World War II

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""Goak here": A.J.P. Taylor and 'The Origins of the Second World War.'". Canadian Journal of History. 1 August 1996.

Start and end dates[edit]

It is generally considered that, in Europe, World War II started on 1 September 1939, beginning with the German invasion of Poland and the United Kingdom and France's declaration of war on Germany two days later on 3 September 1939. Dates for the beginning of the Pacific War include the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War on 7 July 1937,[1][2] or the earlier Japanese invasion of Manchuria, on 19 September 1931.[3][4] Others follow the British historian A. J. P. Taylor, who held that the Sino-Japanese War and war in Europe and its colonies occurred simultaneously, and the two wars became World War II in 1941.[5] Other starting dates sometimes used for World War II include the Italian invasion of Abyssinia on .[6] The British historian Antony Beevor views the beginning of World War II as the Battles of Khalkhin Gol fought between Japan and the forces of Mongolia and the Soviet Union from May to September 1939.[7] Others view the Spanish Civil War as the start or prelude to World War II.[8][9]


The Allies established occupation administrations in Austria and Germany, both initially divided between western and eastern occupation zones controlled by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union, respectively. However, their paths soon diverged. In Germany, the western and eastern occupation zones controlled by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union officially ended in 1949, with the respective zones becoming separate countries, West Germany and East Germany. In Austria, however, occupation continued until 1955, when a joint settlement between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union permitted the reunification of Austria as a neutral democratic state, officially non-aligned with any political bloc (although in practice having better relations with the Western Allies). A denazification program in Germany led to the prosecution of Nazi war criminals in the Nuremberg trials and the removal of ex-Nazis from power, although this policy moved towards amnesty and re-integration of ex-Nazis into West German society.

Germany lost a quarter of its pre-war (1937) territory. Among the eastern territories, Silesia, Neumark and most of Pomerania were taken over by Poland, and East Prussia was divided between Poland and the Soviet Union, followed by the expulsion to Germany of the nine million Germans from these provinces, as well as three million Germans from the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. By the 1950s, one-fifth of West Germans were refugees from the east. The Soviet Union also took over the Polish provinces east of the Curzon line, from which 2 million Poles were expelled; north-east Romania, parts of eastern Finland, and the three Baltic states were annexed into the Soviet Union.

In an effort to maintain world peace, the Allies formed the United Nations, which officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 as a common standard for all member nations. The great powers that were the victors of the war—France, China, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States—became the permanent members of the UN's Security Council. The five permanent members remain so to the present, although there have been two seat changes, between the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China in 1971, and between the Soviet Union and its successor state, the Russian Federation, following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The alliance between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union had begun to deteriorate even before the war was over.

Besides Germany, the rest of Europe was also divided into Western and Soviet spheres of influence. Most eastern and central European countries fell into the Soviet sphere, which led to establishment of Communist-led regimes, with full or partial support of the Soviet occupation authorities. As a result, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Albania became Soviet satellite states. Communist Yugoslavia conducted a fully independent policy, causing tension with the Soviet Union. A Communist uprising in Greece was put down with Anglo-American support and the country remained aligned with the West.

Post-war division of the world was formalised by two international military alliances, the United States-led NATO and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. The long period of political tensions and military competition between them, the Cold War, would be accompanied by an unprecedented arms race and number of proxy wars throughout the world.

In Asia, the United States led the occupation of Japan and administered Japan's former islands in the Western Pacific, while the Soviets annexed South Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands. Korea, formerly under Japanese colonial rule, was divided and occupied by the Soviet Union in the North and the United States in the South between 1945 and 1948. Separate republics emerged on both sides of the 38th parallel in 1948, each claiming to be the legitimate government for all of Korea, which led ultimately to the Korean War.

transferred most of Germany's industrial plants and exacted from its satellite states.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; refs with no name must have content; see the help page (). [10] much later.[11] China returned to its pre-war industrial production by 1952.[12]


Casualties and war crimes[edit]

The Soviet Union alone lost around 27 million people during the war, including 8.7 million military and 19 million civilian deaths. A quarter of the total people in the Soviet Union were wounded or killed. Germany sustained 5.3 million military losses, mostly on the Eastern Front and during the final battles in Germany.

An estimated 11[13] to 17 million[14] civilians died as a direct or as an indirect result of Hitler's racist policies, including mass killing of around 6 million Jews, along with Roma, homosexuals, at least 1.9 million ethnic Poles[15][16] and millions of other Slavs (including Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians), and other ethnic and minority groups.[17][14] Between 1941 and 1945, more than 200,000 ethnic Serbs, along with gypsies and Jews, were persecuted and murdered by the Axis-aligned Croatian Ustaše in Yugoslavia.[18] Concurrently, Muslims and Croats were persecuted and killed by Serb nationalist Chetniks,[19] with an estimated 50,000–68,000 victims (of which 41,000 were civilians).[20] Also, more than 100,000 Poles were massacred by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the Volhynia massacres, between 1943 and 1945.[21] At the same time, about 10,000–15,000 Ukrainians were killed by the Polish Home Army and other Polish units, in reprisal attacks.[22]

Bodies of Chinese civilians killed by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Nanking Massacre in December 1937

In Asia and the Pacific, the number of people killed by Japanese troops remains contested. According to R.J. Rummel, the Japanese killed between 3 million and more than 10 million people, with the most probable case of almost 6,000,000 people.[23] According to the British historian M. R. D. Foot, civilian deaths are between 10 million and 20 million, whereas Chinese military casualties (killed and wounded) are estimated to be over five million.[24] Other estimates say that up to 30 million people, most of them civilians, were killed.[25][26] The most infamous Japanese atrocity was the Nanking Massacre, in which fifty to three hundred thousand Chinese civilians were raped and murdered.[27] Mitsuyoshi Himeta reported that 2.7 million casualties occurred during the Sankō Sakusen. General Yasuji Okamura implemented the policy in Heipei and Shantung.[28]

Axis forces employed biological and chemical weapons. The Imperial Japanese Army used a variety of such weapons during its invasion and occupation of China (see Unit 731)[29][30] and in early conflicts against the Soviets.[31] Both the Germans and the Japanese tested such weapons against civilians,[32] and sometimes on prisoners of war.[33]

The Soviet Union was responsible for the Katyn massacre of 22,000 Polish officers,[34] and the imprisonment or execution of hundreds of thousands of political prisoners by the NKVD secret police, along with mass civilian deportations to Siberia, in the Baltic states and eastern Poland annexed by the Red Army.[35] Soviet soldiers committed mass rapes in occupied territories, especially in Germany.[36][37] The exact number of German women and girls raped by Soviet troops during the war and occupation is uncertain, but historians estimate their numbers are likely in the hundreds of thousands, and possibly as many as two million,[38] while figures for women raped by German soldiers in the Soviet Union go as far as ten million.[39][40]

The mass bombing of cities in Europe and Asia has often been called a war crime, although no positive or specific customary international humanitarian law with respect to aerial warfare existed before or during World War II.[41] The USAAF bombed a total of 67 Japanese cities, killing 393,000 civilians, including from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and destroying 65% of built-up areas.[42]

Genocide, concentration camps, and slave labour[edit]

Schutzstaffel (SS) female camp guards removing prisoners' bodies from lorries and carrying them to a mass grave, inside the German Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, 1945

Nazi Germany, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler, was responsible for the Holocaust (which killed approximately 6 million Jews) as well as for killing 2.7 million ethnic Poles[43] and 4 million others who were deemed "unworthy of life" (including the disabled and mentally ill, Soviet prisoners of war, Romani, homosexuals, Freemasons, and Jehovah's Witnesses) as part of a program of deliberate extermination, in effect becoming a "genocidal state".[44] Soviet POWs were kept in especially unbearable conditions, and 3.6 million Soviet POWs out of 5.7 million died in Nazi camps during the war.[45][46] In addition to concentration camps, death camps were created in Nazi Germany to exterminate people on an industrial scale. Nazi Germany extensively used forced labourers; about 12 million Europeans from German-occupied countries were abducted and used as a slave work force in German industry, agriculture and war economy.[47]

The Soviet Gulag became a de facto system of deadly camps during 1942–43, when wartime privation and hunger caused numerous deaths of inmates,[48] including foreign citizens of Poland and other countries occupied in 1939–40 by the Soviet Union, as well as Axis POWs.[49] By the end of the war, most Soviet POWs liberated from Nazi camps and many repatriated civilians were detained in special filtration camps where they were subjected to NKVD evaluation, and 226,127 were sent to the Gulag as real or perceived Nazi collaborators.[50]

Prisoner identity photograph taken by the German SS of a Polish Catholic girl who died in Auschwitz. Approximately 230,000 children were held prisoner and used in forced labour and Nazi medical experiments.

Japanese prisoner-of-war camps, many of which were used as labour camps, also had high death rates. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East found the death rate of Western prisoners was 27 per cent (for American POWs, 37 per cent),[51] seven times that of POWs under the Germans and Italians.[52] While 37,583 prisoners from the UK, 28,500 from the Netherlands, and 14,473 from the United States were released after the surrender of Japan, the number of Chinese released was only 56.[53]

At least five million Chinese civilians from northern China and Manchukuo were enslaved between 1935 and 1941 by the East Asia Development Board, or Kōain, for work in mines and war industries. After 1942, the number reached 10 million.[54] In Java, between 4 and 10 million rōmusha (Japanese: "manual labourers"), were forced to work by the Japanese military. About 270,000 of these Javanese labourers were sent to other Japanese-held areas in Southeast Asia, and only 52,000 were repatriated to Java.[55]


Polish civilians wearing blindfolds photographed just before their execution by German soldiers in Palmiry forest, 1940

In Europe, occupation came under two forms. In Western, Northern, and Central Europe (France, Norway, Denmark, the Low Countries, and the annexed portions of Czechoslovakia) Germany established economic policies through which it collected roughly 69.5 billion reichsmarks (27.8 billion U.S. dollars) by the end of the war; this figure does not include the sizeable plunder of industrial products, military equipment, raw materials and other goods.[56] Thus, the income from occupied nations was over 40 percent of the income Germany collected from taxation, a figure which increased to nearly 40 percent of total German income as the war went on.[57]

Soviet partisans hanged by the German army. The Russian Academy of Sciences reported in 1995 that civilian victims in the Soviet Union at German hands totalled 13.7 million dead, twenty percent of the 68 million people in the occupied Soviet Union.

In the East, the intended gains of Lebensraum were never attained as fluctuating front-lines and Soviet scorched earth policies denied resources to the German invaders.[58] Unlike in the West, the Nazi racial policy encouraged extreme brutality against what it considered to be the "inferior people" of Slavic descent; most German advances were thus followed by mass executions.[59] Although resistance groups formed in most occupied territories, they did not significantly hamper German operations in either the East[60] or the West[61] until late 1943.

In Asia, Japan termed nations under its occupation as being part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, essentially a Japanese hegemony which it claimed was for purposes of liberating colonised peoples.[62] Although Japanese forces were sometimes welcomed as liberators from European domination, Japanese war crimes frequently turned local public opinion against them.[63] During Japan's initial conquest, it captured 4,000,000 barrels (640,000 m3) of oil (~550,000 tonnes) left behind by retreating Allied forces; and by 1943, was able to get production in the Dutch East Indies up to 50 million barrels (7,900,000 m3) of oil (~6.8 million tonnes), 76 per cent of its 1940 output rate.[63]

Home fronts and production[edit]

Allies to Axis GDP ratio between 1938 and 1945

In Europe, before the outbreak of the war, the Allies had significant advantages in both population and economics. In 1938, the Western Allies (United Kingdom, France, Poland and the British Dominions) had a 30 percent larger population and a 30 percent higher gross domestic product than the European Axis powers (Germany and Italy); if colonies are included, the Allies had more than a 5:1 advantage in population and a nearly 2:1 advantage in GDP.[64] In Asia at the same time, China had roughly six times the population of Japan but only an 89 percent higher GDP; this is reduced to three times the population and only a 38 percent higher GDP if Japanese colonies are included.[64]

The United States produced about two-thirds of all the munitions used by the Allies in World War II, including warships, transports, warplanes, artillery, tanks, trucks, and ammunition.[65] Though the Allies' economic and population advantages were largely mitigated during the initial rapid blitzkrieg attacks of Germany and Japan, they became the decisive factor by 1942, after the United States and Soviet Union joined the Allies, as the war largely settled into one of attrition.[66] While the Allies' ability to out-produce the Axis is often attributed[by whom?] to the Allies having more access to natural resources, other factors, such as Germany and Japan's reluctance to employ women in the labour force,[67] Allied strategic bombing,[68] and Germany's late shift to a war economy[69] contributed significantly. Additionally, neither Germany nor Japan planned to fight a protracted war, and had not equipped themselves to do so.[70] To improve their production, Germany and Japan used millions of slave labourers;[71] Germany used about 12 million people, mostly from Eastern Europe,[47] while Japan used more than 18 million people in Far East Asia.[54][55]

Advances in technology and its application[edit]

B-29 Superfortress strategic bombers on the Boeing assembly line in Wichita, Kansas, 1944

Aircraft were used for reconnaissance, as fighters, bombers, and ground-support, and each role developed considerably. Innovations included airlift (the capability to quickly move limited high-priority supplies, equipment, and personnel);[72] and strategic bombing (the bombing of enemy industrial and population centres to destroy the enemy's ability to wage war).[73] Anti-aircraft weaponry also advanced, including defences such as radar and surface-to-air artillery. The use of the jet aircraft was pioneered and, though late introduction meant it had little impact, it led to jets becoming standard in air forces worldwide.[74]

Advances were made in nearly every aspect of naval warfare, most notably with aircraft carriers and submarines. Although aeronautical warfare had relatively little success at the start of the war, actions at Taranto, Pearl Harbor, and the Coral Sea established the carrier as the dominant capital ship (in place of the battleship).[75][76][77] In the Atlantic, escort carriers became a vital part of Allied convoys, increasing the effective protection radius and helping to close the Mid-Atlantic gap.[78] Carriers were also more economical than battleships because of the relatively low cost of aircraft[79] and their not requiring to be as heavily armoured.[80] Submarines, which had proved to be an effective weapon during the First World War,[81] were expected by all combatants to be important in the second. The British focused development on anti-submarine weaponry and tactics, such as sonar and convoys, while Germany focused on improving its offensive capability, with designs such as the Type VII submarine and wolfpack tactics.[82][better source needed] Gradually, improving Allied technologies such as the Leigh light, hedgehog, squid, and homing torpedoes proved effective against German submarines.[83]

A V-2 rocket launched from a fixed site in Peenemünde, 21 June 1943

Land warfare changed from the static front-lines of trench warfare of World War I, which had relied on improved artillery that outmatched the speed of both infantry and cavalry, to increased mobility and combined arms. The tank, which had been used predominantly for infantry support in the First World War, had evolved into the primary weapon.[84] In the late 1930s, tank design was considerably more advanced than it had been during World War I,[85] and advances continued throughout the war with increases in speed, armour and firepower.[86][87] At the start of the war, most commanders thought enemy tanks should be met by tanks with superior specifications.[88] This idea was challenged by the poor performance of the relatively light early tank guns against armour, and German doctrine of avoiding tank-versus-tank combat. This, along with Germany's use of combined arms, were among the key elements of their highly successful blitzkrieg tactics across Poland and France.[84] Many means of destroying tanks, including indirect artillery, anti-tank guns (both towed and self-propelled), mines, short-ranged infantry antitank weapons, and other tanks were used.[88] Even with large-scale mechanisation, infantry remained the backbone of all forces,[89] and throughout the war, most infantry were equipped similarly to World War I.[90] The portable machine gun spread, a notable example being the German MG 34, and various submachine guns which were suited to close combat in urban and jungle settings.[90] The assault rifle, a late war development incorporating many features of the rifle and submachine gun, became the standard post-war infantry weapon for most armed forces.[91]

Nuclear Gadget being raised to the top of the detonation "shot tower", at Alamogordo Bombing Range; Trinity nuclear test, New Mexico, July 1945

Most major belligerents attempted to solve the problems of complexity and security involved in using large codebooks for cryptography by designing ciphering machines, the most well known being the German Enigma machine.[92] Development of SIGINT (signals intelligence) and cryptanalysis enabled the countering process of decryption. Notable examples were the Allied decryption of Japanese naval codes[93] and British Ultra, a pioneering method for decoding Enigma benefiting from information given to the United Kingdom by the Polish Cipher Bureau, which had been decoding early versions of Enigma before the war.[94] Another aspect of military intelligence was the use of deception, which the Allies used to great effect, such as in operations Mincemeat and Bodyguard.[93][95]

Other technological and engineering feats achieved during, or as a result of, the war include the world's first programmable computers (Z3, Colossus, and ENIAC), guided missiles and modern rockets, the Manhattan Project's development of nuclear weapons, operations research, the development of artificial harbours and oil pipelines under the English Channel.[96] Penicillin was first developed, mass-produced and used during the war.[97]

See also[edit]

  • [[Archivo:
  1. REDIRECCIÓN Plantilla:Iconos|20px|Ver el portal sobre World War II]] Portal:World War II. Contenido relacionado con World.




External links[edit]

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  6. ^ Ben-Horin 1943, p. 169; Taylor 1979, p. 124; Yisreelit, Hevrah Mizrahit (1965). Asian and African Studies, p. 191.
    For 1941 see Taylor 1961, p. vii; Kellogg, William O (2003). American History the Easy Way. Barron's Educational Series. p. 236 ISBN 0-7641-1973-7.
    There is also the viewpoint that both World War I and World War II are part of the same "European Civil War" or "Second Thirty Years War": Canfora 2006, p. 155; Prins 2002, p. 11.
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