Recounting World War II

February 8, 2018 Dennis Ottley

Because providing a brief history of World War II is impossible, let’s review how it began and ended

To say that World War II was devastating is an understatement. Lasting from 1939 to 1945, it left most of the globe damaged. The revolution is touted by many as the world’s most destructive conflict.


The six-year armed struggle saw the Allies (which comprised of the United States, France, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom) duke it out against the Axis powers (Japan, Italy, and the Nazi-led Germany). Because of the many events leading up to and surrounding the armed struggle, those who try to provide a brief history of World War II will find the task an impossible one to accomplish.


To know how the deadly revolution played out, let’s review and look back at the causes of World War II:



The Brewing of Post–World War I Tensions


Before pointing out the exact causes that triggered the bloody and brutal conflict, let’s probe into how World War II began.


After experiencing the draining and deadly effects of the First World War, everyone was willing to work toward a more peaceful climate. However, the losing parties (Germany and Austria to name a few) weren’t too sure about making compromises and surrendering arms.


Infamous Nazi strongman Adolf Hitler was one of those left dissatisfied with the Treaty of Versailles. While peace agreements were being made, Hitler was planning something deadly up his sleeve. On August 23, 1939, Nazi Germany inked a deal with the Soviet Union called the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. As the former gave land as an exchange, the latter held up their end of the bargain by agreeing not to strike. This set the stage for Nazi Germany’s first move in the war.



The Drawing of Blood


What triggered World War II was the attacking of Poland by Nazi Germany on September 1, 1939. Try as they did, the Polish foot soldiers, who were mostly armed with old weapons, did not best the advanced technology of Hitler’s soldiers.


The violent incident in Poland prompted Polish allies Great Britain and France to raise up arms against Nazi Germany two days later. However, their assistance proved too late after the German and Soviet forces launched attacks on western and eastern Poland. Ten days after the Soviet attack, Poland surrendered to its opponents on September 27, 1939.




The Nazi Surge


The Nazi forces widened their European invasion by conquering Denmark and Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands on April 9 and May 10, 1940, respectively. By entering Belgium, the Nazi Germans were able to get past the Maginot Line, where the French’s defenses lined up. Taken aback by their enemy’s tactics, the French and British troops fled to Great Britain, beginning May 27, 1940, to avoid total annihilation. In less than a month later, France surrendered to Germany on June 22 of the same year.


With Western Europe conquered, Hitler and his men set their sights on Great Britain. Fortunately for British forces, they were successful in holding the Nazis off during the Battle of Britain on July 10, 1940. Undeterred, the Nazis began nightly attacks that were known as the Blitz a month later.



Nations Coming Together


The British knew they could not stop their enemies alone. In line with this, they sought assistance from the United States. Although it wasn’t willing to become a full-blown participant of the war at that time, then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised to send over necessary supplies.


The enemy lines also received help of their own. The expansion of the Axis powers came on September 27, 1940, with Japan and Italy joining the fold as part of the Tripartite Pact.





Although they were allies on paper, Nazi Germany had always intended to invade the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin and his men did not see the June 21, 1941, attack coming, which enabled the Nazis to advance swiftly.


Despite the shocking betrayal, the Soviets were still able to retaliate by burning their fields and eliminating their livestock. This move prompted the Germans to rely solely on their supply lines. The harsh winter in the Soviet Union and their underestimation of its land slowed down the Nazis’ advancement in their former ally’s territory.



The Bloodshed Continues


Not only did Hitler and company send soldiers, he also commanded killing squads (Einsatzgruppen) to hunt down and eliminate Jews and other groups who did not fit their racial policies. This extreme killing scheme constructed by the Nazis, now known as the Holocaust, was responsible for the deaths of around 11 million people who they deemed as “undesirable.”




Conflict in the Pacific


Germany was not the only nation seeking domination. Japan, which was newly industrialized at the time, was also planning to conquer Southeast Asian territories. In anticipation of American intervention, Japanese forces launched an attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. To make things worse, they also preemptively wrecked damage on the US airbase in the Philippines the following day. This move provoked the United States to declare war against Japan three days after the initial attack. After successfully capturing the Philippines, Burma, Hong Kong, Singapore, and a few other territories, Japan seemed to be an unstoppable force.



The Allies Strike Back and Win Europe


The Battle of Stalingrad over at Eastern Europe was when the war turned to the Allies’ favor. After this defeat in the east, a plan to attack Western Europe was hatched by the US and British forces. It took a year for both parties to organize and execute their plans, which came into fruition on June 6, 1944, on the beaches of Normandy. Upon breaking through their enemies’ defenses, the Allies were able to prepare themselves for an attack on the western part of Germany.


Although much of the Germans wanted the fighting to stop, Hitler thought otherwise. The attack on December 16, 1944, was his last resort in trying to defeat the Allies. Unfortunately for him, his enemies emerged victorious from the bloody battle.


By the time spring 1945 rolled in, the German forces were left exhausted after six years of fighting. With their resources running low, Berlin was surrounded by the Soviet army on April 25 of the same year. Realizing the war was one that he lost, Hitler ended his life five days later.


On the day of May 8 of the same year, the fighting in Europe officially came to a halt. At 11:01 p.m., VE (or Victory in Europe) Day was declared.



The Fall of the Japanese


If the conflict ceased in Europe, the Japanese did not let up. Because “surrender” wasn’t a part of Japanese culture, their forces did not stop until they attained victory. Keeping their enemies’ mentality in mind, the American forces were concerned about the number of casualties on their end should they decided to invade Japan.


Little did the Japanese know that the tides were about to change for them as they continued their quest for dominance.


The Battle of Midway, a secret attack on a US airbase was supposed to give the Japanese upper hand to end the war in their favor. Unbeknownst to them, America had deciphered their secret codes and discovered their plans. With this information in hand, American forces proceeded to launch an ambush that resulted in the Japanese losing four aircraft carriers and many pilots.


Major battles (Leyte, Saipan, and Guam to name a few) won by the United States prompted the Japanese to be pushed back into their native country. On April 1, 1945, the Americans landed on the shores of Okinawa—the last Japanese-occupied island. Fighting did not ensue for five days. When the US forces scattered themselves around the territory, they were met with attacks from the island’s southern half. Three months and much bloody fighting later, the Americans finally gained hold of Okinawa. The long battle was marked as World War II’s last.


Then-US president Harry Truman contemplated on using a destructive weapon that would leave Japan with no choice but to surrender without staging an invasion. To that end, the American forces decided to drop an atomic bomb in Hiroshima on August 6 of the same year. They then dropped another one in Nagasaki three days later. The devastation finally prompted Japan to officially surrender on August 16, known as VJ (Victory over Japan) Day.



The Aftermath


The devastation World War II brought left around 40 to 70 million casualties in its wake. It also caused the division of Germany into two sides (the East and the West) and the emergence of the United States and the Soviet Union as world superpowers. Although the two countries worked together to take down Nazi Germany, they found themselves on opposite ends during the Cold War. To avert another war from brewing, representatives from 50 nations gathered in San Francisco and formally established the United Nations on October 24, 1945.



Dennis J. Ottley is the author of Remembering (Korea: 1950–1953). Those who are interested to learn more about the Korean War and its effect to the American war veterans will find this book interesting. For questions and discussions, connect with him through Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.



Rosenberg, Jennifer. n.d. “An Overview of the Key Events in World War II.” ThoughtCo. Last modified October 23, 2017. Accessed December 4, 2017.



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