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World War II

Find out more about World War II, a global conflict that took place between 1939 and 1945 between a bloc of countries known as the Axis Powers and another bloc known as the Allied Powers. While very few nations were neutral in the conflict, the principal actors on the Axis side were Germany, Italy, and Japan, while the Allied nations were Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and France. Based on its scale, it was the deadliest international war in history, with millions of military personnel and civilian casualties all over the world, including six million Jews who died in what became known as the Holocaust, a genocide resulting from Nazi Germany’s state-sponsored systematic killing of racial and cultural groups it considered inferior.

Starting in the 1930s, Germany was led by Adolf Hitler and the ultra-nationalist National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi Party. Germany had been dissatisfied with terms that it faced as one of the losing parties of World War I. The Nazis came to power and believed in the superiority of the “Aryan race,” or white Europeans, and the inferiority of Jews, Slavs, Roma (commonly referred to as gypsies), persons with disabilities, and homosexuals. Their nationalism and their desire to expand their territory mirrored the goals of Italy, led by fascist Benito Mussolini, and the two countries became allies in 1936. This nationalism would attract Japan, led by Hideki Tojo, as the third member of the Axis Powers in 1940, forming the Tripartite Pact.

The war began with Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, prompting the United Kingdom and France to declare war. The following spring Adolf Hitler moved westward, rapidly subduing Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. By mid-June 1940, only the United Kingdom was left to oppose the Nazis’ military might. Meanwhile, Italy engaged British forces in North Africa and the Mediterranean.


Initially, the Soviet Union was on the side of the Axis Powers, but Adolf Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union in 1941 caused Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to align with the Allies. As the Nazis quickly penetrated deep into Soviet territory, victory seemed all but assured. During this time, they established a plan known as the “Final Solution” to systematically kill all Jews in the territories under their control. Having already established concentration camps in which to imprison political enemies and other undesirables, the Nazi regime created its first extermination camp at Auschwitz in Poland in 1941, building gas chambers to more efficiently kill prisoners. This was the beginning of the Holocaust.

The invasion of the Soviet Union stalled, however, when an early winter combined with the stress of maintaining long supply lines and a forceful Soviet counterattack brought the advance to a halt. Germany was now facing a protracted war on two fronts. The entrance of the United States to the war following Japan’s surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, brought considerable resources and manpower to the side of the Allies from 1941-1945. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the fateful event "a day that will live in infamy" as he appealed to the American people to enter the conflict. Congress authorized a declaration of war shortly after the attack. The U.S. Navy, who had been surprised at Pearl Harbor, would later engage with Japan in several key battles in the Pacific region, including the decisive Battle of Midway in 1942.

On the U.S. home front, American women accepted jobs in factories that supplied the military with war materiel and rations, inspiring the iconic wartime image of "Rosie the Riveter." Men joined the ranks of the armed forces, including the U.S. Army and the Air Force. Because of the Pearl Harbor attack, Franklin D. Roosevelt also authorized the detainment of Japanese Americans in internment camps, including Manzanar, for the duration of their time in the war. The discriminatory wartime treatment of Japanese Americans was regarded by many historians as a shameful act in U.S. history.

After the United States joined the war, the Axis powers began to lose key battles in the European theater, including the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942–1943 and the 1943 invasion of Italy that forced Italy to surrender. The war was the first to cover land, sea, and air to such a vast degree with the German Luftwaffe fighting in the sky and German U-boats (submarines) trolling the seas. Bombing raids occurred over several British cities, including London. The most critical military action during the conflict, however, was the massive Allied invasion of France known as D-Day, or Operation Neptune, which launched on June 6, 1944. Also known as the Normandy invasion, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history, as U.S., British, and Canadian servicemen landed on five separate beachheads in Normandy, France, to break through German defenses. The Allies slowly advanced on the western front for nearly a year more, while the Soviet Union pushed German forces back in the east. Following the Allied capture of Berlin, Germany unconditionally surrendered on May 8, 1945. It would have to answer for its war crimes in the internationally conducted Nuremberg Trials.

Despite the loss of its two primary allies, Japan refused to surrender. Hoping to quickly end the war, the United States decided to make use of a new secret weapon it had developed during the war: the atomic bomb. The destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki pushed Japan to surrender on August 15, 1945. WWII was over.

In the aftermath of the war, Europe was divided into a US-led Western bloc and a Soviet-led Eastern bloc to begin the long process of reconstruction. It was not long before these two superpowers became intense military and political rivals, which would lead to the beginning of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race. U.S. servicemen who fought in World War II were commemorated with the establishment of a number of museums and memorial sites, including burial grounds, under the administration of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

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World War II Resources

Gale provides scholarly resources, including databasesprimary source archives, and eBooks, to advance researchers' studies.


Gale databases offer researchers access to credible WW2 databases, including World War 2 primary sources and World War 2 secondary sources covering many history topics, from newspapers, articles, documents, and more, aligned with lesson plans for teaching and guides for additional research.

Primary Source Archives

Gale Primary Sources contains full-text archives and digitized literature that provide researchers with firsthand articles from WW2 collections and WW2 primary sources to drive research at your university.

Gale eBooks

Gale offers a variety of eBooks covering a wide range of WWII studies topics, including Japanese American imprisonment, the Great Depression, Special Ops, and more. Users can add Gale eBooks to a customized collection and cross-search to pinpoint relevant content. Workflow tools help users easily share, save, and download articles.

  • Freedom's Promise: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II, 1st Edition

    Freedom's Promise: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II, 1st Edition

    Core Library  |  2020  |  ISBN-13: 9781532175664

    In 1941, Japanese forces attacked a US naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Japan and other countries were fighting in WWII (1939–1945). In response to the attack, the United States entered the war. US officials rounded up Japanese Americans and forced them into prison camps. This book describes the experiences of Japanese Americans and the effects of their imprisonment. Easy-to-read text, vivid images, and helpful back matter give readers a clear look at this subject. Features include a table of contents, infographics, a glossary, additional resources, and an index. Aligned to Common Core Standards and correlated to state standards. Core Library is an imprint of Abdo Publishing, a division of ABDO.

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  • The Great Depression and the New Deal: Key Themes and Documents, 1st Edition

    The Great Depression and the New Deal: Key Themes and Documents, 1st Edition

    ABC-CLIO  |  2017  |  ISBN-13: 9781440834639

    This book supplies a complete quick reference source and study aide on the Great Depression and New Deal in America, covering the key themes, events, people, legislation, economics, and policies.

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  • Special Ops: Army Rangers, 1st Edition

    Special Ops: Army Rangers, 1st Edition

    Checkerboard Library  |  2016  |  ISBN-13: 9781680771251

    This title introduces readers to the Army Rangers. Engaging text explores the Army Rangers’ history, key missions, role in the US military, major accomplishments, required training, weapons, gear, technology, and other fascinating information. The Ranger Creed, qualifications needed to become a Ranger, training such as the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program and the three phases of Ranger School, the life of a Ranger, and cutting-edge technology and weapons are covered.

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