtailed. Recreation and tourism were organised via the Strength Through Joy program, and the 1936 Summer Olympics showcased Germany on the international stage. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels made effective use of film, mass rallies, and Hitler's hypnotic oratory to influence public opinion. The government controlled artistic expression, promoting specific art forms and banning or discouraging others.

The Nazi regime dominated neighbours through military threats in the years leading up to war. Nazi Germany made increasingly aggressive territorial demands, threatening war if these were not met. It seized Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939. Hitler made a non-aggression pact with Joseph Stalin and invaded Poland in September 1939, launching World War II in Europe. By early 1941, Germany controlled much of Europe. Reichskommissariats took control of conquered areas and a German administration was established in the remainder of Poland. Germany exploited the raw materials and labour of both its occupied territories and its allies. In the Holocaust, millions of Jews and other peoples deemed undesirable by the state were imprisoned, murdered in Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps, or shot.

While the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was initially successful, the Soviet resurgence and entry of the US into the war meant the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) lost the initiative on the Eastern Front in 1943 and by late 1944 had been pushed back to the pre-1939 border. Large-scale aerial bombing of Germany escalated in 1944 and the Axis powers were driven back in Eastern and Southern Europe. After the Allied invasion of France, Germany was conquered by the Soviet Union from the east and the other Allies from the west, and capitulated in May 1945. Hitler's refusal to admit defeat led to massive destruction of German infrastructure and additional war-related deaths in the closing months of the war. The victorious Allies initiated a policy of denazification and put many of the surviving Nazi leadership on trial for war crimes at the Nuremberg trials.

Normandy landings

The Normandy landings were the landing operations on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. Codenamed Operation Neptune and often referred to as D-Day, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history. The operation began the liberation of German-occupied France (and later Europe) from Nazi control, and laid the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.

Planning for the operation began in 1943. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial military deception, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. The weather on D-Day was far from ideal and the operation had to be delayed 24 hours; a further postponement would have meant a delay of at least two weeks as the invasion planners had requirements for the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that meant only a few days each month were deemed suitable. Adolf Hitler placed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in command of German forces and of developing fortifications along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion.

The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 US, British, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armoured divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach-clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting, and two major gun emplacements at Gold were disabled, using specialised tanks.

The Allies failed to achieve any of their goals on the first day. Carentan, St. Lô, and Bayeux remained in German hands, and Caen, a major objective, was not captured until 21 July. Only two of the beaches (Juno and Gold) were linked on the first day, and all five beachheads were not connected until 12 June; however, the operation gained a foothold which the Allies gradually expanded over the coming months. German casualties on D-Day have been estimated at 4,000 to 9,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.

Museums, memorials, and war cemeteries in the area now host many visitors each year.

North African Campaign

The North African Campaign of the Second World War took place in North Africa from 10 June 1940 to 13 May 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts (Western Desert Campaign, also known as the Desert War) and in Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch), as well as Tunisia (Tunisia Campaign).

The campaign was fought between the Allies, many of whom had colonial interests in Africa dating from the late 19th century, and the Axis Powers. The Allied war effort was dominated by the British Commonwealth and exiles from German-occupied Europe. The United States officially entered the war in December 1941 and began direct military assistance in North Africa on 11 May 1942.

Fighting in North Africa started with the Italian declaration of war on 10 June 1940. On 14 June, the British Army's 11th Hussars (assisted by elements of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, 1st RTR) crossed the border from Egypt into Libya and captured the Italian Fort Capuzzo. This was followed by an Italian counter-offensive into Egypt and the capture of Sidi Barrani in September 1940 and again in December 1940 following a British Commonwealth counteroffensive, Operation Compass. During Operation Compass, the Italian 10th Army was destroyed and the German Afrika Korps—commanded by Erwin Rommel, who later became known as "The Desert Fox"—was dispatched to North Africa in February 1941 during Operation Sonnenblume to reinforce Italian forces in order to prevent a complete Axis defeat.

A fluctuating series of battles for control of Libya and regions of Egypt followed, reaching a climax in the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942 when British Commonwealth forces under the command of Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery inflicted a decisive defeat on Rommel's Afrika Korps and forced its remnants into Tunisia. After the Anglo-American landings (Operation Torch) in North-West Africa in November 1942, and subsequent battles against Vichy France forces (who then changed sides), the Allies encircled several hundred thousand German and Italian personnel in northern Tunisia and finally forced their surrender in May 1943.

Operation Torch in November 1942 was a compromise operation that met the British objective of securing victory in North Africa while allowing American armed forces the opportunity to engage in the fight against Nazi Germany on a limited scale. In addition, as Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, had long been pleading for a second front to be opened to engage the Wehrmacht and relieve pressure on the Red Army, it provided some degree of relief for the Red Army on the Eastern Front by diverting Axis forces to the North African theatre. Over half the German Ju 52 transport planes that were needed to supply the encircled German and Romanian forces at Stalingrad were tied up supplying Axis forces in North Africa.Information gleaned via British Ultra code-breaking intelligence proved critical to Allied success in North Africa. Victory for the Allies in this campaign immediately led to the Italian Campaign, which culminated in the downfall of the fascist government in Italy and the elimination of Germany's main European ally.

Operation Torch

Operation Torch (8–16 November 1942) was an Anglo–American invasion of French North Africa during the Second World War. It was aimed at reducing pressure on Allied forces in Egypt, and enabling an invasion of Southern Europe. It also provided the ‘second front’ which the Soviet Union had been requesting since it was invaded by the Germans in 1941. The region was dominated by the Vichy French, officially Nazi-controlled, but with mixed loyalties, and reports indicated that they might support the Allied initiative. The American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commanding the operation, planned a 3-pronged attack, aimed at Casablanca (Western), Oran (Center) and Algiers (Eastern), in advance of a rapid move on Tunis.

The Western Task Force encountered unexpected resistance, as well as bad weather, but Casablanca, the principal French Atlantic naval base, was captured after a short siege. The Center Task Force suffered some damage to its fleet, trying to land in shallow water, but the enemy ships were sunk or driven off, and Oran surrendered after heavy fire from British battleships. The Eastern Task Force met less opposition because the French Resistance had staged a coup in Algiers, and the Allies were able to push inland and compel surrender on the first day.

The success of Torch caused the commander of French forces in the region, Admiral Darlan, to order full co-operation with the Allies, in return for being retained as High Commissioner, with many Vichy officials keeping their jobs. But Darlan was assassinated soon after, and De Gaulle’s Free French gradually came to dominate the government.

Operation Torch was the first mass involvement of US troops in the European–North African Theatre, and saw the first major airborne assault carried out anywhere by the United States.

Pacific Ocean theater of World War II

The Pacific Ocean theater, during World War II, was a major theater of the war between the Allies and the Empire of Japan. It was defined by the Allied powers' Pacific Ocean Area command, which included most of the Pacific Ocean and its islands, while mainland Asia was excluded, as were the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, Borneo, Australia, most of the Territory of New Guinea and the western part of the Solomon Islands.

It officially came into existence on March 30, 1942, when US Admiral Chester Nimitz was appointed Supreme Allied Commander Pacific Ocean Areas. In the other major theater in the Pacific region, known as the South West Pacific theatre, Allied forces were commanded by US General Douglas MacArthur. Both Nimitz and MacArthur were overseen by the US Joint Chiefs and the Western Allies Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCoS).

Most Japanese forces in the theater were part of the Combined Fleet (聯合艦隊, Rengō Kantai) of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), which was responsible for all Japanese warships, naval aircraft, and marine infantry units. The Rengō Kantai was led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, until he was killed in an attack by U.S. fighter planes in April 1943. Yamamoto was succeeded by Admiral Mineichi Koga (1943–44) and Admiral Soemu Toyoda (1944–45). The General Staff (参謀本部, Sanbō Honbu) of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) was responsible for Imperial Japanese Army ground and air units in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. The IJN and IJA did not formally use joint/combined staff at the operational level, and their command structures/geographical areas of operations overlapped with each other and those of the Allies.

In the Pacific Ocean theater, Japanese forces fought primarily against the United States Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army. The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and other Allied nations also contributed forces.

Pacific War

The Pacific War, sometimes called the Asia–Pacific War, was the theater of World War II that was fought in the Pacific and Asia. It was fought over a vast area that included the Pacific Ocean and islands, the South West Pacific, South-East Asia, and in China (including the 1945 Soviet–Japanese conflict).

The Second Sino-Japanese War between the Empire of Japan and the Republic of China had been in progress since 7 July 1937, with hostilities dating back as far as 19 September 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. However, it is more widely accepted that the Pacific War itself began on 7/8 December 1941, when Japan invaded Thailand and attacked the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong as well as the United States military and naval bases in Hawaii, Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines.The Pacific War saw the Allies pitted against Japan, the latter briefly aided by Thailand and to a much lesser extent by the Axis allied Germany and Italy. The war culminated in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and other large aerial bomb attacks by the Allies, accompanied by the Soviet declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria on 9 August 1945, resulting in the Japanese announcement of intent to surrender on 15 August 1945. The formal surrender of Japan ceremony took place aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945. After the war, Japan lost all rights and titles to its former possessions in Asia and the Pacific, and its sovereignty was limited to the four main home islands. Japan's Shinto Emperor was forced to relinquish much of his authority and his divine status through the Shinto Directive in order to pave the way for extensive cultural and political reforms.

United States home front during World War II

The home front of the United States in World War II supported the war effort in many ways, including a wide range of volunteer efforts and submitting to government-managed rationing and price controls. There was a general feeling of agreement that the sacrifices were for the national good "for the duration [of the war]."

The labor market changed radically. Peacetime conflicts with respect to race and labor took on a special dimension because of the pressure for national unity. The Hollywood film industry was important for propaganda. Every aspect of life from politics to personal savings changed when put on a wartime footing. This was achieved by tens of millions of workers moving from low to high productivity jobs in industrial centers. Millions of students, retirees, housewives, and unemployed moved into the active labor force. Hours worked increased as leisure activities declined sharply.

Gasoline, meat, and clothing were tightly rationed. Most families were allocated 3 US gallons (11 l; 2.5 imp gal) of gasoline a week, which sharply curtailed driving for any purpose. Production of most durable goods, like cars, new housing, vacuum cleaners, and kitchen appliances, was banned until the war ended. In industrial areas housing was in short supply as people doubled up and lived in cramped quarters. Prices and wages were controlled. Americans saved a high portion of their incomes, which led to renewed growth after the war.

World War II casualties

World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. An estimated total 70-85 million people perished, which was about 3% of the 1940 world population (est. 2.3 billion).The tables below give a detailed country-by-country count of human losses. World War II fatality statistics vary, with estimates of total deaths ranging from 70 million to 85 million. Deaths directly caused by the war military and civilians killed are estimated at 50-56 million people, there were an additional estimated 19 to 28 million deaths from war-related disease and famine.

Civilians deaths totaled 50 to 55 million. Military deaths from all causes totaled 21 to 25 million, including deaths in captivity of about 5 million prisoners of war. Statistics on the number of military wounded are included whenever available. More than half of the total number of casualties are accounted for by the dead of the Republic of China and of the Soviet Union. The government of the Russian Federation in the 1990s published an estimate of USSR losses at 26.6 million, including 8 to 9 million due to famine and disease. These losses are for the territory of the USSR in the borders of 1946–1991, including territories annexed in 1939–40.

The People's Republic of China as of 2005 estimated the number of Chinese casualties in the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945 are 20 million dead and 15 million wounded.In 2000, the total number of German military dead was estimated at 5.3 million by Rüdiger Overmans of the Military History Research Office (Germany); this number includes 900,000 men conscripted from outside of Germany's 1937 borders, in Austria, and in east-central Europe. Civilian deaths are not included. However, in 2005 the German government put the war dead at 7,395,000 persons (including 4,300,000 military dead and missing) from Germany, Austria, and men conscripted from outside of Germany's 1937 borders.The number of Polish dead are estimated to number between 5.6 and 5.8 million according to the Institute of National Remembrance (2009). Documentation remains fragmentary, but today scholars of independent Poland believe that 1.8 to 1.9 million Polish civilians (non-Jews) and 3 million Jews were victims of German Occupation policies and the war for a total of just under 5 million dead."The Japanese government as of 2005 put the number of Japanese deaths at 3.1 million.

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