World War II
World War II was a war fought between the Allies and the Axis Powers. It was called a "World War" because many countries all over the world fought or helped in this war. Of all the wars ever fought, World War II involved the most countries and killed the most people. It lasted exactly six years, from 1939 to 1945.
The Axis Powers were Germany, Italy and Japan (The Japanese Empire). These countries had signed an agreement called the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis Powers in 1937, where they agreed to help each other in wars.
The Allies or Allied Powers were the British Empire (which included Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and Burma), France, Poland, and China. China had been invaded by Japan in 1931, and was partially conquered by 1941. The Allies were later joined by the Soviet Union, after Germany attacked them on June 22nd 1941, and by the United States after the Japanese attacked them later that year.
Beginning of the War (September 1939 - August 1940)
World War II began on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Other countries had already been invaded, but war was not declared until Poland was invaded. On that day, Britain and France declared war on Germany. In a series of very fast battles, Germany controlled most of Europe by 1941, including a large portion of France. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941, the Soviets added themselves to the Allied Powers. The majority of German forces would spend the war fighting the Soviets.
The leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler, planned on capturing the Soviet Union and placing a blockade (not letting anything in or out) on Britain, creating a "Fortress Europe" that would be very difficult to invade. After capturing Europe, Hitler hoped that he could capture the United States later on.
September 1940 - May 1944
By September of 1940, Hitler controlled large sections of Europe. He hoped that the British would ask for peace, but they did not. Hitler ordered that the city of London be bombed to try to weaken the British. The bombing runs that lasted from September 1940 to May 1941 were called The Blitz. The British Prime Minister at the time, Winston Churchill, told the residents to not lose hope. By the time The Blitz ended, 43,000 British civilians were killed and the Royal Air Force lost 1,023 aircraft.
On June 22, 1941 Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, capturing large amounts of Soviet land and surrounding Leningrad. By December the Germans had advanced as far as Moscow, but were stopped by the fierce Russian winter.
On December 7, 1941, Japanese fighters attacked an American port in Hawaii named Pearl Harbor. On December 11, the Axis Powers declared war on the United States. In November 1942, Allied forces started to land in North Africa. The battle fought there, named El Alamein, resulted in an Allied victory and put the Allies very close to Italy.
The German war machine needed more oil, as Germany only had the relatively small oilfields of Romania under its control. Therefore in 1942, when the Germans began advancing again in Russia, their target was the oilfields of the Caucasus. To secure this territory, the Germans needed to take the city of Stalingrad, but they were defeated in the Battle of Stalingrad, which was the turning point of the war in Russia. At the same time the Siege of Leningrad was relieved.
In the Pacific Ocean, the Japanese empire was getting bigger and bigger. The United States, now at war with the Axis, began to send out ships to attack the Japanese navy. The result of a large deployment, or sending out, of ships was the famous Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, which was an American victory. Hoping that Japan was weakend by this defeat, the Americans landed in Guadacanal on August 7, 1942. The result was another American victory, and a capture of a very important place.
June 1944 - January 1946
The Atlantic Front
As the war went on, the Allies saw that they would need to land in Europe to defeat Germany. They selected a small piece of coastline in France called Normandy for the invasion. On June 6, 1944, the Allies invaded Normandy and began the Battle of Normandy, code named Operation Overlord or D-Day. It was an Allied victory.
As the Allies fought to get to Berlin, the capital of Germany, the Germans attacked fiercely to defend their land. The resulting battle was named the Battle of the Bulge, and was a narrow Allied victory. In the spring of 1945, the Soviet Red Army closed in on Berlin and captured it, defeating Germany.
The Soviet general, Georgy Zhukov reached Berlin before the Americans, and won an unspoken "contest" between Generals to see who could get to Berlin first. General Eisenhower of the Americans said that there was no race to Berlin, though. The day that Germany officially surrendered (gave up), May 8, 1945, was a day marked with large celebrations. Today, the day is called V-E Day, or "Victory in Europe Day."
The Pacific Front
After the battles of Midway and Guadalcanal, the Japanese were being pushed slowly out of the Pacific. Many battles were fought in the Pacific. The United States went on an "Island Hopping" campaign to capture small islands that were under Japanese control. Of these small islands came some very large battles, such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945. President Harry Truman of the Americans gave the order to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. On August 6, 1945, bombers dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Three days later, on August 9, bombers dropped another atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki. Only 6 days later, on August 15, Japan surrendered to the Allies. President Truman marked the end of the war on September 2, calling it V-J Day, or "Victory over Japan Day." Today it is sometimes called V-P Day for "Victory in the Pacific."
Products of the War
The war introduced new tactics, strategies, and technologies. Some of the new strategies were the Blitzkrieg (fast war maneuvers that used tanks, trucks, and planes) and aerial assaults (use of many airplanes and rockets). Another major new technology was radar (finding airplanes by using radio waves).
The war also made weapons with far more killing power. The atomic bomb was first used by the United States during this war. President Truman ordered two atomic bombs to be dropped from airplanes on the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No atomic weapons have been used in war since then.