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World War Two Timeline
|Pre-War |1938-39 |1940 |1941 |1942 |1943 |1944 |1945 |Aftermath |

World War Two Events, People and Battles

A short history of World War Two

World War II was a war fought from 1939 to 1945 in Europe, and from at least 1937 to 1945 in Asia. It was the largest armed conflict the world has ever seen, spanning the entire world and involving more countries than any previous war - and fought with powerful new weapons, culminating in the first use of two atomic bombs, whose very existence had been a tightly-held secret. The conflict ravaged civilians more than had any previous wars of the modern era, and served as a backdrop for genocidal killings by Germany, the Soviet Union, and Japan. World War II caused a greater number of deaths, about [61 million], more than any previous war.


World War I aftermath

The origins of the war in Europe can be traced to the end of World War I. In the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was punished with the payment of reparations of war to the victorious nations. The Treaty also placed important restrictions on the German military.

The severe economic reparations helped bring on a serious economic crisis, hyperinflation, and civil unrest in Germany that made possible the rise of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party.

Oddly, Germany's wartime adversaries were far more serious about enforcing the economic reparations than the military restrictions on Germany. Under Adolf Hitler, Germany began re-asserting itself in Europe, clandestinely remilitarising in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles.

In 1936 the German army reoccupied the Rhineland. Germany annexed Austria in the spring of 1938; Hitler then planned to attack and conquer Czechoslovakia, on the pretext of alleged mistreatment of the (largely Germanic) population of the Sudetenland.

Britain had guaranteed the security of Czechoslovakia and it seemed war must break out at this point when the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, appealed to Hitler, and flew to Munich, where the British and French leaders agreed to the cession of the Sudetenland to Germany. Czech representatives were not allowed at the conference; their government strongly opposed giving up the Sudetenland but were powerless in the face of German military might and British and French unwillingness to fight for them.

It should be remembered that the rapidly rearming Germany had militarily stolen a march on Britain, which was completely unprepared for war at this time. Chamberlain's infamous act of appeasement, which has been widely seen as cowardly submission, was explained by Chamberlain as an effort to buy time in which to rearm.

Start of the war in Europe

Germany finally became engaged in full-scale war on September 1, 1939 after the Germans invaded Poland, with whom both Britain and France had pledged guarantees (see Polish September Campaign 1939).

Soon after, on September 17, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east, as had been agreed to between Hitler's Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, and his Soviet counterpart, Vyacheslav Molotov. Under this joint attack Poland fell quickly, with last large operational units surrendering October 5 (However Poland was fighting to the end of the war, contributing much to the final defeat of Nazi Germany).

Germany on the one hand, and France and Britain on the other, settled into a period of quiet maneuvering while they mobilized for conflict. This relatively non-confrontational period between the major powers lasted until May, 1940, and was known as the Phony War. Several other countries, however, were drawn into the conflict at this time. The USSR conquered the Baltic, and also attacked Finland but fought it to a stalemate in the Winter War. Germany invaded Denmark and Norway, ostensibly as a defensive maneuver against potential British occupation of those countries.

Germany finally ended the Phony War when it turned west. In a sweeping invasion of the Low Countries that bypassed French fortifications along the Maginot Line, Germany conquered Belgium and the Netherlands then turned the might of its army on France. France fell unexpectedly quickly, leaving Britain to stand alone against Germany. Fortunately for Britain, much of its ground forces escaped capture in the final days of that campaign through a heroic naval rescue from the French harbor of Dunkirk.

Britain's resistance to the threat of German invasion was dogged. An outnumbered RAF fought a long, ultimately successful airwar with the Luftwaffe during the early days of the war, a conflict known as the Battle of Britain. London was later heavily bombed, as were many industrial cities such as Birmingham and Coventry, and strategically important cities, such as the naval base at Plymouth.

In reprisal for the bombing of Lubeck in 1942, Hermann Goering launched the Baedeker Blitz, a campaign of morale-destroying bombings aimed at many beautiful English cities of little military importance such as Exeter, Bath and Norwich. Britain's supply lines with America were severely impacted by the German use of U-boats to sink both military and mercantile shipping in the Battle of the Atlantic.

On June 22, 1941, the Germans launched a surprise invasion, codenamed Operation Barbarossa, against their erstwhile Russian allies. The German Army pushed deep into Russia, overrunning the Red Army at times. But with the capture of Moscow apparently imminent, Hitler suddenly ordered his generals to divert their main thrust south in order to conquer Ukraine. This diversion cost the German Army valuable time; by the time they again set their sights on Moscow, the armored assault was slowed by the autumn mud, and then stopped cold when the Russian winter struck. The German army, which had not expected such a prolonged campaign, suffered great loss of life as the chilling winds and lack of planning took their toll.

The next spring the German army continued to push forward, and in November 1942, with the German army at the "gates of Stalingrad", Moscow only 100 miles away, and the oil fields of Grozny in reach, the Red Army held strong. Factors such as indecision by Hitler, dissent among the higher ranked German officers, a long distance to their supplies and a second Russian winter, combined to result in a prolonged battle in the streets of Stalingrad. Heavy losses affected both sides in the battle for Stalingrad, also known as the greatest military bloodbath in recorded history. An estimated 2 million people perished in this battle, including 500,000 civilians. It was the first major defeat of the German army, and they never regained their momentum, allowing the Russian armies to eventually chase the Germans all the way back to Berlin.

The Germans also suffered defeat at the hands of the British in North Africa in late 1942. In the two battles at El Alamein in June and late October - early November, the British under General Montgomery pushed the Germans out of Egypt, westward towards Tunisia. After American troops landed in Algeria in Operation Torch, the Allies completely pushed the Germans out of Africa in 1943.

The war in Asia

Japan had invaded China in the early 1930s and had been actively engaged in military action there since 1937. In an effort to discourage Japan's war efforts in China, the United States, Britain and the government in exile of the Netherlands(still in control of oil-rich Indonesia), stopped trading oil and steel (both war staples) with Japan. Japan saw this as an act of aggression as it needed the oil for its war efforts, and on December 7, 1941, the Japanese navy attacked the American Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Japan then invaded and conquered countries across Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

At the same time Germany declared war on the United States, drawing America into a two theater war. America had until then remained out of the conflict, though providing military aid to Britain through the Lend-Lease program.

The end of the war

Germany's power was eventually broken by the disastrous Russian campaign, while the ultimately successful invasion of France from the Normandy beachheads by the Western allies on June 6, 1944 opened up a third front. Incessant bombing of Germany's infrastructure and cities caused great casualties and disruption. Internally, Hitler survived a number of assassination attempts, the most serious was the July 20 Plot in which Hitler was slightly injured.

In Operation Market Garden the allies attempted to capture bridges, to open the way into Germany and liberate the northern Netherlands. However the failure to capture the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem delayed the advance. When all was lost for the Germans, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker along with his lover, Eva Braun. The Russians took Berlin, and Germany was partitioned by the Allies. The final surrender documents were signed by General Alfred Jodl on May 7, 1945. May 8 was declared V-E (Victory In Europe) Day.

The Japanese expansion throughout the Pacific and Asia was halted by their devastating defeat at the Battle of Midway, where they suffered crippling losses to their carrier fleet. From then on the Japanese fought a defensive war, as the U.S. began an island hopping campaign across the Pacific. Hard-fought battles at Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and others resulted in horrific casualties on both sides, but the Japanese were finally driven back. Faced with the loss of most of their experienced pilots, the Japanese resorted to Kamikaze tactics in an attempt to slow the U.S. advance. Meanwhile, Tokyo and other Japanese cities suffered greatly from attacks by American bombers. Japan finally surrendered after the cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both industrial and civilian targets, were destroyed by atomic bombs . The final surrender was signed September 2, 1945, on the battleship U.S.S. Missouri. Following this period, General Douglas MacArthur established base in Japan to oversee the postwar development of the country. This period in Japanese history is known as the occupation.

Historical Significance

Probably because of the example of World War I, compensation was not demanded of the defeated nations. On the contrary, a plan created by U. S. Secretary of State George Marshall, the Economic Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall Plan, meant billions of dollars being used by the US Congress for the reconstruction of Europe. The portion of Europe occupied by the Soviet Union did not participate in the plan. At the same time, the United States consolidated its military presence and links in Europe as preparation against possible Soviet aggression.

World War II Timeline - A year by year summary of events
The combatants after 1941 were:

Allied powers

  • Canada
  • China
  • France
  • Soviet Union
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Other Allied powers
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Denmark
  • France -- Free French
  • Greece
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • South Africa
  • Yugoslavia

Axis powers
  • Germany -- Nazi Germany
  • Italy
  • Japan
Other Axis Powers
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Finland
  • Hungary
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Romania
  • Slovakia

Major battles of World War Two

Major naval engagements of World War Two

Major figures of World War Two

Major bombing campaigns of World War Two
  • Dresden
  • Hamburg
  • Hiroshima
  • London
  • Nagasaki
  • Plymouth
  • Rotterdam
  • "The Blitz"
  • Tokyo
  • Warsaw


To learn more - use these online Internet resources

See Also:

  • Canonesa, Convoy HX72 und U-100   - Chronicles a U-boat attack on an allied merchant convoy during the Battle of the Atlantic, and provides a tribute to the merchant navy and merchant seamen during World War 2.

  • Absolute Authority on World War II - A comprehensive collection of authorities, directories, articles, education, community related to the Second World War.
  • America at War: WW II -- Wallpaper / Screen Saver - Full-screen photos from the war that shaped the modern world.
  • Army Hospital Ships In World War II - A brief introduction of the history of hospital ships in warfare. Links to World War II Army and Navy hospital ships.
  • Association Normandy 44 - 90th US Division - Tribute to the Men of the 90th US Infantry Division who liberated Periers (France) in 1944
  • Audio: Declaration of War Against Japan - 7 Minutes, 44 seconds. Available in Real Audio, and MP3. Delivered by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the 8th of December, 1941.
  • Aviation in Newfoundland and Labrador - A brief look at air and army base development and World War Two/post-war operations.
  • Bataan Corregidor Memorial Foundation of New Mexico, Inc. - To preserve the memory of the New Mexico defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.
  • The Battles of Winter War - General and detailed information about the Finnish-Soviet Winter War, November 30th 1939 - March 13th 1940
  • The Black Watch - Personal biography, original photographs and documents. Dedicated to the veterans of the "Chindits", fighting behind the Japanese lines in Burma in 1944.
  • Canadian Armed Forces in 1944 - An essay about the experiences of French Canadians in the Second World War.
  • Civvy street in World War Two - Stories of civilian life in Bristol, England during the Second World War. Includes related links and image and audio galleries.
  • 2d Infantry Division in WW II - History of the Second Infantry Division in World War Two. Includes battles, organic units, medals earned, shoulder patches, statistics, veterans' message board, and photo album.
  • Dave's Page: WW2 Battles and Campaigns - Information from all theatres. Pictures, links, and much more in depth information on the major campaigns.
  • Drop Zone Virtual Museum - A memorial of World War II through the first-person accounts of airborne soldiers.
  • Finding Granddad's War Buddies - Jeff always wondered what his deceased grandfather did in the war - so one-by-one he tracked down his former war buddies. Here's his story....
  • Freedom Rises from the Rubble - IBM's involvement in the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche, destroyed in the Dresden air raid. Some information about the raid itself.
  • Grandad's War Memoirs - Personal memories of the British 14th Army campaign in Burma 1940-1945.
  • In Hell There Is A Place Called Death's Railway - Stanley Willner's experience as a prisoner of war of the Japanese at the River Kwai. Includes image gallery and links to related information.
  • Island Farm POW CAMP 198 / Special Camp 11 - Island Farm German POW CAMP 198, Special Camp 11.
  • Kodiak Alaska Military History - WWII and Cold War structures remaining on Kodiak Island explained.
  • US Army Special Operations in World War II - "Ranger units captured positions critical to the success of amphibious landings in the Mediterra-nean, France, and the Philippines. Partisans advised by American military personnel provided essential intelligence to American forces and harassed enemy troops in support of American operations in Italy, France, the Philippines, and Burma..."
  • Lead the Way Rangers, A History of the 75 Ranger Battalion
  • Lectures for the History of World War II - Good allround presentations by Professor Gerhard Rempel, Western New England College - understandable for laymen.
  • Lessons of the Winter War in Finland - History and lessons of the Winter War between Finland and Stalin's Red Army.
  • Lest We Forget - A tribute to the author's father and other veterans. Site includes photos of, and by, this gentleman, who served with the Dutch army in Holland and Indonesia.
  • Lest We Forget: World War II - Essays, pictures, timelines, and more dealing with all aspects of WW II in all theatres.
  • Lost Art Internet Database - An government-sponsored German database of art objects either stolen by the Nazis or for which no legal proprietor has been found.
  • Maps of World War Two - A history of the Second World War through maps. Includes critical battles and campaigns such as Dunkirk, Barbarossa, Stalingrad, Kursk, D-Day, Normandy, Berlin and others.
  • Massacres and Atrocities of the Second World War - "A compilation of facts gathered from various sources including encyclopaedias, almanacs, biographies, magazines and newspapers, and from the many books published since the end of WWII"
  • Navajo Code Talkers - The United States Marine Corps employed Navajo volunteers in communications security roles in the Pacific Theater during World War Two. The Japanese were never able to break the code when the Navajo spoke in their native language. Includes articles and links.
  • The Nazi Children's Home Page - Norwegian self-help group for those whose parents were members of a fascist or national socialistic movement during the war.
  • 102nd Infantry Division - History of an American division fighting in Germany during World War Two. Includes text history, photo gallery, and annual reunion information.
  • Norway 1940 - Describes the German invasion, with Orders of Battle, battle descriptions, historical background, politics etc. It concentrates on the Norwegian side of the conflict.
  • 1939 - On The Brink of War - "At daybreak on the first day of September, 1939, the residents of Poland awakened to grave news..."
  • Phil's World War II Pages - A general WW II resource - Adolf Hitler biography, leaders, important dates, books, casualty figures and trivia.
  • The Poster Girls of World War II - Posters of women and girls used as propaganda during World War II
  • A Raid on Munich - The actual accounting of a bombing raid over Germany during WW2, and the capture,imprisonment and forced Death March that ensued.
  • A Reminiscence of War 1939-45 - Personal memoir by James Glass, a scot who served in the army in North Africa, Palestine, Syria, Iraq (as Kingston's Column) and Iran.
  • Ruins of the Reich - Video tour traces the rise and fall of the Third Reich thru the ruins of its monuments and buildings. Ruins include Hitler's Wolffs Lair hdqtrs and Mountain retreat. Tannenburg, sub pens.
  • Scott's World War Two - Pictures, battles, and stories of the war in the Pacific during World War II.
  • Second World War Posters - The planning, design and reception of British Home Front propaganda posters of the Second World War.
  • Shadow's Folly - Vehicle listings for participants in World War II. Tanks, self-propelled tanks, half tracks, armored cars, etc.
  • Society of the 3rd Infantry Division, US Army - The official website of The Society of the 3rd Infantry Division, US Army.
  • The Story of Oscar Schindler - A member of the Nazi Party, a gambler, an alcoholic and a shameless womanizer of the worst sort - and at the same time, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, humane figure in the horrors of Holocaust.
  • 50th Anniversary of D-Day - US Army Rangers WWII veterans return to Grandcamp, Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, in Normandy,France, for the 50th Anniversary of D-Day in June 1994.
  • 12th Armored Division - 12th Armored Division served in Europe during WWII
  • 6th Armored Division Assn. - Devoted to the history of the "Super Sixth" 6th Armored Division, one of Patton's spearheading units of the Third Army. Includes unit histories, personal stories, and contact information about the post-war Association and its final reunion in September 2000.
  • 150th Combat Engineers of WWII - Formed in New England, in 1943, it consisted mostly of men drafted in the New England area. The former soldiers of this group have formed the 150th Combat Engineer Battalion Association.
  • The 70th Infantry Division Association Home Page - A site dedicated to the veterans of the 70th Infantry Division, the "Trailblazers". The division served in France and Germany from Dec. 1944 to May 1945.
  • 112th Infantry Regiment - Unit history of HQ Company, 2nd Batallion, 112th Infantry Regiment. Normandy, liberation of Paris, Huertgen Forest, Battle of Bulge. Casualty list, citations and medals, bibliography, links.
  • 10th Mountain Division's 85th Regiment - History of the 85th Mountain Infantry, prepared for the officers and men who fought with the Regiment in Italy.
  • Third Reich Factbook - A collection on information on various aspects of the Third Reich.
  • Tracing American Airborne's German Heritage - The German roots of the United States' airborne units of World War Two.
  • Tule Lake Pilgrimage - July 2000 - A living reminder of the injustices committed against Japanese Americans during World War Two.
  • Victory Gardening in W.W. II America - A multimedia presentation containing historical information about "Victory Gardening" efforts in support of the war.
  • War Gunner - Photos, links and information on the British Expeditionary Forces, Vimy Ridge, Dunkirk and North Africa from the perspective of an Oxfordshire soldier. Also includes a discussion of army cooking and recipes.
  • West Point Atlas - Asian Theater - The war with Japan described in 50 maps.
  • West Point Atlas - European Theater - A collection of 83 maps which chart the progress of the war in Europe and North Africa.
  • Whispers of the Past - Collection of interviews with ordinary Americans involved in the war, whether in the front line on on the home front.
  • William's World War II Page - World War II essays, book reviews, timelines and links.
  • The World at War - Detailed and well-illustrated day-by-day history of the war, with links to other sites appropriate to each event. Contains a discussion forum and message board too.
  • World War 2 Battlefield Relics - See what relics can still be found from World War 2 in this virtual museum.
  • World War 2 in Yugoslavia - Orders of battle and other resources relating to the war in the Balkans.
  • World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I - A history of United States Air Force prisoners of war at Stalag Luft I, a World War II prison camp located in Barth, Germany. Includes personal stories, photos, artwork, books, documents, and the secret camp newsletter.
  • World War II Factbook - A searchable chronology of critical military and political events during the war with coverage of special topics such as casualties, ship losses and the Nuremberg trial. Includes bibliography and links to related resources.
  • World War II in Europe Timeline - Complete WW II in Europe timeline with photos, text and over 100 links.
  • World War II Marines - A site for WW II Marines. Numerous links. Sites for finding your buddies, history, message boards, etc.
  • World War II Memoirs-3rd Infantry Division - Graphic Official Photos and descriptions of S/Sgt. William Heller of the 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Signal Company. From North Africa, Sicily, Italy Southern France, and Germany in World War II.
  • World War II: The Homefront - A ThinkQuest site devoted to World WarII
  • World War Two - Chronology of the war and links to special topics such as Battle of Britain, D-Day, Hiroshima, and the Japanese surrender.
  • World War Two: America's time - If bit were not for the intervention of the United States, Adolf Hitler would have taken complete control of Europe, and maybe even the world.
  • World War Two Links - Subject directory on the Second World War arranged by nationality and topics. Includes links to websites, books, and videos.
  • WorldWar II - Links to World War Two research. Topics include history, battles, armaments, leaders, movies, publications, and memorabilia.
  • WWII Resources - Comprehensive collection of primary source materials, some on-site, some links to elsewhere.

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Avalon Project: World War Two (Yale Univ. Law School)


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