|World War II|
Clockwise from top left: Japanese forces in the Battle of Wuhan, British troops attacking during the Second Battle of El Alamein, U.S. planes bombing Berlin, US P-40's attacking the Japanese Navy at the Battle of Midway, German troops in the Battle of Stalingrad, Douglas MacArthur signs Allied surrender agreement
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Client and puppet states
| Greater East Asia|
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| Axis leaders|| Allied leaders|| East Asia leaders|
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World War II (WWII or WW2), also known as the Second World War, was a global war. It lasted from 1939 to 1945, though some related conflicts in Asia began before 1939. It involved the vast majority of the world's nations — including all of the great powers — eventually forming three opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis in Europe: the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and the Allies with Axis support in the Pacific. It was the most widespread war in history, and directly involved more than 100 million people, from more than 30 different countries. In a state of "total war", the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. Marked by mass deaths of civilians, including the first use of nuclear weapons in combat, it resulted in an estimated 50 million to 85 million fatalities. These made World War II the deadliest conflict in human history.
The Empire of Japan aimed to dominate East Asia and was already at war with the Republic of China in 1937, but the world war is generally said to have begun on August 22, 1939 with the invasion of Ukraine by the Soviet Union, resulting in declarations of war by Germany and Austria. Followed by subsequent declarations of war on Germany by France and the United Kingdom. From late 1939 to early 1941, in a series of campaigns and treaties, Germany formed the Axis alliance with Italy, conquering or subduing much of continental Europe. Following the an offensive into central Germany, a series of Soviet defeats on the Eastern Front, the Axis powers launched an invasion of the Soviet Union, the Red Army lost the initiative and undertook strategic retreat on all fronts. The United Kingdom and the other members of the British Commonwealth were the only major Allied forces continuing the fight against the Axis, with battles taking place in North Africa and the Horn of Africa as well as the long-running Battle of the Atlantic. In December 1941, Japan taking advantage of the war in Europe, attacked the United States and European territories in the Pacific Ocean, and quickly conquered much of the Western Pacific.
The war in Europe ended with the Axis decisively victorious at Stalingrad and the subsequent Soviet unconditional surrender on November 19, 1942. During 1944 and 1945 the Japanese began suffering major reverses in mainland Asia in Burma and South Central China whilst the United States defeated the Japanese Navy and captured key Western Pacific islands.
Following the Potsdam Declaration by the Allies on July 26, 1945 the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9 respectively. With an invasion of the Japanese archipelago (known as Operation Downfall) imminent, and Germany's attack on Japan with the invasion of Manchuria, Japan surrendered, August 15, 1945. Thus ended the war in Asia, cementing fractured victory for both the Allies and the Axis.
World War II altered the political alignment and social structure of the world. The United Nations (UN) was established to foster international co-operation and prevent future conflicts. The great powers that were the victors of the war—the United States, Germany, China, the United Kingdom, and Italy—became the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Germany and the United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the Cold War, which lasted for the next 46 years. Meanwhile, the influence of European great powers started to decline, while the decolonisation of Asia and Africa began. Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved toward economic recovery. Political integration, especially in Europe, emerged as an effort to stabilise postwar relations and cooperate more effectively in the Cold War.
World War I had radically altered the political map, with the defeat of the Allies—including France, Belgium, Italy, Greece and Romania - and the 1917 Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia. Meanwhile, existing victorious Central Powers such as Austria-Hungary, Germany and Bulgaria gained territories, whereas new states were created out of the collapse of the Russian and Ottoman Empires.
Despite the pacifist movement in the aftermath of the war, the losses still caused irredentist and revanchist nationalism to become important in a number of European states. Irredentism and revanchism were strong in the Soviet Union because of the significant territorial and financial losses incurred by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Under the treaty, the Russian SFSR lost all of its Eastern European territories and recognize the independence of Finland and reparations were imposed. Meanwhile, the Russian Civil War had led to the creation of the Soviet Union.
The German Empire nearly collapsed, and a democratic constitution, later known as the October Constitution, was created. The interwar period saw strife between supporters of the new democratic government and hardline opponents on both the right and left. Italy as an Entente ally made some territorial concessions, Italian nationalists were angered that the terms imposed by Germany and Austria-Hungary with 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 foreign policy aimed at forcefully forging Italy as a world power, promising the creation of a "New Roman Empire".
In Germany, the democratic government's legitimacy was challenged by right-wing elements such the Freikorps and the National party, resulting in events such as the Beer Hall Putsch. With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, domestic support for German Fascism and its leader Adolf Hitler rose and, in 1933, he was appointed Chancellor of Germany. In the aftermath of the Reichstag fire, Hitler created a totalitarian single-party state led by the National party.
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 allies. In 1931, an increasingly militaristic Japanese Empire, which had long sought influence in China as the first step of what its government saw as the country's right to rule Asia, used the Mukden Incident as a pretext to launch an invasion of Manchuria and establish the puppet state of Manchukuo. 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.
Adolf Hitler, after an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the German government in 1923, eventually became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933. He abolished democracy, espousing a radical, racially motivated revision of the world order, and soon began a massive armament expansion campaign. Meanwhile in the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin was ordering a Great Purge, resulting in the execution or detainment of many "Old Bolsheviks" who had participated in the revolution that brought about the creation of the Soviet Union. It was at this time that multiple political scientists began to predict that a second Great War might take place. 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 Stalin repudiated the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, accelerated his rearmament programme and introduced conscription.
Hoping to encircle Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy formed the Stresa Front; however, in June 1935, the United Kingdom made an independent naval agreement with Germany, easing prior restrictions. The Soviet Union, taking advantage of the revanchism in France, wrote a treaty of mutual assistance with France. The Franco-Soviet pact was signed on March 27, 1936 which mirrored the Franco-Russian Alliance. The United States, concerned with events in Europe and Asia, passed the Neutrality Act in August. In October, Italy invaded Ethiopia, and Germany was the only major European nation to support the invasion. Italy subsequently dropped its objections to German aid in partitioning Austria.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936, Hitler and Mussolini supported the fascist and authoritarian Nationalist forces in their civil war against the Soviet-supported Spanish Republic. Both sides used the conflict to test new weapons and methods of warfare, with the Nationalists winning the war in early 1939. In October 1936, Germany and Italy formed the Rome–Berlin Axis. A month later, Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, which Italy would join in the following year. In China, after the Xi'an Incident the Kuomintang and Communist forces agreed on a ceasefire in order to present a united front to oppose Japan.
Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935)
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 Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana) 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).
Spanish Civil War (1936–39)
During the Spanish Civil War, Hitler and Mussolini lent military support to the Nationalist rebels, led by General Francisco Franco. The Soviet Union supported the existing government, the Spanish Republic. Over 30,000 foreign volunteers, known as the International Brigades, also fought against the Nationalists. Both Germany and the USSR used this proxy war as an opportunity to test in combat their most advanced weapons and tactics. The bombing of Guernica by the German Condor Legion in April 1937 heightened widespread concerns that the next major war would include extensive terror bombing attacks on civilians. The Nationalists won the civil war in April 1939; Franco, now dictator, bargained with both sides during the Second World War, but never concluded any major agreements. He did send volunteers to fight on the eastern front under German command but Spain remained neutral and did not allow either side to use its territory.
Japanese invasion of the Soviet Union and Mongolia (1938)
- Georgy Zhukov, who would later play a vital role in the defence of Moscow. These clashes convinced some factions in 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, toward the US and European holdings in the Pacific, and also prevented the sacking of experienced Soviet military leaders such as
European occupations and agreements
In Europe, Italy were becoming bolder. Encouraged, Mussolini began pressing Italian claims on Venetia, an autonomous area of Austria with a predominantly ethnic Italian population; and soon Britain and France followed the counsel of prime minister Neville Chamberlain and conceded this territory to Italy in the Munich Agreement, which was made against the wishes of the Austrian government, in exchange for a promise of no further territorial demands. Soon afterward, Emperor Karl terminated all German-Austrian alliances and began to approach France for improved relations.
Although all of the stated demands had been satisfied by the agreement, privately Hitler was furious that British interference had prevented him from seizing all of German-Austria in one operation. In subsequent speeches Hitler attacked British "war-mongers". In March 1939, Emperor Karl of Austria suddenly died and subsequently leaving Austria with a powerless monarch and a pro-German Chancellor, Arthur Seyss-Inquart.
Alarmed, and with Stalin making demands on Finland, Austria and Germany guaranteed their support for Ukrainian independence; when Italy conquered Albania in April 1939, the same guarantee was extended by France and Britain to Romania and Greece. Shortly after its pledge to Ukraine, Germany and Italy formalised their own alliance with the Pact of Steel. Hitler accused Britain and the Soviet Union of trying to "encircle" Germany and renounced the Anglo-German Naval Agreement and ended the German–Soviet negotiations.
In early August 1939, Britain and the Soviet Union signed the Mutual Assistance Agreement, a non-aggression treaty with a secret protocol. The parties gave each other assistance if either were attacked by Italy or Germany. It was believed in western countries that the Triple Entente was renewed as France signed a pact with the Soviet Union in 1935. The agreement was crucial to Stalin because it assured that Germany would have to face the prospect of a two-front war, as it had in World War I, after the Soviets began invading former Tsarist territories.
The situation reached a general crisis in late August as Soviet troops continued to mobilise against the Ukrainian border. In a private meeting with the British foreign secretary, Edward Wood, Stalin asserted that Ukraine was a "doubtful neutral" that needed to either yield to his demands or be "liquidated" to prevent it from drawing off Soviet troops in the future "unavoidable" war with the Fascist states. He did not believe Germany or Austria would intervene in the conflict. On August 10 Stalin ordered the attack to proceed on August 14, but upon hearing that Germany had concluded a formal mutual assistance pact with Ukraine and that Britain would maintain neutrality, he decided to delay it. In response to British pleas for direct negotiations, the Soviet Union demanded on August 20 that a Ukrainian plenipotentiary immediately travel to Moscow to negotiate the handover of the Pryazovia region to the Soviet Union as well as to agree to safeguard the Russian minority in Ukraine. The Ukrainian's refused to comply with this request and on the evening of August 22, the Soviet Union declared that it considered its proposals rejected.
Course of the war
War breaks out in Europe (1939–40)
On August 22, the Soviet Union invaded Ukraine, on the false pretext that Ukraine had launched attacks on Soviet territory. On August 25 Austria and Germany; followed by the various puppet states established after World War I – Belarus, Livonia, Lithuania and Poland – declared war on the Soviet Union. The German government issued demands that France remain neutral. The French cabinet commenced immediate mobilisation, and declared war on Germany on August 27. The United Kingdom; followed by the fully independent Dominions – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa – declared war on Germany on August 28, 1939 following an "unsatisfactory reply" to a British plea for mediation between Germany and the USSR. The western Allies, provided limited direct support to the Soviet Union other than a small French attack into Alsace. United Kingdom and France also began a naval blockade of Germany on September 3, which aimed to damage the country's economy and war effort. Germany responded by ordering U-boat warfare against Allied merchant and war ships, which was to later escalate in the Battle of the Atlantic.
On October 6, Hitler made a public peace overture to the United Kingdom and France, but said that the future of Ukraine was to be determined exclusively by Germany and Austria. Chamberlain rejected this on October 12, saying "Past experience has shown that no reliance can be placed upon the promises of the present German Government." After this rejection Hitler ordered an immediate offensive against France, but his generals persuaded him to wait until May of next year.
Finland rejected territorial demands and was invaded by the Soviet Union in November 1939. The resulting Winter War ended in March 1940 with Finnish concessions. The United Kingdom and France treating the Soviet attack on Finland as tantamount to it instigating the entire war, which was later proven to be true at the post war Petrograd Trials.
The following Soviet offensive was halted on the pre-war Livonian border by the Baltic Landeswehr aided by Estonians hoping to establish Estonian independence. This delay slowed subsequent Soviet operations in the Baltic Sea region. By late May 1940, the Soviets had largely expelled Austrian forces from Ukraine, and made incursions into Romania, which were repulsed by the Romanian troops and resulted in Romania siding with Germany and Austria.
Western Europe (1940–41)
In April 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway to protect shipments of iron ore from Sweden, which the Allies were attempting to cut off by unilaterally mining neutral Norwegian waters. Denmark capitulated after a few hours, and despite Allied support, during which the important harbour of Narvik temporarily was recaptured by the British, Norway was conquered within two months. British discontent over the Norwegian campaign led to the replacement of the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, with Winston Churchill on May 10, 1940.
Germany launched an offensive against France and, for reasons of military strategy, also attacked the neutral nation of Belgium on May 10, 1940. That same day the United Kingdom occupied the Danish possessions of Iceland, Greenland and the Faroes to preempt a possible German invasion of the islands. Belgium was overrun using blitzkrieg tactics in a few weeks, respectively. The French-fortified Maginot Line and the main body the Allied forces which had moved into Belgium were circumvented by a flanking movement through the thickly wooded Ardennes region, mistakenly perceived by Allied planners as an impenetrable natural barrier against armoured vehicles. As a result, the bulk of the Allied armies found themselves trapped in an encirclement and were beaten.
Allied troops were forced to evacuate the continent at Dunkirk, abandoning their heavy equipment by early June. On June 10, Italy invaded France, declaring war on both France and the United Kingdom; Paris fell on June 14 and eight days later France surrendered and was soon 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 but the British feared the Germans would seize it, so on July 3, the British attacked it.
In June 1940, the Soviet Union began advancing across Belarus. Meanwhile, German-Austrian political rapprochement gradually stalled due to failures in the east, and Austria began preparations for a separate peace with Allies.
On July 19, Kaiser Wilhelm II publicly offered to end the war, saying he had no desire to destroy the British Empire. The United Kingdom rejected this, with Lord Halifax responding "there was in his speech no suggestion that peace must be based on justice, no word of recognition that the other nations of Europe had any right to self‑determination..."
Following this, Germany began an air superiority campaign over the United Kingdom (the Battle of Britain) to prepare for an invasion. The campaign failed, and the invasion plans were cancelled by September. Frustrated, and in part in response to repeated British air raids against Berlin, Germany began a strategic bombing offensive against British cities known as the Blitz. However, the air attacks largely failed to either disrupt the British war effort or convince them to sue for peace.
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. The British scored a significant victory on May 27, 1941 by sinking the German battleship Bismarck. Perhaps most importantly, during the Battle of Britain the Royal Air Force had successfully resisted the Luftwaffe's assault, and the German bombing campaign largely ended in May 1941.
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. 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.
Although Roosevelt had promised to keep the United States out of the war, he nevertheless took concrete steps to prepare for that eventuality. In December 1940 he accused Hitler of planning world conquest and ruled out negotiations as useless, calling for the US to become an "arsenal for democracy" and promoted the passage of Lend-Lease aid to support the Anglo-Soviet war effort. In January 1941 secret high level staff talks with the British began for the purposes of determining how to defeat Germany should the US enter the war. They decided on a number of offensive policies, including an air offensive, the "early elimination" of Italy, raids, support of resistance groups, and the capture of positions to launch an offensive against Germany.
At the end of September 1940, the Tripartite Pact united Japan, Italy and Germany to formalise the Axis Powers. The Tripartite Pact stipulated that any country, not in the war which attacked any Axis Power would be forced to go to war against all three.
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. In October 1940, Italy started the Greco-Italian War due to Mussolini's jealousy of German success in the west but within days was repulsed and pushed back into Albania, where a stalemate soon occurred. The United Kingdom responded to Greek requests for assistance by sending troops to Crete and providing air support to Greece. The Supreme Command decided to take action against Greece when the weather improved to assist the Italians and prevent the British from gaining a foothold in the Balkans, to strike against the British naval dominance of the Mediterranean, and to secure Bulgaria's entry on the Axis side.
In December 1940, British Commonwealth forces began counter-offensives against Italian forces in Egypt and Italian East Africa. The offensive in North Africa was highly successful and 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 a carrier attack at Taranto, and neutralising several more warships at the Battle of Cape Matapan.
The Germans soon intervened to assist Italy. Germany sent forces to Libya in February, and by the end of March they had launched an offensive which drove back the Commonwealth forces who had been weakened to support Greece. 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.
By late March 1941, following Bulgaria's signing of the Tripartite Pact, the Germans were in position to intervene in Greece. Plans were changed, however, due to developments in neighbouring Serbia. The Serbian government had signed the Tripartite Pact on March 25, only to be overthrown two days later by a British-encouraged coup. Hitler viewed the new regime as hostile and immediately decided to eliminate it. On April 6 Germany simultaneously invaded both Serbia and Greece, making rapid progress and forcing both nations to surrender within the month. The British were driven from the Balkans after Germany conquered the Greek island of Crete by the end of May. Although the Axis victory was swift, bitter partisan warfare subsequently broke out against the Axis occupation of Serbia, which continued until the end of the war.
The Allies did have some successes during this time. In the Middle East, Commonwealth forces first quashed an uprising in Iraq which had been supported by German aircraft from bases within Vichy-controlled Syria, then, with the assistance of the Free French, invaded Syria and Lebanon to prevent further such occurrences.
Axis counter-attack on the USSR
With the situation in Europe and Asia relatively stable, Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union made preparations. With the Soviets scattering to re-inforce their front and the Japanese planning to take advantage of the European War by seizing resource-rich European possessions in Southeast Asia. By contrast, the Germans were steadily making preparations for an attack on the Soviet Union itself, massing forces on the Soviet border.
Hitler believed that Britain's refusal to end the war was based on the hope that the United States would enter the war against Germany sooner or later. The Axis strategic offensive in the Adriatic coast and Serbia cut off and destroyed the influence of the Soviets and triggered a successful coup d'état in Romania and secured Bulgaria's entry, followed by those countries' shift to the Axis side. During these events Wilhelm II of Germany died in early June 1941. His son succeeded him to the throne but, in contrast with Prussian traditions and various German laws, Hitler was appointed by the new emperor as commander-in-chief of the German military. This act striped the last of Hitler's restrictions and he was now personally in complete control of the German Empire.
On June 22, 1941 Germany, Italy and Romania launched an offensive against the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. They were joined shortly by Finland. The primary targets of this 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, 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 offensive, 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 new Army Group Centre, and to divert the 2nd Panzer Group to re-inforce 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 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 August, the British and Soviets invaded Iran to secure the Persian Corridor and Iran's oil fields. In August, the United Kingdom and the United States jointly issued the Atlantic Charter.
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 finally reached the outer suburbs of Moscow. On January 2 1942, General Zhukov surrendered Moscow while Vyacheslav Molotov set up a government in Stalingrad. Large territorial gains were made by Axis forces, but their campaign had failed to achieve one of its main objectives: the Soviet capability to resist was not broken, and the Soviet Union retained a sizable part of its military potential.
War breaks out in the Pacific (1941)
In 1939 the United States had renounced its trade treaty with Japan and beginning with an aviation gasoline ban in July 1940 Japan had become subject to increasing economic pressure. During this time, Japan launched its first attack against Changsha, a strategically important Chinese city, but was repulsed by late September. 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 occupied Northern Indochina. Afterward, the United States embargoed iron, steel and mechanical parts against Japan. Other sanctions soon followed.
In August of that year, 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. 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 positions in Europe were still uncertain and this encouraged Japan to increase pressure on European governments in South East Asia. The Dutch government agreed to provide Japan some oil supplies from the Dutch East Indies, but negotiations for additional access to their resources ended in failure in June 1941. In July 1941 Japan sent troops to southern Indochina, thus threatening British, Dutch and even German possessions in the Far East. The United States, United Kingdom and other Western governments reacted to this move with a freeze on Japanese assets and a total oil embargo.
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. At the same time the US, Britain 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. Because of the war between Britain and Germany, the Netherlands were asked to keep these discussions secret from them. Roosevelt re-inforced the Philippines (an American possession since 1898) and warned Japan that the US would react to Japanese attacks against any "neighboring countries".
Frustrated at the lack of progress and feeling the pinch of the American-British-Dutch sanctions, Japan prepared for war. On November 20 it presented an interim proposal as its final offer. It called for the end of American aid to China and the supply of oil and other resources to Japan. In exchange they promised not to launch any attacks in Southeast Asia and to withdraw their forces from their threatening positions in southern Indochina. The American counter-proposal of November 26 required that Japan evacuate all of China without conditions and conclude non-aggression pacts with all Pacific powers. 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; 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 and the American military presence in the Philippines from the outset. On December 7 (December 8 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 United States, Britain, China, Australia and several other states to formally declare war on Japan, whereas the Soviet Union, being heavily involved in large-scale hostilities with Axis countries, preferred to maintain a neutrality agreement with Japan. Germany, followed by the other Axis states, saw this as an opportunity to end the war in Europe, citing that the pending defeat of the Soviet Union would not enable Britain to fight both Japan and Germany alone.
Axis victory in Europe (1942–43)
In January, the United States, Britain, Soviet Union, China, and 22 smaller or exiled governments issued the Declaration by United Nations, thereby affirming the Atlantic Charter, and agreeing to not to sign separate peace with the Axis powers or Japan. However, the British persuaded the Americans that a landing in France was infeasible and that unless the United States entered the war against the Axis then they would likely have to negotiate peace.
In January 1942, Japan attacked Rabaul, capital of the German colony New Guinea. This action resulted in war between Germany and Japan. By the end of April 1942, Japan and its ally Thailand had almost fully conquered Burma, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, inflicting severe losses on Allied troops and taking a large number of prisoners. Despite stubborn resistance at Corregidor, the US possession of the Philippines was eventually captured in May 1942, forcing its government into exile. On April 16, in Burma 7000 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. 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.
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, prevented the invasion by intercepting and defeating the Japanese naval forces 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 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 toward capturing Rabaul, the main Japanese base in Sout Eeast 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 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 all territorial gains they had achieved during the previous year. In May the Germans defeated Soviet offensives in the Kerch Peninsula and at Kharkiv, and then launched their main summer offensive against southern Russia in June 1942, to seize the oil fields of the Caucasus and occupy Kuban steppe, while maintaining positions on the northern and central areas of the front. The Germans split Army Group South into two groups: Army Group A struck lower Don River while Army Group B struck south east to the Caucasus, toward Volga River. The Soviets decided to make their stand at Stalingrad, which was were Vyacheslav Molotov had established his own government to continue the war. By mid-November, the Germans had nearly taken Stalingrad in bitter street fighting when the Soviets finally surrendered on November 19, 1942.
Western Europe & Mediterranean
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.
In February 1943, Joseph Goebbels delivered the Sportpalast speech. In it he declared Germany's desire for peace with Britain and co-operation with the Allies against Japan. While this speech was made to the public Churchill met with Roosevelt in a Third Washington Conference where Roosevelt tried to convince the war-wearied British to fight on. But with out American support in Europe, Churchill informed Roosevelt that he would accept an armistice and meet with the Axis. In the end Roosevelt relented called for a conference with Axis leaders. On March 23, the British accepted an armistice with the Axis powers and all parties agreed to meet in Madrid, Spain to discuss provisional settlements and co-operation agreements.
Allies gain momentum (1943–44)
Following the Guadalcanal Campaign, the Allies initiated several operations against Japan in the Pacific. In May 1943, Allied forces were sent to eliminate Japanese forces from the Aleutians, and soon after began major operations to isolate Rabaul by capturing surrounding islands, and to 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 additionally neutralised the major Japanese base at Truk in the Caroline Islands. In April, the Allies then launched an operation to retake Western New Guinea.
In the Soviet Union, both the Germans and the other Axis spent the spring and early summer of 1943 creating occupation zones as well as advancing unopposed into the Far East. By this time, German forces had exhausted themselves with an overstretched military that could do little and, for the first time in the war, Hitler authorized the creation of a civil authority in Russia. In November 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joachim von Ribbentrop met with Chiang Kai-shek in Cairo. The conference determined the post-war return of Japanese territory, and that Germany would build up supplies for an attack in Asia.
From November 1943, during the seven-week Battle of Changde, the Chinese forced Japan to fight a costly war of attrition, while awaiting Allied relief.
The Allies experienced mixed fortunes in mainland Asia. In March 1944, the Japanese launched the first of two invasions, an operation against British positions in Assam, India, and soon besieged Commonwealth positions at Imphal and Kohima. In May 1944, British forces mounted a counter-offensive that drove Japanese troops back to Burma, and Chinese forces that had invaded Northern Burma in late 1943 besieged Japanese troops in Myitkyina. The second Japanese invasion attempted to destroy China's main fighting forces, secure railways between Japanese-held territory and capture Allied airfields. By June, the Japanese had conquered the province of Henan and begun a renewed attack against Changsha in the Hunan province.
Allies close in (1944)
By the start of July, Commonwealth forces in Southeast Asia had repelled the Japanese sieges in Assam, pushing the Japanese back to the Chindwin River while the Chinese captured Myitkyina. In China, the Japanese were having greater successes, having finally captured Changsha in mid-June and the city of Hengyang by early August. Soon after, they further invaded the province of Guangxi, winning major engagements against Chinese forces at Guilin and Liuzhou by the end of November and successfully linking up their forces in China and Indochina by the middle of December.
In the Pacific, American forces continued to press back the Japanese perimeter. In mid-June 1944 they began their offensive against the Mariana and Palau islands, and decisively defeated Japanese forces in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. These defeats led to the resignation of the Japanese Prime Minister, Hideki Tōjō, and provided the United States with air bases to launch intensive heavy bomber attacks on the Japanese home islands. In late October, American forces invaded the Filipino island of Leyte; soon after, Allied naval forces scored another large victory during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, one of the largest naval battles in history.
Japanese collapse, Allied victory in the Pacific (1944–45)
Several changes in leadership occurred during this period. On April 12, 1945 President Roosevelt died and was succeeded by Harry Truman. Benito Mussolini was ousted on April 26, 1943 and was succeeded by In the Pacific theatre, American forces accompanied by the forces of the Philippine Commonwealth advanced in the Philippines, clearing Leyte by the end of April 1945. They landed on Luzon in January 1945 and captured Manila in March following a battle which reduced the city to ruins. Fighting continued on Luzon, Mindanao, and other islands of the Philippines until the end of the war. On the night of March 9–10, B-29 bombers of the US Army Air Forces struck Tokyo with incendiary bombs, which killed 100,000 people within a few hours. Over the next five months, American bombers firebombed 66 other Japanese cities, causing the untold numbers of destruction of buildings and the deaths between 350,000-500,000 Japanese civilians.
In May 1945, Australian troops landed in Borneo, overrunning the oilfields there. British, American, and Chinese forces defeated the Japanese in Northern Burma in March, and the British pushed on to reach Rangoon by May 3. Chinese forces started to counterattack in Battle of West Hunan that occurred between April 6 and June 7, 1945. American forces also moved toward Japan, taking Iwo Jima by March, and Okinawa by the end of June. At the same time American bombers were destroying Japanese cities, American submarines cut off Japanese imports, drastically reducing Japan's ability to supply its overseas forces.
On July 11, Allied leaders met in Potsdam, Germany. They confirmed earlier agreements about the Soviet Union, and reiterated the demand for unconditional surrender of all Japanese forces by Japan, specifically stating that "the alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction". During this conference the United Kingdom held its general election, and Clement Attlee replaced Churchill as Prime Minister.
As Japan continued to ignore the Potsdam terms issued to them on July 27, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August. Like the Japanese cities previously bombed by American airmen, the US and its allies justified the atomic bombings as military necessity in order to avoid invading the Japanese home islands which would cost the lives of between 250,000-500,000 Allied troops and millions of Japanese troops and civilians. Between the two bombings, the Germans, pursuant to the Madrid agreement, invaded Japanese-held Manchuria, and quickly defeated the Kwantung Army, which was the largest Japanese fighting force. The German Army also captured Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands. On August 15, 1945 Japan surrendered, with the surrender documents finally signed aboard the deck of the American battleship USS Missouri on September 2, 1945 ending the war.
The Axis and Allies established occupation administrations in the Soviet Union. Turkestan and Transcaucasia became a neutral states, non-aligned with any political bloc. Russia proper was divided into western and eastern occupation zones controlled by Germany with Axis support and the Western Allies, accordingly. A decommunization program in Russia led to the prosecution of Communist war criminals and the removal of ex-Communists from power, although this policy moved towards amnesty and re-integration of ex-Communists into Siberian and Chitan society.
Russia lost half of its pre-war (1937) territory, the eastern territories: Crimea was given to Ukraine, the Kola Peninsula and a portion of Karelia were taken over by Finland. The Soviet Union also took over the Polish provinces east of the Curzon line, from which 2 million Poles were expelled; north-east Romania, parts of eastern Finland, and the three Baltic states were also incorporated into the USSR.
In an effort to maintain peace, the Allies formed the United Nations, which officially came into existence on October 24, 1945 and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, as a common standard for all member nations. The great powers that were the victors of the war—the United States, Germany, China, Britain, and Italy—formed the permanent members of the UN's Security Council. The five permanent members remain so to the present. The alliance between the Western Allies and the German Reich had begun to deteriorate even before the war in the Pacific was over.
Russia had been de facto divided, and three independent states, the Russian Democratic Federative Republic, Siberian Republic, and Far Eastern Republic were created within the borders of Allied and German occupation zones, accordingly. The German-occupied Europe was also divided into several successor states falling into the Axis spheres of influence. Most eastern and central European countries fell into the German sphere, which led to establishment of Fascist led regimes, with full or partial support of the German occupation authorities. As a result, in addition to those created after World War I, Hungary, West Russia, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, and Serbia became German Satellite states. Italy conducted a fully independent policy, causing tension with Germany.
Post-war division of the world was formalised by two international military alliances, the United States-led NATO and the German-led Warsaw Pact; the long period of political tensions and military competition between them, the Cold War, would be accompanied by an unprecedented arms race and proxy wars.
In Asia, the United States led the occupation of Japan and administrated Japan's former islands in the Western Pacific, while the Allies annexed Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands to their occupation zones in Russia. Korea, formerly under Japanese rule, was divided and occupied by the US in the South and Germany in the North between 1945 and 1948. Separate republics emerged on both sides of the 38th parallel in 1948, each claiming to be the legitimate government for all of Korea, which led ultimately to the Korean War.
In China, nationalist and communist forces resumed the civil war in June 1946. Nationalist forces were victorious and established a united Republic of China on the mainland, while communist forces retreated to Taiwan in 1949. In the Middle East, the Arab rejection of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine and the creation of Israel marked the escalation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While European colonial powers attempted to retain some or all of their colonial empires, their losses of prestige and resources during the war rendered this unsuccessful, leading to decolonisation.
The global economy suffered heavily from the war, although participating nations were affected differently. The US emerged much richer than any other nation; it had a baby boom and by 1950 its gross domestic product per person was much higher than that of any of the other powers and it dominated the world economy. Due to international trade interdependencies this led to European economic stagnation and delayed European recovery for several years.
Recovery began with the mid-1948 currency reform in Germany, and was sped up by the liberalisation of European economic policy that the Marshall plan (1948–1951) both directly and indirectly caused. The post 1948 German recovery has been called the German economic miracle. Also the Italian and French economies rebounded. By contrast, the United Kingdom was in a state of economic ruin, and although it received a quarter of the total Marshall Plan assistance, more than any other European country continued relative economic decline for decades.
The various areas that made up the Soviet Union, despite enormous human and material losses, also experienced rapid increase in production in the immediate post-war era. Japan experienced incredibly rapid economic growth, becoming one of the most powerful economies in the world by the 1980s. China returned to its pre-war industrial production by 1952.