Meaning of WORLD WAR II in English
- WORLD WAR II
John Graham Royde-Smith The Editors of the Encyclopdia Britannica also called Second World War, a conflict that involved virtually every part of the world during the years 193945. The principal belligerents were the Axis powersGermany, Italy, and Japanand the AlliesFrance, Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and, to a lesser extent, China. The war was in many respects a continuation, after an uneasy 20-year hiatus, of the disputes left unsettled by World War I. The 40,000,00050,000,000 deaths incurred in World War II make it the bloodiest conflict as well as the largest war in history. Along with World War I, World War II was one of the great watersheds of 20th-century geopolitical history. It resulted in the extension of the Soviet Union's power to nations of eastern Europe, enabled a Communist movement eventually to achieve power in China, and marked the decisive shift of power in the world away from the states of western Europe and toward the United States and the Soviet Union. also called Second World War a conflict that involved virtually every part of the world during the years 193945. The principal belligerents were the Axis powersGermany, Italy, and Japanand the AlliesFrance, Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and, to a lesser extent, China. The war was in many respects a continuation, after an uneasy 20-year hiatus, of the disputes left unsettled by World War I. German bitterness over their defeat in World War I and the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, together with the social unrest and political instability that beset the Weimar Republic, resulted in the coming to power of Adolf Hitler, leader of the intensely nationalistic and anti-Semitic National Socialist (Nazi) Party. Given dictatorial powers in 1933, Hitler began the secret rearmament of Germany almost immediately. Playing on the reluctance of other European powers to actively oppose him, he ordered the military occupation of the Rhineland, in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles, in March 1936. Later that year Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy, who had already embarked on aggression in Ethiopia, declared a Rome-Berlin axis; the next year Italy joined the 1936 Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan. Germany and Italy both intervened, in the name of anticommunism, in the Spanish Civil War from 1936. Axis and Allied movements in Europe and North Africa, 194042, and (inset) German invasion of In March 1938 Hitler sent German troops to occupy Austria, which was promptly incorporated into Germany. By a combination of external and internal pressures he succeeded in annexing or neutralizing all of what had been Czechoslovakia by March 1939. In April 1939 Italy annexed Albania. On September 1, secure behind the new German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact that had stunned the world in August, Hitler began an invasion of Poland. Great Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. By the end of 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union had divided Poland between themselves, and the Soviets had occupied Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and had attacked Finland, which they finally defeated in March 1940. For some months Germany's main activities were at sea, including an effective submarine campaign against merchant shipping bound for Britain. In April 1940 Germany occupied several Norwegian ports and all of Denmark. On May 10 the major German offensive in the west began with a lightning sweep through The Netherlands and Belgium into France; by June 22 three-fifths of France, including Paris, was occupied, and the rest had become a neutral state with its government at Vichy. During August-September the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) launched massive bombing raids on Great Britain in an attempt to soften it up for a cross-Channel invasion. The Battle of Britain was won by the Royal Air Force, however, and Hitler postponed the invasion indefinitely. Following Italy's abortive invasion of Greece in November 1940, Hitler drew Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia into the Axis; Bulgaria joined in March 1941. In April Germany attacked Yugoslavia and Greece, both of which were overrun by the end of the month. In June Hitler abandoned the Nonaggression Pact of 1939 and launched a massive surprise invasion of the Soviet Union. German armoured units drove deep into Soviet territory and at one point reached the outskirts of Moscow before Soviet counterattacks and winter weather slowed the offensive to a halt. Japan, the other Axis member, had meanwhile been tiring of its long, unproductive war in China and decided to take advantage of the situation in Europe to seize European colonial holdings in the Far East. To cripple what it foresaw would be its main opponent in a Pacific war of aggrandizement, Japan attacked United States installations at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the Philippines on Dec. 78, 1941. Within days the United States was at war with all the Axis powers. Japan swiftly invaded and occupied the Philippines, most of Southeast Asia and Burma (Myanmar), the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia), and many Pacific Ocean islands. Despite the enormous initial advantage gained by its sudden offensives, Japan lost the crucial sea battle of Midway in June 1942. The American strategy in the Pacific was to use naval and amphibious forces to advance up the chains of islands toward Japan while smaller land forces cooperated with Chinese and British efforts on the Asian mainland. In North Africa the British, who in 194041 had defeated much larger Italian forces, were locked in a seesaw battle with the German Afrika Korps. In November 1942 the first Allied offensive began with U.S. and British landings in North Africa. German forces were gradually squeezed into Tunisia and were finally eliminated in May 1943. In July Allied troops from North Africa landed in Sicily and thence invaded Italy in September. The fascist government was overthrown, and in October, Italy joined the Allies; fighting against German troops continued in Italy for the rest of the war. German and Allied movements in Europe from the end of 1942 to 1945, and (inset) the Normandy After a bitterly opposed and finally unsuccessful attack on Stalingrad (August 1942February 1943), German forces in the Soviet Union lost momentum, and, as the Red Army continued to draw on its huge manpower reserves, it began during 1943 to push the Germans back from the western portions of the Soviet Union. Germany was meanwhile preparing for an expected Allied invasion of western Europe. The invasion came on June 6, 1944D-Dayon the beaches of Normandy in northern France, where 156,000 British, Canadian, and U.S. troops under the command of the U.S. general Dwight D. Eisenhower were landed. With command of the air the Allies quickly consolidated their foothold and began the advance eastward that ended in the occupation of the German homeland in MarchApril 1945. Meanwhile, the Soviet forces in 1944 had pushed the Germans completely out of the Soviet Union and had advanced into Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania. In early 1945 they occupied the eastern one-third of Germany. At the climax of the German collapse, with Berlin encircled by Soviet troops, Hitler committed suicide on April 30; on May 8 the surrender of all German forces was signed. In the Pacific the island-hopping strategy of the U.S. general Douglas MacArthur led to the Allied invasion of the Philippines by October 1944. The naval battle in Leyte Gulf that followed all but eliminated the Japanese navy. The capture, after bitter fighting, of the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in March and June of 1945 opened the way for both the heavy strategic bombing of Japan itself and a possible invasion. The war in the Pacific came to a sudden and dramatic close after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945; Japan's formal surrender was signed on September 2. Additional reading Good summaries of the origins of World II include Joachim Remak, The Origins of the Second World War (1976); and Anthony P. Adamthwaite, The Making of the Second World War (1979). The origins of the war in the Pacific are treated in Herbert Feis, The Road to Pearl Harbor: The Coming of the War Between the United States and Japan (1950, reprinted 1971). The classic comprehensive military histories of the war are Basil Henry Liddell Hart, History of the Second World War (1970, reissued 1979); J.F.C. Fuller, The Second World War, 193945: A Strategical and Tactical History (1948, reprinted 1968). An excellent overall history of Europe during the war is Gordon Wright, The Ordeal of Total War, 193945 (1968). The first phase of the war is treated in John Lukacs, The Last European War, 19391941 (1976). Treatments of the war in the Pacific include John Costello, The Pacific War (1981); Akira Iriye, Power and Culture: The Japanese-American War, 19411945 (1981); and William Craig, The Fall of Japan (1967, reissued 1979). The standard naval histories are S.W. Roskill, The War at Sea, 19391945, 3 vol. in 4 (195461); and Friedrich Ruge, Der Seekrieg: The German Navy's Story, 19391945 (1957; U.K. title, Sea Warfare, 19391945: A German Viewpoint; originally published in German, 1954). Aerial operations are treated in R.J. Overy, The Air War, 19391945 (1980, reprinted 1987); and Charles Webster and Noble Frankland, The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany, 19391945, 4 vol. (1961). Allied cooperation and diplomacy are treated in William Hardy McNeill, America, Britain, and Russia: Their Cooperation and Conflict, 19411946 (1953, reprinted 1970); Herbert Feis, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin: The War They Waged and the Peace They Sought, 2nd ed. (1967); and Christopher Thorne, Allies of a Kind: The United States, Britain, and the War Against Japan, 19411945 (1978). Decisions concerning the atomic bomb are outlined in Herbert Feis, The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II, rev. ed. (1966); and Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed: The Atomic Bomb and the Grand Alliance (1975, reprinted 1987). John Graham Royde-Smith The Editors of the Encyclopdia Britannica Axis initiative and Allied reaction Other fronts, 194041 Egypt and Cyrenaica, 1940summer 1941 The contemporary course of events in the Balkans, described above, nullified the first great victory won by British land forces in World War II, which took place in North Africa. When Italy declared war against Great Britain in June 1940, it had nearly 300,000 men under Marshal Rodolfo Graziani in Cyrenaica (present-day Libya), to confront the 36,000 troops whom the British commander in chief in the Middle East, General Sir Archibald Wavell, had in Egypt to protect the North African approaches to the Suez Canal. Between these forces lay the Western Desert, in which the westernmost position actually held by the British was Mersa Matruh (Marsa MatIuh), 120 miles east of the Cyrenaican frontier. The Italians in September 1940 occupied Sidi Barrani, 170 miles west of Mersa Matruh; but, after settling six divisions into a chain of widely separated camps, they did nothing more for weeks, and during that time Wavell received some reinforcements. Wavell, whose command included not only Egypt but also the East African fronts against the Italians, decided to strike first in North Africa. On Dec. 7, 1940, some 30,000 men, under Major General Richard Nugent O'Connor, advanced westward, from Mersa Matruh, against 80,000 Italians; but, whereas the Italians at Sidi Barrani had only 120 tanks, O'Connor had 275. Having passed by night through a gap in the chain of forts, O'Connor's forces stormed three of the Italian camps, while the 7th Armoured Division was already cutting the Italians' road of retreat along the coast to the west. On December 10 most of the positions closer to Sidi Barrani were overrun; and on December 11 the reserve tanks made a further enveloping bound to the coast beyond Buqbuq, intercepting a large column of retreating Italians. In three days the British had taken nearly 40,000 prisoners. Falling back across the frontier into Cyrenaica, the remnant of the Italian forces from Sidi Barrani shut itself up in the fortress of Bardia (Bardiyah), which O'Connor's tanks speedily isolated. On Jan. 3, 1941, the British assault on Bardia began, and three days later the whole garrison of Bardia surrendered45,000 men. The next fortress to the west, Tobruk (Tubruq), was assaulted on January 23 and captured the next day (30,000 more prisoners). To complete their conquest of Cyrenaica, it remained for the British to take the port of Benghazi. On Feb. 3, 1941, however, O'Connor learned that the Italians were about to abandon Benghazi and to retreat westward down the coast road to Agheila (al-'Uqaylah). Thereupon he boldly ordered the 7th Armoured Division to cross the desert hinterland and intercept the Italian retreat by cutting the coast road well to the east of Agheila. On February 5, after an advance of 170 miles in 33 hours, the British were blocking the Italians' line of retreat south of Beda Fomm (Bayda' Fumm); and in the morning of February 6, as the main Italian columns appeared, a day of battle began. Though the Italians had, altogether, nearly four times as many cruiser tanks as the British, by the following morning 60 Italian tanks had been crippled, 40 more abandoned, and the rest of Graziani's army was surrendering in crowds. The British, only 3,000 strong and having lost only three of their 29 tanks, took 20,000 prisoners, 120 tanks, and 216 guns. The British, having occupied Benghazi on February 6 and Agheila on February 8, could now have pushed on without hindrance to Tripoli, but the chance was foregone: the Greek government had accepted Churchill's reiterated offer of British troops to be sent to Greece from Egypt, which meant a serious reduction of British strength in North Africa. The reduction was to have serious consequences, because on February 6, the very day of Beda Fomm, a young general, Erwin Rommel, had been appointed by Hitler to command two German mechanized divisions that were to be sent as soon as possible to help the Italians. Arriving in Tripolitania, Rommel decided to try an offensive with what forces he had. Against the depleted British strength, he was rapidly and brilliantly successful. After occupying Agheila with ease on March 24 and Mersa Brga (Qasr al-Burayqah) on March 31, he resumed his advance on April 2despite orders to stand still for two monthswith 50 tanks backed by two new Italian divisions. The British evacuated Benghazi the next day and began a precipitate retreat into Egypt, losing great numbers of their tanks on the way (a large force of armour, surrounded at Mechili, had to surrender on April 7). By April 11 all Cyrenaica except Tobruk had been reconquered by Rommel's audacious initiative. Tobruk, garrisoned mainly by the 9th Australian Division, held out against siege; and Rommel, though he defeated two British attempts to relieve the place (May and June 1941), was obliged to suspend his offensive on the Egyptian frontier, since he had overstretched his supply lines. East Africa Wavell, the success of whose North African strategy had been sacrificed to Churchill's recurrent fantasy of creating a Balkan front against Germany (Greece in 1941 was scarcely less disastrous for the British than the Dardanelles in 1915), nevertheless enjoyed one definitive triumph before Churchill, doubly chagrined at having lost Cyrenaica for Greece's sake and Greece for no advantage at all, removed him, in the summer of 1941, from his command in the Middle East. That triumph was the destruction of Italian East Africa and the elimination, thereby, of any threat to the Suez Canal from the south or to Kenya from the north. In August 1940 Italian forces mounted a full-scale offensive and overran British Somaliland. Wavell, however, was already assured of the collaboration of the former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie in raising the Ethiopians in patriotic revolt against the Italians; and, whereas in June he had disposed only of meagre resources against the 200,000 men and 325 aircraft under the Duca d'Aosta, Amedeo di Savoia, his troops in the Sudan were reinforced by two Indian divisions before the end of the year. After Haile Selassie and a British major, Orde Wingate, with two battalions of Ethiopian exiles, had crossed the Sudanese frontier directly into Ethiopia, General William Platt and the Indian divisions invaded Eritrea on Jan. 19, 1941 (the Italians had already abandoned Kassala); and, almost simultaneously, British troops from Kenya, under General Alan Cunningham, advanced into Italian Somaliland. Platt's drive eastward into Eritrea was checked on February 5, at Keren, where the best Italian troops, under General Nicolangelo Carnimeo, put up a stiff defense facilitated by a barrier of cliffs. But when Keren fell on March 26, Platt's way to Asmara (Asmera), to Massawa (Mitsiwa), and then from Eritrea southward into Ethiopia was comparatively easy. Meanwhile, Cunningham's troops were advancing northward into Ethiopia; and on April 6 they entered the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Finally, the Duca d'Aosta was caught between Platt's column and Cunningham's; and at Amba Alaji, on May 20, he and the main body of his forces surrendered. The Allies' first decisive successes The Solomons, Papua, Madagascar, the Aleutians, and Burma, July 1942May 1943 The Pacific Theatre of Operations, 194145. On July 2, 1942, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered limited offensives in three stages to recapture the New BritainNew IrelandSolomonseastern New Guinea area: first, the seizure of Tulagi and of the Santa Cruz Islands, with adjacent positions; second, the occupation of the central and northern Solomons and of the northeast coast of New Guinea; third, the seizure of Rabaul and of other points in the Bismarck Archipelago. On July 6 the Japanese landed troops on Guadalcanal, one of the southern Solomons, and began to construct an air base. The Allied high command, fearing further Japanese advances southeastward, sped into the area to dislodge the enemy and to obtain a base for later advances toward Japan's main base in the theatre, Rabaul. The U.S. 1st Marine Division poured ashore on August 7 and secured Guadalcanal's airfield, Tulagi's harbour, and neighbouring islands by dusk on August 8the Pacific war's first major Allied offensive. During the night of August 89, Japanese cruisers and destroyers, attempting to hold Guadalcanal, sank four U.S. cruisers, themselves sustaining one cruiser sunk and one damaged and later sunk. On August 2325, in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, the Japanese lost a light carrier, a destroyer, and a submarine and sustained damage to a cruiser and to a seaplane carrier but sank an Allied destroyer and crippled a cruiser. On August 31 another U.S. carrier was disabled, and on September 15 Japanese submarines sank the carrier Wasp and damaged a battleship. Meanwhile, more than 6,000 Japanese reinforced their Guadalcanal garrison, attacking the Marines' beachhead on August 2021 and on September 1214. On September 18 some U.S. reinforcements arrived, and mid-October saw about 22,000 Japanese ranged against 23,000 U.S. troops. The sea battles of Cape Esperance and of the Santa Cruz Islandsin which two Japanese cruisers and two destroyers were sunk and three carriers and two destroyers damaged in return for the loss of one U.S. carrier and two destroyers, besides damage to six other Allied shipsthwarted an attempt to reinforce further the Japanese ground troops, whose attack proved a failure (October 2029). After October, Allied strength was built up. Another Japanese attempt at counter-reinforcement led to the naval Battle of Guadalcanal, fought on November 1315: it cost Japan two battleships, three destroyers, one cruiser, two submarines, and 11 transports and the Allies (now under Admiral William F. Halsey) two cruisers and seven destroyers sunk and one battleship and one cruiser damaged. Only 4,000 Japanese troops out of 12,500 managed to reach land, without equipment; and on November 30 eight Japanese destroyers, attempting to land more troops, were beaten off in the Battle of Tassafaronga, losing one destroyer sunk and one crippled, at an Allied cost of one cruiser sunk and three damaged. By Jan. 5, 1943, Guadalcanal's Allied garrison totaled 44,000, against 22,500 Japanese. The Japanese decided to evacuate the position, carrying away 12,000 men in early February in daring destroyer runs. In ground warfare Japanese losses were more than 24,000 for the Guadalcanal campaign, Allied losses about 1,600 killed and 4,250 wounded (figures that ignore the higher number of casualties from disease). On February 21, U.S. infantry began occupying the Russell Islands, to support advances on Rabaul. Earlier, before Allied plans to secure eastern New Guinea had been implemented, the Japanese had landed near Gona on the north coast of Papua (the southeastern extremity of the great island) on July 24, 1942, in an attempt to reach Port Moresby overland, via the Kokoda Trail. Advanced Japanese units from the north, despite Australian opposition, had reached a ridge 32 miles from Port Moresby by mid-September. Then, however, they had to withdraw exhausted to Gona and to nearby Buna, where there were some 7,500 Japanese assembled by November 18. The next day U.S. infantry attacked them there. Each side was subsequently reinforced; but the Australians took Gona on December 9 and the Americans Buna village on December 14. Buna government station fell to the Allies on Jan. 2, 1943, Sanananda on January 18, and all Japanese resistance in Papua ceased on January 22. The retaking of Guadalcanal and Papua ended the Japanese drive south, and communications with Australia and New Zealand were now secure. Altogether, Papua cost Japan nearly 12,000 killed and 350 captured. Allied losses were 3,300 killed and 5,500 wounded. Allied air forces had played a particularly important role, interdicting Japanese supply lines and transporting Allied supplies and reinforcements. Japan, having lost Guadalcanal, fought henceforth defensively, with worsening prospects. Its final effort to reinforce the LaeSalamaua position in New Guinea from the stronghold of Rabaul was a disaster: in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, on March 24, 1943, the Japanese lost four destroyers and eight transports, and only 1,000 of the 7,000 troops reached their destination. On March 25 the Japanese Army and Navy high commands agreed on a policy of strengthening the defense of strategic points and of counterattacking wherever possible, priority being given to the defense of the remaining Japanese positions in New Guinea, with secondary emphasis on the Solomon Islands. In the following three weeks, however, the Allies improved their own position in New Guinea, and Japanese intervention was confined to air attacks. Before the end of April, moreover, the Japanese Navy sustained a disaster: the guiding genius of the Japanese war effort, Yamamoto, was sent late in March to command the forces based on Rabaul but was killed in an American air ambush on a flight to Bougainville. Developments of the Allies' war against Japan also took place outside the southwest Pacific area. British forces in the summer of 1942 invaded Vichy French-held Madagascar. A renewed British offensive in September 1942 overran the island; hostilities ceased on November 5, and a Free French administration of Madagascar took office on Jan. 8, 1943. In the North Pacific, meanwhile, the United States had decided to expel the Japanese from the Aleutians. Having landed forces on Adak in August 1942, they began air attacks against Kiska and Attu from Adak the next month and from Amchitka also in the following January, while a naval blockade prevented the Japanese from reinforcing their garrisons. Finally, U.S. troops, bypassing Kiska, invaded Attu on May 11, 1943to kill most of the island's 2,300 defenders in three weeks of fighting. The Japanese then evacuated Kiska. Bases in the Aleutians thenceforth facilitated the Allies' bombing of the Kuril Islands. Burma, autumn 1942summer 1943 The Pacific Theatre of Operations, 194145. On the Burmese front the Allies found they could do little to dislodge the Japanese from their occupation of that country, and what little the Allies did attempt proved abortive. Brigadier General Orde Wingate's Chindits, which were long-range penetration groups depending on supplies from the air, crossed the Chindwin River in February 1943 and were initially successful in severing Japanese communications on the railroad between Mandalay and Myitkyina. But the Chindits soon found themselves in unfavourable terrain and in grave danger of encirclement, and so they made their way back to India. In May 1943, however, the Allies reorganized their system of command for Southeast Asia. Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten was appointed supreme commander of the South East Asia Command (SEAC), and Stilwell was appointed deputy to Mountbatten. Stilwell at the same time was chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek. The BritishIndian forces destined for Burma meanwhile constituted the 14th Army, under Lieutenant General William Slim, whose operational control Stilwell agreed to accept. Shortly afterward, Auchinleck succeeded Wavell as commander in chief in India.
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