Facts, information and articles about World War II, 1939-1945
USS Arizona Pearl Harbor
World War II Facts
September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945
Europe, Pacific, Atlantic, South-East Asia, China, Middle East, Mediterranean and Northern Africa.
Allies: Joseph Stalin
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Charles de Gaulle
Axis: Adolf Hitler
Allies: Over 60 million dead
Axis: Over 12 million dead
End of German Third Reich
United States And Russia Become Global superpowers
Founding on the United Nations
World War II Articles
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World War II summary: Summary of World War II: The Second World War was arguably the most significant period of the 20th century. It brought about major leaps in technology and laid the groundwork that permitted post-war social changes including the end of European colonialism, the civil rights movement in the United States, and the modern women’s rights movement, as well as the programs for exploring outer space. The primary combatants were the Axis nations (Nazi Germany, Facist Italy, Imperial Japan and their smaller allies) and the Allied nations, led by Britain (and its Commonwealth nations), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America. The Allies were the victors. Two superpowers, the USA and USSR, emerged from World War II to begin a Cold War with each other that would define much of the rest of the century.
Casualties in World War II
The most destructive war in all of history, its exact cost in human lives is unknown, but casualties in World War II may have totaled 50 million service personnel and civilians killed. Nations suffering the highest losses, military and civilian, in descending order, are:
When did World War II begin?
Asking when World War II began is a good way to start a long and passionate debate. Some say it was simply a continuation of the First World War that had theoretically ended in 1918. Others point to 1931, when Japan seized Manchuria from China. Italy’s invasion and defeat of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935, Adolf Hitler’s re-militarization of Germany’s Rhineland in 1936, the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), and Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938 are sometimes cited. The two dates most often mentioned as "the beginning of World War II" are July 7, 1937, when the "Marco Polo Bridge Incident" led to a prolonged war between Japan and China, and September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, which led Britain and France to declare war on Hitler’s Nazi state in retaliation. From the invasion of Poland until the war ended with Japan’s surrender in August 1945, multiple nations were at war with each other, some fighting for the ultimately victorious Allies, some for the Axis.
Origins of World War II
No one historic event can be said to have been the origin of World War II. Japan’s unexpected victory over czarist Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) left open the door for Japanese expansion in Asia and the Pacific. The United States U.S. Navy first developed plans in preparation for a naval war with Japan in 1890. War Plan Orange, as it was called, would be updated continually as technology advanced and greatly aided the U.S. during World War II.
The years between the first and second world wars were a time of instability during the worldwide Great Depression that began around 1930. It was also a time when some nations, including Germany, Italy and Japan developed intense nationalist feelings that led to a desire to expand: Germany in Northern and Eastern Europe, Italy in Africa and Greece, and Japan in Asia and the South Pacific. Germany had the added motivation of overturning (and ultimately avenging) the harsh terms forced on it at the conclusion of the First World War.
Competing ideologies further fanned the flames of international tension. The Bolshevik Revolution in czarist Russia during the First World War, followed by the Russian Civil War, had established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a sprawling communist state. Western republics and capitalists feared the spread of Bolshevism. In some nations, such as Italy, Germany and Romania, ultra-conservative groups rose to power, in part as a reaction against communism.
Germany, Italy and Japan signed agreements of mutual support but, unlike the Allied nations they would face, they never developed a comprehensive or coordinated plan of action.
Initial Moves of the Second World War
On July 7, 1937, a skirmish near the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing, China, led to open warfare between Japan and China. The outclassed Chinese military traded space for time, steadily withdrawing deeper into the large country to extend Japanese supply lines and hoping to eventually gain assistance from other nations. During the course of the war over 1 million Japanese troops would be engaged in an unsuccessful attempt to subdue China.
The fighting in Europe began on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Previously, Germany, led by Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler, had annexed Czechoslovakia and Austria without provoking a military response from France or Great Britain. Poland was a step too far; both of those nations declared war on Germany in support of Poland, but they were slow to take effective actions. The French military and government expected Poland would hold out till spring, allowing France time to mobilize. But Germany demonstrated the effectiveness of combined arms warfare, in which infantry, armor, artillery and aircraft work in coordination. This type of war required rapid communication; in preparation, the Germans had developed radios small enough that every vehicle could be equipped with one.
This new style of warfare became known as blitzkrieg (lightning war—the Germans actually used the term blitzkrieg to refer to a war of short duration, but it came to refer to combined-arms tactics of rapid maneuver). Germany quickly drove deep into Poland. Two weeks after the war began, the USSR invaded from the east; Joseph Stalin, leader of the USSR, had earlier signed a mutual non-aggression pact with Hitler, and secretly they had agreed to divide Poland between them. Before the end of the month, Poland had capitulated. In the coming months, Denmark, Norway, and the Baltic States also fell under Nazi control.
In May 1940, Germany shocked the world by rapidly invading and defeating the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and a British Expeditionary Force that was aiding the French. Operations began May 10 with attacks on Holland and ended June 25, when France signed an armistice that divided the country into occupied and unoccupied zones. The Germans controlled the occupied zones, in the north and northwest, which comprised three-fifths of the country; a new French government established at Vichy administered the southern two-fifths. Italy’s leader, Benito Mussolini, hoped to get in on the spoils and declared war on France June 10; Italian forces attacked southern France on June 21.
On July 10, an air war over England began, which British prime minister Winston Churchill termed the Battle of Britain. The German Luftwaffe was to knock out the Royal Air Force (RAF) in preparation for Operation Sealion, the proposed naval invasion of Britain, or force Churchill to seek a negotiated peace. Though it was a near-run thing, the defense mounted by the badly outmanned RAF led Hitler to abandon plans for the invasion; the Battle of Britain ended September 30.
Britain was also opposing German and Italian forces in the deserts of North Africa and on the waters of the Atlantic. The Battle of the Atlantic was primarily fought between British surface craft and the German U-boats (submarines) that attempted to sever the island nation’s supply lines. The United States, although technically neutral, provided Britain with needed supplies after approving a lend-lease agreement in March 1941. After the U.S. joined the war in December 1941, its sea and air forces took an active part in the naval war of the Atlantic. German U-boats patrolled off the U.S. east coast and in the Caribbean, sinking ships of the American Merchant Marine.
Hitler turned his attention from Britain, a country he hadn’t really wanted to fight, to his most important goal: invading and defeating his erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union. First, Germany had to assist Italy, which had bogged down in its attempt to invade and conquer Greece. (Earlier, Italy had seized Abyssinia, now called Ethiopia, in Africa.) Yugoslavia also fell to the German war machine. Hungary and Romania were already German allies—Romania had planned to fight against Germany but the loss of its major ally, France, left it with little choice but to become a satellite of Nazi Germany. A fascist government overthrew Romania’s monarch, and the Balkan country would serve as the third-largest Axis military in Europe until it switched sides in the autumn of 1944, becoming the fourth-largest Allied military.
Finally, on June 22, 1941, Germany and its allies launched Operation Barbarossa, a massive invasion of the Soviet Union from the Baltic shore in the north to the Black Sea in the South. The Soviets were caught by surprise. (The USSR knew Germany would attack eventually and had wargamed various scenarios but did not expect the invasion so soon.) Their military leadership had been decimated by Stalin’s purges of the 1930s, in which he removed—often killed—many of the most effective commanders and replaced them with political stooges. In the Finnish-Soviet War (Winter War) between November 30, 1939 and March 12, 1940, tiny Finland repeatedly stymied an invasion by the giant Soviet Union for months until finally forced to yield to overwhelming numbers; the peace settlement gave the Soviets 25,000 square miles of Finnish territory.
Initially, the Axis invasion of the USSR was a dramatic success. The invading wave swept steadily eastward, reaching the gates of Moscow by the beginning of 1942, but Soviet determination and much greater numbers of men and equipment, combined with the vast distances and severe weather of the USSR halted the onslaught and forced a German retreat.
At Stalingrad two combatants fought a vicious, building-by-building, street-by-street battle from July 17, 1942, to February 2, 1943. In November 1942, the Soviets launched a two-prong counterattack that encircled and ultimately captured the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad. The Red forces advanced westward rapidly until halted in the Third Battle of Kharkov. In the spring of 1943, a bulge developed in the Soviet lines near Kursk. That summer, the Germans struck with their own two-prong assault, intending to isolated and capture or destroy Soviet forces within that bulge. Both sides committed large numbers of men and material; Kursk has long been believed to have been the largest tank battle in history but recent research is casting doubt on the long-accepted numbers. At any rate, the German offensive failed. From that point on, Soviet forces advanced westward, entering the German capital of Berlin in April 1945.
The War in North Africa
Britain and Commonwealth forces (Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, New Zealand) had been opposing the Axis in North Africa since Italy’s dictator Benito Mussolini declared war on Britain and France on June 10, 1940. Initially, the Italians had 250,000 troops opposing about 100,000 from the UK, but the British Army was better equipped, better trained, better organized, and had better leadership. Once the Battle of Britain was over and the threat of an immediate German invasion of the UK removed, Britain reinforced its North Africa contingent, to protect its colonies there and particularly to protect the Suez Canal and shipping in the Mediterranean. Beginning on December 9, 1940, British forces launched a drive that advanced 500 miles in two months, capturing some 130,000 prisoners and destroying 10 Italian divisions; British casualties totaled about 2,000.
In mid-February 1941, two German divisions and two additional Italian divisions were sent to Libya; a third German division arrived later. German field marshal Erwin Rommel was assigned to command the Afrika Korps. He would win fame as the "Desert Fox" for his daring armored sweeps. Both sides faced significant supply problems in their operations in the North African deserts, and although Rommel achieved some great victories he could never deliver a deathblow. He never seemed to understand that for the German High Command, North Africa was always a backwater; the primary focus was on preparing to invade the Soviet Union.
Britain went through a series of commanders in North Africa before placing Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery in charge of Eighth Army there. After halting Rommel’s attacks near El Alamein in September 1942, Montgomery launched a counterattack with a 3:1 advantage in October. When the Afrika Korps ran short on fuel and ammunition, it retired to Tunisia.
The United States Enters World War II
The United States of America had technically remained on the sidelines until near the end of 1941, although it had provided aid to Britain and the Soviet Union. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, (see The Pacific War, below) Congress declared war on Japan. Nazi Germany, honoring its pact with Japan, then declared war on the U.S.; Italy, Romania and other countries within the European Axis alliance did the same. America was now at war with all the Axis belligerents and would bring the full weight of its industrial power, vast natural resources and large population onto the side of the British Commonwealth and its allied nations such as the Free French, Free Poles, etc.
An American officer, Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower (soon promoted to lieutenant general) was named supreme commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces, European Theater of Operations. Although the battle-tested British were skeptical about his lack of command experience, Eisenhower proved to be skilled in the diplomacy required to coordinate the commanders and forces of the many Allied nations.
American troops first saw land combat against the soldiers of Nazi Germany, Italy (and some Vichy French) after the U.S. and the United Kingdom invaded Algeria and Morocco in North Africa during Operation Torch on November 8th, 1942. They pushed east toward Tunis and came within a dozen miles of their objective before German counterattacks threw them back. In February 1943 at Kasserine Pass Rommel inflicted on the U.S. forces one of the worst defeats in America’s military history but failed to achieve his strategic goals. Allied armies squeezed the Axis from the west and from the east. The Axis commanders—Rommel had been recalled to Europe—surrendered in May. Some troops were successfully evacuated to Sicily, but North Africa had cost the Axis 650,000 casualties; Britain’s losses were little more than a third of that, and America, arriving much later, suffered less than 20,000.
Two American commanders came to public attention during the North African campaign and would become two of the war’s most famous generals: Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Omar Bradley
The Invasion of Italy
Allied preparations began for the invasion of Europe through Italy. The first target was the island of Sicily. Combat there included the first large-scale use of gliders and parachute troops by the Allies. Though not particularly well handled, these airborne operations provided important lessons that would be applied later on.
British forces under Montgomery and U.S. troops under Patton raced to capture the city of Messina; Patton won the race, but his men arrived just hours after the last German troops had been evacuated to the Italian mainland. Nearly 140,000 Italian troops surrendered on Sicily. The Fascist Grand Council forced Mussolini from power on July 25, 1943, and a new Italian government signed a secret armistice with the Allies on September 3.
On September 8, Allied troops came ashore in Italy, and the armistice was made public. The Germans took charge of resisting the invaders. Ultimately, the Germans had to make a fighting withdrawal, but took control of northern Italy and re-installed Mussolini as head of a puppet government in that area. He and his mistress would be killed by Italian partisans on April 28, 1945. Their bodies, and those of other fascists killed at the same time, were hung upside down in Milan, where Italian fascists had executed 15 partisans a year earlier.
Utilizing Italy’s mountainous terrain, cut by only a few, narrow roads, the Germans and those Italians who continued to fight alongside them established a series of defensive positions such as the Gustav Line to slow the Allied advance and inflict heavy casualties. The German command in Italy did not surrender until May 2, 1945, just days before Allied victory in Europe.
The Italian campaign tied down 22 German divisions and gave the Allies lessons in amphibious warfare and in cooperation between the forces of the different nations. What they learned would prove useful during the major effort to come in France.
The USSR had battled the Axis since the summer of 1941 and had faced the bulk of German military strength. Joseph Stalin continually pressured the Western Allies to open a second front; North Africa and Italy had not done enough to draw off German forces from the Soviet Union.
On June 6, 1944, the Western Allies invaded France’s Normandy coast. Months of carefully planned deceptions had convinced Hitler the invasion would come at Calais, the closest point on the French coast to England. The actual targets of Operation Overlord were further west. Even so, Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, had established formidable defenses that included massive concrete bunkers, four million mines, and a half-million obstacles.
By the day of the invasion, called D-Day, the Allies had established complete air superiority. The invasion began in darkness with three divisions of airborne troops, delivered by parachute and by glider. Many men were lost in glider crashes; descending paratroopers were shot down by German fire. Airborne troops were scattered across many miles, often far from their objectives, but they coalesced into ad hoc groups and successfully captured and held bridges and other strategic points.
In the early morning hours of June 6, five Allied divisions splashed ashore along 50 miles of coastline that had been divided into five operational beaches codenamed Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. British divisions were to capture two, Americans were to capture two, and a Canadian division was to secure one. It was the largest amphibious operation in history. By the end of the day, over 75,000 British and Canadian troops and more than 57,000 Americans held the beaches; within a month, those numbers swelled to over a million.
Moving inland proved to be a bloody slugfest. In Normandy, farmers’ fields were separated by hedgerows comprised of banks of earth covered with trees, the roots of which had intertwined over centuries to form impenetrable barriers. Roads were narrow. German defenders covered every road and every hedgerow opening. Not until Operation Cobra, July 25–31, a sweep around the Germans’ western flank, were the Allies able to break out of the hedgerow country and begin a fast-moving drive on Paris and then to the German border.
The Allied Race Across France
On August 15 a second invasion, Operation Dragoon, succeeded in southern France. Everywhere within that country, German infantry and armored units were in retreat. The Allies’ greatest obstacle was logistics: keeping their mechanized and motorized divisions supplied with fuel, food, ammunition and other necessities. The Red Ball Express, made up of nearly 6,000 trucks, rushed supplies forward. During the 81 days of its existence, the Red Ball transported over 800,000 gallons of fuel a day and a total of over 412,000 tons of other war supplies. The Allies enjoyed a enormous superiority in the number and quality of trucks during the war, an advantage that was as important as the fighting men and machines they kept supplied and mobile.
German resistance stiffened as the onrushing Allies approached the Rhine River and Germany itself. In September 1944, Operation Market-Garden attempted to secure bridges across the Rhine in Holland, using three airborne divisions dropped near the town of Arnhem and an overland drive by 20,000 vehicles. It was a costly failure.
At almost the same time, the American 9th Infantry Division attacked into the Hurtgen Forest, beginning a costly and poorly managed campaign that dragged on until the following February.
Battle of the Bulge
Just south of the Hurtgen Forest, German troops were secretly massing a quarter-million men, nearly 1,000 tanks and mechanized assault guns, and 1,900 artillery pieces for a major counteroffensive that was meant to drive a wedge between the American and British sectors and re-capture the port of Antwerp in the Netherlands. Concealed by the Ardennes Forest, through which they had successfully attacked France in May 1940, they launched a surprise attack in the early hours of December 16 against a lightly defended portion of the American line. Within three days they had destroyed the American 28th and 106th divisions—but those units had delayed the advance long enough to upset the tight German timetable and allow Eisenhower time to order other units forward, including the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions. British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery deployed his XXX Corps on his own initiative to block the German drive to the north.
The onslaught forced a bulge 50 miles wide and 70 miles deep into the American lines, giving it the name Battle of the Bulge. Staunch defenses at St. Vith and Bastogne caused the attack to grind to a halt, and by late January counterattacks had pushed the Germans back to their start line, minus 100,000 men and 700 fighting vehicles. Allied losses, primarily American, were 90,000 men and 300 fighting vehicles, but those losses could be replaced much more easily than the Germans could replace theirs.
The Alsace Campaign
To the south of the Bulge, another German counteroffensive was playing out. Beginning in November, American and French forces began a campaign to recapture the Alsace region. After initial successes that included liberating the capital of Strasbourg, they were hit by strong German counterattacks that began around midnight on New Year’s Eve. The Allies were driven back until January 25, when their opponents could no longer continue the fight. Six of the eight divisions in the German Nineteenth Army were destroyed. Combined with the losses in the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler had sacrificed a significant amount of the strength that would be needed for contesting both the Western Allies and the Soviet Union as they invaded Germany.
On May 2, the German capital of Berlin surrendered to Soviet forces. On April 30, Hitler had committed suicide, along with his mistress Eva Braun, whom he had married just hours before, and other members of his inner circle. On May 8, an unconditional surrender was officially ratified. The war in Europe was over, but the war in the Pacific was still unfinished. Many soldiers, airmen and sailors who had survived war in Europe and the Atlantic began preparing to fight again, on the other side of the world.
The Pacific War
Isolationist sentiment was widespread in America during the 1930s, a reaction to the high casualties the U.S. took in the First World War while gaining little of significance for America. That sentiment died in the flames of American battleships burning at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Imperial Japan, with much of its army and air force still tied down fighting in China, had coerced the Vichy French government to grant permission for Japanese air bases in French Indochina (today’s Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). In response, the U.S., Britain and the Netherlands imposed a total embargo on Japan. Among the most critical results of the embargo was the loss of oil. Unless Japan could import the oil it needed, its navy would be drydocked within a year and its factories would shut down in about 18 months. The Imperial military leaders saw as their only hope capturing Malaya, the Netherlands East Indies, and other counties they termed "the Southern Resource Area." This course of action meant war with the United States.
On December 7, 1941, Japanese carrier-based bombers struck the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. Japan’s military planners hoped to cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet in order to buy time to capture and fortify the region they sought to control, then negotiate an armistice from a position of strength. War had not been declared between the two nations before the attack; the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C., took too long decoding the 5,000-word message from their homeland; however, the plan was to deliver it just 30 minutes before the bombs were to start falling anyway.
America’s president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had long wanted the U.S. involved in the war on the side of Great Britain. There have always been questions about how much Roosevelt knew of the Japanese plans and whether or not he allowed the attack to occur in order to get into the European war "through the back door."
The plan to cripple the U.S. fleet failed—although a number of battleships and other vessels and facilities were severely damaged or destroyed—primarily because none of the American aircraft carriers based at Pearl were in the harbor that Sunday morning. They were on assignments at sea, including an assignment to find the Japanese fleet that was known to have sailed days earlier.
In addition to bombing Pearl Harbor, Japan swept through British Malaya in a "bicycle blitzkrieg" and captured "impregnable Singapore," seizing more territory in a shorter amount of time than any nation since Napoleon’s France. It was now at war with China, the United States, the United Kingdom and Commonwealth nations (notably Australia, New Zealand, India and Burma), and the Netherlands. (In 1938, Japanese forces had been decisively beaten by those of the Soviet Union in the Battle of Khalkin Gol, and those two nations signed a non-aggression pact that would last until the final weeks of World War II.)
In the Philippines, a U.S. protectorate, American and Filipino forces put up a valiant, months-long defense against a Japanese invasion, but the numbers against them were too great and they could not be resupplied. After Bataan, the last holdout in the Philippines, fell in April 1942, the Imperial Army forced 64,000 Filipino and 12,000 U.S. soldiers to march for over a week to reach a prison camp. Many died along the way, often shot, bayoneted or beheaded when they fell from exhaustion. It became known as the Bataan Death March.
Although the United States switched from a peacetime to a wartime economy very rapidly, the transition still required time, as did the training for hundreds of thousands of new troops. Unable to launch a sustained attack against Japan, war planners settled for a dangerous mission to boost homefront morale: the Doolittle Raid on Japan. On April 18, 1942, sixteen B-25 bombers launched from the carrier Hornet and, led by Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, bombed the Japanese capital of Tokyo and the city of Nagoya. Though the bombing caused little damage, it succeeded as a morale booster in America, and it embarrassed the Japanese High Command. Determined to eliminate further raids, the Imperial Navy sent a fleet to locate and destroy American aircraft carriers a month and a half later.
Midway and Guadalcanal
Planes from the American fleet found the Japanese ships first and destroyed four of their carriers in the Battle of Midway. Only one American carrier was lost. Midway is often called the turning point in the War in the Pacific because it destroyed the myth of Japanese invulnerability.
Another, and perhaps more significant turning point, came with the battle for Guadalcanal, August 1942–February 1943. To halt construction of a Japanese airbase on the island of Guadalcanal, which would have allowed air strikes against Allied supply convoys to Australia, the U.S. Marines and Army invaded the island. Fighting was intense on land, sea and air. In the end, the Japanese had to evacuate their remaining 12,000 troops.
Fighting was always brutal between the two sides, wherever they faced each other. Surrender was so shameful in Japan’s Bushido culture that, as one American officer expressed it after the war, "Every nation said its soldiers would fight to the last man. Only the Japanese did it." The names of islands like New Guinea, Tarawa, Peleliu, the Marianas, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and others would be written in the blood of Japanese, American, Australian and New Zealand servicemen.
Allied strategy was to capture a series of islands, constantly moving closer to Japan, and use those islands as supply bases from which to launch the next assault. This required a combined land-sea approach. Unlike the European Theater, there was no single supreme commander, as Eisenhower was in Europe.
Douglas MacArthur, a former Army Chief of Staff, was named supreme commander of Allied forces in the Southwest Pacific after his evacuation from the Philippines in 1942. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz became supreme commander of Allied forces in the Pacific Ocean Area that same year. Lieutenant General Joseph Stilwell commanded all U.S. forces in the China-Burma-India Theater; Britain’s Archibald Wavell was commander in chief in India, after being replaced as commander in North Africa. American general Curtis LeMay oversaw the strategic aerial bombing campaign against Japan.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
At sea, the U.S. continued gaining naval and air superiority over the Japanese. The Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944 became known as "the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" because U.S. Navy pilots shot down nearly 300 Japanese planes in a 12-to-1 loss ratio, and three Japanese carriers were sunk. Some American ships were damaged. During October 23–26, the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea, better known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf, was fought between Japanese naval and air forces and those of Australia and the US. is considered the largest naval battle of the Second World War and possibly the largest in history. The US lost six front-line warships, while the Japanese lost 26.
By that time the Japanese had resorted to a new method of attack. "Kamikaze" pilots used their planes as guided bombs, committing suicide by flying directly into American and British ships. They inflicted considerable damage and caused much terror but were not sufficient to turn the tide of the war.
Iwo Jima and Okinawa
As the Allies neared the Japanese home islands, they fought fierce battles to capture small islands nearby, to use as air and supply bases. At Iwo Jima, which is just eight square miles in size, operations began February 19, 1945, and lasted until March 26, though pockets of resistance remained in cave complexes through May. Only 300 of the 21,000 Japanese defenders were taken alive. American losses were approximately 6,500 dead and 20,000 thousand wounded.
March–June 1945 saw the last major battle for a Pacific island. Okinawa is just 60 miles long and just 18 miles across at its widest point. An assault force of 180,000 was sent to wrest it from 130,000 defenders. Over 107,000 Japanese military and civilian personnel died, including women who threw their babies into the sea from cliffs, then jumped themselves because Japanese propaganda had convinced them the Americans would torture them. The Americans lost some 13,000 dead and 49,000 wounded among their land forces. Additionally, kamikaze attacks sunk 36 American and British ships and damaged 368 more. One of the damaged, the USS Indianapolis, would be sent to California for repairs; it returned from there carrying the atom bomb to Tinian Island but was sunk shortly after delivering its lethal package.
After capturing the island of Okinawa in an 82-day battle, Allied planners began preparing for the invasion of the Japanese home islands. Based on their experience with the tenacious, fatalistic defense Japanese troops had displayed through the Pacific, they were aware these operations would cost large numbers of American and British Commonwealth lives. Some estimates in popular media ran as high as a million; military planners expected a few hundred thousand. They also feared that a homefront weary of war would demand a negotiated settlement if the war dragged on into 1946.
Allied salvation came in August 1945. An American B-29 dropped a single atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, obliterating the town. When no Japanese surrender was forthcoming, a second bomb fell on Nagasaki. While the world was shocked by the high number of primarily civilian casualties and massive destruction wrought by a single explosive device, in fact far more Japanese had been killed in the firebombings that U.S. planes had been carrying out for months.
End of World War II
On August 15, 1945, Japan formally surrendered. World War II was over. A new age of nuclear weapons had begun, and a cold war between the two superpowers that emerged from the war—the United States and the Soviet Union—would result in many "surrogate wars" in the decades to come, wars fought in and between nations backed by one side or the other.
The Holocaust and Other Atrocities of World War II
Nazi Germany’s fascination with producing a "racial pure" culture led to a campaign to eliminate "Untermensch" ("sub-humans"). The largest of these groups were European Jews but also included Gypsies, some Slavs, the mental ill, homosexuals, communists, socialists, and any other group termed undesirable. Millions—six million Jews alone—were executed; some were tortured, shot or hanged; others gassed or starved to death in concentration camps (death camps), were worked to death as slave labor, or killed by other means. This systemic murder is known as The Holocaust, a Greek word meaning "sacrifice by fire." Any nation that fell under German dominance, whether by conquest or political agreement, was expected to join in the purging of the Untermensch.
Imperial Japan also believed its people were racially superior, and therefore any act conducted against other Asians or Westerners was justified. At Nanking tens of thousands of Chinese were buried alive or slaughtered by other means. Chinese, Korean, Dutch and other women were forced into sexual slavery as "comfort women," each servicing dozens of Japanese military personnel daily.
The Imperial Japanese Army also established Unit 731, a secret biological warfare unit that infected prisoners of war with biological agents in order to study their effectiveness. Some prisoners were cut open while they were still alive, without anesthesia, to examine the effects of the disease within their bodies. Other horrific experiments were also carried out. Unlike concentration camp guards and executioners from Europe, many of whom were tried and imprisoned or executed for their crimes, the staff of Unit 731 was granted immunity by U.S. authorities in exchange for information on their findings, for America’s own biological warfare program. The Soviet Union prosecuted a dozen members of the unit and sentenced them to labor camps.
Allied governments and militaries did not set up systemic avenues of torture, rape or murder, but thousands of rapes were carried out against the women of Germany, Japan, Okinawa and even the women of Allied nations by individual soldiers. This was particularly widespread among Soviet troops in retaliation for what German soldiers had done to women of Russia, the Ukraine and other areas of the USSR. The American Joint Chiefs received reports of large numbers of rape among French, Italian and other women by U.S. forces. In Japan American admiral Raymond Spruance set up supervised brothels to reduce the rates of venereal disease and rape, but this was short-lived once a Congressman heard about it. Some Axis soldiers were shot after being captured, sometimes in anger or retaliation, sometimes during rapid advances or during combat.
Social Changes Resulting from World War II
The Second World War effectively ended the era of European colonialism. European nations had been seriously weakened by the war, and their people were war-weary. Leftist revolts in their colonies in Africa and Asia generally ended with the colonial powers withdrawing, sometimes peacefully, sometimes after periods of guerrilla warfare. Many rebels had received combat experience during the war; often, the best-organized and best-armed rebel groups were communist. Their uprisings for independence, land reform or other goals helped fuel fears of a global communist takeover—especially since eastern Europe had fallen under the control of the USSR at war’s end and communists won the Chinese Civil War in 1949—and western nations often supplied aid or even military support to suppress them.
On the American homefront, African Americans who had served in the war returned to find the old discrimination against them still in place. A civil rights movement developed, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as its best-known leader, that ended officially sanctioned segregation, discrimination in employment and other social ills. Mahatma Ghandi in India paved the way for civil rights movements in the U.S. and other countries through nonviolent means. In South Africa in 1948, however, conservatives narrowly defeated the moderate coalition that had guided the nation through World War II, and the new government instituted even stricter racial policies than had existed before, under the name apartheid (seperateness); apartheid continued until 1994.
In many nations, with so many men away at war, women went into the workplace in large numbers during the war, and demonstrated they could handle non-traditional jobs such as welding. Immediately following the war, they were replaced by the men returning home. A baby boom began, and women of the "boomer generation" would lead their own civil rights movement against gender discrimination in employment and other areas.
Nazi Germany had developed a rocket program, launching explosive missiles against civilian targets in Britain. At war’s end, the US and USSR raced against each other to round up as many of the German scientists as they could to develop their own programs. This resulted not only in intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, it led to a "Space Race" between the two ideologically opposed nations that took humanity beyond the confines of Earth for the first time.
Other technology, developed or improved upon for war, also became part of daily life, most notably nuclear power, which supplies energy to homes and businesses in many nations. Improved radar and sonar, microwave ovens, the expansion of chemical and plastics industries, and many other changes were part of the post-war world. Even the toy Slinky was developed by Richard James, an engineer working on a meter to test horsepower on battleships.
Articles Featuring World War II From History Net Magazines
World War II: Pathfinders Resupply 101st Airborne Division Troops in Bastogne Via Daring Parachute DropThe daring parachute drop by 20 pathfinders was critical to the defense of the town of Bastogne in December 1944.
World War II: Desperate Hours at KesternichControl of a village near the Hürtgen Forest meant control of the Roer River dams. Without the dams, the American push to the Rhine might be thwarted.
Burma Campaign: Seizing Imphal and Kohima In World War IIAs the Japanese made their final push across Burma, the fate of India rested on the outcome of the brutal sieges of Imphal and Kohima.
Battle of Hürtgen Forest: Temporary Cease-Fires Allowed Assistance for the Wounded SoldiersThree cease-fires temporarily halted the bloodshed in the Hürtgen Forest and saved the lives of many wounded.
World War II: Interview with Czech Ace Frantisek PerinaFrantisek Perina, one of France's outstanding fighter pilots during the dark days of 1940, was an expatriate Czech in the cockpit of an American-built Curtiss Hawk.
Battle of the Bulge: U.S. Troops Fight at Elsenborn RidgeThe heroic American stand at the towns of Krinkelt and Rocherath slowed the German advance in the Battle of the Bulge.
World War II: Battle of the Bulge – 4th Armored Division Help End the Siege of BastogneA veteran of the Battle of the Bulge tells the story of the 4th Armored Division's Combat Command B and the relief of the encircled city.
Bill Piper and the Piper CubsThe ubiquitous yellow two-seater that spawned an industry lived to become a misnomer.
Jimmy Doolittle and the Tokyo Raiders Strike Japan During World War IILed by legendary flier Jimmy Doolittle, 16 U.S. Army B-25 bombers broke through Japanese defenses on April 18, 1942, to strike Tokyo and other cities in broad daylight. The daring and dramatic raid stunned Japan, revived American morale, and signaled a new course for the Pacific War.
56th Fighter Group in World War IIAfter 'Hub' Zemke whipped them into shape, the P-47 pilots of the 56th Fighter Group went on to score 992 1/2 confirmed kills.
Lieutenant Zenji Abe: A Japanese Pilot RemembersAs Lieutenant Zenji Abe left the deck of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi and approached Pearl Harbor in his Aichi dive bomber, he recalled that everything was proceeding 'just like an exercise.'
Dietrich von Choltitz: Saved of Paris From Destruction During World War IIAdolf Hitler had decreed that Paris should be left a smoking ruin, but Dietrich von Choltitz thought better of his Fuhrer's order.
Boeing P-26 PeashooterBoeing's diminutive P-26 fighter bridged the gap between stick-and-wire biplanes and modern, all-metal monoplane fighters.
Massacre At Malmédy During the Battle of the BulgeBy carefully separating fact from fiction, a clearer picture emerges of the events surrounding the infamous execution of American POWs during the Battle of the Bulge.
Interview with Dr. Roger Olaf Egeberg: General Douglas MacArthur’s Personal Physician and Aide-De-CampAs General Douglas MacArthur's personal physician, aide-de-camp and right-hand man, 'Doc' Egeberg saw the man behind the general's stars.
Picture of the Day: December 7At 7:55 a.m. on December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched an aerial attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, bringing America into World War II. Relations between Japan and the United States had been strained for a decade as both nations sought to dominate the Pacific. Long aware that a Japanese surprise […]
Operation Varsity: Allied Airborne Assault Over the Rhine RiverParatroopers from two Allied divisions were droppped east of the great natural barrier, penetrating into Germany itself.
Airborne Operations During World War IIFrom Germany's first major drop into Norway in 1940 to the Allies' last airborne operation across the Rhine in March 1945, tens of thousands of airborne soldiers fell from the skies to fight behind enemy lines.
World War II: 761st Tank BattalionThe 761st 'Black Panther' Tank Battalion was the first African-American armored unit to see combat.
World War II: Mexican Air Force Helped Liberate the PhilippinesThe only Mexican Air Force unit to serve overseas during World War II, the Aztec Eagles fought to liberate the Philippines.
Interview With World War II German Officer Siegfried KnappeSiegfried Knappe, a German officer, survived the fight for his capital city and became a prisoner of the Soviets.
World War II: German Raid on BariDubbed the 'second Pearl Harbor,' the 1943 German attack on Bari also revealed an Allied secret--mustard gas.
Bizarre B-17 Collision Over the North Sea During World War IIWhen a pair of B-17s collided in midair and became interlocked, the surviving crewmen experienced the ride of their lives.
Richard Halliburton and Moye Stephens: Traveling Around the World in the ‘Flying Carpet’When Richard Halliburton needed a new kind of travel adventure to write about, Lindbergh's transatlantic flight inspired him to fly to the far corners of the world. But he would do so with a latter-day 'Flying Carpet.'
Operation Torch: Allied Invasion of North AfricaThe Allied invasion of North Africa was a necessary first step on the road to victory in Europe.
Moye Stephens: Aviation Pioneer and AdventurerMoye Stephens piloted more than 100 types of aircraft and flew around the world in The Flying Carpet.
World War II: Soviet and Japanese Forces Battle at Khalkhin GolThe undeclared conflict between the Soviet Union and Imperial Japan at Khalkhin Gol cast a long shadow on subsequent events in the Pacific theater and on the Russian Front.
Operation Varsity: 17th Airborne Division Member Frank J. O’Rourke Recalls the AssaultGliding into the teeth of the German Rhine defenses during Operation Varsity in March 1945, members of the 17th Airborne Division found there was still plenty of fight left in the enemy.
The Wereth 11, a Little-Known Massacre During the Battle of the BulgeThe details of the Malmedy Massacre, in which members of Joachim Peiper’s 1st SS Panzer Division executed American soldiers who had surrendered during the early stages of the Battle of the Bulge, is widely known. Virtually unknown until recently, however, is the story of the Wereth 11—eleven African-American soldiers of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion […]
Unique: the Pacific WarNo historian is supposed to use the word "unique." After all, everyone knows that nothing is completely unique. Human beings have been living on planet earth for a long time, and every historical event hearkens back to something that happened a long time ago. Alexander the Great invaded Afghanistan (although he called it Bactria) in […]
MaggieLast weekend, I met a hero. Oh, I know, "hero" is a cliché of military history. I’ve always been skeptical of the term. How do you judge a hero? What is the qualification? Do you have to blow up a tank with your bare hands? Hold a lost position all by yourself? Be Audie Murphy? […]
Four Days in December: Germany’s Path to War With the U.S.Hitler's decision to declare war on the United States was decades in the making
Mein Kampf: The SequelIn Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler laid out a philosophy that would trigger global war. But a later volume, not published in his lifetime, is at least as shocking as his notorious My Struggle.
Mystery Date: Pacific War EditionNorma Clinton was an attractive young honors student living in rural Georgia. Harry Kipp was a Marine captain from Minnesota who had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor before shipping off to the Pacific. At the request of her aunt, who once dated Kipp, in early 1944 Clinton sent Kipp a friendly letter and photo […]
Nebelwerfer: Adding Smoke and Mortars to the Fog of WarThe German Wehrmacht's adaptable Nebelwerfer was capable of firing rocket-propelled rounds with a variety of warheads from a range of platforms.
Who was responsible for creating the pre-war aircraft carriers?Both Japan and the U.S. had impressive carrier fleets at the beginning of WWII. Considering the "battleship" mentality so prevalent in both navies’ admiralties, I’ve always been curious who the people were who were primarily responsible for driving the creation of these aircraft carriers years before the start of WW2. Thanks. Sam Fleming ? ? […]
Conversation with Joe Mantegna"I know there are a lotta great stories out there about World War II,” declares actor Joe Mantegna, “but I’ve got a pretty good one.” The versatile Chicago-born star’s resumé includes David Mamet films, The Simpsons, and Criminal Minds, his current TV series. But the story he means is his family’s. While tuberculosis kept his […]
Corregidor: Return to the RockThe fading beams of my flashlight sweep the cavernous reinforced concrete laterals of Malinta Tunnel, barely illuminating my passage. Vintage wires and fixtures, timber trusses, and piles of rubble flare into focus in fleeting camera flashes, then vanish, frustratingly, in the blackness. Nevertheless, it’s an enlightening moment: I realize that seeing Corregidor, the tadpole-shaped bastion […]
Was Germany obliged to declare war?Because of the German Japanese alliance, was Germany obligated to declare war on the United States after Pearl Harbor, i. e., after the U S declared war on Japan? —Robert Kapanjie ? ? ? Dear Mr. Kapanjie, Although Adolf Hitler’s speech to the Reichstag was loaded with invective about Franklin Roosevelt’s provocative acts making war […]
Greatest Aircraft Carrier Duel – March ’99 World War II FeatureGreatest Aircraft Carrier Duel Operation A-Go was meant to trap the U.S. Fifth Fleet in the Marianas. What followed was a disaster for Japan–and a "Turkey Shoot" for the Americans. By John F. Wukovits Naval aviation advocates in both the United States and Japan had long argued that aircraft carriers, possessing mobility and potent air […]
German POWs: Coming Soon to a Town Near YouAmericans on the home front had to cope with an unprecedented enemy invasion as thousands of German POWs moved in for
What If Hitler Had Not Come to Power?Would Germany have set a peaceful course?
How Curiosity KilledA Lithuanian Holocaust perpetrator explains why he murdered Jewish men, women, and children
When Everybody Loved CongressHarry Truman took on wasteful contractors during World War II and improved Congress' public image.
Why was MacArthur never “taken to task”?Mr. History, It appears that General (Douglas) MacArthur was never properly reprimanded for his failure to secure the Philippines after warnings from the US high command that a Japanese attack was possible—even having the planes on the ground when they attacked! Also, it seems his march into the Philippines at the end of the war […]
Pappy Boyington: Interview with the U.S. World War II AceU.S. Marine ace Pappy Boyington is as well known for his flamboyant personality as for his flying skills.
What If the Germans Had Captured Moscow in 1941?Capturing Moscow in 1941 might have negatively affected the Germans.
Hitler’s Saw: The German MG42This gun killed more Allied soldiers than any other weapon
Interview With Author R. Michael WilsonRetired law officer R. Michael Wilson has a nose for detailing Western robberies, murders and executions.
Would FDR have gotten a declaration of war without Pearl Harbor?Franklin Roosevelt had warned the Japanese after they occupied French Indochina, that any attack on British or Dutch possessions would be considered an unfriendly act. Would he have been able to get a declaration of war from Congress if they had ONLY attacked British and/or Dutch possessions? – Albert Burgess ??? Dear Mr. Burgess: Theoretical […]
Book Review: Britain’s War Machine, by David EdgertonDavid Edgerton's book Britain's War Machine challenges the notion that Britain was militarily weak in the ramp-up to World War II.
Kill or Capture: More U.S. Military ManhuntsU.S. forces helped in the hunt for Guevara (Library of Congress). Emilio Aguinaldo, 1899–1901 The leader of Filipino insurgents after the Spanish-American War, Aguinaldo harassed U.S. forces in newly occupied Manila and eluded capture until a daring raid led by Brigadier General Frederick Funston 100 miles behind enemy lines. Working with a force of American-allied […]
A Rational German Explains His Respect for HitlerThere are many people who think that there was some kind of uniquely German gene that made millions succumb to Hitler. But if, as I did, these people had the chance to meet Karl Boehm-Tettlebach, who worked for Hitler as a Luftwaffe attaché during the war, then their minds would be changed. Karl Boehm-Tettlebach was […]
Travel to the Fall of SingaporeSoon after my arrival on steamy Singapore, I swore I heard bagpipes—faint, haunting skirls that, in my mind, were fading echoes from the past. The scenery, the tropical weather, the history of the island—all invoked in me a strange feeling of kinship with the defenders of Singapore. I envisioned a ghostly column of 2nd Battalion […]
Death by P-38Seventy years ago, American pilots accomplished a mission: impossible—and set a military precedent.
Letter From MHQ, Spring 2012William T. Sherman, Shiloh, Mohawks, Great Lakes, Doolittle raid, James Doolittle,
Enemies No MoreHow a Doolittle Raider and a Pearl Harbor pilot became friends
Payback for PearlDoolittle’s Raiders avenged Pearl Harbor by hitting the Japanese where they least expected it—at home
Alistair, Meet JimmyAuthor Sir Alistair Horne tells of his visit with legendary World War II pilot, Jimmy Doolittle
The U.S. Navy’s Sea ChangeThe U.S. Navy reinvented itself—and the American sailor—during a century of radical change in technology and warfare
Patton: The German ViewPopular knowledge is that the Germans so feared and admired the American general, they watched his every move. The truth is very different.
Why Eva Braun Deserves No Sympathy: Conversation with Heike GörtemakerSixty-seven years after her death, Eva Braun, the long-time mistress of Adolf Hitler, remains a mysterious figure. Heike G. Görtemaker, a German historian and author, attempts to add clarity to the life of a woman who met Hitler as a teenager and, in the last days of the war, became the führer’s wife—only hours before […]
A Question for the Imperial Japanese Army“What were you guys thinking?” The Imperial Japanese Army was, by most standards, a first-rate outfit. Its officers were as smart and dedicated as they come and the enlisted ranks were filled with some of the toughest light infantry the world has ever seen. They hardly seem like the type of folks who would dive […]
Hong Kong: A Lost Battle FoundJohn D. Lukacs uncovers the ruins of war amidst one of the world's most bustling cities
Review: Attack on Pearl HarborA new book shows where Japan went wrong at Pearl Harbor
New York City Veterans Day ParadePRESS RELEASE FROM: Spirit of ’45 As the country honors the brave men and women who have answered our nation’s call to duty on Veterans Day, November 11, more than 25,000 people, including 27 active military units from all branches, six Medal of Honor recipients, veterans groups, and high school bands from around the nation, […]
American Proconsul: How Douglas MacArthur Shaped Postwar JapanIn August 1945 MacArthur arrived in postwar Japan, tasked with the job of rebuilding that defeated nation
The Spy Who Doomed Pearl HarborThe Japanese diplomat Takeo Yoshikawa set the stage for his country's surprise attack.
Military History – January 2012 – Letters From ReadersReaders' letters in the January 2012 issue of Military History sound off about history's great military escapes, Pancho Villa's war movie, General Douglas MacArthur, the Irish Brigade, counterinsurgencies and Richard the Lionheart.
A USS Arizona Crewman Longs to be Home for the HolidaysHis last letter home before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Pearl Harbor MythA new analysis shows the ‘brilliant’ Japanese attack was riddled with surprising blunders
A Deeper Level of HellAmericans on World War II Japanese prisoner transport ships faced unimaginable horrors.
The Heydrich EquationThe assassination of a top Nazi in Czechoslovakia sparked swift, brutal Nazi reprisals. Was it worth it?
Book Review: The Moro War, by James R. ArnoldIn Moro War, James Arnold delivers a lucid account of America's largely successful campaign against a Filipino Muslim insurgency in the wake of the Philippine Insurrection.
Martin M-130 Flying Boat: China Clipper‘s Trans-Pacific FlightsThe world became a little smaller when the China Clipper blazed an aerial pathway across the Pacific and inaugurated practical commercial air routes during a 60-hour flight.
The Photographer Who Took the Navy’s PortraitEdward Steichen and his unit captured every side of naval life, from card games to storming beaches.
Book Review: Nothing Less Than War, by Justus DoeneckeIn Nothing Less Than War, Justus Doenecke offers a look at the domestic political wrangling that preceded America's decision to enter World War I.
What If America’s “Arsenal of Democracy” Had Failed to Materialize?No number of errors in mobilization could have throttled the increase in U.S. production, but serious blunders were still possible.
Hitler’s ViennaThe former führer dreamed of contributing to the arts of Vienna. Instead, reminders of suffering remain for tourists today.
Blackbeard’s Last BattleLong before the Somali pirates, there was Blackbeard. In 1718, he met his match in a former British privateer.
Frank Buckles, 110, Last of the DoughboysFrank Buckles, 110, the last surviving American soldier from World War I, died on February 27, 2011
Fighting Words: Commanding AttentionMHQ lexicographer, Christine Ammer, considers vivid phrases of military leaders.
Hitler’s Greatest BlundersThe top eleven decisions that led to the fall of the Third Reich
Following History’s Footsteps on GuadalcanalExplore the ruins, wrecks, guns, and bunkers that have stood as symbolic sentinels for decades.
What If the Pearl Harbor Attack Had Failed?How the Pacific War would change with an American victory.
Military History – March 2011 – Letters From ReadersReaders' letters in the March 2011 issue of Military History sound off about cruelty in the Japanese military in World War II, 10 battles that shaped America, toy soldiers and the linked fates of the U.S. submarines Sculpin and Squalus.
Conversation with Sid PhillipsIf You’ve seen the miniseries The War or The Pacific, you’ve seen Sid Phillips tell war stories and wisecrack. A lifelong pal of Marine author Eugene Sledge (With the Old Breed), the 86-year-old vet has finally written about his time with H Company, 1st Marine Regiment on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, and Pavuvu. Characteristically wry, he […]
What If Singapore Had Not Fallen?Better generalship could have helped Singapore escape capture.
Military History – January 2011 – Table of ContentsThe January 2011 issue of Military History features stories about Japanese military brutality during World War II, 10 battles that shaped America, the Greek turncoat general Alcibiades, a gallery of war toys, the civil war between Patriots and Tories during the American Revolution, and history's great soldier-naturalists.
10 Battles That Shaped AmericaAmerica was born of war, and the following 10 battles helped forge the nation and forever change world history.
The Bridge to the BeachAndrew Higgins's brilliant watercraft was based on a Japanese design, observed by a young Marine.
Peter Mansoor’s WWII Reading ListChair of Military History at Ohio State University and author of Baghdad at Sunrise (2008) shares his favorite books on the war.
Folly in the PhilippinesOn May 3, 1898, two days after Commodore George Dewey’s stunning defeat of the Spanish at Manila Bay, President William McKinley sent American troops to occupy the Philippines. At this early stage in the Spanish-American War, there was no plan for the occupation, including how long it would last or what ends the United States sought in those distant islands.
What If Hitler Had Not Killed Himself?The Office of Strategic Services commissioned a psychological profile of Hitler to assess his likely future behavior. One likely course was that he would die a martyr; but what if he didn't die at all?
A Survivor’s Horrific Story of Life as a POW in the PacificAlastair Urquhart, one of 80,000 Brits who surrendered to the Japanese after the fall of Singapore, recounts how he survived three and a half years of brutal treatment.
Interview with Author Evan ThomasAuthor and Newsweek editor Evan Thomas' new book The War Lovers relates the ramp-up to the Spanish-American War and the role played by Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge and William Randolph Hearst.
Capt. Dale Dye’s WW II Reading ListDale Dye, a retired Marine Corps captain who served in Vietnam, founded and runs Warriors, Inc., a company that conducts a full-immersion boot camp to train actors for war films. He has also acted in, written scripts for, or directed many television and film productions; his more familiar credits include Platoon, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and The Pacific.
What Was the Turning Point of World War II?Seventeen top historians weigh in on the moment that decided the war.
E. B. Sledge Storms Ashore on PeleliuNational Archives images and excerpts from the classic With the Old Breed by E. B. Sledge, a young marine’s account of his eye-opening introduction to combat on the Pacific island of Peleliu.
The War Over Plunder: Who Owns Art Stolen in War?Over the past two decades, globalization, changing attitudes, and clearer international laws have emboldened aggrieved nations to demand the return of cultural property seized by enemy forces in the past, but laws alone can’t guarantee their success.
Book Review: The Father of Us AllStephen Budiansky reviews the book The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern, by Victor Davis Hanson
The Pacific War: Selections from the MHQ ArchiveSubscribe to MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History! FEATURES ‘I Will Fight to the Last’ Edited by Jack H. McCall Jr. A junior army officer’s diary provides a Japanese view of World War II’s harsh island combat. ‘I Have Taken a Dreadful Step’ by John M. Taylor Former cavalry officer Jonathan Wainwright sank to […]
What If Franco’s Spain Had Entered the War?As late as December 1942, Franco believed that Germany might offer territorial concessions and Spain would join the war on the side of the Axis Powers.
The Doll Seller Who Played With Japanese SpiesWould-be spy Velvalee Dickinson put her doll business to work for the Japanese.
What If Hitler Had Not Been Evil?Without rabid racism, the Nazi Party still would have brought war to Europe.
London Can Take It!: British Propaganda in the United StatesBritish documentary films like London Can Take It! and Words for Battle helped prepare Americans to enter the war.
HBO’s ‘The Pacific': About as Real as Hell on Screen Can GetWorld War II magazine reviews 'The Pacific,' the new miniseries from the creators of 'Band of Brothers,' which airs Sundays at 9 pm beginning March 14 on HBO.
Screenwriter Bruce C. McKenna Talks About ‘The Pacific’ MiniseriesBruce C. McKenna, who won a Writers Guild Award for his work on 'Band of Brothers,' talks about his expanded role in creating 'The Pacific' and the differences between the two HBO miniseries.
Besieged on the Rock: The 1942 Siege of CorregidorPressed into duty as a marine during the 1942 siege of Corregidor, U.S. Navy Supply Ensign Jack McClure had to quickly decide whether to follow orders or save a life.
‘A Dreadful Step': Surrender at LuzonFormer cavalry officer Jonathan Wainwright sank to unimaginable depths after he was compelled to surrender American forces to the Japanese in the Philippines in April 1942.
Donald Miller’s WWII Reading ListHistorian Donald L. Miller shares his reading list with WORLD WAR II magazine.
After the Battle of the Bulge, Nothing Seemed the Same—Even SnowWhen Frank J. Conwell was a child, wintry conditions meant frolicking outside in the snow. But in the frozen forests of the Ardennes, where Conwell served with the 1st Infantry Division’s 436th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion, the conditions meant something else altogether.
Trial by Fire at Coral SeaIn the spring of 1942 Adm. Chester Nimitz was a relatively untried commander who was forced to match the battered remnants of the U.S. Pacific Fleet against an opponent flush with victory.
Singapore 1941: Fall of the Gibraltar of the EastIn only 70 days, Japanese troops on bicycles sidestepped static defenses to capture the Malay Peninsula, and in an audacious ruse convinced the British to surrender Singapore.
Bob Hope’s Vietnam Christmas ToursBob Hope entertained U.S. troops in Vietnam on his annual Christmas tours from 1964 to 1972. The shows, featuring popular entertainers, were filmed live on air bases and ships, and the edited footage was broadcast as a television special in January.
Patrick Hitler Makes a Case to Fight the ReichAfter the U.S. declared war on Germany William Patrick Hitler, the half-English nephew of Adolf Hitler, appealed directly to Franklin Roosevelt in his effort to join the U.S. military.
Oh Warsaw!Warsaw was hit hard during World War II. It has been rebuilt since the war, but still shows the scars.
Taking Action with Admiral HalseyIn war, the default setting is stasis. That is where the hard-charging commander comes into the picture. Someone has to kick things into gear. General Norman Cota and Admiral William "Bull" Halsey did just that.
Lost and Found: WWII Readers Share Their Loved Ones’ Memories of the WarAs part of World War II magazine's exploration of what will be lost when those who witnessed history are no longer able to share their memories, we asked readers to share stories they had heard from loved ones who served in the war.
Halsey in the DockAdmiral William "Bull" Halsey was a tough talker and a fighter, but was also a deeply flawed commander.
The War Begins? Part DeuxIn Asia, World War II began well before 1939. In fact, Japan's invasion of China proper in 1937 is as good a date as any to use for the start of World War II.
Olympian Fire: Dewey at Manila BayRear Admiral George Dewey, aboard USS Olympia, presided over the blooding of the modern U.S. Navy at the May 1, 1898, Battle of Manila Bay.
Red Sky at Morning: Horror and Heroism Aboard the USS FranklinAn aircraft carrier crew struggles for survival in the aftermath of a Japanese strike
Hitler’s Diarist Offers Intimate Glimpses of the FührerThe recollections of an anonymous German lieutenant colonel who served as Hitler’s war diarist in his Berlin bunker during World War II—and who says he dined with the Nazi leader more than 30 times—were auctioned off this spring by the British auction house Mullock’s. Historians are marveling at his up-close observations of everything from Hitler’s musical preferences to his favorite cuisine.
Pearl Harbor, HawaiiShowing visitors around the worn teak deck of the retired battleship USS Missouri, tour guide Reggie Johnson looks out over Pearl Harbor and notes how peaceful it is. Even though it’s still a major U.S. Navy base, the tone is always hushed—just as it was that fateful Sunday morning in December 1941, before the strafing […]
Daily Quiz for February 13, 2009World War II Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita was nicknamed the “Tiger of Malaya&rdquo for his masterful capture of this city.
Interview with Pete HamillPete Hamill edited A. J. Liebling: World War II Writings, a 1,090-page anthology, including previously uncollected work, from the legendary New Yorker correspondent.
Hundreds of American GIs Held in Concentration CampAbout 350 American POWs who either were Jewish or appeared to be to their German captors were imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II, according to survivors who have begun telling their stories in a series of special reports on CNN. Anthony Acevedo, a medic in the 70th Infantry Division during the war, was the first survivor to step forward with the grisly tale of the American soldiers held at Berga an der Elster, a subcamp of Buchenwald.
Omar Bradley, the General’s GeneralOmar Bradley entered World War II as George Patton’s junior, but emerged as Patton’s commanding officer. Nevertheless, he found himself unable to emerge from the other man’s shadow. Bradley was inextricably bound to him.
Claus Von StauffenbergBerthold von Stauffenberg speaks for the first time about his father, Claus Schenk, Count von Stauffenberg who became infamous for his anti-Nazi views. At about the same time Berthold and his family was sitting down to lunch at Lautlingen on July 20, Stauffenberg was placing a bomb, hidden inside his briefcase, under a conference table at Wolfschanze (“Wolf’s Lair”), Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia, in an attempt to assassinate the führer and overthrow his regime. Stauffenberg came within a hair’s breadth of accomplishing his goal when the bomb exploded at approximately 12:40 p.m., demolishing the room and killing three officers and a secretary. But Hitler was merely wounded—and it was the Stauffenberg family instead that was torn apart in the aftermath of the attempted coup.
About Valkyrie – Christopher McQuarrie InterviewAn interview with Christopher McQuarrie about the movie Valkyrie, plus information on an interview with the son of Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who planted the bomb in an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
The Mighty Mars JRMWho'd have guessed that the Mars JRM, a giant flying boat designed 70 years ago, would still serve a vital role in the 21st century?
The End of the Good War – Germany, April 1945For the American GIs entering the heart of Germany, April 1945 was a month filled with some of the most brutal fighting of the war, when the horrors of the Nazi regime were finally revealed to the world. Members of XIX Corps, the 90th Division, the 11th Armored Division's Combat Command B, and the 45th Infantry Division, among others, witnessed atrocities committed against their own and against those held in the concentration camps they liberated.
The Secret and Controversial Attempt to Teach German POWs About FreedomDuring the summer of 1944, the government launched a secret and ambitious effort to influence the nearly 380,000 Germans imprisoned in the United States.
Did Russia Really Go It Alone? How Lend-Lease Helped the Soviets Defeat the GermansBritish Lend-Lease assistance to the Soviet Union in late 1941 and early 1942 played a far more significant part in the defense of Moscow and the revival of Soviet fortunes in late 1941 than has been acknowledged.
The Greatest German General No One Ever Heard OfGen. Hermann Balck, who ended the war as a General der Panzertruppe (equivalent to a three-star general in the U.S. Army), is today virtually unknown. Yet in three short weeks in December 1942, his lone panzer division virtually destroyed the entire Soviet Fifth Tank Army.
How Marine POWs Hung ToughThanks to rigid discipline and indomitable esprit de corps, Marines survived the ordeal of Japanese prison camps at twice the rate of Army GIs.
Peleliu: A Second-Generation PerspectiveA son’s journey to the Pacific battlefield at Peleliu helped him better understand his father’s role in one of World War II’s bloodiest encounters.
Churchill Takes ChargeNew prime minister Winston Churchill successfully confronted the collapse of France, British political opposition to continuing the war, relations with the United States and the technological threat represented by Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe.
The Not-So-Great Escape: German POWs in the U.S. during WWIIIn an American Prisoner-of-War camp in Papago Park, AZ, German prisoners turn industrious to organize a breakout and plan their escape to freedom. During World War II, even a safe place like Arizona could be a battle zone, even if only briefly.
70th Anniversary: Escape From Pearl HarborFirsthand accounts from the crew of a destroyer that survived the surprise Japanese attack.
The Story of Two Japanese Americans Who Fought in World War IIDuring World War II many Japanese-Americans, called Nisei, served their nation with honor and distinction both in Europe and in the Pacific. This is the story of two of these soldiers and their fights in Italy, Leyte, Okinawa and elsewhere.
George Bush: World War II Navy PilotFormer president George H. W. Bush recounts his time in World War II as a naval aviator. He served aboard the Finback and San Jacinto and flew Avengers over Chichi Jima, Saipan, Rota, Marcus Island, Guam, Manila Bay and Wake Island.
William Bull Halsey: Legendary World War II AdmiralA major player in the South Pacific theater of World War II, William F. Halsey was a controversial leader whose success was countered with controversy at Leyte Gulf and during "Halsey's Typhoon" which damaged much of his fleet.
General George S. Patton and the Battle of the BulgeDesperate to stem the Nazi onslaught during the Battle of the Bulge, Gen. George S. Patton emphasized in a prayer that he was there “to annihilate the Germans and the godless Hitler” and demanded God chose sides.
Allied Airborne Forces in World War II: Surviving the Devil’s CauldronOnly those hardened to adversity, resilient to the stress of the unknown, and capable of adapting to ever-changing circumstances could survive in the devil’s cauldron that was the airborne soldier's battlefield of World War II.
The Monuments Men: Rescuing Art Plundered by the NazisThe Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section was charged with finding precious art and other items looted by the Nazis during World War II. This is the story of one man who served with this elite unit.
Interview with Donald Stratton: USS Arizona Survivor’s TaleBored with Depression-era life in a small Nebraska town, Donald Stratton was just the sort of youngster the U.S. Navy was looking for prior to World War II. Stepping into the local post office in 1940, Stratton was all ears when a recruiter began what became a successful sales pitch. The recent high school graduate […]
Battle of Hürtgen Forest: The 9th Infantry Division Suffered in the Heavily Armed WoodsThe bitter and bloody experience of the 9th Infantry Division in the Hürtgen Forest in autumn 1944 should have been enough to warn Allied leaders that the German army wasn’t finished just yet.
By Mark J. Reardon
Letter From November 2006 Aviation HistoryThere was beauty in the homely B-25’s functionality. The North American B-25 you see on the cover of this issue of Aviation History may be a beautiful job of restoration, but the airplane itself was never intended to be a cover girl. It was intended to be an aerial Mack truck, carrying and dumping bombloads […]
African American Platoons in World War IIIn March 1945, black volunteers forced the first breach in the U.S. Army's color barrier.
By David P. Colley
American Prisoners of War: Massacre at PalawanIn December 1944, American prisoners on the Philippine island of Palawan were brutally murdered by their Japanese captors.
By V. Dennis Wrynn
Bernard B. Fall: Vietnam War AuthorBernard Fall lived the protracted war he wrote about so vividly and knowledgeably.
By Charles E. Kirkpatrick
Spanish-American War: Raid on CienfuegosAn early U.S. naval engagement of the Spanish-American War was the cable raid of Cienfuegos, with each side perceiving victory achieved.
By John Pelzer
Japan’s Fatally Flawed Air Forces in World War IIWorld War II in the Pacific was a fight to seize and defend airfields. The Japanese made gaining and maintaining control of the air as much a requirement in their basic war strategy as they did the destruction of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. But as Commander Masatake Okumiya charged, “The Pacific War was started by […]
Peyton C. March: Greatest Unsung American General of World War IJohn J. Pershing directed the troops, but Peyton C. March ensured they were amply supplied to fight during World War I.
The Philippines: Allies During the Vietnam WarWhen it came to Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines, President Lyndon Johnson's quest for 'More Flags' came at an exorbitant price.
Germany’s Sixth Army in Stalingrad in World War IICompelled to fight for every yard of rubble in Stalingrad, Germany's Sixth Army was 'demodernizing' losing its ability to maneuver in a close-quarters battle of attrition.
Jimmy Doolittle Reminiscences About World War IIThirteen years before his 1993 death at the age of 97, the famed aviator who led the retaliatory American raid on Tokyo in 1942 spoke about his experiences and the people he served with during World War II.
World War II: Navajo Code TalkersAfter repeated attempts by the Allies to stymie Japanese cryptographers during World War II, the Americans succeeded by developing a secret code based on the language of the Navajos.
Curtiss SB2C Helldiver: The Last Dive BomberThe Curtiss SB2C was the most heavily produced dive bomber in history, but it did not represent much of an improvement over the Douglas SBD Dauntless it was designed to replace.
U.S. Torpedo Troubles During World War IIIn the opening months of World War II, U.S. submarines were plagued by faulty ordnance.
USS Missouri: Served in World War II and Korean WarWorld War II ended on the deck of the USS Missouri. Five years later the Korean War broke out--and the 'Mighty Mo' was the only U.S. battleship ready to fight.
U.S. Navy Captain Charles Gridley and the Battle of Manila BayU.S. Navy Captain Charles Gridley earned a place in history on May 1, 1898, during the Battle of Manila Bay.
World War II: Interview with U.S. Navy Yeoman Jack AdamU.S. Navy yeoman Jack Adams witnessed the war in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor to the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown.
World War II: Interview with First Lieutenant Charles SchneiderWhen 1st Lt. Charles Schneider joined a general hospital unit, he expected to spend the war behind the lines. Instead, he would perform his duties under shot and shell.
World War II: Interview with Lieutenant Colonel McClernand ButlerWhile the German Ardennes offensive pushed forward all around it, the 3rd Battalion of the 395th Infantry Regiment stubbornly held its ground.
Countdown to Victory: The Final European Campaigns of World War II (Book Review)Reviewed by Robert CitinoBy Barry TurnerWilliam Morrow, New York, 2004 It’s hard to review Barry Turner’s new book without reference to the recent work by Max Hastings, Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945. Hastings’ anecdotal history of the last year of the war is not without its problems, in particular a trite and outdated analysis […]
Japanese Bomb the Continental U. S. West CoastA floatplane launched from an Imperial Japanese Navy submarine dropped its bombs in September 1942--the first time the continental United States was bombed from the air.
B-26B Marauder: American Bomber in World War IIFlak-Bait -- the ultimate survivor of the air war over Europe -- completed 207 WWII missions.
World War II: Interview with Doolittle Raider James MaciaMajor James H. Doolittle was already a legend before 1st Lt. James H. Macia was assigned to serve under him. 'One thing was clear, Macia decided. This mission was very important if he was involved in it.
Leland Smith: American POW in 1899 During the Philippine InsurrectionCaptured by Filipino Insurrectos in 1899, Leland Smith endured three months of hunger, exposure and disease. But what he heard from his commander in chief afterward may have been the unkindest cut of all.
William ‘Billy’ Mitchell: An Air Power VisionaryAs Brig. Gen. William Mitchell faced court-martial charges in 1925, the Kansas City Star described him as 'a zealot, a fanatic, a one-idea man...' but added that someday his dream might come true.
General Tomoyuki YamashitaThe 'Tiger of Malaya,' General Tomoyuki Yamashita, was hanged near Manila in retribution for Japanese war crimes.
Admiral Raymond A. Spruance: Modest Victor of MidwayAdmiral Raymond A. Spruance displayed outstanding leadership and command capabilities during the battle that turned the tide in the Pacific.
World War II: A Tale of the French Foreign LegionIn World War II, the French Foreign Legion fought against the Germans with its usual élan, but it was almost destroyed by the disparate elements within its own ranks.
Joseph Avenol’s Betrayal of the League of NationsJoseph Avenol, secretary-general of the League of Nations, sold out the organization he had sworn to uphold.
Battle of Stalingrad: Operation Winter TempestThe attempt to relieve Stalingrad fell short due to stubborn Soviet resistance and the Germans' indecision within the besieged city.
World War I: American Expeditionary Forces Get Motorized TransportationIt took a lot of demonstrating to sell the U.S. Army on motorized transport, but the ultimate incentive came when the American Expeditionary Force entered World War I.
World War II: Charles H. Owen’s Recalls the Capture of PeleliuAn unknown major motivated a terrified 16-year-old to get out of the killing zone at Peleliu.
Luftwaffe‘s Secret KG 200 in World War IIKG 200 took part in many covert missions against the Allies and became the subject of much postwar speculation.
World War II: Liberating Los Baños Internment CampAs Allied forces reclaimed the Philippines, a number of prisons were liberated, including a civilian internment camp on the island of Luzon.
Battle of the Bulge: Hitler’s Ardennes Offensive, 1944-1945 (Book Review)Reviewed by Robert CitinoBy Danny S. ParkerDa Capo Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2004 On December 16, 1944, a great force of three German armies (Sixth SS Panzer, Fifth Panzer and Seventh Army)— some 24 divisions in all, including no less than 10 panzer divisions—launched an offensive against the six defending divisions of the U.S. V and […]
Jimmy Doolittle: Commander of the Doolittle Raid During World War IIJimmy Doolittle's raiders carried out some historic firsts when their B-25s dropped the first bombs on Tokyo.
USS Lexington: Walter Hassell Recalls the Torpedo Attack That Ended Lady LexThe waterway at deck's edge was neatly lined with shoes, and...a short while later, terrible to behold, every doorway, hatch or open space was ablaze.
Takeo Yoshikawa: World War II Japanese Pearl Harbor SpyThe Pearl Harbor spy provided valuable intelligence to Japanese war planners prior to the surprise attack.
Nuremberg TrialUnprecedented in history, the Nuremberg Trial brought high-ranking Nazis to justice. This is the story of how the trial took shape in postwar Germany.
Japanese War Crime TrialsThe International Military Tribunal for the Far East meted out justice to Japanese war criminals at locations throughout Asia.
The Battle of the Bulge: Hitler’s Alternate Scenarios (Book Review)Reviewed by John D. BurtEdited by Peter TsourasGreenhill Books, London, 2004 I must start this review with a word of truth in advertising. The latest alternate history book from Greenhill, The Battle of the Bulge: Hitler’s Alternate Scenarios, is not about Adolf Hitler’s alternate scenarios for his 1944 Ardennes offensive. I would have expected chapters […]
RAF Officer Aidan MacCarthy’s Incredible Journey from Dunkirk to Nagasaki During World War IIRAF officer Aidan MacCarthy narrowly escaped the Nazis, spent three years in Japanese POW camps and survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.
A Date Which Will Live: Pearl Harbor in American Memory (Book Review)Reviewed by Carol ReardonBy Emily S. RosenbergDuke University Press, Durham, N.C., 2003 Emily S. Rosenberg argues that, even in the immediate aftermath of the Japanese attack on Hawaii, the popular rallying cry to remember what happened on December 7, 1941, had different meaning for different constituencies. Indeed, she asserts that "Pearl Harbor `lives’ less as […]
World War II: Interview with Major Richard M. Gordon — Bataan Death March SurvivorAs Japanese troops marched Richard Gordon and Elmer Parks to captivity, they passed the dead body of the Americans' battalion commander, with multiple bayonet wounds. 'It was then,' recalled Gordon, 'that Elmer and I knew we were in trouble.'
A Trilogy of Wars: The Philippine Revolutionary Wars of 1896-97, the Spanish-American War in the Philippines in 1898, and the Filipino-American War, 1899-1902 (Book Review)Reviewed by Glenn Barnett By Marconi M. DiosoDorrance Publishing, Pittsburgh, Pa., 2004 In 1898 U.S. Navy Rear Admiral George Dewey steamed into Manila Bay and fired off a few shots at the Spanish fleet. Spain promptly surrendered and sold her colonial possession of the Philippines to the United States. That, at least, is how American […]
Victor Tatelman: World War II B-25 Pilot in the PacificTheir assignment in the Pacific took Victor Tatelman and the other pilots and crew members of the 499th Squadron to new low levels in search of the enemy.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt Flew to Meet British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for a Summit in CasablancaNo U.S. president had ever flown while in office, and none had ever visited Africa. But that didn't deter President Franklin D. Roosevelt from flying to Morocco for a top-secret meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. For Roosevelt, it was more than just a vitally important wartime conference -- it was a grand adventure.
World War II: Winston Churchill’s Vision of VictoryThe British prime minister's deft handling of the ship of state ensured that the Allies endured the darkest moments of World War II and were ready for victory when it finally came.
Hewitt T. ‘Shorty’ Wheless and Boyd T. ‘Buzz’ Wagner: World War II Fighter Pilots'Shorty' Wheless and 'Buzz' Wagner typified the kind of air warriors the American public was eager to recognize early on during World War II.
Winston Churchill’s Prewar Effort to Increase Military SpendingPerceiving the impending danger posed by Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill battled Britain's government and public opinion for increased military spending in the 1930s.
World War II: The U.S. 32nd Infantry Division Battle to Control the Villa Verde TrailThe U.S. 32nd Infantry Division battled the Japanese for control of a the Villa Verde Trail during the liberation of the Philippines.
Juno Mayru: Torpedoed By British Submarine HMS TradewindA callous disregard for the rules of war doomed the Allied prisoners on a Japanese merchantman to death at the hands of their own countrymen.