Major Battles of World War 2
In the late 1930s, Europe was bracing itself for another major conflict. Germany and the Soviet Union signing a non-aggression pact in August 1939 did little to ease fears of another war.
Adolf Hitler wanted to invade Poland without opposition. Joseph Stalin wanted to keep peace with Germany while he built up the Soviet military. The two sides agreed to split Eastern Europe between them and that neither government would ally with or aid an enemy of the other.
A week after signing the pact, Hitler had his army invade Poland. The Nazi blitzkrieg or "lightning war" used rapid, overwhelming force to conquer Poland. The Soviet Union invaded from the east two weeks later and within a month the two countries had divided and annexed Poland.
This marked the beginning of World War 2. France and Great Britain immediately realized that their appeasement policy was a failure and declared war on Germany.
In May 1940, German armies invaded Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The next month, Italy entered the war as a member of the Axis Powers and attacked France.
France had spent years building up a fortified line of defense known as the Maginot Line. However, the fast-moving German armored divisions went right around it. The French army attempted a stand at the Somme, but German air superiority won a quick victory.
The Fall of France came quickly and the German army occupied Paris, the French capital, on June 14, 1940 and France signed an armistice a week later.
In July 1940, Hitler set his sights on Great Britain and had the Nazi Luftwaffe, or German Air Force, begin bombing England's cities. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the country in the first major military campaign fought entirely in the air.
The Battle of Britain, as it was known, continued for months until Germany called off the campaign. The RAF used their new invention of radar and skilled, daring pilots to give Nazi Germany its first defeat.
In June 1941, Germany terminated its nonaggression pact and invaded the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union joined Great Britain on the Allied side. The German invasion, code named Operation Barbarossa, would become the largest land offensive in human history, with over 10 million combatants taking part.
In December of 1941, the United States was pulled into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a naval base in Hawaii. Japan attacked the base because it planned to expand its military actions in Asia and the U.S. had previously set up blockade, preventing them from taking over more territory. The United States immediately declared war on Japan and Germany, and joined the Allied Powers.
Germany had been seeing victories in the Soviet Union. However, the Battle of Stalingrad, fought for nearly six months between August 1942 and February 1943, ended any possibility of victory for Germany. It was the deadliest battle in history, with an estimated two million casualties.
Germany still controlled Western Europe in 1944 and the Allies needed to invade if they hoped to free France and its neighbors from Nazi control. That invasion began with D-Day on June 6, 1944. American General Dwight D. Eisenhower had been planning it for years.
Over 5,000 ships and 150,000 American, Canadian, and British troops took part in the amphibious landing at Normandy Beach in France. It took time, but eventually the Allies began the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control. This helped lay the foundations of the Allied victory in Europe.
At the same time, the United States was fighting Japan in the Pacific with a strategy of "island hopping". This began with a major American victory over the Japanese navy at the Battle of Midway in 1942. Over the next three years, U.S. forces pushed closer to Japan, eventually winning battles on the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945.
In an attempt to finally end the war, President Harry Truman made the decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan. The first was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Three days later, the second was dropped on Nagasaki. This was done to bring about a quick end to the war and prevent more American casualties. However, in the process, hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians were killed, both at the time of the bombing and in the months following due to radiation.