|World War II|
Clockwise from top left: Chinese forces marching through Burma, Australian 25-pounder guns during the First Battle of El Alamein, German Stuka dive bombers on the Eastern Front winter 1943–1944, Japanese forces take cover behind a tank in the Battle of Hongcheon, Wilhelm Keitel signing the German Instrument of Surrender, Soviet troops in the Battle of Stalingrad
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 Holocaust and 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.
World War I had radically altered the political map. The Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Spain, and the Ottoman Empire) lost most of its territories and colonial possessions and saw a creation of new states out of the defeated sides and collapsed Russian Empire following the 1917 Russian Revolutions. Meanwhile, existing victorious Allies such as France, Belgium, Italy, Greece and Romania gained territories.
As result of the territorial, colonial and financial losses, the irredentist and revanchist movements emerged in a number of European states, especially in Germany that severely guilt by the Treaty of Versailles. A new republican government, known as the Weimar Republic, was created in Germany following a revolution in 1918. The interwar period saw Germany succumbed in a turbulent political and economic situation. Meanwhile, the Russian Civil War had led to the creation of the Soviet Union.
Although Italy as an Entente ally made some territorial gains, Italian nationalists were angered that the promises made by the United Kingdom and France to secure Italian entrance into the war were not fulfilled 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 Weimar Republic's legitimacy was challenged by right-wing elements such the Freikorps and the Nazi party, resulting in events such as the Beer Hall Putsch. With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, domestic support for Nazism rose and the Nazis able to consolidate its power in Germany. In 1933, the leader of Nazi party, Adolf Hitler, was appointed Chancellor of Germany. In the aftermath of the Reichstag fire, a totalitarian single-party state was created and led by the Nazis. Hitler's regime abolished democracy, espousing a radical, racially motivated revision of the world order, and soon began a massive rearmament campaign.
Similar situation also happened in Spain. Although a republic was declared in 1919, the right-wing military junta soon taken over the country in 1928, until being overthrown by a German-backed Falange movement led by José Antonio Primo de Rivera in 1936. Meanwhile, France, to secure its alliance, allowed Italy a free hand in Ethiopia, which Italy desired as a colonial possession. The situation was aggravated in early 1935 when the Territory of the Saar Basin was legally reunited with Germany and Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles, accelerated his rearmament program and introduced conscription.
Hoping to contain 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, concerned due to Germany's goals of capturing vast areas of eastern Europe, wrote a treaty of mutual assistance with France. Before taking effect though, the Franco-Soviet pact was required to go through the bureaucracy of the League of Nations, which rendered it essentially toothless. The United States, concerned with events in Europe and Asia, passed the Neutrality Act in August. In October, Italy invaded Ethiopia, and only Germany that supported the invasion. Italy subsequently dropped its objections to Germany's goal of absorbing Austria.
Hitler defied the Versailles and Locarno treaties by remilitarizing the Rhineland in March 1936. He received little response from other European powers. In October 1936, Germany, Spain and Italy formed the Rome–Madrid–Berlin Axis and the Anti-Comintern Pact a month later. China then also solidified its long-time military and economic co-operation with Germany by signing the Sino-German Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Commerce in December 1937 following the break of Manchurian Conflict six months earlier.
Second Sino-Japanese War (1931–1932)
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 Italy 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.
Greek Civil War (1936–39)
European occupation and agreements
Course of the war
War breaks out in Europe (1939–40)
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, on the false pretext that Poland had launched attacks on German territory. On September 3, France and United Kingdom, followed by several fully independent dominions of the British Commonwealth (Australasia, Canada, and South Africa), declared war on Germany. But, provided limited direct support to Poland other than a small French attack into the Saarland. 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 September 17, 1939, the Soviets invaded and annexed the Ukraine as pre-emptive defense against the Germans. The Ukraine capitulated to the Soviets and declared its union with Poland cease to exist on September 21, 1939. With the capitulation of Ukraine, the Polish army was alone against the Germans until it was finally defeated. Warsaw surrendered to the Germans on October 1, with final pockets of resistance surrendering on October 16. About 100,000 Polish military personnel were evacuated to Romania and the Baltic countries. Many of these soldiers later fought against the Germans in other theaters of the war. Poland's Enigma code breakers were also evacuated to France.
After the direct borders between Germany and the Soviet Union were created, a non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR was signed, giving the Soviets freer hand in the Baltic. The Soviet Union then began to force the Baltic countries to allow it to station Soviet troops in their countries under pacts of "mutual assistance." Finland and Estonia rejected territorial demands and were invaded by the Soviet Union in November 1939. The resulting Winter War ended in March 1940 with Finnish and Estonian concessions.
In December 1939, the United Kingdom won a naval victory over Germany in the South Atlantic during the Battle of the River Plate.
Western Europe (1940–41)
In February 1940, following the pressures from the United Kingdom and France, Scandinavia issued an iron embargo to Germany that critical for the latter's wartime production of steel. As result, Germany invaded Scandinavia in April 1940. Copenhagen was easily captured after a few hours. Despite Allied support, during which the important harbor of Narvik temporarily was recaptured by the British, Scandinavia was conquered within two months. The United Kingdom then occupied the Scandinavian possessions of Madagascar, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroes to preempt a possible German invasion of the islands. British discontent over the Scandinavian campaign led to the replacement of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with Winston Churchill on May 10, 1940.
France was invaded by Germany from the north and Italy and Spain from the south respectively on the 10th and 11th of May, 1940. For reasons of military strategy, Germany also attacked the neutral nations of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The Netherlands and Belgium were overrun using blitzkrieg tactics in a few days and weeks, respectively. Allied defense that focused more on northern Maginot Line resulted the Spanish-Italian forces to cross the Pyrenees Line on the south and the Alpine Line on the southwest easily. In the north, the main body the Allied forces which had moved into Belgium were also circumvented by a flanking movement through the thickly wooded Ardennes region. 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. After Paris fell on June 10, several members of government and Parliament of France, led by President François de La Rocque and Prime Minister Édouard Daladier, evacuated to more strategically safer French West Africa and formed the Dakar Government. Metropolitan France soon fell under the Axis occupation on June 25, 1940 and was then divided into German, Spanish and Italian occupation zones.
In June 1940, the Soviet Union forcibly annexed Latvia and then annexed the Romanian region of Bessarabia after the Germans earlier launched an offensive against Lithuania that heightened the tension between both countries. Despite already signed a non-aggression pact, however, after successful Germany's invasions of Scandinavia and France, both Germany and the Soviet Union began preparations for war against each other.
On July 19, 1940, Germany offered to end the war with the British. However, Churchill blatantly rejected the offer. Germany responded by starting an air superiority campaign over the United Kingdom, known as 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.
Axis advance to Eastern Europe (1941–43)
On May 11, 1940, Soviet's close ally, Bulgaria, was invaded by Romania in a surprise attack. With a greater amount of Soviet arms and military logistics, however, Bulgaria was able to resist Romanian offensives. In June 1940, Italy decided to support Romanian war effort and sent arms through neutral Greece. However, as the conflict proven to be much longer than expected, Italy then tried to persuade Greece, that had been went through a disastrous civil war, to relinquish its neutrality and Turkey to permit Italian battleships to pass the Bosporus Strait. However, the talks were failed. Frustrated, Mussolini then turned over directly to Hitler.
On April 6, 1941, Germany and Italy jointly invaded both Illyria and Serbia, making rapid progress and forcing both nations to surrender within the month. On May 11, 1941, the forces of Germany and Italy, joined by Hungary, invaded Bulgaria. Sofia fell to the Axis forces on May 14, 1941 and the Bulgarian Army retreated eastward. However, as the Soviet Union was still able to supply Bulgaria with arms through the Black Sea, the resistance was continued for about two months.
Viewed the USSR as the greatest obstacle for Axis military victory, Hitler finally broke the non-aggression pact and invaded the Soviet Union in the middle of Battle of Bulgaria on June 22, 1941 albeit disagreements with his generals. The German invasion, supported by Italy, Romania and Hungary, caught the Soviet military unprepared. The entire Soviet leadership, although expected invasion, however believed the invasion will be occurred either after fall of the British Empire or the defeat of Bulgaria. The initial weeks of the war were a disaster for the Red Army.