World War II

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World War II was a military conflict encompassing all of the great powers of the era (USA, Japan, the Soviet Union, the British Empire, France, Italy, and Germany), which by convention ended in 1945. Dating the beginning point of the war is less easy. The Second Wolrd war began, variously, with the Sino-Japanese War began in 1931, the Italian invasion of Abysinnia began in 1935, the German invasion of Poland in 1939, or the late 1941 Japanese attack on the United States, Britain and the Netherlands in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. In any event, the war remade the geopolitical landscape of the planet, with atrocities being committed on all sides. The Cold War proxy conflicts and nuclear stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union were the results of the Second World War.


  • September 18, 1931: Japan invades the Chinese province of Manchuria. Some historians date the beginning of the Second World War from this event, though it is much less well-known than subsequent developments in Europe and elsewhere.
  • February 18, 1932: The Japanese declare Manchuria to be independent from China and set up a puppet state which they call Manchukuo. They install Pu Yi, the last Qing Dynasty Emperor of China, as a puppet king over the new state, and later create him emperor.
  • February 27, 1933: The Reichstag fire. The Nazis blame the Communists; the Communists accuse the Nazis of setting it themselves. Hitler suppresses the German Communist Party.
  • March 23, 1933: The Enabling Act gives Hitler dictatorial powers.
  • August 19, 1934: Hitler becomes Führer of Germany.
  • October 1935: Abysinnia appeals for League of nations help againsta an Italian invasion.
  • May 1936: Addis Ababa falls to the invading Italian Army and Haile Selassie was removed from the throne and replaced by Italian King Victor Emmanuel III.
  • 1937 American gunboats evacuate most of the Embassy staff from Nanking, China. The Nanking Massacre ensues. Japanese aircraft are ordered to attack “any and all ships” in the Yangtze above Nanking. The sinking of the USS Panay resulted in 3 killed and 43 sailors and 5 civilian passengers wounded. This incident furthered the deterioration of relations between Japan and the United States.
  • March 12/13, 1938: Germany announces Anschluß (union) with Austria, which becomes a province of Greater Germany and ceases to exist as an independent nation.
  • September 29, 1938: The Munich Agreement allows Germany to annex the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia.
  • August 23, 1939: Germany and Russia sign a non-aggression pact. Secret codicils to this agreement divide Poland more or less equally between the two nations.
  • June 22, 1940: France and Germany sign an armistice. Hitler insisted that it be signed in the same railway car at Compiègne that had been used for the signing of the armistice that ended World War I.
  • September 16, 1940: The United States passes a peacetime draft bill.
  • September 27, 1940: Germany, Italy, and Japan sign the Tripartite (Axis) Pact, pledging mutual assistance if any of the parties is attacked. Hungary and Romania join the Axis in November 1940.
  • April 6, 1941: The Germans invade Greece and Yugoslavia.
  • May 27, 1941: The German battleship Bismarck is sunk by British naval forces (or possibly scuttled by her own crew after a prolonged fight with the British).
  • July 26, 1941: President Roosevelt freezes Japanese assets in the United States and suspends diplomatic relations. He announces an oil embargo against aggressor states (principally Japan) a few days later on August 1.
  • August 20, 1941: The German siege of Leningrad begins. When it is lifted, some 900 days later, more than 1.5 million citizens of the city have died from injuries incurred in the fighting, from cold, from starvation, and from disease.
  • December 8, 1941: The United States and Great Britain declare war on Japan.
  • December 11, 1941: Germany declares war on the United States.
  • September 8, 1943: Italy surrenders.
  • Conservative British Prime Minister Winston Churchill allows 1.4 million Bengalis to die of starvation in the Great Bengal Famine of 1943. Refuses to allow shipments of relief grain from the U.S. and Canada.
  • June 6, 1944: American, British, Canadian and French forces invade Normandy in the D-Day Invasion.
  • August 6, 1945: U.S. drops the first atomic bomb (used in war) on Hiroshima, Japan. (This is the second atomic bomb to be made.)
  • August 8, 1945: Soviet Union declares war on Japan; invades Manchuria.
  • August 9, 1945: U.S. drops a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki, Japan.
  • August 15, 1945: The Allies celebrate VJ (Victory over Japan) Day.
  • September 2, 1945: Japan signs unconditional surrender, officially ending World War II.
  • By this point, some 5 or 6 million Jews and 7 or so million others have died at the hands of the Nazis in the Holocaust.

Offsite Links

(A more extensive timeline is available here.)

(Very) Basic Bibliography

There is a tremendous amount of material available on World War II, and it is growing each year. The following list is by no means comprehensive, but it should at least provide a starting point for research or further reading.

  • William Sheridan Allen, The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945, revised edition. (New York: Watts, 1984). Be sure to get the revised edition; the original, published in 1965 while many of the persons Allen interviewed were still living, is less detailed and uses a pseudonym for the town.
  • Gar Alperowtiz. Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima & Potsdam. (New York, Penguin, 1965, 1985).
  • Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: HarperCollins, 1992).
  • Iris Chang. The Rape of Nanking. (New York: Penguin, 1997).
  • Alan Clark, Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-1945 (New York: W. Morrow, 1965). Dated in spots, but overall a very good history of the campaign in the East, albeit written largely from the standpoint of the western Allies.
  • John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon, 1986).
  • Joseph C. Grew, Ten Years in Japan: A Contemporary Record Drawn from the Diaries and Private and Official Papers of Joseph G. Grew, United States Ambassador to Japan, 1932-1942 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1944).
  • Inenaga Saburo, The Pacific War, 1931-1945 (New York: Pantheon, 1978).
  • John Keegan, The Second World War (New York: Viking, 1990). An excellent one-volume overview of the major events of the war, eminently readable, though Keegan does tend to skim over details, and his British bias is occasionally very evident.
  • Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris and Hitler, 1936-1945: Nemesis (both from W. W. Norton).
  • Jeremy Noakes and Geoffrey Pridham have published a marvelous four-volume set of primary source materials under the title Nazism, 1919-1945: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts.
  • Richard J. Overy, Russia's War (New York: Penguin, 1998). An excellent, though short, volume from the Russian perspective, and drawing on newly available archival materials from the former Soviet Union.
  • Gordon W. Prange, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981). Still the best one-volume analysis of the Japanese attack and the events leading up to it. Also see his Miracle at Midway from 1982 for an hour-by-hour account of that epic battle.
  • Pierre Renouvin, World War II and Its Origins: International Relations, 1929-1945 (New York: Harper and Row, 1968). Very Euro-centric, and not terribly well-organized, but a very detailed discussion of political and economic issues leading up to the war and its conduct.
  • Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986). This book didn't win the Pulitzer Prize for nothing. More dated on the subject but also good is Lansing Lamont's Day of Trinity.
  • Emily S. Rosenberg. A Date Which Will Live: Pearl Harbor in American Memory. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).
  • William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1960). Dated, and written very much from a Cold War perspective, but Shirer was on the spot at the start of the war, and his first-hand account is still good. Also see his Berlin Diary, first published in 1941.
  • Field Marshall Viscount Slim. Defeat Into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945. (New York: Cooper Square Books, 1956, 2000).
  • A.J.P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (New York: Atheneum, 1961). Dated, but still good.
  • Kenneth P. Werrell. Blankets of Fire: U.S. Bombers Over Japan During World War II. (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996).
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