World War 2, WW2 or the Second World War is the deadliest war of the human history that took the lives of around 70 million people (including military and civilian) from around the world. This six year long (September 1939 to September 1945) war was mainly fought in Europe, Asia and Africa while all the great powers of that time were divided in two blocs (Allied and Axis) to participate in the WW2. Nazi Germany was leading the Axis Power which had main support from Japan and Italy. The Allied Powers were mainly comprised of UK, USA, France, Soviet Union, China and others. The war is especially known for the atrocities committed by both sides on civilians of opponents. Major examples are the Holocaust by Germany and the atomic bombings on Japan by USA.
Causes of World War 2
· After defeat in World War 1, Germany suffered harsh conditions from the victorious Allied Powers. All the German overseas territories were annexed while Germany also lost few German areas of Europe. Restrictions were laid on German armed forces while the German Empire was replaced by a democratic republic (Weimer Republic). There was a deep feeling in Germany that they were winning the WW1 but the inside traitors brought defeat for them. These feelings produced nationalism in Germans which gave rise to Nazi Party in power in 1933 and Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. The aim of Nazi party was to unite all Germans (which they considered as superior race).
· Italy was on the side of Allied Powers during World War 1 but due to disagreement over the distribution of spoils of war, the nationalists in Italy were unhappy and the enhanced nationalistic feelings of Italian people later paved the way for Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini in 1925. The aim of this Fascist regime was to make Italy a world power on the lines of Roman Empire.
· In the start of 20th Century, the Japanese Empire was becoming powerful with ideologies of Japanese nationalism and militarism and had the ambition to control the whole of Asia. After defeating Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), Japan later annexed Manchuria (southeast China) in 1932 and formed a puppet government there in order to expand its territory and economic interests. Lesser conflicts between Japan and China continued later which culminated into Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The border conflicts between Japan and Russia also started in 1932 due to Japan’s expansionist goals.
Events Before World War 2
· Ethiopian Empire was a rare independent country in Africa in the 19th and 20th Century that had already defeated Italy in the First Italo-Ethiopian War (1894-96). In order to accomplish its expansionist ideology, Italy invaded Ethiopia (known as Second Italo-Ethiopian War) in October 1935 and occupied the African country in May 1936. Both the countries were part of League of Nations by the league remained silent on this war.
· In July 1936, the Spanish Civil War started between the leftist Republicans (who were in power) and their opponents Nationalists. Germany and Italy supported the Nationalists while the Republicans were mainly supported by Soviet Union. The war lasted till April 1939 and ended with victory for the Nationalists. Germany and Soviet Union used this proxy war to test their weapons and battle tactics for a major war.
· Germany started to accomplish its goal of unification of all German areas in 1938. In March 1938, Germany annexed the German-speaking country of Austria and then started claims on the German majority areas (Sudetenland) of Czechoslovakia. Sudetenland became part of Germany as a result of Munich Agreement in September 1938 through meditation from UK and France. Encouraged by this division, Germany and Italy forced Czechoslovakia to surrender its Hungarian-populated areas to Hungary in November 1938 through First Vienna Award. Later in March 1939, Germany captured the whole of Czechoslovakia and divided it in to two puppet states of Bohemia and Moravia and Slovak Republic. After German ultimatum, Lithuania also ceded its German-majority area of Klaipeda Region to Germany in March 1939.
· Germans intentions were now clear and when Germany demanded the Free City of Danzig from Poland in August 1939, Britain and France assured their support for independence of Poland while the same assurance was provided to Greece and Romania after Italy’s capture of Albania in April 1939.
· In retaliation, Germany signed Molotov-Ribbentop Pact with Soviet Union under which both the countries accepted the German influence over western Poland and Lithuania and Soviet influence over Finland, Estonia, Latvia and eastern Poland. The purpose of this pact was to protect the eastern side of Germany in case of any war with Britain and France.
Campaigns of World War 2 (WW2)
The World War 2 formally started on 1st September 1939 by Invasion of Poland by Germany, Slovak Republic and later Soviet Union. After one month, Poland was defeated and divided by the invaders. Germany took the western half of Poland and Free City of Danzig while Soviet Union annexed eastern half of Poland. Slovakia and Lithuania also took small parts of Poland. Britain and France declared war against Germany on 3rd September 1939.
In the end of November 1939, the Winter War started between Soviet Union and Finland after the former’s invasion of the latter. The war ended in March 1940 with limited soviet victory as it captured Gulf of Finland and few borders areas after sustaining heavy casualties.
Norway was a neutral country during WW2 but the strategic location of Norway was very important for both the opponents. Both Germany and allies tried to make use of Norwegian neutral zone which later prompted Germany to start the Norwegian Campaign on 9th April 1940. Britain and France aided the resistance of Norway against Germany which lasted for 62 days and Germany was able to capture Norway on 10th June 1940 while the allied troops had to withdraw from Norwegian front after the German invasion of France in May 1940.
The Battle of France started on 10th May 1940 with German invasion of Luxembourg, Netherlands and Belgium. Luxembourg surrendered immediately while Germany captured Netherlands in a week and Belgium till 28th May 1940. Unlike World War 1, the trench warfare was not possible to save France due to advancement in warfare technology. German superior military, armored and fighter jets completely outclassed the French defending forces and the Battle of France ended on 25th June 1940 with a decisive victory for Germany and Italy. Large part of France was captured by Germany (Italy captured some French area near border) while the south area became Vichy France, a semi-independent state that either remained neutral or sided with Axis during WW2.
After occupation of France, Britain was the only country left in the Western Europe that was fighting against Germany. In order to force Britain to surrender, Germany decided to invade Britain soon after the Fall of France. But Britain is an Island which had one of the strongest navies which made it impossible for Germany to invade Britain with its land forces (Heer). Instead, Germany invaded Britain with its air force (Luftwaffe) in order to demoralize the British military and civilians and this invasion is known as Battle of Britain. Air strikes from Germany started in July 1940 and lasted till October 1940. Initially, Germany bombarded the coastal areas of Britain to ensure the sea blockade and later initiated its target on Royal Air Force (RAF) in August 1940. In September 1940, Luftwaffe started strategic bombing of London and other important industrial cities (known as The Blitz) in order to reduce industrial production and decrease the morale of British people. But the effort remained unsuccessful due to stiff resistance by RAF while pilots of Poland, Belgium, Free France and other occupied countries also played important role in the success of Britain. The Battle of Britain was the first defeat for Germany in World War 2.
On 28th October 1940, the Balkan Campaign started with Italian invasion of Greece. Albania was already occupied by Italy in April 1939 and the Italian invasion of Greece took place from Albania. But Italy could not occupy Greece due to stiff resistance from the defenders and the Italian forces repelled till 13th November 1940. Soon after that, the Greek counteroffensive started which took even large part of Albania from Italy till January 1941. On seeing the defeat of Italy, Germany intervened in the campaign and German invasion of Yugoslavia started in April 1941. Yugoslavia surrendered within two weeks and divided by the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Hungary). In April 1941, the Battle of Greece started with German help which ended the war in less than a month in favor of Axis. After successful Battle of Crete in May 1941, the Axis took control the whole of the Balkan area.
Now Germany and its allies were in control of all of Europe except Britain and Hitler decided to accomplish its plan of eliminating Communism by capturing Soviet Union. Germans opened the Eastern Front with invasion of Soviet Union in June 1941 with the code name of Operation Barbarossa. The Germans were supported by Romania, Hungary and Finland. Initially, the operation remained very successful and the Germans occupied the Baltic States, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and few eastern parts of Russia within few months. But the stiff resistance from Russians and severe cold weather halted the German advances on the most important Russian cities during Battle of Moscow (October 1941-January 1942) and Siege of Leningrad (September 1941-January 1944). Later, Soviet counter-offensive started with the arrival of fresh Soviet troops from Siberia and Far Eastern Russia. After limited winter successes in 1941-42, Germans remained upper hand in this Soviet invasion. But the soviet victories in the Battle of Stalingrad (August 1942-February 1943) and the Battle of Kursk (July 1943) proved decisive for the outcome of the Eastern Front. After these battles, it was complete retreat from Germany and its allies on the Eastern Front and Soviet Union recaptured most of its areas lost to the Axis in 1944.
In the European Campaign, the situation began to reverse on both Eastern Front and West Front in 1944. The Allies re-captured Normandy (France) on 6th June 1944 (known as D-Day) while Liberation of Paris came in August 1944. Germany carried out its last offensive on Western Front in December 1944 known as Battle of the Bulge that was fought at the Ardennes (Belgium & Netherlands). Germany failed to secure any ground but the battle delayed the Allied offensive for few weeks. In 1945, Allied Powers from west and Soviet Union from east were heading towards Germany and German defeat was looking obvious. At this time, Adolf Hitler committed suicide on 30th April 1945 and the Allied forces from both West and East entered Berlin on 8th May 1945 which ended the World War 2 in Europe.
Asia & Pacific Campaign
After the European Campaign, the other most important theatre of World War 2 was the Asia and Pacific Campaign. During this campaign, Japan was mainly representing the Axis power while their major opponents were USA, China and Britain and its colonies. This campaign is especially important due to two reasons. The first is that this campaign started in 1937 before the proper start of World War 2 and ended around one month later after end of WW2 in Europe. Apart from that, the nuclear weapons were used by USA against Japan during this campaign.
The Second Sino-Japanese War started in July 1937 with Japanese invasion of China and lasted during the whole World War 2 till Japanese surrender on 9th September 1945. Japan had already captured Manchuria (northeast China) in 1932 and started the occupation of other parts of China in July 1937. In the same year, Japan captured the important northeastern areas of Beijing, Shanghai, Taiyuan and Nanjing (a massacre was committed by Japanese in Nanjing). First victory for Chinese came in 1938 in the Battle of Taierzhuang in southeast China and the. In 1939, the Chinese defended the southeast China by defeating Japan in the Battle of Suixian-Zaoyang (April-May 1939), Battle of Changsha (Sep-Oct 1939) and the Battle of South Guangxi (November 1939) and later they also launched a surprising but unsuccessful Winter Offensive in various parts of east China in the end of 1939 and beginning of 1940. In September 1940, Japan captured the French Indochina (Southeast Asia) to block Allied support of China. Japan’s invasion to China continues till 1945 but Chinese resistance limited the Japanese occupation to eastern part of China and later defeat of Japan at the hands of Allied powers helped the complete liberation of China from Japan.
The Pacific War was an important campaign of World War 2. Japan and USA were major belligerents during this campaign while other Allied countries of Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, British colonies etc) also assisted US during the campaign. The war started with Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii (USA) on 7th December 1941 after which US declared war against Japan. Apart from ffew initial successes, the campaign proved disastrous for Japan as it lost successive battles against US and Allied forces. The last major battle of the campaign was Battle of Okinawa (April-June 1945) after which Japan lost all the areas to Allied powers except mainland Japan.
The South West Pacific Theatre was a separate campaign from Pacific Ocean Campaign of World War 2. During this campaign, the Allied colonies of South West Pacific were the main targets of Japan. From December 1941 to 1942, the Japanese invaded several areas in the Pacific Ocean under the control of Allied Powers and was able to capture Borneo, Philippines, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and parts of Solomon Island and Guinea. The Allied counteroffensive started in 1943 and they successfully regained all the areas lost to Japan. The Borneo Campaign (May-August 1945) was the last major campaign of the South West Pacific after which the island of Borneo was liberated from Japan.
The Asian Campaign was also fought in Southeast Asia from December 1941 to September 1945. Like other campaigns of Asia, the Japanese troops captured several areas in the beginning of the war including Hong Kong, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Andaman & Nicobar Islands (British India). But situation changed in the later years and Allied Powers regained all the lost areas to Japan in 1944 and 1945.
By the end of 1944, Japan had lost most of its occupied areas and the Allied forces started the Japan Campaign in and around mainland Japan in the start of 1945 in order to force the surrender by Japan. US played most important role during this campaign. Air raids along with naval and land battles were fought during this campaign. Japanese Volcano Islands were captured by Allies after Battle of Iwo Jima (February-March 1945) while the Japanese lost the control of Okinawa Island after the Battle of Okinawa (April-June 1945). The Allied powers crushed the naval power of Japan after Operation Ten-Go (April 1945) and the Battle of Sagami Bay (July 1945).
Due to kazakami (suicide) attacks of Japanese on US naval ships, it was evident that the resistance of Japanese will be severe during invasion of mainland Japan by the Allied forces. In order to prevent any other long war, US decided to use its latest and most lethal weapon, nuclear weapon, on Japan to force the country to surrender. US bombarded two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6th and 9th August 1945 respectively. Around 200,000 Japanese (90% of them civilians) lost their lives due to this nuclear bombing and it forced Japan to surrender on 15th August 1945.
Soon after US nuclear bombings on Japan, the Soviet-Japanese War (1945) started on 9th August 1945 with Soviet invasion of Manchuria (Manchukuo). Japanese soon lost the control of Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Korea and nearby areas to Allies after which the surrender was signed on 2nd September 1945 which ended the World War 2.
Campaigns in Middle East and Africa
The Middle Eastern campaign during WW2 was fought in Iraq, Syria-Lebanon and Iran. The purpose of Anglo-Iraqi War (May 1941) was to abolish the newly established nationalist regime of Iraq and restore the former puppet regime. The British easily achieved their purpose in this one-month long war. The Syria-Lebanon Campaign started in June 1941 and lasted for 5 weeks. Syria-Lebanon was under the control of Vichy France and the campaign was launched by UK and Free France in order to take the area from Vichy France. After severe battles and heavy casualties, Free France took the area from Vichy France. The British and Soviet troops invaded Iran on 25th August 1941 in order to protect their oil fields and supply lines as Persian monarch Reza Shah had friendly relations with Axis powers. In less than a month, the Iranian king was deposed and replaced by his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi by the invading forces.
In Africa, the World War 2 was fought in the areas of East Africa and North Africa. The East African Campaign was primarily fought around Italian East Africa (now Ethiopia, Eritrea & Somalia) and British controlled Kenya, Somaliland and Sudan from June 1940 to November 1941. Italy and UK were main belligerents during this campaign. In 1940, the Italians were on the offensive and they captures British Somaliland and few areas of British Sudan but the situation changed in 1941 as the Allies not only re took all their lost areas in their offensive but Italy also lost control of its East African area which resulted in restoration of Ethiopian Empire.
The North African Campaign was a major campaign of World War 2 that was fought for 3 years from June 1940 to May 1943 between Axis forces of Italy, Germany and Vichy France and Allied forces of UK, Free France and USA. The areas of this campaign were Italian Libya, French controlled Algeria, Tunisia & Morocco and the British puppet state of Egypt. Fierce battles were fought during the North African campaign while Allies remained on offensive during the campaign. The campaign ended with decisive victory for Allies and Italy and Vichy France lost all their areas in North Africa as the result of their defeat. Allied victory in North African Campaign paved their way for Italian Campaign.
Soon after the North African Campaign, the Allied invasion of Sicily started in July 1943 and captured Sicily from defending forces of Italy and Germany till August 1943. Italian Empire signed the Armistice of Cassibile on 3rd September 1943 with Allied forces which ended Italian collaboration with Axis powers. Soon after, the Allied invasion of mainland Italy started in September 1943 and the invaders captured the southern areas of Italy including Selerno, Calabria and Taranto in two weeks. Also in September 1943, the local people of Naples liberated their area from Germans. The Allies slowly advances towards northern Italy in 1944 by breaking the defenses of Germany and the final offensive was launched in April 1945 which ended the German occupation of Italy till 2nd May 1945.
Apart from Pacific Ocean, the naval warfare was fought during WW2 mainly in Atlantic and Arctic Ocean from 1939 to 1945. The purpose of the naval campaign by both the Allied and Axis was to blockade the sea routes of opponent in order to disrupt the economic and military transportation. Thousands of people (both military and civilians) from both sides were killed and hundreds of ships, submarines and aircrafts were destroyed during the naval campaign of WW2.
Casualties during World War 2
World War 2 proved to be the deadliest war of human history as around 70 million people (estimates ranging from 50 to 85 million) died due to direct and indirect effects of war. Over 20 million soldiers of various countries lost their lives during the conflict. Around half (app. 9 million) of them belong to Soviet Union. Other countries that lost large number of soldiers include: Germany (approx. 4.5 million), China (more than 3 million) and Japan (more than 2 million). USA lost more soldiers (over 400,000) than UK (around 385,000).
The civilian deaths due to direct and indirect effects of World War 2 were around 50 million. The major sufferers were: Soviet Union (over 18 million), China (over 12 million) and Poland (over 5.5 million). According to estimates, more than 5 million Jews and less than 1 million Romani were among the civilian deaths as a result of Holocaust.
Effects of World War 2
· The defeat in World War 2 completely ended Nazism in Germany with death, execution and imprisonment of all the major figures of Nazi Party. Germany not only lost its all occupied areas but Germany itself was divided among West Germany and East Germany under the control of western countries and Soviet Union respectively.
· Great European powers like UK, France and Germany were dominating the world politics since several centuries but World War 2 depleted their sources and these European powers were replaced by USA and Soviet Union as new world powers.
· The emergence of USA and Soviet Union as world powers initiated the cold war between communism and capitalism. Soviet Union spread its influence in eastern and central Europe and several parts of Asia, Africa and South America while USA had allies in western, southern and northern Europe along many countries in other continents. Several proxy wars were fought between USA and USSR during this cold war that ended with disintegration of Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
· Due to military and economic weakness, the European colonial powers were not able to keep their colonies under their control and all these colonies in Asia and Africa gained independence within few years from few decades after WW2.
· Killing of large number of Jews by Germany during WW2 created sympathies for Jews in western world. These sympathies were used for creation of Israel in 1948 that started a long-lasting Arab-Israel conflict in the Middle East.
· After Japanese surrender, USA took control of mainland Japan, several Japanese islands in Pacific and South Korea. Soviet Union took Sakhalin Island, Kuril Islands and North Korea. Chinese areas were given back to China.
· The Civil War in China between Chinese nationalist regime and communists restarted after the end of WW2. World War 2 had weakened the nationalists a lot and provided good experience to the communists. In 1949, communists captured the mainland China that became People’s Republic of China. The nationalists took control over Taiwan (a small island south of mainland China).
· United Nations Organization (UNO) was established after the end of World War 2 in order to prevent any such large scale war. League of Nations (formed after World War 1) proved ineffective against World War 2 but UN successfully prevented any world war in the course of Cold War.