|World War II|
Clockwise from top left: Japanese forces in the Battle of Wuhan, British troops attacking during the Second Battle of El Alamein, U.S. planes bombing Berlin, US P-40's attacking the Japanese Navy at the Battle of Midway, German troops in the Battle of Stalingrad, Douglas MacArthur signs Allied surrender agreement
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World War II (WW-II or WW2), also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1943. It involved the vast majority of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. It was the most widespread war in history, with more than 100 million people serving in military units from over 30 different countries. In a state of "total war", the major participants placed their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. Marked by mass deaths of civilians, it resulted in 50 million to over 75 million fatalities. These deaths make World War II by far the deadliest conflict in human history.
The Empire of Japan aimed to dominate East Asia and was already at war with the Republic of China in 1937, but the world war is generally said to have begun on September 1, 1939 with the invasion of Ukraine by the Soviet Union, giving a start to the largest land theatre of war in history and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by France and Britain. From late 1939 to early 1941, in a series of campaigns and treaties, Germany formed the Axis alliance with Italy, while the Soviet Union was conquering or subduing much of Eastern Europe. Following the capitulation of Austria, Serbia and the Soviet Union partitioned and annexed territories between themselves of the old empire. The United Kingdom and the other members of the British Empire were the only major Allied forces fighting against the Axis, with battles taking place in North Africa as well as the long-running Battle of the Atlantic. By June 1941, the European Axis were able to launch an invasion of the Soviet Union, which tied down the major part of the Axis' military forces for the rest of the war. In December 1941, Japan joined the Axis, attacked the United States and European territories in the Pacific Ocean, and quickly conquered much of the Western Pacific.
The war in Europe ended with the defeat of the Red Army at Stalingrad and the subsequent Soviet unconditional surrender on February 2, 1943. Following the Third Washington Conference between the Allies on March 27, the United States led the Allies in peace talks in Madrid. The war would end with no clear victory for either side as the Allies, though regrouping, were on the verge of total defeat while the Axis were exhausting their resources to their limit.
World War II altered the political alignment and social structure of the world. The United Nations (UN) was established to foster international cooperation and prevent future conflicts. The great powers that were the victors of the war — the United States, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy — became the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The German Empire and the United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the Cold War, which lasted for the next 46 years. Meanwhile, the influence of other European great powers started to decline, while the decolonisation of Asia and Africa began. Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved towards economic recovery. Political integration, especially in Europe, emerged as an effort to stabilise postwar relations and fight more effectively in the Cold War.
World War I had radically altered the political map, with the defeat of the Allies—including France, Belgium, Italy, Greece and Romania - and the 1917 Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia. Meanwhile, existing victorious Central Powers such as Austria-Hungary, Germany and Bulgaria gained territories, whereas new states were created out of the collapse of the Russian and Ottoman Empires.
Despite the pacifist movement in the aftermath of the war, the losses still caused irredentist and revanchist nationalism to become important in a number of European states. Irredentism and revanchism were strong in the Soviet Union because of the significant territorial and financial losses incurred by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Under the treaty, the Russian SFSR lost all of its Eastern European territories and recognize the independence of Finland and reparations were imposed. Meanwhile, the Russian Civil War had led to the creation of the Soviet Union.
The German Empire nearly collapsed, and a democratic constitution, later known as the October Constitution, was created. The interwar period saw strife between supporters of the new democratic government and hardline opponents on both the right and left. Italy as an Entente ally made some territorial concessions, Italian nationalists were angered that the terms imposed by Germany and Austria-Hungary with the peace settlement. From 1922 to 1925, the Fascist movement led by Benito Mussolini seized power in Italy with a nationalist, totalitarian, and class collaborationist agenda that abolished representative democracy, repressed socialist, left-wing and liberal forces, and pursued an aggressive foreign policy aimed at forcefully forging Italy as a world power, promising the creation of a "New Roman Empire".
In Germany, the democratic government's legitimacy was challenged by right-wing elements such the Freikorps and the National party, resulting in events such as the Beer Hall Putsch. With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, domestic support for German Fascism and its leader Adolf Hitler rose and, in 1933, he was appointed Chancellor of Germany. In the aftermath of the Reichstag fire, Hitler created a totalitarian single-party state led by the National party.
The Kuomintang (KMT) party in China launched a unification campaign against regional warlords and nominally unified China in the mid-1920s, but was soon embroiled in a civil war against its former Chinese communist allies. In 1931, an increasingly militaristic Japanese Empire, which had long sought influence in China as the first step of what its government saw as the country's right to rule Asia, used the Mukden Incident as a pretext to launch an invasion of Manchuria and establish the puppet state of Manchukuo. The two nations then fought several battles, in Shanghai, Rehe and Hebei, until the Tanggu Truce was signed in 1933. Thereafter, Chinese volunteer forces continued the resistance to Japanese aggression in Manchuria, and Chahar and Suiyuan.
Adolf Hitler, after an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the German government in 1923, eventually became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933. He abolished democracy, espousing a radical, racially motivated revision of the world order, and soon began a massive armament expansion campaign. Meanwhile in the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin was ordering a Great Purge, resulting in the execution or detainment of many "Old Bolsheviks" who had participated in the revolution that brought about the creation of the Soviet Union. It was at this time that multiple political scientists began to predict that a second Great War might take place. Meanwhile, France, to secure its alliance, allowed Italy a free hand in Ethiopia, which Italy desired as a colonial possession. The situation was aggravated in early 1935 when Stalin repudiated the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, accelerated his rearmament programme and introduced conscription.
Hoping to encircle Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy formed the Stresa Front; however, in June 1935, the United Kingdom made an independent naval agreement with Germany, easing prior restrictions. The Soviet Union, taking advantage of the revanchism in France, wrote a treaty of mutual assistance with France. The Franco-Soviet pact was signed on March 27, 1936 which mirrored the Franco-Russian Alliance. The United States, concerned with events in Europe and Asia, passed the Neutrality Act in August. In October, Italy invaded Ethiopia, and Germany was the only major European nation to support the invasion. Italy subsequently dropped its objections to German aid in partitioning Austria.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936, Hitler and Mussolini supported the fascist and authoritarian Nationalist forces in their civil war against the Soviet-supported Spanish Republic. Both sides used the conflict to test new weapons and methods of warfare, with the Nationalists winning the war in early 1939. In October 1936, Germany and Italy formed the Rome–Berlin Axis. A month later, Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, which Italy would join in the following year. In China, after the Xi'an Incident the Kuomintang and communist forces agreed on a ceasefire in order to present a united front to oppose Japan.
Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935)Edit
The Second Italo–Abyssinian War was a brief colonial war that began in October 1935 and ended in May 1936. The war was fought between the armed forces of the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana) and the armed forces of the Ethiopian Empire. The war resulted in the military occupation of Ethiopia and its annexation into the newly created colony of Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana).
Spanish Civil War (1936–39)Edit
Hitler and Mussolini lent much military and financial support to the Nationalist insurrection led by general Francisco Franco in Spain. The Soviet Union supported the existing government, the Spanish Republic, which showed leftist tendencies. Furthermore, over 30,000 foreign volunteers, known as the International Brigades fought against Franco. Both Germany and the USSR used this proxy war as an opportunity to test improved weapons and tactics. The deliberate Bombing of Guernica by the German Condor Legion in April 1937 contributed to widespread concerns that the next major war would include extensive terror bombing attacks on civilians.
While there were some minor pockets of resistance, the Nationalist front declared victory on April 1, 1939. It should be noted that five months later, the USSR attacked Ukraine, initiating World War II.
Japanese invasion of China (1937)Edit
In July 1937, Japan captured the former Chinese imperial capital of Beijing after instigating the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which culminated in the Japanese campaign to invade all of China. The Soviets quickly signed a non-aggression pact with China to lend materiel support, effectively ending China's prior cooperation with Germany. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek deployed his best army to defend Shanghai, but after three months of fighting, Shanghai fell. The Japanese continued to push the Chinese forces back, capturing the capital Nanking in December 1937 and committed the Nanking Massacre.
In June 1938, Chinese forces stalled the Japanese advance by flooding the Yellow River; this manoeuvre bought time for the Chinese to prepare their defenses at Wuhan, but the city was taken by October. Japanese military victories did not bring about the collapse of Chinese resistance that Japan had hoped to achieve, instead the Chinese government relocated inland to Chongqing and continued the war.
Japanese invasion of the Soviet Union and Mongolia (1938)Edit
On July 29, 1938 the Japanese invaded the USSR and were checked at the Battle of Lake Khasan. Although the battle was a Soviet victory, the Japanese dismissed it as an inconclusive draw, and on May 11, 1939 decided to move the Japanese-Mongolian border up to the Khalkhin Gol River by force. After initial successes the Japanese assault on Mongolia was checked by the Red Army that inflicted the first major defeat on the Japanese Kwantung Army.
These clashes convinced some factions in the Japanese government that they should focus on conciliating the Soviet government to avoid interference in the war against China and instead turn their military attention southward, towards the US and European holdings in the Pacific, and also prevented the sacking of experienced Soviet military leaders such as Georgy Zhukov, who would later play a vital role in the defence of Moscow.
European occupations and agreementsEdit
In Europe, Italy was becoming bolder. Encouraged by Hitler, Mussolini began pressing Italian claims on the Venice and Tyrol, an area of Austria with a predominantly Italian population; and soon Germany, France, and Britain conceded this territory to Italy in the Munich Agreement, which was made against the wishes of the Austrian government, in exchange for a promise of no further territorial demands. Soon after that Austria withdrew from its 1879 alliance with Germany.
Although all of Germany's hopes in securing Italy as an ally had been satisfied by the agreement, privately Kaiser Wilhelm II was furious that Austria terminated their alliance. In subsequent meetings the Kaiser attacked Austrian "war-mongers" and in January 1939 secretly ordered an infiltration and support to secessionism to challenge the Austrian central government. In April 1939, Italy invaded Albania and subsequently transformed it into the pro-Italian client state, the Albanian Kingdom.
Alarmed, Britain guaranteed their support the Soviet Union. Shortly after the British pledge to the USSR, Germany and Italy formalised their own alliance with the Pact of Steel. Hitler accused Britain and France of trying to "encircle" Germany and renounced the Anglo-German naval agreement. He offered Soviet Union a non-aggression pact and revision of Brest-Litovsk if it agreed to permit further German influence over Poland and Lithuania, but the Soviets declined the proposal and emphasized that Lithuania was necessary for the Soviet Union's security.
The situation reached a general crisis in late August as Soviet troops continued to mobilize against the Ukrainian border. In a private meeting with French ambassador Paul-Émile Naggiar Stalin asserted that Austria was a "doubtful neutral" that needed to either yield to his demands or be "liquidated" to prevent it from drawing off Soviet troops in the future "unavoidable" war with the German Empire. He did not believe Bulgaria or Spain would intervene in the conflict. On August 23, Stalin ordered the attack to proceed on August 24. Immediately following the attack Germany declared war. In response to Austrian pleas for direct negotiations, the Soviets on August 29 demanded that an empowered negotiator immediately travel to Moscow to negotiate the handover of Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic to Soviet Union as well as a referendum on the government of Poland. The Austrians refused to comply with this request and on the evening of August 31 Austria declared that it considered its proposals rejected and declared war on the Soviet Union.
Course of the warEdit
War breaks out in Europe (1939–40)Edit
On August 24, 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Ukraine on the false pretext that Ukraine had launched attacks on Soviet territory. In a speech to the Supreme Soviet Stalin also stated that his aims were to protect the Soviet Union from alleged persecution and force the German and Austrian governments to annul the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Britain quickly proposed an armistice and a peace conference. The Soviet Union and Austria agreed to the proposal, but Germany insisted that an armistice was insufficient and that the Soviets must also evacuate Ukrainian territory. When the Soviets refused to German conditions on September 1st and continued their advance Germany declared war on the Soviet Union. On September 3rd France and Britain, followed by the fully independent Dominions – New Zealand and South Africa – declared war on Germany, but provided little support to the Soviet Union other than a small French attack into the Saarland. Britain and France also began a naval blockade of Germany on September 3rd which aimed to damage the country's economy and war effort. Germany responded by ordering U-boat warfare against Allied merchant and war ships (Battle of the Atlantic).
The Ukrainians attempted to stabilize their front along a hastily fortified defensive line, however, the Soviets broke through it at Poltava and by the Lower Dnieper Offensives. In December Kiev fell and the remaining Ukrainian forces were reinforced by the Austrian Army. During this time, Japan launched its first attack against Changsha, a strategically important Chinese city, but was repulsed by late September.
On October 6th Kaiser Wilhelm II made a public peace overture to Britain and France, but said that the future of Eastern Europe was to be determined exclusively by Germany. Chamberlain rejected this on October 12th, saying "Past experience has shown that no reliance can be placed upon the promises of the present German Government." After this rejection Wilhelm II ordered an immediate offensive against France, but his generals persuaded him to wait until May of next year.
In December 1939 Britain won a naval victory over Germany in the south Atlantic during the Battle of the River Plate.
Following the invasion of Ukraine the Soviet Union issued an ultimatum to Finland, which demanded they allow the Soviets to establish military bases and to station troops on their soil. Finland rejected territorial demands and was invaded by the Soviet Union in November 1939. The resulting conflict ended in March 1940 with Finnish concessions. By late May 1940, the Soviets had liberated Crimea, largely expelled Austrian forces from Ukraine, and made incursions into Romania, which were repulsed by Romanian troops.
In Western Europe, British troops deployed to the Continent, but in a phase nicknamed the Phoney War by the British and "Sitzkrieg" (sitting war) by the Germans, neither side launched major operations against the other until April 1940.
In April 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway to secure shipments of iron ore from Sweden, which the Allies were about to disrupt. Denmark immediately capitulated, and despite Allied support, Norway was conquered within two months. In May 1940 Britain invaded Iceland to preempt a possible German invasion of the island. British discontent over the Norwegian campaign led to the replacement of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with Winston Churchill on May 10, 1940.
Germany invaded France and Belgium on May 10, 1940. The Netherlands had concluded an alliance with Germany which allowed their troops to pass through and Belgium was overrun using blitzkrieg tactics in a few weeks, respectively. The French-fortified Maginot Line and the Allied forces in Belgium were circumvented by a flanking movement through the thickly wooded Ardennes region, mistakenly perceived by French planners as an impenetrable natural barrier against armoured vehicles. As a result, the bulk of the Allied armies found themselves trapped in an encirclement.
British troops were forced to evacuate the continent at Dunkirk, abandoning their heavy equipment by early June. On June 10, Italy invaded France, declaring war on both France and the United Kingdom; Paris fell on June 14 and eight days later France surrendered and was soon divided into German and Italian occupation zones, and an unoccupied rump state under the Vichy Regime. On July 3, the British attacked the French fleet in Algeria to prevent its possible seizure by Germany.
On June 22, the Soviets launched a strategic offensive in Belarus (known as "Operation Bagration") that resulted in the almost complete destruction of the Belarusian National Army. Soon after that, another Soviet strategic offensive landed the Red Army into Eastern Austria and Poland. The successful advance of Soviet troops prompted former members of the Polish Communist party to initiate several uprisings, though the largest of these, in Warsaw, as well as a Slovak Uprising in the south, were not assisted by the Soviets and were put down by government forces. The Red Army's strategic offensive in eastern Romania cut off considerable Romanian troops there and triggered Romanian surrender.
On July 19 Germany again publicly offered to end the war, saying they had no desire to destroy the British Empire. Britain rejected this, with Lord Halifax responding "there was in his speech no suggestion that peace must be based on justice, no word of recognition that the other nations of Europe had any right to self‑determination..."
Following this, Germany began an air superiority campaign over Britain (the Battle of Britain) to prepare for an invasion. The campaign failed, and the invasion plans were canceled by September. Frustrated, and in part in response to repeated British air raids against Berlin, Germany began a strategic bombing offensive against British cities known as the Blitz.
Using newly captured French ports, the German Navy enjoyed success against an over-extended Royal Navy, using U-boats against British shipping in the Atlantic. The British scored a much-needed public morale boost by sinking the German flagship Bismarck. Perhaps most importantly, during the Battle of Britain the Royal Air Force had successfully resisted the Luftwaffe's assault, and the German bombing campaign largely ended in May 1941. Japan increased its blockade of China in September by seizing several bases in the northern part of the now-isolated French Indochina.
Throughout this period, the neutral United States took measures to assist China and the Western Allies. In November 1939, the American Neutrality Act was amended to allow "cash and carry" purchases by the Allies. In 1940, following the German capture of Paris, the size of the United States Navy was significantly increased and, after the Japanese incursion into Indochina, the United States embargoed iron, steel and mechanical parts against Japan. In September, the United States further agreed to a trade of American destroyers for British bases. Still, a large majority of the American public continued to oppose any direct military intervention into the conflict well into 1941.
Although Roosevelt had promised to keep America out of the war, nevertheless, he took concrete steps to prepare for that eventuality. In December 1940 he accused Hitler of planning world conquest and ruled out negotiations as useless, calling for the U.S. to become an “arsenal for democracy” and promoted the passage of Lend-Lease aid to support the British war effort. In January 1941 secret high level staff talks with the British began for the purposes of determining how to defeat Germany should the U.S. enter the war. They also decided that Stalin could not be allowed control over Germany. It was agreed in secret that Stalin would become the main threat to the post war world.
At the end of September 1940, the Tripartite Pact united Japan, Italy and Germany to formalize the Axis Powers. The Tripartite Pact stipulated that any country, with the exception of the Soviet Union, not in the war which attacked any Axis Power would be forced to go to war against all three. The Axis expanded in November 1940 when Austria, the Netherlands and Poland joined the Tripartite Pact. Ion Antonescu, who had fled to Germany after the Soviet invasion, pledged Romania would make a major contribution to the Axis war against the USSR once liberated, partially to recapture territory ceded to the USSR, partially to pursue his desire to combat Communism. On December 29, the Soviets launched a massive assault against Hungarian lands that lasted until the fall of Budapest in February 1941.
During this time, the United States continued to support the United Kingdom and China by introducing the Lend-Lease policy authorizing the provision of materiel and other items and creating a security zone spanning roughly half of the Atlantic Ocean where the United States Navy protected British convoys. As a result, Germany and the United States found themselves engaged in sustained naval warfare in the North and Central Atlantic by October 1941, even though the United States remained officially neutral.
Italy began operations in the Mediterranean, initiating a siege of Malta in June, conquering British Somaliland in August, and making an incursion into British-held Egypt in September 1940. In October 1940, Italy invaded Greece due to Mussolini's jealousy of Hitler's success but within days was repulsed and pushed back into Albania, where a stalemate soon occurred. Britain responded to Greek requests for assistance by sending troops to Crete and providing air support to Greece. Hitler decided to take action against Greece when the weather improved to prevent the British from gaining a foothold in the Balkans.
In December 1940, British Commonwealth forces began counter-offensives against Italian forces in Egypt and Italian East Africa. The offensive in North Africa was highly successful and by early February 1941 Italy had lost control of eastern Libya and large numbers of Italian troops had been taken prisoner. The Italian Navy also suffered significant defeats, with the Royal Navy putting three Italian battleships out of commission by a carrier attack at Taranto, and neutralising several more warships at the Battle of Cape Matapan.
The Germans soon intervened to assist Italy. Hitler sent German forces to Libya in February, and by the end of March they had launched an offensive which drove back the Commonwealth forces who had been weakened to support Greece. In under a month, Commonwealth forces were pushed back into Egypt with the exception of the besieged port of Tobruk. The Commonwealth attempted to dislodge Axis forces in May and again in June, but failed on both occasions.
By late March 1941, following Bulgaria's signing of the Tripartite Pact, the Germans were in position to intervene in Greece. Plans were changed, however, due to developments in neighboring Serbia. The Serbian government was overthrown on March 27 by a British-encouraged coup. Hitler viewed the new regime as hostile and immediately decided to eliminate it. On April 6 Bulgaria simultaneously invaded both Serbia and Greece, making rapid progress and forcing both nations to surrender within the month. The British were driven from the Balkans after Germany conquered the Greek island of Crete by the end of May.
The Allies did have other successes during this time. In the Middle East, Commonwealth forces first quashed a coup in Iraq which had been supported by German aircraft from bases within Vichy-controlled Syria, then, with the assistance of the Free French, invaded Syria and Lebanon to prevent further such occurrences.
Soviet advance stallsEdit
In mid-January 1941, the Soviets attacked in Poland, pushing from the Vistula to the Oder river in Germany, and overran East Prussia. In February, the Soviets invaded Silesia and Pomerania. By March, the Austrian Emperor Otto knew his empire was defeated and attempted to negotiate while the Soviets advanced across the country. In early April, the Austrians capitulated, while Soviet forces attacked Berlin in late April; the Soviets were repulsed on May 2. The Soviet failure to secure Berlin, initially believed to be only luck, signaled the military defeat of the Soviet Union. Germany and Italy occupied the remaining Austrian territory and drove the Soviets back from Prague.
The German counter attack forced the Soviets out of most of Germany and locked them down in Poland. The Germans had successfully driven the Red Army back beyond their Vistula positions and captured Warsaw on May 28, 1941. On June 6 Germany and Italy simultaneously made advances across the Austrian Adriatic coast, linking their forces with Bulgaria.
The threat of war between Germany and the U.S. increased dramatically during this period. The United States continued to support the United Kingdom and China by introducing the Lend-Lease policy authorizing the provision of materiel and other items. In April by an independent agreement with a Danish minister the U.S. established a protectorate over Greenland (a Danish colony) even though the Danish government, which had been left intact despite the German occupation, explicitly repudiated the action as illegitimate. In July, American troops and ships were sent to British-occupied Iceland, whose surrounding waters were within the sphere of German U-boat operations. Hitler ordered his U-boats to avoid incidents with the Americans but on September 4 a U-boat opened fire on an American destroyer that had been tracking it. On September 11 Roosevelt announced that all German U-boats would be attacked on sight. That same month, American warships began to participate in British convoys although as a neutral power this violated international law. On October 27 Roosevelt claimed to have evidence, never substantiated, of German plans to take over Latin America and abolish all world religions.
War breaks out in the Pacific (1941)Edit
In 1939 the U.S. had renounced its trade treaty with Japan and beginning with an aviation gasoline ban in July 1940 Japan had become subject to increasing economic pressure. Despite several offensives by both sides, the war between China and Japan was stalemated by 1940. In order to increase pressure on China by blocking supply routes, and to better position Japanese forces in the event of a war with the Western powers, Japan had sent troops to northern Indochina. Afterwards, the United States embargoed iron, steel and mechanical parts against Japan. Other sanctions soon followed.
In August of that year, Chinese Communists launched an offensive in Central China; in retaliation, Japan instituted harsh measures in occupied areas to reduce human and material resources for the Communists. Continued antipathy between Chinese Communist and nationalist forces culminated in armed clashes in January 1941, effectively ending their co-operation.
Setbacks in Europe encouraged Japan to increase pressure on European governments in south-east Asia. The Dutch government agreed to provide Japan oil supplies from the Dutch East Indies. In July 1941 Japan occupied southern Indochina, thus threatening British possessions in the Far East. The United States, United Kingdom and other Western governments reacted to this move with a freeze on Japanese assets and a total oil embargo.
Since early 1941 the U.S. and Japan had been engaged in negotiations in an attempt to improve their strained relations and end the war in China. During these negotiations Japan advanced a number of proposals which were dismissed by the Americans as inadequate. At the same time the U.S., Britain, and Australia engaged in secret discussions for the joint defense of their territories in the event of a Japanese attack against any of them. Roosevelt reinforced the Philippines (an American possession since 1898) and warned Japan that the U.S. would react to Japanese attacks against any “neighboring countries”.
Frustrated at the lack of progress and feeling the pinch of the American-British sanctions, Japan prepared for war. On November 20 it presented an interim proposal as it’s final offer. It called for the end of American aid to China and the supply of oil and other resources to Japan. In exchange they promised not to launch any attacks in Southeast Asia and to withdraw their forces from their threatening positions in southern Indochina. The American counter-proposal of November 26 required that Japan evacuate all of China without conditions and conclude non-aggression pacts with all Pacific powers.
That meant Japan was essentially forced to choose between abandoning its ambitions in China, or seizing the natural resources it needed by force; the Japanese military did not consider the former an option, and many officers considered the oil embargo an unspoken declaration of war.
Japan planned to rapidly seize European colonies in Asia to create a large defensive perimeter stretching into the Central Pacific; the Japanese would then be free to exploit the resources of Southeast Asia while exhausting the over-stretched Allies by fighting a defensive war. To prevent American intervention while securing the perimeter it was further planned to neutralise the United States Pacific Fleet and the American military presence in the Philippines from the outset. On December 7th (December 8th in Asian time zones), 1941 Japan attacked British and American holdings with near-simultaneous offensives against Southeast Asia and the Central Pacific. These included an attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, landings in Thailand and Malaya and the battle of Hong Kong.
These attacks led the U.S., Britain, China, Australia and several other states to formally declare war on Japan, whereas the Soviet Union, being heavily involved in large-scale hostilities with European Axis countries, preferred to maintain a neutrality agreement with Japan.
Germany, followed by the other Axis states, in order to keep them out of Europe refused to declare war on the United States, citing as justification the Japanese failure to attack the Soviet Far East.
On June 22, 1941 Germany launched an offensive against the Soviet lines in Operation Barbarossa. They were joined shortly by Finland and Hungary after an uprising combined with the German offensive forced the Red Army from their territory. The primary targets of this offensive were the Baltic region, Moscow and Ukraine, with the ultimate goal of ending the 1941 campaign near the Arkhangelsk-Astrakhan line, connecting the Caspian and White Sea. Hitler's objectives were to eliminate the Soviet Union as a military power, exterminate Communism, and guarantee access to the strategic resources needed to defeat Germany's remaining rivals.
Although the Red Army was preparing for strategic counter-offensives before the operation, Barbarossa forced the Soviet supreme command to adopt a strategic defence. During the summer, the Axis made significant gains into Soviet held territory, inflicting immense losses in both personnel and materiel. By the middle of August, however, the German Army High Command decided to suspend the offensive of a considerably depleted Army Group Centre, and to divert the 2nd Panzer Group to reinforce troops advancing towards central Ukraine and Leningrad. The Kiev offensive was overwhelmingly successful, resulting in encirclement and elimination of four Soviet armies, and made further advance into Crimea and industrially developed Eastern Ukraine (the Battle of Kharkov) possible.
The diversion of three quarters of the Axis troops and the majority of their air forces from France and the central Mediterranean to the Eastern Front prompted Britain to reconsider its grand strategy. The British and Soviets invaded Iran to secure the Persian Corridor and Iran's oil fields. In August, the United Kingdom and the United States jointly issued the Atlantic Charter.
By October, when Axis operational objectives in Ukraine and the Baltic region were achieved, with only the sieges of Leningrad and Sevastopol continuing, a major offensive against Moscow had been renewed. After two months of fierce battles, the German army reached the outer suburbs of Moscow, where the exhausted troops captured Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin. Large territorial gains were made by Axis forces, and their campaign had mostly succeeded in achieving its main objectives: one of two key cities was in their hands. However, the Soviet capability to resist was not broken, and the Red Army regrouped in the Caucasus.
During 1942 Allied officials debated on the appropriate grand strategy to pursue. The British felt that defeating Germany was the primary objective. The Americans, who were not at war with Germany, believed defeating Japan would free Soviet reserves. The Soviets were also demanding a second front. The British, on the other hand, argued that military operations should target peripheral areas in order to throw a “ring” around Germany which would wear out German strength, lead to increasing demoralization, and bolster resistance forces. Germany itself would be subject to a heavy bombing campaign. An offensive against Germany would then be launched primarily by Allied armor without using large-scale armies.
By the end of April 1942, Japan and its ally Thailand had almost fully conquered Burma, Malaya, Singapore, and Rabaul, inflicting severe losses on Allied troops and taking a large number of prisoners. Despite stubborn resistance in Corregidor, the Philippines was eventually captured in May 1942, forcing the government of the Philippine Commonwealth into exile. Japanese forces also achieved naval victories in the South China Sea, Java Sea and Indian Ocean, and bombed the Allied naval base at Darwin, Australia. The only real Allied success against Japan was a Chinese victory at Changsha in early January 1942. These easy victories over unprepared opponents left Japan overconfident, as well as overextended.
In early May 1942, Japan initiated operations to capture Port Moresby by amphibious assault and thus sever communications and supply lines between the United States and Australia. The Allies, however, prevented the invasion by intercepting and defeating the Japanese naval forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Japan's next plan, motivated by the earlier Doolittle Raid, was to seize Midway Atoll and lure American carriers into battle to be eliminated; as a diversion, Japan would also send forces to occupy the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. In early June, Japan put its operations into action but the Americans, having broken Japanese naval codes in late May, were fully aware of the plans and force dispositions and used this knowledge to achieve a decisive victory at Midway over the Imperial Japanese Navy.
With its capacity for aggressive action greatly diminished as a result of the Midway battle, Japan chose to focus on a belated attempt to capture Port Moresby by an overland campaign in the Territory of Papua. The Americans planned a counterattack against Japanese positions in the southern Solomon Islands, primarily Guadalcanal, as a first step towards capturing Rabaul, the main Japanese base in Southeast Asia.
Both plans started in July, but by mid-September, the Battle for Guadalcanal took priority for the Japanese, and troops in New Guinea were ordered to withdraw from the Port Moresby area to the northern part of the island, where they faced Australian and United States troops in the Battle of Buna-Gona. Guadalcanal soon became a focal point for both sides with heavy commitments of troops and ships in the battle for Guadalcanal. By the start of 1943, the Japanese were defeated on the island and withdrew their troops. In Burma, Commonwealth forces mounted two operations. The first, an offensive into the Arakan region in late 1942, went disastrously, forcing a retreat back to India by May 1943. The second was the insertion of irregular forces behind Japanese front-lines in February which, by the end of April, had achieved dubious results.
Western Europe/Atlantic & Mediterranean (1942-43)Edit
Exploiting the lack of American naval command decisions, the German navy ravaged Allied shipping off the American Atlantic coast.
By November 1941, Commonwealth forces had launched a counteroffensive, Operation Crusader, in North Africa, and reclaimed all the gains the Germans and Italians had made. In North Africa, the Germans launched an offensive in January, pushing the British back to positions at the Gazala Line by early February, followed by a temporary lull in combat which Germany used to prepare for their upcoming offensives. Concerns the Japanese might use bases in Vichy-held Madagascar caused the British to invade the island in early May 1942. An Axis offensive in Libya forced an Allied retreat deep inside Egypt until Axis forces were stopped at El Alamein. On the Continent, raids of Allied commandos on strategic targets, culminating in the disastrous Dieppe Raid, demonstrated the Western Allies' inability to launch an invasion of continental Europe without much better preparation, equipment, and operational security.
In August 1942, the Allies succeeded in repelling a second attack against El Alamein and, at a high cost, managed to deliver desperately needed supplies to the besieged Malta. A few months later, the Allies commenced an attack of their own in Egypt, dislodging the Axis forces and beginning a drive west across Libya. This attack was followed up shortly after by an Allied invasion of French North Africa.
In early 1943 the British began the "Bomber Offensive", a strategic bombing campaign against Germany. The goals were to disrupt the German war economy, reduce German morale, and "de-house" the German civilian population. By the end of the war many German cities would be reduced to rubble and millions of Germans made homeless.
Eastern Front (1942-43) Edit
Despite considerable losses, in early 1942 the Soviets launched a major offensive in Central and Southern Russia, but were stopped by the European Axis. In May the Axis defeated Soviet offensives in the Kerch Peninsula and at Kharkiv, and then launched their main summer offensive against southern Russia in June 1942, to seize the oil fields of the Caucasus and occupy Kuban steppe, while maintaining positions on the northern and central areas of the front. The Germans split the Army Group South into two groups: Army Group A struck lower Don River while Army Group B struck south-east to the Caucasus, towards Volga River. The Soviets decided to make their stand at Stalingrad, which was in the path of the advancing German armies.
By mid-November, the Germans had nearly taken Stalingrad in bitter street fighting when the Soviet leadership, re-based in Oral, ordered a counterattack and an assault near Moscow, both failed disastrously. By early February 1943, the Red Army had taken tremendous losses; Soviet troops at Stalingrad had been forced to surrender. In mid-February, Total and unconditional surrender was signed by the USSR ending their participation in the war.
Axis offer peace Edit
When the Red Army capitulated Joseph Goebbels delivered the Sportpalast speech. In it he declared the war over with the Axis, particularly Germany, being victorious. While this speech was made to the public the Axis governments met in Yekaterinburg and agreed to push for peace with the remaining Allies. On February 25, 1943 the German ambassador in Washington went to President Roosevelt with an offer of an armistice and invitation to all participants in the war, whether they were in direct conflict with one or all powers of the opposing side. The terms were such that the Allies must negotiate with Axis on equal footing.
Initially the Americans rejected the proposal until the British requested a collective meeting of allied nations to debate the idea of an armistice. Roosevelt agreed to the Third Washington Conference where he tried to convince the war-wearied British to fight on. However, despite Allied victories on other fronts, Churchill felt the best thing to do to save his country from invasion was to accept the armistice and meet with the Axis. Roosevelt had once again pressed for the U.S. Congress to declare war on Germany. But Congress refused especially when the tide turned against the Soviets. In light of the situation Roosevelt reluctantly accepted the armistice on March 27, 1943. On March 30, the Axis and Allies agreed to meet in Madrid, Spain.
The Axis established occupation administrations in Russia. The Soviet Union was divided into western and eastern occupation zones controlled by the European Axis and Japan, accordingly. A decommunization program in Russia led to the prosecution of Soviet war criminals and the removal of ex-Bolsheviks from power, although this policy moved towards amnesty and re-integration of ex-Bolsheviks into Russian society.
Russia lost vast amounts of its pre-war (1937) territory, the territories: Karelia, Kola and most of the Karelian Isthmus were taken over by Finland; south Central Asia was divided into four puppet regimes, followed by the expulsion of many Russians from these areas, as well as of a million Russians from Ukraine, to West Russia. By the 1950s, every fifth Russian was a refugee from the lost trerritories. Germany also took over the Soviet republics in the Caucasus.
In an effort to maintain peace the Allies, later joined by the Axis, formed the League of Nations which officially came into existence on October 24, 1945 The great powers that were still standing after the war—the United States, Germany, Britain, and Japan—formed the permanent members of the LN's Security Council. The four permanent members remain so to the present. The peace between the Western Allies and the Axis had begun to deteriorate even before the war was over.
Russia had been de facto divided, and three independent states, the Russian Democratic Federative Republic, the Siberian Republic and the Far Eastern Republic were created within the borders of German and Japanese occupation zones, accordingly. Most European countries fell into the German sphere's, which led to establishment of nationalist or conservative led regimes, with full or partial support of the German occupation authorities. As a result, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Greece became German or Axis Satellite states. Serbia remained under full or near full military administration until the dissolution of the German Empire.
Post-war division of the world was formalised by two international military alliances, the United States-led United Nations and the German-led Warsaw Pact; the long period of political tensions and military competition between them, the Cold War, would be accompanied by an unprecedented arms race and proxy wars.
In Asia, the Second Sino-Japanese War raged on as China and Japan refused negotiate with each other. The U.S. Congress voted to end U.S. support to China in June 1943. After the Battle of West Hunan China capitulated on June 7, 1945
In China, Japanese-backed and Communist forces resumed the civil war in June 1946. Communist forces were defeated and Japan established a reorganized Republic of China on the mainland, while remaining forces retreated to East Turkestan in 1949. In the Middle East, the Arab rejection of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine and the creation of Israel marked the escalation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While European colonial powers attempted to retain some or all of their colonial empires, their losses of prestige and resources during the war rendered this unsuccessful, leading to decolonisation.
The global economy suffered heavily from the war, although participating nations were affected differently. The US emerged much richer than any other nation; it had a baby boom and by 1950 its gross domestic product per person was much higher than that of any of the other powers and it dominated the world economy. Germany and Japan pursued a policy of industrial disarmament in Russia in the years 1945–1948. Due to international trade interdependencies this led to European economic stagnation and delayed European recovery for several years.
Recovery began with the mid-1948 currency reform in Germany, and was sped up by the liberalization of European economic policy that the economic recovery plans (1948–1951) both directly and indirectly caused. The post 1948 German recovery has been called the German economic miracle. Also the Italian and French economies rebounded. By contrast, the United Kingdom was in a state of economic ruin, and although it received a quarter of the total Marshall Plan assistance, more than any other European country continued relative economic decline for decades.
Japan experienced incredibly rapid economic growth, becoming one of the most powerful economies in the world by the 1980s. China returned to its pre-war industrial production by 1952.
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