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.