World War II

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World War II
WWII collage.JPG
Date 1939-1945
Location Europe
North and Eastern Africa
Eastern Asia
Pacific Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
Great Britain
French National Committee
Soviet Union (from 1941)
Republic of China
United States (from 1941)
New Zealand
Italy (from 1943 to 1945)
Nazi Germany
Italy (until 1943)
Hungary (1941–45)
Romania (1941–44)
Bulgaria (1941–44)
Great Britain:
Winston Churchill
Soviet Union:
Joseph Stalin
Chiang Kai-shek
United States:
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Nazi Germany:
Adolf Hitler
Benito Mussolini
61,000,000 total 12,000,000 total

World War II, also known as The Great Patriotic War, was a global set of conflicts beginning in 1931 in Asia, 1935 in Africa, and 1939 in Europe, all lasting until 1945, in which the Allied powers, led after the Fall of France by the British Commonwealth, and including the United States, the Soviet Union, the Republic of China, among many other nations, completely defeated the Axis Powers, led by Nazi Germany, and including Italy, Japan, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Although Japan's war against China began in 1937, the main conflict started in September 1939 when Germany and the Soviet Union divided Poland; Britain and France then declared war on Germany. France was quickly knocked out of the war and became divided betwen the collaborationist Vichy regime occupying the continent and the so-called "Free French" in exile in England and North Africa.

The conflict was the deadliest in human history with estimated deaths ranging from 50 million to over 70 million soldiers and civilians.[1] It ended with the Soviet Union dominant in a part of Central Europe and all of Eastern Europe, and the U.S. and its allies dominant in Western Europe, a part of Central Europe and Scandinavia, setting the stage for the Cold War.


See: Causes of World War II

Italy in World War II

See also: Italy in World War II

Invasion of Poland

Joint victory parade of Nazi and Soviet armies, Brest-Litovsk, Poland, September 22, 1939. Courtesy Pauli Kruhse (Finland)
See also: Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and World War II: 1939

In the immediate run up to WWII, there were frequent reports of trespassing Polish troops. On August 31, 1939 German covert operatives staged a fake attack by Polish troops on a German radio station. WWII started on September 1, 1939, when German troops invaded Poland. Hitler justified this as a defensive act, pointing to the frequent border incidents, and said famously that from this moment on Germany would strike back.

The major tactical innovation of the war was the use of combined arms warfare, typified by the German doctrine of blitzkrieg. In this style of warfare armor, infantry, artillery and air power (see Luftwaffe) all coordinate to achieve overwhelming superiority at a point on the enemy lines. Armor and fast-moving infantry units then exploit the gap and penetrate deep behind enemy lines. The objective is to cause a widespread collapse of the enemy's ability to fight. It was particularly effective during the early stages of the war, before the Allies developed effective countermeasures. On September 17, 1939, Poland was invaded from the east by Hitler's ally, Stalin. Before the month was out, the Nazi and Soviet armies staged a joint victory parade through the streets of occupied Brest-Litovsk, Poland,[2] where the Soviets handed over to the Gestapo some 600 prisoners, "most of them Jews."[3]

In 1939-1940, eastern Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Bessarabia were invaded and annexed by the Soviet Union.

Fall of France, Denmark, and Norway

See also: Anti-Comintern Pact
German officers salute French soldiers who were allowed to carry arms in a surrender ceremony.

Once the invasion of Poland was complete, German forces regrouped while French and British forces remained on the defensive, leading US commentators to dub it the Phoney War. May 10, 1940 made clear that the war was real, as Germany invaded France, occupying neutral countries such as the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium in the process. Resistance by the British and French armies proved ineffective, and France was soon surrendered. British and French troops were routed and evacuated mainland Europe at Dunkirk. France was divided into the northern Occupied France and the collaborationist Vichy regime in the south of France, including Corsica. The United States granted full diplomatic recognition to the Vichy regime, whereas the United Kingdom granted recognition to the French National Committee led by Gen. Charles De Gaulle.

The collapse and occupation of France, together with Germany's non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union,[4] Germany's alliance with fascist Italy and an expansionist Japan, the benevolent neutrality of fascist Spain, and the fact that little of Europe was outside Axis control, led many to assume that Britain had been defeated. Indeed, it would appear that the seemingly foolish decision of the relatively weak Britain to continue the war took the Axis powers off guard. This decision ensured the remaining British Empire was still involved in the war, with Japan threatening many British possessions in Asia.

On the same day as the fall of the Third French Republic, colonial forces loyal to the Third Republic shot and killed 200 members of the Comintern at the Saigon airport in Vietnam.

In 1940 Denmark and Norway were invaded by German forces, to preempt a British occupation of Norway and occupy its coastline and ports to be used by the Kriegsmarine. Norway also contained a source of Heavy water, potentially crucial in the construction of an atomic weapon. The operation was successful, but losses were heavy, especially to the Kriegsmarine. This was soon followed by the British troops invited by Iceland and American occupation of Greenland. (The goal was to prevent any increase in the range of German air and submarine activity, brought about the occupation of these lands - and of the Azores at the request of the Portuguese Government.)

All these countries, France, the Low Countries, Denmark, and Norway, provided troops and manpower to the SS, and industrial capacity to the German war machine.

Finland: The Winter War

The Soviet Union invaded Finland on November 30, 1939. This conflict came to be known as the "Winter War". Despite the overwhelming numbers of the Red Army, the Finnish resistance was strong and the battle was hard-fought before the Soviet army took control. Outside powers (including the U.S.) considered intervention to help Finland; only a little aid trickled in and Finland was forced to sue for peace. The peace treaty signed in March 1940 favored the Soviets, but they paid heavily for their victory with 200,000 dead. Finland lost 25,000 dead, and had to absorb 400,000 refugees from areas turned over to the Soviets. In 1941 Finland joined Germany in attacking the Soviets, in the Siege of Leningrad, but lost again.

An armistice in Sept. 1944 stabilized the border, using March 1940 lines; in addition Finland had to pay heavy reparations and had to remain neutral in the Cold War.[5]

Battle of Britain

See also: Battle of Britain and World War II: 1940

With Britain the sole opposing European nation, the Battle of Britain commenced. The Luftwaffe attempted to achieve aerial dominance over the south of Britain, in order to allow a sea based invasion of the British Isles to proceed. From 10 July to the end of October the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe fought for dominance; the resilience of the RAF, which counted in its ranks also Commonwealth personnel, US volunteers and Polish and Czech exiles, and the use of radar and its associated early warning systems, had forced a rethink of German tactics. It was the first significant setback for the Germans in the War. They now concentrated on the great population centers, especially London, hoping that huge civilian casualties would weaken morale and lead to a lessening of the war effort by the populace. The period that followed, popularly known as the Blitz, lasted into May 1941. Around 40,000 civilians and civil defense workers died; but the Germans failed to reach their objectives and their resources were soon diverted to the Eastern front as Hitler began concentrating on the impending invasion of the Soviet Union.

With the pressure off their air bases the RAF was now able to increase its nightly raids on industrial sites in Germany and occupied lands. Because of the inability to correctly target these sites, the raids soon turned into “area bombing”, and German civilian casualties rose. These raids were to reach further into Germany as the war progressed and were greatly increased when American bombers began their sorties.

Battle of the Atlantic

The aircraft carrier HMS Courageous was sunk by a German submarine on September 12, 1939, and the carrier Ark Royal narrowly missed a similar fate 2 days later. The Kriegsmarine scored an even greater victory in October, when U-47 penetrated the Royal Navy base at Scapa Flow and sank the WWI-era battleship Royal Oak.[6]

During World War II, U-boats were primarily used to destroy Lend-Lease transport vessels supplying the United Kingdom with the aim of causing supply shortages and forcing Britain to surrender. At first this was highly successful, but the Allies later developed many countermeasures, such as properly organized escorts, the Magnetic Airborne Detector that detected the change in local magnetic field caused by the U-boats, the 'Huff-Duff' system that tracked U-boats by their radio transmissions, improvements in depth-charges and sonar.

The primary weapons of U-boats were torpedoes.

Africa campaign

See also: Battle of El Alamein and Italy in World_War II#North_Africa

The Battle of El Alamein took place in the North African desert in Egypt in October–November 1942. British and Commonwealth forces led by General B. L. Montgomery ('Monty' to the troops) attacked and overwhelmed a German–Italian force led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Following the victorious outcome of the battle, the Allied forces chased the Germans westwards across North Africa to Tunisia, where, in concert with an American army which had landed in North Africa in Operation Torch, the Axis forces were driven out of Africa.

Alamein was also significant in raising morale in Britain, as it was the first significant land victory over German forces by the British Army. Churchill remarked that "before Alamein, we never had a victory; after Alamein, we never had a defeat." This was not entirely accurate, but did pinpoint the battle as a turning point in British conduct of the war, which had hitherto seen a series of defeats against Germany (Dunkirk, Greece, Crete, the Desert).

The Battle also cemented the reputation of Montgomery as a victorious general. He was a cautious commander, and carefully built up a great superiority in arms, equipment and men, before launching his attack. Criticized by some for over‐caution in action, and over‐exuberance, not to say arrogance, in his dealings with other generals and politicians, his care for the welfare of his men made him a popular leader.

Aerial bombing

See also: World War II in the Air#Goals and Achievements of Strategic Bombing

Michael Tracey writes:[7]

"Those keen to maintain an ability to say that US entry to World War II was justified, even if certain methods or tactics were not justified, often point to a few high-profile examples of bombing raids which they think may have crossed a line. These commonly include the firebombing of Dresden, the firebombing of Tokyo, and the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — all of which deliberately targeted civilians for mass destruction. But less commonly understood is that these attacks were not aberrational. Deliberate targeting of civilians was always a foundational tenet of the Allied (and US) aerial warfare strategy.

According to a review published in 2006 by Air University Press, and conveniently available on the Defense Department’s website, US perpetration of so-called “area raids” in the European theater was officially authorized and systematic.

The first “city bombing attack” conducted by British forces was in Mannheim, Germany on December 16, 1940 — crews were ordered to “drop incendiaries on the center of town,” reports the Air Force review. “The attack had the clear intention of burning out the city center.” By September 27, 1943, the US officially institutionalized this tactic. In a raid on the German city of Emden, the command headquarters of the Eighth Air Force “ordered the attacking aircraft to aim for the center of the city, not specific industrial or transportation targets.” As the 2006 Air Force review specifies, “by definition an area raid on a city requires a large percentage of incendiaries.” From that point onward, the Eighth Air Force conducted at least one “area raid” per week until the end of the war. Previously raids which deliberately targeted civilian populations had occurred on a more ad hoc basis, such as on August 12, 1943, when 106 US bombers “visually attacked the city of Bonn as a target of opportunity with 243 tons of bombs.”

In January 1945, General George McDonald pointed out that in its large-scale adoption of this tactic, the US Air Force was “unequivocally into the business of area bombardment of congested civil populations,” causing “indiscriminate homicide and destruction.” In certain Air Force records, deliberate bombings of cities were concealed and falsely classified as attacks on “military targets.” But this was not some rogue activity; in a joint directive issued on January 24, 1943, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill ordered their respective air forces to “undermine the morale of the German people.” The prevailing theory was that this could be accomplished by deliberately fire-bombing civilian population centers to instill “generalized fear,” as Sir Charles Portal, Chief of the Air Staff, explained. In early 1942, the British forces had adopted “an almost exclusive focus on city centers.” As early as July 9, 1941, months before formal US entry to the war, Roosevelt had directed his military chiefs to develop operational principles for the forthcoming aerial bombardment campaign. The chiefs concluded that a central aim should be the “undermining of German morale by air attack of civil concentrations… heavy and sustained bombing of cities may crash that morale entirely.”

Even US aerial attacks in which civilians may not have been deliberately targeted are difficult to distinguish from US aerial attacks in which civilians were deliberately targeted. As Tami Davis Biddle, professor at the United States Army War College, wrote in 2005:

In order to maintain a reasonable operating tempo, the Americans had taken to mounting frequent attacks on railway marshaling yards — large, visible targets either within or on the outskirts of major cities. Though such raids were designated and recorded as attacks on “communications” or “transportation” targets, they were often — in their effects — hard to distinguish from less discriminate “area” raids. The Americans typically included incendiary bombs, which were not particularly efficient against marshaling yards but could cause widespread collateral damage.

Years after the civilian-targeting policy had been systematically implemented, in February 1945, Secretary of War Stimson declared: “We will continue to bomb military targets and… there has been no change in the policy against conducting ‘terror bombings’ against civilian populations.” There had only been “no change” insofar as deliberate targeting of civilians had long been the policy. This official deception continued for some time, such as on July 23, 1945, when — repeating as fact the claims made by US Air Force General James Bevans — the New York Times reported: “During the entire European war, the American air forces concentrated on precision bombing.”

“The leaders of the USAAF knew exactly what they were doing, and civilian casualties were one of the explicit objectives of area incendiary bombing approved by both the USAAF and the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” concluded Thomas Searle in the Journal of Military History (2002).

According to records referenced by Alex J. Bellamy (University of Queensland) in Massacres and Morality: Mass Atrocities in an Age of Civilian Immunity (2012), the US aerial bombardment campaign in Japan was designed by Air Force planners who “used three criteria to select targets. In order of importance, they were: (1) ‘congestion/inflammability’ of the city; (2) incidence of war industry; (3) incidence of transportation facilities.”

Bellamy writes, “Despite public claims to the contrary, therefore, the planners clearly chose cities themselves as targets and primarily on the basis of the likely destruction that could be wrought, with the presence of war industries a secondary consideration to the potential for destroying cities congested with civilians. The presence of military facilities was apparently not a major factor in target selection.”

Operation Barbarossa

See also: Operation Barbarossa

1941 marked the major turning point in the war in Europe, when the Germans broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact and undertook Operation Barbarossa - the invasion of the Soviet Union. Stalin was repeatedly informed by his own spies and anti-German countries that Germany was about to attack; he rejected the accurate reports and paid dearly for the blunder. The Great Purge of the 1938 also had decimated the Red Army's military leadership.

In June—behind schedule because of diversions in the Balkans—the Germans launched their massive war against the Soviet Union (known as the "Great Patriotic War" in Russia). It was by far the largest, bloodiest, and most decisive phase of World War II. Outside observers in the first few months figured that Germany would win easily. But the Nazi armies were split three ways, logistics became worse and worse as distances grew, and none met their objective by the time the extreme Russian winter of 1941-42 set in. Blitzkrieg had failed against the Soviets, and the Germans lacked the resources to fight a long war against a country with such vast areas and so many more people. The Luftwaffe, which promised to overcome the slowness of ground travel, failed to provide adequate support and was soon matched and outnumbered by the Soviet air force.[8]

Ukrainian nationalists welcome Nazis, 1941 with banners saying "Heil Hitler".

The 14th Waffen Grenadier Division (1st Galician)[9] was a German military formation made up predominantly of military volunteers with a Ukrainian ethnic background from the area of Polish Galicia, later also with some Slovaks and Czechs. Formed in 1943, it was largely destroyed in the battle of Brody, reformed, and saw action in Slovakia, Yugoslavia and Austria before being renamed the first division of the Ukrainian National Army and surrendering to the Western Allies by 10 May 1945. Volodymyr Kubiyovych (Ukrainian Father Jewish Mother) founded this Division in order for Ukrainians to aid the Ukrainian Insurgent Army with weapons.

The Nachtigall Battalion under Roman Shukhevych, also known as the Ukrainian Nightingale Battalion Group, or officially as Special Group Nachtigall,[10] was the subunit under command of the German Abwehr (Military Intelligence) special operations unit "Brandenburg". Along with the Roland Battalion it was one of two military units formed February 25, 1941 by head of the Abwehr Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, which sanctioned the creation of the "Ukrainian Legion" under German command. It was composed of volunteer "Ukrainian nationalists," Ukrainians operating under Stephan Bandera's OUN orders.[11]

At three villages of the Vinnytsia region "all Jews which were met" were shot.[12]


The Simon Wiesenthal Center contends that between June 30 and July 3, 1941, in the days that the Battalion was in Lviv the Nachtigall soldiers together with the German army and the local Ukrainians participated in the killings of Jews in the city. The pretext for the pogrom was a rumor that the Jews were responsible for the execution of prisoners by the Soviets before the 1941 Soviet withdrawal from Lviv. The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust states that some 4,000 Jews were kidnapped and killed at that time.[13] It further states that the unit was removed from Lviv on July 7 and sent to the Eastern Front.

The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) arose out of separate militant formations of the OUN-Bandera faction (the OUNb).[14] The political leadership belonged to the OUNb. It was the primary perpetrator of the massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia.[15]

Its official date of creation is 14 October 1942,[16] The Ukrainian People's Revolutionary Army at the period from December 1941 till July 1943 has the same name (Ukrainian Insurgent Army or UPA).[17]

The OUN's stated immediate goal was the re-establishment of a united, quasi-independent Nazi-aligned, mono-ethnic nation state on the territory that would include parts of modern day Russia, Poland, and Belarus. Violence was accepted as a political tool against foreign as well as domestic enemies of their cause, which was to be achieved by a national revolution led by a dictatorship that would drive out what they considered to be occupying powers and set up a government representing all regions and social classes.[18]

Battle of Kharkov

As the Germans advanced on Moscow in the summer of 1941, and against the advice of the German High Command, Hitler suddenly detoured the center line of advance south, creating a huge traffic jam as the central column had to cross the southern advance. This slowed the advance on Moscow to which they did not arrive until October 16, 1941, as the snowy season set in.

Ukrainians welcome Germans as liberators from Soviet communism.[19]

The army group sent south engaged the ill-prepared, ill-equipped Red Army forces at Kharkov. 600,000 Red Army troops were quickly encircled and taken prisoner without much of a fight. Hitler declared it, "the greatest military victory of all time."

Most of the Russian POWs became slave laborers digging tank traps for Soviet T-34s;[20] some Ukrainian POWs were recruited into German fighting units in both eastern Europe, where they committed atrocities against the civilian population, and the Western Front to guard the Atlantic Wall in advance of, and during, the Normandy Invasion.

Second Battle of Kharkov

On 17 May, 1942 the German 3rd Panzer Corps and XXXXIV Army Corps under the command of Fedor von Bock, supported by aircraft, arrived, enabling the Germans to launch Operation Fridericus, pushing back the Soviet Barvenkovo bridgehead to the south. On 18 May, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko requested permission to fall back, but Stalin rejected the request. On 19 May, Gen. Paulus launched a general offensive to the north as Bock's troops advanced in the south, thus attempting to surround the Soviets in the Izium salient. Realizing the risk of having entire armies surrounded, Stalin authorized the withdraw, but by that time the Soviet forces were already started to be closed in. On 20 May, the nearly surrounded Soviet forces mounted counteroffensives, but none of the attempts were successful in breaking through the German lines. The Soviets achieved some small victories on 21 and 22 May, but by 24 May, they were surrounded near Kharkov.

The Second Battle of Kharkov resulted in an extremely costly loss to the Soviets, which saw 207,000 men killed, wounded, or captured; some estimates put the number as high as 240,000. Over 1,000 Soviet tanks were destroyed during this battle, as well as the loss of 57,000 horses. German losses were much smaller than the Soviets, with over 20,000 killed, wounded, or captured. Soviet General Georgy Zhukov later blamed this major defeat on Stalin, who underestimated German strength in the region and failed to prepare an adequate reserve force to counter the arrival of the German reinforcement that turned the tide.[21]

Siege of Leningrad

See also: Siege of Leningrad

The Siege of Leningrad began in September 1941 when the armies of Nazi Germany and Finland surrounded the Russian city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). During the winter of 1941-42 people in Leningrad began to die in large numbers because the Germans and Finns would not allow food into the city.

In the words of Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler “intended to have cities like Moscow and St Petersburg wiped out.” This was “necessary,” he wrote in July 1941, “because if we want to divide Russia into its individual parts,” it should “no longer have a spiritual, political or economic centre.”[22]

Many civilians were also killed by bombing.

The Red Army finally broke the siege on January 27, 1944. During the siege 1.2 million people died of starvation because of Finland and Germany.[23][24] The Siege of Leningrad killed more civilians than the bombing of Hamburg, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

Siege of Moscow

American Lend Lease tanks provided approximately 30% of the tank force in the defense of Moscow.

Turning point: The Battle of Stalingrad

See also: Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad.PNG

In the third year of war Germany began to suffer from a lack of important resources such as oil. Hitler therefore ordered the German army to take the city of Stalingrad and the oil fields of Baku in South Russia. The operation failed after the 6th German army and parts of the 4th Panzer army were encircled in Stalingrad and completely annihilated. The Battle of Stalingrad marked a turning point in the war and the Soviet Union started launching their own offensives.

It is generally recognized that by the time of the defeat at Stalingrad, the Germans had “lost” the war, and so the battles and campaigns that occurred in the closing phase of the war (in particular 1944 and 1945) do not enjoy significant name recognition in Western histories of the war. The inevitability of German defeat was certainly a reality, but the war was anything but over. In fact, 1944 and 1945 formed the bloodiest and most cataclysmic years of the war by far. The Wehrmacht was losing the war, but it still maintained millions of men in the field, and it increasingly propped itself up by mobilizing volunteers from all nations of Europe. There was not a single soldier on the continent who could be certain that he would personally survive, and in that sense the world still hung in the balance for every man. In its dying death rage the Wehrmacht would both kill and die in astonishing numbers.

Situation in the East

It is fairly common to describe the Nazi-Soviet War as a three-phase affair, with the phases largely determined by the degree of strategic initiative. In the first phase (call it June 1941 to November 1942) Germany had dominant strategic initiative and launched major offensive operations in Barbarossa and Case Blue. In this period, virtually all of the Red Army’s attempts to go on the strategic offensive collapsed with heavy casualties, as at Kharkov and Rzhev. In the second phase (roughly from December 1942 to November 1943) the Red Army was able to attack with great success, but the Germans still retained the ability to organize operations of their own (most notably the Battle of Kursk). In the third and final phase (December 1943 to the end of the war), the Red Army held full-spectrum dominance and the Wehrmacht could do little more than desperately try and fail to hold its positions.

German tanks became the enduring symbol of Nazi oppression and atrocities in Russia for generations.

The closing months of 1943 marked a new phase in the war, but the men in the Wehrmacht eastern army hardly noticed. There was no operational pause, no obvious phase change, only a continuous and rolling wave of Red Army offensives - sequential operations in action. The Soviet autumn offensives put the Red Army on the attack everywhere, with Field Marshal Erich von Manstein's Army Group South falling back in a desperate state to get behind the Dnieper River.

The river, however, brought little solace, and would not offer a defensive buffer, simply because the Soviets were already across it in many places, and Marshall Zhukov threw everything at it to ensure that he had solid bridgeheads from the start. And so, despite another year of hard fighting weighing heavy upon them, Manstein and Army Group South had to turn and try to fight west of the Dnieper.

All of Manstein’s field armies were in a state of complete mauling after the hard fighting of the previous three years. This was after all a force that had just been defeated spectacularly east of the Dnieper and now had to fight again to the west of the river. By the end of 1943, Manstein’s Army Group had at most 330,000 men upright in the field along with perhaps 100,000 non-German volunteers and allies, and despite nominally having fourteen Panzer Divisions in the inventory, the entire batch could scrape together barely 200 reliably operable tanks. In contrast, the Soviet fronts were at nearly full strength (the Red Army could provide as many as 600,000 replacements more per month than the Wehrmacht). On average, each of the four Soviet fronts had some 550,000 men and thus outnumbered Army Group South individually.

The Dnieper forms an enormous “S” as it bends back and forth across Ukraine, the line of the river is significantly longer than a line directly north to south from the same points. Attempting to defend a line along the course of the river from just north of Kiev to the Black Sea committed Army Group South to some 560 miles of front, though the actual north-south dimensions of the space were less than 300 miles - and that was already more than enough for this overstretched force.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

See also: Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Word spread of the German defeat at Stalingrad causing resistance movements to rise.

Beginning at 3 am on April 19, 1943, Nazi tanks and SS troops began assaulting a Jewish ghetto in Poland.[25] Jewish resistance fighters, totaling 700 to 750, opposed 2000 heavily armed Germans. The Jewish resistance fighters had some weapons, but no more than three light machine guns.

Waffen SS soldiers and elements of the Sicherheitsdienst sought to clear the ghetto of 60,000 Jewish residents in only three days. But the resistance fighters held off the Nazis for nearly a month, marking the first time in World War II that there was an uprising against Nazis in territory under German control. Eventually, SS forces destroyed the ghetto and its synagogue.

Battle of Kursk

See also: Battle of Kursk and Cherkassy-Korsun Pocket

The Battle of Kursk in 1943 was the largest tank battle in history. German forces attempted to encircle Soviet forces in the Kursk Salient on the eastern front, but strong Soviet resistance defeated the German assault. Kursk was the last German offensive of any strategic significance in the east; henceforth, they would conduct a fighting retreat. Germany already suffered from a grave shortage of war resources, when Hitler ordered the offensive and lost a huge number of tanks such as the new Tigertank and the Panther.

According to Colonel General and military historian Grigoriy Krivosheev, total Soviet casualties for the Kursk Strategic Defensive Operation (July 5-23, 1943) amounted to 177,847 with KIAs and MIAs count being 70,330. After that, Strategic Offensive Operation Kutuzov started (July 23-August 18, 1943), with total casualties resulting in 429,890, with KIAs and MIAs count being 112,529. From July 5 to August 18, 1943 in the two operations combined, the Red Army sustained 607,737 casualties, with total of KIAs and MIAs being 182,859.

Operation Overlord

See also: Operation Overlord

Operation Bagration and the Vistula front

See also: Vistula-Oder Operation

After a time of comparatively slow progress, the brilliant Soviet officer, Konstantin Rokossovsky, engineered "Operation Bagration", named-so after the Napoleonic Russian hero. The operation was extremely successful for the Soviets, leading to around 600,000 Soviet casualties and over 500,000 German casualties, including over 60,000 German vehicles and tanks. Furthermore, the German Army Group Center (Heeresgruppe Mitte) ceased to exist as an effective fighting force, due to its massive losses in men and material. Even the Germans' best officer, Erich von Manstein, couldn't turn the situation around.

The Vistula-Oder Operation took place on the Eastern Front between January 12 and February 2, 1945. Hitler appointed Heinrich Himmler, who dreamed of being a combat leader but never had any combat training or duty, in charge of German operations on the Vistula front. Soviet troops, led by Marshals Georgi Zhukov and Ivan Konev, advanced from the Vistula river in Poland to the Oder river which was only 50 miles from Berlin. The extermination camp at Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, 1945. The Wehrmacht suffered enormous losses as a result of the operation.

The Waffen-SS Division Charlemagne was formed in September 1944 from French collaborationists, many of whom were already serving in various other German units. Named after Charlemagne, the 9th-century Frankish emperor, it superseded the existing Legion of French Volunteers Against Bolshevism formed in 1941 within the German Army and the SS-Volunteer Sturmbrigade France formed in July 1943. The division also included French recruits from other German military and paramilitary formations and Miliciens, who were created by the Vichy regime to help fight the French Resistance. The SS Division Charlemagne had 7,340 men at the time of its deployment to the Eastern Front in February 1945. It fought against Soviet forces in Pomerania where it was almost annihilated within a month.

Victory Day depiction of the Soviet flag raised over the Reichstag.

Battle of Berlin

Finally, in 1945, Soviet troops stormed Berlin, and forced Nazi Germany into capitulation. Around 300 members of the Waffen-SS Division Charlemagne participated in the Battle in Berlin in April–May 1945 and were among the last Axis forces to surrender.

Potsdam Agreement

See also: Potsdam conference

The UK, US and Russia reached an agreement at Potsdam called the Potsdam Agreement on 30 July 1945. The Allied Control Council was constituted in Berlin to execute the Allied resolutions known as “Four Ds":

  • Denazification of the German society to eradicate Nazi influence
  • Demilitarization of the former Wehrmacht forces and the German arms industry
  • Democratization, including the formation of political parties and trade unions, freedom of speech, of the press and religion
  • Decentralization resulting in German federalism, along with disassemblement as part of the industrial plans for Germany.

Far East and Pacific

For more detailed treatments, see Second Sino-Japanese War and Chinese Communist collaboration with Japanese war criminals.

After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese juggernaut seemed unstoppable. In the south, they conquered the Philippines, the oil-rich Dutch East Indies, Malaysia, and extended their reach as far as the Solomon Islands. In the west, they seized Burma and the vital port at Rangoon, and even attacked British forces at Ceylon. The Japanese empire now reached as far as Wake Island in the east and the Aleutian Islands to the north. Attacks on Japanese targets, including the Doolittle raid, boasted American morale, but did little material damage. In May 1942, Japanese forces were finally halted at the Battle of the Coral Sea, which cost the Americans a precious aircraft carrier, but saved southern New Guinea. At the Battle of Midway a month later, the Japanese lost four of their best carriers, suffering a blow to their sea power from which they never recovered.

Time Line of Pacific War

The Americans took the offensive in August with a landing on the island of Guadalcanal. The overall American offensive strategy was two-pronged. Forces in the south advanced up the Solomon island chain and New Guinea, while in the central Pacific, Marines took island after island, including Tarawa, Eniwetok, Saipan, and Guam. The two lines of attack came together at the Philippines.

Integral to the strategy was the policy of island hopping. Many Japanese strongholds were bypassed, allowing the American forces to concentrate on more strategically significant islands. For example, Truk and Rabaul were home to major Japanese air and naval bases, but once the bases were neutralized, there was no reason to take on the troops there. This policy not only saved thousands of American (and Japanese) lives, it shortened the war by at least several months.

The American invasion of the Philippines took place in late October 1944 when Marines landed on Leyte Island. A few days later, the US Navy shattered what was left of Japanese naval power in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese fought hard, however, and Leyte took two months to secure. When the Americans landed on the other islands, they found the troops there equally unwilling to retreat, but with American superiority in almost every area, the outcome was never really in doubt. Manila was captured by March, and the American position had become solid enough that leaders could start preparing for the final stage: the invasion of Japan. The first step was taken when the island of Okinawa was captured in June after two months of heavy fighting. Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu, was scheduled for November 1945, followed by Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu, in March 1946.

The Japanese, soldiers and civilians alike, were expected to put up a fierce defense. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall believed that Japan would fight to the last man, and insisted on preparing for a land invasion of Japan with an army of 2,000,000 men anticipating a tremendous number of casualties. Some analysts estimated the number of projected casualties from Operation Olympic alone at 250,000 dead and wounded.[26] For this reason, Washington strongly requested the Soviets declare war on Japan. At the Potsdam conference in mid-July 1945, Stalin told President Truman the Soviets would declare war on Japan but would not give a firm timetable.[27] (This was the last of the four "Allied" conferences, taking place in mid-July 1945; the other three were: the Tehran Conference from November 28 to December 1, 1943; the Cairo Conference from November 22 to November 26, 1943; the Yalta Conference from February 4 to February 11, 1945.)

Japanese capitulation

V-J Day an American sailor "kissing the war goodbye" published in The New York Times.[28]

After the successful atom bomb test in the U.S., President Truman was left with the immense task of deciding what to do with the power of the atomic bomb. Truman assembled a committee to advise him. The committee recommended the bomb should be used on the Japanese Empire mainland to save American lives and produce maximum shock to try to convince the Japanese to surrender.[29] Therefore, on August 6, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress, the "Enola Gay" piloted by Paul Tibbet, dropped an atomic bomb (now called a nuclear weapon) on Hiroshima. Japan's war council still insisted on its four conditions for surrender, refusing unconditional surrender. So on August 9, "Bockscar", a B-29 piloted by Frederick C. Bock dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.[30] The necessity of the second bombing at Nagasaki has been debated, as the Soviet Union had declared war upon Japan, and Japan was blockaded; however, the Japanese war council still refused unconditional surrender before the second bomb was dropped.

The Soviet Union declared war on Japan at midnight August 8, 1945, in response to the American requests and in a last-minute grab for the spoils of war. It invaded Manchuria and Korea with 1.6 million troops; the Japanese army disintegrated. The Soviets captured 600,000 military and civilian prisoners of war; most of whom never returned home again.[31] It was no longer possible for the Imperial Army to defend the emperor. On August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito by radio broadcast announced Japan would accept the terms of the Allies, unconditional surrender.[32] By follow up message, the Japanese government stated they were surrendering with the understanding the Emperor would remain on the throne and would not be hung as a war criminal. Washington agreed, saying the authority of the emperor would be "subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers." On September 2, 1945, the Japanese Emperor formally surrendered all Japanese forces to the Allies in a famous ceremony aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. This was the ending of World War II, after six years almost to the day.



The war caused between 70 and 85 million deaths (3% of the world’s population) and untold numbers of seriously wounded.[33] Soviet Union and China citizens accounted for half of deaths. The Chinese lost between 15-20 million, oe about 3-4% of its population. The Soviets lost 16-18 million civilians, and 9-11 million soldiers (14% of its population). A similar number were seriously wounded. The Soviet Union lost 70,000 villages, 1,710 towns and 4.7 million houses. Of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation lost 12.7% of its population: 14 million, just over half were civilians. Ukraine lost nearly seven million, over five million civilians; a total of 16.3% of its population. The U.S. lost just 12,000 civilians, 407,300 military or 1/3 of one percent of its population.

In Ukraine, there were so many more civilians killed than in other countries because Hitlerite Nazis and Banderist Ukrainian fascists went especially after civilian Jews, Poles and ethnic Russians. Stepan Bandera fought with German Nazis as leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Later, he separated from the Germans and continued killing Russians and Jews. Bandera remains a national hero of the Ukrainian fascist forces.

Effects of war on empires

The Red army conquered much of eastern Europe and created an "Iron Curtain," destroying independent national governments and making them all subservient to Moscow. The US grudgingly tolerated this imperialism until 1947, when it was Greece's turn. Then the US drew the line and adopted a policy of containment. Because of the geography of war, Yugoslavia and Albania escaped the Red Army. They fell under the control of independent Communists--Yugoslavia received American support, and Albania turned to Red China for help against the Soviets.
The war effectively bankrupted Britain, which soon gave up India (which then included Pakistan and Ceylon) and many of its other colonies.
  • French Empire
France saluted its overseas Empire as the savior of France, and wanted control back. That led to nasty large scale wars in Algeria and Vietnam, which France lost.
  • the Netherlands and Indonesia
The Dutch returned to the Dutch East Indies to face an insurrection they could not handle. Dutch acknowledged in 1949 the sovereignty of Indonesia, a non-Communist state.
  • Supremacy of the USA in the Western World
The war left the U.S. with a vastly stronger economy than anyone else. To save on budget deficits the military was demobilized, but the long-term strategy was in confusion after Roosevelt's death.

See also

Land war

Time Dec. 4, 1944

Air war




Further reading

For a more detailed guide, see Bibliography of World War II

  • Dear, I. C. B. and M. R. D. Foot, eds. Oxford Companion to World War II (in Britain titled Oxford Companion to the Second World War) (2005) (2nd ed. 2009). the best reference book; excerpt and text search
  • Times Atlas of the Second World War (1995)
  • Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II, (1994) the best overall view of the war.
  • Wheeler, Keith. The Fall of Japan (1983)


  2. Olaf Groehler, Selbstmorderische Allianz: Deutsch-russische Militarbeziehungen, 1920-1941 (Berlin: Vision Verlag 1993), pp. 21-22, 123-124; Nekrich 1997: 131. Cf. Anthony Read and David Fisher, The deadly embrace: Hitler, Stalin, and the Nazi-Soviet Pact, 1939-1941 (M. Joseph, 1988), ISBN 0718129768, p. 336; Nigel Thomas, World War II Soviet Armed Forces (1): 1939-41 (Osprey Publishing, 2010), ISBN 1849084009, p. 15; Norman Davies, Rising '44: the battle for Warsaw (Viking, 2004), ISBN 0670032840, p. 30
  3. Louis Rapoport, Stalin's war against the Jews: the doctors' plot and the Soviet solution (Free Press, 1990), ISBN 0029258219, p. 57. Cf. Guy Stern, "Writers in Extremis," Simon Wiesenthal Center annual, Vol. 3 (Rossel Books, 1986), p. 91; Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reassessment (Oxford University Press US, 2007), ISBN 0195317009, p. 402; Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power (Penguin, 2006) ISBN 0143037900, p. 694
  4. Celebrations Marking 60 Years Since the End of World War II, Pavel Vitek, Russkii vopros - Studies, No. 1 2005. Translation from Russian.
  5. Roger R. Reese, "Lessons of the Winter War: a Study in the Military Effectiveness of the Red Army, 1939-1940," Journal of Military History 2008 72(3): 825-852
  6. Submarine Warfare, an Illustrated History, by Antony Preston, Thunder Bay Press, 1998
  7. A Fairy Tale Version of World War II is Being Used to Sell the Next World War, Michael Tracey, September 21, 2022. substack.
  8. The best studies of this theater are by David Glantz
  9. German: 14. Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS (galizische Nr. 1)) Ukrainian: 14а Гренадерська Дивізія СС (1а галицька)), prior to 1944 titled the 14th SS-Volunteer Division "Galicia" Ukrainian: 14а Добровільна Дивізія "Галичина"
  10. Abbot, Peter. Ukrainian Armies 1914-55, p.47. Osprey Publishing, 2004. ISBN|1-84176-668-2
  11. І.К. Патриляк. Військова діяльність ОУН(Б) у 1940—1942 роках.
    Університет імені Шевченко \Ін-т історії України НАН України Київ, 2004 (No ISBN) p.271-278
  12. "... скрепив нашу ненависть нашу до жидів, що в двох селах ми постріляли всіх стрічних жидів. Під час нашого перемаршу перед одним селом... ми постріляли всіх стрічних там жидів" from Nachtigal third company activity report Центральний державний архів вищих органів влади та управління України (ЦДАВО). — Ф. 3833 . — Оп. 1. — Спр. 157- Л.7
  13. Gutman, Israel. "Nachtigall Battalion". Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Macmillan Publishing Company: New York, 1990.
  14. Vedeneyev, D. Military Field Gendarmerie – special body of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. "Voyenna Istoriya" magazine. 2002.
  15. The July 1943 genocidal operations of OUN-UPA in Volhynia, pp=2-3;
  16. Demotix: 69th anniversary of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. 2011.
  17. Institute of Ukrainian History, Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army Chapter 3 pp.104-154
  18. Myroslav Yurkevich, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (Orhanizatsiia ukrainskykh natsionalistiv) This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).
  20. The USSR did not become a party to the Geneva Convention until 1960. So, although Germany was a signatory, Nazi Germany felt to compunction to honor the terms of the convention given German POWs and civilians were also subjected to human rights abuses by their Soviet counterparts.
  22. An Anniversary the West Would Rather Forget, M.K. Bhadrakumar, January 26, 2024.
  23. Kirschenbaum, Lisa A. (2006). The Legacy of the Siege of Leningrad, 1941–1995: Myth, Memories, and Monuments. Cambridge University Press, 44. ISBN 9781139460651. “The blockade began two days later when German and Finnish troops severed all land routes in and out of Leningrad.” 
  26. Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy, by Craig L. Symonds, the Naval Institute, 1995
  27. Wheeler (1983) p. 58
  28. The Story Behind the Famous Kiss, U.S Naval Academy website
  29. Wheeler (1983) pp. 58-60
  30. Wheeler (1983) pp. 94-101
  31. Wheeler (1983) p. 156
  32. Wheeler (1983) pp. 165-167
  33. World War II Casualties by Country 2024,

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