World War II: The War Years
Background: Dictators in Spain, Germany, and Italy as well as militarists in Japan glorified
empire-building and war.
Japan: Japanese military leaders felt that Japan should have an empire equal to the size of the
western powers. They seized Manchuria in northern China in 1931. In 1937, they overran
much of Eastern China.
Italy: Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The Ethiopian’s weapons were no match to Italy’s
modern tanks, machine guns, poison gas, and airplanes. Ethiopian King Haile Selassie appealed
to the League of Nations for help. They voted for sanctions (boycotts) against Italy, but nothing
stopped them. They fully conquered Ethiopia by 1936.
Spain: Spain plunged into a civil war in 1936. Francisco Franco led a revolt. He was backed by
Fascists. Hitler and Mussolini backed Franco while western democracies like Britain and France
supported democratic loyalists. One million people lost their lives and by 1939, Franco
triumphed and created a fascist dictatorship. He killed and jailed enemies and used terror to
(Neville Chamberlin & Appeasement Policy)
Germany: Hitler built up the German military in defiance of the Versailles Treaty. In 1936, he
sent troops into the Rhineland, an area between France and Germany. Britain, France, and the
U.S. opposed this move, but did nothing to stop him. They adopted a policy of appeasement,
which means to give in to someone while hoping that their actions will change. They thought if
they gave in to Hitler that he would stop taking over territories. He did the opposite. Because
the British, French, and U.S. did nothing, he got the idea that he could take any territory he
wanted to take. The U.S. signed neutrality acts and pledged to stay out of war. The RomeBerlin-Tokyo Axis was signed by Italy, Germany, and Japan. In this agreement, they agreed not
to interfere with another’s plans for expansion. They also agreed to fight Soviet communism.
Meanwhile, Hitler planned to bring all German speaking people into the Third Reich. He wished
to gain Lebensraum, or living space for Germans. He believed the “Aryan race” should conquer
“ inferior Slavs” to the east. By 1938, Hitler engineered the Anschluss, or union of Austria and
Germany. Nazis had been appointed to Cabinet posts in Austria. Hitler sent in his army to
preserve order and proclaimed himself as the new ruler of Austria. Western democracies,
fearful of war, continued with policies of appeasement. Czechoslovakia was targeted next by
Hitler. He insisted that the Sudetenland, a region of western Czechoslovakia be annexed, or
added to Germany. In response, Britain and France feared war, so the Munich Conference was
held in September of1938. Once again, the British and French chose appeasement, which
means they caved in to Hitler’s demands to keep territories he had taken. Hitler promised that
he had no further plans to expand. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Britain claimed he
had achieved “peace in our time.”
The Outbreak of War: By 1939, Hitler took over the rest of Czechoslovakia. European nations
realized that appeasement had failed. They agreed to protect Poland from takeover. In 1939,
Hitler and Stalin of the Soviet Union, signed a nonaggression pact, in which they pledged
peaceful relations with one another. Secretly, they agreed not to fight if the other went to war
and to divide up Poland and other parts of eastern Europe. Hitler feared Communism and
Stalin feared fascism. Hitler also did not want to fight the Soviet Union and western
democracies at the same time. On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. Two days later,
Britain and France declared war on Germany. World War II begins!!
Axis Advances: Nazi forces stormed into Poland by bombing airfields, factories, towns, and
cities. This type of warfare is known as Blitzkrieg, or lightning war because of the constant
bombing that lit the sky at night. Hitler attacked eastern Europe from the west, while Stalin’s
Soviet forces attacked from the east. Within a month, Poland was conquered. Stalin’s armies
pushed in to Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia near the Baltic Sea. They seized Finland as well. In
1940, Hitler attacked Norway and Denmark, causing them both to fall. Then he took the
Netherlands and Belgium. By May of 1940, Germany was pushing into France. Retreating
British forces were trapped. The British navy sent all possible navy, merchant, and fishing boats
to rescue them. More than 300,000 troops crossed the English Channel to safety. This rescue is
known as “The Miracle of Dunkirk.” France surrendered to Germany in June of 1940. Hitler
forced France to sign surrender papers in the same railroad car in which Germany had signed
the armistice ending WWI. Germany occupied Northern France and set up a government in the
south known as the Vichy government. Many French officers escaped to Great Britain to set up
a government in exile, led by Charles DeGaulle.
Africa and the Balkans: Axis armies pushed into North Africa and the Balkans. In 1940,
Mussolini sent Italian forces into Egypt from Libya. Hitler sent Erwin Rommel, nicknamed “The
Desert Fox” to help Italy push the British back to Cairo, Egypt. In 1940, Italy invaded Greece.
Germany aided them. Greece and Yugoslavia were added to the Axis empire. Bulgaria and
Hungary joined the Axis powers. By 1941, the Axis powers had taken most of Europe.
Technology: The Luftwaffe, or German air force perfected bombing methods. Hitler used fastmoving tanks and moved troops and airplanes using parachutes. Airplanes and submarines
travelled more effectively. Deadly bombs were used. Radar detected airplanes and sonar
detected submarines. Medical advances were used to treat the wounded.
The Battle of Britain and the Blitz: By June of 1940, Britain stood alone. Prime Minister
Winston Churchill said:
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds,
We shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills,
we shall never surrender.
Winston Churchill, radio address
The London Blitz
Hitler planned Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Britain by launching massive air strikes. For
a month, the RAF, or British Royal Air Force battled the German Luftwaffe. Germans then
began the “Blitz on London” and other major cities. They bombed all night for 57 nights. Much
of the city was destroyed and 15,000 people lost their lives. The British carried on their lives
and Parliament kept meeting. People escaped to bomb shelters at night. British morale was
not destroyed. Operation Sea Lion failed, so Hitler turned next to the Soviet Union.
Frozen Soldiers in Russia
Operation Barbarossa: was the nickname for the conquest of the Soviet Union. Russia lost 2 ½
million soldiers. As the Germans invaded, the Russians destroyed their own factories, farm
equipment, and crops rather than have them end up in Nazi hands. Hitler’s forces could not
stand up to the below-zero weather during the winter of 1941-42. Thousands of German
soldiers froze to death, defeated by “General Winter.” In September 1941, the “Siege of
Leningrad” began. Food was rationed to two pieces of bread each day. People ate wallpaper
because it was pasted to the walls with potato paste. People boiled leather and ate it. They
called it “jellied meat.” Over one million Leningraders died in the German siege. Stalin urged
Britain to send troops to help , but no help arrived. But the British and the Soviets agreed to
work together as allies.
Attack on Pearl Harbor
U.S. Involvement: When war first broke out, the U.S. declared neutrality. Most Americans
sympathized with the Allies. President Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease Act, which allowed him
to sell or loan war materials to the Allies. The U.S. became known as the “Arsenal of
Democracy” because they supplied weapons to nations fighting for freedom. In August 1941,
Roosevelt and Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter and set up goals to destroy the Nazis and
support “the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live.”
Japan Attacks: In 1940, Japan moved into French Indochina and the Dutch East Indies. The U.S.
banned the sale of war materials to Japan such as iron, steel, and oil. Tensions grew. General
Tojo Hideki of Japan felt that the U.S. was interfering with his hopes to seize lands in Asia and
the Pacific. Tojo ordered a surprise attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on
December 7, 1941, killing over 2,400 people. Roosevelt called this day “a date which will live in
infamy.” Congress declared war on Japan. On December 11, Japan’s allies, Germany and Italy
declared war on the U.S. The Japanese captured the Philippines, Hong Kong, Burma, and more
Nazi Europe: Hitler set up governments in Western Europe that were populated by Aryans. He
considered the Slavic people of Eastern Europe to be inferiors. They were shoved aside to
make more living space for Germans. Conquered lands were looted and plundered by the
Nazis. They stole works of art, factories, and other resources. Thousands of Slavs were sent to
work as slaves in labor camps and war industries. Resistance movements emerged and Nazis
shot participants and tortured them when caught.
Nazi Genocide: Hitler wanted to kill all those he considered inferior, particularly Jews. He also
targeted Slavs, Gypsies, the mantally ill, homosexuals, and the disabled. First he forced them
to move into ghettos, areas set aside for Jews in downtrodden areas and concentration camps.
By 1941, German leaders devised plans for the “final solution of the Jewish problem,” which
was genocide: He planned the deliberate murder of all European Jews. To do this, he set up
“death camps” built in Poland at places like Auschwitz, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Jews were
shipped from all over Europe to these camps. They were separated into groups: those who
could work, women and children, and men. Those not chosen to work were herded into
“showers” which really were gas chambers, where they were gassed to death. Some were used
in terrible medical experiments. Over 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis in this time period
known as the Holocaust. Some people tried to help the Jews by hiding them in their homes
during the war. If caught, the Nazis would torture and kill them. Collaborators sided with the
Nazis and were paid if they found hidden Jews. Italian peasants hid Jews. The nations of
Bulgaria and Denmark saved almost all of their Jews. Despite heroic measures to rescue Jews,
most were killed in this terrible time period.
Japanese Brutality: Japan created the “Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere,” whose
mission was to help Asian nations escape imperial rule. All they wanted was to take over these
nations. They treated the Chinese Filipinos, Malaysians, and other people terribly, killing and
torturing many. They seized food crops, destroyed cities and towns and made people become
Stalin, Roosevelt, &
Churchill (The “Big Three”)
The Allied War Effort: After the U.S. entered the war, the Big Three, Churchill, Roosevelt, and
Stalin met and decided to finish the war in Europe first, then move on to Asia. Stalin begged
Roosevelt and Churchill to open a war front in Russia. Stalin saw their lack of interest as a
deliberate policy to weaken communism. People in Allied nations thrust all of their energy and
resources into the war, making it a total war: Everyone was involved. Men went to war or to
work in factories along with women. Children collected metal scraps to be used to make
weapons. People knitted socks for soldiers. Food and other items like tires, gasoline, and
canned foods were rationed, or limited to make goods available for the war. Anti-German and
Japanese propaganda helped the governments to win popular support for the war. Japanese
Americans were held in internment camps and German Americans were treated as if they
might be spies. Women, besides working in factories, drove trucks and ambulances, and
decoded messages. Many European women fought with resistance movements. Many Soviet
women died in combat.
Turning Points: During 1942 and 1943, Allied victories began to change things. Under British
General Bernard Montgomery, Allied forces invaded northern Africa and stopped Rommel at El
Alamein in Egypt. They drove into Libya and Tunisia. Dwight Eisenhower of the U.S. trapped
Rommel and the Germans surrendered in Africa in 1943. The Allies then invaded Italy. Soon
after, Italians overthrew Mussolini, who was murdered. Hitler invaded the Soviet Union but
the Germans were brutally beaten and forced to surrender. By 1944, Soviet forces were
moving into eastern Europe to fight off the Nazis. The Allies invaded France on June 4, 1944,
known as D-Day. Thousands of ships brought 176,000 Allied troops across the English Channel
and troops fought their way inland to Normandy, France. By September, the Nazis were driven
out of France.
The Defeat of the Nazis: Allied troops moved next into Belgium. Here the Germans were
defeated after a month of brutal fighting at the Battle of the Bulge. The Allies relentlessly
bombed German cities, military bases, factories, railroads, and oil depots. By April, Germany
was surrounded as the Soviet army came in from the east and the other allies attacked from
the west. Hitler committed suicide and the Germans finally surrendered on May 8, 1945, which
is known as VE Day (victory in Europe).
Defeat of Japan: The Japanese were at first very successful in conquering territory in Asia.
They carried on an “island hopping” campaign in which they defeated one island in the Pacific
after another. In the Philippines, they forced conquered U.S. and Filipino soldiers on the
Bataan Death March where they were tortured and murdered in the terrible humid heat. By
1942, the Battles of Midway and the Coral Sea weakened the Japanese forces. By 1944, U.S.
admiral Chester Nimitz was blockading Japan and general MacArthur was involved in a
campaign to re-take the Philippines. Japanese kamikaze pilots crashed planes into U.S. ships in
suicide missions, causing great destruction. After the defeat of the Germans, the U.S. made
plans to send more troops to fight the Japanese and an invasion of Japan was planned.
Meanwhile, scientists in the U.S. had bee developing a destructive new weapon, an atomic
bomb, which had been tested in New Mexico. Harry Truman, the new president met with
other Allied leaders in Potsdam, Germany and warned the Japanese to surrender, or face “utter
and complete destruction.” The Japanese ignored the warning. On August 6, 1945, an
American plane dropped an atomic bomb on the industrial city of Hiroshima. It killed over
70,000 people and flatted four square miles. The Japanese did not surrender. On August 9,
1945, a second bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, killing over 40,000. Finally,
Emperor Hirohito surrendered. World War II finally came to an end!
World War II: The War Years
1. What region did Hitler invade in 1936 in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles?
2. What is appeasement? Why did the U.S., France, and Britain react this way?
3. Which three nations became allies through the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis?
4. Define Lebensraum:
5. The _______________________ was the union of Germany and Austria.
6. Where is the Sudetenland ?
7. What did Hitler promise at the Munich Conference?
8. What was British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain’s reaction to the Munich
Conference? Were his claims correct?
9. What happened to all of Czechoslovakia by 1939?
10. What was the point of Hitler ‘s and Stalin’s nonaggression pact (Nazi-Soviet Pact)??
11. What did Hitler do in September 1,1939? Then what happened two days later?
12. Define: Blitzkrieg:
13. What areas did Stalin’s armies conquer?
14. Name the several nations that fell into the hands of the Nazis in 1940.
15. Where did Hitler force France to sign surrender papers?
16. What was the name of the German controlled government in southern France?
17. Who led the French government in exile?
18. What type of technology was used by the Germans in war?
19. What was Operation Sea Lion? Did it succeed?
20. Describe the “Blitz on London.”
21. What was Operation Barbarossa?
22. What happened during the winter of 1941-1942?
23. Describe the Soviet diet during the war.
24. How did Hitler’s armies treat people in lands they conquered?
25. Name groups Hitler wanted to kill.
26. What is a ghetto?
27. What was the “final solution.”
28. Where were death camps built?
29. Describe what happened in concentration camps.
30. What happened on D-Day?
31. What happened at the Battle of the Bulge and after?
32. What was VE Day?