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A Guide to World War II


 Russia 1941

FROZEN OUT: Undermanned and beaten, the German Army retreats from Moscow in the fall of 1941. Not only was Hitler beaten by Russia’s people, but like Napoleon, by Russia’s enormous size and bone chilling weather.  

The events of World War II  have shaped the world as we know it today.  The war officially started in 1939 and ended in late 1945.  With over 60 million total fatalities, and over 50 nations taking part,  it is the single most catastrophic experience in the history of mankind.  Many of the causes of World War II can be traced back to World War I. 

Many treaties that were designed to keep the peace had instead an ill fated effect.  The was especially prevalent in Germany, which had lost the first World War and where the Treaty of Versailles required it to accept full responsibility for causing the war.  It also demanded that Germany disarm, make territorial concessions and pay war reparations to certain countries.  This caused anger and bitterness throughout the country.  In 1934, Adolf Hitler became the sole dictator of Germany and promised a broken country a return to prominence.  With that, Hitler and his Nazi party members put the German industrial machine to work for one sole purpose: war.  On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland.  This officialy started the war in Europe, as England and France declared war on Germany.  At one point during the war, German armies occupied most of Europe as well as the European portion of the Soviet Union.  The German war machine looked unstoppable with England hanging by a thread and Hitler’s armies nearing victory in Russia.

In the far east, the Empire of Japan had also made strides in their war effort.  With the successful invasion of  Manchuria and annexation of parts of China, as well as the occupation of several Pacific island groups, Japan was at its imperialistic height.  The United States was displeased with Japan’s aggressive approach, so it lead an international movement to isolate Japan economically to force its withdrawal from China.  The plan was to cut Japan’s ability to purchase petroleum, which was absolutely vital to its war effort.  On December 7,1941, feeling war was inevitable with the United States, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.  This resulted in the United States’ declaration of war on Japan on December 8,1941.  Just three days later, on December 11, 1941, the United States also declared war on Germany.

The United States’ entry into the war, as well as the Russian victory at Stalingrad, were the turning points of the war.  Germany, now being attacked on two fronts, was unable keep pace and saw the vast lands under their rule slowly slip away.  Japan, which until now had only experienced victory, was now being beaten back by the U.S. Navy.  Economic strife caused by blockades crippled the island nation’s ability to import as well as export goods vital to their war effort. 

On June 6, 1944, the Allies dealt Germany a fatal blow.  D-Day, or Operation Overlord, was the largest amphibious assault of all time with over 175,000 troops landing at various beachheads along the Normandy, France coast.  France, in turn, was liberated on August 25 1944.  With the Allies on his door step, Hitler knew the end was near.  On April 30, 1945,  Hitler committed suicide which subsequently lead to Germany’s outright surrender on May 8, 1945.  After six years of murder and aggression toward its European neighbors, the German war effort was over. With Germany knocked out of the war, the Allies could turn their full attention toward Japan.

By 1945, the Japanese had suffered an unbroken string of defeat for two straight years.  By August 1945, its navy, which was the life blood of the empire, had no capacity to conduct operations.  Even faced with impending defeat, Japan refused to surrender.  Fearing an Allied invasion of Japan would result in over two million casualties, the United States looked for other alternatives to end the war.  On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, a B-29 bomber, dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  U.S. war strategists had already planned on dropping a second bomb on Japan to convince them of their large supply.  On August 9, 1945, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, thus ending the Japanese war effort.  Japan formally surrendered to the Allies aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.

The second World War is responsible for many countries, organizations, and technoligies that are still with us today:  the nation of Israel, the United Nations, computers, and jet engines, just to name a few.  Thus, World War II is the most tragic and important event in our history.