In 1945, World War II ended. It was the most terrible war in history. Much of Europe and Asia lay in ruins. About 55 million people had been killed in only six years. More than half of them were civilians (nonmilitary). But many people in many countries felt that they had met and destroyed a great evil.
World War II began in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France then declared war on Germany. The United States entered the war in 1941, after Japan bombed a U.S. Navy base in Hawaii. The United States was on the side of Britain and France.
AN ANGRY PEACE
World War I helped cause World War II. World War I had ended with the defeat of Germany in 1918. Afterward, people in Germany were bitter. They believed that they had been unfairly blamed for the war. They were being made to pay money to victorious Britain and France. They were forbidden to rebuild their army.
Japan was bitter too. The Japanese had helped defeat Germany. They felt it was their right to expand their power in Asia. But Britain and the United States blocked them.
THE RISE OF DICTATORS
In Germany, the Nazis came to power in 1933. Their leader was Adolf Hitler. He blamed Germany’s problems on the Jews. The Nazis admired violence and war. They had no use for democracy.
Japan’s government was dominated by its army and navy. By 1940, it had treaties with Italy and Germany. These three countries came to be called the Axis. All three were run by dictators—rulers with total power.
In the 1930s, Japan seized parts of China and other Asian countries. Seeing that no one stopped Japan, Italy and Germany decided to expand their territory. Hitler, defying Britain and France, rebuilt Germany’s army. Still no one tried to stop him. In the late 1930s, he took over Austria and Czechoslovakia.
On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. World War II had begun.
Germany’s tanks, planes, bombs, and rapid troop movement quickly overwhelmed Poland. This kind of warfare was called blitzkrieg (“lightning war”) because it was so swift. In spring of 1940, Hitler invaded western Europe. Denmark, Norway, Belgium, The Netherlands, and France fell to the blitzkrieg. Hitler was now master of Europe.
Britain remained free. Hitler wanted to destroy Britain’s air force before invading the country. During 1940 and 1941, German planes bombed England. British prime minister Winston Churchill rallied his people to resist. The British were helped by a secret invention, radar, which spotted German aircraft. Germany never invaded England.
On June 22, 1941, Hitler’s armies invaded the Soviet Union. By November, they were within 20 miles (32 kilometers) of Moscow, the Soviet capital.
WAR IN THE PACIFIC
In the United States, most people hated Hitler. But most Americans did not want to fight in any “foreign wars.”
Japan, meanwhile, was expanding its empire in Asia. The United States had stopped selling oil and metal to Japan. Japanese leaders planned to seize oil fields in Southeast Asia. They knew this would mean war with the United States. So they got in the first blow.
On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. They sank or seriously damaged 21 ships. The United States now joined the Allies (the countries fighting the Axis).
Japan had attacked the United States. But U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that Germany was the more powerful enemy. Hitler had to be defeated first.
Germany and Italy controlled much of North Africa. In 1942, American troops joined the Allies in North Africa. By May 1943, the Axis armies had fled. In July 1943, American, British, and Canadian troops invaded Italy. American and British planes began bombing Germany from airfields in England.
In November 1942, the Soviet armies stopped the German advance. Then they started to push the Germans back.
D-DAY AND AFTER
In 1944, Hitler was using most of his forces against the Soviet Union. Then on June 6, 1944—known as D-Day—British, American, and other Allied forces landed in northern France. Now Germany had to fight on two battlefronts—in France and the Soviet Union.
By the end of 1944, the Allies were advancing everywhere. The Soviets pushed into Germany from the east. The British and Americans led the drive from the west and south.
In the Pacific, U.S. forces were rolling back the Japanese empire. In fierce fighting, they captured island after island in the Pacific. They moved ever closer to Japan.
By early 1945, Axis cities were being heavily bombed by British and American planes.
THE WAR ENDS
On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered to the Allies. Hitler had killed himself a week earlier.
Japan still held out. The Americans had captured all the nearby islands. They were preparing to invade Japan itself.
On August 6, 1945, the United States introduced a terrible new weapon. An atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped, on the city of Nagasaki. On August 14, Japan agreed to surrender.
AFTER THE WAR
World War II caused enormous destruction. Much of Germany and Japan had to be rebuilt from rubble. Britain and many other nations suffered terrible damage.
The Axis suffered about 11 million military and civilian deaths. The victorious Allies lost four times as many. In the Soviet Union alone, more than 20 million died.
The world was shocked by Hitler’s death camps. In these camps, the Nazis had murdered about 6 million people. They included two-thirds of Europe’s Jews.
Germany and Japan were no longer military powers after the war. Neither were Britain and France. The United States and the Soviet Union had become the world’s great powers.
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