What started ww2

What started ww2 DEFAULT

World War II

Global war between Allies and Axis, 1939–1945

"The Second World War" and "WWII" redirect here. For other uses, see The Second World War (disambiguation), WWII (disambiguation), and World War II (disambiguation).

World War II
Clockwise from top left:
  • 1 September 1939 – 2 September 1945 (1939-09-01 – 1945-09-02)[a]
  • (6 years and 1 day)

Europe, Pacific, Atlantic, Indian Ocean, South-East Asia, China, Japan, Middle East, Mediterranean, North Africa, Horn of Africa, Central Africa, Australia, briefly North and South America

Commanders and leaders
Main Allied leaders:Main Axis leaders:
Casualties and losses
  • Military dead:
  • Over 16,000,000
  • Civilian dead:
  • Over 45,000,000
  • Total dead:
  • Over 61,000,000
  • (1937–1945)
  • ...further details
  • Military dead:
  • Over 8,000,000
  • Civilian dead:
  • Over 4,000,000
  • Total dead:
  • Over 12,000,000
  • (1937–1945)
  • ...further details

World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great powers—forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis powers. In a total war directly involving more than 100 million personnel from more than 30 countries, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. Aircraft played a major role in the conflict, enabling the strategic bombing of population centres and the only two uses of nuclear weapons in war to this day. World War II was by far the deadliest conflict in human history; it resulted in 70 to 85 million fatalities, a majority being civilians. Tens of millions of people died due to genocides (including the Holocaust), starvation, massacres, and disease. In the wake of the Axis defeat, Germany and Japan were occupied, and war crimes tribunals were conducted against German and Japanese leaders.

World War II is generally considered to have begun on 1 September 1939, when Nazi Germany, under Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland. The United Kingdom and France subsequently declared war on Germany on 3 September. Under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union had partitioned Poland and marked out their "spheres of influence" across Finland, Romania and the Baltic states. 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 (along with other countries later on). Following the onset of campaigns in North Africa and East Africa, and the fall of France in mid-1940, the war continued primarily between the European Axis powers and the British Empire, with war in the Balkans, the aerial Battle of Britain, the Blitz of the UK, and the Battle of the Atlantic. On 22 June 1941, Germany led the European Axis powers in an invasion of the Soviet Union, opening the Eastern Front, the largest land theatre of war in history and trapping the Axis powers, crucially the German Wehrmacht, in a war of attrition.

Japan, which aimed to dominate Asia and the Pacific, was at war with the Republic of China by 1937. In December 1941, Japan attacked American and British territories with near-simultaneous offensives against Southeast Asia and the Central Pacific, including an attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor which forced the US to declare war against Japan; the European Axis powers declared war on the US in solidarity. Japan soon captured much of the western Pacific, but its advances were halted in 1942 after losing the critical Battle of Midway; later, Germany and Italy were defeated in North Africa and at Stalingrad in the Soviet Union. Key setbacks in 1943—including a series of German defeats on the Eastern Front, the Allied invasions of Sicily and the Italian mainland, and Allied offensives in the Pacific—cost the Axis powers their initiative and forced it into strategic retreat on all fronts. In 1944, the Western Allies invaded German-occupied France, while the Soviet Union regained its territorial losses and turned towards Germany and its allies. During 1944 and 1945, Japan suffered reversals in mainland Asia, while the Allies crippled the Japanese Navy and captured key western Pacific islands.

The war in Europe concluded with the liberation of German-occupied territories, and the invasion of Germany by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union, culminating in the fall of Berlin to Soviet troops, Hitler's suicide and the German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945. Following the Potsdam Declaration by the Allies on 26 July 1945 and the refusal of Japan to surrender on its terms, the United States dropped the first atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima, on 6 August, and Nagasaki, on 9 August. Faced with an imminent invasion of the Japanese archipelago, the possibility of additional atomic bombings, and the Soviet entry into the war against Japan and its invasion of Manchuria, Japan announced its intention to surrender on 15 August, then signed the surrender document on 2 September 1945, cementing total victory in Asia for the Allies.

World War II changed the political alignment and social structure of the globe. The United Nations (UN) was established to foster international co-operation and prevent future conflicts, and the victorious great powers—China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States—became the permanent members of its Security Council. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the nearly half-century-long Cold War. In the wake of European devastation, the influence of its great powers waned, triggering the decolonisation of Africa and Asia. Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved towards economic recovery and expansion. Political integration, especially in Europe, began as an effort to forestall future hostilities, end pre-war enmities and forge a sense of common identity.

Start and end dates

See also: Timeline of World War II

It is generally considered that in Europe World War II started on 1 September 1939,[2] beginning with the German invasion of Poland and the United Kingdom and France's declaration of war on Germany two days later. The dates for the beginning of the war in the Pacific include the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War on 7 July 1937,[3] or the earlier Japanese invasion of Manchuria, on 19 September 1931.[5][6][7] 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 became World War II in 1941. Other starting dates sometimes used for World War II include the Italian invasion of Abyssinia on 3 October 1935.[8] 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. Others view the Spanish Civil War as the start or prelude to World War II.[10][11]

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 with the formal surrender of Japan on 2 September 1945, which officially ended the war in Asia. A peace treaty between Japan and the Allies was signed in 1951. A 1990 treaty regarding Germany's future allowed the reunification of East and West Germany to take place and resolved most post-World War II issues.[13] No formal peace treaty between Japan and the Soviet Union was ever signed,[14] although the state of war between the two countries was terminated by the Soviet–Japanese Joint Declaration of 1956, which also restored full diplomatic relations between them.[15]


Main article: Causes of World War II


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 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.

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,irredentist and revanchistnationalism emerged in several European states in the same period. These sentiments were especially marked in Germany because of the significant territorial, colonial, and financial losses imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. Under the treaty, Germany lost around 13 percent of its home territory and all 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.

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, and promising the creation of a "New Roman Empire".

Adolf Hitler, after an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the German government in 1923, eventually became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933 when Paul Von Hindenburg and the Reichstag appointed him. He abolished democracy, espousing a radical, racially motivated revision of the world order, and soon began a massive rearmament campaign. Meanwhile, France, to secure its alliance, allowed Italy a free hand in Ethiopia, which Italy desired as a colonial possession. The situation was aggravated in early 1935 when the Territory of the Saar Basin was legally reunited with Germany, and Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles, accelerated his rearmament programme, and introduced conscription.

The United Kingdom, France and Italy formed the Stresa Front in April 1935 in order to contain Germany, a key step towards military globalisation; however, that June, the United Kingdom made an independent naval agreement with Germany, easing prior restrictions. The Soviet Union, concerned by Germany's goals of capturing vast areas of Eastern Europe, drafted a treaty of mutual assistance with France. Before taking effect, though, the Franco-Soviet pact was required to go through the bureaucracy of the League of Nations, which rendered it essentially toothless.[21] The United States, concerned with events in Europe and Asia, passed the Neutrality Act in August of the same year.

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


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 and new regional warlords. In 1931, an increasingly militaristicEmpire of Japan, which had long sought influence in China as the first step of what its government saw as the country's right to rule Asia, staged the Mukden Incident as a pretext to invade Manchuria and establish the puppet state of Manchukuo.

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.[28] After the 1936 Xi'an Incident, the Kuomintang and communist forces agreed on a ceasefire to present a united front to oppose Japan.

Pre-war events

Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935)

Main article: Second Italo-Ethiopian War

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.[30] 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. The United Kingdom and France supported imposing sanctions on Italy for the invasion, but the sanctions were not fully enforced and failed to end the Italian invasion. Italy subsequently dropped its objections to Germany's goal of absorbing Austria.

Spanish Civil War (1936–1939)

Main article: Spanish Civil War

The bombing of Guernicain 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, sparked fears abroad in Europe that the next war would be based on bombing of cities with very high civilian casualties.

When civil war broke out in Spain, Hitler and Mussolini lent military support to the Nationalist rebels, led by General Francisco Franco. Italy supported the Nationalists to a greater extent than the Nazis did: altogether Mussolini sent to Spain more than 70,000 ground troops and 6,000 aviation personnel, as well as about 720 aircraft. The Soviet Union supported the existing government of the Spanish Republic. More than 30,000 foreign volunteers, known as the International Brigades, also fought against the Nationalists. Both Germany and the Soviet Union used this proxy war as an opportunity to test in combat their most advanced weapons and tactics. The Nationalists won the civil war in April 1939; Franco, now dictator, remained officially neutral during World War II but generally favoured the Axis. His greatest collaboration with Germany was the sending of volunteers to fight on the Eastern Front.

Japanese invasion of China (1937)

Main article: Second Sino-Japanese War

In July 1937, Japan captured the former Chinese imperial capital of Peking after instigating the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which culminated in the Japanese campaign to invade all of China. The Soviets quickly signed a non-aggression pact with China to lend materiel support, effectively ending China's prior co-operation with Germany. From September to November, the Japanese attacked Taiyuan, engaged the Kuomintang Armyaround Xinkou,[38] and fought Communist forcesin Pingxingguan.[39][40]GeneralissimoChiang Kai-shek deployed his best army to defend Shanghai, but after three months of fighting, Shanghai fell. The Japanese continued to push the Chinese forces back, capturing the capital Nanking in December 1937. After the fall of Nanking, tens or hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and disarmed combatants were murdered by the Japanese.[41][42]

In March 1938, Nationalist Chinese forces won their first major victory at Taierzhuang, but then the city of Xuzhouwas taken by the Japanese in May. 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. 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.

Soviet–Japanese border conflicts

Main article: Soviet–Japanese border conflicts

In the mid-to-late 1930s, Japanese forces in Manchukuo had sporadic border clashes with the Soviet Union and Mongolia. The Japanese doctrine of Hokushin-ron, which emphasised Japan's expansion northward, was favoured by the Imperial Army during this time. With the Japanese defeat at Khalkin Gol in 1939, the ongoing Second Sino-Japanese War and ally Nazi Germany pursuing neutrality with the Soviets, this policy would prove difficult to maintain. Japan and the Soviet Union eventually signed a Neutrality Pact in April 1941, and Japan adopted the doctrine of Nanshin-ron, promoted by the Navy, which took its focus southward, eventually leading to its war with the United States and the Western Allies.[48][49]

European occupations and agreements

In Europe, Germany and Italy were becoming more aggressive. In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, again provoking little response from other European powers. Encouraged, Hitler began pressing German claims on the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia with a predominantly ethnic German population. Soon the United Kingdom and France followed the appeasement policy of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and conceded this territory to Germany in the Munich Agreement, which was made against the wishes of the Czechoslovak government, in exchange for a promise of no further territorial demands. Soon afterwards, Germany and Italy forced Czechoslovakia to cede additional territory to Hungary, and Poland annexed Czechoslovakia's Zaolzie region.

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. Hitler also delivered an ultimatum to Lithuania on 20 March 1939, forcing the concession of the Klaipėda Region, formerly the German Memelland.

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 the Kingdoms of Romania and Greece. Shortly after the Franco-British pledge to Poland, Germany and Italy formalised their own alliance with the Pact of Steel. 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.

The situation reached a general crisis in late August as German troops continued to mobilise against the Polish border. On 23 August, when tripartite negotiations about a military alliance between France, the United Kingdom and Soviet Union stalled,[58] the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. 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. The pact neutralised the possibility of Soviet opposition to a campaign against Poland and assured that Germany would not have to face the prospect of a two-front war, as it had in World War I. Immediately after that, Hitler ordered the attack to proceed on 26 August, but upon hearing that the United Kingdom had concluded a formal mutual assistance pact with Poland and that Italy would maintain neutrality, he decided to delay it.[61]

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.[62] 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.[62] The Poles refused to comply with the German demands, and on the night of 30–31 August in a stormy meeting with the British ambassador Nevile Henderson, Ribbentrop declared that Germany considered its claims rejected.[63]

Course of the war

Further information: Diplomatic history of World War II

War breaks out in Europe (1939–40)

Main article: European theatre of World War II

Soldiers of the German Wehrmachttearing down the border crossing into Poland, 1 September 1939

On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland after having staged several false flag border incidents as a pretext to initiate the invasion. The first German attack of the war came against the Polish defenses at Westerplatte.[65] The United Kingdom responded with an ultimatum to Germany to cease military operations, and on 3 September, after the ultimatum was ignored, Britain and France declared war on Germany,[66] followed by Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. The alliance provided no direct military support to Poland, outside of a cautious French probe into the Saarland.[67] The Western Allies also began a naval blockade of Germany, which aimed to damage the country's economy and the war effort.[68] Germany responded by ordering U-boat warfare against Allied merchant and warships, which would later escalate into the Battle of the Atlantic.[69]

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 Soviet Union invaded Eastern Poland under a pretext that the Polish state had ostensibly ceased to exist.[71] On 27 September, the Warsaw garrison surrendered to the Germans, and the last large operational unit of the Polish Armysurrendered on 6 October. Despite the military defeat, Poland never surrendered; instead, it formed the Polish government-in-exile and a clandestine state apparatus remained in occupied Poland. A significant part of Polish military personnel evacuated to Romania and the Baltic countries; many of them later fought against the Axis in other theatres of the war.

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,[63] and Hitler ordered an immediate offensive against France,[74] which was postponed until the spring of 1940 due to bad weather.[77]

Finnish machine gun nest aimed at Soviet Red Armypositions during the Winter War, February 1940

The Soviet Union forced the Baltic countries—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were in the Soviet "sphere of influence" under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact—to sign "mutual assistance pacts" that stipulated stationing Soviet troops in these countries. Soon after, significant Soviet military contingents were moved there. Finland refused to sign a similar pact and rejected ceding part of its territory to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union invaded Finland in November 1939, and the Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nations.[82] Despite overwhelming numerical superiority, Soviet military success was modest, but the Finno-Soviet war ended in March 1940 with fairly significant Finnish concessions.

In June 1940, the Soviet Union forcibly annexed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and the Romanian regions of Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and the Hertsa region. Meanwhile, Nazi-Soviet political rapprochement and economic co-operation gradually stalled, and both states began preparations for war.

Western Europe (1940–41)

Main article: Western Front (World War II)

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.[89] Denmark capitulated after a few hours, and Norway was conquered within two monthsdespite Allied support. British discontent over the Norwegian campaign led to the appointment of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister on 10 May 1940.

On the same day, Germany launched an offensive against France. To circumvent the strong Maginot Line fortifications on the Franco-German border, Germany directed its attack at the neutral nations of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The Germans carried out a flanking manoeuvre through the Ardennes region, which was mistakenly perceived by Allies as an impenetrable natural barrier against armoured vehicles. By successfully implementing new blitzkrieg tactics, the Wehrmacht rapidly advanced to the Channel and cut off the Allied forces in Belgium, trapping the bulk of the Allied armies in a cauldron on the Franco-Belgian border near Lille. The United Kingdom was able to evacuate a significant number of Allied troops from the continent by early June, although abandoning almost all their equipment.

On 10 June, Italy invaded France, declaring war on both France and the United Kingdom. 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, 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.

The air Battle of Britain began in early July with Luftwaffe attacks on shipping and harbours.[101] The United Kingdom rejected Hitler's peace offer,[102] and the German air superiority campaign started in August but failed to defeat RAF Fighter Command, forcing the indefinite postponement of the proposed German invasion of Britain. 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[101] and largely ended in May 1941.

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.[104] The British Home Fleet scored a significant victory on 27 May 1941 by sinking the German battleship Bismarck.[105]

In November 1939, the United States was taking measures to assist China and the Western Allies and amended the Neutrality Act to allow "cash and carry" purchases by the Allies. In 1940, following the German capture of Paris, the size of the United States Navy was significantly increased. In September the United States further agreed to a trade of American destroyers for British bases.[107] Still, a large majority of the American public continued to oppose any direct military intervention in the conflict well into 1941. In December 1940 Roosevelt accused Hitler of planning world conquest and ruled out any negotiations as useless, calling for the United States to become an "arsenal of democracy" and promoting Lend-Lease programmes of aid to support the British war effort.[102] The United States started strategic planning to prepare for a full-scale offensive against Germany.[109]

At the end of September 1940, the Tripartite Pact formally united Japan, Italy, and Germany as the Axis powers. The Tripartite Pact stipulated that any country, with the exception of the Soviet Union, which attacked any Axis Power would be forced to go to war against all three. The Axis expanded in November 1940 when Hungary, Slovakia and Romania joined.Romania and Hungary later made major contributions to the Axis war against the Soviet Union, in Romania's case partially to recapture territory ceded to the Soviet Union.

Mediterranean (1940–41)

Main article: Mediterranean and Middle East theatre of World War II

In early June 1940, the Italian Regia Aeronauticaattacked and besieged Malta, a British possession. From late summer to early autumn, Italy conquered British Somaliland and made an incursion into British-held Egypt. In October, Italy attacked Greece, but the attack was repulsed with heavy Italian casualties; the campaign ended within months with minor territorial changes. Germany started preparation for an invasion of the Balkans to assist Italy, to prevent the British from gaining a foothold there, which would be a potential threat for Romanian oil fields, and to strike against the British dominance of the Mediterranean.[114]

In December 1940, British Empire forces began counter-offensives against Italian forces in Egypt and Italian East Africa. The offensives were highly successful; by early February 1941, Italy had lost control of eastern Libya, and large numbers of Italian troops had been taken prisoner. The Italian Navy also suffered significant defeats, with the Royal Navy putting three Italian battleships out of commission by means of a carrier attack at Taranto, and neutralising several more warships at the Battle of Cape Matapan.

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

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. The airborne invasion of the Greek island of Crete at the end of May completed the German conquest of the Balkans. 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.

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. Between June and July, they invaded and occupied the French possessions Syria and Lebanon, with the assistance of the Free French.[123]

Axis attack on the Soviet Union (1941)

Main article: Eastern Front (World War II)

With the situation in Europe and Asia relatively stable, Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union made preparations. With the Soviets wary of mounting tensions with Germany and the Japanese planning to take advantage of the European War by seizing resource-rich European possessions in Southeast Asia, the two powers signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact in April 1941. By contrast, the Germans were steadily making preparations for an attack on the Soviet Union, massing forces on the Soviet border.

Hitler believed that the United Kingdom's refusal to end the war was based on the hope that the United States and the Soviet Union would enter the war against Germany sooner or later. He, therefore, decided to try to strengthen Germany's relations with the Soviets or failing that to attack and eliminate them as a factor. In November 1940, negotiations took place to determine if the Soviet Union would join the Tripartite Pact. The Soviets showed some interest but asked for concessions from Finland, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Japan that Germany considered unacceptable. On 18 December 1940, Hitler issued the directive to prepare for an invasion of the Soviet Union.

German soldiers during the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Axis powers, 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 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") by dispossessing the native population and guarantee access to the strategic resources needed to defeat Germany's remaining rivals.

Although the Red Army was preparing for strategic counter-offensives before the war,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 mid-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. 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).

Soviet civilians leaving destroyed houses after a German bombardment during the Battle of Leningrad, 10 December 1942

The diversion of three quarters of the Axis troops and the majority of their air forces from France and the central Mediterranean to the Eastern Front prompted the United Kingdom to reconsider its grand strategy. In July, the UK and the Soviet Union formed a military alliance against Germany and in August, the United Kingdom and the United States jointly issued the Atlantic Charter, which outlined British and American goals for the postwar world. In late August the British and Soviets invaded neutral Iran to secure the Persian Corridor, Iran's oil fields, and preempt any Axis advances through Iran toward the Baku oil fields or British India.

By October Axis operational objectives in Ukraine and the Baltic region were achieved, with only the sieges of Leningrad and Sevastopol continuing. 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. 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 blitzkriegphase of the war in Europe had ended.

By early December, freshly mobilised reserves allowed the Soviets to achieve numerical parity with Axis troops. This, as well as intelligence data which established that a minimal number of Soviet troops in the East would be sufficient to deter any attack by the Japanese Kwantung Army,[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)

Main article: Pacific War

Following the Japanese false flagMukden Incident in 1931, the Japanese shelling of the American gunboat USS Panay in 1937, and the 1937-38 Nanjing Massacre, Japanese-American relations deteriorated. In 1939, the United States notified Japan that it would not be extending its trade treaty and American public opinion opposing Japanese expansionism led to a series of economic sanctions, the Export Control Acts, which banned U.S. exports of chemicals, minerals and military parts to Japan and increased economic pressure on the Japanese regime.[102][150][151] During 1939 Japan launched its first attack against Changsha, a strategically important Chinese city, but was repulsed by late September.[152] Despite several offensives by both sides, the war between China and Japan was stalemated by 1940. To increase pressure on China by blocking supply routes, and to better position Japanese forces in the event of a war with the Western powers, Japan invaded and occupied northern Indochina in September 1940.

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. The continued antipathy between Chinese communist and nationalist forces culminated in armed clashes in January 1941, effectively ending their co-operation. In March, the Japanese 11th army attacked the headquarters of the Chinese 19th army but was repulsed during Battle of Shanggao. In September, Japan attempted to take the city of Changsha again and clashed with Chinese nationalist forces.

German successes in Europe encouraged Japan to increase pressure on European governments in Southeast Asia. The Dutch government agreed to provide Japan with some oil supplies from the Dutch East Indies, but negotiations for additional access to their resources ended in failure in June 1941.[158] In July 1941 Japan sent troops to southern Indochina, thus threatening British and Dutch possessions in the Far East. The United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western governments reacted to this move with a freeze on Japanese assets and a total oil embargo.[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.[161]

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.[162] 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.[163] 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".[163]

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.[162] 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.[164] 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;[165][166] the Japanese military did not consider the former an option, and many officers considered the oil embargo an unspoken declaration of war.[167]

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.[168][169] 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. 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. These included an attack on the American fleets at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, landings in Malaya,Thailand and the Battle of Hong Kong.[172]

The Japanese invasion of Thailand led to Thailand's decision to ally itself with Japan and the other Japanese attacks led the United States, United Kingdom, China, Australia, and several other states to formally declare war on Japan, whereas the Soviet Union, being heavily involved in large-scale hostilities with European Axis countries, maintained its neutrality agreement with Japan.[173] Germany, followed by the other Axis states, declared war on the United States[174] in solidarity with Japan, citing as justification the American attacks on German war vessels that had been ordered by Roosevelt.[128][175]

Axis advance stalls (1942–43)

On 1 January 1942, the Allied Big Four—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, and agreeing not to sign a separate peace with the Axis powers.

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.[179] 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.[180]

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.[181] 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.[182]

Pacific (1942–43)

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. Despite stubborn resistance by Filipino and US forces, the Philippine Commonwealth was eventually captured in May 1942, forcing its government into exile. On 16 April, in Burma, 7,000 British soldiers were encircled by the Japanese 33rd Division during the Battle of Yenangyaung and rescued by the Chinese 38th Division. Japanese forces also achieved naval victories in the South China Sea, Java Sea and Indian Ocean, and bombed the Allied naval base at Darwin, Australia. In January 1942, the only Allied success against Japan was a Chinese victory at Changsha. These easy victories over the unprepared US and European opponents left Japan overconfident, as well as overextended.

In early May 1942, Japan initiated operations to capture Port Moresby by amphibious assault and thus sever communications and supply lines between the United States and Australia. The planned invasion was thwarted when an Allied task force, centred on two American fleet carriers, fought Japanese naval forces to a draw in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Japan's next plan, motivated by the earlier Doolittle Raid, was to seize Midway Atoll and lure American carriers into battle to be eliminated; as a diversion, Japan would also send forces to occupy the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. In mid-May, Japan started the Zhejiang-Jiangxi campaign in China, with the goal of inflicting retribution on the Chinese who aided the surviving American airmen in the Doolittle Raid by destroying Chinese air bases and fighting against the Chinese 23rd and 32nd Army Groups.[191][192] 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.[193]

With its capacity for aggressive action greatly diminished as a result of the Midway battle, Japan chose to focus on a belated attempt to capture Port Moresby by an overland campaign in the Territory of Papua. The Americans planned a counter-attack against Japanese positions in the southern Solomon Islands, primarily Guadalcanal, as a first step towards capturing Rabaul, the main Japanese base in Southeast Asia.[195]

Both plans started in July, but by mid-September, the Battle for Guadalcanal took priority for the Japanese, and troops in New Guinea were ordered to withdraw from the Port Moresby area to the northern part of the island, where they faced Australian and United States troops in the Battle of Buna–Gona. Guadalcanal soon became a focal point for both sides with heavy commitments of troops and ships in the battle for Guadalcanal. By the start of 1943, the Japanese were defeated on the island and withdrew their troops. In Burma, Commonwealth forces mounted two operations. The first, an offensive into the Arakan region in late 1942, went disastrously, forcing a retreat back to India by May 1943. The second was the insertion of irregular forces behind Japanese front-lines in February which, by the end of April, had achieved mixed results.

Eastern Front (1942–43)

Despite considerable losses, in early 1942 Germany and its allies stopped a major Soviet offensive in central and southern Russia, keeping most territorial gains they had achieved during the previous year. In May the Germans defeated Soviet offensives in the Kerch Peninsula and at Kharkov, and then launched their main summer offensive against southern Russia in June 1942, to seize the oil fields of the Caucasus and occupy the Kubansteppe, 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.

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, and an assault on the Rzhev salient near Moscow, though the latter failed disastrously. By early February 1943, the German Army had taken tremendous losses; German troops at Stalingrad had been defeated, 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.

Western Europe/Atlantic and Mediterranean (1942–43)

Exploiting poor American naval command decisions, the German navy ravaged Allied shipping off the American Atlantic coast. By November 1941, Commonwealth forces had launched a counter-offensive, Operation Crusader, in North Africa, and reclaimed all the gains the Germans and Italians had made. In North Africa, the Germans launched an offensive in January, pushing the British back to positions at the Gazala line by early February, followed by a temporary lull in combat which Germany used to prepare for their upcoming offensives. Concerns the Japanese might use bases in Vichy-held Madagascar caused the British to invade the island in early May 1942. An Axis offensive in Libya forced an Allied retreat deep inside Egypt until Axis forces were stopped at El Alamein. On the Continent, raids of Allied commandos on strategic targets, culminating in the disastrous Dieppe Raid, demonstrated the Western Allies' inability to launch an invasion of continental Europe without much better preparation, equipment, and operational security.[214][page needed]

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

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.[221] The firebombing of Hamburg was among the first attacks in this campaign, inflicting significant casualties and considerable losses on infrastructure of this important industrial centre.

Allies gain momentum (1943–44)

After the Guadalcanal Campaign, the Allies initiated several operations against Japan in the Pacific. In May 1943, Canadian and US forces were sent to eliminate Japanese forces from the Aleutians.[223] Soon after, the United States, with support from Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islander forces, began major ground, sea and air operations to isolate Rabaul by capturing surrounding islands, and breach the Japanese Central Pacific perimeter at the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. By the end of March 1944, the Allies had completed both of these objectives and had also neutralised the major Japanese base at Truk in the Caroline Islands. In April, the Allies launched an operation to retake Western New Guinea.

In the Soviet Union, both the Germans and the Soviets spent the spring and early summer of 1943 preparing for large offensives in central Russia. On 4 July 1943, Germany attacked Soviet forces around the Kursk Bulge. Within a week, German forces had exhausted themselves against the Soviets' deeply echeloned and well-constructed defences,[226] and for the first time in the war Hitler cancelled the operation before it had achieved tactical or operational success. This decision was partially affected by the Western Allies' invasion of Sicily launched on 9 July, which, combined with previous Italian failures, resulted in the ousting and arrest of Mussolini later that month.

On 12 July 1943, the Soviets launched their own counter-offensives, thereby dispelling any chance of German victory or even stalemate in the east. The Soviet victory at Kursk marked the end of German superiority, giving the Soviet Union the initiative on the Eastern Front. The Germans tried to stabilise their eastern front along the hastily fortified Panther–Wotan line

Sours: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II

Primary Image: Adolf Hitler giving the Nazi salute at a rally in Nuremburg in 1928. (Image: National Archives and Records Administration, 242-HAP-1928(46).)

Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany in 1933 following a series of electoral victories by the Nazi Party. He ruled absolutely until his death by suicide in April 1945. Upon achieving power, Hitler smashed the nation’s democratic institutions and transformed Germany into a war state intent on conquering Europe for the benefit of the so-called Aryan race. His invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, triggered the European phase of World War II. During the course of the war, Nazi military forces rounded up and executed 11 million victims they deemed inferior or undesirable—“life unworthy of life”—among them Jews, Slavs, homosexuals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Hitler had supreme authority as führer (leader or guide), but could not have risen to power or committed such atrocities on his own. He had the active support of the powerful German officer class and of millions of everyday citizens who voted for the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party and hailed him as a national savior in gigantic stadium rallies. 

How were Hitler and the Nazis possible? How did such odious characters take and hold power in a country that was a world pacesetter in literature, art, architecture, and science, a nation that had a democratic government and a free press in the 1920s?

Hitler rose to power through the Nazi Party, an organization he forged after returning as a wounded veteran from the annihilating trench warfare of World War I. He and other patriotic Germans were outraged and humiliated by the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which the Allies compelled the new German government, the Weimar Republic, to accept along with an obligation to pay $33 billion in war reparations. Germany also had to give up its prized overseas colonies and surrender valued parcels of home territory to France and Poland. The German army was radically downsized and the nation forbidden to have submarines or an air force. “We shall squeeze the German lemon until the pips squeak!” explained one British official. 

Paying the crushing reparations destabilized the economy, producing ruinous, runaway inflation. By September 1923, four billion German marks had the equal value of one American dollar. Consumers needed a wheelbarrow to carry enough paper money to buy a loaf of bread.

Hitler, a mesmerizing public speaker, addressed political meetings in Munich calling for a new German order to replace what he saw as an incompetent and inefficient democratic regime. This New Order was distinguished by an authoritarian political system based on a leadership structure in which authority flowed downward from a supreme national leader. In the new Germany, all citizens would unselfishly serve the state, or Volk; democracy would be abolished; and individual rights sacrificed for the good of the führer state. The ultimate aim of the Nazi Party was to seize power through Germany’s parliamentary system, install Hitler as dictator, and create a community of racially pure Germans loyal to their führer, who would lead them in a campaign of racial cleansing and world conquest.

Hitler blamed the Weimar Republic’s weakness on the influence of Germany’s Jewish and communist minorities, who he claimed were trying to take over the country. “There are only two possibilities,” he told a Munich audience in 1922. “Either victory of the Aryan, or annihilation of the Aryan and the victory of the Jew.” The young Hitler saw history as a process of racial struggle, with the strongest race—the Aryan race—ultimately prevailing by force of arms. “Mankind has grown great in eternal war,” Hitler wrote. “It would decay in eternal peace.” 

Jews represented everything the Nazis found repugnant: finance capitalism (controlled, the Nazis believed, by powerful Jewish financiers), international communism (Karl Marx was a German Jew, and the leadership of the German Communist Party was heavily Jewish), and modernist cultural movements like psychoanalysis and swing music. Nazi Party foreign policy aimed to rid Europe of Jews and other “inferior” peoples, absorb pure-blooded Aryans into a greatly expanded Germany—a “Third Reich”—and wage unrelenting war on the Slavic “hordes” of Russia, considered by Hitler to be Untermenschen (subhuman). Once conquered, the Soviet Union would be ruled by the German master race, which would exterminate or subdue millions of Slavs to create lebensraum (living space) for their own farms and communities. In a conquered and racially cleansed Russia, they would work on model farms and factories connected to the homeland by new highways, called autobahns. Hitler was the ideologue as well as the chief organizer of the Nazi Party. By 1921, the party had a newspaper, an official flag, and a private army—the Sturmabteilung SA (storm troopers)—made up largely of unemployed and disenchanted WWI veterans. By 1923, the SA had grown to 15,000 men and had access to hidden stores of weapons. That year, Hitler and WWI hero General Erich Ludendorff attempted to overthrow the elected regional government of Bavaria in a coup known as the Beer Hall Putsch. The regular army crushed the rebellion and Hitler spent a year in prison—in loose confinement. In Landsberg Prison, Hitler dictated most of the first volume of his political autobiography, Mein Kampf (My Struggle). The book brought together, in inflamed language, the racialist and expansionist ideas he had been propagating in his popular beer-hall harangues.

By 1932, the Nazis were the largest political party in the Reichstag. In January of the following year, with no other leader able to command sufficient support to govern, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor of Germany. Shortly thereafter, a fire broke out in the Reichstag building in Berlin, and authorities arrested a young Dutch communist who confessed to starting it. Hitler used this episode to convince President Hindenburg to declare an emergency decree suspending many civil liberties throughout Germany, including freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and the right to hold public assemblies. The police were authorized to detain citizens without cause, and the authority usually exercised by regional governments became subject to control by Hitler’s national regime.

Almost immediately, Hitler began dismantling Germany’s democratic institutions and imprisoning or murdering his chief opponents. When Hindenburg died the following year, Hitler took the titles of führer, chancellor, and commander in chief of the army. He expanded the army tremendously, reintroduced conscription, and began developing a new air force—all violations of the Treaty of Versailles.

Hitler’s military spending and ambitious public-works programs, including building a German autobahn, helped restore prosperity. His regime also suppressed the Communist Party and purged his own paramilitary storm troopers, whose violent street demonstrations alienated the German middle class. This bloodletting—called the “Night of the Long Knives”—was hugely popular and welcomed by the middle class as a blow struck for law and order. In fact, many Germans went along with the full range of Hitler’s policies, convinced that they would ultimately be advantageous for the country.

In 1938, Hitler began his long-promised expansion of national boundaries to incorporate ethnic Germans. He colluded with Austrian Nazis to orchestrate the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria to Germany. And in Hitler’s most brazenly aggressive act yet, Czechoslovakia was forced to surrender the Sudetenland, a mountainous border region populated predominantly by ethnic Germans. The Czechs looked to Great Britain and France for help, but hoping to avoid war—they had been bled white in World War I—these nations chose a policy of appeasement. At a conclave held at Munich in September 1938, representatives of Great Britain and France compelled Czech leaders to cede the Sudetenland in return for Hitler’s pledge not to seek additional territory. The following year, the German army swallowed up the remainder of Czechoslovakia. 

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, one of the signers of the Munich pact, had taken Hitler at his word. Returning to Britain with this agreement in hand, he proudly announced that he had achieved “peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time.” 

A year later, German troops stormed into Poland.

After being released from prison, Hitler vowed to work within the parliamentary system to avoid a repeat of the Beer Hall Putsch setback. In the 1920s, however, the Nazi Party was still a fringe group of ultraextremists with little political power. It received only 2.6 percent of the vote in the Reichstag elections of 1928. But the worldwide economic depression and the rising power of labor unions and communists convinced increasing numbers of Germans to turn to the Nazi Party. The Nazis fed on bank failures and unemployment—proof, Hitler said, of the ineffectiveness of democratic government. Hitler pledged to restore prosperity, create civil order (by crushing industrial strikes and street demonstrations by communists and socialists), eliminate the influence of Jewish financiers, and make the fatherland once again a world power. 

Sours: https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/how-did-hitler-happen
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  1. Leading up to World War II
  2. Outbreak of World War II (1939)
  3. World War II in the West (1940-41)
  4. Hitler vs. Stalin: Operation Barbarossa (1941-42)
  5. World War II in the Pacific (1941-43)
  6. Toward Allied Victory in World War II (1943-45)
  7. World War II Ends (1945)
  8. African American Servicemen Fight Two Wars
  9. World War II Casualties and Legacy
  10. Photo Galleries

The instability created in Europe by the First World War (1914-18) set the stage for another international conflict—World War II—which broke out two decades later and would prove even more devastating. Rising to power in an economically and politically unstable Germany, Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party, rearmed the nation and signed strategic treaties with Italy and Japan to further his ambitions of world domination. Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 drove Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany, marking the beginning of World War II. Over the next six years, the conflict would take more lives and destroy more land and property around the globe than any previous war. Among the estimated 45-60 million people killed were 6 million Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps as part of Hitler’s diabolical “Final Solution,” now known as the Holocaust.

Leading up to World War II

The devastation of the Great War (as World War I was known at the time) had greatly destabilized Europe, and in many respects World War II grew out of issues left unresolved by that earlier conflict. In particular, political and economic instability in Germany, and lingering resentment over the harsh terms imposed by the Versailles Treaty, fueled the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and National Socialist German Workers’ Party, abbreviated as NSDAP in German and the Nazi Party in English..

Did you know? As early as 1923, in his memoir and propaganda tract "Mein Kampf" (My Struggle), Adolf Hitler had predicted a general European war that would result in "the extermination of the Jewish race in Germany."

After becoming Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Hitler swiftly consolidated power, anointing himself Führer (supreme leader) in 1934. Obsessed with the idea of the superiority of the “pure” German race, which he called “Aryan,” Hitler believed that war was the only way to gain the necessary “Lebensraum,” or living space, for the German race to expand. In the mid-1930s, he secretly began the rearmament of Germany, a violation of the Versailles Treaty. After signing alliances with Italy and Japan against the Soviet Union, Hitler sent troops to occupy Austria in 1938 and the following year annexed Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s open aggression went unchecked, as the United States and Soviet Union were concentrated on internal politics at the time, and neither France nor Britain (the two other nations most devastated by the Great War) were eager for confrontation.

Outbreak of World War II (1939)

In late August 1939, Hitler and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, which incited a frenzy of worry in London and Paris. Hitler had long planned an invasion of Poland, a nation to which Great Britain and France had guaranteed military support if it were attacked by Germany. The pact with Stalin meant that Hitler would not face a war on two fronts once he invaded Poland, and would have Soviet assistance in conquering and dividing the nation itself. On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland from the west; two days later, France and Britain declared war on Germany, beginning World War II.

On September 17, Soviet troops invaded Poland from the east. Under attack from both sides, Poland fell quickly, and by early 1940 Germany and the Soviet Union had divided control over the nation, according to a secret protocol appended to the Nonaggression Pact. Stalin’s forces then moved to occupy the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and defeated a resistant Finland in the Russo-Finnish War. During the six months following the invasion of Poland, the lack of action on the part of Germany and the Allies in the west led to talk in the news media of a “phony war.” At sea, however, the British and German navies faced off in heated battle, and lethal German U-boat submarines struck at merchant shipping bound for Britain, sinking more than 100 vessels in the first four months of World War II.

World War II in the West (1940-41)

On April 9, 1940, Germany simultaneously invaded Norway and occupied Denmark, and the war began in earnest. On May 10, German forces swept through Belgium and the Netherlands in what became known as “blitzkrieg,” or lightning war. Three days later, Hitler’s troops crossed the Meuse River and struck French forces at Sedan, located at the northern end of the Maginot Line, an elaborate chain of fortifications constructed after World War I and considered an impenetrable defensive barrier. In fact, the Germans broke through the line with their tanks and planes and continued to the rear, rendering it useless. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was evacuated by sea from Dunkirk in late May, while in the south French forces mounted a doomed resistance. With France on the verge of collapse, Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini formed an alliance with Hitler, the Pact of Steel, and Italy declared war against France and Britain on June 10.

On June 14, German forces entered Paris; a new government formed by Marshal Philippe Petain (France’s hero of World War I) requested an armistice two nights later. France was subsequently divided into two zones, one under German military occupation and the other under Petain’s government, installed at Vichy France. Hitler now turned his attention to Britain, which had the defensive advantage of being separated from the Continent by the English Channel.

To pave the way for an amphibious invasion (dubbed Operation Sea Lion), German planes bombed Britain extensively beginning in September 1940 until May 1941, known as the Blitz, including night raids on London and other industrial centers that caused heavy civilian casualties and damage. The Royal Air Force (RAF) eventually defeated the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) in the Battle of Britain, and Hitler postponed his plans to invade. With Britain’s defensive resources pushed to the limit, Prime Minister Winston Churchill began receiving crucial aid from the U.S. under the Lend-Lease Act, passed by Congress in early 1941.

Hitler vs. Stalin: Operation Barbarossa (1941-42)

By early 1941, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria had joined the Axis, and German troops overran Yugoslavia and Greece that April. Hitler’s conquest of the Balkans was a precursor for his real objective: an invasion of the Soviet Union, whose vast territory would give the German master race the “Lebensraum” it needed. The other half of Hitler’s strategy was the extermination of the Jews from throughout German-occupied Europe. Plans for the “Final Solution” were introduced around the time of the Soviet offensive, and over the next three years more than 4 million Jews would perish in the death camps established in occupied Poland.

On June 22, 1941, Hitler ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union, codenamed Operation Barbarossa. Though Soviet tanks and aircraft greatly outnumbered the Germans’, Russian aviation technology was largely obsolete, and the impact of the surprise invasion helped Germans get within 200 miles of Moscow by mid-July. Arguments between Hitler and his commanders delayed the next German advance until October, when it was stalled by a Soviet counteroffensive and the onset of harsh winter weather.

World War II in the Pacific (1941-43)

With Britain facing Germany in Europe, the United States was the only nation capable of combating Japanese aggression, which by late 1941 included an expansion of its ongoing war with China and the seizure of European colonial holdings in the Far East. On December 7, 1941, 360 Japanese aircraft attacked the major U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, taking the Americans completely by surprise and claiming the lives of more than 2,300 troops. The attack on Pearl Harbor served to unify American public opinion in favor of entering World War II, and on December 8 Congress declared war on Japan with only one dissenting vote. Germany and the other Axis Powers promptly declared war on the United States.

After a long string of Japanese victories, the U.S. Pacific Fleet won the Battle of Midway in June 1942, which proved to be a turning point in the war. On Guadalcanal, one of the southern Solomon Islands, the Allies also had success against Japanese forces in a series of battles from August 1942 to February 1943, helping turn the tide further in the Pacific. In mid-1943, Allied naval forces began an aggressive counterattack against Japan, involving a series of amphibious assaults on key Japanese-held islands in the Pacific. This “island-hopping” strategy proved successful, and Allied forces moved closer to their ultimate goal of invading the mainland Japan.

Toward Allied Victory in World War II (1943-45)

In North Africa, British and American forces had defeated the Italians and Germans by 1943. An Allied invasion of Sicily and Italy followed, and Mussolini’s government fell in July 1943, though Allied fighting against the Germans in Italy would continue until 1945.

On the Eastern Front, a Soviet counteroffensive launched in November 1942 ended the bloody Battle of Stalingrad, which had seen some of the fiercest combat of World War II. The approach of winter, along with dwindling food and medical supplies, spelled the end for German troops there, and the last of them surrendered on January 31, 1943.

On June 6, 1944–celebrated as “D-Day”–the Allies began a massive invasion of Europe, landing 156,000 British, Canadian and American soldiers on the beaches of Normandy, France. In response, Hitler poured all the remaining strength of his army into Western Europe, ensuring Germany’s defeat in the east. Soviet troops soon advanced into Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania, while Hitler gathered his forces to drive the Americans and British back from Germany in the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945), the last major German offensive of the war.

An intensive aerial bombardment in February 1945 preceded the Allied land invasion of Germany, and by the time Germany formally surrendered on May 8, Soviet forces had occupied much of the country. Hitler was already dead, having died by suicide on April 30 in his Berlin bunker.

World War II Ends (1945)

At the Potsdam Conference of July-August 1945, U.S. President Harry S. Truman (who had taken office after Roosevelt’s death in April), Churchill and Stalin discussed the ongoing war with Japan as well as the peace settlement with Germany. Post-war Germany would be divided into four occupation zones, to be controlled by the Soviet Union, Britain, the United States and France. On the divisive matter of Eastern Europe’s future, Churchill and Truman acquiesced to Stalin, as they needed Soviet cooperation in the war against Japan.

Heavy casualties sustained in the campaigns at Iwo Jima (February 1945) and Okinawa (April-June 1945), and fears of the even costlier land invasion of Japan led Truman to authorize the use of a new and devastating weapon. Developed during a top secret operation code-named The Manhattan Project, the atomic bomb was unleashed on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August. On August 15, the Japanese government issued a statement declaring they would accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, and on September 2, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur accepted Japan’s formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

African American Servicemen Fight Two Wars

World War II exposed a glaring paradox within the United States Armed Forces. Although more than 1 million African Americans served in the war to defeat Nazism and fascism, they did so in segregated units. The same discriminatory Jim Crow policies that were rampant in American society were reinforced by the U.S. military. Black servicemen rarely saw combat and were largely relegated to labor and supply units that were commanded by white officers.

There were several African American units that proved essential in helping to win World War II, with the Tuskegee Airmen being among the most celebrated. But the Red Ball Express, the truck convoy of mostly Black drivers were responsible for delivering essential goods to General George S. Patton’s troops on the front lines in France. The all-Black 761st Tank Battalion fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and the 92 Infantry Division, fought in fierce ground battles in Italy. Yet, despite their role in defeating fascism, the fight for equality continued for African American soldiers after the World War II ended. They remained in segregated units and lower-ranking positions, well into the Korean War, a few years after President Truman signed an executive order to desegregate the U.S. military in 1948.

READ MORE: Black Americans Who Served in WWII Faced Discrimination Abroad and at Home

World War II Casualties and Legacy

World War II proved to be the deadliest international conflict in history, taking the lives of 60 to 80 million people, including 6 million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust. Civilians made up an estimated 50-55 million deaths from the war, while military comprised 21 to 25 million of those lost during the war. Millions more were injured, and still more lost their homes and property. 

The legacy of the war would include the spread of communism from the Soviet Union into eastern Europe as well as its eventual triumph in China, and the global shift in power from Europe to two rival superpowers–the United States and the Soviet Union–that would soon face off against each other in the Cold War.

Photo Galleries

The Pictures that Defined World War II

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U.S. Propaganda Posters of WWII

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World War II (short version)

What Started WW2? A Look At The Causes


What Started WW2? Military Causes

Although a variety of different factors caused World War Two, the main event and the trigged for what started WW2 was Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939.

Of course the invasion was preceded by decades of political conflict. The Treaty of Versailles, signed at the end of WW1, placed some very harsh restrictions on Germany, which created a feeling  of resentment among the Germans. Due to the financial depression of the 1920’s, Germany simply did not have the funds to pay the reparation fees demanded by the treaty.



Other countries were sympathetic and acted very lenient towards Germany, overlooking other clear violations of the Treaty, such as a union with Austria. They also decided not to interfere when Hitler began to expand his army and, afraid of starting another war, did nothing when he claimed back former German land from Czechoslovakia. When they however realized that Hitler was setting his sights on Poland in his plight to expand his empire, this was the last straw. As soon as Hitler attacked Poland, Britain and France declared war against Germany.

What Started WW2: Explanations from Propaganda

For those wondering how Hitler managed to get the German nation to support the invasion of Poland; Hitler did some very clever marketing in the form of propaganda. While the practice of manipulating public opinion is a mainstay of any political party today, it was an innovative practice in the early Twentieth Century. Nobody perfected this practice better than the Nazis, who devoted entire offices to propaganda and treated it with the same scientific thoroughness as weapons research.

Months before the 1939 invasion of Poland, Hitler and the German press accused the Polish of performing violent “ethnic cleansing” of Germans that were living in Poland. Adolf Hitler also ran several false flag operations such as the Gleiwitz incident, where he dressed his own men in Polish uniforms and ordered them to attack German stations. Needless to say, the Germans believed that Germany had to retaliate and that war with Poland was justified.

This article is part of our larger educational resource on World War Two. For a comprehensive list of World War 2 facts, including the primary actors in the war, causes, a comprehensive timeline, and bibliography, click here.

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The Second World War: a timeline

The Second World War began at dawn on Friday 1 September 1939, when Adolf Hitler launched his invasion of Poland. The Poles fought bravely, but they were heavily outnumbered in both men and machines, and especially in the air. Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, but gave no real assistance to Poland. Two weeks later, Stalin invaded eastern Poland, and on 27 September Warsaw surrendered. Organised Polish resistance ceased after another week’s fighting. Poland was divided up between Hitler and Stalin.

In Poland the Nazis unleashed a reign of terror that was eventually to claim six million victims, half of whom were Polish Jews murdered in extermination camps. The Soviet regime was no less harsh. In March and April 1940, Stalin ordered the murder of over 20,000 Polish officers and others who had been captured in September 1939. Tens of thousands of Poles were also forcibly deported to Siberia. By May 1945, and despite his promises to Churchill and Roosevelt, Stalin had installed a subservient communist regime in Poland. Back in 1939, Poland’s then-leader Marshal Eduard Smigly-Rydz had warned, “With the Germans we risk losing our liberty, but with the Russians we lose our soul.”



May 1940: Men of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) wade out to a destroyer during the evacuation from Dunkirk

On 10 May 1940, Hitler began his long-awaited offensive in the west by invading neutral Holland and Belgium and attacking northern France. Holland capitulated after only five days of fighting, and the Belgians surrendered on 28 May. With the success of the German ‘Blitzkrieg’, the British Expeditionary Force and French troops were in danger of being cut off and destroyed.

To save the BEF, an evacuation by sea was organised under the direction of Admiral Bertram Ramsay. Over nine days, warships of the Royal and French navies together with civilian craft, including the “little ships” made famous in a BBC broadcast by JB Priestley, successfully evacuated more than 338,000 British and Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, in the remarkable Operation Dynamo. Churchill called it a “miracle of deliverance”, but warned, “Wars are not won by evacuations.”

Nevertheless, the success of the evacuation strengthened not only Britain’s defences in the face of a German invasion threat, but also Churchill’s position against those like the foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, who favoured discussing peace terms. On 1 June 1940, the New York Times wrote, “So long as the English tongue survives, the word Dunkirk will be spoken with reverence.” Seventy years later, Dunkirk is still synonymous with refusing to give up in times of crisis.


The Battle of Britain

25 July 1940: RAF Spitfire pilots scramble for their planes

After France’s surrender in June 1940, Churchill told the British people, “Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war”. To mount a successful invasion, the Germans had to gain air superiority. The first phase of the battle began on 10 July with Luftwaffe attacks on shipping in the Channel.

The following month, RAF Fighter Command airfields and aircraft factories came under attack. Under the dynamic direction of Lord Beaverbrook, production of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters increased, and despite its losses in pilots and planes, the RAF was never as seriously weakened as the Germans supposed.

James Holland describes how the Luftwaffe and RAF fought to control the skies over Britain in 1940:

The British also had the advantage that the battle was fought over home ground; pilots who survived their planes being shot down were soon back in action, while German aircrew went into ‘the bag’ as prisoners of war.

The battle continued until the end of October, but essentially it had been won in early September when the Germans diverted their resources to night bombing. Radar, ground crews, aircraft factory workers all contributed to the victory, but it was of the young pilots from Britain, the Commonwealth and Nazi-occupied Europe of whom Churchill spoke when he said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.


The Blitz

29 December 1940: St Paul’s Cathedral photographed during the Second Great Fire of London

The Blitz – an abbreviation of the word Blitzkrieg (lightning war) – was the name given to the German air attacks on Britain between 7 September 1940 and 16 May 1941. London was bombed by accident on the night of 24 August 1940, and the following night Churchill ordered an attack on Berlin.

This prompted the Germans to shift their main effort from attacking RAF airfields to bombing Britain’s towns and cities. 7 September 1940, ‘Black Saturday’, saw the beginning of the first major attacks on London. The capital was bombed for 57 consecutive nights, when over 13,650 tons of high explosive and 12,586 incendiary canisters were dropped by the Luftwaffe.

Beginning with Coventry on 14 November 1940, the Germans also began bombing other cities and towns while still keeping up attacks on London. Over 43,000 civilians were killed in the Blitz and much material damage was done, but British morale remained unbroken and Britain’s capacity to wage war was unimpaired. In Churchill’s words, Hitler had tried and failed “To break our famous island race by a process of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction”.


Operation Barbarossa: the German invasion of Russia

June 1941: A column of Red Army prisoners taken during the first days of the German invasion

Since the 1920s, Hitler had seen Russia, with its immense natural resources, as the principal target for conquest and expansion. It would provide, he believed, the necessary ‘Lebensraum’, or living space, for the German people. And by conquering Russia, Hitler would also destroy the “Jewish pestilential creed of Bolshevism”. His non-aggression pact with Stalin in August 1939 he regarded as a mere temporary expedient.

Barely a month after the fall of France, and while the Battle of Britain was being fought, Hitler started planning for the Blitzkrieg campaign against Russia, which began on 22 June 1941. Despite repeated warnings, Stalin was taken by surprise, and for the first few months the Germans achieved spectacular victories, capturing huge swathes of land and hundreds of thousands of prisoners. But they failed to take Moscow or Leningrad before winter set in.

On 5/6 December, the Red Army launched a counter-offensive which removed the immediate threat to the Soviet capital. It also brought the German high command to the brink of a catastrophic military crisis. Hitler stepped in and took personal command. His intervention was decisive and he later boasted, “That we overcame this winter and are today in a position again to proceed victoriously… is solely attributable to the bravery of the soldiers at the front and my firm will to hold out…”


Pearl Harbor

7 December 1941: The destroyer USS Shaw explodes in dry dock after being hit by Japanese aircraft

After Japan’s occupation of French Indo-China in July 1941, US President Franklin D Roosevelt, followed by Britain and the Netherlands, ordered the freezing of Japanese assets. Many Japanese now believed that there was no alternative between economic ruin and going to war with the United States and the European colonial powers. In October 1941, a hardline government under General Hideki Tojo came to power, and preparations were made to deliver a devastating blow against the Americans.

On 7 December 1941, “a date which will live in infamy,” Japanese carrier-borne aircraft attacked the US Pacific fleet at its base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. Despite warnings, the Americans were caught completely by surprise. Eight battleships were put out of action, and seven other warships damaged or lost. Over 2,500 Americans were killed, while the Japanese lost only 29 planes. Crucially, the American carriers were at sea and so escaped, and the base itself was not put out of action. The following day Congress declared war on Japan, which had also attacked British and Dutch colonial possessions.

On 11 December, Hitler declared war on the United States, and the war was now truly a global conflict. The Japanese were initially victorious everywhere, but Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto warned: “We can run wild for six months or a year, but after that I have utterly no confidence”.


The fall of Singapore

15 February 1942: Lieutenant General Arthur Percival and staff on their way to the Singapore Ford factory to negotiate the island’s surrender with General Yamashita

The Japanese began their invasion of Malaya on 8 December 1941, and very soon the British and empire defenders were in full retreat. Told previously that the Japanese were no match for European troops, morale among the defending forces slumped as General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s forces moved swiftly southwards towards Singapore.

The sinking of the British capital ships HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse by Japanese aircraft also contributed to the decline in morale, and panic began to set in among the civil population and the fighting troops. British commander Lieutenant General Arthur Percival had hoped to make a stand at Johore, but was forced to withdraw to Singapore Island. The Japanese landed there on 8/9 February, and before long the defence collapsed. To avoid further bloodshed, and with his water supply gone, Percival surrendered on 15 February.

Churchill described the surrender as, “the worst disaster… in British military history”. Over 130,000 British and empire troops surrendered to a much smaller Japanese force, which only suffered 9,824 battle casualties during the 70-day campaign. Singapore was not only a humiliating military defeat, but also a tremendous blow to the prestige of the ‘white man’ throughout Asia.



4 June 1942: The American aircraft carrier USS Yorktown under Japanese attack during the battle of Midway

For six months after Pearl Harbor, just as Admiral Yamamoto predicted, Japanese forces carried all before them, capturing Hong Kong, Malaya, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. In May 1942, in an attempt to consolidate their grip on their new conquests, the Japanese sought to eliminate the United States as a strategic Pacific power.

This would be done by luring into a trap the US navy carriers that had escaped Pearl Harbor, while at the same time the Japanese would occupy the Midway atoll in preparation for further attacks. The loss of the carriers would, the Japanese hoped, force the Americans to the negotiating table. In the event, it was the Americans who inflicted a crushing defeat on the Japanese. Their codebreakers were able to determine the location and date of the Japanese attack. This enabled US admiral Chester Nimitz to organise a trap of his own.

During the ensuing battle the Japanese suffered the loss of four carriers, one heavy cruiser and 248 aircraft, while American losses totalled one carrier, one destroyer and 98 planes. By their victory at Midway, the turning point of the Pacific war, the Americans were able to seize the strategic initiative from the Japanese, who had suffered irreplaceable losses. Admiral Nimitz described the battle’s success as “Essentially a victory of intelligence”, while President Roosevelt called it “Our most important victory in 1942… there we stopped the Japanese offensive.”



25 October 1942: German prisoners of war wait for transport after their capture at Alamein

The North African campaign began in September1940, and for the next two years the fighting was marked by a succession of Allied and Axis advances and retreats. In the summer of 1942, the Axis forces under ‘Desert Fox’ field marshal, Erwin Rommel, looked poised to take Cairo and advance on the Suez Canal.

The British Middle East commander General Claude Auchinleck took personal command of the defending Eighth Army and halted the retreat at the strong defensive line at El Alamein. But Churchill, dissatisfied with Auchinleck, replaced him in August with General Harold Alexander, while Lieutenant -General Bernard Montgomery took over command of the Eighth Army.

Montgomery immediately began to build up an enormous superiority in men and equipment, finally launching his offensive at Alamein on 23 October 1942. By the beginning of November, the Axis forces were in full retreat, although final victory in North Africa was not achieved until May 1943.

Although Montgomery has been criticised for being too cautious in exploiting his success at Alamein, it made him a household name and he became Britain’s most popular general of the war. Churchill hailed Alamein as a “Glorious and decisive victory… the bright gleam has caught the helmets of our soldiers, and warmed and cheered all our hearts”.



February 1943: Red Army soldiers hoist the Soviet flag over a recaptured Stalingrad factory following the German surrender

The battle for Stalingrad began in late August 1942, and by 12 September, German troops of the Sixth and Fourth Panzer Armies had reached the city’s suburbs. Bearing the name of Russia’s leader, Stalingrad had a symbolic significance as well as a strategic one.

Throughout September and October, under General Vassili Chuikov, the city’s defenders contested every yard of ground of the devastated city. The Red Army’s stubborn defence allowed General Georgi Zhukov time to prepare a counterattack that was launched on 19 November 1942, and which soon trapped the Sixth Army commanded by General Friederich Paulus.

Hitler, wrongly assured by Göring that the Luftwaffe could supply Stalingrad by air, ordered Paulus to hold out. He also ordered Field Marshal Erich Manstein to break through and relieve the beleaguered Sixth Army. Manstein was unsuccessful, and on 31 January 1943 Paulus capitulated. Of the 91,000 German troops who went into captivity, less than 6,000 returned home after the war. Stalingrad was one of Germany’s greatest defeats, and it effectively marked the end of Hitler’s dreams of an empire in the east.


D-Day, Operation Overlord

6 June 1944: British commandos of the First Special Service Brigade land on Sword Beach

Operation Overlord, the invasion and liberation of north-west Europe, began on D-Day, 6 June 1944. That day, under the overall command of US General Dwight Eisenhower, British, Canadian and American troops, supported by the Allied navies and air forces, came ashore on the coast of Normandy. By the end of the day, 158,000 men, including airborne troops, had landed. Initially, except on the American Omaha beach, German resistance was unexpectedly light. But it soon stiffened and the Allied breakout from the beachhead area was painfully slow.

The fierceness of the fighting can be gauged by the fact that in Normandy British infantry battalions were suffering the same percentage casualty rates as they had on the Western Front in 1914–1918. Eventually the breakout was achieved, and on 25 August, Paris was liberated. Brussels followed on 3 September. Hopes that the war might be won in 1944 were dashed by the Allied failure at Arnhem and the unexpected German offensive in the Ardennes in December. It was not until 4 May 1945 that the German forces in north-west Europe surrendered to Montgomery at his HQ on Lüneburg Heath.


Yalta: The Big Three

February 1945: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin sit for a group photograph during the Yalta conference

Between June 1940 and June 1941, Britain stood alone against Hitler. But then, after the German invasion of Russia and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she gained two powerful allies. For the next four years Churchill did his utmost to foster ‘The Grand Alliance’ against the Nazis. He even earned the grudging admiration of Nazi propaganda chief Dr Goebbels who said, “…I can feel only respect for this man, for whom no humiliation is too base and no trouble too great when the victory of the Allies is at stake”.

Churchill conferred with both Roosevelt and Stalin to hammer out strategy and to discuss postwar arrangements. The three men congregated for the first time at Tehran in November 1943. There, and again at their last meeting at Yalta, Churchill was conscious of the fact that Britain, exhausted by her war effort, was now very much the junior partner of the two emerging superpowers.

At Yalta, the postwar division of Germany was agreed upon as was the decision to bring war criminals to trial. The future constitution of the United Nations was discussed, and Stalin undertook to enter the war against Japan after Germany had been defeated. But the future of eastern Europe remained a stumbling block. With the Red Army in occupation, the Soviet dictator was disinclined to listen to the views of his two allies.



13/14 February 1945: Dresden under incendiary bomb attack

At Yalta, an Allied plan to bomb the hitherto untouched city of Dresden was discussed. The reason for attacking the city was due principally to its strategic importance as a communications centre in the rear of the German retreat that followed the Soviet winter offensive of January 1945. It was also believed that Dresden might be used as an alternative to Berlin as the Reich capital.

The attack was part of a plan codenamed ‘Thunderclap’, designed to convince the Germans that the war was lost. It was drawn up in January 1945, when Hitler’s Ardennes offensive, V2 rocket attacks on Britain and the deployment of snorkel-equipped U-boats clearly demonstrated that Germany was still capable of offering stubborn resistance. Strategic bombing attacks had previously failed to break Germany, although they had proved valuable in reducing its capacity to wage war.

Now, on the night of 13/14 February 1945, Dresden was attacked by 800 RAF bombers, followed by 400 bombers of the United States Army Air Force. The bombing created a firestorm that destroyed 1,600 acres of Dresden. Even today it is still uncertain as to how many died and estimates have ranged from 25,000 to 135,000. Most authorities now put the death toll at around 35,000. The scale of destruction, the enormous death toll, and its timing at such a late stage in the war, have all ensured that the bombing of Dresden still remains highly controversial.

Sinclair McKay explores the bombing of Dresden, one of the most controversial Allied actions of the Second World War:



17 April 1945: Bodies of dead prisoners at the newly liberated Belsen concentration camp

Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated by the British Army on 15 April 1945. The photographs, newsreel films and Richard Dimbleby’s moving BBC broadcast from the camp sent a shockwave of horror and revulsion through Britain. Stories about concentration camps and the Nazi persecution and extermination of the Jews had been circulating since 1933, but this was the first time that the British public were faced with the reality of Hitler’s Final Solution of the Jewish Question – the Holocaust.

Even today it is not known for certain when the order to set about systematic extermination of European Jewry was given. But by December 1941, the first extermination camp at Chelmno in German-occupied Poland was in operation, while mass shootings of Soviet Jews had begun in June.

On 20 January 1942, a meeting of Nazi bureaucrats took place at Wannsee, near Berlin, to discuss the technicalities of the Final Solution. It is estimated that nearly six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, over 1.1 million in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, the largest extermination camp in German-occupied Poland. During the Second World War, Hitler’s racial policies also claimed many millions of non-Jewish victims, including Soviet prisoners of war, those with mental and physical disabilities, gypsies (Roma and Sinti), homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The future Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie saw Belsen just after it was liberated. Years later he said,“ A war that closed down Belsen was a war worth fighting”.


VE Day

8 May 1945: millions of people rejoice in the news that Germany has surrendered – the war in Europe was finally over

On the afternoon of 8 May 1945, the British prime minister Winston Churchill made the radio announcement that the world had long been waiting for. “Yesterday morning,” he declared, “at 2.41 a.m., at General Eisenhower’s headquarters, General Jodl, the representative of the German High Command, and Grand Admiral Dönitz, the designated head of the German State, signed the act of unconditional surrender of all German land, sea and air forces in Europe.” After nearly six years, the war in Europe was finally over.

But while VE Day marked the end of the Second World War in Europe, fighting in the far east would continue for another three-and-a-half months. As a consequence, there was always a slightly solemn undercurrent to the celebrations of VE Day. Japan was not finally defeated until after the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945…



9 August 1945: Atomic bomb mushroom cloud over the Japanese city of Nagasaki

On 2 August 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt alerting him to the military potential of splitting the atom. Fears that German scientists might be working on an atomic bomb, prompted the Americans and British to set up the Manhattan Project to develop their own atomic weapon. It was successfully tested in the desert near Alamogordo in New Mexico on 16 July 1945 and the news was flashed to Roosevelt’s successor Harry Truman, who was meeting Churchill and Stalin at Potsdam. Although the bomb had been conceived with Germany as the target, it was now seen as both a way of quickly ending the war with Japan, and as a lever to apply political pressure on the Russians.

Although the Japanese were warned that if they carried on fighting their homeland would face “utter devastation”, they continued to resist with their usual fanaticism. Thus, the first atomic bomb to be used militarily, codenamed Little Boy, was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

An estimated 78,000 people died and 90,000 others were seriously injured. Three days later a second bomb, Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki causing a similar loss of life.


Japan surrenders

2 September 1945: Japan surrenders to the Allies, ending the Second World War

The dropping of the atomic bombs brought about the quick acceptance of Allied terms and Japan surrendered on 14 August 1945. Japan publicly announced its surrender on 15 August 1945. This day has since been commemorated as Victory over Japan – or ‘VJ’ – Day.

But the official surrender documents were not signed until 2 September, which is considered VJ Day in the USA. The formal surrender took place on USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945, six years and one day after the Germans invaded Poland. The Second World War was officially over.

The late Terry Charman was a senior historian at the Imperial War Museum London and the author of Outbreak 1939: The World Goes to War (Virgin, 2009).

This article was first published in our special edition, ‘The Second World War Story’

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How Japan Technically Started World War 2 - Titans Of The 20th Century - Timeline

Causes of World War II

The causes of World War II

For broader coverage of this topic, see World War II.

The causes of World War II, a global war from 1939 to 1945 that was the deadliest conflict in human history, have been given considerable attention by historians from many countries who studied and understood them. The immediate precipitating event was the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany on September 1, 1939, and the subsequent declarations of war on Germany made by Britain and France, but many other prior events have been suggested as ultimate causes. Primary themes in historical analysis of the war's origins include the political takeover of Germany in 1933 by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party; Japanese militarism against China, which led to the Second Sino-Japanese War; Italian aggression against Ethiopia, which led to the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and Germany's initial success in negotiating the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with the Soviet Union to divide the territorial control of Eastern Europe between them.

During the interwar period, deep anger arose in the Weimar Republic on the conditions of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which punished Germany for its role in World War I with severe conditions and heavy financial reparations to prevent it from ever becoming a military power again. That provoked strong currents of revanchism in German politics, with complaints primarily focused on the demilitarisation of the Rhineland, the prohibition of German unification with Austria and the loss of some German-speaking territories and overseas colonies.

During the worldwide economic crisis of the Great Depression in the 1930s, many people lost faith in democracy and countries across the world turned to authoritarian regimes.[1] In Germany, resentment and hatred of other countries was intensified by the instability of the German political system, as many activists rejected the Weimar Republic's legitimacy. The most extreme political aspirant to emerge from that situation was Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party. The Nazis took totalitarian power in Germany from 1933 and demanded the undoing of the Versailles provisions. Their ambitious and aggressive domestic and foreign policies reflected their ideologies of anti-Semitism, unification of all Germans, the acquisition of "living space" (Lebensraum) for agrarian settlers, the elimination of Bolshevism and the hegemony of an "Aryan"/"Nordic" master race over "subhumans" (Untermenschen) such as Jews and Slavs. Other factors leading to the war included the aggression by Fascist Italy against Ethiopia and by Imperial Japan against China.

At first, the aggressive moves met with only feeble and ineffectual policies of appeasement from the other major world powers. The League of Nations proved helpless, especially regarding China and Ethiopia. A decisive proximate event was the 1938 Munich Conference, which formally approved Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. Hitler promised it was his last territorial claim, but in early 1939, he became even more aggressive, and European governments finally realised that appeasement would not guarantee peace.

Britain and France rejected diplomatic efforts to form a military alliance with the Soviet Union, and Hitler instead offered Stalin a better deal in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939. An alliance formed by Germany, Japan and Italy led to the establishment of the Axis Powers.

Ultimate causes[edit]

Further information: International relations (1919–1939)

Legacies of World War I[edit]

Further information: Aftermath of World War I and Treaty of Versailles

By the end of World War I in late 1918, the world's social and geopolitical circumstances had fundamentally and irrevocably changed. The Allies had been victorious, but many of Europe's economies and infrastructures had been devastated, including those of the victors. France, along with the other victors, was in a desperate situation regarding its economy, security and morale and understood that its position in 1918 was "artificial and transitory".[2] Thus, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau worked to gain French security via the Treaty of Versailles, and French security demands, such as reparations, coal payments, and a demilitarised Rhineland, took precedence at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919–1920,[2] which designed the treaty. The war "must be someone's fault – and that's a very natural human reaction", analysed the historian Margaret MacMillan.[3]Germany was charged with the sole responsibility of starting World War I, and the War Guilt Clause was the first step to satisfying revenge for the victor countries, especially France, against Germany. Roy H. Ginsberg argued, "France was greatly weakened and, in its weakness and fear of a resurgent Germany, sought to isolate and punish Germany.... French revenge would come back to haunt France during the Nazi invasion and occupation twenty years later".[4]

Germany after Versailles

  Administered by the League of Nations

  Annexed or transferred to neighbouring countries by the treaty or later by plebiscites and League of Nation actions

  Weimar Germany

The two main provisions of the French security agenda were war reparations from Germany in the form of money and coal and a detached German Rhineland. The French government printed excess currency, which created inflation, to compensate for the lack of funds, and it borrowed money from the United States. Reparations from Germany were needed to stabilise the French economy.[5] France also demanded for Germany to give France its coal supply from the Ruhr to compensate for the destruction of French coal mines during the war. The French demanded an amount of coal that was a "technical impossibility" for the Germans to pay.[6] France also insisted on the demilitarisation of the German Rhineland in the hope of hindering any possibility of a future German attack and giving France a physical security barrier between itself and Germany.[7] The inordinate amount of reparations, coal payments and the principle of a demilitarised Rhineland were largely viewed by the Germans as insulting and unreasonable.

The resulting Treaty of Versailles brought a formal end to the war but was judged by governments on all sides of the conflict. It was neither lenient enough to appease Germany nor harsh enough to prevent it from becoming a dominant continental power again.[8] The German people largely viewed the treaty as placing the blame, or "war guilt", on Germany and Austria-Hungary and as punishing them for their "responsibility", rather than working out an agreement that would assure long-term peace. The treaty imposed harsh monetary reparations and requirements for demilitarisation and territorial dismemberment, caused mass ethnic resettlement and separated millions of ethnic Germans into neighbouring countries.

In the effort to pay war reparations to Britain and France, the Weimar Republic printed trillions of marks, which caused hyperinflation. Robert O. Paxton stated, "No postwar German government believed it could accept such a burden on future generations and survive...".[5] Paying reparations to the victorious side had been a traditional punishment with a long history of use, but it was the "extreme immoderation" that caused German resentment. Germany did not make its last World War I reparation payment until 3 October 2010,[9] 92 years after the end of the war. Germany also fell behind its coal payments because of a passive resistance movement against France.[10] In response, the French invaded the Ruhr and occupied it. By then, most Germans had become enraged with the French and placed the blame for their humiliation on the Weimar Republic. Adolf Hitler, a leader of the Nazi Party, attempted a coup d'état in 1923 in what became known as the Beer Hall Putsch, and he intended to establish a Greater Germanic Reich.[11] Although he failed, Hitler gained recognition as a national hero by the German population.

During the war, German colonies outside Europe had been annexed by the Allies, and Italy took the southern half of Tyrol after the armistice. The war in the east had ended with the defeat and the collapse of the Russian Empire, and German troops had occupied large parts of Eastern and Central Europe with varying degrees of control and established various client states such as a kingdom of Poland and the United Baltic Duchy. The German Navy spent most of the war in port, only to be turned over to the Allies. It was scuttled by its own officers to avoid it from being surrendered. Decades later, the lack of an obvious military defeat would be one of the pillars holding together the Dolchstosslegende ("stab-in-the-back myth"), which gave the Nazis another propaganda tool.

The demilitarised Rhineland and the additional cutbacks on military also infuriated the Germans. Although France logically wanted the Rhineland to be a neutral zone, France had the power to make their desire happen, which merely exacerbated German resentment of the French. In addition, the Treaty of Versailles dissolved the German general staff, and possession of navy ships, aircraft, poison gas, tanks and heavy artillery was also made illegal.[7] The humiliation of being bossed around by the victor countries, especially France, and being stripped of their prized military made the Germans resent the Weimar Republic and idolise anyone who stood up to it.[12] Austria also found the treaty unjust, which encouraged Hitler's popularity.

The conditions generated bitter resentment towards the war's victors, who had promised the Germans that US President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points would be a guideline for peace; but the Americans had played only a minor role in the war, and Wilson could not convince the Allies to agree to adopt his Fourteen Points. Many Germans felt that the German government had agreed to an armistice based on that understanding, and others felt that the German Revolution of 1918–1919 had been orchestrated by the "November criminals", who later assumed office in the new Weimar Republic. The Japanese also started to express resentment against Western Europe for how they were treated during the negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles. The Japanese proposition to discuss the issue of racial equality was not put in the final draft because of many other Allies, and the Japanese participation in the war caused little reward for the country.[13] The war's economic and psychological legacies of the persisted well into the Interwar Period.

Failure of League of Nations[edit]

The League of Nations was an international peacekeeping organization founded in 1919 with the explicit goal of preventing future wars.[14] The League's methods included disarmament, collective security, the settlement disputes between countries by negotiations and diplomacy and the improvement global welfare. The diplomatic philosophy behind the League represented a fundamental shift in thought from the preceding century. The old philosophy of "concert of nations", which grew out of the Congress of Vienna (1815), saw Europe as a shifting map of alliances among nation-states, which created a balance of power that was maintained by strong armies and secret agreements. Under the new philosophy, the League would act as a government of governments, with the role of settling disputes between individual nations in an open and legalist forum. Despite Wilson's advocacy, the United States never joined the League of Nations.

The official opening of the League of Nations, 15 November 1920

The League lacked an armed force of its own and so depended on member nations to enforce its resolutions, uphold economic sanctions that the League ordered or provide an army when needed for the League to use. However, individual governments were often very reluctant to do so. After numerous notable successes and some early failures in the 1920s, the League ultimately proved incapable of preventing aggression by the Axis Powers in the 1930s. The reliance upon unanimous decisions, the lack of an independent body of armed forces and the continued self-interest of its leading members meant that the failure was arguably inevitable.[15][16]

Expansionism and militarism[edit]

Further information: Italian irredentism, Weimar Republic, Statism in Shōwa Japan, and Japanese militarism

Expansionism is the doctrine of expanding the territorial base or economic influence of a country, usually by means of military aggression. Militarism is the principle or policy of maintaining a strong military capability to use aggressively to expand national interests and/or values, with the view that military efficiency is the supreme ideal of a state.[17]

The Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations had sought to stifle expansionist and militarist policies by all actors, but the conditions imposed by their creators imposed on the world's new geopolitical situation and the technological circumstances of the era only emboldened the re-emergence of those ideologies during the Interwar Period. By the early 1930s, a militaristic and aggressive national ideology prevailed in Germany, Japan and Italy.[18] The attitude fuelled advancements in military technology, subversive propaganda and ultimately territorial expansion. It has been observed that the leaders of countries that have been suddenly militarised often feel a need to prove that their armies are formidable, which was often a contributing factor in the start of conflicts such as the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and the Second Sino-Japanese War.[19]

In Italy, Benito Mussolini sought to create a New Roman Empire, based around the Mediterranean. Italy invaded Ethiopia as early as 1935, Albania in early 1938, and later Greece. The invasion of Ethiopia provoked angry words and a failed oil embargo from the League of Nations.

Under the Nazi regime, Germany began its own program of expansion that sought to restore its "rightful" boundaries. As a prelude toward its goals, the Rhineland was remilitarised in March 1936.[20] Also of importance was the idea of a Greater Germany, supporters of which hoped to unite the German people under one nation-state to include all territories inhabited by Germans, even if they happened to be a minority in a particular territory. After the Treaty of Versailles, a unification between Germany and the newly formed German-Austria, a rump state of Austria-Hungary, was prohibited by the Allies, despite the large majority of Austrians supporting the idea.

During the Weimar Republic (1919–1933), the Kapp Putsch, an attempted coup d'état against the republican government, was launched by disaffected members of the armed forces. Later, some of the more radical militarists and nationalists were submerged in grief and despair into the Nazi Party, and more moderate elements of militarism declined. The result was an influx of militarily-inclined men into the Nazi Party. Combined with its racial theories, that fuelled irredentist sentiments and put Germany on a collision course for war with its immediate neighbours.

In Asia, the Empire of Japan harboured expansionist desires towards Manchuria and the Republic of China. Two contemporaneous factors in Japan contributed both to the growing power of its military and the chaos in its ranks before World War I. One was the Cabinet Law, which required the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) to nominate cabinet members before changes could be formed. That essentially gave the military a veto power over the formation of any Cabinet in the ostensibly-parliamentary country. The other factor was gekokujō, the institutionalized disobedience by junior officers. It was common for radical junior officers to press their goals to the extent of assassinating their seniors. In 1936, the phenomenon resulted in the February 26 Incident in which junior officers attempted a coup d'état and killed leading members of the Japanese government. In the 1930s, the Great Depression wrecked Japan's economy and gave radical elements within the Japanese military the chance to force the entire military into working towards the conquest of all of Asia.

For example, in 1931, the Kwantung Army, a Japanese military force stationed in Manchuria, staged the Mukden Incident, which sparked the invasion of Manchuria and its transformation into the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo.

Germans vs. Slavs[edit]

Further information: Racial policy of Nazi Germany, Lebensraum, and Drang nach Osten

Twentieth-century events marked the culmination of a millennium-long process of intermingling between Germans and Slavic people. The rise of nationalism in the 19th century made race a centerpiece of political loyalty. The rise of the nation-state had given way to the politics of identity, including pan-Germanism and pan-Slavism. Furthermore, Social Darwinist theories framed the coexistence as a "Teuton vs. Slav" struggle for domination, land, and limited resources.[21] Integrating these ideas into their own worldview, the Nazis believed that the Germans, the "Aryan race", were the master race and that the Slavs were inferior.[22]

Japan's seizure of resources and markets[edit]

Japanese occupation of China in 1937

Other than a few coal and iron deposits and a small oil field on Sakhalin Island, Japan lacked strategic mineral resources. In the early 20th century, in the Russo-Japanese War, Japan had succeeded in pushing back the East Asian expansion of the Russian Empire in competition for Korea and Manchuria.

Japan's goal after 1931 was economic dominance of most of East Asia, often expressed in the Pan-Asian terms of "Asia for the Asians".[23] Japan was determined to dominate the China market, which the US and other European powers had been dominating. On October 19, 1939, US Ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew, in a formal address to the America-Japan Society, stated that

the new order in East Asia has appeared to include, among other things, depriving Americans of their long established rights in China, and to this the American people are opposed.... American rights and interests in China are being impaired or destroyed by the policies and actions of the Japanese authorities in China.[24]

In 1937, Japan invaded Manchuria and China proper. Under the guise of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, with slogans such as "Asia for the Asians!", Japan sought to remove the Western powers' influence in China and replace it with Japanese domination.[25][26]

The ongoing conflict in China led to a deepening conflict with the US in which public opinion was alarmed by events such as the Nanking Massacre and growing Japanese power. Lengthy talks were held between the US and Japan. The Japanese invasion of the south of French Indochina made President Franklin Roosevelt freeze all Japanese assets in the US. The intended consequence was to halt oil shipments from the US to Japan, which supplied 80 percent of Japanese oil imports. The Netherlands and Britain followed suit.

With oil reserves that would last only a year and a half during peacetime and much less during wartime, the ABCD line left Japan two choices: comply with the US-led demand to pull out of China or seize the oilfields in the East Indies from the Netherlands. The Japanese government deemed it unacceptable to retreat from China.[27]

Mason-Overy debate: "Flight into War" theory[edit]

In the late 1980s, the British historian Richard Overy was involved in a historical dispute with Timothy Mason that played out mostly over the pages of the Past and Present journal over the reasons for the outbreak of the war in 1939. Mason had contended that a "flight into war" had been imposed on Hitler by a structural economic crisis, which confronted Hitler with the choice of making difficult economic decisions or aggression. Overy argued against Mason's thesis by maintaining that Germany was faced with economic problems in 1939, but the extent of those problems could not explain aggression against Poland and the reasons for the outbreak of war were the choices made by the Nazi leadership.

Mason had argued that the German working-class was always against the Nazi dictatorship; that in the overheated German economy of the late 1930s, German workers could force employers to grant higher wages by leaving for another firm and so grant the desired wage increases and that such a form of political resistance forced Hitler to go to war in 1939.[28] Thus, the outbreak of the war was caused by structural economic problems, a "flight into war" imposed by a domestic crisis.[28] The key aspects of the crisis were, according to Mason, a shaky economic recovery that was threatened by a rearmament program that overwhelmed the economy and in which the regime's nationalist bluster limited its options.[28] In that way, Mason articulated a Primat der Innenpolitik ("primacy of domestic politics") view of the war's origins by the concept of social imperialism.[29] Mason's Primat der Innenpolitik thesis was in marked contrast to the Primat der Außenpolitik ("primacy of foreign politics"), which is usually used to explain the war.[28] Mason thought German foreign policy was driven by domestic political considerations, and the launch the war in 1939 was best understood as a "barbaric variant of social imperialism".[30]

Mason argued, "Nazi Germany was always bent at some time upon a major war of expansion".[31] However, Mason argued that the timing of such a war was determined by domestic political pressures, especially as relating to a failing economy, and had nothing to do with what Hitler wanted.[31] Mason believed that from 1936 to 1941, the state of the German economy, not Hitler's "will" or "intentions", was the most important determinate on German foreign policy decisions.[32]

Mason argued that the Nazi leaders were so deeply haunted by the November 1918 German Revolution that they were most unwilling to see any fall in working-class living standards for fear of provoking a repetition of the revolution.[32] Mason stated that by 1939, the "overheating" of the German economy caused by rearmament, the failure of various rearmament plans produced by the shortages of skilled workers, industrial unrest caused by the breakdown of German social policies and the sharp drop in living standards for the German working class forced Hitler into going to war at a time and a place that were not of his choosing.[33]

Mason contended that when faced with the deep socio-economic crisis, the Nazi leadership had decided to embark upon a ruthless foreign policy of "smash and grab" to seize territory in Eastern Europe that could be pitilessly plundered to support the living standards in Germany.[34] Mason described German foreign policy as driven by an opportunistic "next victim" syndrome after the Anschluss in which the "promiscuity of aggressive intentions" was nurtured by every successful foreign policy move.[35] Mason's considered the decision to sign the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and to attack Poland despite the risk of a war against Britain and France to be the abandonment by Hitler of his foreign policy program outlined in Mein Kampf and to have been forced on him by his need to stop a collapsing German economy by seizing territory abroad to be plundered.[33]

For Overy, the problem with Mason's thesis was that it rested on the assumption that in a way that was not shown by the records, information was passed on to Hitler about Germany's economic problems.[36] Overy argued for a difference between economic pressures induced by the problems of the Four Year Plan and economic motives to seize raw materials, industry and foreign reserves of neighbouring states as a way of accelerating the plan.[37] Overy asserted that Mason downplayed the repressive German state's capacity to deal with domestic unhappiness.[36] Finally, Overy argued that there is considerable evidence that Germany felt that it could master the economic problems of rearmament. As one civil servant put it in January 1940, "we have already mastered so many difficulties in the past, that here too, if one or other raw material became extremely scarce, ways and means will always yet be found to get out of a fix".[38]

Proximate causes[edit]

Nazi dictatorship[edit]

Further information: Nazi Germany and Nazi Party

Hitler and his Nazis took full control of Germany in 1933–34 (Machtergreifung), turning it into a dictatorship with a highly hostile outlook toward the Treaty of Versailles and Jews.[39] It solved its unemployment crisis by heavy military spending.[40]

Hitler's diplomatic tactics were to make seemingly-reasonable demands and to threaten war if they were not met. After concessions were made, he accepted them and moved onto a new demand.[41] When opponents tried to appease him, he accepted the gains that were offered and went to the next target. That aggressive strategy worked as Germany pulled out of the League of Nations (1933), rejected the Versailles Treaty, began to rearm with the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (1935), won back the Saar (1935), re-militarized the Rhineland (1936), formed an alliance ("axis") with Mussolini's Italy (1936), sent massive military aid to Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), seized Austria (1938), took over Czechoslovakia after the British and French appeasement of the Munich Agreement of 1938, formed a peace pact with Stalin's Russia in August 1939 and finally invaded Poland in September 1939.[42]

Remilitarization of the Rhineland[edit]

In violation of the Treaty of Versailles and the spirit of the Locarno Pact and the Stresa Front, Germany remilitarized the Rhineland on March 7, 1936, by moving German troops into the part of western Germany in which according to the Versailles Treaty, they were not allowed. Neither France nor Britain was prepared fight a preventive war to stop the violation and so there were no consequences.[43]

Italian invasion of Abyssinia[edit]

Further information: Second Italo-Abyssinian War

After the Stresa Conference and even as a reaction to the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini attempted to expand the Italian Empire in Africa by invading the Ethiopian Empire, also known as the Abyssinian Empire. The League of Nations declared Italy to be the aggressor and imposed sanctions on oil sales, which proved ineffective. Italy annexed Ethiopia on May 7 and merged Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somaliland into a single colony, known as Italian East Africa. On June 30, 1936, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie gave a stirring speech before the League of Nations denouncing Italy's actions and criticizing the world community for standing by. He warned, "It is us today. It will be you tomorrow". As a result of the League's condemnation of Italy, Mussolini declared the country's withdrawal from the organization.[44]

Spanish Civil War[edit]

Further information: Spanish Civil War

Between 1936 and 1939, Germany and Italy lent support to the Nationalists led by general Francisco Franco in Spain, and the Soviet Union supported the existing democratically-elected government, the Spanish Republic, led by Manuel Azaña. Both sides experimented with new weapons and tactics. The League of Nations was never involved, and its major powers remained neutral and tried with little success to stop arms shipments into Spain. The Nationalists eventually defeated the Republicans in 1939.[45]

Spain negotiated with joining the Axis but remained neutral during World War II and did business with both sides. It also sent a volunteer unit to help the Germans against the Soviets. The Spanish Civil War was considered in the 1940s and 1950s to be a prelude to World War II, which was the case to some extent by changing it into an antifascist contest after 1941, but bore no resemblance to the war that started in 1939 and had no major role in causing it.[46][47]

Second Sino-Japanese War[edit]

Further information: Second Sino-Japanese War

In 1931, Japan took advantage of China's weakness in the Warlord Era and fabricated the Mukden Incident in 1931 to set up the puppet state of Manchukuo in Manchuria, with Emperor Puyi, who had been the last emperor of China. In 1937 the Marco Polo Bridge Incident triggered the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The invasion was launched by the bombing of many cities such as Shanghai, Nanjing and Guangzhou. The latest, which began on 22 and 23 September 1937, called forth widespread protests culminating in a resolution by the Far Eastern Advisory Committee of the League of Nations. The Imperial Japanese Army captured the Chinese capital city of Nanjing and committed war crimes in the Nanjing Massacre. The war tied down large numbers of Chinese soldiers and so Japan set up three different Chinese puppet states to enlist some Chinese support.[48]


The Anschluss was the 1938 annexation by threat of force of Austria into Germany. Historically, Pan-Germanism was the idea of creating a Greater Germany to include all ethnic Germans into one nation-state and was popular in both Austria and Germany.[49]

The National Socialist Program included the idea in one of its points: "We demand the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany on the basis of the people's right to self-determination."

The Stresa Front of 1935 between Britain, France and Italy had guaranteed the independence of Austria, but after the creation of the Rome-Berlin Axis, Mussolini was much less interested in upholding its independence.

The Austrian government resisted as long as possible but had no outside support and finally gave in to Hitler's fiery demands. No fighting occurred, most Austrians supported the annexation and Austria was fully absorbed as part of Germany. Outside powers did nothing, and Italy had little reason for continued opposition to Germany and, if anything, was drawn in closer to the Nazis.[50][51]

Munich Agreement[edit]

Further information: Munich Agreement and Appeasement

The Sudetenland was a predominantly-German region in Czechoslovakia along the border with Germany. It had more than three million ethnic Germans, who comprised almost a quarter of the country's population. In the Treaty of Versailles, the region was given to the Czechoslovakia against the wishes of most of the local population. The decision to disregard its right to self-determination was based on France's intent to weaken Germany. Much of Sudetenland was industrialised.[52]

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlainand Hitler at a meeting in Germany on 24 September 1938, and Hitler demanded the immediate annexation of Czechoslovak border areas.

Czechoslovakia had a modern army of 38 divisions, backed by a well-noted armament industry (Škoda) and military alliances with France and the Soviet Union. However, its defensive strategy against Germany was based on the mountains of the Sudetenland.

Hitler pressed for the Sudetenland's incorporation into Germany and supported German separatist groups within the region. Alleged Czechoslovak brutality and persecution under Prague helped to stir up nationalist tendencies, as did the Nazi press. After the Anschluss, all German parties except for the German Social-Democratic Party merged with the Sudeten German Party (SdP). Paramilitary activity and extremist violence peaked during the period, and the Czechoslovak government declared martial law in parts of the Sudetenland to maintain order. That only complicated the situation, especially since Slovak nationalism was rising from suspicion towards Prague and encouragement by Germany. Citing the need to protect the Germans in Czechoslovakia, Germany requested the immediate annexation of the Sudetenland.

In the Munich Agreement on September 30, 1938, the British, French, and Italian prime ministers appeased Hitler by giving him what he wanted in the hope that it would be his last demand. The powers allowed Germany to move troops into the region and incorporate it into the Reich "for the sake of peace". In exchange, Hitler gave his word that Germany would make no further territorial claims in Europe.[53] Czechoslovakia was not allowed to participate in the conference. When the French and British negotiators informed the Czechoslovak representatives about the agreement and that if Czechoslovakia would not accept it, France and Britain would consider Czechoslovakia to be responsible for war and stay neutral, Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš capitulated and Germany took the Sudetenland unopposed.[54]

Chamberlain's policies have been the subject of intense debate for more than 70 years by academics, politicians and diplomats. The historians' assessments have ranged from condemnation for allowing Hitler's Germany to grow too strong to the judgment that Germany was so strong that it might well win a war and so the postponement of a showdown was in the country's best interests.[55]

German occupation and Slovak independence[edit]

Further information: Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia and Slovak Republic (1939–1945)

All territories taken from Czechoslovakia by its neighbours in October 1938 ("Munich Dictate") and March 1939

In March 1939, breaking the Munich Agreement, German troops invaded Prague, and with the Slovaks declaring independence, Czechoslovakia disappeared as a country. The entire ordeal ended the French and British policy of appeasement.

Italian invasion of Albania[edit]

Further information: Italian invasion of Albania

After the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, Mussolini feared for Italy becoming a second-rate member of the Axis. Rome delivered Tirana an ultimatum on March 25, 1939, by demanding the accession to Italy's occupation of Albania. King Zog refused to accept money in exchange for allowing a full Italian takeover and colonization of Albania.

On April 7, 1939, Italian troops invaded Albania, which was occupied after a three-day campaign with minimal resistance offered by Albanian forces.

Soviet–Japanese Border War[edit]

Further information: Battle of Khalkhin Gol

In 1939, the Japanese attacked west from Manchuria into the Mongolian People's Republic after the 1938 Battle of Lake Khasan. They were decisively beaten by Soviet units, under General Georgy Zhukov. After the battle, the Soviet Union and Japan were at peace until 1945. Japan looked south to expand its empire, which led to conflict with the United States over the Philippines and the control of shipping lanes to the Dutch East Indies. The Soviet Union focused on its western border but left 1 million to 1.5 million troops to guard its border with Japan.

Danzig crisis[edit]

Further information: Free City of Danzig (interwar) and Polish Corridor

After the end of Czechoslovakia proved that Germany could not be trusted, Britain and France decided on a change of strategy. They decided any further unilateral German expansion would be met by force. The natural next target for German expansion was Poland, whose access to the Baltic sea had been carved out of West Prussia by the Versailles Treaty, which made East Prussia an exclave. The main port of the area, Danzig, had been made into a free city-state under Polish influence guaranteed by the League of Nations, a stark reminder to German nationalists of the Napoleonic free city that had been established after French Emperor Napoleon I's crushing victory over Prussia in 1807.

After taking power, the Nazi government made efforts to establish friendly relations with Poland, which resulted in the signing of the ten-year German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact with the Piłsudski regime in 1934. In 1938, Poland participated in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia by annexing Zaolzie. In 1939, Hitler claimed extraterritoriality for the Reichsautobahn Berlin-Königsberg and a change in Danzig's status in exchange for promises of territory in Poland's neighbours and a 25-year extension of the non-aggression pact. Poland refused for fear of losing its de facto access to the sea, subjugation as a German satellite state or client state and future further German demands.[56][57] In August 1939, Hitler delivered an ultimatum to Poland on Danzig's status.

Polish alliance with Entente[edit]

Further information: British-Polish Military Alliance and Franco-Polish alliance (1921)


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (July 2014)

In March 1939, Britain and France guaranteed the independence of Poland. Hitler's claims in the summer of 1939 on Danzig and the Polish Corridor provoked yet another international crisis. On August 25, Britain signed the Polish-British Common Defence Pact.

Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact[edit]

Germany invaded Polandon 1 September 1939 which directly led to the Anglo-French declaration of war on Germany on 3 September. The Soviet Union joined Germany's invasion of Poland on 17 September.

Further information: Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Soviet invasion of Poland, Occupation of the Baltic States, Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, and Winter War

Nominally, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was a non-aggression treaty between Germany and the Soviet Union and was signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939, by Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.

In 1939, neither Germany nor the Soviet Union was ready to go to war with each other. The Soviet Union had lost territory to Poland in 1920. Although officially called a "non-aggression treaty," the pact included a secret protocol in which the independent countries of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania were divided into spheres of interest between both the parties. The secret protocol explicitly assumed "territorial and political rearrangements" in those areas.

All of the mentioned countries were invaded, occupied, or forced to cede part of their territory by the Soviet Union, Germany or both. Finland and Romania maintained their independence, however being forced to cede parts of their territory.

The conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland had a great impact of assessing the former´s military capabilities by Nazi Germany.

Declarations of war[edit]

Invasion of Poland[edit]

Further information: Invasion of Poland

Grave of German soldiers fallen during invasion of Poland in Końskie. Visible inscription "For Fuhrer und Vaterland"

Between 1919 and 1939, Poland had pursued a policy of balancing between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and agreed to non-aggression pacts with both.[58] In early 1939, Germany demanded for Poland to join the Anti-Comintern Pact as a satellite state of Germany.[59] Poland, fearing a loss of independence, refused. Hitler admitted to his generals on 23 May 1939 that his reason for invading Poland was not Danzig: "Danzig is not the issue at stake. It is a matter of extending our living space in the East...".[60] To deter Hitler, Britain and France announced that an invasion would mean war and tried to convince the Soviet Union to join in this deterrence. The Soviets, however, gained control of the Baltic states and part of Poland by allying with Germany by the secret Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939. London's attempt at deterrence failed, but Hitler did not expect a wider war. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and rejected the British and French demands for it to withdraw, which resulted in both to declare war on September 3, 1939, in accordance with the defence treaties with Poland that they had signed and publicly announced.[61][62] However neither France nor Britain provided significant military aid to Poland except small operation known as Saar offensive. As of 1 September 1939 Poland was only partially mobilized, which was largely the result of pressure from the British and French ambassadors on the Polish government, fearing a repeat of the mobilization scenario of war from 1914. The Wehrmacht also had advantage in terms of the number of tanks and planes and the technical advancement of its equipment.

On September 17, 1939, the Red Army entered Poland from the east, and the Polish Command decided to abandon the defense of the so-called Romanian Bridgehead and evacuate of all its forces to neighboring countries. The last larger unit of Polish troops capitulated on October 6, 1939, near Kock, but some units went straight to partisan combat. Until the spring of 1940, the resistance of irregular units in the region of the Świętokrzyskie Mountains in central Poland lasted, but the struggle of these units resulted in enormous repressions against the civilian population of the region in which they operated

Invasion of Soviet Union[edit]

Further information: Operation Barbarossa and Soviet offensive plans controversy

Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941. Hitler believed that the Soviet Union could be defeated in a fast and relentless assault that capitalised on the Soviets' ill-prepared state and hoped that success there would bring Britain to the negotiation table, which would end the war altogether.

Attacks on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, British Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong[edit]

Further information: Events leading to the attack on Pearl Harbor

The US government and general public in general had been supportive of China, condened European colonialist policies and Japan and promoted the so-called Open Door Policy. Many Americans viewed the Japanese as an aggressive and/or inferior race. The Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek held friendly relations with the US, which opposed Japan's invasion of China in 1937 and considered it a violation of international law and of the sovereignty of the Republic of China. The US offered the Nationalist government diplomatic, economic and military assistance during its war against Japan. Diplomatic friction between the United States and Japan manifested itself in events like the Panay incident in 1937 and the Allison incident in 1938.

Japanese troops entering Saigon

Reacting to Japanese pressure on French authorities of French Indochina to stop trade with China, the US began restricting trade with Japan in July 1940. The end of all oil shipments in 1941 was decisive since the Americans, British and Dutch provided almost all of Japan's oil.[63] In September 1940, the Japanese invaded Vichy French Indochina and occupied Tonkin to prevent China from importing arms and fuel through French Indochina along the Sino-Vietnamese Railway from the port of Haiphong through Hanoi to Kunming, in Yunnan.[64] The US decided that the Japanese had now gone too far and decided to force a rollback of its gains.[65] In 1940 and 1941, the Americans and the Chinese decided to organise a volunteer squadron of American planes and pilots to attack the Japanese from Chinese bases. Known as the Flying Tigers, the unit was commanded by Claire Lee Chennault. Its first combat came two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.[66]

Taking advantage of the situation, Thailand launched the Franco-Thai War in October 1940. Japan stepped in as a mediator in the war in May 1941 and allowed its ally to occupy the bordering provinces in Cambodia and Laos. In July 1941, as Operation Barbarossa had effectively neutralised the Soviet threat, the faction of the Japanese military junta supporting the "Southern Strategy" pushed through the occupation of the rest of French Indochina.

The US reacted by seeking to bring the Japanese war effort to a complete halt by imposing a full embargo on all trade between the United States to Japan on August 18, 1941, and demanding a Japanese withdrawal of all troops from China and Indochina. Japan was dependent on the United States for 80% of its oil, which resulted in an economic and military crisis for Japan since it could not continue the war effort against China without access to petroleum and oil products.[67]

On 7 December 1941, without a declaration of war,[68] the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor with the aim of destroying the main American battle fleet at anchor. Meanwhile, other Japanese forces attacked the American-held Philippines and the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The following day, an official Japanese declaration of war on the United States and the British Empire was printed on the front page of all Japanese newspapers' evening editions.[69] International time differences caused the announcement to take place between midnight and 3 a.m. on 8 December in North America and at about 8 a.m. on 8 December in the United Kingdom.

Canada declared war on Japan on the evening of 7 December, and a royal proclamation affirmed the declaration the next day.[70] The British declared war on Japan on the morning of 8 December and specifically identified the attacks on Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong as the cause but omitted any mention of Pearl Harbor.[71] The United States declared war upon Japan on the afternoon of 8 December, nine hours after the United Kingdom, and identified only "unprovoked acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America" as the cause.[72]

Four days later, the US was brought into the European war when on December 11, 1941, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy declared war on the United States. Hitler chose to declare that the Tripartite Pact required Germany to follow Japan's declaration of war although American destroyers escorting convoys and German U-boats had been de facto at war in the Battle of the Atlantic. The declaration of war effectively ended US isolationist sentiment, and the country immediately reciprocated and so formally entered the war in Europe.[73]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ abPaxton, Robert O. (2011). Europe in the Twentieth Century. United States: Wadsworth. p. 145.
  3. ^Winter, Jay (2009). The Legacy of the Great War: Ninety Years On. University of Missouri Press. p. 126.
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  5. ^ abPaxton, Robert O. (2011). Europe in the Twentieth Century. United States: Wadsworth. p. 153.
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  7. ^ abPaxton, Robert O. (2011). Europe in the Twentieth Century. United States: Wadsworth. p. 151.
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  10. ^Paxton, Robert O. (2011). Europe in the Twentieth Century. United States: Wadsworth. p. 164.
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  12. ^Goebbels, Joseph. "The New Year 1939/40". Retrieved 16 January 2014.
  13. ^"A Century Later: The Treaty of Versailles and Its Rejection of Racial Equality".
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  15. ^David T. Zabecki, ed. (2015). World War II in Europe: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 140. ISBN .CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  16. ^"History of the League of Nations". Retrieved 16 January 2014.
  17. ^"the definition of militarism". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2015-05-30.
  18. ^Bruno Coppieters; N. Fotion (2008). Moral Constraints on War: Principles and Cases. Lexington Books. p. 6. ISBN .
  19. ^"Japanese history: Militarism and World War II". www.japan-guide.com. Retrieved 2015-05-30.
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  22. ^Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2001)
  23. ^Eri Hotta, Pan-Asianism and Japan's war 1931–1945 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)
  24. ^Clark, Joseph (1944). Ten Years in Japan : a Contemporary Record Drawn from the Diaries and Private and Official Papers of Joseph G. Grew, United States Ambassador to Japan, 1932–1942. pp. 251–255. ASIN B0006ER51M.
  25. ^Antony Best, "Economic appeasement or economic nationalism? A political perspective on the British Empire, Japan, and the rise of Intra‐Asian Trade, 1933–37." Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History (2002) 30 #2: 77–101.
  26. ^Fisher, Charles A. (1950). "The Expansion of Japan: A Study in Oriental Geopolitics: Part II. The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere". The Geographical Journal. 115 (4/6): 179–193. doi:10.2307/1790152. JSTOR 1790152.
  27. ^Sugihara, Kaoru (1997). "The Economic Motivations behind Japanese Aggression in the Late 1930s: Perspectives of Freda Utley and Nawa Toichi". Journal of Contemporary History. 32 (2): 259–280. doi:10.1177/002200949703200208. JSTOR 261244. S2CID 152462148.
  28. ^ abcdPerry, Matt "Mason, Timothy" pp. 780–781 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing edited by Kelly Boyd, Volume 2, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishing, 1999 p. 780
  29. ^Kaillis, Aristotle Fascist Ideology, London: Routledge, 2000 pp. 6–7
  30. ^Kaillis, Aristotle Fascist Ideology, London: Routledge, 2000 p. 7
  31. ^ abKaillis, Aristotle Fascist Ideology, London: Routledge, 2000, p. 165
  32. ^ abKershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship London: Arnold 2000, p. 88.
  33. ^ abKaillis, Aristotle Fascist Ideology, London: Routledge, 2000 pp. 165–166
  34. ^Kaillis, Aristotle Fascist Ideology, London: Routledge, 2000 p. 166
  35. ^Kaillis, Aristotle Fascist Ideology, London: Routledge, 2000 p. 151
  36. ^ abMason, Tim & Overy, R.J. "Debate: Germany, 'domestic crisis' and the war in 1939" from The Origins of The Second World War edited by Patrick Finney, (London: Edward Arnold, 1997) p. 102
  37. ^Overy, Richard "Germany, 'Domestic Crisis' and War in 1939" from The Third Reich edited by Christian Leitz (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999) pp. 117–118
  38. ^Overy, Richard "Germany, 'Domestic Crisis' and War in 1939" from The Third Reich edited by Christian Leitz Blackwell: Oxford, 1999, p. 108
  39. ^Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2006)
  40. ^Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (2008)
  41. ^Jeffrey Record (2007). The Specter of Munich: Reconsidering the Lessons of Appeasing Hitler. Potomac Books, Inc. p. 106. ISBN .
  42. ^Gerhard L. Weinberg, The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany: Starting World War II, 1937–1939 (1980)
  43. ^Norrin M. Ripsman, and Jack S. Levy, "The preventive war that never happened: Britain, France, and the rise of Germany in the 1930s." Security Studies 16.1 (2007): 32-67 online
  44. ^George W. Baer, Test Case: Italy, Ethiopia, and the League of Nations (Hoover Institution Press, 1976)
  45. ^"Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) – History of Spain". donQuijote. Retrieved 2015-05-30.
  46. ^Stanley G. Payne (2008). The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union, and Communism. Yale UP. pp. 313–14. ISBN .
  47. ^Willard C. Frank Jr, "The Spanish Civil War and the Coming of the Second World War." International History Review(1987) 9#3 pp. 368–409.
  48. ^David M. Gordon, "The China–Japan War, 1931–1945" Journal of Military History (2006) v 70#1, pp. 137–82. online
  49. ^Jürgen Gehl, Austria, Germany, and the Anschluss, 1931-1938 (Oxford University Press, 1963). online
  50. ^David Faber, Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II (2010) pp. 139–68
  51. ^Sister Mary Antonia Wathen, The policy of England and France toward the" Anschluss" of 1938 (Catholic University of America Press, 1954).
  52. ^David Faber, Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II (2010)
  53. ^Chamberlain's radio broadcastArchived 2007-06-07 at the Wayback Machine, 27 September 1938
  54. ^Robert A. Cole, "Appeasing Hitler: The Munich Crisis of 1938: A Teaching and Learning Resource," New England Journal of History (2010) 66#2 pp. 1–30.
  55. ^Andrew Roberts, "'Appeasement' Review: What Were They Thinking? Britain’s establishment coalesced around appeasement and bared its teeth at those who dared to oppose it." Wall Street Journal Nov. 1, 2019
  56. ^The German-Polish Crisis (March 27 – May 9, 1939)
  57. ^John Ashley Soames Grenville (2005). A History of the World from the 20th to the 21st Century. Routledge. p. 234. ISBN .
  58. ^Białe plamy-czarne plamy: sprawy trudne w polsko-rosyjskich, p. 191. Polsko-Rosyjska Grupa do Spraw Trudnych, Adam Daniel Rotfeld, Anatoliĭ Vasilʹevich Torkunov – 2010
  59. ^John Lukacs, The Last European War: September 1939 – December 1941 p. 31
  60. ^"Bericht über eine Besprechung (Schmundt-Mitschrift)". "Danzig ist nicht das Objekt, um das es geht. Es handelt sich für uns um die Erweiterung des Lebensraumes im Osten und Sicherstellung der Ernährung, sowie der Lösung des Baltikum-Problems."
  61. ^Halik Kochanski, The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War (2012), pp. 34–93.
  62. ^Zara Steiner, The Triumph of the Dark: European International History, 1933–1939 (2011), pp. 690–92, 738–41.
  63. ^Conrad Black (2005). Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom. PublicAffairs. pp. 645–46. ISBN .
  64. ^Ralph B. Smith, "The Japanese Period in Indochina and the Coup of 9 March 1945." Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 9.2 (1978): 268–301.
  65. ^William L. Langer and S. E. Gleason, The undeclared war: 1940–1941. Vol. 2 (1953) pp. 9–21.
  66. ^Michael Schaller, "American Air Strategy in China, 1939–1941: The Origins of Clandestine Air Warfare". American Quarterly 28.1 (1976): 3–19. JSTOR 2712474.
  67. ^Euan Graham. Japan's sea lane security, 1940–2004: a matter of life and death? (Routledge, 2006) p. 77.
  68. ^Howard W. French (December 9, 1999). "Pearl Harbor Truly a Sneak Attack, Papers Show". The New York Times.
  69. ^"Japan declares war, 1941 | Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History".
  70. ^"Canada Declares War on Japan". Inter-Allied Review via ibiblio. December 15, 1941. Retrieved May 23, 2011.
  71. ^Official Report, House of Commons, 8 December 1941, 5th series, vol. 376, cols. 1358–1359
  72. ^"Declaration of War with Japan" Retrieved 2010-15-07
  73. ^See also United States declaration of war upon Italy and United States declaration of war upon Germany (1941).

Further reading[edit]

  • Bell, P. M. H. The Origins of the Second World War in Europe (1986). p. 326
  • Boyce, Robert, and Joseph A. Maiolo. The Origins of World War Two: The Debate Continues (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Carley, Michael Jabara 1939: the Alliance that never was and the coming of World War II, Chicago: I.R. Dee, 1999 ISBN 1-56663-252-8.
  • Cornelissen, Christoph, and Arndt Weinrich, eds. Writing the Great War - The Historiography of World War I from 1918 to the Present (2020) free download; full coverage for major countries.
  • Dallek, Robert. Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932–1945 (1995) online.
  • Deist, Wilhelm et al., ed. Germany and the Second World War. Vol. 1: The Build-up of German Aggression (1991). p. 799, official German history.
  • Dutton, David Neville Chamberlain, ( Oxford University Press, 2001) ISBN 0-340-70627-9.
  • Eubank, Keith. The Origins of World War II (2004), short survey
  • Evans, Richard J. The Third Reich in Power (2006)
  • Feis, Herbert. The Road to Pearl Harbor: The coming of the war between the United States and Japan. Classic history by senior American official. online
  • Finney, Patrick. The Origins of the Second World War (1998), p. 480
  • Goldstein, Erik & Lukes, Igor (editors). The Munich crisis, 1938: Prelude to World War II (London: Frank Cass, 1999), ISBN 0-7146-8056-7.
  • Hildebrand, KlausThe Foreign Policy of the Third Reich, translated by Anthony Fothergill, London, Batsford 1973.
  • Hillgruber, AndreasGermany and the Two World Wars, translated by William C. Kirby, Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1981 ISBN 0-674-35321-8.
  • Kaiser, David E. Economic Diplomacy and the Origins of the Second World War: Germany, Britain, France, and Eastern Europe, 1930–1939 (Princeton UP, 2015).
  • Lamb, Margaret and Tarling, Nicholas. From Versailles to Pearl Harbor: The Origins of the Second World War in Europe and Asia. (2001). p. 238
  • Langer, William L. and S. Everett Gleason. The Challenge to Isolation: The World Crisis of 1937–1940 and American Foreign Policy (1952); The Undeclared War: 1940–1941: The World Crisis and American Foreign Policy (1953); highly detailed scholarly narrative vol 2 online free to borrow
  • Mallett, Robert. Mussolini and the Origins of the Second World War, 1933–1940 (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Nekrich, Aleksandr Moiseevich. Pariahs, partners, predators: German-Soviet relations, 1922-1941 (Columbia University Press, 1997).
  • Overy, Richard and Andrew Wheatcroft. The Road to War. (3rd ed 2001). p. 564 country by country history to 1939
  • Overy, Richard and Mason, Timothy "Debate: Germany, "Domestic Crisis" and War in 1939" Past and Present, Number 122, February 1989 pp. 200–240.
  • Sontag, Raymond J. "The Last Months of Peace, 1939". Foreign Affairs 35#3 (1957), pp. 507–524 JSTOR 20031246
  • Sontag, Raymond J. "The Origins of the Second World War" Review of Politics 25#4 (1963), pp. 497–508. JSTOR 1405846.
  • Steiner, Zara. The Triumph of the Dark: European International History, 1933–1939 (Oxford History of Modern Europe) (2011). p. 1236
  • Strang, G. Bruce On the Fiery March: Mussolini Prepares for War, (Praeger Publishers, 2003) ISBN 0-275-97937-7.
  • Thorne, Christopher G. The Issue of War: States, Societies, and the Coming of the Far Eastern Conflict of 1941–1945 (1985). Sophisticated analysis of each major power.
  • Thorne, Christopher G. The Approach of War, 1938–1939 (1969) chronological table 1938-1939 pp. 205–210
  • Tohmatsu, Haruo and H. P. Willmott. A Gathering Darkness: The Coming of War to the Far East and the Pacific (2004), short overview.
  • Uldricks, Teddy J. "War, Politics and Memory: Russian Historians Reevaluate the Origins of World War II," History and Memory 21#2 (2009), pp. 60–2 online; historiography
  • Watt, Donald Cameron How war came: the immediate origins of the Second World War, 1938–1939, New York: Pantheon, 1989 ISBN 0-394-57916-X.
  • Weinberg, Gerhard. The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany: Diplomatic Revolution in Europe, 1933–36 (vol. 1) (1971); The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany: Starting World War II, 1937–1939 (vol. 2) (University of Chicago Press, 1980) ISBN 0-226-88511-9.
  • Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (1994)
  • Wheeler-Bennett, John W. "Twenty Years of Russo-German Relations: 1919–1939" Foreign Affairs 25#1 (1946), pp. 23–43. JSTOR 20030017.
  • Wright, Jonathan. Germany and the Origins of the Second World War (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) p. 223 online review


  • Adamthwaite, Anthony. "France and the Coming of War" in Patrick Finney, ed., The Origins of the Second World War (Arnold, 1997)
  • Boyce, Robert, French Foreign and Defence Policy, 1918–1940: The Decline and Fall of a Great Power (1998) online
  • Boxer, Andrew. "French Appeasement: Andrew Boxer Considers Explanations for France's Disastrous Foreign Policy between the Wars". History Review 59 (2007): 45+ online
  • Duroselle, Jean-Baptiste. France and the Nazi Threat: The Collapse of French Diplomacy 1932–1939 (2004); translation of his highly influential La décadence, 1932–1939 (1979)
  • Nere, J. The Foreign Policy of France from 1914 to 1945 (1975)
  • Young, Robert J. France and the Origins of the Second World War (1996) excerpt, covers historiography in ch 2.

External links[edit]

Sours: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_World_War_II

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