World War II was not just another war, it decided the future direction of world history--totalitarianism or
democracy. The War was thus the defining moment of not only the 20th century, but the sweep of history since
the fall of the Roman Empire. The totalitarian powers which had joined together had amassed military power
beyond that of the democracies. Thus for a time it looked like the slow, erratic movement toward democracy and freedom would be arrested by the victory of totalitarian powers willing to murder and enslave millions of
individuals, including whole populations. The War enveloped virtually every part of the world during the years 1939-45. The principal belligerents were the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allies (France, Great Britain, the United States, and, China). The Soviet Union, while not a member of the
Axis, was until the German invasion in June 1941, a virtual ally of the Germans--seizing territory from
neighboring states and occupying the Baltic states. To most observers it looked like German had essentially won the War in 1940 and 41, seizing most of Western Europe and North Africa. Then in 6-months the direction of the War was fundamentally altered when in Hitler attacked the Soviet Union bringing that enormous country into the War on the Allied side (in effect switching sides) and Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor
bringing America into the War. World War II was the central event of the 20th century. It not only was the
largest most destructive war in human history, but it also fundamentally changed social, economic and
political trends in Europe, North America and Asia. While the focus of most studies of the War are primarily
on the titanic military campaigns, weapons, and leaders, children also played a role in the War. They in many
ways the people most affected by the War. Millions were killed as a result of military action and the
genocidal policies of Germany and Japan. The Germans in particular targeted Jewish children in the Holocaust.
Children denied food and housing and in many cases orphaned died in large numbers in occupied countries.
Germans kidnapped large numbers of blond children which they regarded as stolen genetic property. Many
children were involved in the fighting. The Germans at the end of the War were using young teenagers, but all
sides used large numbers of older teenagers. Some of the many impacts of World War II was on fashion. Quite a
range of fashion shifts occurred during and after World War II. Some of the major changes included: an
increasing shift to casual dress, less elaborate fashions, the disappearance of knickers, short pants began to
be worn as summer attire, American boys stop wearing knee socks and long stockings, American Scouts and Cubs
begin wearing long pants, "T" shirts and jeans became a mainstay of American boyhood, short hair styles become
popular for boys in America after the War.
World War II enveloped virtually every part of the world during the years 1939-45. The principal
belligerents were the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allies (France, Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and, China). The Soviet Union, while not a member of the Axis, was until the German invasion in June 1941, a virtual ally of the Germans, seizing territory from neigboring states and occupying the Baltic states. The war was in many respects a continuation, after an uneasy 20-year hiatus, of the disputes left unsettled by World War I. No precise accounting exists, but up to 50 million people died in the conflict--making it the bloodiest conflict as well as the largest war in human history. Whole cities were destroyed and nations devastated. Entire populations were slated for murder or enslavement. People who had lived in communities for centuries were exterminated or uprooted. The devastation of the War resulted in unprecedented social upheavals. Soldiers and sailors who had never been farm from home found themselves fighting in places they had never heard of before half way across the world. Some countries mobilized women (America, Britain, and the Soviet Union) to expand the civilian workforce--expanding experiences and opportunities that would change the domestic societies profoundly. America drafted blacks, opening expectations which created a demand for change when they returned home. The demands of the War
created opportunities for working class Britons and Americans. America provided a GI bill which allowed
virtually any motivated servicemen the opportunity to seek a university education. Briton's Labour Policy after the War pursued policies designed to provide greater opportunity, although its economic policies may have have in fact limited economic growth.
World War I was a traumatic experience in Europe, both for the victors and the defeated. The people of
Europe were determined to prevent another war. Losses were enormous, both in blood and material wealth. An
entire generation had been decimated in many countries. Most thought that the War had been a huge mistake.
The huge cost of the War made even the victors sharply cut back military expenses. Most people thought that
the War had not only been costly, but pointless as well. Few stopped to consider what a German dominated Europe would have meant. Pacifist movements grew throughout Europe and had considerable impact on major political parties, especially the socialists. This affected support for military spending. In America the Isolationist movement grew in importance. While anti-war and pacifist movements were of great influence, there were other currents at play in Europe. The Soviet Union gave lip service to anti-war sentiment, primarily to weaken potential adversaries while at the same time lavish enormous sums into military spending. The rise of Fascism also fueled opposition to the World War I settlement and glorified war. This began with Mussolini in Italy (1924), but did not become a real threat until Hitler seized power in Germany (1933). He quickly suppressed the pacifist movement in Germany and launched a massive rearmament program. The democracies were slow to respond to this threat because of the strength of the anti-war and pacifist movements. The primary impact of the pacifist movement was thus to lay the foundation for the most costly war in human history.
World War II was the culmination of the greatest geo-political crisis in Western civilization--the rise of
the totalitarians. Following World War I, three totalitarians groups seized controlled of some of the post
important countries in the world. First the Communists seized control of Russia (1917). Then the Fascists
seized control of Italy and subsequently German Fascists seized control of that country (1933). Japanese
militarists a kind of Shinto Fascism seized control of Japan (1930s). The countries as a whole had enormous
scientific, industrial, human, and natural resources. With the NAZI victories in Europe, especially the defeat
of France (1940), the balance of world power swing to the totalitarian powers. The totalitarian powers in
1940 controlled almost all of Europe, wedding the industrial potential of Europe with the natural resources of
the Soviet Union. The threat to the Western democracies was that the totalitarian powers, especially the
NAZIS, had superior military weapons and tactical doctrines. The threat to the West was that the totalitarian
powers rejected much of the basic tenants of Western civilization--the value and dignity of the individual and
the rule of law. The NAZIs added a virulent racism that targeted whole peoples for genocide and other peoples
for slavery. The tragedy of World War II is that by the time that the public had been awakened to the mortal
danger, the only way to prevent defeat was an alliance with one of the totalitarian powers. Here Hitler made
the secession for the Democracies when he launched Operation Barbarossa and invaded the Soviet Union (1941).
World War II in the West is generally seen as a noble crusade for democracy, freedom, and justice against
the evils of Japanese militarism and European totalitarian Fascism. The problem with this construct is the
Soviet Union and totalitarian Communism. The failures of the Allies and the democratic states of Europe to
confront the NAZIs resulted in the fall of France (1940) and NAZI domination of virtually all of Europe. This fundamentally changed the world balance of power. The combined forces of totalitarianism, the Soviet Union and the Axis (Germany, Italy, and Japan) were greater than those of the democracies (America, Britain, and the Dominions). This meant that to win the War, the Allies would have to enlist the support of one of the totalitarian powers. Here Hitler made the decision for the Allies by invading the Soviet Union. This forced people in Europe to make terrible choices between Communism and Fascism. It also mean that fighting the War with an ally equally heinous as the NAZIs compromised the moral authority of the Allied cause. This was especially true because for 3 years most of the war against Germany was conducted by the Soviet Red Army. As a result, the post-War settlement required political compromises with the Soviet Union. After the War, authors have criticized Allied leaders for the post-War settlement leaving the Soviets in control of Eastern Europe. Of course this was not the result of failed post-War diplomacy, but rather the failure of the democraticnations to meet the challenge of the totalitarian states in the 1930s.
World War II was the defining moment of the 20th century. The stakes of the War were enormous. Had the
Germans and Japanese won, their virulent nationalistic policies and brutal treatment of conquered
populations--including genocide and enslavement--would have brought about a new dark age in human history.
NAZI policies in the occupied East showed what Hitler had in mind
for the future. European colonial administrations have a dark history of their own. By the 1930s, however,
the worst abuses of the Europeans had past. Colonial spokesmen seeking independence were hounded, but within
limits allowed to speak and promote their goal of independence. Varying degrees of a free press were allowed.
What the Germans and Japanese had in mind was very different. Along with World War I, World War II was the
great watershed of 20th-century geopolitical history. Germany was devastated. France was reduced to an
occupied country. Britain was bankrupted and unable to retain control of its colonies. The War marked the
shift of world power from the states of Western Europe to the Soviet Union and America. The Soviet Union
seized Eastern Europe. America rose as the dominate world power. It was the American industrial powerhouse
and the massive Russian ground force on the Eastern front that crushed the Germans. After the German surrender
(1945), it was American power that prevented the Russians from seizing Western Europe.
Several efforts followed World War I to ensure that there would never be another great war. The major
effort was The League of Nations that Wilson thought would guarantee
collective security. The League of Nations was the first international organization established on the basis
of collective security to preserve world peace. It was created by the Versailles Peace Treaty ending World War
I. The unbridled nationalism that had inflamed Europe in the early 20th century was widely seen as a major
cause of World War I. The horrendous losses in the War convinced many Europeans that there must never be
another war. A League of Nations as proposed by President Wilson was seen as a way of preventing war in the
future through a system of collective security. It proved totaly incapable of dealing with the challenges to
peace as a result of the rise of militarism in Asia and Communism and Fascism in Europe. A major problem was
that the United States did not join. Other diplomatic efforts were notable, such as the Washington Naval Conference (1921-22) and the Kellogg-Briand Pact.
The Tripartite Pact was signed September 27, 1940. The agreement allied Germany and Italy (which were at
war with Britain) and Japan (which was at war with China). Germany and Italy has since 1939-40 been at war with
Britain. Japan since 1937 had been at war with China. The alliance did not require the partners to join these
wars, but it did require them to come to each other's aid if attacked. The alliance became known as the
Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis alliance, or commonly the Axis. The three Axis partners German hegemony over most of
Europe; Italian hegemony in the Mediterranean, and Japanese hegemony in East Asia. After the Axis agreement
was signed, several German allies joined the Axis, notably Vichy France and Fascist Spain refused to do so.
Japan had no Asian allies, except or the puppet state of Manchukuo.
European colonialism was a factor in World War II. It affected several campaigns in a variety of ways.
Most of the major combatants were either colonial powers are aspired to be so. And some of the colonized
peoples played a variety of roles in the War, both supporting and resisting the colonizing country. The two
major colonial powers were Britain and France. Their colonies increased the resources available to fight the
War. This was primarily the case for Britain as the Germans in the first year of the War invaded and defeated
France. Some of the British Empire countries had obtained Dominion status (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and
South Africa) and voluntarily joined Britain in the War, playing very important roles. The issue of
colonialism was one of the few issues dividing America and Britain during the War. The French Empire became
contested by Vichy and the Free French. While not often classified as one, the Soviet Union was also a
colonial powers with ethnic Russians ruling over many other national groups in Eastern Europe and Central
Asia. The Axis countries (Germany, Italy, and Japan) were countries aspiring the carve out and enlarge
colonial empires. This was in fact the major reason why they launched World War II. The colonial people
reacted differently to the War. India was Britain's major colony and played an important role, although
complicated by Congress' refusal to support the British. The Arabs reacted to the War in large measure
according to who the colonial power was which in most cases was Britain and France. NAZI Germany's anti-
Semitism was another factor.
When Britain declared war against Germany in World War I (August 1914), the entire British Empire was
automatically at war also. This meant that the dominions of Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, the Union
of South Africa were also at war with Germany. The role of the Dominions was very important in the Allied War
effort. While the Dominions proudly gave great service during the war, this automatic commitment became a
source of irritation to Dominion nationalists. The Dominions by the Statute of Westminster won the right to be
consulted in 1931. In World War II they thus made their own declarations of war, around the same time as
Britain in September 1939. They were not required to do so, but loyally followed Britain into the War.
Australia, Canada, and New Zealand strongly backed Britain. There was considerable support for the Germans
among the Afrikaners in South Africa, even after the NAZIs invaded the Netherlands. . Indian support of
Britain was severely impaired by the growing independence movement which was strongly pacifistic. The
Dominions again played a major role in the War, although Australian support of Britain meant that the Australian Army was in Egypt when the Japanese attacked. As in World War I, the contributions of the individual Dominions by themselves was not decisive, but the combined contribution of the Dominions to the British war effort was very substantial.
World War I began as a war of movement, but after the Miracle on the Marne became a war of attrition as the
Allies and Germans built a parallel system of trenches from the Swiss border to the English Channel. New
weapons such as the machine gun, poison gas, tanks, and airplanes appeared, but the war was largely an infantry
war, decided by the superior resources of the Allies and the arrival of the American infantry. The horrors of
trench warfare caused military planners to focus on new weapons to restore mobility and to avoid a future war
resulting in mass losses of foot soldiers. It was the Allies that developed tanks and won the World War I air
war. It was the Germans, however, that after the War gave the greatest attention to developing new weapons,
especially the tanks and air planes that would dominate the World War II battlefield. German commanders also
conceived of an innovative method of effectively employing the new weapons, a combined arms tactic which has
come to be known as Blitzkrieg. Naval commanders in a tradition firmly implanted by Nelson at Trafalgar were
wed to the idea of a major decisive fleet action. The Germans in World war I called it Der Tag--the Day. The
German Navy was no longer capable of a major fleet action when World war II broke out. The British did not think the German U-boats were a threat. The ASDAC (SONAR) developed in World War had helped defeat the U-boat threat and British commanders were convinced that it made the submarine obsolete. The major navies had each planned their war winning fleet action, all based on the big-gun battleships. The Japanese termed the action Kantai Kessen--Decisive Battle. The American plan to respond to a Japanese attack on the Philippine Islands was War Plan Orange. The Germans began World war II with the word's most modern air force. It was, however, a tactical air force designed to support the Wehrmacht's land offensive as part of Blitzkrieg. Germany did not
have the industrial capacity to build a strategic air force and had no plans to wage an air war. America and
Britain did have the industrial capacity to build a strategic air force. World War was the first real air war.
Both the British and Germans were preparing a strategic bombing campaign in World War I, but the War ended before it had begun. Thus air commanders when World War II had no real idea how to wage an air campaign.
Since the dawn of civilzation, logistics and transport have played key roes in warfare. Perhaps the first major battle in which logistics is known to have played a major role and which Ramses implement novel logistical practices to fight a battle far from tjhe Nile. Logistics was often the key factor in battlefield success, but is often neglected in military history. And logitians do not get the same acolades as brilliant battlefield commanders. As new military forces came into bing, logitical trains had to be developed to accomodate. The horse, chariot, and iron weapons all required major revisions in logistical systems. For centuries the donkey, mule, and ox cart were the primary logistical elements. As empire grew in size, ships began to be vital. Here the first major ship born logistical systems were introduced by the Persians and Greeks. From ancient times
to modern times there were few important innovations in land logistics. Sea logistocs chanhed with the perfection of the sail. It was not until the 19th century that major changed in logigistical system began. The most important was the steam engine with led to the railroad and stea,p-poweed ships. Rge railroad became a major factor in modern wars, in part because roadsystems were still primitive even in indusrial countries. The next major innovation was the internal combustion engine which made modern mechanized war possible. The railroad and the internal combustion engine first came together in World War II. As did modern shipping. The British began the War with the only fully mechanized army, but without the effective Blitzkrieg tactical doctrine developed by the Germans. The Germans had a notoriously poor logistical system. It did not make a great differemce ion the short, realtively small battlefields of the Wedt, it did, however, in the East. The Germans were dependent on the railroads. The Soviets had a different gage, in part as adefensive measure. The Red Army was also not fully mechanized and after Stalingrad it would have taken years to drive west had the oviets not obtained large numbers of trucks through Lend Lease, especially the standard duce-and-a-half. Seabord logisics were important for Britain, America, and Japan. The British and Americans mastered the logistical issues, in part through the Liberty Ship. The Japanese did not and by the end of the War Japanese factories were without raw materials, the popultion hungry, and garisons throughout the Pacific starving.
World War II began with the NAZI invasion of Poland (1939). Historians often note the earlier Japanese
seizure of Manchuria (1931) and invasion of China (1937). The NAZI invasion was followed by a British and
French declaration of war, but failure to come to Poland's assistance. Within only a few days, the Soviets
joined the NAZIs in invading Poland, followed by a series of other invasions of their own. The NAZI success in
Poland was followed by a string of startling military successes, especially the invasion and defeat of France
(1940). The NAZI successes were punctuated by the victory of the RAF in the Battle of Britain (1940). The
Italians joined their Axis partner after the defeat of France was already largely achieved. Almost from the
beginning, however, the Italians proved more of a drag on the NAZI war effort than an asset. The War was
transformed when Hitler ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union and then without any effort to coordinate
operations, the Japanese bombed Pear Harbor. Historians argue about the turning point of the War. After a
series of almost uninterupted victories, the War turned against the Axis in second half of 1942. The Red Army
bled the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Font while the Western allies ponded German cities. Finally the German
losses in the East combined with growing Allied air power enabled the Western Allies to renter the Continent
with the D-Day landings. What followed was a string of Allied victories, although achieved at great cost. Finally after Hitler's suicide and the fall of Berlin the NAZIs surrendered (1945). The Japanese surrendered after America dropped the A-Bomb and the Soviets invaded Manchuria (1945). The War included land, air, and sea campaigns conducted on different continents. It was, however, in Europe that the outcome of the War was determined.
Any history of World War II is of course dominated by the major military campaigns of the War. Diplomacy
is a secondary but not unimportant aspect of the War. German Governments even before Hitler seized power
worked to undo the Versailles Peace Treaty ending World war I. The German and Soviet Governments signed the
Rapollo Treaty which provided for trade and military cooperation (1922). Hitler used diplomacy to lull world
opinion while he consolidated power and began to rearm Germany. Hitler also began developing the Axis alliance
system, first with Italy and then with Japan. The British used diplomacy to try to appease Hitler once German
had begun its rearmament program. Prime minister Chamberlain could not conceive that Hitler actually wanted
war and believed he had the skills to prevent the War. The War was only made possible by Hitler's diplomatic
coup, the Non-Aggression Pact with the Soviet Union (1939). American diplomacy was aimed at assisting the
German Government financially until Hitler seized power. After Hitler seized power (1933), American diplomacy
was hostile to the NAZI regime, but unwilling to take any real action because of the isolationist beliefs of
the great majority of the American people which insisted on the passage of neutrality laws. The United States
withdrew its ambassador, but did not break relations until Kristallnacht (1938). France generally deferred to
Britain before the War, unwilling to confront Germany alone. After the German victory in the West (1940),
Marshall Petain adopted a policy of appeasement, believing that Vichy could could carve out a space for France
between the Germany and Anglo-Americans. The Roosevelt Administration gradually moved America away from
isolationism, especially after the fall of France. After Churchill became prime minister (May 1940), America
and Britain gradually forged the greatest military alliance in history which envisioned in the Atlantic Charter
a few months before Pearl Harbor (1941). Soviet diplomacy changed dramatically when the country was rocked by
the German invasion (June 1941). Japanese diplomacy fluctuated with the fortunes of the Strike North and
Strike South factions. Japanese entry in the War was inevitable and was a matter of the military determining
how the country could best take advantage of the war in Europe. The Japanese feigned peace, but American code
breakers cracked the diplomatic Purple Code, giving the United States a true view of the country's intentions.
Unfortunately for the Japanese, American diplomacy opposing their aggression in China distracted them from the
obvious action, joining the NAZI assault on the Soviet Union. This proved to be the most decisive diplomatic
effort of the War. Of course Pear Harbor changed everything, plunging the United states into the War.
American diplomacy focused on the war time alliance with Britain and the Soviets. And as the Allies and
Soviets reversed the Axis tide, the diplomacy of the War shifted to the post-War settlement.
Intelligence was a matter of substantial importance in World War II. It was of greater importance than of
virtually any other major war in history. The primary reason for this was that vast amounts of intelligence
were available to any country which was willing to string up radio antenna and invest in training staff to
receive and decide messages. World War II was the first war in which electronic (radio/wireless) messages were
a major factor. The telegram became important in the 19th century, but telegram messages sent over wire lines
were difficult to intercept. They were not impossible (as the British showed with the Zimmerman telegram), but
they were difficult to intercept. And mobile warfare as initiated first by the Germans and subsequently
the Allies required vast numbers of easily intercepted (but less easily decoded) messages. The issue of code breaking is one of the most important aspects of World War II
intelligence. Here the British and Americans excelled and reaped very substantial benefits. The Germans were
particularly vulnerable because they had such confidence in their Enigma machine. Very little is known about
Soviet code breaking. The Germans had some successes, but generally failed at breaking Allied codes. Neither
did the Japanese manage to break Allied codes. Electronic intelligence was not the only methods. The Soviets
operated the most successful spy networks, in both Allied ans=d Axis countries. The existence of Communist
Party organizations proved a great asset. The major German spy achievement may have been before the War in
encouraging Stalin's purge of the Red Amy. German intelligence during the War was nothing short of a disaster.
The Soviets manage to surprise the Germans with a series of offensives beginning with offensive before Moscow.
Of course the German intelligence operation was the fact that the head of the Abwehr, Admiral Canaris, was
actively working against the NAZIS. The greatest Allied achievement may have been in fooling the Germans about
the location of the D-Day landings. Allied operatives also provided valuable information about the German
rocket program. The major surprise German operation of the War was the Ardennes offensive which Allied
intelligence failed to pick up on (December 1944).
A variety of different specialized units appeared during World War II. Probably the most innovative were
airborne assault units (paratroops and gliders). They were introduced by the Germans in their Western Offensive (1940). They proved successful, the greatest achievement was taking the Belgian fort at Ebon-Emal. While the performance of the Luftwaffe and Panzers was the key factors in the German success, the world was startled by the new airborn soldiers. The German paratroops were used in the conquest of Crete (1941), although at great cost. This prevented Hitler from using them again. America and Britain after the appearance of the German paratroops, decided to create their own airborne troops. They played a major role in both the invasion of Sicily and D-Day and used as infantry played a key role in blunting the German Bulge offensive. Another important specialized unit was the commandos. Commandos were used in both the European and Pacific theater. American Army Rangers took Pont-du-Hoc on D-Day (1944). American and British commandos played an important role in Burma. Mountain (ski) units were organized by the Americans and Germans. Finnish ski soldiers played an important role in the Winter war (1939-41). An American Mountain Division played an important role in Italy (1944). Red Army units of course led two massive winter offensives against the Germans. Ski troops were involved, but I do not know if they had actual mountain divisions. Another specialized group was air attack squadrons. The best know were the Japanese Kamikazes organized to attack U.S. Navy ships after the destruction of the Imperial Fleet at the the Battle of Leyte Gulf (1944). There were also submarine commandos. The Japanese deployed midget submarines at Pearl Harbor (1941). The Italians achieved some success with manned torpedoes. Several countries organized marine units. The best known is the U.S. Marine Corps which played a central role in the Central Pacific campaign. The British nd Japanese also had marine units.
The Munich Conference was an attempt to prevent a European war. That war was made possible when the Soviets signed the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. The Soviets were the only country to participate in war time conferences both with and against the Axis. Both the Allies and the Axis held a series of conferences to plan strategy and work out cooperative actions. The Allied conferences are better known in part because the Allies cooperative effort was much more involved than the Axis effort. In addition, Allied control of the seas made conferences with the Japanese and European Axis impossible after the NAZIs invaded the Soviet Union and the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Allied conferences also were important in developing war strategy and
cooperative efforts, but also helped shape the future of Europe after the War. As a result the last two
conferences, especially Yalta have proved to be very controversial.
HBC has prepared several biographies of some of the main political and military figures involved in World
War II. Many of these biographies, however, are just at the beginning phase. As the focus of HBC is on
childhood, many of these biographies concentrate on their childhood, but we provide information on their adult
lives as well for the historical background.
The quick German victories in the early years of the War were so unexpected and so overwhelming, there was
in most countries initially no though of resistance to their occupiers. Gradually in the West as the nature of
the NAZI war effort became apparent did resistance begin to grow. In the East the Germans initiated a campaign
of untold barbarity from the beginning. Churchill was a strong proponent from the onset of supporting the
formation and supply of resistance groups. The British formed the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The
United States formed the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). As the war began to turn against he Germans, the
resistance grew in strength. The Resistance made major contributions on both the easter and western front.
They occupied important numbers of German troops, disrupted supplies routes and communications, and provide
critical intelligence on German operations.
Economics played a central role in World War II. Hitler's rearmament program was bankrupting NAZI Germany. It is questionable how long Hitler could have continued his rearmament program if he had not taken Germany to
war in September 1939. Germany proceeded to loot the national banks of the conquered nations. The
persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust was also used in part to finance the War. The NAZIs very effectively
integrated the economy of Czechoslovakia into the German arms industry. Germany did not go to a full war
footing until late in the War. Not did Germany effectively cooperate in war production with its Axis allies.
Germany also did not effectively used the economies and industries of the captive nations, especially the
countries occupied in Western Europe. The Germans did use the conquered countries as a source of slave labor.
German inefficiency in coordinating with Allies stands in sharp contrast to the close cooperation between Britain and America. President Roosevelt began mobilizing the Arsenal of democracy, the vast American economy well before America went to war. Very extensive cooperation in weapons development and production also began
between Britain and American before American entered the War. Hitler avoided putting Germany on a full war
footing, because he thought the War had been won and he did not want shortages and rationing to diminish
domestic support for the War. Only after the setbacks in Russia, especially Stalingrad, did Hitler turn to
Speer and give him the authority to fully convert the German economy for war. Fortunately for the world, by
then it was to late to stop the expanding force of the Soviet Union in the East and the Western allies in the
Although not as dramatic as the major military campaigns, in large measure, it was on the home front that
the War was decided. Combatant countries took different approaches to the home front and the need for
increased production to supply the fighting men. The Germans believing the War had been won, actually scaled
back war production in 1940-41 and delayed critical work on weapons development (such at jet aircraft). Hitler
was very concerned with maintaining German civilian consumption levels and that mothers not be taken out of the
home to work in factories. German women were not mobilized for War work, rather slave labor was brought in
from occupied countries to work in factories and on farms. The hard-pressed British in 1939-40 completely
reorganized the economy for war production which included the use of large numbers of women and youths.
America after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 also reorganized the economy producing
staggering quantities of weapons and other war materials that the Axis could not begin to match even with the large occupied areas. The Russians managed to move many war-plants beyond the Urals Mountains out of reach of the Germans and as a result, were able after ayer begin to recover and eventually surpass pre-War production levels. During the Battle of Stalingrad, the Russians were actually continued building T-34 tanks in a vast factory even after the Germans had entered part of it. Youth groups also played important roles in the War, although this varied among countries.
Several countries occupied other countries during World War II, including both Axis and Allied countries.
This involved the various militaries in non-military functions called civil affairs by the Allies. It was another term for military government. Military government and occupation policies varied widely. Allied policies were more consistent. As the Allies moved into German occupation areas of Western Europe, the policy was essentially one of liberation and relief because the Germans had devastated local economies. At first Alied civil affairs involved assisting liberated countries. This in some cases meant populations in desperate states, although the liberation of France occurred so rapidly that battle damage was largely localized to the Normandy are. Italy whch swiched sides was in a desperated conditions. The Dutch north of the Rhine in particular were starving. The Allies did adopt occupation policies for the Axis countries (Austria, Germany, and Japan). Italy was a little different because as part of the Italian surrender, Italy joined the war against the Germans. Axis occupation policies varied widely, especially German policies. One consistent theme with the Axis was economic exploitation and/or efforts to annex occupied areas and suppress the population. Here German racial policies had a major impact. In line with Holocaust planning, Generalplan Ost, and the Hunger Plan , the goal was to substantially reduce the Slavic population and convert the survivors to slave labor. Soviet occupation policies were also very consistent. The goal was to annex some areas, deport selected groups, suppress democratic elements, and install compliant puppet regimes. The policy when they reach Germany was to exact substantial reparations and a generous dose of revenge.
The age of the soldiers who fought the War is a topic that we have not yet addressed in detail. It is,
however, an important topic that we hope to pursue as HBC develops. All of the major combatant countries
introduced drafts to create the massive military forces needed to fight the War. The age of men drafted varied
from country to country. The widest age range was in Germany who began conscripting youths and older men when after the War turned against them and tge Soviet and Allied armies reached the borders of the Reich. The Japnese sinmply began traininfg civilians to repelk the expected American invasion. Youths in all belligerant countries could and did volunteer for military service. Normally one could volunteer at a younger age than one was drafted.
Once America entered the War, FDR insisted on demanding unconditional surrender. The term came from a term
U.S. Grant used during the American Civil War when treating with a Confederate West Point classmate. FDR told
aides in private, "This time the Germans are going to know that they were defeated," referring to the decision
not to occupy Germany after World War I. [Beschloss] The insistence on unconditional surrender may have
prolonged the War. Some historians believe that this war policy was unwise. [Fleming] Here historians
disagree as to what extent it prolonged the War. [Davidson, p. 442.] Given the NAZI hold and the complicity of
the Government and Wehrmacht in such enormous crimes, it may not have been a major factor in stiffening German
resistance. While the military impact is disputed, what it not disputed is the fact that unconditional
surrender allowed the Western Allies a freehand in ensuring that Germany would become a democratic nation--a
success that was the most important factor in the making of modern Europe.
World War II resulted in more extensive territorial changes in Europe, both during and after the German
surrender in May 1945. The great mass population movement in European history followed. There were more than
35 million displaced people. Many were slave laborers brought to Germany for slave labor. Few survived the
NAZI death camps. Many other millions were POWs. Many more millions moved with the changes of borders. The
Germans expelled non-Germans from ares annexed to the Reich and planned Beman colonies in the eastern
territories. Many German satellite countries, especially in the Balkans seized territory or took actions
against minorities. There was terrible atrocities in the states set up in Yugoslavia. After the War, German
civilians paid the price for NAZI atrocities. Many fled with the retreating Wehrmacht back to the Reich.
Most of those who stayed were deported by the new post-War governments. It was the children of course who
suffered in these mass population movements--many did not survive.
World War II also had an enormous impact on boys' fashions. Quite a range of fashion shifts occurred
during and after World War II. Some of the major changes included: an increasing shift to casual dress, less
elaborate fashions, the disappearance of knickers, short pants began to be worn as summer attire, American boys
stop wearing knee socks and long stockings, American Scouts and Cubs begin wearing long pants, "T" shirts and
jeans became a mainstay of American boyhood, short hair styles become popular for boys in America after the
War. Some of these fashions changes are clearly traceable to the War. HBC can not, however, always connect
changes changes that occurred during the War as an impact of the War. That may be, however, as the full
ramifications of the War are yet to be assessed. Many of the changes were most pronounced in America, and only
began appearing in Europe during the 1950s.HBC has noted several changes in boys' fashions during and after
World War II. The following is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but only what HBC has noted to date. The
following is the list with some preliminary musings that require much more thought and assessment. While many
changes took place during and immediately after the War, it is not altogether clear how the war brought them
about. Some of the changes were the continuation of long time trends such as the shift toward casual fashions
and life styles.
The War required such a gargantuan national effort on the part of the principal combatants that it was
necessary that everybody did what was in their power to support the war effort. The most prominent way most
countries accomplished this was by rationing. Rationing was a method used by the government to ensure that
everybody was able to receive equal amounts of raw materials. This way, enough material was used for the war
effort, but the public could still have access to these items. To circumvent rationing and price controls,
World War II black marketeers traded in clothing and liquor in Britain and meat, sugar, and gasoline in the
World War II indeed brought more horrors to children than any other modern war. The horrors inflicted on
children virtually defy description. Children were affected not only by the staggerings dimensions of the War,
but by the tactics and strategies adopted by the combatants. The Germans and Japanese used terror bombing of
civilian populations as an offensive tactic in the early phases of the War. The Americans and British
eventually adopted the same tactic as part of their strategic doctrine. Children as part of the civilian
population were this affected. The Germans did even more than bomb civilians. First they targeted handicapped
children for sterilization or death. Once the War began they targeted non Aryan populations for death or
slavery in a new Europe. Children here were a special target as they had no value as workers and thus Jewish
children were among the first to be killed. Some were even used in diabolical medical experiments. Thousands of
other non-Jewish children were kidnapped and assessed racially by SS and other doctors. Most that failed the
racial testing or were uncooperative eventually died in concentration camps. Those that passed were brought to
the Reich for Germanization by SS and other approved families.
The treatment of prisoners of war (POWs) varied widely from country to country. The Germans were the first
country to acquire large numbers of POWs. German policy varied as to the nationality of the POWs. The Germans
treated French, British, and later American POWs relatively correctly. They did try to separate Jewish POWs
from the general POW population. POWs were also used to some extent as forced labor. The German treatment of
Polish and Soviet POWs, however, was barbaric and many died from starvation, exposure, and mistreatment. The
German policy was in part a planned method of elimination and in part their inability to deal with the massive
numbers involved. German treatment improved somewhat as they began to use Soviet POWs for forced labor, but it
was still brutal. British and American treatment of POWs was correct, although there were difficulty handling
the large numbers in 1945. German POWs in camps located in America were amazed at their treatment and diet.
Strangely German and Italian POWs were often treated more courteously than Black U.S. servicemen. I'm unsure
about Italian policies. Soviet treatment of German POWs was also brutal, but not as genocidal as German
polices. In fact German POWs fared better than domestic prisoners in the Soviet Gulag. It is unclear why.
Some believe that Stalin wanted to influence POWs that were to be repatriated. The Japanese treatment of POWs
was barbaric. POWs were starved, brutalized, and used for forced labor. Some were even used for medical
experiments, including live vivisections and assessments of biological weapons. American combat soldiers were
often brutal with Japanese soldiers, but once in camps the treatment was correct.
Our approach to World War I is both a chronological and topical survey. Approached this way the individual
country experiences often are obscured. Thus we have created a series of national pages designed to focus on
the experience of each country in the War. Some counties were central to the War. Others played more marginal
roles, but the national experience of the War was still profound in those countries. Germany, Japan, and the
Soviet Union were the key players in launching the War and making it a struggle of unbelieveable cruelty and
leathality. Poland was the first country to stand up to the NAZIs and paid a terrible price. Britain and
France were reluctantly dragged into the War. While France fell in the first year of the War, dogged British
resistance made victory possible. America in the end rescued Europe not only from Fascism, but after the War
from Communism as well. Almost all of the independent countries of the world were involved in the War and even
those who were not belligerents (Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey) were affected by it or played not
Racism was a key aspect of World War II. It was a primary factor within in the Axis military alliance.
World War as conceived by Adolf Hitler was a racist war. Hitler clearly conceptualizes a great conflict
against Jews and the only slightly more preferable Slavs. The Jews Hitler believed had to be purged from
German life. This process evolved into the Holocaust. At least some of the Slavs would be allowed to survive
because slave labor was needed for the new Reich. And Hitler saw the war as not a German war, but an Aryan
racial war. Hitler was frustrated at the beginning of the War because he found himself fighting the British and allied with the Soviets. What he wanted of course was to be allied with the British and fighting the Soviets which he saw the worst possible combination of Jewish Bolsheviks overseeing the Slavic masses. Not all the people in Germany and racially acceptable countries were acceptable to Hitler. Gynecology became big business in Germany. The Japanese also had highly racist attitudes which showed in their treatment of Koreans, Chinese, and other subject peoples. Japanese atrocities are less publicized, but resulted in the deaths of even more people than fell victim to NAZI racist policies. Italy was less affected by racist notions. Racism was not, however, limited to the Axis. America entered the War as a still largely racist country. The South was still strictly segregated with black Americans denied civil rights and prevented from voting. America fought the War with a segregated military. The anti-Japanese prejudice of the time was often intense and was reflected in the disgraceful internment of Pacific-coast Japanese-Americans simply on grounds of their ethnicity. One interesting aspect is that with all this anti-Japanese feeling, it virtually disappered after the War. And all kinds of restrictions on Asians as to citizenship, employment, university admission also disappeared. Such overt discrimination did not exist in Britain, but Britain at the time did not have a substantial minority population. The situation in the colonies was different. The situation in the Soviet Union is more difficult to assess. Communist doctrine was race neutral which was one reason that it appealed to many Jews. Of course Communist neutrality on race does not mean that racist beliefs were no prevalent among Soviet officials.
World War II created the greatest refugee problem in human history. The problem was concentrated in Europe, but not entirely confined there. There were refugee problems after and during and after World War I. The numbers of refugees were significant, but the refugees and displacements help to create bitterness that led to much more extensive and brutal operations during World War II. The problem began with with the NAZI take over in Germany (1933). Political opponents fled Germany as did many Jews. The NAZI regime's focus on biological racism was to play a major role in the World War II refugee problem. Refugees from the fighting were a small part of the overall refugee problem. There were forced deportation, mass evacuation and displacement, persecution based on ethnicity, mass killing, conscription for forced labor, anti-partisan operations, intra-ethnic violence, strategic bombing and evacuation from the cities. The NAZI approach to many refugee groups shifted toward genocide as the War progressed. There were refugee problems in most of the countries involved in World War II. And the border changes at the end of the War caused additional refugees. The refugee crisis in Europe, especially Germany, resulted after the War in the creation of an international refugee and human rights infrastructure which is the basis of how refugee problems are handled today.
While race was a major factor in World War II, religion played a more limited role. There were, however,
some religious aspects of the War. Religion had played a major role in Western life since the Christianization
of the Roman Empire. For many in the 19th and 20th century the separation of church and state was a major
aspect of modernizing and creating a more just society. It thus came a shock that totalitarianism (Fascism and
Communism), the most secular of political movements, were a rejection of Western civilization and a reversion
to barbarity. Both sought to destroy religion and replace with a kind of state worship with religious
trappings. Christianity in the West helped to develop and save democracy by carving out a space that was
beyond the control of the modern secular state. [Burleigh] This is why both the the Communists and NAZIs
targeted religion. There were religious leaders who cooperated with the NAZIs (most notably in Croatia,
Romania, and Slovakia). German church leaders were often obsequious to the NAZIs who planed to replace
Christianity with a state religion. Japan's state religion, Shintoism, was part of the cultural complex which
led to Japanese militarism. The most vicious religious conflict was in Yugoslavia where the Catholic Croat
Ustache waged war against the the Orthodox Serbs. Hitler made the destruction of the Jews a main German war
objective, but the Holocaust was more of a racial than a religious onslaught. While church leaders were often willing to accommodate the NAZIs, there were individual churchmen who heroically resisted. The role of the papacy is a still debated aspect of the War. And the the devotion of individuals was a force to be reconvened with. Stalin after the NAZI invasion paused the atheism campaign to draw on support from the Church. Mussolini unlike Hitler did not attempt to destroy the Church. And in some occupied countries, especially Poland, the Church was a focal point of resistance. Islam was a minor factor in the War, and generally used to support the NAZIs in the Middle East, Balkans, and Soviet Union, an affinity that survived the War.
The War ended differently in the three main Axis countries (Italy, Germany, and Japan). The first Axis
country to surrender was Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy. After the fall of Sicily. the Fascist Grand Council
arrested Mussolini (July). The country's leadership began to plan a exit from the War. This was complicated
by the fact that Hitler would intervene to prevent this. And Germany despite reverses in the East still had
the capability to do this. Italian leaders pledged that they wold continue the War while at the same time they
began secret negotiations with the Allies. The Italian surrender when it finally came was conducted more like
a country joining the Allies than surrendering. This was in part because Germany immediately moved to seize
control of Italy. There were no ambiguities about the surrender of Germany and Japan. Hitler could have saved
Germany from devastation. Most of the damage to the Reich occurred after D-Day. He of course was not about to
do that. He knew that surrender meant not only the end of NAZI Germany, but his own trial as a war criminal.
Thus Germany fought to the end until Allied armies met in Germany and the Soviets fought an Apocalyptic battle in Berlin. After Hitler committed suicide, Admiral Dönitz, the second Führer ordered Keitel and Jodl to surrender
(May 1945). Japan had joined the Axis so that the more powerful Germans could prevent America from focusing on them. After the German surrender, this was precisely what occurred. The Japanese strategy was to make it so costly in blood and material for the United States pursue the War to a Japanese unconditional surrender. Okinawa so horrified the Americans that to avoid a bloody invasion became a virtual necessity. The Japanese were still undecided, but the combined impact of two atomic bombs and the Soviet declaration of war finally convinced Emperor Hirohito to surrender (August 1945).
Adolf Hitler after the fall of France was the master of Europe. He controlled or dominated Europe from
Poland to the Pyrenees. No other modern conqueror other than Napoleon had amassed such an empire. This placed
enormous industrial potential and resources at the command of NAZI Germany. The German military had modern
weaponry and a tactical doctrine that no other country at the time could match. Combined with Fascist Italy
and Imperial Japan the Axis Alliance had in 1940 overwhealming military power at a time Britain was perilously
bracing for air and U-boat assaults. The American army at the time was almost non-existent and armaments
production was less than that of Germany. In the Pacific the Imperial Navy's 13 aircraft carriers and modern
aircraft with throughly trained pilots gave the Japanese a military advantage that was not yet understood. Yes
the Axis was totally defeated and by 1945 their cities reduced to rubble. The question rises of why the Axis
lost the War.
The British and Americans commonly believe that they won World War II and that it was a great victory for
democracy. This is partly true. It is clear that the totalitarian powers, especially NAZI Germany, posed a
danger to democracy and to Western civilization in general. It is of course true that the Axis (Germany,
Italy, and Japan) was defeated. The actual outcome, however, in both Europe and Asia is very different than
what would be expected from a victorious war. In Europe the situation was complicated by the fact that the
victory of the Western Allies was only possible because Hitler's invasion turned a virtual ally into a bitter
enemy. The fact that the Allies relied in the totalitarian Soviet Union, which had carried out aggressions of
its own, meant that the Allied victory was a limited victory. In Asia there was a similar outcome. Japan was
defeated and occupied. America's ally China within only a few years fell to the Communists who installed a
The standard view of World War II is of a great crusade against tyranny and totalitarianism in which
Britain and her Dominions and the United States fought and defeated the Axis dictators (NAZI Germany, Fascist
Italy, and Imperial Japan) and in the process saved Western Civilization. Here we would not include the Soviet
regime as part of the crusade against tyranny, but would include the valiant Soviet people. The great success
of the Allied coalition is not only did the Allies defeat the Axis countries, but they succeeded in planting the germ of liberal democracy in their former enemies, something few feklt possible at the time. This is the assessment of the great majority of historians. Of course history as Göring pointed out is commonly written by the winners. What is not common is that the citizens of the defeated Axis countries uniformly approved of the reforms opposed on their countries. There are historians on both the left and right who offer dissenting view. Most that we have noted are ideologues who are guided more by their ideological proclivities than a dispassioned assessment of historical facts.
World War II in many ways fashioned the shape of our modern world, in both Europe and Asia. No one was
sure how to treat Germany and Japan. The Axis countries were the most changed, but the Allies, including
America, Britain, and the occupied countries were also changed. The United States in West Germany and Japan
oversaw an occupation with changed the nature of German and Japanese society, rooting out NAZIism and
militarism and fomenting the development of democratic political regimes and social structures. The results by
all practical measures have been an overwhealming success. Germany and Japan today as well as Italy are some of the most prosperous and democratic societies in the world. There were, however, major differences in the
occupation policies in the two countries. Germany and Japan took different approaches to the War. Germany
fully admitted to its culpability and accepted responsibility for the War. The Japanese never fully admitted
their responsibility or told the Japanese public just what their military did. Using the atomic bomb attacks,
Japan has adopted the stance of a victim of the War. Europe was awash with displaced persons uprooted by the
NAZIs and Soviets. The War made the Soviet Union a superpower at the time that Europe was in shambles. The
ethnic cleansing that Hitler and Stalin commenced continued after the War. It left Europe an ethnically tidier
region than before the War. Europe was in desperate condition, but to the surprise of almost everyone, within
only a few years an amazing recovery began in the West that would bring unprecedented prosperity. In the
Eastern Europe occupied by the Soviet Union, recovery proceeded more slowly and left the countries poor cousins
to the vibrant west. The developing Cold War divided Europe into two armed camps. America's decision to
remain this time meant that Western Europe would not be overwhealmed by the Soviet colossus. In Asia, the
Japanese Empire was dismantled. Manchuria was returned to China and the Civil War was fought to a conclusion
with the Communists winning. Korea became independent and the Chinese Nationalists found refuge on Taiwan.
War empowered nationalist groups who in a short period of time ended colonialism. Many of these new countries
were influenced by socialist economics and the seemingly rapid Communist approach to development.
World War II was the greatest war ever fought in human history. It involved all of the major powers and
most of the world's smaller countries. Some countries managed to remain neutral, bit even these countries were
significantly affected by the War, The Axis countries were totally defeated and forced to surrender
unconditionally. Even so, negotiating peace treaties proved a complex process because of the number of
countries involved. In addition the Soviet Union which began the War as a NAZI ally with invasions of neighboring countries, because of the NAZI invasion ended up on the Allied side. Further complicating matters, Italy withdrew from the Axis and by the end of the War was fighting with the Allies. The greatest complication, however, was that the Soviet insistence on creating an empire in Eastern Europe by setting up satellite states provoked a Cold War and the Allies began to see Germany and Japan as potential allies rather than potential enemies. The shape of post-War Europe was essentially sketched out at World War II conferences (Yalta and Potsdam). The Allies held conferences which resulted in peace treaties with Axis countries (Italy, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria) and Finland (a co-belligerent, but not an Axis country) signed in Paris (1947). These countries had to make territorial concessions, pay reparations and limit the size and strength of their
military forces. The bulk of the reparations were paid to the Soviet Union, but a share was paid to other
occupied countries (Albania, Czechoslovakia. Ethiopia, Greece, and Yugoslavia).
Germany was more of a problem, largely because of the developing Cold War. The Soviets and the Western Allies
failed to agree on the terms of a peace treaty with Germany. Soviet attempts to force the Allies out of Berlin
failed with the Berlin Air Lift (1948-49). The United States, Great Britain, and France became the Federal
Republic of Germany (1949). The Allied granted the Federal Republic independence (1955). The Soviet Union
proclaimed the independence of East Germany as the German Democratic Republic (DDR) (1954). As a negotiating
too, the Soviets threatened to negotiate a separate peace treaty with the DDR. This would have endangered
Allied access to Berlin. The Soviets and the DDR built the Berlin Wall (1961). The DDR remained a Soviet
satellite until Germany was reunited (1990). Austria during the War was part of NAZI Germany. There was a separate Allied occupation of Austria. The occupation was ended (1955). Austria adopted a neutral stance and agreed never to seek union with Germany. After the immediate post-War years, the Allies led by the United States began the process of framing a peace treaty with Japan. This process was blocked by the Soviet Union as the Cold War with the United States escalated. The United States sponsored a treaty that was endorsed by Japan and 48 other nations (1951). The Soviet Union, however, refused to sign. Japan signed a separate peace treaty with India and Nationalist China (1952) and finally the Soviet Union (1956).
No war was photographed more extensively than World War II. Photograpohy including by World War II had become common place. We have a detailed photographic record from thousands of official and press photographers. A few became well known because of their photographs. The offical and press record is, however, only one part of the photographic record. We also have the work of millions of individual soldiers and civilians who took photographs during the War era, both in the varius theaters and on the home front. There is a massive record of millions of images--both still and motion pictures in the archives of combatant countries and in the homes of people around the War. Most of the photographs were back and white, but color photograpjy had been developed. All sides of the War were photographed and virtually every aspect of the War. The only two topics not covered by the photographic record are 1) the NKVD and Red Army attrocities and 2) the Japanese treatment of internees. The NKVD had tight controls over photography and fewer Japanese and Soviet soldiers had cameras. The Germans in contrast seemed to be proud of what they were doing and many wanted to have a record of their historic 'accomplishments'. Many German soldiers compiled detailed photographic albums. We have drawn on this massive photographic record to compile our history of World War II. Here are some very valuable sites offering images of the War.
Beschloss, Michael. The Conquerors.
Burleigh, Michael. Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics: From the Great War to the War on Terror (Harper Collins, 2007), 557p.
Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.
Fleming, Thomas. The New Dealer's War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the War Within World War II (Basic, 2001).
Olson, Lynne and Stanley Cloud. A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II (Knopf, 2003).
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main 20th century war page]
[Return to the Main specific warsand crises]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to the Main war essay page]