What were the main events of the Second World War?

In 1939, the world collapsed into a second ‘great war’. The presence of fascism and communism had pushed world peace to breaking point. What were the main events of the Second World War, and what consequence did the War have on world politics after 1945?

You can download the homework sheet here. If you are unable to download the homework sheet, please see Mr Lupton to get a printed sheet.

This homework will help me to…
1) Explain who the main participants were in the Second World War.
2) Explain the main events in the Second World War.
3) Analyse how these events changed world politics after 1945.

KEY WORDS:
Blitzkrieg = A swift movement of troops through a territory to gain land.
Pacific = A large ocean in the East. Japan, Australia and the American West Coast is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean.
Red Army = The army of the USSR.

The start of war

Adolf Hitler had alarmed democratic nations throughout Europe during the 1930s. His militarisation of the German people and his hatred towards Jews put neighboring Poland on edge. By 1939, Hitler had successfully grown the German military from a mere 100,000 men in 1933 to 3.7 million men. It was by far the largest army any European power wielded.

Driven by his desire for Lebensraum, Hitler declared war on Poland on 1 September 1939. In response, both France and Britain declared war on Germany, in an effort to stop fascism spreading throughout Europe. Although some nations did not join the War until later on (such as the USA in late 1941), the start of war pushed the world into two distinct camps: the Allied powers and the Axis powers. Almost every country in the world was involved. The main participants in the war are shown here:

Hitler pushes on throughout Europe with his army. The overwhelming numbers of tanks and soldiers mean that Czechoslovakia, Holland, Belgium and France quickly fall to Nazi German rule. Nazi Germany had a comfortable control of central Europe in just nine months.

Hitler poses in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, after the successful invasion of France in June 1940.

Britain almost falls

By the middle of 1940, the Nazi Blitzkrieg had moved through most of central Europe. Hitler positioned his army to move on and invade Britain.

Code-named ‘Operation Sea Lion’, Hitler ordered his air force, the Luftwaffe and the German Navy to stage a large scale attack on Britain from the English Channel. He hoped that Britain would surrender peacefully, allowing the Nazis to control almost all of Western Europe.

The land occupied by Nazi Germany at the height of its military success in WWII.

British prime minister, Winston Churchill, refused to surrender. In anger, Hitler ordered bombing raids on London, Liverpool, Coventry and other large cities in the hope that Britain would eventually surrender.

After a year of bombing, Hitler called off his Blitz due to the financial strain it placed on the Nazi state. Britain had fought off its biggest invasion threat in its modern history.

Hitler attempts to invade the USSR

In his attempt to destroy communism, Hitler hoped that he could push his Blitzkrieg through the USSR, code named Operation Barbarossa. Millions die in some of the most bitter fighting in the War, and Hitler’s progress is thwarted by the cold winter that begins to settle in in the USSR by the end of 1941.

After failing to capture Moscow, the Nazis become locked in a war in Stalingrad. Millions of German soldiers die, and it began to look as though Hitler’s Blitzkrieg of Europe was beginning to fail. The Nazis begin to retreat back into central Europe, and the Soviet Union begin their offensive push into Europe.

A USSR soldier keeps lookout for Nazi soldiers. The bitter winter in the USSR in 1941 began to thwart Hitler’s attempt at capturing the capital city of Moscow.

Japan begins its expansion

Japan, in an attempt to expand its own fascist empire, begins to mount its own attack in the Pacific. Japan caught the USA by complete surprise, mounting attacks on US naval ships at Pearl Harbour, Guam, Wake Island, Hong Kong and the Philippines in 1941.

The USA finally joined the Second World War, declaring war on Japan and the other Axis Powers. It would be a major turning point in the Second World War, as US forces bring huge military force to the War for the Allied Powers.

After some success in the Pacific, the Japanese were able to expand their empire. Yet the Japanese forces were held up at key battles that pinned them back from gaining total control of the region. The Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942) and the Battle of Midway (June 1942), stop the Japanese from being able to mount a successful attack on Australia.

The Nazis are forced to retreat

After losing heavily in the USSR, the Nazis continued to retreat back to the German border. In their retreat, the USSR captured the Nazi territory previously gained in Eastern Europe.

In an effort to liberate Germany from Nazi control, Britain and the USA launch ‘D-day’ in June 1944. Huge numbers of British and American troops were transported to the beaches of Normandy in Northern France where bitter fighting began. Suddenly, the Nazis were being pushed back to Germany from not only the East by Soviet troops, but also from the West by British and US troops.

Germany’s defeat begins to look inevitable.

US and British troops sail to the French coast in preparation of ‘D-day’, a day that would liberate France from Nazi control.

Nazi Germany collapses

By the start of 1945, the Soviet Union begin their major offensive and start their ‘race to Berlin’. The Nazi army had been depleted of effective soldiers, and had been completely surrounded by the Red Army. Staring defeat in the face, and out of fear of being captured by the Soviet Union, Hitler shot himself in his bunker in the centre of Berlin. The Nazi regime is over.

The Red Army lift the Soviet flag over Berlin after its collapse. The Nazi regime is over.

Six months later, the Allies decided to split Germany into four ‘zones’, each controlled by different countries. The USSR took control of the East of Germany, whilst Britain, France and the United States controlled the West of Germany. Suddenly, Germany is split in the middle, with the East becoming a communist area under the USSR, and the west remaining a capitalist area under the Western powers. The world is now split into two distinct ‘superpowers’ – the USA and the USSR. These two countries would hold the most world power for the next 50 years.

The split of Germany following 1945.

The USA push Japan back

The Second World War continued beyond the fall of the Nazi regime in May 1945. The USA recaptured its land lost to Japan in the Pacific, and pushed the Japanese army back to its own islands. The USA began to hatch plans to invade Japan itself.

The War would only end with Japanese surrender after two atomic bombs were dropped on two Japanese cities by the USA. Named ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’, the USA destroyed huge parts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, devastating Japan. The Second World War concludes with Japan surrendering to the USA on 15 August 1945.

Original footage of the ‘Little Boy’ bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945.

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