World War II: Summary & Timeline

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
World War II was a total war between the Allies and the Axis powers. The violent battle between massive armies and larger-than-life figures like Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler was no less than a war for the future of humanity.

What Was World War II?

World War II (1939-1945) was an epic struggle, a total war where all resources were used to fight the war. On one side was Nazi Germany-Adolf Hitler, Italy and Japan, the Axis powers, against the United States-Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Soviet Union/Russia-Joseph Stalin and Great Britain-Winston Churchill, who were the Allies.

Germany and World War II

Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. The German Reichstag, or parliament, in Berlin, Germany mysteriously caught fire. The Nazis used this fire to seize more power and attack enemies of the Nazis. The Nazis began systematic harassment of Jews and book burnings. During the Night of the Long Knives, Hitler established the power of the Nazis above German law and had opponents killed. Adolf Hitler became Fuhrer, or the ultimate leader, of Germany in 1934. By 1935, Hitler began to rearm Germany, and German Jews lost all human rights under the Nuremberg Laws.

Amazing but true: The Olympic Games held in Berlin in 1936 were meant to showcase Nazi power. African-American Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals, proving Hitler wrong.

The world began to hear the steady drum of coming war. In 1938, Germany merged with Austria in Anschluss, which means union. German troops moved into Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia to protect Germans living there. Then, violent and deadly attacks on Jews happened around Germany in The Night of Broken Glass - Kristallnacht. By the next year, the Nazis took the rest of Czechoslovakia. Germany allied itself with Italy and signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union.

The Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, and in 1940, they invaded Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands as well. German U-boats attacked ships, including US ships, supplying Britain. Japan joined Germany and Italy to become the Axis powers.

Britain and World War II

Britain first tried appeasement, or giving Hitler what he wanted, to avoid war. After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Britain and its colonies, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, declared war on Germany. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union invaded the other half of Poland.

Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain in 1940. The Germans bombed British cities in the Battle of Britain and British children were sent to Canada, Australia, and other areas. Britain started an offensive in North Africa against the Nazis.

Amazing but true: The Nazis trapped nearly the entire British Army in Dunkirk, France. The British managed to narrowly get free in a miraculous escape by small fishing boats to Britain.

The United States and World War II

The US tried to be isolationist and stay out of the war. However, the US began the Lend-Lease Act to help Britain with war materials. In 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The United States declared war on Japan and Germany.

Amazing but true: Afraid Japanese-Americans would assist Japan, the US government put these American citizens in US prison camps. The US government apologized in 1988.

Amazing but true: The industrial power of the US, and first-time female industrial workers, entered the war in 1941.

Total War

The world was now at war: Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North and South America were all involved in the war. The Nazis (who said they wouldn't attack Russia) tricked the Soviets and invaded Russia. Germany got bogged down in Russia by the Russian winter. Japan battled the US, China, and Britain in Asia.

In all this war, the Nazis began the Final Solution, a plan to kill all Jews. Auschwitz, Poland became an industrial killing center under the Nazi concentration camp system.

A Long, Inhuman Struggle

By 1943, the Soviets defeated Germany at Stalingrad, Russia, gaining a huge morale boost for the Allies. Determined Jews rose up but ultimately failed in a dramatic rebellion against the Nazis in Warsaw, Poland. The Allies moved into Italy. Now there was daytime air raids on Germany and Nazi-occupied territory. Soviet troops recaptured lost Russian territory, signaling a weakening of Nazi power.

The Soviets reorganized and pushed deeper into Poland in 1944. Poland attempted an uprising but was defeated by the Nazis. The Nazis slowly began to withdraw troops from Europe to protect the German homeland. The Allies began a massive offensive, D-Day, in northern France to reclaim Europe. The Allies pushed through France to Paris and towards Germany through Belgium, while the Soviets raced toward the other side of Germany through the Eastern Front.

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