Clicky

Summary | The Second World War

summary the second world war

Some historians today consider the time between the two world wars as simply a twenty-year truce. Yet the 1920s had offered hope for peace, as shown by the Locarno spirit. This hope was dashed by the Great Depression that helped put Hitler in power.

Between 1918 and 1938 Soviet leaders shifted their view on the likelihood of a world communist revolution. Hitler’s successful rise to power in Germany posed a threat to the Soviet Union. Stalin tried to counter this threat by negotiation. Both the West and the Soviet Union sought to turn Hitler’s aggression against the other.

The Vietnam War | The Second World War

the vietnam war the second world war

A special problem for the PRC, Soviets, and Americans arose in southeast Asia from the revolt of the Viet Minh (Revolutionary League for the Independence of Vietnam) against France that broke out in French Indochina after World War II.

The Soviet-Chinese Split | The Second World War

the soviet chinese split the second world war

In 1959 Khrushchev told Beijing that the Soviet Union would not furnish the PRC with atomic weapons and tried unsuccessfully to unseat Mao. PRC bombardment of Quemoy and Matsu (1958), offshore islands claimed by Taiwan, plus a savage conquest of Tibet and an invasion of Indian territory in Ladakh were undertaken without consultation between the PRC and the Soviets. The Soviets publicly declared themselves to be neutral between the

Conflict in Asia, 1953-1970 | The Second World War

conflict in asia 1953 1970 the second world war

Between Stalin’s death in 1953 and Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin in 1956, Chinese-Soviet relations were basically amicable, and PRC influence rose in the communist world. The Soviets returned Port Arthur and Dairen to China in 1955. But when Khrushchev attacked Stalin without consulting Mao Zedong (1893-1976), the Chinese communist leader, the Chinese denounced him for joining with Tito and the revisionists.

Czechoslovakia During The Cold War | The Second World War

czechoslovakia during the cold war the second world war

The settlement in 1968 on the terms of a nuclear nonproliferation treaty to prevent the spread of atomic arms beyond the nations that already possessed them seemed to represent another step forward, but Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1968 delayed its ratification.

Cuba’s Nuclear Tests During The Cold War | The Second World War

cubas nuclear tests during the cold war the second world war

Khrushchev now probed in another way, announcing in August 1961 that the Soviets would resume atomic testing in the atmosphere, a practice stopped by both powers in 1958.

In the two months that followed, the Soviets exploded thirty bombs. President Kennedy decided that, unless Khrushchev would agree to a treaty banning all tests, the United States would have to conduct its own new tests. Khrushchev refused, and American testing began again in April 1962.

Berlin After World War Two | The Second World War

berlin after world war two the second world war

In East Germany, there the Soviet Union had created its most industrially productive European satellite, fully integrated into Comecon. Strategically East Germany was of great importance to the USSR; control over East Germany enabled the Soviets to keep Poland surrounded and to keep communist troops within easy reach of West Germany.

Eastern Europe After World War Two | The Second World War

eastern europe after world war two the second world war

In eastern Europe, the new first secretary to the Soviet Communist party, Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971), sought to heal the breach with Tito. In May 1955 he went in person to Belgrade and publicly apologized for the quarrel.

Relations between Tito and Moscow improved, although the Yugoslays never abandoned their ties to the West. Khrushchev even went so far as to declare that many prominent victims of the Titoist purges had been executed wrongly. But in making these admissions Khrushchev opened the door to new troubles.

The Korean War | The Second World War

the korean war the second world war

The Korean War, which broke out in June 1950, was in some measure a Soviet-sponsored operation, although the Soviets contributed only support and sympathy and allowed their Chinese ally to take the military lead.

Korea had been a target of Soviet interest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but the Japanese triumph over the Russians in 1905 had led instead to Japanese annexation of the country in 1910.

The Yugoslav Rebellion After World War Two | The Second World War

the yugoslav rebellion after world war two the second world war

Also in 1948, the Soviets faced a rebellion from a country that had previously seemed the most pro-Soviet of all the new communist states of eastern Europe—Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia had overthrown a pro-German government in 1941 and throughout World War II remained a scene of intense guerrilla action against the Germans and Italians.

The Postwar Settlement | The Second World War

the postwar settlement the second world war

The devastation wrought by the war, including the war in the Pacific, greatly exceeded that in World War I: at least 50 million dead, more than half of them civilians, and more than $2,000 billion in damage.

Despite a sharply rising birth rate and vast programs of economic reconstruction, such losses could never be fully repaired. Moreover, new and terrifying problems faced the world. Atomic weapons, hydrogen bombs, and guided missiles made real the fear that a new general war might exterminate all life on this planet.

The Cold War Begins | The Second World War

the cold war begins the second world war

The quarter century following World War II embraces the period conventionally identified as the cold war, even though in some respects a thaw had set in before 1970 and in others the hostilities of the cold war extended to the 1990s.

A source of international insecurity, the cold war nonetheless marked a period longer than that between World Wars I and II without a renewed full-scale world war.

The Allied Coalition | The Second World War

the allied coalition the second world war

The Grand Alliance, as Churchill liked to call it, known in its last years as the United Nations, had mustered overpowering strength against Germany, Japan, Italy, and such collaborators as the Axis powers could secure in the Balkans, Southeast Asia, and western Europe. Britain and the Commonwealth, the Soviet Union, and the United States were the heart of the Allied coalition.

The War in the Pacific | The Second World War

the war in the pacific the second world war

V-J Day, the day of victory over Japan, was now the all out goal of Allied effort. The Soviet Union had refrained from adding Japan to its formal enemies as long as Germany was still a threat. Britain and the United States, on the other hand, were anxious for the Soviets to enter the war against the Japanese. This desire was responsible for many of the concessions made to Stalin in the last months of the German war.

The Axis on the Defensive | The Second World War

the axis on the defensive the second world war

In the last two years of the war the Axis powers were on the defensive. Both in Europe and in Asia the Allies attacked with land forces along definite lines of march campaigns of the traditional kind.

But the way for these armies was made easier by two new factors in warfare: air power and modern propaganda, or psychological warfare. Air bombardment, at least until the atom bomb at Hiroshima, was never the perfect weapon that the prophets of air power had predicted.

The United States Enters the War | The Second World War

the united states enters the war the second world war

Although the United States had a strong isolationist element and some Nazi sympathizers, American opinion had, from the very beginning of the attack on Poland in 1939, been far more nearly unanimous against the Germans and Italians than it had been against the Central Powers in 1914. With the fall of France in 1940, anti-Axis sentiment grew stronger, reinforced by a growing belief that if Hitler won in Europe, the United States would be his next victim.

The Mediterranean and Soviet Campaigns

the mediterranean and soviet campaigns

Hitler now faced the possibility of a long stalemate. He turned at first to the strategy of getting at Britain through its Mediterranean lifeline to India and the East. His ally Mussolini invaded Greece from Albania in October 1940 without informing Hitler. The Greeks pushed the Italians back halfway across Albania, but the Germans rescued Mussolini.

The Battle of Britain | The Second World War

the battle of britain the second world war

The Germans had not really worked out a plan for dealing with Britain. Hitler seems to have believed that with France out of the war, Britain would make a separate, compromise peace in which Germany would dominate the Continent of Europe and Britain would retain its overseas empire.

Winston Churchill’s Leadership

winston churchills leadership

One skill of the highest value to leadership is the ability to inspire others with one’s own example, and with one’s oratory. Winston Churchill was a superb writer and public speaker. On May 13, 1940, he gave the House of Commons his fearsome prescription for victory.

I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

Early Successes of the Axis | The Second World War

early successes of the axis the second world war

The first campaign of World War II reached its expected conclusion. No one had seriously expected isolated Poland to stand up for long against the German and Soviet armed forces or expected Britain and France to act rapidly enough to help their Polish ally decisively.

Yet the speed of the German conquest surprised almost everyone. The Luftwaffe (air force) soon gained absolute command of the air and used it to disrupt Polish communications and to spread terror with its dive bombers. Special fully motorized German task forces swept through the less mobile Poles.

World War II, 1939-1942 | The Second World War

world war ii 1939 1942 the second world war

Since military experts tend to prepare for the last war in planning for the next, both France and Germany in the 1930s built confronting lines of fortifications on their common frontier.

The Maginot line on the French side and the Siegfried line on the German were far more formidable than were the trenches of 1914 to 1918. With the outbreak of hostilities, most people expected that the war would be decided primarily in the area between France and Germany, and that it would be a closely confined war, perhaps quite brief with at most only diversionary activity in other parts of the world.

The Final Step: Poland, 1939 | The Second World War

the final step poland 1939 the second world war

Poland was clearly going to be Hitler’s next victim. The Germans regarded the Polish Corridor dividing East Prussia from the rest of Germany as an affront; so, too, was the separation from Germany of the free city of Danzig, German in language and tradition, on the edge of the Polish Corridor.

On March 23, 1939, Hitler took the port town of Memel from Poland’s northern neighbor, Lithuania. At the end of the month, the British and French responded by assuring Poland of aid in the event of a German attack.

A Seventh Step: Czechoslovakia Dismembered, 1938-1939 | The Second World War

a seventh step czechoslovakia dismembered 1938 1939 the second world war

The Czechoslovak republic was the only state in central or eastern Europe where parliamentary democracy had succeeded after World War I. It had inherited some of the most highly developed industrial regions of the old Habsburg Empire; consequently, its economy was far better balanced between industry and agriculture than were those of the other states of eastern Europe.

A Sixth Step: Anschluss, 1938 | The Second World War

a sixth step anschluss 1938 the second world war

The immediate origins of World War II lay, however, in the mounting series of German aggressions. Hitler had begun openly rebuilding the German armed forces in 1935.

Three years later he felt strong enough to make his first open effort at expansion. Ever since 1918 there had been a strong movement among Austrians for union (Anschluss) with Germany. This movement had been opposed by Italy and France, though the Rome-Berlin Axis lessened Mussolini’s opposition to Anschluss.

A First Step: Manchuria, 1931 | The Second World War

a first step manchuria 1931 the second world war

The first decisive step along the road to World War II was the Japanese seizure of Manchuria in 1931. Henry L. Stimson (1867-1950), President Hoover’s secretary of state, responded to the seizure by announcing that the United States would recognize no gains made by armed force.

Stimson hoped that Britain and the other democracies might follow this American lead, but his hopes were largely disappointed. The League of Nations did send a commission headed by the earl of Lytton (1876-1947); the Lytton Report of 1932 condemned the Japanese act as aggression.

The Road to War, 1931-1939 | The Second World War

the road to war 1931 1939 the second world war

By the mid-1930s, many commentators believed that a second world war was inevitable.

A series of interconnected events, in China and Ethiopia, in Germany, Austria, and Spain, and sometimes faltering responses by Britain, France, the United States, and other nations, brought full- scale war ever closer.

Between 1931 and 1939, these events precipitated the world once again into war.

International Politics between the Wars | The Second World War

international politics between the wars the second world war

During the first part of the twenty years’ truce, international leadership of the democratic world rested with Britain and France.

Though supported in principle and at times in practice by the United States, they were increasingly unable to stem the rise of powers hostile to their preferred form of government—Italy, Germany, the Soviet Union, Japan. In the end, Germany once more waged aggressive warfare against the major Allies of 1918, though this time it was allied with two former enemies, Italy and Japan, each disappointed with its share of the spoils of 1918.

The Second World War and Its Aftermath

the second world war and its aftermath

World War II was, in many ways, a result of the flawed peace settlement at Versailles, though other causes, such as the Great Depression, also played a role.

The cold war following World War II was in some ways a continuation in another form of the war of 1939-1945, though it was also in part a reversion to the Western fear of Bolshevism so prevalent in the 1920s.

So troubled were international relations for the twenty years after 1919, and so closely in time did the second world war follow on the first, that the interval between the two is sometimes called the “twenty years’ truce.”