World War 2 was the largest and costliest war in human history. The deaths directly and indirectly caused by the war may have reached 60 million. It was the product of not only of a profound disequilibrium in world affairs; it reflected deep hatreds and powerful imperial ambitions inherited from the Great War of 1914-18, where lay the seeds of the second, and larger conflict.
The end of the conflict produced a reconfiguration of the world. Britain and France had to give up the global empires they had fought to defend. Communism came to control much of Asia and eastern Europe, while the United States used its economic and military power to preserve its interests on the non-communist world.
The war had brought a precious peace, but only at the price of misery for tens of millions caught in its merciless crossfire.
The path to World War II originated from unresolved territorial issues between France and Germany at the end of World War One. These, coupled with economic and social upheaval in Germany and Italy, old colonial ambitions and a desire for conquest led by Hitler and Mussolini resulted in the second world war.
Once Hitler had taken over Germany’s destiny, foreign policy turned towards destroying the diplomatic edifice of the Treaty of Versailles, which many Germans saw as a humiliating ‘Diktat’. The occupation of the demilitarized area of the Rhineland was a definitive failure of the collective security. It opened up the way for the Second World War.
Blitzkrieg literally means ‘lightning war’. This tactic describes an offensive military doctrine used by the German Army during World War II.
The War begins
World War 2 began when Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany. As a reaction France and Great Britain declared war on Germany. The Soviet Union also invaded Poland from the east in accordance with the non-aggression pact it had with Germany. Afterwards the Soviets invaded Finland. The Soviet attack on Finland ended with the Treaty of Moscow, in which Finland lost a part of it's territory.
The invasion of Poland was the first battle of World War II. This operation had the codename ‘Fall Weiss’ or Case White. The invasion was initiated by Nazi Germany and a small Slovak contingent from the newly-created Slovak puppet state.
The Western Front
The Western front of World War 2 began when Germany invaded and occupied Norway and Denmark. After the battle of France, Germany occupied Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium and France. During the battle of Britain, Nazi Germany tried the force a British surrender. The war was resumed in Western Europe with the Allied landings in Normandy, codenamed Operation Overlord. The success of these landings led to the liberation of France and subsequent defeat of Germany by the Allied Expeditionary Force.
Operation Weserübung was the codename for the German plan to invade Norway and Denmark.
The Battle of France, known as ‘The Fall of France’ took place in World War II, when German forces invaded the Low Countries and France.
The Battle of Britain was an aerial battle which took place during the Second World War. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the island of Great Britain from the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force.
The invasion of Normandy, or the Normandy Campaign, was a battle fought between Germany and the Allies during World War 2. The Allied forces launched an amphibious and airborne assault on the French province of Normandy and were able to establish a beachhead in France and advance inland. The invasion was code named Operation Overlord. It is considered to be the largest amphibious operation in history. The campaign ended when French and American troops liberated Paris.
Operation Market Garden was an unsuccessful Allied offensive in the Netherlands after the Normandy Campaign. Its goal was for the Allied forces to reach the German Ruhr area with a pincer attack.
The Siegfried Line was the German defensive line along the western border. The Allied forces begun encountering the Siegfried Line in September 1944. Fighting on the Siegfried line lasted for six months. During this time the line was subjected by the Allies to a large offensive, executed mainly by American troops.
During the Battle of Aachen American forces battled German soldiers for control of the city. After heavy fighting the Americans captured the town. Aachen was the first German city to fall into Allied hands.
The Battle of Hürtgen Forest was a series of battles fought between German and American forces in Hürtgen Forest. The battle was the longest battle fought on German soil during the war. The Allies failed to capture the area and the Germans held it until they launched the Ardennes Offensive.
During Operation Queen the Anglo-American forces staged an offensive against the German forces in the Rur river area. The offensive was suspended when the Germans launched their own offensive in the Ardennes.
The offensive was launched through the Ardennes sector of the Western front, a heavy forested region. Its aim was to stop the Allied use of the port of Antwerp, and to encircle four Allied armies. Thus, the Germans hoped that the western Allies would be forced to concede to a negotiated peace. The failure of the operation severely drained German forces and set the stage for their subsequent defeat in the following spring.
After the failed German Ardennes Offensive the Allied forces started pouring into Germany. When the Rhine, the last major natural barrier, was crossed German forces retreated deeper into Germany. From that point on, with the Russians also advancing towards Berlin, it was only a matter of time until German defeat was assured.
The Eastern Front
The European Eastern front of World War 2 started when Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. After the Germans failed to capture Moscow, and the subsequent defeats at Stalingrad and Kursk the initiative changed hands. The campaign ended when the Soviet Red Army defeated Nazi Germany during the battle of Berlin.
Operation Barbarossa was the codename for the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Axis forces. The operation was named after Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, the leader of the Holy Roman Empire, one of the leaders of the 12th century crusades.
The Battle of Stalingrad, modern-day Volgograd, took place between the Soviet Union and the Axis forces. The battle is often cited as one of the turning points of the war.
The Battle of Kursk, codenamed Operation Zitadelle - Citadelle - was the last great Blitzkrieg offensive on the eastern front. To this day, the battle remains the greatest tank conflict in the history of mankind.
After the German failed attack at Kursk the Red Army staged a series of attacks across the Eastern Front. The Soviets manged to retake the cities of Kharkov, Orel, Kiev, Bryansk and Smolensk.
During the Battle of the Korsun–Cherkassy Pocket the Russian Red Army tried to eradicate the encircled German forces. The Germans tried a breakthrough in order to escape encirclement, which resulted in heavy casualties. which
The Leningrad-Novgorod Offensive was a strategic offensive during World War II which led to the lifting of the almost 900-day siege of Leningrad. After the bloodiest siege in human history, lasting almost 900 days, during which more than 1.1 million people died, Leningrad was finally liberated. Novgorod fell two days later as the Germans recoiled rapidly.
The battle of Ternopol, or battle of Kamianets-Podilskyi pocket was a battle in which the Red Army tried to surround and destroy the German 1st Panzer Army.
The Crimean Offensive was a series of Red Army attacks directed against the German-held province of Crimea in southern Ukraine. German Army Group A was composed of German and Romanian soldiers. The offensive ended when the Axis forces evacuated Crimea at the city of Sevastopol. The Germans and Romanians suffered heavy casualties during the evacuation.
Operation Bagration was the codename for the Red Army Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation during World War 2. This operation cleared the German troops from the Belorussian SSR and eastern Poland. The offensive was directed against the German Army Group Centre and resulted in the almost complete destruction of this Army Group.
The battle of Brody took place during the Soviet Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive. This offensive saw the formation of a pocket at Brody were a large number of German forces were surrounded and destroyed. The Lvov-Sandomierz offensive was launched so that the Germans would be dislodged out of Ukraine and Eastern Poland. The Red Army accomplished all of it’s objectives by the end of this offensive.
The Warsaw uprising was a resistance operation by the Polish Home Army during World War II. The goal of the operation was the liberation of the Polish capital, Warsaw, from German hands.
The Warsaw Uprising was organized by the Home Army, the armed side of the Polish Resistance movement. The uprising was timed to coincide with the withdrawal of German forces from Poland. During the uprising the Soviet Red Army stopped its advance short of the city, enabling the Germans to regroup and defeat the Polish uprising. The fighting lasted for 63 days, and it was the largest military effort undertaken by any resistance movement during World War II.
During the Jassy–Kishinev Offensive the Red Army launched a major attack against Axis forces stationed in Bessarabia. The German 6th Army was encircled and destroyed for a second time, having been destroyed the first time at Stalingrad. The German 8th Army had to withdraw to Hungary. During this battle the Romanians switched sides after a coup, and joined the Allies.
During the Autumn of 1944 the Russian Red Army continued its advance towards Germany. Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, the Baltic states, Eastern Hungary and large parts of Poland were all taken from German hands.
In the begging of 1945 the Russians staged a major offensive, known as the Vistula-Oder offensive. During this operation the Red Army manged to, once again, break the German lines and enter Germany. Afterwards the Russians would continue sweeping across Germany, with the ultimate goal in sight: Berlin.
The Battle of Berlin was the final major Soviet offensive on the European front of World War 2. Before the end of the battle, Hitler and a number of his entourage committed suicide. Although the city surrendered, fighting on the outskirts of the city continued for six more days. Germany surrendered unconditionally on 8 May 1945, thus bringing the end of the war in Europe.
The North African Campaign
The North African campaign was fought between the Allies and the Axis powers. Many of them had colonial interests in the region. The campaign started with the Italian declaration of war on Britain. During operation Compass the British destroyed the Italian 10th Army and the German Afrika Korps was dispatched to aid the Italians. A series of battles for control of Libya and parts of Egypt followed. The campaign reached its climax with the second battle of El Alamein when the British forces defeated the Germans. After this defeat, and the concurrent Anglo-American landings in French Morocco and Algeria code named operation Torch, the Germans started their retreat towards Tunisia. There they were defeated by the combined forces of the Allied armies.
El Alamein was a decisive victory in the African campaign for the Allies. Winston Churchill affirmed: “We can almost say that before Alamein, we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat”.
Operation Torch was the name given to the Allied invasion of French North Africa . Operation Torch was the first time the British and Americans had jointly worked on an invasion plan together.
After the defeat of the German Afrika Korps the Allies organized the invasion of Sicily. The success of this operation led to the Allied invasion of Italy. After a successful D-Day the Allied forces started their march towards Rome. The city was captured after the Allies won the battle of Monte Cassino and Anzio landings. After the fall of Rome the Germans retreated in Northern Italy, where they were defeated the following spring.
The Allied landing in Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, captured Sicily from the Axis forces. Thus, the way towards continental Italy was opened.
During the invasion of Italy the Allied forces manged to establish a beached head in southern Italy. From there the Allied advance towards Rome started. Because of heavy German resistance at Anzio and Monte Cassino the advance was slow. When the German lines were finaly broken the Allied forces took Rome. Afterwards, the Germans retreated into Northern Italy, where they would eventually be defeated.
The Tehran, Potsdam and Yalta conferences were important meetings held between the 3 major Allied powers: United States, Soviet Union and Great Britain. The meetings were pivotal in setting Allied strategy during the war, but also in shaping the world after the conflict had ended.
The Tehran conference was organized to resolve problems concerning the progress of the Second World War and the organization of the post-war world, following the Allied victory.
The most important meeting between the three leaders happened in Yalta. The Yalta Conference is even now fiercely debated and analyzed. It had the most complex repercussions on post-war Europe.
The Potsdam conference was a meeting organized by the victorious Allied Powers of the Second World War, which aimed to reinstate order to the world after the end of the war. It revealed the existence of a Cold War between the two camps, the Soviet and English-American.
World War II In Perspective
World War II was the most destructive conflict in human history. As the generation who fought in the war leaves us, we should take the time to remember why the war was fought. The Axis lost the war because of a series of tactical mistakes that, at the time, might have seemed the best choices of limited options. At the same time, the Allies won the war through a genuine team effort, and at great cost both financially and in the terms of human lives.
The Second World War was the most destructive conflict in human history. It shaped the world into what it is today. If nothing else, we ought at least to remember the most destructive war in history and the terrible tragedies it wrought. World War I provided the first intimations of Total War: the idea that war was fought not just by armed combatants but by the nations themselves. World War II realized this concept to the greatest extent in history. The distinction between combatants and noncombatants almost became meaningless.
The Axis lost the war because of a series of tactical mistakes that, at the time, might have seemed the best choices of limited options. At the same time, the Allies won the war through a genuine team effort, and at great cost both financially and in the terms of human lives
World War II was fought with a wide variety of weapons from all countries that fought in the conflict. As the war progressed, new and more deadly weapons were deployed on the world's battlefields.