World War II also referred to as the Second World War was a war that was fought globally in the period straddling 1939 and 1945. It involved a majority of the world’s nation but was mainly spearheaded by the great powers such as the United States, United Kingdom, Russia (then USSR), France and China amongst other nations. These were organized in military alliances that were either known as the Allies or the Axis with the effects of the war affecting the economic, political, industrial and social aspects of the combatants. Further, it is noted that World War II was the deadliest war in the history of mankind with over 50 million fatalities and destruction of property. This paper aims at reviewing the history of World War II by offering insights on its origins, outbreak, the war in Europe, developments within the entire period, defeat of the Axis powers, costs and the general impact that it had on the world.
The Origins of World War II, 1929-39
Even before the actual beginning of the Second World War in 1939, China was already at a state of war with the Empire of Japan which had been trying to exert its superiority and dominance within the Asia and Pacific region. As early as 1923, Adolf Hitler had predicted a war in Europe that would lead to the annihilation of the Jewish race in Germany. Soon after becoming the Reich Chancellor in 1933, Hitler consolidated his rule and power by asserting himself as the supreme leader of Germany beginning from 1934. Further, with the desire to exterminate the Jewish community and create a pure German race referred to as “Aryan”, he adopted the idea that war was the only solution to the attainment of this dream.
The period in the mid-1930s, Hitler began rearming Germany in blatant violation of the Versailles Treaty that prohibited the same. It is also around this time that Hitler’s Germany signed treaties with Italy and Japan to join hands against the Soviet Union. Beginning with the 1938 occupation of Austria by German troops and the annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1939 it was evident that the stage was being set for a confrontation. It is worth noting that the other European powers including the United Kingdom and France did not want to be involved in a confrontation while the United States and the Soviet Union were grappling with internal politics. These offered the perfect opportunity for Germany led by Hitler to prepare and implement their desire for a fully-fledged war.
Further, the signing of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact between Hitler and Soviet Union’s leader Joseph Stalin in August 1939 created an alarm amongst France and the United Kingdom as it was a clear intention of the Germans to initiate a war probably beginning in Poland. The aforementioned two European powers had guaranteed that they would protect Poland in case it was invaded by the Nazi Germany.
The Outbreak of War
The actual war began on the first day of September 1939 when the National Socialist Party (Nazi) Germany led by Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. Subsequently, France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany with the aim of preventing the advancement of Hitler and his Nazi ideology. The invasion of Poland began in the west but two days after this aggression by the Germans, France and Britain declared war on Germany which marked the outbreak of the war.
Subsequently, on September 17 the Soviet Union troops made an invasion of Poland from the East, which led to the fall of Poland in the shortest time possible. As early as the beginning of 1940, Poland was under the control of Germany and Soviet Union pursuant to the agreement they had made under the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. The latter troops also occupied the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania while at the same time subjecting Finland to a defeat during the war between Russia and Finland. Following the invasion of Poland, the absence of action by the Germans as well as the Allies in the west of Poland led many to believe that it was a pretentious battle. However, there was a continuous battle at sea between German troops who sunk merchant ship that were taking supplies to the United Kingdom.
The War in Europe, 1939-41
After the invasion of Poland in 1939 by the Germans and the Soviets as well as the latter’s aggression in the Baltic States, the war spread to other nations. On April 9, 1940 German troops invaded Norway while at the same time occupying Denmark. In addition, the Hitler’s troops carried out a quick war that swept through Netherlands and Belgium also referred to as “blitzkrieg”. Within this time, they also crossed the Meuse River and hit French troops stationed at Sedan along the Maginot Line. At this stage, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was evacuated from Dunkirk through the sea while the French troops that mounted a resistance at the south were defeated. With imminent defeat, Benito Mussolini’s Italy enacted its Pact of Steel that it had signed with Germany and also declared war on France and the United Kingdom.
The raid of Paris by the German troops created two regions with one of them under German military rule and another under Marshall Philippe Petain. From this point, Hitler embarked on Operation Sea Lion, which was to invade the United Kingdom through amphibious means. Despite this, the bombing of Britain by the German Air Force during the summer led to massive loss of life and property. However, during the Battle of Britain, the Royal Air Force (RAF) defeated the German aerial bombardment troops which forced German to call of Operation Sea Lion. It is at this point that the United Kingdom began receiving aid from the United States under the framework of the Lend-Lease Act.
Between 1940 and 1941, there were multiple fronts for the war as opposed to the already discussed invasions from the west and east of Poland as well as the Baltic states. While the Germans were defeated by the RAF during the Battle of Britain, they used French ports to attack British shipping supplies within the Atlantic. Through the Lend-Lease Act, the United States supported Britain during the war against the combined offensive by German and Italy.
By the end of 1940, the Tripartite Pact that brought together Germany, Italy and Japan was formalized and given the name of the Axis Powers. In this agreement, the three nations agreed that any nation that attacks them and with the exception of USSR will be compelled to go into war with all of them. As at November 1940, this front also included Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, which all participated in the fronts provided by the Axis.
While this was happening, Italy began several wars in the Mediterranean region beginning with the siege in Malta, attack on British Somaliland and Egypt as well as the Greco-Italian War between it and Greece. In the latter war, Britain supported Greece with aerial support against the Italians while at the same time focusing on a counteroffensive in the occupied Egypt and territories in East Africa and North Africa occupied by Italy. Subsequently, German also reasserted its influence by raiding Yugoslavia and Greece and driving the British out of the Balkan region.
In 1941, German led Axis also attacked the Soviet Union under Operation Barbarossa where it greatly relied on the support of Italy and Romania. While the Eastern front meant that the Axis diverted most of their troops, the United Kingdom and USSR moved in to secure the Persian shipping line. With increased troop numbers the Soviet managed to launch a counteroffensive that could not be attacked even by the Japanese troops.
In the Pacific, the United States renounced its trade treaty with Japan while the latter also attacked Japan. With Japan threatening the European interests in Southeastern Asia, the United States, the United Kingdom and other allied forces moved in to protect these resources. With biting sanctions, Japan opened another front in the region on October 17 1941 by planning the seizure of European colonies. At this stage, the US, UK, China and Australia as well as other nations declared war on Japan while the Soviet Union maintained its neutral stance towards this nation. It is also at this stage that German also declared war on the United States in solidarity with Japan.
Developments from 1941 to 1943
The most significant occurrence during this period is Operation Barbarossa that occurred between 1941 and 1942. Here, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania joined the Axis with the effect that the German troops overrun Greece and Yugoslavia in April 1941. It is imperative that the German invasion of the Balkan States was a strategy to invade the USSR so that he could use its large territory to advance the Nazi ideology of creating a pure race. This could be achieved by exterminating the Jews in every territory that Germany conquered and occupied.
Therefore, on June 22, 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union through Operation Barbarossa. Importantly, the Germans had better aerial technology as compared to the Russians and this enabled them to be within a reach of 200 miles from Moscow. However, this advancement was stopped by the Soviet troops who launched a counteroffensive in October as the winter began to bite in the region.
In addition, the Second World War was also gaining momentum in the Pacific region with the United States largely involved in combating the building aggression fronted by Japan. Even after seizing European colonial nations and resources in Southeastern Asia, it also attacked Pearl Harbor based in Hawaii. This act that led to the loss of over 2000 US troops solidified the American view that they should officially join the war as active combatants. Therefore, on December 8 1941, the US Congress voted in support of joining the war against Japan, which was as expected joined by the Axis.
In the Battle of Midway fought in June 1941, the US managed to defeat the Japanese within the Pacific including the success at Guadalcanal, which is located within the Solomon Islands. Further, in 1943, the Allied forces through their stronger navies carried out counterattacks against Japan, especially those carried out against its islands through approach by water. With movement from one island to another, it was able to launch a strategy aimed at carrying out an invasion of mainland Japan and defeat it.
Developments from 1943 to 1944
By 1943, the British and American Allied forces had defeated the Axis consisting of the German and Italian troops in North Africa. They followed this victory by invading Sicily in Italy, which led to the fall of the government led by Mussolini in July 1943. While there had been continued fighting on the Eastern Front as led by the Soviet Union, it was not until the Battle of Stalingrad that the Axis would face a taste of loss. With reduced food and medical supplies as well as imminent cold from the biting winter, the German troops in Russia surrendered on January 31, 1943.
Additionally, on June 6, 1944 which is referred to as the “D-Day”, the Allied forces consisting of troops from the United Kingdom, United States and Canada landed at Normandy, France. To counter this offensive, Hitler-led Germany responded by releasing its thin army in Western Europe, which led to successive defeats in the east. On the other hand, the Soviet Union army invaded Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania where the Germans were fighting the Allied forces in the Battle of the Bulge. Similarly, the Soviet troops also launched an offensive in Belarus referred to as Operation Bagration that destroyed and drove away the Germans before the former advanced into Poland and Slovakia to instigate uprisings against the German troops. Further, the advance into Yugoslavia led to withdrawal of Hitler’s troops in Albania and Greece.
Moreover, the Commonwealth forces in Southeastern Asia aggressively fought the Japanese troops helped by the American onslaught in the Pacific. The defeat of the Japanese battalion by the American contingent in the Battle of the Philippine Sea led to the crumbling of the resistance that they had put. As at October 1944, the Allied forces led by the United States had scored a victory by defeating the Japanese at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which marked the beginning of the fall of the Axis in this front.
Defeat of the Axis Powers
As at December 16 1944, Germany made a last ditch effort by attacking from the Western Front. This was unsuccessful while it was around the same time that the Soviet Union and Poland organized a counteroffensive to liberate it. Notably, the Allied forces also pushed into Italy and had decisive victories in western Germany while the Poles and Soviet reached Berlin, Germany by April. With the Germans surrendering in Italy and signing it on May 7 1945, the Axis led coalition in Europe was defeated.
Within the Pacific Front, Japan suffered numerous defeats both on land and sea with most of its cities being bombed by American-led Allied forces. Further, the meeting between the leaders of the Allied nations on July 11 1945 called for the unconditional surrender of Japan. However, the Japanese government refused to accept this call leading to the use of nuclear bombs in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With many defeats and its nations in ruins, Japan surrendered on August 15 1945 which marked the end of the war almost two weeks later.
Costs and Aftermath of the War
The costs of World War II were heavy for the nations that used most of their resources and finances to fight within the conflict. Tens of millions of lives were lost with estimates putting the figure at over 50 million with most of those who died in Europe coming from Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union while the Japanese paying the price in the Pacific theatre. It is argued that it cost 1 to 2 trillion US dollars as at the end of the war with the highest spenders being the United States, Germany, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, Italy and Japan. This implies that the end of the Second World War was marked with a state of economic ruin that could only be recovered through a number of initiatives. For instance, the United Kingdom which was heavily affected relied on the Marshall Plan to bring its struggling economy back on to its feet or towards economic prosperity.
The aftermath of the war led to the occupation of territories as well as their division amongst the Allied forces. For example, Austria was left as a non-aligned bloc without alignment to any political grouping while Germany was divided into occupation zones controlled by the United States, United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union. There was also the systematic expulsion of Germans in some territories as well as the annexation of nations that later came to form the Soviet Union.
In addition, the United States was established with the Allied powers including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Soviet Union and China becoming permanent members of the UN Security Council. In addition, it is worth noting that the political and military division of the world after the war was carried out under alliances such as the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. In addition, it is worth noting that Europe became divided into Western and Eastern Europe with the former mainly leaning towards the Allies and the latter preferring the Soviet Union. Moreover, it is argued that the Second World War set the stage for the Cold War, which was characterized with race for development of arms between Soviet Union and the United States.
The Impact the War had on the World
The Second World War contributed to a number of casualties with both the Allies and the Axis suffering the deaths of millions of their citizens, especially the Soviets and Chinese who had higher number of deaths. World War II also led to the creation of concentration camps, slave labor and genocide, especially during the Holocaust that contributed to millions of Jewish deaths. Further, there was also the concept of occupation whereby both the Allies and Axis annexed portions of some countries to appropriate their resources or exert sphere of influence.
An important impact of the result is that it resulted into advances in technology and warfare techniques. For example, in the field of warfare, nations began creating innovations in aircrafts that could perform different roles such as reconnaissance, lifting of supplies, personnel and equipment as well as strategic bombardment of targets. With regard to naval warfare, nations such as the United States began developing advanced aircraft carriers or submarines that made amphibious wars much easier.
For the United States, the war was a serious constitutional issue that touched on the legality of its participation in a war that was being fought in different continents other than American mainland. It is also argued that the Second World War and the subsequent formation of the United Nations have been the significant factors that support world’s peace. Therefore, in any instance when a nation attempts to attack another, the UN Security Council usually moves in very fast to avert such a situation or issue sanctions. The result is that post-1945; the world has largely been peaceful and free of wars that may occur to a global scale.
This paper has reaffirmed that the Nazi ideology and the invasion of Poland by Germany were the cause of World War II which lasted from 1939 to 1945. Through the offensive by the Allied forces mainly led by the United States against the Axis led by Germany, the war had serious ramifications. Apart from the large number of casualties, it also gave way for the establishment of the United Nations to maintain world peace.
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