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    World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a war fought from 1939 to 1945 in Europe and, during much of the 1930s and 1940s, in Asia. The war was also fought in Africa, and included a handful of incidents in the Americas along with several naval battles in the world's various oceans. It was the largest armed conflict in history, spanning the entire world and involving more countries than any previous war, as well as introducing powerful new weapons, culminating in the first use of 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 resulted in some 61 million deaths, more than any other war.

    Overview 

    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 headed by Adolf Hitler. See also The Origins and Commencement of World War II. 

    The Italian economy also fell into a deep slump following World War I. Anarchists were endemic, Communist and other socialist agitators abounded among the trade unions, and many were gravely worried that a Bolshevik-style Communist revolution was imminent. After a number of liberals failed to rein in these perceived problems, Italy's king invited right wing parliament member Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party to form a government in 1922, following their largely symbolic Marca su Roma (March on Rome). The Fascists maintained an armed paramilitary wing, which they employed to combat anarchists, Communists, socialists, and other non-Fascist elements. Within a few years, Mussolini had consolidated dictatorial power, and Italy became a police state. 

    Germany's wartime adversaries were far more serious about enforcing the economic reparations than the military restrictions on Germany. Under 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. Italy, facing opposition to its wars of conquest in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) from the League of Nations, forged an alliance with Nazi Germany, which had withdrawn from the League in 1933. 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. In May of 1939, Italy and Germany formed the Pact of Steel, which further deepened their alliance and firmly established the Axis powers. 

    The United Kingdom 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 in the Munich Agreement 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. 

    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). Prior to the invasion, the Germans had sealed a non-agression pact with the Soviet Union, and had begun secretly colluding with the Soviets over the fate of Eastern Europe. 

    On September 17, roughly two weeks after the German invasion, 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 (see Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). Under this joint attack Poland fell quickly, with last large operational units surrendering October 5 (However, Polish troops continued fighting Germany until the end of the war). 

    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 states, and also attacked Finland but was fought to a stalemate in the Winter War. Germany invaded Denmark and Norway, ostensibly as a defensive maneuver against potential British occupation of those countries. In October of 1940, Italy invaded Greece, and was unable to conquer the region until assistance from Germany arrived. 

    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 against 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 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 air war 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. 

    The Eastern Front 

    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, forcing the Red Army back. The Soviets employed a scorched earth policy, burning crops and destroying utilities as they withdrew before the Germans. But with the capture of Moscow imminent, Hitler 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 harsh weather 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 of Stalingrad, one of the bloodiest battles in 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 push the Germans all the way back to Berlin. 

    The Soviets bore the brunt of World War II; the second front in Europe did not begin until D-Day, apart from the invasion of Italy. More Soviet citizens died during World War II than those of all other countries combined. Approximately 21 million Soviets, among them 7 million civilians, were killed in the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Civilians were rounded up and burned or shot in many cities conquered by the Nazis. Since the Nazis considered Slavs to be "sub-human", this was ethnically targeted mass murder. 

    The Germans 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 Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery defeated the famed German general Erwin Rommel and pushed the Germans out of Egypt, westward towards Tunisia. After American and British troops landed in Algeria in Operation Torch, the Allies completely pushed the Germans out of Africa in 1943. 
     

    The end of the war in Europe 

    Mussolini was deposed on July 25, 1943 by the Fascist Grand Council after several crushing military setbacks, including the Anglo-American invasion of Sicily that year. He was arrested and placed under house arrest in an isolated mountain resort. His replacement, General Pietro Badoglio, negotiated an armistice with the Allies on September 8, 1943. Mussolini was rescued by the Germans and installed as the head of a Nazi puppet state in northern Italy. He continued in this role until he was captured and executed by crowds on April 28, 1945 while on his way to an escape plane as the Allied forces closed in on Milan. 

    Germany's power was 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 tremendous 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 and the Soviets were closing in on Berlin, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker along with his lover, Eva Braun. Germany was partitioned by the Allies into an area of Soviet control, which became East Germany, and an area of joint British/French/American control, which became West Germany. The final surrender documents were signed by General Alfred Jodl on May 7, 1945. May 8 was declared V-E (Victory In Europe) Day. 

    Following the war, Allied soldiers discovered a number of concentration camps that had been used by the Nazis to imprison and exterminate an estimated 12 million people. The largest single group represented in this number were Jewish (roughly half the total), but Gypsies, Slavs, Catholics, homosexuals and various minorities and disabled persons formed the remainder. The most well-known of these camps is the death camp Auschwitz in which about two million prisoners were killed. Although the Nazi genocide or "Holocaust" was largely unknown to the allied soldiers fighting the war, it has become an inseparable part of the story of World War II. 

    The war in Asia 

    Japan had invaded China in the early 1930s and had been actively engaged in military action there (Sino-Japanese War) 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 the oil-rich Dutch East Indies), stopped trading oil and steel (both war staples) with Japan. Japan saw this as an act of aggression as it needed oil for its war effort, and on December 7, 1941, Japanese forces invaded Siam, Malaya, and the Philippines, and attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Four days later, Germany declared war on the United States, drawing America into a two theater war. Until then, America had remained out of the conflict, though it was providing military aid to Britain and Soviet Union through the Lend-Lease program. 

    Allied forces in Asia, drained of men and materiel by the European conflict, were unable to provide much more than token resistance to the battle-hardened Japanese. Major units of the British fleet were sunk off Malaya on 10th December, and Hong Kong fell on the 25th. United States bases on Guam and Wake Island were lost at around the same time. January saw the invasions of Burma, the Solomons, the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea, and the capture of Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Rabaul. The pace of conquest was rapid: Bali and Timor fell in February 1942, Rangoon and Java in March, and Mandalay at the beginning of May. Meanwhile, Japanese aircraft had all but eliminated British and American air power in South-East Asia, made major raids on northern Australia, and driven the British fleet out of Ceylon. 

    Allied resistance, at first shambolic, gradually began to stiffen. The Doolittle Raid in April was a token but morale-boosting air attack on Japan, and although the US Navy was narrowly defeated in tactical terms at the Battle of the Coral Sea, it still managed to derail the Japanese plan to invade Port Moresby. The crucial Battle of Midway followed in June: the fortunes of war could easily have given either side the victory, but Japanese naval aviation suffered a devastating defeat from which it never recovered. Midway was the turning-point of the naval war in the Pacific theatre. 

    On land, the British/Indian retreat in Burma had slowed, Australian forces in New Guinea successfully defended Port Morseby along the Kokada Track and in August Japanese land forces suffered their first outright defeat of the war at the Battle of Milne Bay. At the same time, US and Japanese soldiers both attempted to occupy the island of Guadalcanal. Forces converged on Guadalcanal over the following six months in an escalating battle of attrition, with eventual victory going to the United States. From this time on the Japanese fought a defensive war. The constant need to reinforce Guadalcanal weakened the Japanese effort in other theatres, leading to the recapture of Buna/Gona by Australian and US forces in early 1943, and preparing the way for both MacArthur's land-based thrust through New Guinea and Nimitz's island hopping campaign across the Pacific. 

    Hard-fought battles at Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and others resulted in horrific casualties on both sides, but finally produced a Japanese retreat. 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. On February 3, 1945 Japan's longtime enemy Russia agreed to enter the Pacific Theatre conflict against Japan and was soon making advances in Japanese-occipeied Manchuria. 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 Missouri. Following this period, General Douglas MacArthur established bases in Japan to oversee the postwar development of the country. This period in Japanese history is known as the occupation. President Harry Truman officially proclaimed an end of hostilities in on December 31, 1946. 

    Historical significance 

    Most likely learning from the example of World War I, the victors in the Second World War did not demand compensation from 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, called for the US Congress to allocate billions of dollars 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 and the Soviet Union consolidated their military presence and links in Europe as preparation against possible aggression. 

    As mentioned, the Soviets bore the heaviest casualties of World War II. These war causalities can explain much of Russia's behavior after the war. The Soviet Union continued to occupy and dominate Eastern Europe as a "buffer zone" to protect Russia from another invasion from the West. Russia had been invaded three times past 150 years before the Cold War during the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, and World War II, suffering tens of millions of causalities. 

    World War II ended in 1945 with the defeat of the Axis powers. 

    Major battles of World War Two

    Major naval engagements of World War Two Major figures of World War Two Major campaigns of World War Two

    The names below are as used by the US Army, although they were Allied campaigns. 

    European Theater of Operations

    • Algeria-French Morocco Campaign November 8, 1942 - November 11, 1942
    • Anzio Campaign January 22, 1944 - May 24, 1944
    • Ardennes-Alsace Campaign December 16, 1944 - January 25, 1945 ("Battle of the Bulge")
    • Central Europe Campaign March 22, 1945 - May 11, 1945
    • Egypt-Libya Campaign June 11, 1942 - February 12, 1943
    • Naples-Foggia Campaign
    • Lorraine Campaign (unofficial) September 1, 1944 - December 18, 1944
    • Normandy Campaign June 6, 1944 - July 24, 1944
    • North Apennines Campaign
    • Northern France Campaign July 25, 1944 - September 14, 1944
    • Po Valley Campaign
    • Rhineland Campaign
    • Rome-Arno Campaign
    • Sicily Campaign
    • Southern France Campaign
    • Tunisia Campaign
    Pacific Theater of Operations
    • Aleutian Islands Campaign
    • Bismarck Archipelago Campaign
    • Burma 1942 Campaign
    • Central Burma Campaign
    • Central Pacific Campaign
    • China Defensive Campaign July 4, 1942 - May 4, 1945
    • China Offensive Campaign May 5, 1945 - September 2, 1945
    • East Indies Campaign
    • Eastern Mandates Campaign
    • Guadalcanal Campaign
    • India-Burma Campaign
    • Leyte Campaign
    • Luzon Campaign
    • New Guinea Campaign
    • Northern Solomons Campaign
    • Papua Campaign
    • Philippine Islands Campaign
    • Ryukyus Campaign
    • Southern Philippines Campaign
    • Western Pacific Campaign June 15, 1944 - September 2, 1945
    Major bombing campaigns of World War Two
    • Dresden
    • London
    • Hiroshima
    • Nagasaki
    • Tokyo
    • Warsaw
    • Rotterdam
    • "The Blitz"
    • Hamburg
    • Plymouth
    See also Strategic bombing survey for the overall impact of the bombing. 

    Common weapons of World War Two

    • Mauser Karabiner 98k
    • Mauser Gewehr 98
    • Thompson M1
    • MP38/40
    • US M3
    • M1 Garand
    • M1 Carbine
    • Colt M1911/M1911A1
    • Parabellum (Luger) P'08
    • MG34
    • MG42

    Allied Soldiers Killed:

    • Albania: 20,000
    • Australia: 23,400
    • Belgium: 12,000
    • Brazil: 943
    • Bulgaria (from 1944): 1,000
    • Canada: 37,500
    • China: 2,050,000
    • Denmark: 1,800
    • Ethiopia: 5,000
    • France and Free French Forces: 210,000
    • Greece: 88,300
    • India: 24,300
    • Italy (from 1943): 17,500
    • Luxembourg: 4,000
    • Mongolia: 3,000
    • Netherlands: 7,900
    • New Zealand: 10,000
    • Norway: 3,000
    • Philippines: 27,000
    • Poland: 123,000
    • Romania (from 1944): 5,000
    • South Africa: 6,840
    • Soviet Union: 13,700,000
    • United Kingdom: 264,000
    • United States: 292,000
    • Yugoslavia: 300,000

    Axis Soldiers Killed:

    • Bulgaria (to 1944): 9,000
    • Finland: 82,000
    • Germany: 3,500,000 (includes Austrians and Czechoslovakians in German Army)
    • Hungary: 200,000
    • Italy (to 1943): 60,000
    • Japan: 1,300,000
    • Romania (to 1944): 290,000
    • Vichy France: 1,200

    Civilians Killed:

    • Albania: 10,000
    • Austria: 125,000
    • Belgium: 76,000
    • Bulgaria: 10,000
    • China: 7,750,000
    • Czechoslovakia: 215,000
    • Denmark: 2,000
    • Ethiopia: 5,000
    • Finland: 2,000
    • France: 350,000
    • Germany: 1,600,000
    • Greece: 325,000
    • Hungary: 290,000
    • India: 25,000
    • Italy: 153,000
    • Japan: 672,000
    • Netherlands: 200,000
    • Norway: 7,000
    • Philippines: 91,000
    • Poland: 5,680,000
    • Romania: 200,000
    • Soviet Union: 7,000,000
    • United Kingdom: 92,700
    • United States: 6,000
    • Yugoslavia: 1,200,000
    This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, which means that you can copy and modify it as long as the entire work (including additions) remains under this license. See http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html for details. It uses material from the Wikipedia article World_War_II

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