The Second World War is one of the bloodiest conflicts ever fought in human history. The destruction and bloodbath were unprecedented, bringing the world the closest to “total warfare.” Between September 1, 1939, and the formal surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945, an average of 27,000 people were slaughtered every day. Overall 40 to 50 million people died as a result of the war.
World War II started with Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Several players fought the war. The two sides of the conflict were the Axis Powers, which included Germany, Japan, and Italy, and the Allies on the other side. The Allied Forces consisted of France, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, the United Nations of America, and China.
Both the World Wars were a watershed moment in twentieth-century geo-political history. It resulted in the Soviet Union’s dominance being extended to nations in Eastern Europe, allowing a communist movement to gain power in China eventually. It signaled a significant change in global power away from Western European states and toward the United States and the Soviet Union.
Adolf Hitler launched his invasion of Poland at dawn on Friday, September 1, 1939. The Poles battled valiantly, but they were vastly outmanned in soldiers and machines, particularly in the air. On September 3, 1939, France and Britain declared war on Germany but provided no substantial support to Poland.
Stalin invaded eastern Poland two weeks later, and Warsaw surrendered on September 27. After another week of warfare, the organized Polish resistance ended. Hitler and Stalin partitioned Poland.
Soon after Poland, Hitler invaded Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in 1940. German U-boats targeted ships supplying Britain, including US ships. Japan, along with Germany and Italy, formed the Axis powers.
In Poland, the Nazis began a reign of terror that claimed six million people, half of them were Polish Jews executed in extermination camps. The Soviet government was no less severe. Stalin ordered the execution of nearly 20,000 Polish officers and others who had been seized in September 1939 in March and April 1940.
Tens of thousands of Poles were also brutally deported to Siberia. Despite his commitments to Churchill and Roosevelt, Stalin had established a subservient communist administration in Poland by May 1945.
The Blitz, an acronym for Blitzkrieg, was the name given to German air raids on Britain between September 7, 1940, and May 16, 1941. On the night of August 24, 1940, London was accidentally bombarded, and the next night, Churchill ordered an attack on Berlin.
The Germans shifted their focus from assaulting RAF airfields to bombing British towns and cities. On September 7, 1940, dubbed “Black Saturday,” the first significant attacks on London began. The capital was bombed for 57 nights in a row by the Luftwaffe, which dropped around 13,650 tons of high explosives and 12,586 incendiary canisters.
After Japan’s conquest of French Indo-China in July 1941, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, followed by the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, ordered the freeze of Japanese assets. Many Japanese people now believed that the only option was to go to war with the United States and the European colonial powers.
In October 1941, a hardline government under General Hideki Tojo took office, and plans were formulated to deal a severe blow to the Americans. On December 7, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy,” Japanese carrier-borne aircraft attacked the US Pacific fleet at its base in the Hawaiian Islands, Pearl Harbor. Despite the warnings, the Americans were utterly taken off guard.
Eight battleships were decommissioned, and seven additional warships were damaged or lost. Over 2,500 Americans were killed, while just 29 Japanese planes were lost. Notably, the American carriers were at sea and thus escaped, and the base itself was not shut down. The US Congress, led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, declared war on Japan the next day.
For six months after Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces carried all before them, seizing Hong Kong, Malaya, the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies, precisely as Admiral Yamamoto prophesied. In May 1942, the Japanese planned to destroy the United States as a strategic Pacific power in order to strengthen their grip on their new conquests.
Fighting raged on throughout the Pacific between 1944 and early 1945, with critical battles on Leyte, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Most of Japan’s conquests had been liberated by the late spring of 1945, and Allied forces began closing in on the Japanese mainland.
The Allies launched massive bombing assaults against major Japanese cities, including Tokyo, as they approached Japan. This process proceeded throughout the summer of 1945 until the United States ultimately dropped two Atomic bombs. They attacked Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Japan surrendered a few days later, stunned by the sudden damage.
On the afternoon of May 8, 1945, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered the radio announcement that the entire world had been anticipating. He announced on the radio, “Yesterday morning at 2.41 a.m., at General Eisenhower’s headquarters, General Jodl, the representative of the German High Command, and Grand Admiral Dönitz, the designated head of the German State, signed the act of unconditional surrender of all German land, sea, and air forces in Europe,”.
In the same year, US President Harry S. Truman declared the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II. The news immediately spread, and jubilation erupted across the country. On September 2, 1945, formal capitulation documents were signed aboard the USS Missouri, establishing the day as Victory over Japan Day. After six years of brutal fighting, millions of lives lost, and nations wholly decimated, the global war finally came to an end.
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