World War II World War II (abbreviated WWII), or the Second World War, was a worldwide conflictMessage 1 of 1 , Jan 19, 2007View Source
World War II
World War II (abbreviated WWII), or the Second World War, was a worldwide conflict fought between the Allied Powers and the Axis Powers, from 1939 until 1945. Armed forces from over seventy nations engaged in aerial, naval, and ground-based combat. Spanning much of the globe, World War II resulted in the deaths of over sixty million people, making it the deadliest conflict in human history. The war ended with an Allied victory.
Theatres of World War II Europe Eastern Europe Africa Middle East Mediterranean Asia & Pacific Atlantic
War in Europe
War in Western Europe
On September 1, 1939, Germany led by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, invaded Poland according to a secret agreement with the Soviet Union, which joined the invasion on September 17. On September 3 at 11.15 GMT, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, followed six hours later by France responded by declaring war on Germany, initiating a widespread naval war. South Africa, September 6, and Canada, September 10 followed suit. Germany rapidly overwhelmed Poland, then Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and France in 1940, and Yugoslavia and Greece in 1941. Italian, and later German, troops attacked British forces in North Africa. By summer of 1941, Germany had conquered France and most of Western Europe, but it failed to subdue the United Kingdom due to the resistance of the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
The Russian Front
Adolf Hitler then turned on the Soviet Union, launching a surprise attack (codenamed Operation Barbarossa) on June 22, 1941. Despite enormous gains, the invasion bogged down outside of Moscow in late 1941. The Soviets later encircled and captured the German Sixth Army at the Battle of Stalingrad (1942-43), decisively defeated the Axis during the Battle of Kursk, and broke the Siege of Leningrad. The Red Army then pursued the retreating Wehrmacht all the way to Berlin, and won the street-by-street Battle of Berlin, as Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker on April 30, 1945.
Linkup of the Allied Armies in Germany
Meanwhile, the Western Allies invaded Italy in 1943 and then liberated France in 1944, following amphibious landings in the Battle of Normandy. Repulsing a German counterattack at the Battle of the Bulge in December, the Western Allies crossed the Rhine River and linked up with their Soviet counterparts at the Elbe River in central Germany.
During the war, six million Jews, as well as Roma (Gypsies), Slavs, Communists, homosexuals, the disabled and several other groups, were murdered by Germany in a state-sponsored genocide that has come to be known as The Holocaust.
War in Asia and the Pacific
The Empire of Japan invaded China on July 7, 1937. The United states responded in 1940, by an embargo on scrap iron. On september 27, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. After unfruitful negociations with USA about withdrawal from China, excluding Manchukuo, Japan attacked Vichy French-controlled Indochina on July 24, 1941. This caused the United States, United Kingdom and Netherlands to block Japan's access to strategic resources. The most crucial loss was the supply of oil from the Netherlands East Indies and British colonies in Borneo.
Attack on the United States by Japan
On December 7, 1941, Japan launched surprise attacks against several countries, including the major U. S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, thereby drawing the United States into the war. On December 8, the Japanese invaded Thailand, British Malaya and The Philippines, which was controlled by the U.S. at the time. Japanese forces began their assaults on British and Dutch territory in Borneo on December 15. From their major pre-war base at Truk, in the South Pacific, Japanese forces began to attack and occupy neighboring Allied territories.
Japan had victory after victory in South East Asia and the Pacific, including the capture of 130,000 Allied prisoners in Malaya and at the fall of Singapore on February 15, 1942. Much of Burma and the Solomon Islands also fell to Japanese forces.
Sea battles and "island hopping"
The Japanese were checked at the Battle of the Coral Sea, and decisively defeated in the Battle of Midway, in which they lost four aircraft carriers. On land they were defeated at the Battle of Milne Bay and the Battle of Guadalcanal. U.S. and Australian forces then isolated Japan's major base at Rabaul, and advanced from one island to another in the Central Pacific. The Allies were victorious in a series of great naval battles, such as the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944, and invasions of key islands such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945. In the meantime, Allied submarines gradually cut off the supply of oil and other raw materials to Japan.
Bombing and capitulation of Japan
In the last year of the war U.S. air forces conducted a strategic firebombing campaign against the Japanese homeland. On August 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and on August 9 another was dropped on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945.
About 62 million people, or 2.5% of the world population, died in the war, though estimates vary greatly (see World War II casualties). Large swathes of Europe and Asia were devastated and took years to recover. The war had political, sociological, economic and technological consequences that last to this day.
The immediate causes of World War II are generally held to be the German invasion of Poland, and the Japanese attacks on China, the United States, and the British and Dutch colonies. In each of these cases, the attacks were the result of a decision made by authoritarian ruling elites in Germany and Japan. World War II started after these aggressive actions were met with an official declaration of war, armed resistance or both.
The Nazi Party came to power in Germany by democratic means, although after acquiring power they eliminated most vestiges of Germany's democratic system. The reasons for their popularity included their renouncement of the Treaty of Versailles (particularly Article 231, known as the "Guilt Clause"), which had placed many restrictions on Germany since the end of the World War I; staunch anti-communism; the Dolchstosslegende; and promises of stability and economic reconstruction. They also appealed to a sense of Germanic identity, superiority and entitlement, which would play an important role in starting the war, as they demanded the integration of lands they considered to be rightfully belonging to Germany. Hitler was portrayed by himself, his party, and his book Mein Kampf as an almost otherworldly savior for the German people.
Imperial Japan in the 1930s was largely ruled by a militarist clique of Army and Navy leaders, devoted to Japan becoming a world colonial power. Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and China in 1937 to bolster its meager stock of natural resources and extend its colonial control over a wider area. The United States and the United Kingdom reacted by making loans to China, providing covert military assistance, pilots and fighter aircraft to Kuomintang China and instituting increasingly broad embargoes of raw materials and oil against Japan. These embargoes would potentially have eventually forced Japan to give up its newly conquered possessions in China or find new sources of oil and other materials to run their economy. Japan was faced with the choice of withdrawing from China, negotiating some compromise, developing new sources of supply, buying what they needed somewhere else, or going to war to conquer the territories that contained oil, bauxite and other resources in the Dutch East Indies, Malay and the Philippines. Believing the French, Dutch and British governments more than occupied with the war in Europe, the Soviets reeling from German attacks and that the United States could not be organized for war for years and would seek a compromise before waging full scale war, they chose the latter, and went ahead with plans for the Greater East Asia War in the Pacific. 
The direct cause of the United States' entry into the war with Japan was the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Germany declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941.
War breaks out: 1939
German policy aims and ideologies
The chief stated aim of the German policy at the time was the reacquisition of German territories taken by the Treaty of Versailles, and the addition of ethnic German regions of former Austria-Hungary to form a Greater Germany.
German foreign policy professed concern for the rights of ethnic Germans living in portions of Poland and Czechoslovakia which had been taken from Germany and Austria respectively. During his negotiations with Chamberlain, Hitler mentioned their plight as one of his key reasons for asserting claims to portions of these countries.
During one session with UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Hitler's aides brought him multiple reports alleging atrocities against ethnic Germans in nearby countries, which Hitler invoked in support of Germany's claims to its former territory.
When Hitler annexed parts of Czechoslovakia and France, he was welcomed enthusiastically by these ethnic Germans. When the war ended, many of these communities were forcibly expelled. 
Another of the main reasons that German society moved towards war was due to the perceived inequities of the Versailles Treaty. (More than anything else, this treaty, coupled with the worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s, enabled the Nazis to originally ride a wave of mass public discontent to power, and to set in place their fascist forms of dictatorship and re-militarization.) The Nazis claimed that only they could free Germany from international subjugation. Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland and the Ruhr, and overturned several territorial dispositions which were enacted by the treaty.
As stated in Mein Kampf, Hitler's real underlying goal was to acquire what he believed to be Germany's rightful living space and resources, by invading and dominating lands to the east, mainly in Russia. Also, he sought to attack various ethnic and political groups, to target what he claimed were leftist influences, and other groups outside of the Nazi world-view. By starting with the real grievances of the Versailles Treaty, the Nazis were able to stoke a sense of grievance throughout Germany to redress perceived wrongs, and to present militarism and adherence to fascism as a means of taking aggressive action against the established political order.
In the hands of the Nazis, this issue is used to rationalize brutal persecution of entire ethnic minorities and political groups. This effort against existing international settlements enabled a convergence of their political programs, war aims, and racist ideologies.
Appeasement and pre-war alliances
The British and French governments followed a policy of appeasement in order to avoid a new European war. This was partially due to doubts about the willingness of their populations to fight another war so soon after the huge death tolls of the first World War. This policy culminated in the Munich Agreement in 1938, in which the seemingly inevitable outbreak of the war was averted when the United Kingdom and France agreed to Germany's annexation and immediate occupation of the German-speaking regions of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain declared that the agreement represented "peace in our time". In March 1939, Germany invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia, effectively killing appeasement. Less than a year after the Munich agreement, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany.
The failure of the Munich Agreement showed that deals made with Hitler at the negotiating table could not be trusted and that his aspirations for power and dominance in Europe went beyond anything that the United Kingdom and France would tolerate. Poland and France pledged on May 19, 1939, to provide each other with military assistance in the event either was attacked. The British had already offered support to Poland in March. On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The Pact included a secret protocol that would divide Central Europe into German and Soviet areas of interest, including a provision to partition Poland. Each country agreed to allow the other a free hand in its area of influence, including military occupation. The deal provided for sales of oil and food from the Soviets to Germany, thus reducing the danger of a UK blockade such as the one that had nearly starved Germany in World War I. Hitler was then ready to go to war with Poland and, if necessary, with the United Kingdom and France. He claimed there were German grievances relating to the issues of the Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor, but he planned to conquer all Polish territory and incorporate it into the German Reich. The signing of a new alliance between the United Kingdom and Poland on August 25 did not significantly alter his plans.
German and Soviet invasion of Poland
On September 3, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, followed quickly by France, South Africa and Canada.
The French mobilized slowly and then mounted only a token offensive in the Saar, which they soon abandoned, while the British could not take any direct action in support of the Poles in the time available (see Western betrayal). Meanwhile, on September 8, the Germans reached Warsaw, having slashed through the Polish defenses.
On September 17, the Soviet Union, pursuant to its secret agreement with Germany, invaded Poland from the east, throwing Polish defenses into chaos by opening the second front. A day later, both the Polish president and commander-in-chief fled to Romania. On October 1, hostile forces, after a one-month siege of Warsaw, entered the city. The last Polish units surrendered on October 6. Poland, however, never officially surrendered to the Germans. Some Polish troops evacuated to neighboring countries. In the aftermath of the September Campaign, occupied Poland managed to create a powerful resistance movement and contributed significant military forces to the Allies for the duration of World War II.
After Poland fell, Germany paused to regroup during the winter of 1939-1940 until April 1940, while the British and French stayed on the defensive. The period was referred to by journalists as "the Phony War" or the "Sitzkrieg" because so little ground combat took place.
Battle of the Atlantic
Meanwhile in the North Atlantic, German U-boats operated against Allied shipping. The submarines made up in skill, luck, and courage what they lacked in numbers. One U-boat sank the British carrier HMS Courageous, while another U-boat managed to sink the battleship HMS Royal Oak in its home anchorage of Scapa Flow. Altogether, the U-boats sank more than 110 vessels in the first four months of the war. The most damaging effect of the U-boats was in sinking transatlantic merchant shipping.
After 1943, Germany had no serious chance of victory at sea. The Allies produced ships faster than they were sunk, and lost fewer ships by adopting the convoy system. Improved anti-submarine warfare meant that the life expectancy of a typical U-boat crew would be measured in months. The vastly improved Type 21 U-boat appeared as the war was ending, but too late.
In the South Atlantic, the Admiral Graf Spee sank nine UK Merchant Navy vessels. She was then engaged by British cruisers HMS Ajax, HMS Exeter, and HMNZS Achilles in the Battle of the River Plate, and forced into Montevideo Harbor. Rather than face battle again, Captain Langsdorff made for sea and scuttled his battleship just outside the harbor.
The Second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937, when Japan attacked deep into China from its foothold in Manchuria. On July 7, 1937, Japan, after occupying Manchuria since 1931, launched another attack against China near Beiping (now Beijing). The Japanese made initial advances but were stalled in the Battle of Shanghai. The city eventually fell to the Japanese in December 1937, and the capital city Nanjing (Nanking) also fell. As a result, the Chinese government moved its seat to Chongqing for the remainder of the war. The Japanese forces committed brutal atrocities against civilians and prisoners of war in the Rape of Nanking, slaughtering as many as 300,000 civilians within a month.
Neither Japan or China officially declared war, for similar reason --- fearing declaration of war would alienate Europe and the USA.
Second Russo-Japanese War
On May 8, 1939, 700 Mongol horsemen crossed the Khalka river, which the Japanese considered to be the Manchurian border. The Soviet and Mongolian governments believed the border was twenty miles to the east. Mongol and Manchu forces began to shoot at each other, and within days their Soviet and Japanese patrons had sent large military contingents, which almost immediately joined in the clash, which led to a full-scale war which lasted well into September, and Soviet fear of having to fight a two front war was a primary reason for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the Nazis. The Japanese would suffer approximately 18,000 casualties, the Soviet-Mongolian forces 9,000.
War spreads: 1940
Soviet-Finnish War and occupation of Baltic Republics
In a secret Soviet-German agreement, Finland was designated a Soviet buffer zone. The Soviet Union requested that Finland hand over some border territory and when the Finns refused to comply, the Soviets launched a surprise attack on November 30, 1939, without issuing an official declaration of war on Finland, which started the Winter War. Despite outnumbering Finnish troops by 4 to 1, the Red Army found the attack embarrassingly difficult due to Finnish guerrilla tactics, and the Finnish defence prevented an all-out invasion. Finally, however, the Soviets prevailed and the peace treaty saw Finland cede the strategically important border areas near Leningrad. The war triggered an international outcry, and on December 14 the Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nations. In June 1940, the Soviet Union occupied Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, sending the local leadership to the Gulag; in addition, it annexed Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina from Romania.
German invasion of Denmark and Norway
Germany invaded Denmark and Norway on April 9, 1940, in Operation Weserübung, in part to counter the threat of an impending Allied invasion of Norway. Denmark did not resist, but Norway fought back. The United Kingdom, whose own invasion was ready to launch, landed in the north. By late June, the Allies were defeated and withdrew, Germany controlled mos
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