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World War 2 was the biggest and deadliest war in history, involving more than 30 countries. Sparked by the 1939 Nazi invasion of Poland, the war dragged on for six bloody years until the Allies defeated Nazi Germany and Japan in 1945. World War 2 began in Europe on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Great Britain and France responded by declaring war on Germany on September 3. The war between the U.S.S.R. and Germany began on June 22, 1941, with Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
may be the official start of World War 2 , but it didn’t start in a vacuum. Europe and Asia had been tense for years prior to 1939 because of the rise of Adolf Hilter and the Third Reich in Germany, the Spanish Civil War, the Japanese invasion of China, the German annexation of Austria, and the imprisonment of thousands of Jews in concentration camps. After Germany’s occupation of areas of Czechoslovakia not previously agreed to in the Munich Pact and its invasion of Poland, the rest of Europe realized it couldn’t try to appease Germany any longer. The United States tried to remain neutral, and the Soviet Union invaded Finland. (World war 2)
- August 23: Germany and the Soviet Union sign the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.
- September 1: Germany invades Poland, starting world war ll.
- September 3: Britain and France declare war on Germany.
- September: Battle of the Atlantic begins.
1940 (World war 2)
The first full year of the war saw Germany invading its European neighbors: Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, and Romania, and the bombing of Britain lasted for months. The Royal Air Force undertook nighttime raids in Germany in response. Germany, Italy, and Japan signed a joint military and economic agreement, and Italy invaded Egypt, which was controlled by the British, Albania, and Greece.
The United States shifted to a stance of “nonbelligerancy” rather than neutrality so it could find ways to help the Allies, and the Lend-Lease Act (the exchange of materiel aid then for 99-year leases on property to be used for foreign military bases) was proposed late in the year.Popular opinion still didn’t want Americans in another war “over there.” The Soviet Union, meanwhile, took part of Romania and installed Communists in the Baltic States, later annexing them. (World war 2)
- May: Auschwitz established.
- May 10: Germany invades France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
- May 26: Evacuation begins of Allied troops from Dunkirk, France.
- June 10: Italy declares war on France and Great Britain.
- June 22: France surrenders to Germany.
- July 10: Battle of Britain begins.
- September 16: The United States begins its first peacetime draft.
1941 (World war 2)
The year 1941 was one of escalation around the world. Italy may have been defeated in Greece, but that didn’t mean that Germany wouldn’t take the country. Then it was on to Yugoslavia and Russia. Germany broke its pact with the Soviet Union and invaded there, but the winter and Soviet counterattack killed many German troops. The Soviets next joined the Allies. Within a week of the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan had invaded Burma, Hong Kong (then under British control), and the Philippines, and the United States was officially in the conflict. (World war 2)
- March 11: U.S President Franklin D.Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease bill.
- May 24: The British ship Hood is sunk by Germany’s Bismarck.
- May 27: The Bismarck is sunk.
- June 22: Germany invades the Soviet union (Operation Barbarossa).
- August 9: Atlantic Conference begins.
- September 8: siege of Leningrad begins.
- December 7: The Japanese launch a sneak attack on peral Harbor Hawaii
- December 11: Germany and Italy declare war on the United States; then the United States declares war on Germany and Italy.
1942 (World war 2)
U.S. troops first arrived in Britain in January 1942. Also that year, Japan captured Singapore, which was Britain’s last location in the Pacific, as well as islands such as Borneo and Sumatra. By the middle of the year, though, the Allies started gaining ground, with the Battle of Midway being the turning point there. Germany captured Libya, but the Allies started making gains in Africa, and Soviet counterattacks made progress as well in Stalingrad. (World war 2)
- January 20: The Wannsee Conference
- February 19: Roosevelt issues Executive Order 9066, which allows the internment of Japanese Americans.
- April 18: The Doolittle Raid oF Japan
- June 3: The Battle of Midway begins.
- July 1: First Battle of El Alamein begins.
- July 6: Anne Frank and her family go into hiding.
- August 2: Guadalcanal Campaign begins.
- August 21: Battle of Stalingrad begins.
- October 23: Second Battle of El Alamein begins.
- November 8: The Allies invade North Africa (Operation Torch).
1943 (World war 2)
Stalingrad turned into Germany’s first major defeat in 1943, and the North Africa stalemate ended, with the surrender of the Axis powers to the Allies in Tunisia. The tide was finally turning, though not fast enough for the people in the 27 merchant vessels sunk by Germany in the Atlantic in four days in March. But Bletchley codebreakers and long-range aircraft inflicted a serious toll on the U-boats, pretty much ending the Battle of the Atlantic.
The autumn of the year saw the fall of Italy to Allied forces, prompting Germany to invade there. The Germans successfully rescued Mussolini, and battles in Italy between forces in the north and south drug on. In the Pacific, Allied forces gained territory in New Guinea—to attempt to protect Australia from Japanese invasion—as well as Guadalcanal. The Soviets continued expelling Germans from their territory, and the Battle of Kursk was key. The end of the year saw Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin meeting in Iran to discuss the invasion of France.
- January 14: Casablanca Conference begins.
- February 2: The Germans surrender at Stalingrad, Soviet Union.
- April 19: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising begins.
- July 5: Battle of Kursk begins.
- July 25: Mussolini resigns.
- September 3: Italy surrenders.
- November 28: Tehran Conference begins.
1944 (World war 2)
American troops played a big role in battles to take back France in 1944, including landings on Normandy beaches that caught the Germans by surprise. Italy was finally liberated as well, and the Soviets’ counterattack pushed the German soldiers back to Warsaw, Poland. Germany lost 100,000 soldiers (captured) during the battle in Minsk.1 The Battle of the Bulge, however, postponed the Allies marching into Germany for a while. In the Pacific, Japan gained more territory in China, but its success was limited by the Communist troops there. The Allies fought back by taking Saipan and invading the Philippines.
- January 27: After 900 days, the Siege of Leningrad is finally over.2
- June 6: D-Day
- June 19: Battle of the Philippine Sea
- July 20: Assassination attempt against Hitler fails.
- August 4: Anne Frank and her family are discovered and arrested.
- August 25: The Allies liberate Paris.
- October 23: Battle of Leyte Gulf begins.
- December 16: Battle of the Bulge begins.
1945 (World war 2)
Liberation of concentration camps, such as Auschwitz, made the extent of the Holocaust clearer to the Allies. Bombs still fell on London and Germany in 1945, but before April was over, two of the Axis leaders would be dead and Germany’s surrender would soon follow. Franklin D. Roosevelt also died in April but of natural causes. The war in the Pacific continued, but the Allies made significant progress there through battles at Iwo Jima, the Philippines, and Okinawa, and Japan started to retreat from China.
By mid-August, it was all over. Japan surrendered shortly after the second atomic bomb was unleashed on the island nation and Sept. 2, the surrender was formally signed and accepted, officially ending the conflict. Estimates put the death toll at 62 and 78 million,3 including 24 million from the Soviet Union,4 and 6 million Jews, 60 percent of all the Jewish population in Europe. 5
- February 4: Yalta Conference begins.
- February 13: Allies begin bombing Dresden.
- February 19: Battle of Iwo Jima begins.
- April 1: Battle of Okinawa.
- April 12: Franklin D. Roosevelt dies.
- April 16: Battle of Berlin begins.
- April 28: Mussolini is hanged by Italian partisans.
- April 30: Adolf Hitler commits suicide.
- May 7: Germany signs an unconditional surrender.
- July 17: Potsdam Conference begins.
- August 6: The United States drops the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
- August 9: The United States drops a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan.
The conflict would take more lives and destroy more land and property around the globe than any previous war. Among the estimated 60-80 million people killed were 6 million Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps as part of Hitler’s diabolical “Final Solution,” now known as the Holocaust. Civilians made up an estimated 50-55 million deaths from the war. Military comprised 21-25 million lives lost.
When war broke out in Europe in September 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that while the United States would remain neutral in law, he could “not ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well.” Roosevelt himself made significant efforts to help nations engaged in the struggle against Nazi Germany and wanted to extend a helping hand to those countries that lacked the supplies necessary to fight against the Germans. The United Kingdom, in particular, desperately needed help, as it was short of hard currency to pay for the military goods, food, and raw materials it needed from the United States.
Though President Roosevelt wanted to provide assistance to the British, both American law and public fears that the United States would be drawn into the conflict blocked his plans. The Neutrality Act of 1939 allowed belligerents to purchase war materiel from the United States, but only on a “cash and carry” basis. The Johnson Act of 1934 also prohibited the extension of credit to countries that had not repaid U.S. loans made to them during World War I—which included Great Britain.
The American military opposed the diversion of military supplies to the United Kingdom. The Army’s Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, anticipated that Britain would surrender following the collapse of France, and thus American supplies sent to the British would fall into German hands. Marshall and others therefore argued that U.S. national security would be better served by reserving military supplies for the defense of the Western Hemisphere.
American public opinion also limited Roosevelt’s options. Many Americans opposed involving the United States in another war. Even though American public opinion generally supported the British rather than the Germans, President Roosevelt had to develop an initiative that was consistent with the legal prohibition against the granting of credit, satisfactory to military leadership, and acceptable to an American public that generally resisted involving the United States in the European conflict.
The Blitz of 1940–41 saw the destruction of many British streets, but nowhere more so than in London. Children were evacuated to the countryside to try to take them out of harm’s way, while bomb shelters and blackouts became the norm of British life. It was a time when a siren would send a city underground and much of that wartime spirit kicked into action: songs were sung and community was vital. Overhead Spitfires and Hurricanes worked hard to defend Britain’s skies. In all, two million houses were destroyed and over 40,000 civilians lost their lives during this period.
However, the situation was much more dire in France, where Axis forces took control in 1940 and the infamous Vichy government established an authoritarian regime. This led to a strong French resistance network and the Allied espionage effort was focused there. Such characters as Violette Szabo and Nancy Wake operated here, right under the noses of the Gestapo. Sadly, Violette was not to survive the war – as was the case for a good many of the operatives on foreign soil. (World war 2)
With Britain facing Germany in Europe, the United States was the only nation capable of combating Japanese aggression, which by late 1941 included an expansion of its ongoing war with China and the seizure of European colonial holdings in the Far East. On December 7, 1941, 360 Japanese aircraft attacked the major U.S/.
naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, taking the Americans completely by surprise and claiming the lives of more than 2,300 troops. The attached on Pearl Harbor served to unify American public opinion in favor of entering World War II, and on December 8 Congress declared war on Japan with only one dissenting vote. Germany and the other Axis Powers promptly declared war on the United States. (World war 2)
After a long string of Japanese victories, the U.S. Pacific Fleet won the Battle of Midway in June 1942, which proved to be a turning point in the war. On Guadalcanal, one of the southern Solomon Islands, the Allies also had success against Japanese forces in a series of battles from August 1942 to February 1943, helping turn the tide further in the Pacific. In mid-1943, Allied naval forces began an aggressive counterattack against Japan, involving a series of amphibious assaults on key Japanese-held islands in the Pacific. This “island hopping” strategy proved successful, and Allied forces moved closer to their ultimate goal of invading the Japanese homeland.
Famously, American entry into World War 2 happened in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, who were one of the Axis powers. Their fight against the Japanese was to last until 2 September 1945 – VJ Day. The Japanese surrendered in the wake of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when the total devastation of the atomic bomb was realised. Although the bombs were indiscriminate in their victims and the human effects were shocking, their use ended (World war 2) . It is a testament to the destruction the bombs wrought that the A-bomb has never been used in active service since.
By the end of the war, in 1945, the barbarity of Hitler’s regime was laid bare, as concentration camps were found and liberated, the gas ‘showers’ and incinerators were discovered and skeletal victims of the persecution were rescued. The primary victims of the Holocaust were Jews from all over Nazi-occupied Europe, but other minorities also suffered the same fate: the disabled, non-heterosexual people, non-Europeans, non-white and political opponents to the Nazi Party, to name a few. The philosophy of eugenics had been brought to a horrifying conclusion under Adolf Hitler.
With the loss of 6 million Jews over the period of the war, a number of memorials focus upon this catastrophic decimation of the Jewish population of Europe. Yad Veshem is the largest of these, and its website provides a great resource for Remembrance. However, it is vital that all those who gave their lives to resist, fight or simply exist under the bone-crushing force of the Nazi war machine are remembered. Never forget the men and women who helped Jews escape persecution, those women who stepped up on the Home Front to help the armed forces, those people who gave their lives to make Europe safe for all once more. (World war 2)
World War 2 Ends (1945)
At the Potsdam Conference of July-August 1945, U.S. President Harry S. Truman (who had taken office after Roosevelt’s death in April), Churchill and Stalin discussed the ongoing war with Japan as well as the peace settlement with Germany. Post-war Germany would be divided into four occupation zones, to be controlled by the Soviet Union, Britain, the United States and France. On the divisive matter of Eastern Europe’s future, Churchill and Truman acquiesced to Stalin, as they needed Soviet cooperation in the war against Japan.
Heavy casualties sustained in the campaigns at Iwo Jima (February 1945) and Okinawa (April-June 1945), and fears of the even costlier land invasion of Japan led Truman to authorize the use of a new and devasting weapon. Developed during a top secret operation code-named The Manhattan Project, the atomic bomb was unleashed on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August.
On August 15, the Japanese government issued a statement declaring they would accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, and on September 2, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur accepted Japan’s formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
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