Modern History/Second World War

Wikibooks Modern History
Population, Governance, Philosophy, Invention, Weapons, Combat, Trade, Exploration

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The Second World War (or World War II) was the costliest war in history in terms of lives lost. Over fifty million people died either in direct combat, raids or civilian extermination. The war was fought between the 'Allies' (The British Commonwealth, the United States, China, the Soviet Union (post-1941) and the governments-in-exile of most of the European countries), and the 'Axis' (Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union (pre-1941).

In the beginning, most of the fighting was in Europe, but with the attack on Pearl Harbour, combat moved extensively to the Pacific.

The World at the end of the First World War

  • information about the Versailles Treaty, German resentment and such in here*
  • US repudiation of the Treaty of Guarantee
  • League of Nations
  • 1920 - US isolationism - repudiation of League of Nations
  • Anglo-US naval disarmament
  • US insistence on the end of the Anglo-Japanese treaties

The Great Depression


Main Article: The Great Depression

  • Withdrawal of US bank loans to Germany
  • 2.3m unemployed Germans

The Rise of Fascism, Socialism and Communism


Main Article: The Rise of Fascism, Socialism and Communism

Prelude to War


Isolationist US military planning

  • War plans black and red.

Invasion of Abyssinia

  • failure of the League of Nations
  • the realignment of Italy, a guarantor of Versailles, with Germany

Hitler's demands


breaking of the Versailles Treaty

  • invasion of Austria, Sudetenland etc
  • Appeasement

Spanish Civil War


Main Article: Modern History/Spanish Civil War

Beginning of Hostilities

    • The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact - Germany secures its eastern frontier
    • Poland (invaded by Germany and the USSR), Finland (invaded by USSR), France (invaded by Germany), Dunkirk, the Blitzkrieg*

British Commonwealth fights alone

  • June 22nd 1940(fall of France) - June 21 1941 (Invasion of USSR by Germany)
  • The battle of Britain
  • supply of Germany by USSR
  • supply of British by USA
  • Indecision of USA
  • Atlantic convoys and the Battle of the Atlantic
  • The war against Japan by China and the British Empire

The German invasion of the Soviet Union


On June 22, 1941, over 3 million Axis soldiers marched into the Soviet Union. The army was comprised mainly of Germans, but also included smaller numbers of Italians, Romanians, Hungarians, and Bulgarians.

Within weeks, the Red Army was in shambles. Most of the air force was destroyed, and the Wehrmacht was approaching Moscow with lightning speed.

The Ukrainian and Belorussian people, tired of living under Soviet Russian domination, ran happily towards the approaching army. Of course, these people were killed, as part of Hitler's plan to colonize the Ukraine with families of SS soldiers and their families.

The Italian invasion of North Africa and The Afrika Korps

    • Rommel and the Afrika Korps here*

After Hitler`s successful blitzkrieg into Poland and France which resulted in the Third Reich becoming dominant in Europe, Mussolini felt unsatisfied because he himself didn't gain any significant victories or territories. Mussolini planned to occupy Egypt from his colony in Libya. He hope to get a quick victory that would boost Italian army morale for the Greece campaign.

Before World War II, the main Italian strategies were defensive, because Libya had a dangerous position with two fronts, The Anglo-Egyptian border in the east and the French colony of Tunisia in the west. But, after France's defeat at the hand of Nazi Germany, Vichy France was no longer a threat to Libya from the west and so Mussolini asked his Generals to attack the British across the Egyptian border. But Italian troops lacked experience and preparation and the campaign went wrong for Mussolini. After capturing Mensah Matruh, the Italian offensive halted. The British used tactical superiority to launch a counter attack, not only to recapture their lost territory but also to thrust deep into Italian territory. Almost all the Italian attacking force was killed or captured, leading to General Graziani resigning from his position in Africa. Mussolini replaced him with General Gariboldi, who took command of all remaining Italian forces. Hitler, who didn't want Mussolini to lose in Africa, send Erwin Rommel to assist the Italians with only a single motorised battalion at the beginning. Rommel's army in Africa was known as the Deutsche Afrika Korps (German Africa Corps.)

The British General Wavell preferred not to continue advancing into Italian territory because of 2 factors. The first was the long supply line for the British, making it difficult to organize, and the second was Churchill's decision to transfer some of the British army in Egypt to Greece in order to help Greece to defend itself from the Nazis advancing army. Wavell thought conservatively that both the British and Italian-German didn't have enough forces to launch more offensive campaigns, and so did General Gariboldi and OKW (Ober Komando Wehrmacht). But,Rommel thought progressively, he decided that this was a great chance to attack the unprepared British, although he didn't have enough support because Hitler could only give him one more battalion. Rommel grouped his Italian-German armoured division together so he could used it effectively. On the other side, Wavell`s tanks were scattered amongst the infantry. Although the armies' numbers were equally matched, Rommel's tactics made the Deutsche Afrika Korps win over the British Desert Rats. The British were forced to withdraw and fell back to Egypt, apart from the Tobruk garrison, which was surrounded and placed under siege.

Beginning of war in the Pacific

    • Pearl Harbour, Philippines, Malaya, Hong Kong, etc*

The turning of the Tide

    • El Alamein and the North Africa campaign resulting in 300,000 axis troops lost or taken prisoner
    • Stalingrad with 500,000 axis troops lost or taken prisoner
    • Kursk, Moscow and so on*

Middle Europe

    • Sicily, and so on*

The Beginning of the End

    • New Guinea, Normandy*

The Last Resistance

    • Midway, Battle of the Bulge
    • Burma and the victories of the Indian army Japanese lose half their force in SE Asia c.200,000

End of the European War

    • Battle of Berlin*

End of the Pacific War

    • Hiroshima, Nagasaki*

The European war had ended - but the World War had not. The fight in the Pacific proved to be getting as tougher than ever, and so it was decided that the United States would use atomic bombs to end the war. [insert more text]

The World at the end of the Second World War


World War 2 led to a fundamental shift in power. The European powers were devastated and ceased to be major world powers. This left the USA and the greatly expanded Soviet Block as the pre-eminent world powers.

The end of World War 2 saw the recovery of a war-torn Europe under the Marshall Plan which provided financial aid to countries devastated by the war, the expansion of the communist Soviet Block led to the beginning of superpower hostilities between the Soviet Union and NATO in what was to become the Cold War. In America, following the death of President Roosevelt, the newly elected Harry S. Truman sought a much stricter role in the containment of the sudden rapid spread of Communism. In response to the rigged democratic elections in Eastern Europe by the Soviet Red Army and communist officials, and the newly made "sphere of Soviet influence" Truman announced the Truman Doctrine which stated that any country perceived to be under threat from internal or external Communist governments, would be entitled to receive financial and military assistance.

Notable examples of intervention against communism include the British military and US financial intervention in the Greek Civil War (1946 - 1949) where communists and royalists fought for power, the Korean War in which communist forces battled against a UN force led by the USA and the Vietnam War where communist Vietnamese nationalists fought successively against the post war British occupation forces, the French and the USA eventually emerging victorious in the 1970s.

The Soviet occupation resulted in a divided Europe including a divided Germany where communist states were on the Eastern side, behind guarded borders what were commonly referred to in the West as the "Iron Curtain", and democratic states on the Western side. The liberation of Eastern Europe from the Soviet Block was not achieved until the 1990s.