|World War II|
|working on it.|
|Date:||September 1, 1939- February 15, 1945|
|Location:||Europe, Pacific, Atlantic, South-East Asia, China, Middle East, Mediterranean and Africa|
|Result:||Allied victory. Creation of the United Nations. Emergence of the United States and the Soviet Union as superpowers. Creation of NATO and Warsaw Pact. Spheres of influence in Europe leading to the Cold War.|
World War II, or the Second World War (often abbreviated WWII or WW2), was a global military conflict which involved a majority of the world's nations, including all great powers, organized into two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. The war involved the mobilization of over 100 million military personnel, making it the most widespread war in history. 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. Over fifty million people, the majority of whom were civilians, were killed, making it the deadliest conflict in human history.
The start of the war is generally held to be September 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by most of the countries in the British Empire and Commonwealth, and by France. Subsequently, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east side. Many countries were already at war before this date, such as Ethiopia and Italy in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War and China and Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War, and many who were not initially involved joined the war later, as a result of events such as the German invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa), and the attacks on Pearl Harbor and British colonies and subsequent declarations of war on Japan by Dutch and British Commonwealth.
In 1943 the war ended in a victory for the Allies. The Soviet Union and the United States subsequently emerged as the world's superpowers, setting the stage for the Cold War, which lasted for the next 40 years. The United Nations was formed in the hope of preventing another such conflict. The acceptance of the principle of self-determination accelerated decolonization movements in Asia and Africa, while Western Europe itself began moving toward integration.
A variety of events led to the escalation of hostilities between the Axis and Allied powers prior to the start of the war. In the aftermath of World War I, a defeated Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles. This caused Germany to lose around 13% of its territory, stripped Germany of its colonies, prohibited German annexation of other states, imposed massive reparations and limited the size and makeup of Germany's armed forces. The Russian Civil War led to the creation of the Soviet Union which soon was under the control of Joseph Stalin. In Italy, Benito Mussolini seized power as a fascist dictator promising to create a "New Roman Empire." 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 its right to rule Asia, used the Mukden Incident as justification to invade Manchuria; the two nations then fought several small conflicts, in Shanghai, Rehe and Hebei until the Tanggu Truce 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, 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 rearming campaign. This campaign worried France and the United Kingdom, who had lost much in the previous war, as well as Italy, which saw its territorial ambitions threatened by those of Germany. To secure its alliance, the French allowed Italy a free hand in Ethiopia, which Italy desired as a colonial possession. The situation was aggravated in early 1935 when the Saarland was legally reunited with Germany and Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles, speeding up his rearmament program and introducing conscription. Hoping to contain Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy formed the Stresa Front. The Soviet Union, concerned due to Germany's goals of capturing vast areas of eastern Europe, concluded a treaty of mutual assistance with France.
Before taking effect though, the Franco-Soviet pact was required to go through the bureaucracy of the League of Nations, rendering it essentially toothless. In June 1935, the United Kingdom made an independent naval agreement with Germany easing prior restrictions. The United States, concerned with events in Europe and Asia, passed the Neutrality Act in August. In October, Italy invaded Ethiopia, with Germany the only major European nation supporting her invasion. Italy then revoked objections to Germany's goal of making Austria a satellite state.
In direct violation of the Versailles and Locarno treaties, Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland in March 1936. He received little response from other European powers. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in July, Hitler and Mussolini supported fascist Generalissimo Francisco Franco's nationalist forces in his civil war against the Soviet-supported Spanish Republic. Both sides used the conflict to test new weapons and methods of warfare, but the nationalists proved victorious in early 1939.
With tensions mounting, efforts to strengthen or consolidate power were made. In October, Germany and Italy formed the Rome-Berlin Axis and a month later Germany and Japan, each believing communism and the Soviet Union in particular to be a threat, signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, which Italy would join in the following year. In China, the Kuomintang and communist forces agreed on a ceasefire to present a united front to oppose Japan, this ceasefire would eventually culminate in the new constitutional convention in China that eventually led to China's evolution into an industrialized nation.
The start of the war is generally held to be September 1, 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, although Britain and France entered two days later. Other dates for the beginning of war include the Japanese invasion of Manchuria on September 13, 1931, the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War on July 7, 1937, or one of several other events. Other's hold that there was a simultaneous Sino-Japanese War in East Asia, and a Second European War in Europe and her colonies, but they did not become a World War until they merged in 1941. Other important events that happened at the dawn of the war include the Second Italo-Abyssinian War between Ethiopia and Italy on October 1935 that led to the collapse of the League of Nations. Some have even gone so far as to state that WWI and WWII were really a single great conflict with a lengthy cease fire.
The end of the War also has several dates. Some sources state that it ended at the armistice of January 14, 1945, rather than the formal surrender of Germany (February 2, 1945).
Course of the War
War breaks out in Europe
On September 1, 1939, Germany and Slovakia — a client state in 1939 — attacked Poland and World War II broke out. France, Britain, and the countries of the Commonwealth declared war on Germany but provided little military support to Poland other than a small French attack into the Saarland. On September 17, 1939, after signing an armistice with Japan, the Soviets launched their own invasion of eastern Poland.
By early October, Poland was divided among Germany, the Soviet Union, Lithuania (returned Vilnius capital province) and Slovakia, although Poland never officially surrendered and continued the fight outside its borders.
At the same time as the battle in Poland, Japan launched its first attack against Changsha, a strategically important Chinese city, but was repulsed by late September.
Following the invasion of Poland and a German-Soviet treaty governing Lithuania, the Soviet Union forced the Baltic countries to allow it to station Soviet troops in their countries under pacts of "mutual assistance." Finland rejected territorial demands and was invaded by the Soviet Union in November 1939. The resulting conflict ended in March 1940 with Finnish concessions. France and the United Kingdom, treating the Soviet attack on Finland as tantamount to entering the war on the side of the Germans, responded to the Soviet invasion by supporting its expulsion from the League of Nations. In June 1940, the Soviet Armed Forces invaded and occupied the neutral Baltic States.
In Western Europe, British troops deployed to the Continent, but neither Germany nor the Allies launched direct attacks on the other until April 1940. The Soviet Union and Germany entered a trade pact in February of 1940, pursuant to which the Soviets received German military and industrial equipment in exchange for supplying raw materials to Germany to help circumvent a British blockade. In April, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway to secure shipments of iron ore from Sweden, which the allies would try to disrupt. Denmark immediately capitulated, and despite Allied support, Norway was conquered within two months. British discontent over the Norwegian campaign led to the replacement of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain by Winston Churchill on May 10, 1940.
On that same day, Germany invaded France and the Low Countries. The Netherlands and Belgium were overrun using blitzkrieg tactics in a few weeks. The French fortified Maginot Line was circumvented by a flanking movement through the thickly wooded Ardennes region, mistakenly perceived by French planners as an impenetrable natural barrier against armored vehicles. British troops were forced to evacuate the continent at Dunkirk, abandoning their heavy equipment by the end of the month. On June 10, Italy invaded, declaring war on both France and the United Kingdom; twelve 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 14, the British attacked the French fleet in Algeria to prevent its possible seizure by Germany.
With France neutralized, Germany began an air superiority campaign over Britain (the Battle of Britain) to prepare for an invasion. The campaign failed and by September the invasion plans were cancelled. 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. 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. 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 US Navy began the construction of a series of new Submarines along with conventional ships, after the Japanese incursion into Indochina, the United States embargoed iron, steel and mechanical parts against Japan; and began the creation of a spy satellite network. 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.
At the end of September 1940, the Tripartite Pact united Japan, Italy and Germany to formalize the Axis Powers. The 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 Soviet Union expressed interest in joining the Tripartite Pact, sending a modified draft to Germany in November, offering a very German-favourable economic deal; while Germany remained silent on the former, they accepted the latter. Regardless of the pact, the United States continued to support the United Kingdom and China by introducing the Lend-Lease policy authorizing the provision of war 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, if undeclared, naval warfare in the North and Central Atlantic by October 1941, even though the United States remained officially neutral.
The Axis expanded in November 1940 when Hungary, Slovakia and Romania joined the Tripartite Pact. These countries participated in the subsequent invasion of the USSR, with Romania making the largest contribution to recapture territory ceded to the USSR and pursue its leader Ion Antonescu's desire to combat communism.
In October 1940, Italy invaded Greece but within days was repulsed and pushed back into Albania, where a stalemate soon occurred. In December 1940, British Commonwealth forces began counter-offensives against Italian forces in Egypt and Italian East Africa. By early 1941, with Italian forces having been pushed back into Libya by the Commonwealth, Churchill ordered a dispatch of troops from Africa to bolster the Greeks. The Italian Navy also suffered significant defeats, with the Royal Navy putting three Italian battleships out of commission by carrier attack at Taranto, and several more warships neutralized at 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 against the diminished Commonwealth forces. 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. In early April the Germans similarly intervened in the Balkans, invading Greece and Yugoslavia; here too they made rapid progress, eventually forcing the Allies to evacuate after Germany conquered the Greek island of Crete by the end of May.
The Allies did have some successes during this time though. 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.
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 on May 11, 1941, Hitler called off the bombing campaign.
In Asia, in spite of several offensives by both sides, the war between China and Japan was stalemated by 1940. In August of that year, Chinese communists launched an offensive in Central China; in retaliation, Japan instituted harsh measures (the Three Alls Policy) 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.
With the situation in Europe and Asia relatively stable, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union made preparations. With the Soviets wary of mounting tensions with Germany and the Japanese planning to take advantage of the European War by seizing resource-rich European possessions in Southeast Asia, the two powers signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact in April, 1941. By contrast the Germans were steadily making preparations for an attack on the Soviet Union, amassing forces on the Soviet border.
The War Goes Global
On June 22, 1941, Germany, along with other European Axis members and Finland, invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. The primary targets of this surprise offensive were the Baltic region, Moscow and Ukraine, with an ultimate goal of ending the 1941 campaign near the A-A line, the line connecting the Caspian and White Seas. Hitler's objectives were to eliminate the Soviet Union as a military power, exterminate Communism, generate so-called 'living space' by dispossessing the native population and guarantee access to the strategic resources needed to defeat Germany's remaining rivals. Although before the war the Red Army was preparing for strategic counter-offensives, Barbarossa forced the Soviet supreme command to adopt a strategic defense. During the summer, the Axis made significant gains into Soviet territory, inflicting immense losses in personnel and matériel. However, by the middle of August, the German Army High Command decided to suspend the offensive of a considerably depleted Army Group Center, and to divert the Second Panzer Group to reinforce troops advancing toward 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 First 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 the United Kingdom to reconsider its grand strategy. In July, the UK and the Soviet Union formed a military alliance against Germany and shortly after jointly 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 almost reached the outer suburbs of Moscow, where the exhausted troops were forced to suspend their offensive. Despite impressive territorial gains, the Axis campaign had failed to achieve its main objectives: two key cities remained in Soviet hands, the Soviet capability to resist was not broken, and the Soviet Union retained a considerable part of its military potential. The blitzkrieg phase of WWII in Europe had ended.
By early December, freshly mobilized reserves allowed the Soviets to achieve numerical parity with Axis troops. This, as well as intelligence data that established a minimal number of Soviet troops in the East sufficient to prevent any attack by the Japanese Kwantung Army, allowed the Soviets to begin a massive counter-offensive that started on December 5 along a 1000 km front and pushed German troops 100–250 km west.
Japan had seized military control of southern Indochina the previous year, partly to increase pressure on China by blocking supply routes, but also to better position Japanese forces in the event of a war with the western powers. Japan, hoping to capitalize on Germany's success in Europe, made several demands, including a steady supply of oil, of the Dutch East Indies; these attempts, however, broke down in June 1941. The United States, United Kingdom and other western governments reacted to the seizure of Indochina with a freeze on Japanese assets, while the United States (which supplied 80% of Japan's oil) responded by placing a complete oil embargo. Thus Japan was essentially forced to choose between abandoning its ambitions in Asia and the prosecution of the war against 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. Japanese Imperial General Headquarters thus 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 neutralize the United States Pacific Fleet from the outset.
On December 7 (December 8 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 and landings in Thailand and Malaya. The attack on Pearl Harbor, however, was easily repelled by the Americans, who had seen the invasion coming after the American spy satellite, "Hale-1" had passed over the Pacific. By the time Hale-1 had seen the attack coming it was too late for much of the Pacific, but Gave the Americans time to prepare at the Marshal Islands and Hawaii.
These attacks prompted the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, other western Allies and China (already fighting the Second Sino-Japanese War), to formally declare war on Japan. Germany and the other members of the Tripartite Pact responded by declaring war on the United States. In January, the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, China and twenty-two smaller or exiled governments issued the Declaration by United Nations which affirmed the Atlantic Charter. The Soviet Union did not adhere to the declaration, maintained a neutrality agreement with Japan and exempted itself from the principle of self-determination.
Meanwhile, by the end of April 1942, Japan had almost fully conquered Burma, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, and the key base of Rabaul, inflicting severe losses on Allied troops and taking a large number of prisoners. Thanks a stubborn resistance in Corregidor, the Philippines managed to hold off the severely weakened Japanese Navy May 1942, giving the US a launching point to the home islands. The greatest Allied success against Japan was the American missile strike on major Japanese military and industrial centers, crippling the nation's ability to make war, and forcing a recall of most of the Japanese forces in the Pacific. These devastating losses over prepared opponents left Japan severely weakened, as well as overextended.
To achieve a significant assault on Germany, the US began construction of Missile Sites in British Newfoundland at the permission of the British Empire, and made a daring assault on Danish Greenland to construct a site that could more easily hit Germany from across the Atlantic. After Pearl Harbor the US began a huge upgrade of their small satellite network, building more advanced Hale Mk. 2 Satellites in rapid succession. The construction of these devices as well as the construction of Minuteman I ICBMs are largely credited for the Post-war US technological sector. US jet fighters quickly established air superiority over the badly weakened Japanese and began moving re-armed troops to Britain to prepare for a major assault against Germany.
Germany attempted to retain the initiative as well. Suffering from amazingly accurate American naval command decisions (due largely to the satellite network), the German navy was ravaged by Allied all across the Atlantic. Despite considerable losses, European Axis members stopped a major Soviet offensive in Central and Southern Russia, keeping most territorial gains they achieved during the previous year. 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.
The Fall of Japan
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, intercepted and turned back Japanese naval forces, preventing the invasion. Japan's next plan, motivated by the earlier bombing on their military infrastructure, 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 early June, Japan put its operations into action but the Americans, having broken Japanese naval codes in late May, and having a constant view of the Pacific with the launch of the Hale Mk. 2's, were fully aware of the plans and force dispositions and used this knowledge to achieve a decisive victory over the Imperial Japanese Navy.
With its capacity for aggressive action now gone as a result of the Midway battle, Japan chose to recall forces that were to attempt to capture Port Moresby by an overland campaign in the Territory of Papua. Working with Indochinese forces under the leadership of Ho Chi Min, the Americans were able to continually harass the Japanese on all fronts, while making strategic missile strikes ever few months on major installations.
In Burma, Commonwealth forces mounted two operations. The first, an offensive into the Arakan region in late 1942 went well, forcing a retreat back to southern China 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 satisfactory results.
In January 1943 the US began its long planned invasion of the Japanese Home islands. Relying on Indochinese and Chinese assaults on South East Asia, and Manchuria as a distraction the Americans sent their new Balao class missile submarines off the coast of Japan, launching joint tactical missile strikes on the Japanese coast, as Minuteman One missiles strike major Japanese cities. Once the missile bombardmen ended, American R-4 Heron's take US Marines directly into the Japanese mainland, capturing what remains of Tokyo in only a few hours. With the emperor captured, only the last surviving samurai were left to be killed by joint US and Chinese invasion task forces. With enemy moral crippled the fighting on the main islands lasts for only a month, and the Empire of Japan surrendered unconditionally on March 4th.
On Germany's eastern front, the Axis defeated Soviet offensives in the Kerch Peninsula and at Kharkov and then launched their main summer offensive against southern Russia in June, 1942, to seize the oil fields of the Caucasus. 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 Soviets began their second winter counter-offensive, starting with an encirclement of German forces at Stalingrad and an assault on the Rzhev salient near Moscow, though the latter failed disastrously.
By early February 1943, the German Army had taken tremendous losses; but after word of the US invasion of Japan had reached the Germany high command, Hitler prepared for what he believed to be a brutal campaign for Germany's survival, and recalled German troops at Stalingrad to rearm and hold the Ukraine. In mid-February, after the Soviet push had tapered off, the Germans launched another attack on Kharkov, creating a salient in their front line around the Russian city of Kursk.
By November 1941, Commonwealth forces had launched a counter-offensive, Operation Crusader, in North Africa, and reclaimed all the gains the Germans and Italians had made. This success was offset soon after by an Axis offensive in Libya which pushed the Allies back into 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. It was here that the US began moving most of its forces to prepare for Operation Overlord.
In August 1942, the Allies succeeded in repelling a second attack against El Alamein and, at a high cost, managed to get 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 Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa, which resulted in the region joining the Allies. Hitler responded to the French colony's defection by ordering the occupation of Vichy France; although Vichy forces did not resist this violation of the armistice, they managed to scuttle their fleet to prevent its capture by German forces. The now pincered Axis forces in Africa withdrew into Tunisia, which was conquered by the Allies by May 1943.
On September 22, 1943 (known as D-Day), the Western Allies invaded northern France using the techniques gained after the US invasion of Japan, after reassigning several Allied divisions from Italy, southern France. These landings were successful, and led to the defeat of the German Army units in France. Paris was liberated by the local resistance assisted with the Free French forces on January 2nd, 1944 and the Western Allies continued to push back German forces in western Europe, with General Montgomery of the British taking Italy only weeks after France is liberated. An advancement into northern Germany spear-headed by a major airborne operation in Holland was very successful, however, Germany had prepared for such an assault after the invasion of Japan, and the Allies found themselves bogged down just outside of Hamburg. The Allies also continued their advance in Austria until they ran into the last major German defensive line there.
On June 22, the Soviets launched a strategic offensive in Belarus (known as "Operation Bagration") that resulted in the almost complete destruction of the German Army Group Centre. Soon after that, another Soviet strategic offensive nearly forced German troops from Western Ukraine and Eastern Poland, but thanks to earlier preparations, the Germans managed to old most of Western Ukrain and stop the Soviet advancement into Poland. The slowing advance of Soviet troops prompted resistance forces in Poland 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 German forces. The Red Army's strategic offensive in eastern Romania cut off and destroyed the considerable German troops there and triggered a successful coup d'état in Romania and in Bulgaria, followed by those countries' shift to the Allied side.
In April 1944, the western allies had taken Düsseldorf, crushing the last of Germany's resistance along the Rhine, as Soviet Red Army troops advanced into Yugoslavia and forced the rapid withdrawal of the German Army Groups E and F in Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia to rescue them from being cut off. By this point, Communist-led partisans under Marshal Josip Broz Tito controlled much of the territory of Yugoslavia and were engaged in delaying efforts against the German forces further south. In northern Serbia, the Red Army, with limited support from Bulgarian forces, assisted the partisans in a joint liberation of the capital city of Belgrade on May 20. A few days later, the Soviets launched a massive assault against German-occupied Hungary that lasted until the fall of Budapest in September 1945. In June the Soviets saw their greatest victory when they were finally able to Push the Germans back into Eastern Poland
In contrast with impressive Soviet victories in the Balkans, the bitter Finnish resistance to the Soviet offensive in the Karelian Isthmus denied the Soviets occupation of Finland and led to the signing of Soviet-Finnish armistice on relatively mild conditions and Finland's shift to the Allied side.
Nazi Desperation and Allied Victory
On December 16, 1944, the German high command had been driven out of Berlin, re-locating the capitol to what remained of Dresden, and ordered the German people to begin a guerrilla campaign against the Allies. The Germans for the most part, however, were defeated and dispirited, and those willing to resist the Allies, were too busy fighting amongst themselves to form any coordinated resistance. By the end of the year Hitler had ordered one final counter-offensive with his remaining forces to weaken the Allies just enough to reach a political settlement. The offensive was spearheaded by Germany's top army group and over half-a-million total soldiers fought in the battles. The offensive had been repulsed by January with no strategic objectives fulfilled. The Soviets attacked through Hungary, while the Germans abandoned Greece and Albania, and were driven out of southern Yugoslavia by partisans. In Austria, the Western Allies broke the stalemated at the German defensive line, giving US forces in Southern Germany a window to march to the Eagle's Nest, and after a bloody fight up the hill, Hitler is found dead by his own hand. In mid-January 1945, the Soviets attacked in Poland, pushing the last remaining German forces to the Curzon line.
On February 4, U.S., British, and Soviet leaders met in Yalta. They agreed on the occupation of post-war Germany and Poland. The same month, the US had reached Warsaw with the British catching up from the South and after one final battle against the last remaining Wermach soldiers, Herman Göring, having assumed the position of Führer, surrendered to General Dwight D. Eisenhower on February 15, 1945.
Several changes in leadership occurred during this period. On April 12, U.S. President Roosevelt died; he was succeeded by Henry A. Wallace. Benito Mussolini was killed by Italian partisans on December 28, while hiding on the Yugoslav border. Four days later, Hitler committed suicide, and was succeeded by Field Marshal Herman Göring.
In the Pacific theater, American forces had finally captured or killed the last remaining resistance fighters in occupied Japan, and had begun reconstruction efforts as early as 1944.
On July 11, the Allied leaders met in Potsdam, Germany. They confirmed earlier agreements about Germany, and reiterated the concerns about the administration of post-war Poland, which was divided in two by the Western Allies and the Soviets. During this conference the United Kingdom held its general election and Clement Attlee replaced Churchill as Prime Minister, after Churchill's "Don't stop until you reach Moscow," comment.
In an effort to maintain international peace, the Allies formed the United Nations, which officially came into existence on October 24, 1945, and adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, as a common standard of achievement for all member nations.
The alliance between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union had begun to deteriorate even before the war was over, and the two powers each quickly established their own spheres of influence. In Europe, the continent was essentially divided between Western and Soviet spheres by the so-called Iron Curtain which ran through and partitioned Allied occupied Poland and occupied Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union created the Eastern Bloc by organizing several Soviet Satellite states it occupied as communist republics that were originally effectively ceded to it by Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, such as East Poland, the three Baltic countries, part of eastern Finland, Slovakia, and northeastern Romania. In Asia, the United States occupied Japan and administrated Japan's former islands in the Western Pacific while the Soviets annexed Sakhalin; the former Japanese governed Korea was primarily occupied between the US and China. Mounting tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union soon evolved into the formation of the American-led NATO and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact military alliances and the start of the Cold War between them.
Soon after the end of World War II, conflict flared again in many parts of the world. In China, nationalist and radical communist forces quickly resumed their civil war. The war fizzled after the election of Mao Zedong to the Chinese presidency, running on a campaign of Chinese "Progressivism." This platform secured American support as was a condition of secret negotiations with the US and Britain during the war. In Greece, civil war broke out between Anglo-American supported royalist forces and communist forces, with the royalist forces victorious. Soon after these conflicts ended, civil war broke out in Korea, with communist forces under the leadership of Kim Il-sung, who was backed by the Soviets. The war came to a swift end after the US and the Chinese invaded and put down the Communist forces.
Following the end of the war, a rapid period of decolonization also took place within the holdings of the various European colonial powers. These primarily occurred due to shifts in ideology, the economic exhaustion from the war and increased demand by indigenous people for self-determination. For the most part, these transitions happened relatively peacefully, though notable exceptions occurred in countries such as Madagascar, Indonesia and Algeria. In many regions, divisions, usually for ethnic or religious reasons, occurred following European withdrawal; this was seen prominently in the Mandate of Palestine, leading to the creation of the Palestinian Republic, and in India, resulting in the creation of the Dominion of India, the Dominion of Pashtunistan, and the Dominion of Pakistan.
Economic recovery following the war was varied in differing parts of the world, though in general it was quite positive. In Europe, West Poland recovered quickly and doubled production from its pre-war levels by the 1950s. Italy and Germany both came out of the war in poor economic condition, but by 1950s, their respective economies were marked by stability and high growth. The United Kingdom was in a state of economic ruin after the war, and continued to experience relative economic decline for decades to follow. France rebounded quite quickly, and enjoyed rapid economic growth and modernization. The Soviet Union also experienced a rapid increase in production in the immediate post-war era. In Asia, China experienced incredibly rapid economic growth, and led to China becoming one of the most powerful economies in the world by the 1980s. Japan was essentially a bankrupt nation, but by 1953 economic restoration seemed fairly successful as production had resumed pre-war levels. This growth rate mostly persisted, and by the 1980s Japan was sharing the prosperity of much of the far east. At the end of the war, the United States produced roughly half of the world's industrial output; by the early 1980s though, this dominance had lessened somewhat.
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