The Second World War started in 1939 and ended in 1945 with the defeat of Germany and its allies. It began only two decades after the First World War ended. During World War II, most of the countries around the world were eventually divided into two opposing alliances: the Allies and the Axis. More than a 100 million people were directly involved in the war. Below is a timeline of World War II.
Working towards his vision of creating a unified German state – where he could represent all German-speaking people – Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. He then turned his attention to Czechoslovakia and demanded the liberation of the German people living in the Sudetenland region.
It was a joint agreement between Germany, Britain, France, and Italy. It took place in Munich and allowed Germany to annex the Sudeten German territory of Czechoslovakia. The Czechs themselves were not present or represented at the meeting, and were forced to surrender the territory since no other country came to their aid. At the meeting, Hitler assured those present that this was the extent of his ambition and he had no intention of expanding his control into other territories. He even provided Chamberlain (the Prime Minister of Britain) with a signed piece of paper stating as much.
Despite the assurances he had previously given to world leaders, Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia and captured the country in 1939.
Seeing the progress of Hitler’s army and the growing threats towards Poland, Britain installed a secret, early-warning system along the east coast. Alert to the prospect of war, conscription was introduced and ordinary citizens began signing up for the army in droves.
Russia and Germany were major European powers at the time. The two signed a pact of non-aggression, promising to not go to war with one another. The pact also included detailed (secret) clauses for the division of Poland.
Despite Hitler’s assurances, the German army invaded Poland in 1939. The battle lasted a month before a German victory. It was the trigger that started World War II.
Soon after Hitler’s attack on Poland, Britain, and France officially declared war against Germany. The speech declaring war was given by the Prime Minister of Britain, Neville Chamberlain.
It is called the ‘Phoney War’ because of little to no military action after Britain’s declaration of war against Germany. There was only one limited military land operation during this period when French troops invaded the Saar district of Germany.
In an effort to safeguard the supply routes of Swedish Ore, German forces attacked and invaded Denmark and Norway. It was the opening operation of Germany’s Norwegian campaign.
A German term meaning ‘lightning war’, it was a tactic by Hitler against Holland and Belgium. Rotterdam was bombed almost to extinction. The occupation was successful.
The Dunkirk evacuation was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the harbor of Dunkirk in Northern France. General Gort had been forced to retreat to the beach amid merciless fire. More than 338,000 men were rescued on a single day.
Italy finally decided to enter the world war, but on the side of Germany. Italy hoped to get rich from the spoils of war and expected a German victory.
Devastated by the war, Phillipe Patain, the Marshal of France, signed an Armistice with Germany, taking France out of the war and accepting German dominion over the country. However, the French under Charles de Gaulle continued to resist German occupation.
This was the first military campaign to be fought entirely in the air. It was also the first concerted attack by German Air Force (the Luftwaffe) on British airfields. The large-scale attack against Britain’s air defences, however, proved ineffective against Britain’s fighting quality and tactics. By October 1940, the RAF was victorious.
Also known as the Berlin Pact, it was an agreement of mutual alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan. The pact was signed in Berlin.
German and Italian forces jointly attacked Yugoslavia, Greece and the Island of Crete.
Stalin was taken completely by surprise when Hitler sent 3 millions soldiers into Russia. This was in violation of a treaty previously signed between Germany and Soviet Union. Following the arrival of Hitler’s troops, Stalin immediately signed a mutual agreement treaty with Britain, and gained military aid from the United States.
Nearly 300 American aircrafts were destroyed when Japan attacked the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. The attack was a preliminary to taking over British, French and Dutch colonies in South Asia. The next day, both Britain and U.S.A declared war on Japan.
Six months after the attack on Pearl Harcourt, Japan was defeated by US Forces at the Battle of Midway. More than 3000 Japanese soldiers died in the battle.
The largest confrontation of World War II, it resulted in the first victory of Russian forces against Germany. The German forces sustained heavy losses and many see this defeat as the turning of the tide against Germany.
Codenamed Operation Husky, it lasted for nearly three months. By the end, the Allied forces had managed to invade and occupy the Island of Sicily, wrenching it from under German control.
Mussolini was thrown out of power and the new Italian government quickly surrendered to the Allied forces, joining them in their fight against Germany.
Codenamed Operation Neptune, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history. The Allies surprised the Germans by landing in Normandy. The Germans, who had been fed false information about an Allied landing near Calais, were unable to defend themselves. This led to the liberation of France.
The French Forces rose up against the German forces invading the country. They joined forces with US Fourth Infantry and liberated Paris from under German control.
It was the last major German offensive in the Second World War. Germany launched a final attack on Belgium, intending to stop Allied use of the port of Antwerp. It was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the U.S.A in the Second World War. German forces were beaten back and defeated at the end.
After being removed from power and imprisoned, Benito Mussolini was rescued by Hitler. He tried to resume power in Italy but was shot dead by an Italian partisan, Walter Audisio, in the village of Giuliano di Mezzegra in 1945. Hitler lost his most loyal ally with the death of Mussolini.
By early 1945, Germany had been decisively defeated on all fronts. Hitler refused to be taken a prisoner by the Allied forces. He killed himself by gunshot in his Fuhrerbunker (air-raid shelter located near Berlin). His wife, Eva Braun, committed suicide by taking cyanide.
The U.S.A ended the Second World War by dropping two atomic bombs within days of one another: the first on Hiroshima and the second on Nagasaki. Nagasaki was reduced to ashes. More than 73,000 people were killed in an instant. Japan surrendered unconditionally.