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.
World War I was the most terrifying carnage humanity had ever known. At the end of the 52 months of war, the statistics were shattering: over 9 million lives lost, with probably the same number of people suffering from some kind of illness or disability after the battles.
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.
After his unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government of the province of Bavaria, Hitler was imprisoned. In prison, he wrote his autobiographical book Mein Kampf, ‘My Struggle’. Mein Kampf was the reference work for the entire Nazi ideology. It was the inspiration which ‘justified’ Germany’s expansion and its entire genocidal policy.
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 path that led Japan on one side, and the United States, China and Britain on the other to war is long and complex. The origins of the conflict can be identified in Japan's unique history and culture, nurtured by the expansionist tendencies of its leaders in the 1930's.
World War II 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. Afterward the Soviets invaded Finland. The Soviet attack on Finland ended with the Treaty of Moscow, in which Finland lost part of its 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.
Germany on the rise
After the invasion of Poland, Hitler turned his attention to the western Allies. He invaded Norway and Denmark for much needed iron ore resources. In Denmark, the small Danish forces were unable to mount a defense against the German invaders. The country fell in a single day. In Norway, the locals were able to mount a defense with British help for two months before defeat. At the same time the German Army attacked the Low Countries and France. The Germans mounted a diversionary attack through Belgium and the Netherlands, into northern France across the Maginot line, the main French line of defense. The main attack came through the Ardennes, a heavy forested region that was lightly defended by the Allies. Using mechanized forces the Germans caught the Allies by surprise, quickly advancing into France. At the point of collapse, what was left of the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated at Dunkirk, along with some French units that formed the Free French Forces, under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle. The battle of France was a resounding success for the Germans, with German troops entering Paris and occupying France for the next four years. After the battle of France was over, Hitler turned his attention toward Britain, launching a series of aerial attacks across the Channel. The lack of a coherent strategy from the beginning to the end of the campaign did little to help the Germans, and much to hinder them. In the end, the battle of Britain did not go well for the Germans, who were forced to cancel their planned ground invasion of the island. The British had managed to successfully defend their homeland.
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.
Allies gain the initiative
After the Battle of Britain was over, no major military operations were undertaken on the Western Front until the invasion of Normandy. Known also as Operation Overlord, the invasion was a huge military undertaking that required years of planning by the Allies. During the invasion, the coast of Normandy was assaulted at five key points codenamed Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold and Sword beaches by American, Canadian and British troops. The attack also employed paratroopers who parachuted behind enemy lines in order to secure vital bridges, villages and crossroads. The invasion was successful, and led to the Battle of Normandy. During this campaign the Allies began the liberation of France. By its end the Allies had liberated Paris and were crossing the borders into Belgium and the Netherlands. During Operation Market Garden, an ambitious plan was devised to capture the Dutch city of Arnhem, with its strategic bridge across the Rhine. The Allies in the end had to retreat in the face of a determined German resistance.
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.
German recovery and stalemate
After the successful Normandy campaign and subsequent advance into Belgium and the Netherlands, the Allied armies found themselves on Germany's western border. Here the Germans had constructed a series of complex fortifications known as the Westwall or Siegfried Line. It was here that the Germans took the time to reorganize their armies, and managed to grind the Allied advance to a hold. The first major obstacle for the Allied advance was the city of Aachen, inside the German border. The city was defended by a combination of veteran German troops and raw recruits in heavy urban fighting. This battle was one of the largest urban battles for the American forces in World War II. Aachen was the first German city to fall into Allied hands, but the determined German defense seriously disrupted Allied plans for the future. Another important battle in the area took place at Hürtgen Forest. Here, the Americans’ initial goal was to support the Aachen campaign by pinning down German reinforcements. A second objective was for the Americans to outflank the Germans. The German army fiercely defended the area because it was the staging ground for their upcoming 1944 winter offensive. Simultaneously, the Allies launched Operation Queen, a wide offensive whose objective was to gain access to the Rur River, as a staging point for a further Allied thrust into Germany. The German soldiers managed to stop the Allied advance in all sectors, including Hürtgen Forest. Allied offensive operations were stopped when the Germans launched their own offensive, later known as the Battle of the Bulge.
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.
One last, desperate, German offensive
The German army launched one last offensive on the Western Front, through the Ardennes sector of the front. Here they hoped to achieve a decisive breakthrough of the front and in doing so to force the Allies to open peace negotiations. Although the initial attack caught the Allies completely by surprise, with the Americans bearing the brunt of the German onslaught, they managed to stem the tide. The Germans intended to reach the Belgian port of Antwerp, thus allowing them to encircle and destroy four Allied armies. Fierce resistance in the southern part of the front, around Bastogne, and in the north at Elsenborn Ridge, blocked the German advance. They could not reach vital roads that they counted on to achieve a decisive breakthrough. Afterward, the weather conditions improved, allowing the Allies to resume aerial attacks against the Germans, thus sealing the failure of the offensive.
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.
Invasion and defeat for Germany
After the Battle of the Bulge failed, the German lines collapsed and the Allied armies started their trek into Germany. Over the next few months the Allies would advance ever deeper into Germany. With the Russians pressing from the east and the Allies from the west, the Germans found themselves in increasingly desperate situations. Their military was disintegrating, their cities were in ruin, and the civilian population was dying of hunger. In these conditions, defeat was inevitable. The first major obstacle the Allies faced in Germany was the crossing of the Rhine river. Allied preparations for the crossing developed into two operations, Veritable and Grenade, destined to close in on the Rhine. During the Battle of Remagen, American forces managed to capture intact the Ludendorff bridge over the Rhine. Thus the Americans were the first to cross the Rhine river. After the Rhine crossing, the Allies started their advance into Germany with force, capturing city after city. German forces were surrounded and destroyed in the Ruhr pocket. At Torgau, American and Russian forces met for the first time, while crossing the river Elbe.
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.
German invasion and defeat in Russia
During Operation Barbarossa, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Although the Germans initially inflicted devastating defeats on the Soviet Red Army, the onset of the terrible Russian winter slowed their advance to a crawl. The Soviets managed to reorganize and successfully defend their capital, Moscow. Further German offensive operations followed in the spring, when the Germans attacked on the Southern portion of the front with the intention of capturing the city of Stalingrad, on the Volga river. Initially the German offensive went smoothly and the army reached the city. A bloody urban battle followed where the two enemy forces fought for every street and apartment building in the city. Slowly, the Germans managed to push the Russian defenders to a few isolated strong points on the Volga river. Then, with the onset of winter, the Russians attacked the German flanks outside the city in a devastating counter-offensive. The result of Operation Uranus, as the Soviet counterattack was named, was that the German 6th Army was surrounded in Stalingrad. Another round of desperate and bloody urban fighting followed, with the Germans being the ones pushed to the Volga this time, in an ever shrinking defensive perimeter. The Germans suffered a crushing defeat at Stalingrad. The following spring, the Germans tried to stage a new offensive, at the Kursk sector of the front. However, by this time the Russian military and logistical situation had improved dramatically: the Red Army prepared strong successive defensive positions and awaited the German attack, which they knew was coming. When the Germans attacked they could not penetrate all of the Russian positions, so they had to stop the attack. Kursk is often cited as the turning point of the war; the battle when the initiative changed hands.
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.
Russians gain the initiative
After the Battle of Kursk the Germans were weakened enough that the Red Army managed to gain operational initiative. Enjoying a vast superiority in numbers, and using more and more sophisticated tactics, over the course of a year the Soviets managed to liberate a vast amount of their territory, including the cities of Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Sevastopol and Kharkov. During the aftermath of Kursk the Red Army attacked in the Ukraine, and managed to take back Kiev. In the central part of the front, Bryansk and Smolensk were also abandoned by the Germans. In the following winter the Germans were surrounded by the Russians in two great pockets at Korsun-Cherkassy and Ternopol, and suffered heavy casualties. Leningrad was finally liberated, after an almost 900 day siege. In the following spring the Red Army started its advance into western Ukraine, crushing the Germans at Brody. In the Crimea, the German-Romanian units had to evacuate the area in and around the city of Sevastopol, across the Black Sea, and into Romania. Operation Bagration was the codename for the Red Army Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation during World War II. This operation cleared the German troops from the Belorussian SSR and eastern Poland. The offensive was directed against the German Army Group Center and resulted in the almost complete destruction of this Army Group.
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.
While the German Army was crumbling, and the Russians were advancing toward the Polish border, the Polish Resistance organized a vast country-wide uprising against the German occupiers. The offensive was especially centered in and around the Polish capital, Warsaw. The uprising in Warsaw began as part of a nationwide operation, codenamed Burza or Tempest. The main objective for the Polish Resistance was to drive the Germans out of the city. A political goal was for the Polish Resistance to assert political authority over the country before the Soviet-backed Polish communists could assume control. Initially the uprising went well, and the Poles assumed control over most of central Warsaw. In the end the uprising failed due to a lack of resources, and because the Red Army failed to support the uprising.
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.
Soviet advance into Europe
While the Poles were fighting against the Germans, the Red Army concentrated their efforts against another sector of the front. They launched an attack in northern Romania where they managed to inflict yet another crushing defeat on the Germans and their Romanian allies, who, at last, turned on the Germans. After the battle of Romania was over, the way was open for the Red Army to advance toward central Europe. Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia and parts of Poland and Hungary were taken from the Germans, who suffered one defeat after another.
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.
Soviet Red Army invades and defeats Germany
In the beginning of 1945, the Soviets staged yet another great offensive against the German lines. Known as the Vistula-Oder offensive, this battle inflicted another defeat on the German Army. The Soviets started their invasion of eastern Germany, with Berlin being their ultimate goal. On other fronts the Soviets and Germans battled for control of Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Hungarian capital, Budapest. The Soviets inflicted defeat after defeat on the remaining Axis soldiers defending these fronts. The Red Army soon reached Berlin. What followed was a desperate struggle for Germany's capital city that, in the end, led to defeat and ruin for the Third Reich.
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.
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 Axis defeat at El Alamein General Erwin Rommel's forces were forced to retreat across Libya, and into Tunisia, with the British forces perusing them. After another series of events the German-Italian collapse was inevitable: pressed from both sides their defenses crumbled by spring 1943 and were forced to surrender.
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.
During World War II in Iraq a pro-Axis coup was defeated by British troops. In Syria and Lebanon the Allies managed to topple the Vichy France administration and install a pro-Allied occupation regime. British and Soviet troops invaded Iran and deposed the Shah. Though that country was officially neutral the Allies considered the Shah to be pro-Axis.
The attack at Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike made by the forces of the Japanese Empire against the American base at Pearl Harbor. The attack marked the entry of the US in World War II
After the Japanese defeat at Midway US forces took the initiative and landed on the island of Guadalcanal, a strategic location were the Japanese had built an important airfield. The fighting was brutal. Victory at Guadalcanal enabled the Allies to gain the strategic initiative needed to mount other offensive operations against Japan.
During the Battle of the Coral Sea the US Navy, aided by signals intelligence decrypts, sent a force to oppose the Japanese Navy who wanted to occupy Port Moresby, a strategic location in New Guinea.
During the Battle of Midway the Americans inflicted a decisive defeat on the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Americans, with the help of signals intelligence, learned that the Japanese planed to attack Midway Atoll in an effort to secure their holdings in the Pacific and South East Asia and eliminate the threat of American naval power.
Our modern wars make many unhappy while they last and none happy when they are over - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
After Pearl Harbor the Japanese launched a series of attacks against Allied strongholds in South-East Asia and the Pacific. British Malaya, Thailand, Hong Kong, Wake Island, the Dutch East-Indies and others were attacked and occupied by Japanese forces.
After Italy invaded Greece, through Albania, the Greeks fought back hard. The invasion turned out to be a disaster for the Italians who were pushed back into Albania by the Greek Army. The Italian defeat prompted the Germans to intervene in the Balkans in order to aid the Italians.
After the Italians suffered a series of defeats against the Greeks, the German Army intervened in order to aid their ally. The Germans attacked Yugoslavia, were a pro-Allied government had been installed, and quickly subdued that country. At the same time they invaded Greece. Although the Greeks had British help they could not stop the German advance, who occupied Athens.
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.