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World War II (1939 to 1945)

World War II Public Domain German troops in Russia

The bloodiest war in history of mankind

World War II (or WWII or WW2), also known as the Second World War, was a global conflict which took place from 1939 to 1945. The two major powers the Allies led by USA, Great Britain, Canada French and the Soviet Union and their opponents the Axis which was Germany, Italy and Japan battled for world supremacy. More than 100 million soldiers from over 30 nations were involved. With 40 to 85 million deaths WW2 is the so fare bloodiest conflict and largest war in human history.  

In many respects the war was a continuation, after an uneasy 20-year hiatus, of the disputes left unsettled by World War I. The political and economic situation after WW1 enabled the rise of the National Socialists (NSDAP) in 1933 led by Adolf Hitler. He militarily empowered Germany again and started a war with Poland. After conquering France in 1940 and other nations of Europe Germany was at its peak. In 1941 Nazi-Germany attached the Soviet Union and Japan attached the US by boarding their base at Pearl Harbor. The German got stuck in the Russian Winter and were not able to conquer Moscow. The Wehrmacht suffered in 1943 a first major defeat in Stalingrad when a whole army was destroyed. The Soviets pushed the Germans back and on the western side the Allies landed in 1944 in France. The invasion sealed the fate of Germany and ended in capitulation in May 1945.   

At the other side of the globe the US drove the Japanese back to their main land. In order to prevent an invasion of Japan which would have caused a huge number of losses the US bombarded Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bomb. After that Japan surrendered in August 1945.

Pre-war situation (1933)

Pre-war situation Public Domain Adolf Hitler became chancellor

At the end of World War 1 the Germany and its allies were defeated, humiliated and were held solely responsible for the war by the winners. Germany had to pay huge amounts for reparations, lost territories and was not allowed to have a noteworthy army. In the 20ties hyperinflation did a lot of harm followed by the big depression which also affected the nation heavily. 

Unemployment of the masses helped to bring the nationalists led by Adolf Hitler to power in 1933. Soon Germany changed the situation and restored the military service. In 1938 now upgraded militarily as well Germany connected with Austria by marching in without war. Next was a part of Czechoslovakia and part of Lithuania. In Spain the Nazi-Germany and Italy supported Franco which became dictator of the peninsula. Italy also seized Ethiopia and prepared an invasion of Albania. Japan took advantage in 1937 of the civil war in China and took new territory there.

Germany attacks Poland (1939)

Germany attacks Poland Public Domain Wehrmacht at Polish border

The Second World War started on September 1st when the Wehrmacht invaded Poland. Although Germany was militarily involved in the east the Allies French and Great Britain did not take appropriate actions beside declaring war to Germany. 

The Soviet Union attacked Poland as well and forced them to surrender. The campaign ended on 6th of October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing Poland under the terms of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty. 

Western Europe realized that they could not try to appease Germany any longer. In Nazi-Germany already many Jewish people were held in concentration camps. USA stayed neutral while the Soviet Union attacked Finland. - August 23: Germany and the Soviet Union sign a Non-Aggression Pact. – 

  • September 1: Germany invades Poland.
  • September 3: Britain and France declare war on Germany but did not take actions.
  • September: Battle of the Atlantic begins.

Germay conquered many nations of Europe (1940)

Germay conquered many nations of Europe Public Domain Wehrmacht parade in Paris

In the morning of 9 April 1940 Germany occupied Denmark and invaded Norway. This action took place to prevent the Franco-British occupation of Norway known as Plan R 4. Denmark and Norway did not really resist since they were told that the Wehrmacht would protect them against Franco-British aggression. The German navy which took part in the operation has lost a significant number of smaller and larger navy ships which was a significant blow. The German navy has never recovered from the losses caused by the British navy and air force. Operation “Weserübung” was a success for Germany but they paid a considerable price for it. 

France felt protected by the Maginot Line and a considerably large army. When the Germans attack them at Mai 10th, they showed surprisingly little resistance. The tactic, later known as Blitzkrieg was an overwhelming success and France was defeated in a very short time with manageable losses. France which surrendered at June 22. The British Expeditionary Corps escaped over the channel after they were trapped in Dunkirk. 

After the champagne in the west Germany invaded Romania. Hitler was at that time extremely popular with the German people. Germany, Italy, and Japan became closer allies forming the Axis. Italy invaded Egypt, Albania, and Greece. Italy declared war on June 10th to France and Great Britain. At that time the Germans were already deep in France with their army. 

For months the Luftwaffe and Royal Air Force made raids. In fact, Germany failed to gain air superiority in the “Battle of Britain”. Therefore, the German operation “Seelöwe” the invasion of England could not take place. 

The USA established Lend-Lease Act which means: The exchange of materiel aid then for 99-year leases on property to be used for foreign military bases. However, the American people did not want to go to war again. 

If Hitler had stopped instigating wars at this point, it would have been very difficult to drive the Nazis out of the conquered territories. But Hitler was not only an unspeakable criminal but also a gambler.  In the further timeline of history it became apparent that with the next campaigns the fronts were overstretched and the number of opponents increased.

Germany attacked the Soviet Union & Japan the USA (1941)

Germany attacked the Soviet Union & Japan the USA Public Domain German troops invading the Soviet Union

Italy got stuck in Greece so Germany had to take over Greece and Yugoslavia. However, since Nazi-Germany planned to attack the Soviet Union precious time passed by. Therefore operation "Barbarossa" could only start in June 22th. The plan was to conquer the Soviet Union within a few months definitely before the winter season arrives. Although the Wehrmacht had spectacular success in the beginning by encircling whole Soviet armies and taking millions of POW, they failed to conquer Moscow. Also, the losses of German soldiers grew considerably and in December it was clear that Germany could not reach the capital. Counter attacks by the Red Army drove the Germans back and brought them at the brink of a collapse. In September 8th the siege of Leningrad began. 

At the western front the British battleship “Hood” was sunk by Germany's “Bismarck”. Few days later on May 27th same fate happened to “Bismarck”. The Japanese launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and destroyed many war ships. Fortunately, the US air carriers were not present at that time in the harbor. December 11th. Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. That marked the entry of the USA into the war.

War in full swing (1942)

War in full swing Public Domain Panzer III in Nordafrica

In the Pacific theatre the Japanese conquered Singapore, Borneo and Sumatra. The battle of Midway however changed the situation. In August Guadalcanal Campaign began. Although both sides lost air carriers and other battle ships the Japanese lost the battle and were since then on the retreat. The US started the island hopping to regain ground and getting closer to Japan. 

Germany landed troops at Libya under the command of Erwin Rommel. The Africa Corps made first good progress but failed again the reach the ultimate target which was the Suez Canal. With operation “Torch” the Allies invaded North Africa and Rommel was forced to withdraw to Tunisia. 

On the eastern front the Germans regained the initiative during summer. They tried to conquer the oil fields in the Caucasus area. However, they failed to do so. Also, the conquer of Moscow was out of reach. The front was overstretched and the Red Army encircled Germanies 6th army. 

The “Wannensee” conference in January 20th paved to path to the "Endlösung" of the Jews. The goal was to wipe out the Jewish population in the areas occupied by the Nazis.

Germany defeated at Stalingrad (1943)

Germany defeated at Stalingrad Public Domain Brand new Panzer V ready for shipping to the front

The surrender of the 6th army in Stalingrad at February 2nd was a first major defeat. Only about 6000 POW returned after the war to Germany. 

In Nord Africa all territories went lost. German and Italian troops could not be evacuated. Even worse for Germany the Allies landed in Italy and so they surrendered at September 3th. The Germans marched in and could hold half of the nation. Germany installed Mussolini in the north as dictator. 

The Wehrmacht started their last offensive (operation “Zitadelle”) in the area of Kursk in order to encircle parts of the Red Army. They introduced new panzer types such as the “Panther”. In Charkow took the biggest panzer battle in human history place. However, the operation was a failure and the Red Army launched a counter offensive. The Wehrmacht became very weak and were not able to launch another offensive against the Red Army.

In November 28th Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met in Teheran to plan their next steps against the Axis and how the world should look like after their defeat.

D-Day, battle of Mink and battle of the Bulge (1944)

D-Day, battle of Mink and battle of the Bulge Public Domain Allies landed in the Normandie (Omaha beach)

This situation for Germany looked bleak. Heavily under pressure from all sides. Germany lost air superiority over the homeland which led to the destruction of almost all German cities by RAF and USAAF. 

The Red Army started at June 22nd operation "Bagration" which led to the total collapse of "Heeresgruppe Mitte". In total 28 divisions were smashed and 100'000 POW taken. From that time the Wehrmacht was not anymore able to stabilize the front. 

American troops and its allies landed in June 6th in Normandy (D-Day) and in August 25th Paris was liberated. In Germany an assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler failed at July 20th. A last desperate attempt of Germany to regain the initiative in the west was the battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes. However, the panzers run out of fuel and did not reach the target which were the fuel storage of the Allies. They destroyed the panzers and withdrew. 

In the Pacific two major battles ended with defeat of the Japanese. Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 19th and battle of the Leyte Gulf starting at October 23th.

Unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan (1945)

Unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan Public Domain Atomic bomb explosion marking the end of WW2

The liberation of concentration camps throughout Europe, such as Auschwitz, made the extent of the Holocaust obvious to the Allies. Hitler committed suicide at April 30th. The Nazi regime murdered 6 million Jews and many other minorities. Germany laid in ruins and became occupied by the Allies. Germany signed an unconditional surrender. 

In the Pacific the battle of Iwo Jima at February 19th began. Followed by the battle of Okinawa at April 1St. USA decided to bomb Hiroshima at the 6th of August and Nagasaki at the 9th of August. After that Japan surrendered September 2nd.

Embedded Videos

The Second World War - How it began

The Invasion: The Outbreak of World War II (WWII Documentary HD)

The Invasion - The Outbreak Of World War II | Extra long Episode

Captured Film -- Germany Invades Poland 1939

WW2 in animated maps: Sept 1939 - Aug 1940

The Collapse of France 1940

Western Front 1940, Every Hour

The Fall of France (WWII Documentary)

The Netherlands during World War II (1940 - 1945)

Origins of the Holocaust

The Path to Nazi Genocide

Memory of the Camps

Witness: Voices from the Holocaust

American Allies

Allies Strike Back

Retreat and Surrender

The way to Moscow

Defeat in Stalingrad 1942/1943

Eastern Front: 1943/44

Greatest Tank Battles

The Lancaster At War

I Flew for the Führer

Eastern Front: 1944/1945

World War Two – the final months

Atomic bombing of Hiroschima

Japanese Aggression and Atrocities

Japan's War in Colour

The Fallen of World War II

Hitler: A Strategy of Failure

WWII Battlefield Return // Heroes Return To Normandy 74th D-DAY Anniversary

Comments & Conclusions

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