In 1939, Nazi Germany invaded its neighboring countries, beginning a world war that left about 40 million people dead. Unlike World War I, this was high-speed warfare, or BLITZKRIEG. It ended with the discovery of the terrible truth about the Nazi HOLOCAUST and the unleashing of the ATOM BOMB.
Table 59. A WORLD AT WAR
|1939||Germany invades Poland; Britain and France declare war|
|1940||Germany invades most of western Europe; Italy enters war|
|1941||Germany invades Yugoslavia, Greece, Soviet Union; Japan attacks US|
|1942||Japan invades southeast Asia and Pacific|
The military power of Nazi Germany grew unchecked until its tanks invaded Poland. In 1939, Britain and France declared war against Hitler, but in 1940 he invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Denmark, and Norway. Only a period of air warfare, the Battle of Britain, saved the United Kingdom from invasion.
The Allies included British, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, and South Africans, as well as exiled French and Poles. They were joined in 1941 by two giants—the Soviet Union and the US. The Axis alliance of Germany and Italy was extended to include Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Japan.
In 1941, Japan launched an unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor, a US naval base in Hawaii. The US, the world’s most powerful nation, entered the war. The Pacific conflict with Japan lasted nearly four years.
In 1942, the US smashed Japanese naval power at the Battle of Midway. Allied victories in North Africa allowed an advance through Italy in 1943. In heavy fighting on Europe’s Eastern Front, the Russians defeated the Germans at Stalingrad. By 1945, the Allies were invading Germany from east and west.
Blitzkrieg means “lightning war” in German. The term was first used in 1939 to describe the tactics of high-speed warfare that launched the Nazi invasion of Europe. It was made possible by new technology and weapons.
Blitzkrieg used fast tanks and aircraft to bypass ground defenses. Paratroops were dropped behind enemy lines. Civilians died in cities that were bombed. The British shortened blitzkrieg to “blitz” to describe the massive bombing of their cities. The Allies also adopted blitzkrieg tactics and bombed German cities into rubble. This war also saw the development of radar for detecting enemy aircraft, as well as submarine warfare, flying bombs, and rockets.
Churchill had a long and controversial political career, which most people regarded as over in the years before the war. However, his outspoken opposition to Nazi Germany made him the ideal choice for prime minister in 1940. His determination, eloquence, and sense of humor made him a popular and successful leader.
The Holocaust (“sacrifice by burning”) was an attempt to murder the entire Jewish people. German concentration camps had existed since the 1930s, but this act of genocide was accelerated by Nazi leaders at the Wannsee Conference in 1942. About six million Jews died.
In 1945, as Allied forces advanced, they found evidence of this monstrous crime. Jews from all over Europe had been rounded up, forced into cattle cars on trains, and taken to prison camps, along with other peoples the Nazis despised, such as Roma. Some victims were forced to work as slave labor; others were killed immediately in gas chambers.
Throughout the war, the US had secretly been developing the most destructive weapon ever known—the atom bomb. This produced energy by nuclear fission. In August 1945, US planes dropped two atom bombs on Japan. Japan surrendered.