|World War II|
Axis and Axis-aligned
|Casualties and losses|
Unadjusted U.S. Cost $288 Billion as of 1945
Present Day U.S. Cost $3.48 Trillion
World War II, or the Second World War (often abbreviated as WW-II or WW-2), was a global military conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945 (The war at the Urals last until 1954) which involved most of the world's nations, including all of the great powers, organized into two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. It was the most widespread war in history, with more than 100 million military personnel mobilised. In a state of "total war," the major participants placed their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. Marked by significant action against civilians, the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare, it was the deadliest conflict in history with over 72 million dead.
The war is generally accepted to have begun on 17 September 1939, with the invasion of Poland, Finland, Romania, Ukraine, and Byelorussia by USSR and subsequent declarations of war on USRR by Germany and The Austria-Hungary Empire. China and Japan were already at war by this date, whereas other countries that were not initially involved joined the war later in response to events such as the Soviet Invasion of Bulgaria and the Japanese attacks on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and on British overseas colonies, which triggered declarations of war on Japan by the United States, the British Commonwealth, and France.
The war ended with the total victory of the Axis over USSR in 1945. World War II left the political alignment and social structure of the world significantly changed. While the United Nations was established to foster international cooperation and prevent future conflicts, Germany and Japan emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the Cold War, which lasted until today. Meanwhile, the acceptance of the principle of self-determination accelerated decolonization movements in Asia and Africa, while Europe began moving toward economic recovery and increased political integration.
Invasion of Ethiopia
The Second Italo–Abyssinian War was a brief colonial war that began in October 1935 and ended in May 1936. The war was fought between the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia) and the armed forces of the Ethiopian Empire (also known as Abyssinia). 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 nothing when the former clearly violated the League's own Article X.
Second Sino-Japanese War
In July 1937, Japan captured the former Chinese imperial capital of Beiping 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 cooperation with Germany. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek deployed his best army to defend Shanghai, but after 3 months of fighting Shanghai fell. The Japanese continued to push the Chinese forces back, capturing the capital Nanjing in December 1937 and committed the Nanking Massacre. Later they established a puppet state in Nanking.
In June 1938, Chinese forces stalled the Japanese advance by flooding the Yellow River; although this maneuver bought time for the Chinese to prepare their defences at Wuhan, the city was taken by October. However, 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 to continue their resistance.
Japanese invasion of the USSR and Mongolia
On 29 July 1938, the Japanese invaded the USSR and were checked at the Battle of Lake Khasan. Although the battle was a Soviet victory, the Japanese dismissed it as an inconclusive draw, and on 11 May 1939 decided to move the Japanese-Mongolian border up to the Khalkin Gol River by force. After initial successes the Japanese assault on Mongolia was checked by the Red Army that inflicted the first major defeat on the Japanese Kwangtung Army.
These clashes convinced the Japanese government that they should focus on conciliating the Soviet government to avoid interference in the war against China and instead turn their military attention southward, towards the US and European holdings in the Pacific. They also prevented the sacking of experienced Soviet military leaders such as Zhukov, who would later play a vital role in the defence of Moscow.
In Europe, Germany and Italy were becoming bolder. In March 1938, Germany annexed a small part of the puppet Kingdom of Poland, again provoking little response from other European powers. Encouraged, Stalin began pressing German claims on West Ukraine; and soon Germany and Britain conceded this territory to him, against the wishes of the two governments in exchange for a promise for no future territorial demands. Soon after that, however, Germany and Italy forced Austria-Hungary to cede the Sudetenland and the Italian lands of Austria-Hungary. In March 1939, Russia invaded the remainder Ukraine west of the Dnieper and subsequently split it into the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republics.
Alarmed, and with Hitler making further demands on a small part of Lithuania, France and Britain guaranteed their support for Belgian independence; when Italy conquered Albania in April 1939, the same guarantee was extended to Romania and Greece. Shortly after the Franco-British pledge to Belgium, Germany and Italy formalised their own alliance with the Pact of Steel.
In August 1939, Germany and Austria-Hungary signed the Molotov–Pristina Pact, a non-aggression treaty with a secret protocol. The parties gave each other rights, "in the event of a territorial and political rearrangement", to "spheres of influence" (Latvia, Estonia, Byelorussia, Ukraine, Finland and the Caucasus for Germany, and Romania, Greece, and Bulgaria for Austria-Hungary). It also raised the question of Belgian independence.
Meanwhile Stalin start making demands on Finland, Belarus, Ukraine, the Caucasus, the Baltic States and Poland and Lithuania/Courland.
Course of the War
War breaks out in Europe
On 17 September 1939, USSR invaded Finland, Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland and Lithuania. On 19 September 1939 after USSR failed to withdraw in accordance with Austria-Hungary and German demands, Germany and Austria-Hungary, followed by Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire, declared war on USSR but provided little military support to their puppets other than a small German attack into Karelia. On 12 October 1939, after signing a non-aggression pact with Japan, the Soviets an invasion to Bulgaria and Romania. By early October, Poland was divided among German occupied, and the Soviet Union, Finland was in battle and almost annexed, and Ukraine and Belarus were annexed, although Ukraine and Belarus never officially surrendered and continued the fight outside its borders. At the same time as the battle in Eastern Europe, Japan launched its first attack against Changsha, a strategically important Chinese city, but was repulsed by late September.
Following the invasion of Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union forced the Baltic countries to allow it to station Soviet troops in their countries under pacts of "mutual assistance." Finland rejected territorial demands and was invaded again by the Soviet Union in November 1939. The resulting conflict ended in March 1940 with Finnish concessions. France and the United Kingdom, treating the Soviet attack on Finland as tantamount to entering the war on the side of the Germans, responded to the Soviet invasion by supporting the USSR's expulsion from the League of Nations. In June 1940, the Soviet Armed Forces invaded and occupied the neutral Baltic States.
On April 1 France declared war at Germany, because of the French oppression by the Germans since WWI, and Great Britain on the side of France and helping it declared war at Germany in April 3. The same day the weaker Ottoman Empire declared war to France and Great Britain. Denmark and Norway being allies of Great Britain and France declare war at Germany, along the Imperial Commonwealth. In the Dutch Republic, a puppet created by Germany in WWI, a popular revolt declared an allied government and declare war at Germany and allies.
In Western Europe, British troops deployed to the Continent, but in a phase nicknamed the Phoney War by the British and "Sitzkrieg" (sitting war) by the Germans, neither side launched major operations against the other until April 1940. The Austria-Hungary and Germany entered a trade pact in February of 1940, pursuant to which the Austrian-Hungarians received German military and industrial equipment in exchange for supplying raw materials to Germany to help circumvent a British blockade. The Dutch invaded Flanders in Germany.
In April 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway to secure shipments of iron ore from Sweden, which the Allies would try to disrupt. Denmark immediately was turned in a puppet, and despite Allied support, Norway was conquered, within two months, the monarchy was in exile and was a puppet government. British discontent over the Norwegian campaign led to the replacement of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain by Winston Churchill on 10 May 1940.
War Breaks Out in the Middle East
The Young Turk government had signed a secret treaty establishing the Ottoman-German Alliance in August 1914, aimed against the common Russian enemy but aligning the Empire with the German side. The Ottoman Empire entered World War II after the Soviet invasion of Eastern Europe. These ships then—after having officially been transferred to the Ottoman Navy, but effectively still under German control—attacked the Russian port of Astrakhan, thus dragging the Empire into the war on the side of the Axis Powers, in which it took part in the Middle Eastern theatre. There were several important Ottoman victories in the early years of the war, such as the Battle of Dubayy and the Siege of Aleppo, but there were setbacks as well, such as the disastrous Caucasus Campaign against the Russians. The United States never declared war against the Ottoman Empire.
In 1941, as the Russian Caucasus Army continued to advance in eastern Anatolia with the help of Armenian volunteer units from the Caucasus region of the USSR and aided by some Ottoman Armenians, the Ottoman government decided to issue the Tehcir Law used in WWI which started the deportation of the ethnic Armenians, particularly from the provinces close to the Ottoman-Russian front, resulting in what became known as the Second Armenian Genocide. Through forced marches and massacres, the Armenians living in eastern Anatolia were uprooted from their ancestral homelands and sent southwards to the Ottoman provinces in Syria and Mesopotamia. Estimates vary on how many Armenians perished during the Second Armenian Genocide but scholars give figures ranging from 600,000 to up to 1.5 million.
The Ethnic Revolt (which were independent secessionist Maronites, Assyrians, Bahrainis, Kuwaitis, Shia, Sunni, and other ethnic groups revolt in the Empire) which began in 1938 turned the tide against the Ottomans at the Middle Eastern front, where they initially seemed to have the upper hand during the first two years of the war. But the Ottomans were having problems such as:
- The European powers wanted to have more puppets
- Corrupt religious opposition to critical thinking; the corrupt ulema wanted to "protect" their position as heads of state. They discouraged creativity to keep the populace from information that might be disseminated through books other than the Qur'an. Muslims had been aware of the printing press since the 15th century, but it was not until 1727–272 years after Gutenberg that the Şeyhülislam released a fatwa decreeing its compatibility with Islam.
- Economic problems:
- Competition from trade from the Americas
- Competition from cheap products from India and the Far East
- Development of other trade routes
- Rising unemployment within the Empire
- Government problems:
- Ottoman Empire became less centralized, and central control weakened
- Sultans being less severe in maintaining rigorous standards of integrity in the administration of the Empire
- Political problems:
- Sultans becoming less sensitive to public opinion
- The low quality Sultans of the 17th and 18th centuries
- The ending of the execution of Sultan's sons and brothers, imprisoning them instead
- This apparently humane process led to men becoming Sultan after spending years in prison — not the best training for absolute power
On that same day, Germany invaded France and the Netherlands, the Dutch soon capitulate and moved to the Dutch East Indies. The French fortified Maginot Line was circumvented by a flanking movement through the thickly wooded Ardennes
region, mistakenly perceived by French planners as an impenetrable natural barrier against armoured vehicles. British troops were forced to evacuate the continent at Dunkirk, abandoning their heavy equipment by the end of the month. On 10 June, Italy invaded, declaring war on both France and the United Kingdom; twelve days later France surrendered and was soon turned into a fascist regime led by Petain Regime and a small part until Nice given to Italy. On 14 July, the British attacked the French fleet in Algeria to prevent its possible seizure by Germany.
With France neutralised, Germany began an air superiority campaign over Britain (the Battle of Britain) to prepare for an invasion. The campaign failed, and the invasion plans were cancelled by September. 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. Italy began operations in the Mediterranean, initiating a siege of Malta in June, conquering British Somaliland in August, and making an incursion into British-held Egypt in September 1940. Japan increased its blockade of China in September by seizing several bases in the northern part of the now-isolated French Indochina.
German intelligence (with a spy in the British Army) learns the British have cracked the Enigma code, which was leading to the sinking of German submarines. They withdraw their submarines from the Atlantic temporarily and send false intelligence to lure the British fleet to destruction. The U-Boat campaign against the United Kingdom resumes, starving Britain into a weak country.
On September 17, 1940, Germany launched the Operation Sea Lion in which Great Britain was invaded, Germany established Edward VIII as king of Britain and transform UK into a neutral country, similar to Switzerland, and declared, but the Commonwealth continue loyal to King George which escaped with his family to Canada, and continue fighting along the real British Army. The British Islands were turned into a Battlefield which would continue until 1945. But without control of the Motherland, Great Britain decide to give the fight of Europe to the Soviets, while the British Free Forces fight in the continent. Meanwhile they prepared to defend Africa and Australasia.
Throughout this period, the neutral United States took measures to assist China and the Western Allies. In November 1939, the American Neutrality Act was amended 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 and, after the Japanese incursion into Indochina, the United States embargoed iron, steel and mechanical parts against Japan. In September, the United States further agreed to a trade of American destroyers for British bases. Still, a large majority of the American public continued to oppose any direct military intervention into the conflict well into 1941.
At the end of September 1940, the Tripartite Pact united Japan, Italy, and Germany to formalize the Axis Powers. The Tripartite Pact stipulated that any country, with the exception of the Soviet Union, not in the war which attacked any Axis Power would be forced to go to war against all three. During this time, the United States continued to support the United Kingdom and China by introducing the Lend-Lease policy authorizing the provision of war materiel and other items and creating a security zone spanning roughly half of the Atlantic Ocean where the United States Navy protected British convoys. As a result, Germany and the United States found themselves engaged in sustained naval warfare in the Pacific by October 1941, even though the United States remained officially neutral.
The Axis expanded in November 1940 when Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Romania joined the Tripartite Pact. These countries participated in the subsequent invasion of the USSR, with Romania making the largest contribution to recapture territory ceded to the USSR and pursue its leader Ion Antonescu's desire to combat communism. In October 1940, Italy invaded Greece but within days was repulsed and pushed back into Albania, where a
stalemate soon occurred. In December 1940, British Commonwealth forces began counter-offensives against Italian forces in Egypt and Italian East Africa. By early 1941, with Italian forces having been pushed back into Libya by the Commonwealth, Churchill ordered a dispatch of troops from Africa to bolster the Greeks. The Italian Navy also suffered significant defeats, with the Royal Navy putting three Italian battleships out of commission by carrier attack at Taranto, and neutralising several more warships at Cape Matapan.
The Germans soon intervened to assist Italy. Hitler sent German forces to Libya in February, and by the end of March they had launched an offensive against the diminished Commonwealth forces. In under a month, Commonwealth forces were pushed back into Egypt with the exception of the besieged port of Tobruk. The Commonwealth attempted to dislodge Axis forces in May and again in June, but failed on both occasions. In early April, following Bulgaria's signing of the Tripartite Pact, the Germans intervened in the Balkans by invading Greece, here too they made rapid progress, eventually forcing the Allies to evacuate after Germany conquered the Greek island of Crete by the end of May.
The Allies did have successes during this time. In the Middle East, Commonwealth forces Captured Istanbul, then, with the assistance of the Free French, invaded Syria and Lebanon to prevent further such occurrences. The Conference of Beirut was issued in which they disbanded the Ottoman Empire.
In Asia, despite several offensives by both sides, the war between China and Japan was stalemated by 1940. In order 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 had seized military control of southern Indochina. In August of that year, Chinese communists launched an offensive in Central China; in retaliation, Japan instituted harsh measures (the Three Alls Policy) in occupied areas to reduce human and material resources for the communists. Continued antipathy between Chinese communist and nationalist forces culminated in armed clashes in January 1941, effectively ending their co-operation. 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, amassing forces on the Soviet border.
The War becomes Global
On 22 June 1941, Germany, along with other European Axis members and Finland, invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. The primary targets of this surprise offensive were the Baltic region, Moscow, and Ukraine, with an ultimate goal of ending the 1941 campaign near the Arkhangelsk-Astrakhan line, connecting the Caspian and White Seas. Hitler's objectives were to eliminate the Soviet Union as a military power, exterminate Communism, and guarantee access to the strategic resources needed to defeat Germany's remaining rival.
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 the middle of August, however, the German Army High Command decided to suspend the offensive of a considerably depleted Army Group Centre, and to divert the Second Panzer Group to reinforce troops advancing toward central Ukraine and Leningrad. The Kiev offensive was overwhelmingly successful, resulting in encirclement and elimination of four Soviet armies, and made further advance into Crimea and industrially developed Eastern Ukraine (the First Battle of Kharkov) possible.
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 Britain to reconsider its grand strategy. In July, The Soviet Union invaded Iran shortly afterwards to secure the Persian Corridor and Iran's oilfields.
By October, when 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 had been renewed. After two months of fierce battles, the German army almost reached the outer suburbs of Moscow, where the exhausted troops 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.
By early December, freshly mobilised reserves allowed the Soviets to achieve numerical parity with Axis troops. This, as well as intelligence data that established a minimal number of Soviet troops in the East sufficient to prevent any attack by the Japanese Kwantung Army, allowed the Soviets to begin a massive counter-offensive that started on 5 December along a 1000 km (620 mi) front and pushed German troops 100–250 km (62–160 mi) west.
German successes in Europe encouraged Japan to increase pressure on European governments in south-east Asia. The Dutch government agreed to provide Japan oil supplies from the Dutch East Indies, while refusing to hand over political control of the colonies. Vichy France, by contrast, agreed to a Japanese occupation of French Indochina. The United States, United Kingdom, and other Western governments reacted to the seizure of Indochina with a freeze on Japanese assets, while the United States (which supplied 80 percent of Japan's oil) responded by placing a complete oil embargo. The seizure meant Japan was essentially forced to choose between abandoning its ambitions in Asia and the prosecution of the war against China, or seizing the natural resources it needed by force; the Japanese military did not consider the former an option, and many officers considered the oil embargo an unspoken declaration of war.
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. To prevent American intervention while securing the perimeter it was further planned to neutralise the United States Pacific Fleet from the outset. On 7 December (8 December in Asian time zones), 1941, Japan attacked British and American holdings with near-simultaneous offensives against Southeast Asia and the Central Pacific. These included an attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, landings in Thailand and Malaya and the battle of Hong Kong.
These attacks led the U.S., Britain, Australia, and other Allies to formally declare war on Japan. Germany and the other members of the Tripartite Pact responded by declaring war on the United States. The Soviet Union did not adhere to the declaration; it maintained a neutrality agreement with Japan, and exempted itself from the principle of self-determination.
Meanwhile, by the end of April 1942, Japan 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 a stubborn resistance in Corregidor, the Philippines was eventually captured in May 1942, forcing the government of the Philippine Commonwealth into exile. 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. The only real Allied success against Japan was a Chinese victory at Changsha in early January 1942. These easy victories over unprepared opponents left Japan overconfident, as well as overextended.
Germany retained the initiative as well. Exploiting dubious American naval command decisions, the German navy ravaged Allied shipping off the American Atlantic coast. Despite considerable losses, European Axis members stopped a major Soviet offensive in Central and Southern Russia, keeping most territorial gains they achieved during the previous year. 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.
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 Allies, however, intercepted and turned back Japanese naval forces, successfully preventing the invasion. Japan's next plan, motivated by the earlier bombing on Tokyo, 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 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 force dispositions and used this knowledge to achieve a decisive victory at Midway over the Imperial Japanese Navy.
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.
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 dubious results.
On Germany's eastern front, the Axis 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 oilfields of the Caucasus and occupy Kuban steppe, while maintaining positions on the northern and central areas of the front. The Germans split the Army Group South into two groups: Army Group A struck lower Don River while Army Group B struck south-east to the Caucasus, towards Volga River. The Soviets decided to make their stand at Stalingrad, which was in the path of the advancing German armies.
By mid-November the Germans had nearly taken Stalingrad in bitter street fighting when 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, but Germany managed to capture the Caucasus where the Soviets took their oil. By early February 1943, the Red Army, without oil, had taken tremendous losses; Soviet troops at Stalingrad had been forced to surrender and the front-line had been pushed back beyond its position before the summer offensive. In mid-February, after the German push had tapered off, the Germans launched another attack on Moscow, The Japanese send troops to help the Germans invading Moscow from the air.
In September Britain was almost collapsing, with the Germans already reaching Liverpool, and the British retreating to Scotland.
By November 1941, New Zealand and South African forces had launched a counter-offensive, Operation Crusader, in North Africa, and trying to reclaim all the gains the Germans and Italians had made, were crushed. In the West, the Japanese utilize bases in Vichy-held Madagascar. This Axis success was offset soon after by an Axis offensive in Libya which pushed the Allies back into Egypt until Axis forces were almost 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.
In August 1942, the Allies were defeated in repelling a second attack against El Alamein. A few months later, All British forces in Asia and Oceania retreated to the Motherland, and in Africa to Sudan, which was being invaded by the Italians.