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World War II, or the Second World War, (often abbreviated WWII) was a global military conflict
which involved a majority of the world's nations, including all of the great powers, organized into
two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. The war involved the mobilization of over
100 million military personnel, making it the most widespread war in history. In a state of "total
war,” the major participants placed their complete economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities
at the service of the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources.
Over 70 million people, the majority of them civilians, were killed, making it the deadliest conflict
in human history.
The starting date of the war is generally held to be September 1939 with the German invasion of
Poland and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by the United Kingdom, France and the
British Dominions. However, as a result of other events, many belligerents entered the war before
or after this date, during a period which spanned from 1937 to 1941. Amongst these main events
are the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the start of Operation Barbarossa and the attack on Pearl
Harbor and British and Dutch colonies in South East Asia.
The effects of World War II had far-reaching implications for the international community. Many
millions of lives had been lost as a result of the war. Germany was divided into four quadrants,
which were controlled by the Allied Powers which included the United States, Great Britain, France,
and the Soviet Union. The war can be identified to varying degrees as the catalyst for many
continental, national and local phenomena, such as the redrawing of European borders, the birth
of the United Kingdom's welfare state, the communist takeover of China and Eastern Europe, the
creation of Israel, and the divisions of Germany and Korea. In addition, many organizations have
roots in the Second World War; for example, the United Nations, the World Bank, the WTO, and the
IMF. Technologies, such as nuclear fission, the computer and the jet engine, also appeared during
this period.
A multipolar world was replaced by a bipolar one dominated by the two most powerful victors, the
United States and Soviet Union, which became known as the superpowers. [1]

The destruction of Europe and the destruction of a significant portion of the United Kingdom's
cities (via aerial bombing) would also ruin the reputation of the imperial nations in the eyes of
their colonies. Coupled with the enormous expense incurred in the war, an empire was perceived
to be an unnecessarily expensive possession. Thus this would provoke the rapid decolonization
process that would see the empires of the United Kingdom, France and others swept away.
Nationalist tendencies helped India and Pakistan become independent from the British Empire in
August 1947. Soon Malaysia and other South East Asian colonies also became independent. The
Netherlands lost Dutch East Indies, and France lost Indochina. In just a few decades, most Asian
and African colonies were independent. [2]

The immense destruction wrought over the course of the war caused a sharp decline in the
influence of the great powers. After the war, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United
States both became formidable forces. The U.S. suffered very little during the war and because of
military and industrial exports became a formidable manufacturing power. This led to a period of
wealth and prosperity for the U.S. in the fields of industry, agriculture and technology, while the
homeland of the United States was untouched by the war
The USSR was in a better economic and strategic position than any other continental European
power. By the end of the war in 1945 the Red Army was very large, battle-tested and occupied all
of Eastern and Central Europe as well as what was to become East Germany. In areas they
occupied, the Red Army installed governments they felt would be friendly towards the USSR. Given
the tremendous suffering of the Soviet people during the war, Soviet leadership wanted a "buffer
zone" of friendly governments between Russia and Western European nations. [3]


During the war, aircraft continued their roles of reconnaissance, fighters, bombers and ground-
support from World War I, though each area was advanced considerably. Two important additional
roles for aircraft were those of the airlift, the capability to quickly move high-priority supplies,
equipment and personnel, albeit in limited quantities; and of strategic bombing, the targeted use
bombs against civilian areas in the hopes of hampering enemy industry and morale. Anti-aircraft
weaponry also continued to advance, including key defences such as radar and greatly improved
anti-aircraft artillery, such as the German 88 mm gun. Jet aircraft saw their first limited operational
use during World War II, and though their late introduction and limited numbers meant that they
had no real impact during the war itself, the few which saw active service pioneered a mass-shift
to their usage following the war.
At sea, while advances were made in almost all aspects of naval warfare, the two primary areas of
development were focused around aircraft carriers and submarines. Although at the start of the
war aeronautical warfare had relatively little success, actions at Taranto, Pearl Harbor, the South
China Sea and the Coral Sea soon established the carrier as the dominant capital ship in place of
the battleship. In the Atlantic, escort carriers proved to be a vital part of Allied convoys, increasing
the effective protection radius dramatically and helping to seal the Mid-Atlantic gap. Beyond their
increased effectiveness, carriers were also more economical than battleships due to the relatively
low cost of aircraft and their not requiring to be as heavily armoured. Submarines, which had
proved to be an effective weapon during the first World War were anticipated by all sides 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 Wolf pack tactics. Gradually, continually
improving Allied technologies such as the Leigh light, hedgehog, squid, and homing torpedoes
proved victorious.
Overland warfare changed drastically from the static front lines experienced during World War I to
become much more fluid and mobile. An important change was the concept of combined arms
warfare, wherein tight coordination was sought between the various elements of military forces;
the tank, which had been used predominantly for infantry-support in the first World War, had
evolved into the primary weapon of these forces during the second. In the late 1930s, tank design
was considerably more advanced in all areas then it had been during World War I, and advances
continued throughout the war in increasing speed, armour and fire-power. At the start of the war,
most armies considered the tank to be the best weapon against itself, and developed special
purpose tanks to that effect. This line of thinking was all but negated by the poor performance of
the relatively light early tank armaments against armour, and German doctrine of avoiding tank-
to-tank combat; the latter factor, along with Germany's use of combined arms, were among the
key elements of their highly successful blitzkrieg tactics across Poland and France. Many means of
destroying tanks, including indirect artillery, anti-tank guns (both towed and self-propelled), mines,
short-ranged infantry carried anti-tank weaponry, and other tanks were utilized. Even with the
large-scale mechanization of the various armies, the infantry remained the backbone of all forces,
and throughout the war, most infantry equipment was similar to that utilized in World War I. Some
of the primary advances though, were the widespread incorporation of readily portable machine
guns, a most notable example being the German MG42, and various submachine guns which were
well suited to close quarters combat in urban and jungle settings. The assault rifle, a late war
development which incorporated many of the best features of the rifle and submachine gun,
became the post-war standard infantry weapon for nearly all armed forces.
In terms of communications, most of the major belligerents attempted to solve the problems of
complexity and security presented by utilizing large codebooks for cryptography with the creation
of various ciphering machines, the most well known being the German Enigma machine. SIGINT
(signals intelligence) was the countering process of decryption, with the notable examples being
the British ULTRA and the Allied breaking of Japanese naval codes. Another important aspect of
military intelligence was the use of deception operations, which the Allies successfully used on
several occasions to great effect, such as operations Mincemeat and Bodyguard, which diverted
German attention and forces away from the Allied invasions of Sicily and Normandy respectively.
Other important 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, the development of
artificial harbours and oil pipelines under the English Channel. [4]

One of the social effects which affected almost all participants to a certain degree was the
increased participation of women in the workforce (where they took the place of many men during
the war years), though this was somewhat reduced in the decades following the war, as changing
society forced many to return to home and family.
According to historian Antony Beevor, amongst others, in his book Berlin - The Downfall 1945 the
advancing Red Army had left a massive trail of raped women and girls of all ages behind them.
More than 2,000,000 were victims of rape, often repeatedly. This continued for several years.
The German soldiers left many war children behind in nations such as France and Denmark, which
were occupied for an extended period. After the war, the children and their mothers often suffered
recriminations. The situation was worst in Norway, where the “Tyskerunger“ (German-kids)
suffered, and still suffer, abuse. [5]


The end of World War II is seen by many as marking the end of the United Kingdom's position as a
global superpower and the catalyst for the emergence of the United States and the Soviet Union
as the dominant powers in the world. Friction had been building up between the two before the
end of the war, and with the collapse of Nazi Germany relations spiraled downward.
In the areas occupied by Western Allied troops, pre-war governments were re-established or new
democratic governments were created; in the areas occupied by Soviet troops, including the
territories of former Allies such as Poland, communist states were created. These became
satellites of the Soviet Union.
Germany was partitioned into four zones of occupation. The American, British and French zones
were grouped a few years later into West Germany and the Soviet zone became East Germany.
Austria was once again separated from Germany and it, too, was divided into four zones of
occupation, which eventually reunited and became the republic of Austria. Korea was divided in
half along the 38th parallel.
The partitions were initially informal, but as the relationship between the victors deteriorated, the
military lines of demarcation became the de facto country boundaries. The Cold War had begun,
and soon two blocs emerged: NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
The partitioning of Europe and Germany and Berlin persisted until the crumbling of the Eastern
Bloc in 1989/1990. The Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989. [6]


The European Union grew out of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which was
founded in 1951 by the six founding members: Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (the
Benelux countries) and West Germany, France and Italy. Its purpose was to pool the steel and coal

resources of the member states, and to support the economies of the participating economies. As
a side effect, the ECSC helped diffuse tensions between countries which had recently been
enemies in the war. In time this economic merger grew, adding members and broadening in scope,
to become the European Economic Community, and later the European Union. [7]


The League of Nations had failed to actively prevent the war, in 1945 a new international alliance
was considered and then created, the United Nations (UN). The UN also was responsible for the
initial creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948, in part as a response to the Holocaust.
The UN operates within the parameters of the United Nations Charter, and the reason for the UN’s
formation is outlined in the Preamble to the United Nations Charter. Unlike its predecessor, the
United Nations has taken a more active role in the world, such as fighting diseases and providing
humanitarian aid to nations in distress. The UN also served as the diplomatic front line during the
Cold War. The biggest advantage the United Nations has over the League of Nations is the
presence of world superpowers such as the United States and Russia, for the League had little
actual international power because of the absence of these nations. [8]


Estimates for the total casualties of the war vary, but most suggest that some 60 million people
died in the war, including about 20 million soldiers and 40 million civilians. Many civilians died
because of disease, starvation, massacres, and deliberate genocide. The Soviet Union lost around
27 million people during the war, about half of all World War II casualties. Of the total deaths in
World War II, approximately 85 percent were on the Allied side (mostly Soviet and Chinese) and 15
percent on the Axis side. One estimate is that 12 million civilians died in Nazi concentration
camps, 1.5 million by bombs, 7 million in Europe from other causes, and 7.5 million in China from
other causes.Figures on the amount of total casualties vary to a wide extent because the majority
of deaths were not documented.
Many of these deaths were a result of genocidal actions committed in Axis-occupied territories and
other war crimes committed by German as well as Japanese forces. The most notorious of German
atrocities was The Holocaust, the systematic genocide of Jews in territories controlled by Germany
and its allies. The Nazis also targeted other groups, including the Roma (targeted in the Porajmos),
Slavs, and gay men, exterminating an estimated five million additional people. For Japan, the most
well-known atrocity is the Nanking Massacre, in which several hundred thousand Chinese civilians
were raped and murdered. The Japanese military murdered from nearly 3 million to over 10 million
civilians, mostly Chinese. According to Mitsuyoshi Himeta, at least 2.7 million died during the
Sankō Sakusen implemented in Heipei and Shantung by General Yasuji Okamura.
Limited Axis usage of biological and chemical weapons is also known. The Italians used mustard
gas during their conquest of Abyssinia, while the Japanese Imperial Army used a variety of such
weapons during their invasion and occupation of China and in early conflicts against the Soviets.
Both the Germans and Japanese tested such weapons against civilians and, in some cases, on
prisoners of war.
While many of the Axis's acts were brought to trial in the world's first international tribunals,
incidents caused by the Allies were not. Examples of such actions include population transfer in
the Soviet Union, Japanese American internment in the United States, and the Soviet massacre of
Polish citizens and the controversial mass-bombing of civilian areas in enemy territory, most
notably at Dresden.

Large numbers of deaths can also be attributed, if even partially, indirectly to the war, such as the
Bengal famine of 1943. [9]


The Nazis were responsible for the killing of approximately six million Jews as well as two million
ethnic Poles and four million others who were deemed "unworthy of life" as part of a program of
deliberate extermination planned and executed by the Nazi Germany. About 12 million, most of
whom were Eastern Europeans, were employed in the German war economy as forced labor in
Germany during World War II.
In addition to the Nazi concentration camps, the Soviet Gulag, or labor camps, led to the death of
citizens of occupied countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as German
prisoners of war (POW) and even Soviet citizens themselves who had been or were thought to be
supporters of the Nazis. Sixty percent of Soviet POWs died during the war. Richard Overy gives the
number of 5.7 million Soviet POWs. Of those, 57% died or were killed. Some of the survivors on
their return to the USSR were treated as traitors.
Japanese prisoner-of-war camps also had high death rates, many were used as labour camps. The
International Military Tribunal for the Far East found the death rate of Western prisoners was 27.1
percent (for American POWs, 37 percent),seven times that of POW's under the Germans and
Italians. The death rate among Chinese POWs was much larger; a directive ratified on August 5,
1937 by Hirohito declared that the Chinese were no longer protected under international law.
While 37,583 prisoners from the UK, 28,500 from the, Netherlands and 14,473 from United States
were released after the surrender of Japan, the number for the Chinese was only 56.
According to a joint study of historians featuring Zhifen Ju, Mark Peattie, Toru Kubo, and Mitsuyoshi
Himeta, more than 10 million Chinese were mobilized by the Japanese army and enslaved by the
Kōa-in for slave labor in Manchukuo and north China. The U.S. Library of Congress estimates that

in Java, between 4 and 10 million romusha (Japanese: "manual laborer"), were forced to work by
the Japanese military. About 270,000 of these Javanese laborers were sent to other Japanese-held
areas in South East Asia. Only 52,000 were repatriated to Java, meaning that there was a death
rate of 80%.
On February 19, 1942 Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, interning thousands of Japanese,
Italians, German Americans, and some emigrants from Hawaii who fled after the bombing of Pearl
Harbor for the duration of the war. 150,000 Japanese-Americans were interned by the U.S. and
Canadian governments, as well as nearly 11,000 German and Italian residents of the U.S.
Allied use of slave labor occurred mainly in the east, such as in Poland, but more than a million
was also put to work in the west. By December 1945 it was estimated by French authorities that
2,000 German prisoners were being killed or maimed each month in mine-clearing accidents. [10]


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

While the Allies' ability to out-produce the Axis is often attributed to the Allies having more access
to natural resources, other factors, such as Germany and Japan's reluctance to utilize women in
the labour force, Allied strategic bombing, and Germany's late shift to a war economy contributed
significantly. Additionally, neither Germany nor Japan planned on fighting a protracted war, and
were not equipped to do so. To improve their production, Germany and Japan used millions of slave
labourers; Germany used about 12 million people, mostly from Eastern Europe, while Japan
pressed more than 18 million people in Far East Asia. [11]


In Europe, occupation came under two very different 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 reichmarks (German currency) by the end of the war; this figure does not include the sizable
plunder of industrial products, military equipment, raw materials and other goods. Thus, the
income from occupied nations was over 40% of the income Germany collected from taxation, a
figure which increased to nearly 40% of total German income as the war went on.
In the east, the much hoped for bounties of lebensraum were never attained as fluctuating front-
lines and Soviet scorched earth policies denied resources to the German invaders. Unlike in the
west, the Nazi racial policy encouraged excessive brutality against what it considered to be the
"inferior people" of Slavic descent; most German advances were thus followed by mass
executions. Although resistance groups did form in most occupied territories, they did not
significantly hamper German operations in either the east or the west 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 colonized peoples. Although Japanese forces were originally welcomed as liberators from
European domination in many territories, their excessive brutality turned local public opinions
against them within weeks. During Japan's initial conquest it captured 4 million barrels of oil left
behind by retreating Allied forces, and by 1943 was able to get production in the Dutch East Indies
up to 50 million barrels, 76% of its 1940 output rate. [12]