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World War II

World War II (in Russia also known as The Great Patriotic War (for the war after June 1941) and The War Against Aggression) was fought chiefly between the Allies and the Axis Powers. Most of the fighting occurred in the European theatre in and around Europe, and in the Asian theatre in the Pacific and East Asia.

The war in Europe began on September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. However, Japan had invaded China already in 1937 the (Second Sino-Japanese War), which sometimes is considered the start of the Second World War (Withdrawal of the Japense after their defeat also catalysed the Chinese Communist Revolution). Nazi Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945, ending the war in Europe. The war in the Pacific ended on September 2, 1945, when Japan surrendered.

It was the largest armed conflict in history, spanning virtually the entire world and involving more countries than any other war, introducing powerful new weapons, and culminating in the first use of nuclear weapons. However, despite the name, not all countries of the world were involved; some through maintained neutrality, Sweden and Switzerland), others through strategic insignificance (as Mexico). However, whilst not all countries were invovled, it is clear that the Second World War has had a lasting effect in shaping the political climate of the world as we know it today.

The war ravaged civilians more severely than any previous conflict (bringing to its first fruition the concept of total war) and served as a backdrop for genocidal killings by Nazi Germany as well as several other mass slaughters of civilians which, although not technically genocide, were significant.

These included the massacre of millions of Chinese and Korean nationals by Japan, internal mass killings in the Soviet Union, and the bombing of civilian targets in German and Japanese cities by the Allies, and bombing of European cities by Nazi Germany. In total, World War II produced about 50 million deaths, more than any other war to date (see the List of World War II casualties by country).

Table of contents

European Theatre

See: European Theatre of World War II

Asian Theatre

See: Asian Theatre of World War II

Historical significance

Most likely learning from the example of World War I, the Western victors in the Second World War did not demand compensation from the defeated nations. On the contrary, a plan created by U. S. Secretary of State George Marshall, the "Economic Recovery Program", better known as the Marshall Plan, called for the US Congress to allocate billions of dollars for the reconstruction of Europe.

The portion of Europe occupied or dominated by the Soviet Union did not participate in the Marshall Plan. In the Paris Peace Treaty Soviet's enemies Hungary, Finland and Rumania were required to pay war reparations of $300,000,000 each (in 1938 year's value) to USSR and her satellites. From Italy was required $360,000,000, shared chiefly between Greece, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

As mentioned, the Soviets bore the heaviest casualties of World War II. Russia had been invaded three times in the 150 years before the Cold War: during the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, and World War II, suffering tens of millions of causalities. This is sometimes proposed as an explanation for much of Russia's behavior after the war, when the Soviet Union continued to occupy and dominate Eastern Europe as a "buffer zone" against another invasion from the West.

At the same time, the United States and the Soviet Union consolidated their military presence and links in Europe as preparation against possible aggression. In Churchill's words, an Iron Curtain had descended across Europe and a new phase of the conflict between the democracies and Soviet Union, the Cold War, began.

The repatriation, pursuant to the terms of the Yalta Conference, of two million Russian soldiers who had came under the control of advancing American and British forces, resulted for the most part in their deaths. Some of the prisoners committed suicide, others were shot once taken into Soviet custody, and still others (including General Andrei Vlasov) were executed after trial. The balance of the soldiers were sent to Soviet forced-labor camps, where they died.

The massive research and development involved in the Manhattan Project in order to quickly achieve a working nuclear weapon design greatly impacted the scientific community, among other things creating a network of national laboratories in the United States.

In the military sphere, it seems World War II marked the coming of age of airpower, mostly at the expense of warships. While the pendulum continues to swing in this never-ending competition, air powers are now a full partner in any military action.

The war was the high-water mark for mass armies. While huge armies of low-quality troops would be seen again (during the Korean War and in a number of African conflicts), after this victory the major powers relied upon small highly-trained and well-trained militaries.

After the war, many high-ranking Nazis were prosecuted for war crimes, as well as the mass murder of the Holocaust committed mainly on the area of General Government, in the Nuremberg trials. Similarly Japanese leaders were prosecuted in the Tokyo War Crime Trial. In other countries, notably in Finland, the Allies demanded the political leadership to be prosecuted in "war-responsibility trials" - i.e. not for crimes of war.

The defeat of Japan, and her occupation by American Forces, led to a Westernisation of Japan that was surely more far-reaching than would otherwise have occurred. Japan approximated more closely to a Western style democracy and, because of her defeat by the USA, set out to ape the United States. This huge national effort led to the post-war Japanese economic miracle and Japan's rise to become the world's second largest economy.

Military engagements


Naval engagements

Major bombing campaigns

Common weapons

Defensive lines

Political and Social Aspects of the War

Production and logistics

The Allies won, and the Axis lost, because the Allies had greater productive resources, and were able to turn these resources into greater numbers of soldiers and weapons than the Axis.

(This section should be expanded to with links to other articles about production and logistics in WW2, as those articles are written)

Related articles


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