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World War II

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World War II

World War II


The Second World War was history's largest and most significant armed conflict. It served as the breeding ground for the modern structure of security and intelligence, and for the postwar balance of power that formed the framework for the Cold War. Weapons, materiel, and actual combat, though vital to the Allies' victory over the Axis, did not alone win the war. To a great extent, victory was forged in the work of British and American intelligence services, who ultimately overcame their foes' efforts. Underlying the war of guns and planes was a war of ideas, images, words, and impressionsintangible artifacts of civilization that yielded enormous tangible impact for the peoples of Europe, east Asia, and other regions of the world.

Scope and Consequences of the War

The war pitted some 50 Allied nations, most notable among which were the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and China, against the Axis nations. The name "Axis," a reference to the straight geographic line between the capital cities of Rome and Berlin, came from a pact signed by Germany and Italy in 1936, to which Japan became a signatory in 1940. Ultimately a number of other nations would, either willingly or unwillingly, throw in their lot with the Axis, but Germany and Japan remained the principal powers in this alliance.

Although the roots of the conflict lay before the 1930s, hostilities officially began with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and ended with the Japanese surrender to the United States six years and one day later. The war can be divided into three phases: 193941, when Axis victory seemed imminent; 194143, when Axis conquests reached their high point even as the tide turned with the U.S. and Soviet entry into the war; and 194345, as the Allies beat back and ultimately defeated the Axis.

Over those six years, armies, navies, air units, guerrilla forces, and clandestine units would fight across millions of square miles of sea and land, from Norway's North Cape to the Solomon Islands, and from Iran to Alaska. The war would include more than a dozen significant theatres in western Europe, the north Atlantic, Italy, eastern and southern Europe, Russia, North Africa, China, southern Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands. Less major, but still significant, engagements took place in East Africa, the Middle East, and West Africa. There were even extremely limited engagementsmostly at the level of diplomacy, espionage, or propagandain South America and southern Africa.

Death toll. World War II and its attendant atrocities would exact an unparalleled human toll, estimated at 50 million military and civilian lives lost. Combat deaths alone add up to about 19 million, with the largest share of this accounted for by 10 million Soviet, 3.5 million German, 2 million Chinese, and 1.5 million Japanese deaths. (The United States lost about 400,000, and the United Kingdom some 280,000.)

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis killed another 15.5 million in a massive campaign of genocide that included the "Final Solution," whereby some 6 million Jews were killed. Another 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, along with smaller numbers of Gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped persons, political prisoners, and other civilians rounded out the total. Principal among the Nazi executioners was the SS, led by Heinrich Himmler, which operated a network of slave-labor and extermination camps throughout central and eastern Europe.

About 14 million civilian deaths have been attributed to the Japanese. They imposed a system of forced labor on the peoples of the region they dubbed the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere," and literally worked millions of civilians and prisoners of war (POWs) to death in their camps. The Japanese also conducted massacres of civilians that rivaled those undertaken by the Nazis in Russia.

Soviet non-combat atrocities accounted for another 7 million deaths. Victims included members of deported nationalities, sent eastward to prevent collaboration with the Nazis; murdered German POWs; returning Soviet POWs killed because of their exposure to the West; and other campaigns of genocide conducted by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

World War II served as a watershed between the multi-polar world of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the bipolar world of the Cold War. It ended the military dominance of European powers, but also

ushered in an era in which Europe, heavily aided in its recovery by the United States so as to avoid another European war, became a major economic power.

The war transformed the United States from an isolationist giant, with little interest in affairs outside the Western Hemisphere, to a modern superpower. Symbolic of this transformation was the construction of the Pentagon building, commenced just before the United States entered the war. The war also marked the birth of the modern U.S. intelligence apparatus, of which the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), led by Major General William Donovan, was the progenitor. OSS would cease to function soon after the war's conclusion, but two years later, it would be replaced by a far more lasting organization, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Despite the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union, and the creation of the United Nations in an effort to settle international differences peacefully, the Cold War was an all but inevitable result of the war, which left only two superpowers in its wake. Thenceforth, the world would be divided between the United States and its alliesamong which would be its two wartime enemies, West Germany and Japanand the Soviet Union and its affiliates. These would include East Germany and eastern Europe; Communist China from 1949 to the Sino-Soviet rift of the late 1950s; and a number of states in the gradually emerging developing world of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

The conflict spelled an end to the European colonial empires, and brought independence to dozens of countries in the Middle East, Africa, and south and east Asia. Among the many states that owed their existence to the war was Israel. The effects of the Holocaust moved Western leaders to action, and Western sympathy helped ensure support for the establishment of a Jewish state.

The Axis and the Causes of the War

The victory of Benito Mussolini's Black Shirts in Italy in October 1922, introduced the world to Fascism, which reinterpreted nationalism in totalitarian terms, i.e., as an all-encompassing political movement intended to supplant all other centers of influence, such as religion, in the life of the individual. Hitler regarded Mussolini as a mentor, yet the Nazis would eclipse the Fascists in terms of strength, influence, and impact on world history.

Not only was Germany's militarily more powerful than Italy's, but the agenda of the Nazis, who took power in January 1933, had a much greater sense of urgency.

Central to Hitler's plans, outlined in his manifesto Mein Kampf (1924), was the elimination of central and eastern European Jews, who Hitler regarded as the principal barrier to German European dominance. Intimately tied with this plan was his vision of conquest and colonization in Russia and eastern Europe, which wouldafter the Jews and Slavs had been exterminatedconstitute a German empire or reich that Hitler predicted would last a thousand years.

This consciously millenarian vision drew on German history and national mythology, citing as the first and second reichs the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages and the German Empire of 18701918 respectively. It appealed not only to longstanding strains of anti-Semitism in Europe, which dated back at least to the time of Crusades, but also to disaffection with what the Germans regarded as their betrayal and humiliation in World War I and with the Versailles Treaty of 1919. In a country that had recently been devastated by inflationGermany's economic crisis preceded the worldwide Great Depression by several years, and was even more severeNazism seemed to offer a solution for strengthening a once-great nation that had fallen on difficult times.

Communism and the Spanish Civil War. At a rhetorical and symbolic level, Hitler opposed Communism, and used the threat of Soviet Russia as justification for his moves to arm Germany in the 1930s. In reality, the Nazis and Soviets provided one another with mutual assistance, continuing a pattern begun in World War I, when imperial Germany had aided V. I. Lenin. After the war, German aristocrats, nationalists, and Communists all opposed, and helped bring down, the liberal democratic Weimar Republic. Though Hitler killed thousands of Communists after he gained power in January 1933, German military forces trained in Russia, and Germany provided Russia with equipment.

This secret relationship would become public when the two sides signed the Non-Aggression Pact on August 23, 1939, but until that time, Hitler and Stalin made much of their putative opposition to one another. The Spanish Civil War (193639) provided them with a proxy battleground, as Germany and Italy tried out new armaments in support of the Nationalists, led by Francisco Franco. The Republican side turned to Stalin for help, but he gave them little assistance while siphoning resources and leaders, some of whom went to Moscow and never returned.

On the other hand, the romance and mythology of the Republican cause provided the Soviets with a propaganda victory that comported well with their current "Popular Front" strategy. In accordance with the latter, Communists worldwide ceased calls for world revolution, and instead formed alliances with liberal, socialist, and anarchist movements. Later, Stalin would form a "popular front" on a grand scale, as he aligned himself with the United States and Great Britain.

Munich and Mussolini. Hitler's rhetorical opposition to Communism won him tacit support from Britain and France, which in the 1930s regarded Nazism as the lesser of two evils. At Munich in September 1938, British and French complicity yielded Germany title to a portion of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland. In the view of many historians, the Munich conference and the appeasement efforts of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain rendered war all but inevitable.

Munich also sealed the relationship between Mussolini and Hitler. Despite their later alliance, Mussolini, a former Communist, rightly perceived significant differences between his nationalism and Hitler's racism. If Britain and France perceived Hitler as a buffer against Stalin, then Mussolini in the early 1930s seemed like a buffer against Hitler. What brought Italy and Germany together was the same complex of factors that eventually forged a three-way alliance with Japan: a shared desire for greater power, territorial ambitions that had supposedly been frustrated by the democratic powers, and a string of diplomatic and military successes that encouraged ever bolder moves.

Japan, militarism, and expansionism. When its troops marched into Manchuria in 1931, Japan launched the first in the series of conquests and invasions during the 1930s that set the stage for the war. Though nominally led by an emperor, Hirohito, by that time the nation had come under the control of military officers, who had imposed a dictatorship. The Japanese lacked a single powerful leader until Hideki Tojo emerged at the top in 1941.

Although certainly authoritarian and strictly controlled, the Japanese system was technically not totalitarian, in the sense that it did not have a specific, animating modern ideology. Instead, it relied on ancient national myths, combined with an abiding sense that Japan had been wronged in its struggle to make a place for itself as a world power. The Japanese belief system combined nationalistic and racial themes: like the Nazis, they regarded all other peoples as inferior. This would have seemingly made the Japanese and Nazi systems mutually exclusive, but because they were at opposite sides of the world, it provided a convenient formula for dividing the planet between them.

Each of the three future participants in the Axis Pact set out to test the resolve of the other powers to oppose them, and found such opposition all but nonexistent. The League of Nations, formed to put an end to wars after World War I, failed to act decisively when Italy conquered Ethiopia in 193536, when Germany occupied the Rhineland in 1936, when Japan conquered most of eastern China in 193738, or when Germany annexed Austria in 1938.

193941: The Axis triumphant. Over the course of the first nine months of 1939, Germany added the rest of Czechoslovakia, while Italy occupied Albania. Having signed the Non-Aggression Pact with Stalin in August, Hitler invaded Poland on September 1. Britain and France, which on March 29 had pledged to support Poland, declared war, but did not attack Germany. During the next few weeks, Germany and Russia divided Poland between themselves, and in November, the Soviet Union launched a separate war with Finland.

Although the Soviets eventually emerged victorious in March 1940, the Russo-Finnish War convinced Hitler of Stalin's vulnerability. Stalin had decimated his officer corps with his purges in the 1930s, and his collectivization efforts had been accompanied by the imprisonment, starvation, and deaths of millions. The Soviet Union was to prove much stronger, however, than Hitler imagined. And if Hitler believed that Japan would join him in making war on the Soviets, he was mistaken; the Soviet performance against the Japanese during the little-known tank battle at Nomonhan in Manchuria in August, 1939, effectively convinced the Japanese of Russia's true strength.

From 1939 to 1941, the Axis unquestionably had the upper hand in the conflict. During the first part of this period, nicknamed "the Phony War," hardly a shot was fired in western Europe. Only in the spring of 1940 did Hitler's forces resume action, conquering Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, and France. The French, who relied on the defenses of the Maginot Line (designed to fight a World War Istyle conflict of limited movement), surrendered after a nominal resistance effort. Most of the country fell under direct Nazi control, which a small portion to the southeast, with the town of Vichy as its capital, formed a pro-Axis government.

The speedy capitulation of the French left the British alone in opposition to the Nazis. In May 1940, Chamberlain resigned, and was replaced by Winston Churchill. In this change, the British people gained an unexpected advantage; over the next five years, Churchill, widely regarded as one of history's great orators, would stir his people to action with a series of memorable speeches. Yet, the position of the British was perilous, and as the Nazi Luftwaffe launched an aerial campaign against them in August, it seemed that German victory was only a matter of time.

Axis victories and blunders. At about the same time that the Battle of Britain began, Mussolini attacked the British in North and East Africa. He thus unexpectedly offered England a venue for fighting the Axis outside of Europe, and eventually German forces would be diverted into the Africa campaign.

In southern Europe, Hitler managed to compel Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania into joining the Axis, but this advantage was overshadowed by another diversion of forces caused by Mussolini. Mussolini invaded Greece in October 1940, and Greek resistance proved so fierce that in April 1941, German forces rolled into southern Europe. Churchill attempted to oppose them in Greece, but the Germans pushed back British forces, and in history's first airborne invasion, took the isle of Cretean important Mediterranean basein May.

By mid-1941, virtually all of Western Europe, except Britain and neutral Switzerland, Spain, and Sweden, belonged to the Axis. But the Balkan campaign had pushed back Hitler's timetable for the most important campaign of the war, the invasion of Russia. The purpose of all other fighting up to that point had been to eliminate opposition as Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and rather than conquer Britain, Hitler preferred to enlist it as an ally against Stalin. He called off attacks on British air bases in May 1941, but by then the Nazi bombardment had inflamed British sentiment against Germany.

194143: The Tide Turns

On June 22, 1941, the Nazis invaded Russia. Operation Barbarossa, as it was calledits name a reference to the twelfth century Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossawas the largest land invasion in history. Fought according to the blitzkrieg ("lightning war") tactics already demonstrated elsewhere in Europe, the invasion relied on mechanized infantry divisions and Panzer (tank) columns with heavy aerial support.

The invasion would initially yield enormous victories for the Nazis, who quickly doubled the size of their territory by annexing most of western Russia. However, the Germans had started the invasion relatively late in the year and were eventually delayed in their advances, given the challenges posed by the Russian winter. This delay was partly due to the incursion into southern Europe, but also resulted from arguments between Hitler and his general staff, which put off the invasion for several weeks.

Not content to be Germany's Führer or supreme leader, Hitler also wished to be generalissimo, and eventually he would push aside all military planners and take personal control of the war effort. Not only did Hitler, a corporal in World War I, lack the generals' understanding of strategy, but he tended to be bold where prudence counseled caution, and vice versa. When he had a good chance of taking Britain, he demurred, but a year later, he swept into Russia without taking adequate stock of the consequences.

German troops were not equipped with clothing for the winter. This was in part a consequence of the fact that Hitler resisted apprising his armies or his people of the sacrifices necessary for war. Whereas the Allies immediately undertook rationing efforts, Hitler was slow to enact rationing for fear of unleashing discontent. Likewise, he was ill-inclined to equip his men for a long campaign, and thus admit that such a campaign likely awaited them.

America enters the war. Japan launched its first major offensive of the war in early December 1941, when, in addition to attacking the United States at Pearl Harbor, it swept into the Philippines, Malaya, Thailand, and Burma. The result of these decisive attacks, combined with German victories in Russia, was to bring the Axis to the height of its powers in 1942. At that point, it seemed possible that the two major Axis powers, taking advantage of anti-British unrest in Iran and India, might even link up, thus controlling a swath of land and sea from Normandy to the Solomon Islands.

In actuality, events of 1941 would serve to bring an end to Axis hopes of world conquest. While the invasion of Russia would ultimately cripple the German Wehrmacht, or army, the introduction of the United States to the war would give the Allied force a seemingly bottomless supply of equipment with which to wage the war. It also brought in a vast military force that, alongside the British, would drive back the Germans in North Africa (despite impressive resistance by the tank commander German Erwin Rommel) and make two key landings on the European continent, in Italy and France.

Thus, the attack on Pearl Harbor, intended as a first strike to eliminate American opposition, would prove a miscalculation on a par with Hitler's invasion of Russia. Hitler welcomed the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor at the time, and quickly declared war on the United States, thus, giving him justification for sinking U.S. ships crossing the north Atlantic in order to deliver supplies to Britain. This proved a benefit to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, up to then, had been confronted by strong isolationist opposition to war with Germany.

194345: The Allies victorious. Unlike the Axis, the Allies were not bound by one single formal alliance. Instead, there were agreements such as Lend-Lease, whereby the United States provided equipment to Great Britain even before it entered the war. Later, America would extend Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union, providing considerable assistance to its future Cold War enemy.

There were also a number of conferences whereby the leaders of the Allied nations planned the postwar world. These included Newfoundland in August 1941, and Casablanca in January 1943, (United States and Britain only), Teheran in November 1943, Yalta in February 1945, and Potsdam in July 1945. (By the latter point, Roosevelt had died and was replaced by Vice-President Harry S. Truman, while Churchill had been voted out in favor of Clement Atlee and the Labour Party.)

As with the Axis alliance of Germany and Italy, there was an alliance within this alliancethat of the United States and Britain. Between Roosevelt and Churchill was a strong personal bond that reflected the ultimate commonality of aims between their two nations. More strained was the relation of these leaders with Stalin. The alliance with Soviet Russia was a marriage of convenience, as all three powers faced a common enemy in Nazi Germany, but Churchill in particular never let down his guard where Stalin was concerned. (And he was right to do so, as Stalin's intelligence services were busy gathering secrets in England.)

To a much smaller extent, the United States and United Kingdom made common cause with the Chinese Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-shek, and the Free French under General Charles de Gaulle. In neither case did these leaders speak for their entire nations. Chiang's Nationalists expended greater resources on fighting the Communists, led by Mao Tse-tung, than they did against the Japanese invaders. The Communists, who enjoyed widespread peasant support, proved able defenders, and though they would become enemies of the United States, at the time America regarded them as a useful ally against the Japanese. As for de Gaulle, who operated from London, he represented only a tiny portion of France, most of which made little effort to resist Nazi and Vichy rule.

Driving back the Axis in Europe. In Russia, the Germans got as far as the suburbs of Moscow before the winteralong with the resurgent Red Army and a defiant populacecaught up with them. Lengthy sieges at Stalingrad and Leningrad (the latter lasting more than 800 days) would spell an end to German hopes of conquest. Led by Georgi Zhukov, the Red Army gradually drove back the Germans and began the long, steady push into central Europe.

After defeating the Germans in North Africa in late 1942, the Allies invaded Sicily in July 1943, and Italy itself on September 9. This forced Mussolini to retreat to northern Italy, where he would serve as puppet ruler of a Nazi-controlled state for the remaining two years of his life. On June 6, 1944, an Allied force of some 2,700 ships and 176,000 U.S., British, Canadian, and other troops landed at Normandy, in the largest amphibious invasion in history.

By the end of 1944, Allied victory in Europe began to seem all but imminent, but a number of obstacles still stood in the way. Hitler's scientists had developed the V2 rocket, precursor of modern missiles, and Germany fired several of them against England. The Allies, meanwhile, relentlessly bombed German cities, bringing the Reich to its knees. The Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest in December 1944 was the later major Axis offensive in Europe.

With the Soviets surrounding Berlin, Hitler on April 30, 1945, committed suicide in his bunker with his mistress, Eva Braun, along with propaganda minister Josef Goebbels and Goebbels's family. Two days earlier, Mussolini and his mistress, captured by Italian resistance fighters, had been shot. The Germans surrendered to the Allies on May 7. Only after the surrender did the full magnitude of the Holocaust become apparent, and for this and other crimes, those German military and political leaders who did not commit suicide would be tried before the World Court.

The defeat of Japan. In the carrier-dominated Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, the first naval battle in which opposing ships never caught sight of one another, neither side gained a clear victory, but the Allies won the upper hand at the Battle of Midway the following month. Later that summer, the U.S. Marines fought the Japanese at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Late in 1943, the Marines began a series of assaults on Pacific islands, including the Gilbert, Marshall, Caroline, and Mariana chains. Allied forces under General Douglas MacArthur liberated the Philippines in the fall of 1944.

Early in 1945, Allied forces under Major General Curtis LeMay began dropping incendiary bombs on Japanese cities, while the Marines took the nearby islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Still, the Japanese resisted, and Allied leaders contemplated a land invasion, to begin in November. The invasion, they calculated, would cost as many as 1 million American lives, with untold casualties on the among the Japanese.

Instead of invading Japan, the United States unleashed the results of the Manhattan Project, which it had begun secretly 1942. Before dropping the atomic bomb, the Allies issued one more plea for the Japanese to surrender, and when they did not, the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped a bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Despite the devastation wrought by this, the first use of a nuclear weapon in warfare, the Japanese still refused to surrender. On August 9, the United States dropped a second bomb, this one on Nagasaki. At this point, Hirohito urged the nation's leaders to surrender. Tojo and several others committed suicide, and on September 2, 1945, Japanese representatives formally surrendered.

A War of Information, Images, and Ideas

The Manhattan Project was the most dramatic expression of a theme that ran through the entire conflict, that ideas and information often contribute as much to a successful military effort as do troops and weapons. Though the First World War brought airplanes into widespread use, along with tanks, and resulted in the popularization of radio soon afterward, the Second World War saw the first true marriage of science and defense to yield the military-industrial complex familiar today. Its legacy is evident in the many technological innovations that were either introduced during its course, or very soon after the fighting ended. In addition to nuclear power and the missile, these include radar, computers, jet engines, and television.

The war also introduced modern concepts of covert and special operations, on the part of the OSS, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), military intelligence units, and special warfare units that included the Rangers and the precursors to the Navy SEALS of today. The Germans had their spies as well, some of whom even managed to infiltrate the United States, but their efforts in this regard were never as successful as those of the Allies.

Cryptology. In the cryptologic war, the Allies were the unquestioned victors. Perhaps the single greatest intelligence success of the war was the British deciphering of the Germans' secret system of communications. Early in the war, British and Polish intelligence officers obtained a German Enigma cipher machine, to which a team of mathematicians at Bletchley Park applied their expertise. The result was Ultra, the British system for reading the German ciphers.

Thanks to Ultra, the British knew many of the targets in advance during the Battle of Britain. In north Africa in 1942, Ultra helped Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery predict Rommel's actions. So vital was the Ultra secret that the British used it with the utmost of caution, careful not to act to often or too quickly on information it revealed for fear that this might tip off the Germans. Only in the 1970s did the world learn of the Ultra secret.

American successes included the breaking of the Japanese RED cipher by the U.S. Navy, and the PURPLE cipher by the U.S. Army Signal Intelligence Service prior to the war. During the war, the navy proved more successful at breaking the ciphers of its counterpart than did the army. Also notable was the American use of codetalkers transmitting enciphered messages in the Navajo Indian language, which made their transmissions indecipherable to the Japanese. Neither the Japanese nor the Germans scored any major cryptologic victory against the Allies.

Deception, secrets, and covert operations. The Allied invasion of Italy was accompanied by a number of behind-thescenes moves. Just before the invasion of Sicily, British naval intelligence obtained the body of a man who had recently died, and arranged for his bodyclad in the uniform of a major in the Royal Marinesto wash up on a shore in Spain. On his person were documents laying out a British plan for an imminent invasion of the Balkans, information the British knew the Germans (who had numerous agents in Spain) would acquire. The ruse, known as Operation Mincemeat (subject of the 1953 film The Man Who Never Was ) left the Germans unprepared for the subsequent invasion.

The surrender of most of Italy by Marshal Pietro Badoglio appears to have been the result of behind-thescenes talks with the Allies. During the moments of turmoil in the capital as Mussolini's government was over-thrown, a British intelligence officer provided Badoglio with a safe haven. In 1945, Allen Dullesfuture director of the CIAsecretly negotiated with SS General Karl Wolff for the surrender of all German forces in Italy.

Another deception campaign, known as Bodyguard, preceded the Normandy invasion of June 1944. Using German agents in England who had been turned by British intelligence, the Allies conducted an elaborate campaign designed to convince the Germans that they were attacking anywhere but Normandy. Radio transmission from Scotland seemed to indicate a thrust toward Norway, while the appearance of Montgomery near Gibraltar suggested an invasion through Spain. (In fact "Montgomery" was actually a British actor who resembled the general.)

The Normandy deception included the creation an entire unit, the First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG), from thin air. FUSAG, which was supposed to be landing at Calais rather than Normandy, had a putative commander in General George S. Patton, fresh from victories in North Africa and Italy. Large tent encampments created the illusion of massive troop strength, while fake tanks, landing craft, and other equipment gave indications that the Allies were gearing up for a major operation. So, too, did radio communications from Patton's headquarters, as well as a heavy Allied bombing campaign over Calais in the days leading up to June 6. The ploy succeed in diverting 19 German divisions from Normandy.

The race to develop an atomic bomb involved several covert operations, including British sabotage directed against Nazi weapons materials in Norway, as well as an intelligence-gathering operation known as Alsos. The name was chosen by Major General Leslie Groves, who oversaw the Manhattan Project, because alsos is Greek for "grove." Members of the Alsos team, which included both U.S. Army and Navy personnel, scoured research laboratories in Germany, Italy, France, and Belgium for information on Axis bomb-making efforts.

Propaganda. At the simplest level of ideas, propagandathough a feature of wars since the beginning of historyplayed a particularly significant role in the Second World War. Its importance to the Nazis is symbolized by the fact that in his final hours, Hitler had Goebbels beside him. Goebbels, who like Mussolini was a former Communist, had powerful instincts for making appeals to the populace, using all available media, including print, radio, and film. (The Nazis even conducted early experiments with television.)

Films by Leni Riefenstahl in the 1930s romanticized the myth of Aryan superiority, while cruder propaganda from Goebbels' office excited hatred toward Jews. During the war, Axis powers on both sides of the world made considerable use of radio through broadcasters such as Lord Haw Haw (a.k.a. William Joyce), Axis Sally (Mildred Gillars, an American), and a number of Asian females collectively dubbed "Tokyo Rose" by U.S. forces. The Allies conducted a propaganda war of their own, through radio broadcasts and the efforts of the U.S. Office of War Information and the Voice of America.



Breuer, William B. Undercover Tales of World War II. New York: J. Wiley, 1999.

Farago, Ladislas. The Game of the Foxes: The Untold Story of German Espionage in the United States and Great Britain during World War II. City: Publisher, 1971.

Persico, Joseph E. Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage. New York: Random House, 2001.

Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960.

West, Nigel. A Thread of Deceit: Espionage Myths of World War II. New York: Random House, 1985.


Army Security Agency
Cold War (1945-1950), The start of the Atomic Age
COMINT (Communications Intelligence)
Cryptology, History
FBI (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation)
FISH (German Geheimschreiber Cipher Machine
French Underground during World War II, Communication and Codes
Germany, Intelligence and Security
Italy, Intelligence and Security
Japan, Intelligence and Security
Korean War
OSS (United States Officer of Strategic Services)
Pearl Harbor, Japanese Attack on

Red Orchestra
Room 40
SOE (Special Operations Executive)
Soviet Union (USSR), Intelligence and Security
Special Relationship: Technology Sharing between the Intelligence Agencies of the United States and United Kingdom
Truman Administration (1945-1953), United States National Security Policy
Ultra, Operation
United Kingdom, Intelligence and Security
Vietnam War
World War I
World War II, The Surrender of the Italian Army
World War II, United States Breaking of Japanese Naval Codes
World War II: Allied Invasion of Sicily and 'The Man Who Never Was'

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World War II


World War II began in the Far East where Japan, having invaded China in 1931, became involved in full-scale hostilities in 1937. In Europe the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, brought Britain and France into the war two days later. Italy declared war on Britain on June 10, 1940, shortly before the French surrender on June 21. Having defeated France but not Britain, Germany attacked the Soviet Union a year later on June 22, 1941. Then the Japanese attacked United States naval forces in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, and British colonies in Hong Kong and Malaya the following day. The subsequent German and Italian declarations of war on the United States completed the lineup: Germany, Italy, and Japan, the Axis powers of the Anti-Comintern Treaty of 1936, against the Allies: the United States of America, the British Empire and Dominions, and the Soviet Union. Only the Soviet Union and Japan remained at peace with each other until the Soviet declaration of war on August 8, 1945, two days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

The pattern of the war resembled a tidal flow. Until the end of 1942 the armies and navies of the Axis continually extended their power through Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Toward the end of 1942 the tide turned. The Allies won decisive victories in each theater: the Americans over the Japanese fleet at Midway and over the Japanese army on the island of Guadalcanal; the British over the German army in North Africa at el Alamein; and the Soviet army over the German army at Stalingrad. From 1943 onward the tide reversed, and the powers of the Axis shrank continually. Italy surrendered to an Anglo-American invasion on September 3, 1943; Germany to the Anglo-American forces on May 7, 1945, and to the Red Army the following day; and Japan to the Americans on September 7, 1945. The war was over.


Why did the Soviet Union become entangled in this war? German preparations for an invasion of the Soviet Union began in 1940, following the French surrender, for three reasons. First, the German leader Adolf Hitler believed that the presence of the Red Army to his rear was the main reason that Britain, isolated since the fall of France, had not come to terms. He expected that a knockout blow in the east would finish the war in the west. Second, if the war in the west continued, Hitler believed that Britain would use its naval superiority to blockade Germany; he planned to ensure Germany's food and oil supplies by means of overland expansion to the east. Third, Hitler had become entangled in the west only because of his aggression against Poland, but Poland was also a means to an end: a gateway to Ukraine and Russia where he sought Germany's "living space." Thus an immediate attack on the Soviet Union promised to over-come all the obstacles barring his way in foreign affairs.

At the same time the Soviet Union was not a passive victim of the war. Soviet preparations for a coming war began in the 1920s. They were stepped up following the war scare of 1927, which strengthened Josef Stalin's determination to accelerate military and industrial modernization. At this stage Soviet leaders understood that an immediate war was unlikely. They did not fear Germanywhich was still a democracy and a relatively friendly powerbut Poland, Finland, France, or Japan. They feared for the relatively distant future, and this is one reason why Soviet rearmament, although determined, was slow at first; they understood that the first task was to build a Soviet industrial base.

In the early 1930s Stalin became sharply aware of new real threats from Japan under military rule in the Far East and from Germany under the Nazis in the west. In the years that followed he gave growing economic priority to the needs of external security. However, for much of the decade Stalin was much more concerned with domestic threats; he believed his external opponents to be working against him by plotting secretly with his internal enemies rather than openly by conventional military and diplomatic means. In 19371938 he directed a savage purge of the Red Army general staff and officer corps that gravely weakened the armed forces in which he was simultaneously investing billions of rubles. The same purges damaged his own credibility on the world stage; as a result those countries with which he shared common interests became less likely to see him as a worthy ally, and his external enemies became more likely to attack him. Stalin therefore approached World War II with several deadly enemies, few friends in foreign capitals, and an army that was growing and well equipped but morally broken.

Conflict between the Soviet Union and Japan was different from conflict with Germany. Japan first: From their base in north China in May 1939, the Japanese armed forces began a series of probing border attacks on the Soviet Union that culminated in August with fierce fighting and a decisive victory for the Red Army at Khalkin-Gol (Nomonhan). After that, deterred from encroaching further on Soviet territory, the Japanese shifted their attention to the softer targets represented by British and Dutch colonial possessions in southeast Asia. In April 1941 the USSR and Japan concluded a treaty of neutrality that lasted until August 1945;

it lasted because, while Japan was fighting America and the Soviet Union was fighting Germany, neither wanted war on a second front.

In contrast to Japan, Germany was too near and too powerful for the Soviet Union to be able to deter single-handedly. Stalin's difficulty was that he lacked willing partners. Therefore, when Hitler unexpectedly offered the hand of friendship in the summer of 1939 Stalin accepted it. The result was the notorious nonaggression pact of August 23, 1939, that secretly delineated the Soviet and German spheres of influence in eastern Europe, giving western Poland to Hitler and eastern Poland and the Baltic to Stalin. Germany was to move first. When Germany did so, Britain and France entered the war.

For nearly two years Stalin stood aloof from the war in the west, exploiting the conditions created by the pact with Hitler. He traded with Germany while still preparing for war. The preparations were costly and extensive. The Red Army continued to rearm and recruit. Stalin annexed Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and the northern part of Romania, and moved his defensive lines toward the new western frontier with Greater Germany. Attacking Finland he won a few kilometers of extra territory with which to defend Leningrad at a cost of nearly 400,000 casualties, one-third of them dead or missing. The utility of these preparations appeared doubtful. The communities living in the Soviet Union's new buffer zone were embittered by the imposition of Soviet rule; when war broke out the territory passed almost immediately into the hands of the invader. Moreover, Stalin believed these preparations to be more effective than his enemy did. He thought he had postponed war several years into the future just as Hitler was accelerating forward plans to end the peace with a surprise attack.

Stalin's true intentions, had he successfully put off a German attack in 1941, are still debated. Some have read his speeches and the plans of his generals as indicating that he envisaged launching an aggressive war on Germany; beyond that lay a future in which a defeated Germany and an exhausted Britain would leave it open to him to dominate the whole continent. Some of Hitler's generals promoted this idea after the war in order to justify themselves. While Stalin's generals sometimes entertained the idea of a preemptive strike, and Soviet military doctrine supported attack as the best means of defense, the Russian archives have demonstrated clearly that Stalin's main concern was to head off Hitler's colonial ambitions on Soviet territory; he had no plans to conquer Europe himself.

At all events it is clear that Hitler caught Stalin and the Red Army by surprise. Stalin's culpability for this has been much debated. His view of Hitler's intentions was strongly held and incorrect, and he did not permit those around him to challenge it. Still, it is worth recalling that democratic leaders could also be taken by surprise. For example, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, though not a brutal dictator, was surprised by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


Barbarossa, the German operation to destroy the Red Army and seize most of the European part of Russia, began on June 22, 1941. For the next three years Hitler committed no less than 90 percent of his ground forces to the campaign that followed. German troops quickly occupied the Baltic region, Belarus, Ukraine, now incorporating eastern Poland, and a substantial territory in Russia. Millions of Soviet soldiers were surrounded. By the end of September, having advanced more than a thousand kilometers on a front more than a thousand kilometers wide, the invaders had captured Kiev, established a stranglehold around Leningrad, and stood at the gates of Moscow.

The Germans advanced rapidly but suffered unexpectedly heavy casualties and equipment losses to chaotic and disorganized Red Army resistance. They were met with a policy of scorched earth: The Soviet authorities removed or destroyed industrial facilities, food stocks, and essential services before the occupiers arrived. German supply lines were stretched to breaking point.

In the autumn of 1941 Stalin rallied his people by appealing to Russian nationalism and imposing harsh discipline. Soviet resistance denied Hitler his chance of a quick victory at the cost of hideous casualties. Moscow was saved, and Leningrad did not surrender. In December Stalin ordered the first strategic Soviet counteroffensive. It was too ambitious and only achieved a few of its goals, but for the first time the Germans were caught off balance and had to retreat. There followed a year of inconclusive moves and countermoves on each side, but the new German successes appeared more striking. In the spring and summer of 1942 German forces advanced hundreds of kilometers further across the south of Russia towards Stalingrad and the Caucasian oil fields. Then, at the end of the year, these forces were largely destroyed in the Red Army's defense of Stalingrad and its winter counteroffensive.

After Stalingrad the position of the German forces in the south became untenable, and they were compelled to retreat. In the summer of 1943, Hitler staged his last strategic offensive in the east on the Kursk salient; the offensive failed and was answered by a more devastating Soviet counter-offensive. The German Army could no longer hope to force a stalemate, and its eventual defeat became certain. Even so, the liberation of Soviet territory from German occupation took an additional eighteen months. The German army did not collapse in defeat. As a result, the Red Army's journey from Kursk to Berlin occupied two years of bloody fighting.


The German invasion not only turned friends into enemies but also enemies into friends. In July 1941 the British signed a pact with the Soviet Union for mutual assistance. In September President Roosevelt authorized the supply of aid to the Soviet Union under the terms of the Lend-Lease Act. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, the United States joined the war against Germany and the three countries formed an alliance that laid the foundation for the United Nations.

The Alliance was held together by a common interest in the defeat of the Axis powers. Moreover, the Soviet resistance to Hitler electrified world opinion, nowhere more than in the Allied countries. The courage of the Soviet people in the face of suffering aroused respect and admiration. Much of this was focused on the figure of Stalin, who thereby gained an extraordinary political advantage.

Behind the scenes the Alliance was fraught with tension. This was for two reasons. One was the division of labor that quickly emerged among the Allies: The richer countries supplied economic aid to the Soviet Union, which did most of the fighting. It could not be done more efficiently in any other way. Still, not all Russians felt grateful, and Stalin repeatedly demanded that the British and Americans

open a second front to draw off the German ground forces to the west. This did not happen until the Allied invasion of France in June 1944.

The other source of tension was a difference in conceptions of the postwar world. The Americans sought a liberalized global economy without empires, while Stalin wanted secure frontiers and a wide sphere of influence across eastern Europe. The British wanted to defend their own empire but were also committed to an independent postwar Poland, their reason for entering the war in 1939. Anxieties increased as it became clear that Stalin intended eastern Europe generally, and Poland in particular, to become subservient to Soviet interests after the war.


The outbreak of war in 1941 brutally exposed Stalin's miscalculations. Although badly shocked, he was not paralyzed. Among his first measures he created a Chief Headquarters, the Stavka, and began to evacuate the armor steel rolling mills on the Black Sea coast. While ordering ceaseless, often futile counterattacks, he also authorized the establishment of a broader framework for the evacuation of people and assets from the frontline regions. On June 28 his nerve gave way, and he gave in briefly to depression. On the afternoon of June 30, other leaders came to urge him to form a war cabinet, and he pulled himself together. The result was the State Defense Committee (GKO).

The progress of the war forced Stalin to change his style of leadership. At first he closely involved himself in the detail of military operations, requiring the Red Army to attack continually and ordering vengeful punishments on all who authorized or advocated retreat. He executed several generals. Communications with the front were so poor that a degree of chaos was inevitable, but on a number of occasions Stalin prevented large forces from extricating themselves from encirclement and capture. Evidently he came to recognize this style as counterproductive, because he eventually drew back from micromanaging the battlefield. He gave his generals greater freedom to decide operational details and speak their minds on strategy, although he retained unquestioned authority where he chose to exert it. This led to more effective decision making and, combined with the growing experience and confidence of his officers, laid the foundations of later victories.

Soviet victory in World War II is often cited as the justification for Stalin's prewar policies of industrialization and rearmament. From a comparative standpoint the success of the Soviet war effort is nonetheless surprising. Why did the Soviet Union not simply fall apart under massive attack, as Russia had done under rather less pressure in World War I? As industrial production was diverted to the war effort, farmers withdrew from the market. Food remained in the countryside, while the war workers and soldiers went hungry. The burdens of war were not distributed fairly among the population, and this undermined the Russian war effort both materially and psychologically. In World War II the Soviet Union was still relatively poor. Other poor countries such as Italy and Japan also fell apart as soon as the Allies seriously attacked them. Italy and Japan were relatively reliant on foreign trade and thus vulnerable to blockade. The Soviet Union depended on getting food from tens of millions of low-productivity farm workers to feed its armies and industries; this supply could easily have failed under wartime pressures.

Stalin and his subordinates did not allow the Soviet government and economy to disintegrate. The Soviet institutional capacity for integration and coordination matched that of much more developed economies. As a result, despite still being relatively poor, the USSR was able to commit a significant share of national resources to the war effort. After a wobbly start, war production soared. Food was procured and rationed effectively: Enough was allocated to soldiers and defense workers to permit sustained effort in disastrous circumstances. There was not enough to go around, and millions starved, but morale did not collapse in the way that had destroyed the tsarist monarchy. Thus collective agriculture, although a disaster in peacetime, proved effective in war.

Things nearly went the other way. The outbreak of war was a huge shock not only to Stalin personally but more generally to Soviet institutions. The bureaucratic allocation system did not collapse, and planners went on churning out factory plans and coordinating supplies, but these soon became irrelevant. On the supply side, many important military-industrial centers were lost, and the capacities they represented existed only on paper. On the demand side, army requirements to replace early losses with new supplies of soldiers and equipment were far greater than the plans. For some time the gap between real needs and real resources could not be bridged.

The first phases of mobilization were carried out in an uncontrolled way, and this proved very costly. Munitions production soared, but the production of steel, fuel, and other basic industrial goods collapsed. In 1942 an economic crisis resulted not just from the successful German offensives but also from uncontrolled mobilization in 1941. The heart of the war economy now lay in the remote interior, where many defense factories had been relocated from the west and south. But these regions were unprepared for crash industrialization: They lacked transport, power, sources of metals and components, an administrative and commercial infrastructure, and housing and food for the new workforce. Without these there was no basis for a sustained war effort.

After 1942 several factors allowed the situation to ease. Soviet victory at Stalingrad changed the military balance and the growing Allied air offensive against Germany from the west also helped to draw German resources away from the eastern front. More resources also relaxed the pressure: These came from the recovery of output from its post-invasion trough, the completed relocation of defense industry, and greater pooling of Allied resources through economic aid. It is estimated that in 1943 and 1944 the U.S. Lend-Lease program contributed roughly 10 percent of the total resources available to the Soviet economy. From the soviet consumer's point of view, 1943 appears to have been even worse than 1942, but in 1944 and 1945 there were marked improvements.

In the most dangerous periods of the war, Soviet society was held together by a combination of individual voluntarism, national feeling, and brutal discipline. There were crucial moments when the army wavered. In August 1941 and July 1942, Stalin issued notorious orders that stigmatized those who allowed themselves to be taken prisoner as traitors, penalized their families, and ordered the summary execution of all who retreated without

orders. By these barbarous methods, order in the armed forces was restored. In the civilian economy minor offenses involving absence from work as well as unauthorized quitting were ruthlessly pursued, resulting in hundreds of thousands of criminal cases each year; those convicted were sent to prison or labor camps. Food crimes involving abuse of the rationing system were severely punished, not infrequently by shooting. Spreading defeatist rumors was punished in the same way, even if it was the truth. It is not so much that everyone who supported the war effort was terrorized into doing so; rather, such measures made it much easier for individuals to choose the path of collective solidarity and individual heroism. The barbarity of German occupation policies also contributed to this outcome.


The Soviet experience of warfare was very different from that of its Allies, Britain and the United States. Large in territory and population, the Soviet Union was poorer than the other two by a wide margin in productivity and income. It was Soviet territory that Hitler wanted for his empire, and the Soviet Union was the only one of the three to be invaded. Despite this, the Soviet Union mobilized its resources and contributed combat forces and equipment to Allied fighting power far beyond its relative economic strength.

These same factors meant that the Soviet Union suffered far heavier costs and losses than its Allies. After victory, Hitler planned to resettle Ukraine and European Russia with Germans and

to divert their food supplies to feeding the German army. He planned to deprive the urban population of food and drive much of the rural population off the land. Jews and communist officials would be killed and the rest starved into forced migration to the east.

The Soviet Union suffered roughly 25 million war deaths compared with 350,000 war deaths in Britain and 300,000 in the United States; many war deaths were not recorded at the time and must be estimated statistically after the event. Combat losses account for all U.S. and most British casualties; the German bombing of British cities made up the rest. The sources of Soviet mortality were more varied. Red Army records suggest 6.4 million known military deaths from battlefield causes and half a million more from disease and accidents. In addition, 4.6 million soldiers were captured, missing, or killed or presumed missing in units that failed to report. Of these approximately 2.8 million were later repatriated or reenlisted, suggesting 1.8 million deaths in captivity and a net total of 8.7 million Red Army deaths. But the number of Soviet prisoners and deaths in captivity may be understated by more than a million. German records show a total of 5.8 million prisoners, of whom 3.3 million had died by May 1944; most of these were starved, worked, or shot to death. Considering the second half of 1941 alone, Soviet records show 2.3 million soldiers missing or captured, while in the same period the Germans counted 3.3 million prisoners, of whom 2 million had died by February 1942.

Subtracting up to 10 million Red Army war deaths from a 25-million total suggests at least 15 million civilian deaths. Thus many more Soviet civilians died than soldiers, and this is another contrast with the British and American experience. Soviet sources have estimated 11.5 million civilian war deaths under German rule, 7.4 million in the occupied territories by killing, hunger, and disease, and another 2.2 million in Germany where they were deported as forced laborers. This leaves room for millions of civilian war deaths on territory under Soviet control, primarily from malnutrition and overwork; of these, one million may have died in Leningrad alone.

In wartime specifically Soviet mechanisms of premature death continued to operate. For example, Soviet citizens continued to die from the conditions in labor camps; these became particularly lethal in 1942 and 1943 when a 20 percent annual death rate killed half a million inmates in two years. In 1943 and 1944 a new cause of death arose: The deportation and internal exile under harsh conditions of ethnic groups such as the Chechens who, Stalin believed, had collaborated as a community with the former German occupiers.

The war also imposed severe material losses on the Soviet economy. The destruction included 6 million buildings that previously housed 25 million people, 31,850 industrial establishments, and 167,000 schools, colleges, hospitals, and public libraries. Officially these losses were estimated at one-third of the Soviet Union's prewar wealth; being that only one in eight people died, it follows that wealth was destroyed at a higher rate than people. Thus, those who survived were also impoverished.


The war had a greater effect on the external position of the Soviet Union than on its internal organization and structure. The Soviet Union became a dominant regional power and quickly thereafter an atomic superpower. The wartime alliance soon fell apart, but the Soviet Union soon replaced it with a network of compliant neighboring states in central and eastern Europe and remodeled them in its own image. This set the stage for the Cold War. In the process the popular sympathy in the west for the Soviet Union's wartime struggle quickly dissipated.

Within the country, the victory of the wartime alliance gave rise to widespread hopes for political relaxation and an opening outward but these hopes were soon dashed. Living conditions remained extremely tough. Millions were homeless; it was just as hard to restore peacetime production as it had been to convert to a war footing; and the pressure to restore food supplies on top of a bad harvest led to one million or more famine deaths in Ukraine and Moldavia in 1946. In addition, Stalin used the victory not to concede reforms but to strengthen his personal dictatorship, promote nationalism, and mount new purges although with less publicity than before the war. After an initial phase of demobilization, the nuclear arms race and the outbreak of a new conventional war in Korea resulted in resumed growth of military expenditures and revived emphasis on the readiness for war. Not until the death of Stalin did the first signs of real relaxation appear.

After the famine of 1946 the Soviet economy restored prewar levels of production of most commodities with surprising speed. It took much longer, possibly several decades, to return to the path that the economy might have followed without a war. It also took decades for the Soviet population to return to demographic balance; in 1959 women born between 1904 and 1924 outnumbered men of the same generation by three to two, despite the fact that women also fought and starved.

One of the most persistent legacies of the war resulted from the wartime evacuation of industry. After the war, despite some reverse evacuation, the war economy of the interior was kept in existence. Weapons factories in the remote interior, adapted to the new technologies of nuclear weapons and aerospace, were developed into closed, self-sufficient company towns forming giant, vertically integrated systems; they were literally taken off the map so that their very existence became a well kept secret. Thus, secretiveness and militarization were taken hand in hand to new levels.

It is easier to describe the Soviet Union after the war than to say what would have happened if the war had gone the other way. World War II was a defining event in world history that engulfed the lives of nearly two billion people, but the eastern front affected the outcome of the war to a much greater extent than is commonly remembered in western culture and historical writing.

See also: cold war; lend lease; military, soviet and post-soviet; stalin, josef vissarionovich; war economy; world war i; yalta conference


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Mark Harrison

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World War II


WORLD WAR II. In the aftermath of World War I, the United States attempted to disengage itself from European affairs. The U.S. Senate rejected American membership in the League of Nations, and in the 1920s American involvement in European diplomatic life was limited to economic affairs. Moreover, the United States dramatically reduced the size of its military in the postwar years, a measure widely supported by a public increasingly opposed to war. Events in Europe and Asia in the 1930s and early 1940s, however, made it impossible for the United States to maintain a position of neutrality in global affairs.

Rise of the Nazi Party and German Aggression

After its defeat and disarmament in World War I, Germany fell into a deep economic decline that ultimately led to the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party during the 1930s. The Nazis rearmed the nation, reentered the Rhineland (1936), forced a union with Austria (1938), seized Czechoslovakia under false promises (1938), made a nonaggression pact with Russia to protect its eastern frontier (1939), and then overran Poland (September 1939), bringing France and Great Britain into the war as a consequence of their pledge to maintain Polish independence. In May 1940 a power thrust swept German troops forward through France, drove British forces back across the English Channel, and compelled France to surrender. An attack on England, aimed to deny use of Britain as a springboard for reconquest of the Continent, failed in the air and did not materialize on land. Open breach of the nonaggression treaty was followed by a German invasion of Russia in June 1941.

Prior to America's formal entry into war, the United States assisted France and Britain by shipping tanks and weapons. The United States turned over naval destroyers to Britain to hold down the submarine menace and itself patrolled large areas of the Atlantic Ocean against the German U-boats, with which U.S. ships were involved in prewar shooting incidents. The United States also took over rights and responsibilities at defense bases on British possessions bordering the Atlantic.

In 1940 the U.S. course was mapped by rapidly passing events. The German invasions of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France triggered American actions. In his Chicago speech of 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had promised to quarantine aggressors. In his Charlottesville, Virginia, speech on 10 June 1940, he went further. He not only indicted Germany's new partner, Italy, but also issued a public promise of help to "the opponents of force." In June also he assured himself of bipartisan political support by appointing the Republicans Frank Knox and Henry L. Stimson to head the Navy and War Departments, respectively.

The Selective Service and Training Act of 1940 instituted peacetime conscription for the first time in U.S. history, registering sixteen million men in a month. In August 1941 Roosevelt and the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, met at Argentia, Newfoundland, to formulate war aims; with their staffs they delved into overall strategy and war planning. For the first time in U.S. history the country was militarily allied before a formal declaration of war. At this meeting the Atlantic Charter was established. In September 1941 the draft act was extended beyond its previous limit of one year—even though by the slim margin of a single vote in Congress—and the full training, reorganization, and augmentation of U.S. forces began.

Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor

During the Nazi buildup in Germany, Japan had been fortifying Pacific islands in secret violation of treaties, encroaching on China in Manchuria and Tientsin in 1931 and in Shanghai in 1932, starting open war at Peking in

1937, and thereafter, as Germany's ally, planning further conquests.

The United States opposed this Japanese expansion diplomatically by every means short of war, and military staff planning began as early as 1938 for the possibility of a two-ocean war. American policymakers determined that the nation's security depended on the survival of the British Commonwealth in Europe and the establishment in the Pacific of a U.S. Navy defense line that must run from Alaska through Hawaii to Panama.

On 7 December 1941, a sneak attack by Japanese carrier-based planes surprised and severely crippled the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, dooming American forces in the Philippines. Japan was now free to expand into Southeast Asia and the East Indies, toward Australia. On 8 December, Congress declared war on Japan, and on 11 December it responded to war declarations from Italy and Germany—allied to Japan by treaties—by similar declarations put through in a single day of legislative action in committees and on the floor of both houses of Congress.

Before the month of December was out, Churchill was again in Washington, bringing with him military and naval experts for what has been called the Arcadia conference. Within weeks Washington had created the Combined Chiefs of Staff, an international military, naval, and air body that was used throughout the war to settle strategy, establish unified command in the separate theaters of war, and issue strategic instructions to theater commanders.

Organization, Preparation, and Strategy

Almost immediately after the declaration of war, under the first War Powers Act, the United States began a reorganization and expansion of the army and the navy, including the National Guard already in federal service. Increasing numbers of reservists were called to active duty, not as units but as individuals, to fill gaps in existing units, to staff the training centers, and to serve as officers in new units being formed. Additional divisions were created and put into training, bearing the numbers of World War I divisions in most cases, but with scarcely any relation to them in locality or in personnel of previously existing reserve divisions. New activities were created for psychological warfare and for civil affairs and military government in territories to be liberated or captured. The air force also underwent a great expansion, in personnel, in units, and in planes. Notable was the creation and shipment to England of high-level, precision daylight bombing units, which worked with the British to rain tons of bombs on enemy centers. Later they assisted the invasions and major attacks. Disrupting German factories and rail

lines and weakening the entire German economy, the bombing campaign was extremely important in Hitler's downfall. The armed forces of the United States, in general, expanded their strength and put to use a host of details in tactics and in equipment that had been merely experimental in the preceding years. From new planes to new rifles, from motorization to emergency rations, from field radio telephones to long-range radar, progress was widespread.

In addition to new concepts of operation and new and improved mechanized matériel, there was an all-out popular war effort, a greater national unity, a greater systematization of production, and, especially, a more intense emphasis on technology, far surpassing the efforts of World War I. The U.S. effort would truly be, as Churchill predicted after the fall of France in 1940, "the new world with all its power and might" stepping forth to "the rescue and liberation of the old."

In an unprecedented burst of wartime legislative activity, Congress passed the Emergency Price Control Act and established the War Production Board, the National War Labor Board, the Office of War Information, and the Office of Economic Stabilization. Critical items such as food, coffee, sugar, meat, butter, and canned goods were rationed for civilians, as were heating fuels and gasoline. Rent control was established. Two-thirds of the planes of civilian airlines were taken over by the air force. Travel was subject to priorities for war purposes. There was also voluntary censorship of newspapers, under general guidance from Washington.

There was special development and production of escort vessels for the navy and of landing craft—small and large—for beach invasions. There was a program of plane construction for the air force on a huge scale and programs for the development of high-octane gasoline and synthetic rubber. Local draft boards had been given great leeway in drawing up their own standards of exemption and deferment from service and at first had favored agriculture over industry; soon controls were established according to national needs. By 1945 the United States had engaged more than sixteen million men under arms and improved its economy.

The grand strategy, from the beginning, was to defeat Germany while containing Japan, a strategy maintained and followed by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. The strategy was closely coordinated by Roosevelt and Churchill—except on one occasion when, in the early summer of 1942, Admiral Ernest J. King (chief of naval operations) and General George C. Marshall (army chief of staff) responded to the news that there would be no attempt to create a beachhead in Europe that year by suggesting a shift of U.S. power to the Pacific. Roosevelt promptly overruled them.

Campaign in the Pacific

Almost immediately after the strike at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines and overran American garrisons on Guam and Wake Island in late December. They soon captured Manila and then conquered the U.S. forces on the Bataan peninsula by April 1942, along with

the last U.S. stronghold on Corregidor on 6 May. Japan then feinted into the North Pacific, easily seizing Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands, which it held until March 1943.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur had been pulled out of the Philippines before the fall of Corregidor and sent to Australia to assume responsibility for protecting that continent against Japanese invasion, increasingly imminent since Singapore and Java had been taken. With great skill, MacArthur used American and Australian forces to check Japanese inroads in New Guinea at Port Moresby. He also used land and sea forces to push back the Japanese and take the villages of Buna and Sanananda, although not until January 1943. To block a hostile thrust against MacArthur's communications through New Zealand, marine and infantry divisions landed in the Solomon Islands, where they took Guadalcanal by February 1943 after bitter, touch-and-go land, sea, and air fighting.

Almost concurrently, the navy, with marine and army troops, was attacking selected Japanese bases in the Pacific, moving steadily westward and successfully hitting the Marshall Islands at Eniwetok and Kwajalein, the Gilberts at Makin and Tarawa, and—turning north—the Marianas at Guam and Saipan in June and July 1944. To assist the army's move on the Philippines, the navy and the marines also struck westward at the Palau Islands in September 1944 and had them in hand within a month. American control of the approaches to the Philippines was now assured. Two years earlier, in the Coral Sea and also in the open spaces near Midway, in May and June 1942, respectively, the U.S. Navy had severely crippled the Japanese fleet. MacArthur's forces returned in October 1944 to the Philippines on the island of Leyte. Their initial success was endangered by a final, major Japanese naval effort near Leyte, which was countered by a U.S. naval thrust that wiped much of the Japanese fleet. U.S. forces seized Manila and Corregidor in February 1945, thus bringing to a successful conclusion the Bataan-Corregidor campaign.

American land and sea forces were now in position to drive north directly toward Japan itself. Marines had landed on Iwo Jima on 19 February and invaded Okinawa on 1 April, both within good flying distance of the main enemy islands. The Japanese navy and air force were so depleted that in July 1945 the U.S. fleet was steaming off the coast of Japan and bombarding almost with impunity. Between 10 July and 15 August 1945, forces under Adm. William F. Halsey destroyed or damaged 2,084 enemy planes, sank or damaged 148 Japanese combat ships, and sank or damaged 1,598 merchant vessels, in addition to administering heavy blows at industrial targets and war industries.

Until the island hopping brought swift successes in 1944, it had been expected that the United States would need the China mainland as a base for an attack on Japan. The sea and land successes in the central and western Pacific, however, allowed the United States, by the spring of 1945, to prepare for an attack on Japan without using

China as a base. This situation was the result of three major factors: (1) the new naval technique of employing the fleet as a set of floating air bases, as well as for holding the sea lanes open; (2) the augmentation and improvement of U.S. submarine service to a point where they were fatal to Japanese shipping, sinking more than two hundred enemy combat vessels and more than eleven hundred merchant ships, thus seriously disrupting the desperately needed supply of Japanese troops on the many islands; and (3) MacArthur's leapfrogging tactics, letting many advanced Japanese bases simply die on the vine. Not to be overlooked was MacArthur's personal energy and persuasive skill.

Campaigns in Africa and Italy

Pressures, notably from Russian leaders, began building early in the war for an invasion of the European mainland on a second front. Because of insufficient buildup in England for a major attack across the English Channel in 1942—even for a small preliminary beachhead—U.S. troops were moved, some from Britain with the British and some directly from the United States, to invade northwest Africa from Casablanca to Oran and Algiers in November 1942. After the long coastal strip had been seized and the temporarily resisting French brought to the side of the Allies, British and American forces under the command of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower pushed east. The Germans were reinforced and concentrated. Sharp and costly fighting by air, army, and armor attacks and counterattacks, notably in February 1943 at the Kasserine Pass, ended with the Allied conquest of Tunisia and a great German surrender at Tunis, Bizerte, and Cape Bon. Meanwhile, at the Casablanca Conference in late January, Roosevelt and Churchill called for the "unconditional surrender" of the Axis powers. It would be a war to the finish, not a negotiated, temporary peace.

The next step was an invasion of Sicily, using large-scale parachute drops and perfected beach-landing skills, as a step toward eliminating Italy from the war. In September, Italy proper was invaded, the British crossing the Strait of Messina and the Americans landing at Salerno near Naples. Five days later, Italy surrendered, but the Germans occupied Rome and took control of the Italian government. After a long check midway up the "boot" of Italy on a line through Cassino, a dangerous landing was made at Anzio. Fierce German counterattacks there were stopped, and a following breakthrough carried U.S. forces past Rome, which fell on 4 June 1944. In July the Allied forces pushed through to the line of Florence and the

Arno River, the British on the east and the Americans on the west. Thereafter, although some British and American advances were made and a final offensive in April 1945 sent American troops to the Po Valley, Italy ceased to be the scene of major strategic efforts; the theater was drained to support the Normandy invasion, in southern France.

Invasion at Normandy and the Liberation of France

For the principal invasion of France, an inter-Allied planning staff had been created in March 1943 in London. In May the first tentative attack date was set, for early May of the following year, in what was called Operation Over-lord. The buildup of units and supplies proceeded steadily for nearly a year, aided by improved successes against German submarines targeting seagoing convoys. Finally, after several weeks of delays, on 6 June 1944—popularly known as D Day—the greatest amphibious invasion in history was launched across the English Channel, involving more than 5,300 ships and landing craft. It was a huge, carefully and intricately coordinated land, sea, and air action, with a precisely scheduled flow of reinforcements and supplies. The Germans anticipated that the Allies would land at Calais, so the landings along the Normandy coast caught the Germans completely by surprise.

The battle on the Normandy beaches on 6 June was vicious, particularly at Omaha Beach, where U.S. troops encountered stubborn German resistance. By nightfall the Allies had established a beachhead on the French coast, and within weeks they drove from the Normandy coast deep into the French countryside. Thick hedgerows provided the Germans with excellent defensive terrain, but relentless Allied aerial bombardment and a flank attack by U.S. infantry and tanks, under the command of Gen. George Patton, split the German lines.

The Germans reacted to this penetration by finally drawing their reserve Fifteenth Army out of the Calais area, where it had been held by an Allied ruse and the threat of a second beach landing there. They struck directly west across the American front to try to cut off the leading U.S. troops who had already begun entering Brittany. This German effort was blocked by General Omar Bradley's forces. Relentless Allied attacks shattered German resistance in northern France and on 25 August Paris fell to American divisions with scarcely a battle.

The Germans retreated rapidly and skillfully for the distant frontier and their defense lines, except where they at points resisted the British in order to try and hold the seaports along the northern coast. While these events were taking place, a landing had been made in southern France on 15 August 1944, by a Franco-American force under U.S. command. It swept from the Riviera up the Rhone Valley and joined U.S. forces that had come east across northern France from Normandy. By September Brest fell into U.S. hands, and a German army in southwest France had surrendered, completely cut off. France was almost completely liberated from German occupation.

Battle of the Bulge and German Surrender

In the fall of 1944, Allied forces began the invasion of Germany, which many observers believed tottered on the brink of collapse. On 16 December, however, the Germans launched a sweeping counterattack that caught American and British forces completely by surprise. In several days of intense fighting, the outcome of the Battle of the Bulge hung in the balance. On Christmas Eve, however, an American counterattack sent German forces reeling. American air bombardments turned the German retreat into a crushing rout. The Battle of the Bulge was the Germans' final major effort of the war. They had used up their last major resources and had failed.

Through large-scale production and mass transportation, the U.S. air forces in Europe had been built to high strength so that they could take severe losses and still defeat the enemy. From bases in Britain and from bases successively in North Africa and Italy, American bombers had struck at the heart of the German economy. Through large-scale air raids, like those on Ploesti, Romania, a decisive proportion of German oil refinery production was disabled. German planes and tanks faced severe fuel shortages. German fighter planes, beaten back by the British in 1940, were later cut down by the Americans' heavily armed bombers and their long-range fighter escorts. Except for a short, sharp, and costly new campaign in the final month of 1944, German planes had ceased to be a serious threat. At the same time, to aid the ground troops, the U.S. fighter-bombers were taking to the air under perilous conditions over the Ardennes. German flying bombs (V-1s) and rocket bombs (V-2s) had continued to blast Britain until their installations were overrun in late March 1945, but they had no effect on ground operations or on air superiority as a whole.

In February 1945 the American armies struck out into the Palatinate and swept the German forces across the Rhine. The enemy forces destroyed bridges as they crossed—all but one. On 7 March an advanced armored unit of the U.S. First Army approached the great railway bridge at Remagen, downstream from Koblenz, found it intact, dashed over it, tore the fuses from demolition charges, and drove local Germans back. Troops were hustled over the bridge for several days before it collapsed from damage, but by then pontoon bridges were in place.

Avoiding the heavily wooded Ruhr region in the center, the previously planned northern crossing of the Rhine was effected with navy, air, and parachute help on 2 March 1945; all arms drove directly eastward into Germany while the First and Third Armies drove eastward below the Ruhr, the First Army soon swinging north through Giessen and Marburg to make contact at Paderborn and Lippstadt with the northern force. More than 300,000 Germans were thus enclosed in the Ruhr pocket.

Germany's military strength had now all but collapsed. The British on the American left raced toward Hamburg and the Baltic. The U.S. First Army pressed through to Leipzig and met the Russians on 25 April 1945 at Torgau on the Elbe River, which had been established at the Yalta Conference as part of the posthostilities boundary with Russia. The U.S. Third Army dashed toward

Bavaria to prevent possible German retreat to a last stand in the south. The southernmost flank of the American forces swung southward toward Austria at Linz and toward Italy at the Brenner Pass. The U.S. Seventh Army, on 4 May, met the Fifth Army at Brenner Pass, coming from Italy, where German resistance had likewise collapsed. Germany asked for peace and signed its unconditional surrender at Allied headquarters at Reims on 7 May 1945.

Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Japanese Surrender

Progress in the Pacific theater by this time had been substantial. U.S. ships and planes dominated sea and air close to Japan. Troops were soon to be redeployed from the European theater. Protracted cleanup operations against now-isolated Japanese island garrisons were coming to a close. American planes were bombing Tokyo regularly. A single raid on that city on 9 March 1945 had devastated sixteen square miles, killed eighty thousand persons, and left 1.5 million people homeless, but the Japanese were still unwilling to surrender. Approved by Roosevelt, scientists working under military direction had devised a devastating bomb based on atomic fission. A demand was made on Japan on 26 July for surrender, threatening the consecutive destruction of eleven Japanese cities if it did not. The Japanese rulers scorned the threats. President Harry S. Truman gave his consent for the use of the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August, killing 75,000. There were more warnings, but still no surrender. On 9 August, Nagasaki was bombed. Two square miles were devastated, and 39,000 people were killed. Five days later, on 14 August, the Japanese agreed to surrender. The official instrument of surrender was signed on 2 September 1945, on board the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

The defeat of the Axis powers did not resolve all of the geopolitical issues arising from World War II. The spirit of amity among the Allied powers collapsed shortly after the war, as the United States and the Soviet Union rapidly assumed a position of mutual hostility and distrust. Germany was divided in half by the Allied victors, with West Germany aligned with the United States and East Germany with the Soviet Union. The United States also established security pacts with Japan and Italy, bringing them within the American defense shield against the Soviets. Ironically, therefore, during the Cold War the United States found itself allied with the former Axis nations and found itself at odds with its former ally, the USSR. Not until 1990, when the Cold War finally came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union, was Germany reunited as one nation.


Blum, John Morton. V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture during World War II. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.

Dallek, Robert. Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932–1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Feis, Herbert. The Road to Pearl Harbor: The Coming of the War between the United States and Japan. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1950.

Linderman, Gerald F. The World Within War: America's Combat Experience in World War II. New York: Free Press, 1997.

Overy, Richard. Why the Allies Won. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.

Rhodes, Richard. The Making of the Atomic Bomb. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986.

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan. New York: Free Press, 1985.

Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941–1945. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.

ElbridgeColby/a. g.

See alsoAir Power, Strategic ; Aircraft Carriers and Naval Aircraft ; Army of Occupation ; Army, United States ; Blockade ; Cold War ; Lafayette Escadrille ; Mobilization ; Naval Operations, Chief of ; Navy, Department of the ; Pearl Harbor ; Unconditional Surrender ; War Crimes Trials ; War Department ; World War II, Navy in andvol. 9:America First ; Franklin D. Roosevelt's Message on War Against Japan ; Hobby's Army ; The Japanese Internment Camps, 1942 ; Total Victory Speech ; War and the Family ; Women Working in World War II .

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World War II

World War II








World War II was a military conflict from 1939 to 1945 that engulfed much of the globe. It is considered to have been the largest and deadliest war in world history, killing 62 million people on the battlefield, in massive bombings of civilians in cities, and by genocide. There were two hostile campsthe Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, Japan, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, Finland (cobelligerent), Thailand, and others; and the Allied Powers of the British Empire and Commonwealth (including India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), France, the United States, the Soviet Union, China, the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Poland, and others. The global reach of the empires of France, Italy, and Britain meant that non-European areas became directly involved with battles fought in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Organized civilian resistance movements in occupied countries (notably Yugoslavia, France, and Greece) made important contributions to the Allied war effort. The economic effects of the war have been estimated at $1 trillion in 1945 (approximately $10.5 trillion in 2005 terms). It is the only time in history that nuclear weapons were used (by the United States against Japan). The end of World War II resulted in the partitioning of Europe into East (ruled by Communist governments under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union aligned under the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, or Comecon, and the Warsaw Pact) and West (with democratic governments receiving economic reconstruction aid through the U.S. Marshall Plan aligned under NATO), the U.S. occupation of Japan, and new international organizations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. The immediate postwar era also saw the rise of European integration efforts with the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community, which would develop into the European Union by the end of the century, and the beginning of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union that would mark the second half of the twentieth century.


Territorial expansion of Germany and Italy began before any military hostilities. The most noted example of territorial demands made by Hitlers Germany is Czechoslovakia (where Germans comprised one-third of the population), followed by German-speaking Austria. But the Reich sought further expansion. Many in Germany never accepted the creation of Poland following World War I, and they focused territorial demands on the Polish Corridor, a narrow strip of land separating East Prussia from Germany that allowed Poland access to the Baltic Sea, but also sought broader territory that would expand Germany to a common border with Russia. In 1935 Germany regained the Saar region, in March 1936 it reoccupied the Rhineland, and in 1937 it achieved Anschluss (union) with Austria. Italys fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, also hoped to acquire territory, particularly at the expense of France, Albania, and Greece, to create a New Roman Empire. In 1934 Italy moved against Abyssinia on the border of Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia. Territory was also an important factor in the war in Asia. One of the most often cited reasons for Japans aggression in Asia is that nations need for the raw materials naturally lacking in its own territory. Thus Japan, the only burgeoning industrial economy in Asia at the time, invaded first Manchuria, then other areas throughout the Asian mainland, and finally the Western Pacific in order to secure necessary natural resources such as oil and iron ore.

The economic effects of the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression were important factors in radicalizing German politics. In April 1921 Germany was presented with a reparations bill of $33 billion by the victorious allies of World War I. Reparations payments hobbled the weakened German economy, causing rapidly rising inflation and a dramatically depreciating currency. France refused Germanys request for a postponement, Germany defaulted on the war reparations in 1923, and the French army occupied part of the Ruhr (the German industrial zone). Hyperinflation ensued as the German currency, the mark, plummeted to 4 billion marks to the dollar (from 75 marks to the dollar in 1921 and 18,000 in January 1923), eliminating life savings and making salaries worthless. Groceries cost billions of marks (wheelbarrows of currency were needed for a single loaf of bread) and hunger riots broke out. In September 1923 the German government resumed reparations payments, inciting bitter popular resentment and paving the way for extremist political groups such as the Nazi Party (National Socialist Party).


Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the German army was allowed to remain intact and was not forced to admit defeat by surrendering. The German general staff supported the idea that the army had not been defeated on the battlefield and could have fought on to victory were they not betrayed at home (the Dolchstosslegende, or stab-in-the-back legend) by German politicians who signed the November 1918 armistice (the November Criminals). The theory became very popular among Germans: Adolf Hitler, a World War I veteran, became obsessed with this idea, laying blame firmly on Jews and Marxists for undermining Germanys war effort. The Nazi Party won 230 of 608 seats in the Reichstag (German parliament) in January 1933; within six months Hitler was elected chancellor. The Nazis pledged to first restore Germany to its rightful place in Europe, and then to seek world power.

Racism and anti-Semitism characterized the Nazi Party, which organized official boycotts of Jewish shops and professional men and the opening of the first concentration camp in Dachau, outside Munich, in March 1933. In September 1935 the Nuremberg Laws relegated Jews to separate, second-class status and prohibited intermarriage and sexual relations with Aryan Germans. In November 1938 Nazis orchestrated a nationwide pogrom on Jews following the murder of a German diplomatic assistant in the German embassy in Paris by a French Jew. Jewish homes, shops, and 191 synagogues were destroyed and 20,000 Jews were arrested on Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). German anti-Semitism culminated in the Holocaust.

Although technically an absolute monarchy under Emperor Hirohito, Japan was politically dominated by a group of militaristic generals in charge of the most powerful army in Asia at the time. Japanese militarism was accompanied by racism, toward both Europeans and other Asians, especially Chinese and Koreans. Anyone who was not Japanese was considered inferior and treated as such. One example of Japanese violent racism is General Shiro Ishiis Unit 731 experiments in Pingfan in Harbin, China, in which as many as 10,000 Chinese, Korean, and Russian prisoners of war and civilians were subjected to brutal experiments in vivisection, germ warfare, and weapons testing.


Britain and France followed an early policy of accommodation and compromise in Germanys favor in the hope of avoiding another war, known as the policy of appeasement; many thought the Treaty of Versailles imposed unreasonable demands on Germany. In June 1935 the Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed, signaling Britains unwillingness to defend the Versailles settlement. In March 1936 German military reoccupation of the Rhineland (demilitarized under the Versailles Treaty) met with no opposition from France and thus successfully challenged Frances willingness to defend the Versailles settlement. In January 1937 Hitler publicly broke with the Treaty of Versailles.

Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister of Britain from 1937 to 1940, is known for adopting a policy of appeasement in an attempt to preserve the peace and buy time for any major rearmament. In September 1938 Britain, France, and Italy agreed at the Munich Conference to grant Czechoslovakias Sudetenland to Germany. In return, Hitler gave Chamberlain his personal word on future cooperation. The Munich Pact is considered the height of appeasement. On his return to London, Chamberlain stated: We regard the agreement signed last night [Munich Pact] and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep. Chamberlain resigned in 1940 and was replaced by Winston Churchill, who led Britain to the end of the war. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of nonaggression signed by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 is also considered by some historians as an act of appeasement or as an attempt by Joseph Stalin to buy time to prepare for an impending German attack on the Soviet Union.


Since 1940 the United States had allowed the covert operation in China of the American Volunteer Group, or Chennaults Flying Tigers, to assist the Chinese war effort. The Flying Tigers destroyed an estimated 115 Japanese aircraft, sunk numerous Japanese ships, and participated in the Burma land campaign. U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt cut exports of oil and scrap iron to Japan in 1941. Japan planned and executed a strike on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Sunday, December 7, 1941, to cripple the U.S. Pacific fleet and consolidate oil fields in Southeast Asia. The attack on Pearl Harbor achieved military surprise and severely damaged the U.S. navy, and it remains the largest military attack on U.S. soil.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941, in the hope that Japan would assist Germany by attacking the Soviet Union (it did not). Pearl Harbor, in conjunction with Hitlers declaration of war, gave Roosevelt the domestic support he needed to join the war in Europe and Asia without meaningful opposition from Congress. Many historians consider this an important turning point of the war in Europe, marking the formation of a grand alliance of powerful nations (the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union) against Germany.


After World War II, Europe was informally partitioned into Western Europe and Eastern Europe under the NATO and Warsaw Pact military alliances and the Marshall Plan and Comecon economic arrangements. Germany was formally divided into the states of the Federal Republic of Germany (F.D.R., or West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (G.D.R., or East Germany). Allied troops remained in Germany for decades following the war. Following German reunification in October 1990, the new united Germany still had Soviet troops stationed in its eastern provinces.

The U.S. Marshall Plan intended to rebuild the European economy and promote European unity while thwarting the political appeal of communism. For Western Europe, economic aid ended the dollar shortage and stimulated private investment for postwar reconstruction. The Marshall Plan required European states to work together to utilize the funds, an obligation that later facilitated the formation of the European Economic Community.

The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON, Comecon, CMEA, or CEMA) was formed in 1949 as an economic organization of Communist states. Its original members were the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Albania, the German Democratic Republic, and Poland. Albania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania, which were allied with the Axis Powers during the war, came under the Soviet sphere of influence, with their Communist governments joining the Soviet-led Comecon economic and trade area, as did Poland. In 1950 East Germany joined Comecon. (Other members included Mongolia [1962], Cuba [1972], and Vietnam [1978]. Yugoslavia [1964] was an associate member; other Communist countries or Soviet-friendly governments were observers.) Comecon members had common approaches to state economic ownership and planned management, and political regimes that espoused the ideologies of Marxism-Leninism. In 1949 the ruling Communist parties of the founding states were also linked internationally through the Cominform, the Communist Information Bureau, which established information exchanges between members. The East European members of Comecon were also militarily allied with the Soviet Union in the Warsaw Pact.

In Asia, the U.S. military occupation of Japan led to Japans democratization. Chinas civil war continued during and after World War II, culminating in the establishment of the Communist Peoples Republic of China. Europes Asian colonies India, Indonesia, and Vietnam started toward independence.


One of the most important legacies of World War II was the creation of a set of international institutions to provide for international governance of global security and monetary relations. Postwar security and economic institutions were created exclusively by the victorious Allied Powers and reflected the postwar power structure. The term United Nations was first coined by Roosevelt during the war to refer to the Allies. On January 1, 1942, the Declaration by the United Nations committed the Allies to the principles of the Atlantic Charter and pledged them not to seek a separate peace with the Axis Powers. Thereafter, the Allies used the term United Nations Fighting Forces to refer to their alliance. The United Nations institutions were created during the war itself to govern international relations after the war.

The initial ideas for a global security organization were first elaborated at wartime Allied conferences in Moscow, Cairo, and Tehran in 1943. During August to October 1944 representatives from France, Britain, the Soviet Union, China, and the United States met in Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., to prepare plans for an organization that would maintain peace and security, and economic and social cooperation. The formal monetary conference predated the security conference: The United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference of July 1 to 22, 1944 (called the Bretton Woods conference), took place in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, with 730 delegates from 45 Allied countries. It established the Bretton Woods system of international exchange-rate management that remained in place until the mid-1970s, and it produced two separate institutions (called the Bretton Woods institutions) to monitor, regulate, and facilitate international monetary affairs and finance in the postWorld War II era. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both headquartered in Washington, D.C., have had lasting influence on the international political economy since their inception. The International Monetary Fund was entrusted with overseeing the global financial system by monitoring exchange rates and balance of payments, providing liquidity, and offering technical and financial assistance. The World Bank, or International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), was entrusted with providing finance such as grants or loans at preferential rates, technical assistance, and advice to countries for the purpose of economic development and poverty reduction, and for encouraging and safeguarding international investment. Although the World Banks activities have evolved to focus on developing countries, the first loan issued by the World Bank was approved on May 9, 1947, to France in the amount of $250 million for postwar reconstruction; this remains its largest loan to date in real terms. World Bank loans and grants provide financing to countries that have no access to international capital markets.

The United Nations Conference on International Organizations opened at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco on April 25, 1945, with fifty nations and some nongovernmental organizations represented. Initially referred to as the United Nations Organization, the UN was comprised of several administrative bodies (General Assembly, Secretariat, Economic and Social Council, Trusteeship Council, and the International Court of Justice to adjudicate disputes among nations), the most prominent of which is the Security Council, where members resolve action on issues of war and aggression. (For example, all UN peacekeeping operations must be approved by the Security Council.) The United Nations Charter was signed on June 26, 1945, and the UN, headquartered in New York City, came into existence in October 1945 after the charter had been ratified by the five permanent members of the Security Council and a majority of signatory states. It replaced the League of Nations, which had been founded after World War I and had proved ineffective at preventing war and securing peace and order. The structure of the UN reflected the World War II victory, with the most powerful Alliesthe United Kingdom, France, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Chinaholding the only permanent seats in the UN Security Council with veto power over decisions. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund came into existence a few months after the UN, in December 1945 following international ratification of the Articles of Agreement (called the Bretton Woods agreements).

Another legacy of World War II saw the development and use of many new technologies, including long-range missiles, jet aircraft, radar, and atomic (nuclear) weapons. Nuclear weapons were created in the top-secret Manhattan Project in the United States (with assistance from the United Kingdom and Canada) by an international team that included émigré scientists from Central Europe, initially out of fear that Germany would develop them first. (The Soviet Union became the second nuclear power in 1949.) Nuclear weapons have only been used twice in the history of warfare, both in the closing days of World War II by the United States against Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and the second on August 9, 1945, on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Each use comprised the dropping of a single airborne atomic bomb (atom bomb, A-bomb, or simply the bomb). The bombs killed an estimated 200,000 people (mostly civilians) instantly, and twice as many later through the effects of radiation. The advent of nuclear weapons came only weeks after the signing of the UN Charter, providing immediate impetus to concepts of arms limitation and disarmament. The first resolution of the first meeting of the UN General Assembly on January 24, 1946, was The Establishment of a Commission to Deal with the Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy, which called upon the commission to make specific proposals for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.

World War II atrocities and genocide in both Europe and Asia led to a consensus that nations must work to prevent such tragedies in the future. Another early objective of the United Nations was to create a legal framework for considering and acting on complaints about human rights violations. The UN Charter obliges all member nations to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and to take joint and separate action to that end. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 as a common standard of achievement for all.

World War II resulted in a fundamental shift in global power from the weakened British Empire to the United States and the Soviet Union. Almost immediately following World War II, a protracted geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle emerged between two of the most powerful Allied Powersthe United States and the Soviet Union. The struggle was called the cold war because it did not involve direct armed conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, although each formed an opposing military alliance in Europe and engaged in the biggest arms race (including nuclear weapons) in history. The cold war lasted from about 1947 to the collapse of communism in the late 1980s, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO, or the North Atlantic Alliance, Atlantic Alliance, or Western Alliance) was established with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on April 4, 1949, in Washington, D.C., for the purpose of collective security of the members, binding each to a military alliance with all the others. The treaty avoids identification of an enemy or concrete measures of common defense, but the implied adversary was the Soviet Union. This marked a significant change in the isolationist tendencies of the United States and signaled the lasting involvement of the United States in European security affairs. It also formally divided the World War II Allies in the West from the Soviet Union by creating a new military alliance composed largely of World War II Allied Powers. The original members of NATO were the United States, France, Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland (West Germany was not incorporated until 1955, after the formation of the Warsaw Pact).

In 1955 the Warsaw Pact (Warsaw Treaty, or Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance) was established as a military organization of Eastern and Central European Communist states to counter the threat perceived by NATO. Its members consisted of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, East Germany (in 1956), and Albania (which withdrew in 1968). Similar to the NATO members, the Warsaw Pact signatories pledged to defend each other if one of them was attacked. It is noteworthy that the members of the Warsaw Pact consisted of Axis Powers as well as Allied Powers (the Soviet Union and Poland). The Warsaw Pact officially dissolved in 1991. Although not a member of NATO, the Axis Power Japan became allied with the United States. Although not a member of the Warsaw Pact, the Allied Power China was friendly to the Soviet Union. Countries such as Yugoslavia, Switzerland, Austria, India, Sweden, and Finland conspicuously maintained their neutrality by participation in the Non-Aligned Movement.

SEE ALSO Defense; Deterrence, Mutual; Disarmament; Pearl Harbor; Warfare, Nuclear; Weaponry, Nuclear


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Keegan, John, ed. 1978. Who Was Who in World War II. New York: T. Y. Cromwell.

Keegan, John. 1989. The Second World War. London: Hutchinson.

Kimball, Warren F. 1992. America Unbound: World War II and the Making of a Superpower. New York: St. Martins Press.

Overy, Richard J. 1995. Why the Allies Won. New York: W. W. Norton.

Shirer, William L. 1959. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Tohmatsu, Haruo, and H. P. Willmott. 2004. A Gathering of Darkness: The Coming of War to the Far East and the Pacific. Lanham, MD: SR Books.

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Anastasia Xenias

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World War II

World War II, 1939–45, worldwide conflict involving every major power in the world. The two sides were generally known as the Allies and the Axis.

Causes and Outbreak

This second global conflict resulted from the rise of totalitarian, militaristic regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan, a phenomenon stemming in part from the Great Depression that swept over the world in the early 1930s and from the conditions created by the peace settlements (1919–20) following World War I.

After World War I, defeated Germany, disappointed Italy, and ambitious Japan were anxious to regain or increase their power; all three eventually adopted forms of dictatorship (see National Socialism and fascism) that made the state supreme and called for expansion at the expense of neighboring countries. These three countries also set themselves up as champions against Communism, thus gaining at least partial tolerance of their early actions from the more conservative groups in the Western democracies. Also important was a desire for peace on the part of the democracies, which resulted in their military unpreparedness. Finally, the League of Nations, weakened from the start by the defection of the United States, was unable to promote disarmament (see Disarmament Conference); moreover, the long economic depression sharpened national rivalries, increased fear and distrust, and made the masses susceptible to the promises of demagogues.

The failure of the League to stop the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1931 was followed by a rising crescendo of treaty violations and acts of aggression. Adolf Hitler, when he rose to power (1933) in Germany, recreated the German army and prepared it for a war of conquest; in 1936 he remilitarized the Rhineland. Benito Mussolini conquered (1935–36) Ethiopia for Italy; and from 1936 to 1939 the Spanish civil war raged, with Germany and Italy helping the fascist forces of Francisco Franco to victory. In Mar., 1938, Germany annexed Austria, and in Sept., 1938, the British and French policy of appeasement toward the Axis reached its height with the sacrifice of much of Czechoslovakia to Germany in the Munich Pact.

When Germany occupied (Mar., 1939) all of Czechoslovakia, and when Italy seized (Apr., 1939) Albania, Great Britain and France abandoned their policy of appeasement and set about creating an "antiaggression" front, which included alliances with Turkey, Greece, Romania, and Poland, and speeding rearmament. Germany and Italy signed (May, 1939) a full military alliance, and after the Soviet-German nonaggression pact (Aug., 1939) removed German fear of a possible two-front war, Germany was ready to launch an attack on Poland.

World War II began on Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany, without a declaration of war, invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, and all the members of the Commonwealth of Nations, except Ireland, rapidly followed suit. The fighting in Poland was brief. The German blitzkrieg, or lightning war, with its use of new techniques of mechanized and air warfare, crushed the Polish defenses, and the conquest was almost complete when Soviet forces entered (Sept. 17) E Poland. While this campaign ended with the partition of Poland and while the USSR defeated Finland in the Finnish-Russian War (1939–40), the British and the French spent an inactive winter behind the Maginot Line, content with blockading Germany by sea.

From Norway to Moscow

The inactive period ended with the surprise invasion (Apr. 9, 1940) of Denmark and Norway by the Germans. Denmark offered no resistance; Norway was conquered by June 9. On May 10, German forces overran Luxembourg and invaded the Netherlands and Belgium; on May 13 they outflanked the Maginot Line. Their armored columns raced to the English Channel and cut off Flanders, and Allied forces were evacuated from Dunkirk (May 26–June 4). General Weygand had replaced General Gamelin as supreme Allied commander, but was unable to stop the Allied debacle in the "battle of France." On June 22, France signed an armistice with Germany, followed by an armistice with Italy, which had entered the war on June 10. The Vichy government was set up in France under Marshal Pétain. Britain, the only remaining Allied power, resisted, under the inspiring leadership of Winston Churchill, the German attempt to bomb it into submission.

While Germany was receiving its first setback in the Battle of Britain, fought entirely in the air, the theater of war was widened by the Italian attack on the British in North Africa (see North Africa, campaigns in, by the Italian invasion (Oct. 28, 1940) of Greece, and by German submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean. Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria joined the Axis late in 1940, but Yugoslavia resisted German pressure, and on Apr. 6, 1941, Germany launched attacks on Yugoslavia and Greece and won rapid victories. In May, Crete fell.

Great Britain gained a new ally on June 22, 1941, when Germany (joined by Italy, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Finland), invaded the Soviet Union. By Dec., 1941, German mechanized divisions had destroyed a substantial part of the Soviet army and had overrun much of European Russia. However, the harsh Russian winter halted the German sweep, and the drive on Moscow was foiled by a Soviet counteroffensive.

War Comes to the United States

Though determined to maintain its neutrality, the United States was gradually drawn closer to the war by the force of events. To save Britain from collapse the Congress voted lend-lease aid early in 1941. In Aug., 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met Churchill on the high seas, and together they formulated the Atlantic Charter as a general statement of democratic aims. To establish bases to protect its shipping from attacks by German submarines, the United States occupied (Apr., 1941) Greenland and later shared in the occupation of Iceland; despite repeated warnings, the attacks continued. Relations with Germany became increasingly strained, and the aggressive acts of Japan in China, Indochina, and Thailand provoked protests from the United States.

Efforts to reach a peaceful settlement were ended on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan without warning attacked Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, and Malaya. War was declared (Dec. 8) on Japan by the United States, the Commonwealth of Nations (except Ireland), and the Netherlands. Within a few days Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

The first phase of the war in the Pacific was disastrous for the Allies. Japan swiftly conquered the Philippines (where strong resistance ended at Corregidor), Malaya, Burma (Myanmar), Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), and many Pacific islands; destroyed an Allied fleet in the Java Sea; and reached, by mid-1942, its furthest points of advance in the Aleutian Islands and New Guinea.

Australia became the chief Allied base for the countermoves against Japan, directed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Nimitz, and Admiral Halsey. The first Allied naval successes against Japan were scored in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, where U.S. bombers knocked out the major part of Japan's carrier fleet and forced Japan into retreat. Midway was the first decisive blow against the Axis by Allied forces. On land the Allies took the offensive in New Guinea and landed (Aug. 7, 1942) on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

The Turning Point

Despite the slightly improved position in the Pacific, the late summer of 1942 was perhaps the darkest period of the war for the Allies. In North Africa, the Axis forces under Field Marshal Rommel were sweeping into Egypt; in Russia, they had penetrated the Caucasus and launched a gigantic offensive against Stalingrad (see Volgograd). In the Atlantic, even to the shores of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico, German submarines were sinking Allied shipping at an unprecedented rate.

Yet the Axis war machine showed signs of wear, while the United States was merely beginning to realize its potential, and Russia had huge reserves and was receiving U.S. lend-lease aid through Iran and the port of Murmansk. The major blow, however, was leveled at the Axis by Britain, when General Montgomery routed Rommel at Alamein in North Africa (Oct., 1942). This was followed by the American invasion of Algeria (Nov. 8, 1942); the Americans and British were joined by Free French forces of General de Gaulle and by regular French forces that had passed to the Allies after the surrender of Admiral Darlan. After heavy fighting in Tunisia, North Africa was cleared of Axis forces by May 12, 1943.

Meantime, in the Soviet stand at Stalingrad and counteroffensive resulted in the surrender (Feb. 2, 1943) of the German 6th Army, followed by nearly uninterrupted Russian advances. In the Mediterranean, the Allies followed up their African victory by the conquest of Sicily (July–Aug., 1943) and the invasion of Italy, which surrendered on Sept. 8. However, the German army in Italy fought bloody rearguard actions, and Rome fell (June 4, 1944) only after the battles of Monte Cassino and Anzio. In the Atlantic, the submarine threat was virtually ended by the summer of 1944. Throughout German-occupied Europe, underground forces, largely supplied by the Allies, began to wage war against their oppressors.

The Allies, who had signed (Jan. 1, 1942) the United Nations declaration, were drawn closer together militarily by the Casablanca Conference, at which they pledged to continue the war until the unconditional surrender of the Axis, and by the Moscow Conferences, the Quebec Conference, the Cairo Conference, and the Tehran Conference. The invasion of German-held France was decided upon, and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was put in charge of the operation.

Allied Victory in Europe

By the beginning of 1944 air warfare had turned overwhelmingly in favor of the Allies, who wrought unprecedented destruction on many German cities and on transport and industries throughout German-held Europe. This air offensive prepared the way for the landing (June 6, 1944) of the Allies in N France (see Normandy campaign) and a secondary landing (Aug. 15) in S France. After heavy fighting in Normandy, Allied armored divisions raced to the Rhine, clearing most of France and Belgium of German forces by Oct., 1944. The use of V-1 and V-2 rockets by the Germans proved as futile an effort as their counteroffensive in Belgium under General von Rundstedt (see Battle of the Bulge).

On the Eastern Front Soviet armies swept (1944) through the Baltic States, E Poland, Belorussia, and Ukraine and forced the capitulation of Romania (Aug. 23), Finland (Sept. 4), and Bulgaria (Sept. 10). Having evacuated the Balkan Peninsula, the Germans resisted in Hungary until Feb., 1945, but Germany itself was pressed. The Russians entered East Prussia and Czechoslovakia (Jan., 1945) and took E Germany to the Oder.

On Mar. 7 the Western Allies—whose chief commanders in the field were Omar N. Bradley and Montgomery—crossed the Rhine after having smashed through the strongly fortified Siegfried Line and overran W Germany. German collapse came after the meeting (Apr. 25) of the Western and Russian armies at Torgau in Saxony, and after Hitler's death amid the ruins of Berlin, which was falling to the Russians under marshals Zhukov and Konev. The unconditional surrender of Germany was signed at Reims on May 7 and ratified at Berlin on May 8.

Allied Victory in the Pacific

After the completion of the campaigns in the Solomon Islands (late 1943) and New Guinea (1944), the Allied advance moved inexorably, in two lines that converged on Japan, through scattered island groups—the Philippines, the Mariana Islands, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima. Japan, with most of its navy sunk, staggered beneath these blows. At the Yalta Conference, the USSR secretly promised its aid against Japan, which still refused to surrender even after the Allied appeal made at the Potsdam Conference. On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States first used the atomic bomb and devastated Hiroshima; on Aug. 9, the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The USSR had already invaded Manchuria. On Aug. 14, Japan announced its surrender, formally signed aboard the U.S. battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2.

Aftermath and Reckoning

Although hostilities came to an end in Sept., 1945, a new world crisis caused by the postwar conflict between the USSR and the United States—the two chief powers to emerge from the war—made settlement difficult. By Mar., 1950, peace treaties had been signed with Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Finland; in 1951, the Allies (except the USSR) signed a treaty with Japan, and, in 1955, Austria was restored to sovereignty. Germany, however, remained divided—first between the Western powers and the USSR, then (until 1990) into two German nations (see Germany).

Despite the birth of the United Nations, the world remained politically unstable and only slowly recovered from the incalculable physical and moral devastation wrought by the largest and most costly war in history. Soldiers and civilians both had suffered in bombings that had wiped out entire cities. Modern methods of warfare—together with the attempt of Germany to exterminate entire religious and ethnic groups (particularly the Jews)—famines, and epidemics, had brought death to tens of millions and made as many more homeless. The suffering and degradation of the war's victims were of proportions that passed the understanding of those who had been spared. The conventions of warfare had been violated on a large scale (see war crimes), and warfare itself was revolutionized by the development and use of nuclear weapons.

Political consequences included the reduction of Britain and France to powers of lesser rank, the emergence of the Common Market (see European Economic Community; European Union), the independence of many former colonies in Asia and Africa, and, perhaps most important, the beginning of the cold war between the Western powers and the Communist-bloc nations.


There is a vast amount of literature on World War II, particularly official publications and memoirs. Among notable personal accounts are Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (1948, repr. 1951); Omar H. Bradley, A Soldier's Story (1951, repr. 1970); Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War (6 vol., 1948–54); Harry S. Truman, Memoirs (2 vol., 1955–6); Field Marshal Montgomery, Memoirs (1958); Charles de Gaulle, Complete War Memoirs (1964, repr. 1967); Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences (1964); Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (1970).

See also H. R. Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler (1956); W. L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960); A. J. P. Taylor, Origins of the Second World War (1961, repr. 1963); S. E. Morison, Two-Ocean War (1963); A. R. Buchanan, The United States and World War II (1964); A. Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (rev. ed. 1964); B. Collier, The Second World War (1967, repr. 1969) and The War in the Far East, 1941–1945 (1969); B. H. Liddell Hart, History of the Second World War (1970); P. Calvocoressi and G. Wint, Total War (1972); M. Fourcade, Noah's Ark (tr. 1974); H. Michel, The Second World War (tr. 1974); J. Erickson, The Road to Stalingrad (1975) and The Road to Berlin (1983); M. Hastings, Overlord (1984), Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944–1945 (2004), Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–45 (2008), and Inferno: The World at War, 1939–1945 (2011); R. Spector, Eagle against the Sun (1984); O. Bartov, The Eastern Front, 1941–45 (1985); M. Gilbert, The Second World War (rev. ed. 1991); S. Hynes et al., ed., Reporting World War II (2 vol., 1995); J. Stenbuck, ed., Typewriter Battalion: Dramatic Front-line Dispatches from World War II (1995); R. J. Overy, Why the Allies Won (1997); M. Beschloss, The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman, and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany (2002); A. Schom, The Eagle and the Rising Sun: The Japanese-American War, 1941–1943 (2004); E. Yellin, Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front during World War II (2004); T. Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (2005); B. Shepherd, War in the Wild East (2005) and The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War (2011); C. Merridale, Ivan's War (2006); R. Atkinson, The Liberation Trilogy (3 vol., 2007–13); N. Baker, Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization (2008); A. Roberts, The Storm of War (2009, repr. 2012); J. Bodnar, The Good War in American Memory (2010); I. Kershaw, The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944–1945 (2011); A. Roberts, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (2011); A. Beevor, The Second World War (2012); I. Buruma, Year Zero: A History of 1945 (2013); E. Hotta, Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy (2013); R. Overy, The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War over Europe, 1940–1945 (2014); see also I. C. Bear and M. R. D. Foot, ed., The Oxford Companion to World War II (1995).

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World War II


War involving the Axis (Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria) against the Allies (Britain, France, the United States, the Soviet Union, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa, and Yugoslavia).

When World War II began on 1 September 1939, the Middle East consisted of independent, semi-independent, and colonial states. From east to west they included the following: Iran and Turkey were independent, with Iran under Reza Shah Pahlavi and Turkey a republic. Syria and Lebanon were republics but under French control. Transjordan and Iraq were monarchies but under British control. Palestine was a League of Nations mandate under British control. The Arabian peninsula consisted of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, both independent, and Oman and a variety of Persian/Arabian Gulf states within the British sphere of influence. Egypt (with the strategic Suez Canal) and the Sudan were nominally independent but really under British control. Libya was an Italian colony. The French effectively controlled the rest of North AfricaTunisia, Algeria, and Moroccoexcept for the western regions under Spanish rule.

In World War II, Britain and France were allied against Germany and Italy. All except Germany had significant imperial holdings and interests in the Middle East. Germany wanted not only the defeat of Britain and France, but German gains in this region. As the war began, the Axis powers controlled only a small part of the Middle EastLibya and some other Italian territory taken during the Ethiopian annexation in 1935. The fall of France to Germany in May 1940 and the establishment of the quasi-independent Vichy republic in June 1940 dramatically
altered the balance of power: In addition to Italy's territories being in their sphere of influence, the Axis powers had acquired France's territories.

North and East African Campaigns

The British initiated their first military action in the Middle East by an attack on French naval vessels at Oran, Algeria, 3 July 1940which crippled the French fleet there (and resulted in 1,300 French dead). This was part of an effort to ensure that the Axis powers could not use the French fleet; the French squadron at Alexandria was disarmed while two French submarines in British ports joined the Free French forces fighting with the British. The next day, Italian forces from Ethiopia occupied border towns in the Sudan, and within six weeks they penetrated British Kenya and seized British Somaliland. On 13 September, Italian forces under Rodolfo Graziani invaded Egypt; they penetrated some sixty miles (90 km) within a week, and dug in along a fifty-mile (80 km) front from the coast to Sidi Barrani.

Since the threat to the Suez Canal was of primary importance, the British countered first against Graziani's army of 200,000. General Sir Archibald Wavell launched a surprise attack with an army of 63,000 on 6 December and drove through the Italian lines at Sidi Barrani, capturing 40,000 Italian troops by 12 December. The campaign continued for two months, ending with Italian surrender at Benghazi, Libya, on 7 February 1941. With advance units at al-Agheila, the British had advanced about five hundred miles (800 km), captured 130,000 Italian soldiers, and taken four hundred tanks and one thousand guns.

On 15 January 1941 the British launched an attack against Italian forces in East Africa, from the Sudan. Mogadiscio, capital of Italian Somaliland, fell on 26 February, followed by Neguelli in southern Ethiopia on 22 March; the capital, Addis Ababa, fell on 6 April.

These British successes were soon to be reversed. Germany had not yet committed her forces to Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia (22 June 1941), and in February and March was able to reinforce the Italians in western Libya with two divisions under General Erwin Rommel. In the meantime, the British had turned their attention to the defense of Greece, diverting troops from North Africa.

Rommel opened his attack on 3 April, and the British retreated from their recent gains in Libya. The Axis forces drove the British back to the Egyptian frontier by 29 May. The tables then turned when Germany diverted troops from North Africa for the invasion of Russia. The British launched an offensive on 11 December and were able to drive into Libya as far as Benghazi by 25 December. A reinforced Rommel was able to begin a drive on Egypt on 22 May 1942 that did not end until checked at al-Alamayn (El Alamein), just eighty miles (127 km) from Alexandria. General Montgomery's offensive from al-Alamayn began on 23 October, resulting in expulsion of Axis forces from Egypt by 12 November and the end of the threat to Egypt and the Suez Canal.

At about the same time, on 8 November, a British-American force under U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower began Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. Allied forces disembarking in French Morocco and Algeria faced some opposition from Vichy forces, but by 11 November, the two sides had reached an armistice. Pressed by Montgomery's Eighth Army in Libya and the new threat from the west, Rommel concentrated the Axis forces in Tunisia. Into 1943, bitter fighting continued, particularly at the Kasserine Pass, but by 12 May all German and Italian resistance had ended. The Axis powers had 950,000 men dead or captured and had lost 8,000 aircraft and 2.4 million tons of shipping.

Southwest Asia and Turkey

While the significant fighting of World War II in the Middle East was in Africa, the British still faced serious threats in Southwest Asia. The regimes in both Iran and Iraq flirted with support of the Axis powers as a means of diminishing British influence over their affairs. On 2 May 1941, pro-Axis sympathizers in Iraq tried to seize power. British forces intervened and put down all resistance by 31 May. Fearing that Reza Shah Pahlavi might take Iran into the German camp in the summer of 1941, British and Soviet forces entered Iran in late August and forced him to abdicate in favor of his son, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, on 16 September. These actions effectively secured Iraq and Iran for the Allies.

The fall of France in June 1940 threatened to bring Syria and Lebanon into the Axis sphere of influence. Quick action by the British and Free French forces prevented this. On 8 June these forces occupied Syria and Lebanon. On 16 September Syria was proclaimed an independent nation, as was Lebanon on 26 November. Both remained loyal to the Allies during World War II, but soon after the end of hostilities they were able to assert their independence and obtain the withdrawal of Allied forces from their territory.

World War I had led to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Turkish republic under Kemal Atatürk. Turkey then faced pressure from both sides and from within as World War II loomed on the horizon. Atatürk and his successor, İsmet İnönü, favored the British as the power they believed would ultimately win. Other Turks feared Britain's ally, the Soviet Union, as a traditional enemy and realized that by June 1941 German troops were within 100 miles (160 km) of Istanbul. Still others remembered the disastrous decision of October 1914, when the Ottomans joined the Central Powers in World War I.

Shortly after the beginning of World War II, on 19 October 1939, Britain and France concluded a fifteen-year mutual assistance pact with Turkey. German success in 1940 and the invasion of Russia in 1941, however, led many Turkish leaders to favor the Axis. Thus, on 1 November 1940, İnönü declared it to be Turkish policy to remain a nonbelligerent in the war, while maintaining friendly ties with both Britain and the Soviet Union. The Allies, of course, continued to pressure Turkey for support, and on 3 December 1941, just before the United States declared war, the American Lend-Lease program was extended to Turkey. İnönü still pursued a neutral course but by 1943 realized that the Axis would lose. In August 1944, Turkey broke diplomatic relations with Germany, and on 23 February 1945 it formally declared war to comply with requirements for participation in the UN conference to be held in San Francisco in April.


The Jewish and Arab populations of Palestine greeted World War II with mixed emotions. Neither was content with British rule. The Arabs resented the rule of their country by a European power pledged to uphold the Balfour Declaration (sanctioning Palestine as a haven for persecuted Jews from all parts of the world). The Jewish population, the Yishuv, suspected British commitment to the Balfour Declaration, especially since the British banned Jewish immigration into Palestine after 1939.

In light of the antisemitism of Nazi Germany and its extermination of European Jewry as a matter of state policy, the Yishuv had little recourse but to support the Allies. The resources of the Jewish community in Palestine were put at the disposal of the British, and efforts (often resisted by British authorities) were made to raise Jewish military units to support the war effort. Early in the war the Yishuv devised the Carmel Plan, to create a Jewish enclave on the Palestine coast, near Haifa, to resist a German landing and occupation. Fortunately, this never became necessary.

A small minority of Jews did continue to resist British control of Palestine. The LEHI (Stern Gang), under Abraham Stern, urged rebellion against the British and even approached the German representatives in Vichy-controlled Syria with an offer of support against the British in Palestine. Even after this offer was rejected and Stern killed in confrontation with British authorities in early 1942, this splinter group continued to resist the British; other Jewish groups then began to oppose the British as the war progressed, since British support of the Zionist cause seemed less than enthusiastic.

Some Arabs viewed Germany as an instrument to rid themselves of British rule. The mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, lent his support to the Nazi cause, and when fleeing from Jerusalem in 1937 and from Beirut in October 1939 to Baghdad, he established contact with the German ambassador to Turkey, Franz von Papen, offering Arab support. After an anti-British revolt in 1941, the British reestablished control of Iraq in May 1941. Hajj Amin, who participated in the revolt, left for Turkey and later for Rome and Berlin to support the Axis powers after they promised to free the Arab world and support its independence and unity. He was able to generate some support for the Axis among the Arabs, but the defeat of the Italians and Germans in North Africa prevented this from becoming a factor in the war.

The War's Effect on the Middle East

World War II ended with British and French control of most of the Middle East. The war did, however, shatter the aura of the invincibility of their arms. Consequently, rapid changes occurred in the regionArab states asserted their independence, and the Jewish population of Palestine declared the State of Israel in 1948. Iran and Turkey insisted on full partnership in the international community. The European powers would no longer have undisputed control over the fates of the peoples in this region.

With the end of the war the United States emerged the premier Western power, but the challenge of the Cold War with the Soviet Union would soon have its own impact on the oil-rich Middle East.

see also alamayn, al-; atatÜrk, mustafa kemal; husayni, muhammad amin al-; İnÖnÜ, İsmet; montgomery, bernard law; pahlavi, reza; rommel, erwin; stern, abraham; wavell, archibald percival; yishuv.


Hourani, Albert. A History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1991.

Keegan, John. The Second World War. New York: Penguin, 1990.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey, 3d edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Peretz, Don. The Middle East Today, 6th edition. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994.

Sachar, Howard M. A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, 2d revised and updated edition. New York: Knopf, 1996.

Time-Life Books. WW II: Time-Life Books History of the Second World War. New York: Prentice Hall, 1989.

daniel e. spector

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Second World War

Second World War. Germany made the Second World War: a necessary condition was a nationalist German government ready, even eager, to use force. Hitler did not create the social and economic conditions that gave him power, but he brilliantly exploited them to develop a state usable for his own purposes, which went further than most Germans would consciously have ventured. The Nazis, who preached violence to forge unity between social classes, included those whose first aim, to increase German power in the world, required the co-operation of the military, the civil service, and industrialists, and also Nazis whose first, egalitarian, aim was to destroy the influence of those privileged groups. Hitler reflected and helped to win the dominance among Nazis of those who wanted international power. His coming to power was with the help of German conservatives who combined with the Nazis to resist socialists, in preference to working with socialists to block the Nazis.

Hitler's strength lay in the support of voters; many voted Nazi through despair at the depression of 1930–2. Arguably, it was the consequence of the treaty of Versailles after the First World War and its insistence on reparations payments by Germany which forced the maintenance of deflationary policies to keep up the exchange value of the mark, as well as recent memories of the catastrophic inflation of 1923, itself even more plausibly the result of the enforcement of reparations. Hitler, and the expansionist German nationalists he stood for, seemed a result of Versailles. Most British opinion concluded that those, especially the French, who had tried to enforce Versailles were to blame and that to soften the nationalism of Hitler's Third Reich the remaining grievances of Versailles should be remedied. Hence, British ‘appeasement’. Towards Germany, even towards Hitler, conciliation seemed better than confrontation. France should be restrained and the anti-fascism proclaimed by the Soviet Union checked. Without the United Kingdom (and the British empire), restraint on the militarily reviving Germany could not be effected and though French governments attempted to work with Italy and the Soviet Union, Italy was weak in resources and the Soviet Union struggling to exploit its own. As Hitler understood, British policy determined how far he could move towards a ‘purified’ German nation, self-sufficient and militarily invulnerable, without engaging in war. Until 1939, with British acquiescence, Hitler won success after peaceful success: restoring compulsory military service, creating an air force, remilitarizing the Rhineland, absorbing Austria, annexing the German-inhabited areas of Czechoslovakia, and then, in March 1939, destroying Czechoslovakia altogether. Hitler's growing support in Germany, as foreign success went with full employment, steadily increased his freedom of action.

In Britain, however, appeasement became unpopular. Neville Chamberlain, its leader, felt obliged to threaten force to compel German restraint and insisted that change to German benefit should take place only by way of negotiation. On 31 March 1939 he pledged Britain to defend Poland, and tried, at last, to build a ‘peace front’. Chamberlain's policy was to persuade, or coerce, Hitler into acceptance of moderate change which would leave intact Britain's capacity to defend her independence. The British aim was to preserve the European balance of power, Hitler's to destroy it. In 1939 the British obstructed him. But the alliance attempted between Britain, France, and the USSR failed. Probably Stalin observed Chamberlain's reluctance to make a Soviet alliance because it would be too provocative to Germany and wreck chances of renewed Anglo-German concord. Stalin thought it safer to make his own bargain with Hitler, took up appeasement, and agreed to help Hitler to destroy Poland.

After an attempt to persuade Britain not to interfere, Germany attacked Poland, in theory to solve German grievances about Polish mistreatment of ethnic Germans, in fact to increase German resources, ‘living space’. At dawn on 1 September 1939 began what became the Second World War. On 3 September Britain and France declared war on Germany. The unusually vicious nature of the German government already made morally desirable the defence of European balance.

As expected, Poland did not last long against German attack and was partitioned with the USSR. Anglo-French strategy was defensive, waiting to build up their armed strength. In May and June 1940 it went badly wrong. France, defeated by a German attack in May 1940, whose main weight was further south than anticipated, surrendered in June. Italy joined Germany, tempted by the prospect of participation in a prospective peace conference. Hitler could now organize Europe to support the German war effort. Everything seemed possible: the British would surely give in. Carefully calculating, while offering inspiring calls to arms, Churchill led the cabinet to resist, assuming, correctly, that the navy and air force could prevent German troop landings in sufficient force to occupy England in 1940 and that US economic help would enable protracted defence. The victory of the RAF in the Battle of Britain in 1940 blocked invasion, but in 1941 German submarines nearly defeated Britain; British code-breaking came to the rescue in June.

In 1941 Hitler decided to attack the USSR before the defeat of Britain. In 1940 President Roosevelt, hesitantly, had decided to try to keep Britain fighting. In 1941, therefore, Hitler feared that the war in the west might escalate into war with the USA and decided, after tentative attempts to make a new bargain with Stalin, to defeat the USSR first. His advisers expected success in 1941. It went wrong. Roosevelt, concerned to maintain a world balance of power, gave help to the USSR. The ‘Lend-Lease’ Act permitted him to supply countries at war without payment. Like Churchill he strove to keep the Red Army fighting. The Red Army wore down the German army while the Americans made tanks, aircraft, and ships; hence Hitler's defeat.

In the 20th cent. Japan maintained expanding population by trade, either by co-operating in the international structures or by forceful seizure of raw materials, especially fuel. In 1930–45 the Japanese authorities used force to counter trade barriers erected by foreign countries, threatening British and Dutch rubber, tin, and oil. The US government, working to maintain a world balance of power in 1940 and 1941, tried to check Japan by denying raw materials. The Japanese, with the threat from the USSR met by the Germans, decided to seize essential resources. In December 1941 encouraged by Germany, Japan attacked the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor and invaded Malaya, Burma, and the Dutch East Indies. Hitler, conscious that the USA was already an opponent, and still hopeful of victory over the USSR, clarified the conflict by declaring war on the USA. The Second World War involved Germany, Italy, and Japan against the USA, USSR, and the British empire, with France overrun by Germany, and China, divided between nationalists and communists, uncertainly united in resistance to Japanese attempts to control Chinese resources and trade.

The British empire and the USA fought a world war. Both gave priority to defeating Hitler. The main effort against Japan came from the USA. The failure of the Chinese to defend territories from which Japan could be attacked reduced the British role in Burma from the expansion of the line of communications to China to the defence of India and the eventual reassertion of British power in Malaya and Singapore.

In Europe the American army hoped to concentrate all Anglo-American resources in the United Kingdom to invade Europe at the earliest date possible. Churchill and the British thought Germany must first be weakened by campaigns in north Africa and Italy. Roosevelt agreed with Churchill in order to avoid delay in bringing some US forces into action in the European theatre; partly he wanted to maintain US public interest in the war against Hitler, partly to demonstrate US eagerness to take some burden off Soviet forces. Thus, their main operations were delayed and British and US ground forces became fully engaged against the German army only after the landings in Normandy in June 1944. By September 1944 the allies had defeated Germany; Anglo-American forces closed to the Rhine, the Red Army had taken Romania, territorial losses and bombing ended German ability to sustain war for much longer. However, SS coercion and fear of the allies, especially the Soviets, enabled Hitler to delay the end until May 1945.

In the Pacific, Japan, too, continued the war long after defeat brought about by attacks by US submarines on transport ships and US bombing attacks on Japanese industry. Japanese authorities, led by the emperor, accepted defeat only after the use of two atomic bombs, developed in time in the USA.

In Europe the war created a partition, which lasted for more than 40 years, between communist states, influenced or controlled by the USSR, and societies dominated by more or less tempered liberal capitalism. The partition came surprisingly peacefully, though with particular problems in Poland, accepted in the end as belonging to the communist sphere, and with increasing tension for a time in Germany, where an administrative partition agreed during the war lasted for several decades. In the East partition brought devastating and protracted conflict in China, where communists triumphed in civil war; in Korea, split in two, after a fierce war; and in Indo-China, where conflict lasted for decades. Here, as in Europe, capitalism is recovering among ‘communist’ states, but in Asia liberalism is less evident.

Germany, Italy, and Japan, the defeated countries, are today more agreeable to live in and far more prosperous than were the countries that precipitated the bloodshed of the Second World War. All, so far, are more tolerant societies. The Nazis demonstrated to rational human beings the dangers of the menacing idiocy of racial prejudice by carrying it through to its chilling conclusion in the mass murder of Jews, as enemies of ‘Germanic and Aryan purity’.

In 1940 the United Kingdom, inspired by Churchill, continued to fight. The British preferred American domination to Hitler's. In 1945 the USA became the greatest power in the world, and, with the collapse of the Soviet empire in the 1990s, perhaps the only super-power.

R. A. C. Parker


Bell, P. M. H. , The Origins of the Second World War in Europe (1986);
Calvocoressi, P., Wint, G., and and Pritchard, J. , Total War: The Causes and Courses of the Second World War (1989);
Iriye, A. , The Origins of the Second World War in Asia and the Pacific (1987);
Parker, R. A. C. , Struggle for Survival: The History of the Second World War (Oxford, 1989);
Weinberg, G. , A World at Arms (Cambridge, 1994).

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World War II


World War II began in 1939 as a conflict between Germany and the combined forces of France and Great Britain and eventually included most of the nations of the world before it ended in August 1945. It caused the greatest loss of life and material destruction of any war in history, killing 25 million military personnel and 30 million civilians. By the end of the war, the United States had become the most powerful nation in the world, the possessor and user of atomic weapons. The war also increased the power of the Soviet Union, which gained control of Eastern Europe and part of Germany.

World War II was caused in large part by the rise of totalitarian regimes in Germany and Italy and by the domination of the military in Japan. In Germany, adolf hitler, head of the National Socialist or Nazi party, became chancellor in 1933. Within a short time, he had assumed dictatorial rule. Hitler broke the Versailles Treaty, which had ended world war i and disarmed Germany, and proceeded with a massive buildup of the German armed forces. Hitler believed that the German people were a master race that needed more territory. His first aim was to reunite all Germans living under foreign governments. In 1936 he reclaimed the Rhineland from French control and in 1938 annexed Austria to Germany. That same year he took over the German areas of Czechoslovakia and in 1939 annexed all of that country.

Though France and Great Britain had acquiesced to Germany's actions, they soon realized that Hitler had greater ambitions. When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. With the invasion of Poland, World War II began. Poland was quickly defeated, and for a period of time a "phony war" ensued, with neither side making any military moves. This situation changed in the spring of 1940, when Germany invaded Holland, Belgium, and France. Again, German military forces overwhelmed their opponents, leaving Great Britain the only outpost against Germany.

During the 1930s the United States government had avoided involvement in European affairs. This traditional policy of "isolationism" became more problematic after the war began in 1939. President franklin d. roosevelt moved away from an isolationist foreign policy and sought to assist Great Britain and France, while keeping the United States a neutral party to the conflict. This strategy led to the repeal of the arms embargo in the Neutrality Act of 1939 (22 U.S.C.A. § 441), allowing the sale of military equipment to Great Britain and France.

After the fall of France to Germany in 1940, Roosevelt became even more determined to assist Great Britain. He persuaded Congress to pass the lend-lease act of 1941 (55 Stat. 31). Lend-Lease provided munitions, food, machinery, and services to Great Britain and other Allies without immediate cost.

U.S. interests in the Pacific were threatened by the rise of Japanese militarism in the 1930s. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 signaled a new direction for Japan. Its military leaders, who dominated the government, sought to conquer large parts of Asia. In 1936 and 1937 Japan signed treaties with Germany and Italy (headed by dictator benito mussolini), creating what was called the Axis powers.

In 1937 Japan began an undeclared war against China. When Japan occupied Indochina in 1940, the United States stopped exporting gasoline, iron, steel, and rubber to Japan and froze all Japanese assets in the United States. In the fall of 1941, the extremist Japanese general Hideki Tōjō became leader of the cabinet. His cabinet began planning a war with the United States, as Japan realized it could not attain its imperial goals without defeating the United States.

The devastating Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, resulted in a U.S. declaration of war on Japan the following day. Germany and Italy, as part of the Axis powers alliance, then declared war on the United States.

The attack on the United States led to severe consequences for Japanese Americans. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued executive order No. 9,066, directing the forced relocation of all 112,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast (70,000 of them U.S. citizens) to detention camps in such places as Jerome, Arkansas, and Heart Lake, Wyoming. Roosevelt issued the order after military leaders, worried about a Japanese invasion, argued that national security required such drastic action.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the forced relocation in korematsu v. united states, 323 U.S. 214, 65 S. Ct. 193, 89 L. Ed. 194 (1944). Justice hugo l. black noted that curtailing the rights of a single racial group is constitutionally suspect but that in this case military necessity justified the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. In retrospect, historians have characterized the removal and detention as the most drastic invasion of individual civil rights by the government in U.S. history.

The United States joined Great Britain and the Soviet Union in an alliance against Germany, Italy, and Japan. The Allies determined that priority would be given to defeating Germany and Italy. The Soviet Union, under the leadership of joseph stalin, had signed a nonaggression pact with Germany in 1939, just days before Germany's invasion of Poland. In June 1941 Hitler renounced the agreement and invaded the Soviet Union. The Russian front proved to be the bloodiest of the war, killing millions of civilians and millions of soldiers.

The Allies stemmed Axis advances in 1942. On the Russian front, the Soviet troops won a decisive victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. Following this battle, Soviet forces began the slow process of pushing the German army back toward its border. The U.S. Army achieved success in routing German forces from North Africa in 1942, paving the way for the invasion of Sicily and Italy in 1943.

On June 6, 1944 ("D-Day"), the Allies mounted an amphibious landing on France's Normandy coast. The D-Day invasion surprised the German military commanders, who did not expect an invasion at this location. In a short time, U.S. and British forces were able to break out of the coastal areas and move into France. U.S. forces liberated Paris on August 25.

Germany could not succeed in fighting a two-front war. By early 1945 it was clear that an Allied victory was inevitable. On April 30, 1945, with the Russian army entering Berlin, Hitler committed suicide. On May 7 Germany unconditionally surrendered.

The war in the Pacific was primarily a conflict between Japanese and U.S. forces. The U.S. Navy inflicted substantial damage to the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway in June 1942. Following Midway, the U.S. forces began invading Japanese-held islands in the South Pacific. This endeavor was a slow and costly process because Japanese soldiers were taught to fight to the death. However, the process proved successful. From 1942 to 1945, U.S. forces invaded numerous islands, the last being Okinawa, which is close to the Japanese mainland. Despite fierce resistance, the U.S. forces prevailed.

In 1945 the U.S. military prepared for the invasion of Japan. Though a Japanese defeat appeared inevitable, an invasion would result in heavy U.S. casualties. President harry s. truman, who had become president in April 1945 after the death of President Roosevelt, approved the dropping of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities. On August 6 the United States dropped the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, destroying it and killing about 100,000 civilians in the first ten seconds; three days later the United States dropped a second atomic bomb, this time on the city of Nagasaki. Japan opened peace negotiations on August 10 and surrendered on September 2.

Wartime conferences among Roosevelt, Stalin, and British prime minister Winston Churchill led to the creation of the united nations in 1945. At the Yalta Conference in 1945, the leaders agreed to divide Germany, as well as the city of Berlin, into four zones of occupation, controlled by forces from the three countries and France. Germany was to have its industrial base rebuilt, but its armaments industries were to be abolished or confiscated. The leaders also approved the creation of an international court to try German leaders as war criminals, setting the stage for the nuremberg trials. The Soviet army's occupation of Eastern Europe soon gave way to the creation of Communist governments under the influence of the Soviet Union.

further readings

Ernst, Daniel R., and Victor Jew, eds. 2002. Total War and the Law: The American Home Front in World War II. West-port, Conn.: Praeger.

Hershey, John. 1966. Hiroshima. New York: Bantam.

Joseph, Jennifer. 2001. "POWs Left in the Cold: Compensation Eludes American WWII Slave Laborers for Private Japanese Companies." Pepperdine Law Review 29 (December).

Lord, Walter. 2001. Day of Infamy: The Classic Account of the Bombing of Pearl Harbor. New York: Holt.

Lyons, Michael J. 2003. World War II: A Short History. Paramus, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Park, Byoungwook. 2002. "Comfort Women During WWII: Are U.S. Courts a Final Resort for Justice?" American University International Law Review 17 (March-April).

Vandiver, Frank E. 2003. 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About World War II. New York: Broadway Books.


Communism; Hirohito; Hitler, Adolf; Japanese American Evacuation Cases; Nuremberg Trials; Tokyo Trial; United Nations; War Crimes; Yalta Agreement.

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World War II: Allied Invasion of Sicily and "The Man Who Never Was"

World War II: Allied Invasion of Sicily and "The Man Who Never Was"


As the World War II Allied campaign in North Africa drew to a close, Allied command turned its attention to its next major objective, an invasion of Europe. From their position in North Africa, with the aid of their fleet in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, the next logical targets for the Allies were German defenses on the Italian island of Sicily. However, rough terrain and solid German land and air defenses would make a direct assault on the island costly, and potentially disastrous. As the German command expected the Allies to attack Sicily, Allied intelligence was charged with devising a plan to feed misinformation to the Germans, causing them to believe that Allied forces were massing to invade Europe via Greece or the Balkans. The plot became known as "Operation Mincemeat," or "the man who never was."

Two British intelligence agents, Ewen Montagu and Sir Archibald Cholmondley, members of the XX "double cross" intelligence committee, proposed to use a dead body, dressed as a military courier, to slip false information about Allied battle plans to the German intelligence service, the Abwehr. The two men convinced Allied command that, with enough attention to the ruse courier's body, uniform, placement, and personal effects, Abwehr agents were sure to believe the validity of any information the courier carried. The team was given less than three months to carry out the "man who never was" operation.

Montague first located a suitable body, that of man in his 30s who had died of pneumonia. Since the team planned to deliver the body by sea, making it look as though the victim washed ashore after a plane crash, the similarity of the pathology of pneumonia and drowning was highly convenient. After gaining the consent of the dead man's family, the body was kept in cold storage while a the XX intelligence team went to work on "Operation Mincemeat," creating a false identity and personal effects for their mystery soldier.

The XX team dressed the body in a Royal Marine uniform, and stuffed his pockets with typical soldier accoutrements. Because the corpse's false identity would have to appear in public casualty noticed printed in the newspapers, the corpse was given the most common name on British military rolls, (acting Capt.) William Martin. Montague and Cholmondley convinced their secretary to write letters to Martin, posing as his fiancée. They included her picture in "Mincemeat's" pockets.

After producing the false documents and private communications between field generals that were added to Martin's attaché case, the body was ready to transport, via submarine, to the Spanish coast. The team chose the location because of the plethora of German agents working in the region. In addition, it gave the illusion that the courier was trying to avoid travel over hostile territory. The body was released into the water off the coast of Spain on April 19, 1943. A fishing boat retrieved the remains of the "man who never was," and reported the find to German agents.

Immediately, British intelligence published William Martin's name on public casualty lists, with the explanation of missing, presumed dead in air accident. Intelligence officers knew that Abwehr agents would check public records to confirm the man's identity. To further the deception, the XX team held a mock funeral for Martin back in England, complete with flowers and a grieving fiancée.

British military intelligence cryptanalysis staff at Bletchley Park monitored German Enigma encoded messages almost in real time. Intercepts indicated that Martin had been found and that the Abwehr had located the misinformation planted on the corpse. Remarkably, within weeks, intercepts reveled that the German High Command had distributed the information to Generals in the Mediterranean. On May 12, 1943, the Germans moved thousands of troops, airplanes, and weaponry from Sicily to fortify defenses in Sardinia and Greece, where they presumed Allied forces were going to invade.

Allied forces invaded Sicily on the morning of July 9. Operation Mincemeat succeeded in weakening German outposts on the island, and allowed the Allies to sweep ashore with astonishing surprise. Though fighting persisted on the island for a month, the clever deception of the "man who never was," whose true identity has never been revealed, greatly reduced the human cost of the invasion for Allied forces. Sicily fell to Allied control on August 17, 1943.



Hinsley, F. H. British Intelligence in the Second World War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Montagu, Ewen. Man Who Never Was. London: Globe Pequot Press, 1997.


Bletchley Park
Codes and Ciphers
Codes, Fast and Scalable Scientific Computation

OSS (United States Office of Strategic Services
Poland, Intelligence and Security
Ultra, Operation
United Kingdom, Intelligence and Security

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World War 2

World War 2 (1939–45) International conflict arising from disputes provoked by the expansionist policies of Germany in Europe and Japan in the Far East. During the 1930s, appeasement failed to check the ambitions of Adolf Hitler's regime in Germany. Having made a defensive pact with the Soviet Union (August 1939), Germany invaded Poland, whereupon Britain and France declared war (September 3). In 1940, German Blitzkrieg tactics resulted in the rapid conquest of Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, and France (June). Inability to gain command of the air prevented a German invasion of Britain, although bombing (see Blitz, the) devastated British cities. German submarines also took a heavy toll of Britain's merchant fleets. Italy, under Benito Mussolini, having annexed Albania (1939) and invaded Greece (1940), joined Germany in 1941. Germany invaded Greece, where the Italians had been checked, and Yugoslavia. In June 1941, the Germans, violating the pact of 1939, invaded the Soviet Union, advancing to the outskirts of Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersburg). Italian defeats by the British in North Africa also drew in German troops, who forced a British retreat. In the Pacific, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) drew the USA into the war. Japan rapidly overran se Asia and Burma, but the Battle of Midway (June 1942) indicated growing US naval and air superiority. From 1942, the tide in Europe turned against Germany. Defeat at Stalingrad (January 1943) was followed by a Soviet advance that drove the Germans out of the Soviet Union by August 1944. Defeats in North Africa in 1942–43 led to the Allied invasion of Italy, forcing the Italians to make peace (September 1943). German troops then occupied Italy, where they resisted the Allied advance until 1945. In June 1944, Allied forces invaded Normandy. They liberated France and advanced into Germany, linking up with the Soviets beside the River Elbe in April 1945. Germany surrendered in May. Japan continued to resist, but surrendered in August after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Estimates of the numbers killed in World War 2 exceed 50 million. The great majority of the dead were civilians, many murdered in Nazi concentration camps. Politically, two former allies, the USA and the Soviet Union, emerged as dominant world powers, with antagonistic ideologies. See also Cold War

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World War II


World War II (19391945) was an international conflict involving 61 countries that mobilized over 100 million people for military service in four geographic regions: Europe, Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific. The war left 55 million people dead (30 million civilian and 25 million military), cost over one trillion dollars, and resulted in more material destruction than any other armed conflict in history. The United States emerged from the war as the most powerful nation in the world, while the Soviet Union gained a stronghold over Eastern Europe.

The war pitted the Allied Powers (the United States, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China, among others) against the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and others). The leading figures for the Allies were U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (19331945), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (19401945, 19511955), and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin (19281953). The Axis was led by German dictator Adolph Hitler (19331945), Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (19221943), and Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo (19411944).

World War II began on September 1, 1939, when 1.5 million German troops invaded Poland. Germany's superior air power and technologically advanced armored and motorized divisions overwhelmed Polish forces that were often fighting on horseback with obsolete equipment. By September 20, Poland had been overrun by the German blitzkreig (lightening war).

England and France declared war on Germany in response to the invasion. Undeterred, German forces swept through Western Europe in the spring of 1940, taking Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. In June France was overtaken. The German war machine was not stymied until that fall when Hitler attempted to subdue Britain by air and sea. Aided by the development of radar, Britain handed Germany its first significant defeat of the war, forcing Hitler to indefinitely postpone a land invasion of England.

Despite its proclaimed neutrality, the United States was preparing for war. Congress approved the sale of surplus war material to Britain in June 1940, and it passed the first peace-time-draft legislation in September. In March 1941, Congress appropriated $7 billion in Lend-Lease aid to countries fighting against the Axis. Four months later the United States stationed Marines in Iceland and authorized the Navy to escort convoys in the area. In August President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter, outlining joint national policies for the postwar period.

U.S. relations with Japan were also deteriorating. In September 1940, the United States prohibited the exportation of steel, scrap iron, and aviation gasoline to Japan after Japanese troops entered northern Indochina. When Japanese troops occupied southern Indochina in July 1941, President Roosevelt retaliated by freezing Japanese assets in the United States. Diplomatic efforts between the two countries ended when Japan bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The next day Congress declared war on Japan.

Axis military conquests continued in 1942. In January Japan invaded New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the East Indies, Burma, and the Philippines. In February Germany invaded North Africa and two months later sent troops into Greece and Yugoslavia. On June 22, 1941, Hitler ordered three million troops into Russia. Dubbed Operation "Barbarossa," Germany's invasion took the Soviet Red Army by surprise. More than a million Soviet troops were taken prisoner during the first three months of battle, and by the end of the year, German soldiers had advanced several hundred miles, camping outside of Moscow and fighting in Stalingrad.

Hitler's drive into Russia marked the peak of territorial expansion for Axis powers during World War II. It also marked a turning point. German advances were slowed by autumn rains, and then halted by the Russian winter. Most German soldiers in Russia lacked warm clothing and sufficient supplies. A number of German divisions retreated, while others were taken prisoner by the better-outfitted Russians. Reinforcements and resources sent to bolster German troops on the Eastern Front in 1942 did so at the expense of Axis campaigns on the Western Front and in Africa during 1943.

The Allies began 1943 with a string of victories in North Africa, ultimately leading to the surrender of all Axis forces on the continent by May. From North Africa the Allies invaded Sicily, where they routed enemy troops and proceeded onto the Italian mainland. Hitler's attempt to invigorate the Russian invasion during the summer of 1943 only further depleted Axis resources. As 1943 ended the Soviets were on the offensive, driving German forces back across Poland. At the same time the Allies were on the offensive in the South Pacific where U.S. troops captured the Solomon, Aleutian, and Gilbert Islands.

At the outset of 1944 the Allies drafted plans for an invasion to end the war in Europe. U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower (18901969) headed "Operation Overlord," the largest amphibious assault in history. In the early morning hours of D-Day, June 5, 1944, 5,000 ships, 10,000 planes, and 176,000 soldiers crossed the English Channel and pounded the beaches at Normandy, France. Despite suffering heavy casualties against well-armed, concrete-fortified German defenses known as pillboxes, the Allies opened a 60-mile beachhead through which a million troops would pass during the next month. Paris was liberated by August. The Germans made a desperate Nazi counterattack at the German-Belgian border in December 1944, which is called the "Battle of the Bulge" for the deep bulge it created in Allied lines. After its failure, the German army collapsed inside the Allied vise. U.S. forces from the west and Russian forces from the east converged at the Elbe River in April, and Germany unconditionally surrendered the next month, on May 7, 1945.

Following victory in Europe, the Allies turned their attention to the South Pacific. After securing control of Iwo Jima, the Philippines, and Okinawa, the Allies made plans for invading Japan. To avoid the heavy casualties predicted to result from such an invasion, President Harry S. Truman (19451953), who took office following President Roosevelt's death, authorized the dropping of two atomic bombs. On August 6, 1945, the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and three days later the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Japan unconditionally surrendered on September 2.

Prior to his death Roosevelt met with Churchill and Stalin in February 1945, at the Yalta Conference, where the three leaders agreed to separate postwar Germany into four zones that would be occupied by the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. During the period of occupation Germany would be disarmed and its economy rebuilt. The Red Army's occupation of its postwar zone, however, gave way to the creation of Communist governments in Eastern Europe under Soviet control. The Yalta Conference also established the groundwork for an international war crimes tribunal at Nuremberg for the prosecution of Nazi leaders. Finally, the Yalta Conference finalized details for the creation of the United Nations.

World War II also brought greater unity to the U.S. home front. Over 16 million U.S. citizens served in the armed forces during the war, so just about everyone knew a relative, friend, or acquaintance that was fighting in some part of the world. Families pulled together through food shortages, increased taxes, and lines at the gas station. An unprecedented number of women went to work, particularly in factories. Not surprisingly, the troops' return home in 1945 precipitated the postwar Baby Boom.

Topic overview

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you . . . I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

dwight d. eisenhower, supreme commander, allied expeditionary force, d-day, june 5, 1944

See also: Baby Boom, Home Front, Lend-Lease Act, Postwar Prosperity, United Nations, War and the Economy


Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945. New York: Touchstone Books, 1998.

. Eisenhower: Soldier and President. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.

. The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: the Men of World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Baily, Bernard, David Brion Davis, David Herbert Donald, John L. Thomas, Robert H. Wiebe, and Gordon S. Wood. The Great Republic: A History of the American People. Lexington, KY: D.C. Heath and Company, 1981.

Morris, Herman C. and Harry B. Henderson. World War II in Pictures (2 vols.). World Cleveland, 1945.

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Second World War

Second World War See World War 2

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