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World War 2

The World War II broke out just after twenty years of World War I. The time between the two world wars saw huge developments in Europe but also paved the way for its outbreak.

1. Developments after 1st World War

1.1 Europe

Many countries in Europe had new political developments during the inter-war period. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were killed in 1919. Germany became a republic, eventually electing Hitler as its leader. Several uprisings were held in Hungary, Finland, and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. This period also saw the growth of the socialist and communist parties in European countries. However, within few years, these parties were defeated, and dictatorial governments came to power. The most dangerous of all developments was fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany which paved the way for the Second World War.

1.2 Italy

Fascism was marked by its hostility to democracy, socialism and its praise of the dictatorship. In the 1921 elections of Italy, despite using terror, Mussolini was unable to win the majority. Thus, he organised a march to Rome on 28th October 1922 and the next day, the King of Italy invited Mussolini to join the government. The fascists believed that there could be no harmony between two or more nations, thereby, they glorified war and openly advocated the policy of expansion.

1.3 Germany

Nazism was the German version of fascism and much more sinister than the original. Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, Nazis established the most barbarous dictatorship of the modern times. Though there was a collapse of the German monarchy and it became a republic, the forces behind the monarchy were active and turned outto be anti-democratic forces represented by Nazism.

Image: Adolf Hitler

Further, Hitler glorified violent nationalism and war. Nazis, therefore, capitalised on the sense of humiliation Germans felt at the defeat in the 1st World War and unjust provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. The economic crisis of 1929 gave the opportunity to the Nazi party to spread its influence. Hitler was appointed as the Chancellor of Germany by its president on 30th January 1933, and within a few weeks, the entire fabric of democracy in Germany was shattered. Then, in1934, Hitler became the president and de-facto ruler.

The victory of Nazism was calamity not only for the German people but also for the entire Europe. Many countries of the world, with no initial stakes involved, were dragged into the war, and had to face it repercussions.

1.4 Britain and France

These were the major countries of Europe that didn’t succumb to the fascist movements. With the worldwide economic crisis, the fascist movement started in Britain but couldn’t make much headway, and Britain continued as a democracy.

Further, France wanted to use German areas which are under its control to make its economy strong. To meet the threat posed by fascist & anti-democratic forces, a government comprising socialist, radical socialist and communist parties was formed in France as the popular front in 1936. But this was not enough for the maintenance of the democracy in other parts of Europe and in preventing the outbreak of war.

1.5 USA

After the World War 1, there was a decline in the supremacy of Europe and a parallel increase in the importance of the USA. The US economy grew stronger when all the other economies faced an economic crisis. It emerged as an industrial power and made heavy investments in Europe.

However, the capitalist approach and the industrial revolution made the USA face the economic crisis of 1929 where the New York Stock exchange collapsed. This situation was dealt with the introduction of the ‘New deal’ plan by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933 -1945) which aimed for economic recovery and social welfare. As a result, the USA recovered from the crisis and industrial production picked up again.

Image: Franklin D Roosevelt

The US foreign policy was not very different from Britain and France. However, the nation didn’t adopt a strong position to resist aggressive fascists’ acts until the outbreak of war, when it had to enter it.

1.6 Soviet Union

After the World War I, Soviet Union also emerged as a major power and began to play a crucial role in the world affairs. Its participation in the First World War and long civil wars had created acute economic distress in the nation. Furthermore, the new economic policy of 1921 granted peasants the right to sell their produce and the freedom to establish the private industries was also permitted.

Moreover, in 1922, USSR came into being as a federation of many republics. However, this Soviet Union was not recognised by most of the European powers and the USA for a long time but with its growing strength, she could not be ignored.

In 1929, the process of economic reconstruction and industrialisation were adopted by the five-year plans. Moreover, the USSR was also unaffected by the economic crisis of 1929-33. Its industrial development went on as before while the millions of people in the west were unemployed and factories were closed.

Taking into consideration these harmful developments, several nation started engaging with USSR. For instance, Britain established diplomatic relations in 1933, and in 1934 Soviet Union became a member of the League of Nations. However, the fascist countries’ aggression was resisted by the Soviet Union, and it played an important role in the Second World War.

1.7 Asia and Africa

After the World War I, several independent movements strengthened in Asia and Africa. Many leaders of the freedom movement supported the allied powers in the hope to win independence or at least more rights. These hopes, more or less, were not fulfilled. There was a national awakening of people in India, Iran, Syria, China, Ethiopia and South Africa of Asia and Africa. While these long-oppressed people were beginning to assert their independence rights, Europe saw preparations for another war.

2. Events Leading to 2nd World War

2.1 Axis Powers

The Fascist powers began their wars of conquest which eventually led to the Second World War. Italy, Germany and Japan started a series of aggressions on Europe, Asia and Africa. Under Anti – Comintern pact, the three countries were united to fight against communism as Axis powers in 1937. To this, the aggrieved countries demanded a collective action in the name of a popular front consisting of socialists, communists and anti-fascists to counter the danger of fascism and war. However, the policy of appeasement didn’t prevent the Second World War; instead, it strengthened the axis powers.

2.2 The Japanese Invasion of China

A significant act of aggression that took place after the World War I was the Japanese invasion of China in 1931. When China appealed to the League of Nations, it did nothing to counter the aggression. Britain also who was one of the permanent members of the League didn’t take any steps as it did not want to alienate Japan. However, Japan left the League in 1933 because it was seen as a reason to weaken both China and the Soviet Union.

2.3 German Militarisation

Earlier, Germany was a party to the League of Nations. However, it left when Hitler acquired power and took a massive programme of militarisation. According to the Versailles treaty, severe restrictions were placed on the military strength of Germany. The re-militarisation of Germany as a violation of the treaty made many other countries insecure, especially France. As per the treaty, Rhineland had been demilitarised to make a German attack on France difficult. In 1936, when troops of Hitler entered Rhineland, nothing was done to stop it. Moreover, Germany built an army of 8, 00,000(while only 1, 00,000 was permitted by the Versailles treaty) and also a strong navy.

2.4 The Italian Invasion of Ethiopia

In 1935, Italy invaded Ethiopia. On Ethiopia’s appeal, the League passed a resolution condemning Italy as an aggressor and a ban on the sale of arms to Italy. However, by 1936, Italy completed the Ethiopian conquest and no action was taken against its actions.

2.5 Spanish Civil War

Image: The Spanish Civil War

While Germany and Italy were involved in the Spanish civil war of 1936-1939, Britain and France, on the other hand, adopted the policy of non – intervention. The sacrifice of non – Spaniards lives for Spain for the cause of freedom and democracy is one of the finest examples of internationalism. The war was fought between the Republicans and the Nationalists. Italy and Germany were from the side of Nationalists, who eventually won.

2.6 The Munich Pact

At the time of the Spanish civil war, the German troops marched into Austria and occupied it in 1938. Although this was a violation of peace treaties, the western powers didn’t protested against it.

This marks the final act of appeasement of fascism by the western powers. Germany coveted Czechoslovakia due to its strategic location and claimed Sudetenland, which had a substantial German population. By 1939, the entire Czechoslovakia was occupied by Germany.

So far, the only way sought to check and limit the growing fascist power was the formation of the western powers’ alliance with the Soviet Union, which was also pleading for the same. But the western policy of appeasement was to divert fascism onto the Soviet Union. As a result, the Soviets signed a non – aggression pact with Germany in 1939, which shocked all the anti-fascist forces. In the meantime, Britain and France promised to aid Poland, Greece, Romania, and Turkey if their independence was endangered.

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3. The 2nd World War

Similar to the First World War, the Second World War also started in Europe and eventually assumed the character of a world war. Even though the western powers had kept themselves quiet in all the aggressions of Japan, Italy and Germany; and also in the invasion of Manchuria to Czechoslovakia the ambitions of these fascist nations had not been satisfied.

The western policy of diverting aggression onto the Soviet power had failed by the signing of a non – aggression pact. Thus, the war began in Europe between the fascist countries and the major west European powers i.e. Britain and France. Within a few months, it became a world war spreading to more and more areas involving almost every country of the world.

3.1 Invasion of Poland

The region of the East Prussia had been separated from the rest of Germany after World War I. Moreover, the city of Danzig, between East Prussia and Germany, was made a free independent city. After assuming power, Hitler demanded the return of Danzig to Germany, but Britain refused to accept it.

Image: German Soldiers Crossing Into Poland

On 1st September 1939, the German armies, thereby, marched onto Poland. On 3rd September, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Thus, the invasion of Poland marked the beginning of the Second World War. Further, the Soviet Union also attacked Eastern Poland and occupied the territories which once formed a part of the Russian empire. In 1940, the Baltic States too were occupied by the Soviet Union and Norway. In the meantime, Germany occupied Denmark with little effort.

3.2 Conquest of Holland, Belgium and France

By May 1940, Belgium and Holland were invaded and conquered by Germany. By June 1940, Paris also fell in the German hands. In the meantime, Italy joined Germany. Hence, the French government surrendered and signed a truce with Germany. As a result, with the French defeat, Germany became the supreme power over the continental Europe. The war which was conducted by Germany with great speed and force came to be known as blitzkrieg (lightning war).

3.3. Battle of Britain

After the fall of France, Britain was the only power left in Europe. Germany thought that Britain would surrender as soon as it had no allies in Europe.  Thus, in August 1940s, Germany dropped bombs to terrorise her. However, the Royal Air force of Britain played a key role in its defence and conducted air raids on the German territories as retaliation.

In the meantime, Italy started military operations in North Africa. It also invaded Greece but was repulsed. Germany succeeded in capturing the Balkans, Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and large parts of North Africa.

Image: The World war 2nd in Europe

3.4 The German Invasion of Soviet Union

Germany, having conquered the areas of the continental Europe, now attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941. This attack was conducted despite a non-aggression pact as Hitler had always coveted the vast territory and resources of the Soviet Union and even estimated that eight weeks were enough for its fall, which turned out to be a clear underestimation of the Russian power.

In the first phase of the war, Germany made vast areas of the Soviet Union devastated. Leningrad was besieged, and troops marched on to Moscow. However, the Soviet Union, with its industrial and military strength, resisted Germany invasion. It also united with Britain to fight against Germany.

3.5 Expansion of the War

Japan had invaded China in 1937. Further, in September 1940, Germany, Italy and Japan signed a pact to recognise their mutual leadership. Then, on 7th December 1941, Japan, without declaration conducted a massive raid on an American naval base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. This event dragged the USA into the war, turning it truly global. The USA declared war on Japan on 8th December 1941. Following this, Italy and Germany also declared war on the USA. US entry into the war made many countries in the Americas also join the war.

Moreover, during this period, Japan achieved significant victories and conquered Malaya, Burma, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong, etc.

Image: Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbour

3.6 Battle of Stalingrad (Volgograd)

In 1941, in response to the Russian resistance, Germany launched an offensive attack on the Southern Russia and by 1942, the German troops reached the outskirts of Stalingrad. Civilians, too, joined the soldiers in the defence of the city and as a result of this by February 1943, Germany had lost 3, 00,000 men and 90,000 officers. Its soldiers surrendered. This turned the tide of the war.

3.7 The Second Front

The Fascist countries began to suffer reverses in other areas as well. Japan failed to capture Australia and Hawaii. In North Africa, the German troops were routed by early 1943. By July of 1943, Britain and America occupied Sicily, and Mussolini got arrested. The new government, as a result, was formed in Italy which joined the war against Germany. On the other hand, the Soviet Union got back Czechoslovakia and Romania, and by 6th June 1944,the British and American troops launched an offensive attack in France and opened a second front for the warring troops. This was much wanted by the Soviet Union as this would compel Germany to fight on another front and hasten the defeat of Germany.

3.8 End of War in Europe

After 6th June 1944, the German armies had to face the forces of the allies from three directions. In Italy, British and the American troops were advancing. Same was the situation in Belgium and Holland, while the Soviet army was closing from the east.

On 2nd May 1945, the Soviet forces entered Berlin while Hitler committed suicide the same day. Further, on 7th May 1945, Germany surrendered unconditionally and the end of all hostilities became effective from the noon of 9th May 1945.

3.9 The Japanese Surrender

Image: The Japanese Surrender

After the Germany’s defeat, the war continued in Asia for another three months. Britain and the USA had launched successful operations against Japan in the Pacific and the Indo China region. In spite of severe reverses, Japan was still holding large parts of China. To end it all, on 6th August 1945, a deadly atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. This was the first instance when an atom bomb was used. While Japan was evaluating its terms of surrender, another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on 9th August 1945. In the meantime, Soviet Union also declared war on Japan and started its military operations in Manchuria and Korea. Consequently, on 14th August, Japan accepted its defeat and surrendered on 2nd September 1945. With this, the 2nd World War truly came to an end.

Image: Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945

4. Consequences of World War 2

The Western Europe faced significant destruction during the World War II. By the end of the war, only USA and the Soviet Union remained as the most powerful states resulting in the emergence of the bipolar world era.

The League of Nations, which had failed to deter the outbreak of World war 2nd, was now to be replaced by a new organisation, i.e. United Nations, to maintain peace and prevent the outbreak of conflict.

The immediate aftermath of World war 2nd, however, also resulted in the emergence of Cold War tensions between the Soviet Union and the West, in Europe and Asia over the fate of Germany and Korea (1945 – 1950).

“They fought together as brothers in arms; they died together and now they sleep side by side. To them we have a solemn obligation.”

Chester W Nimitz

Moreover, with the occurrence of the World War II, the nuclear arms race also began where the Soviet Union conducting its 1st nuclear test in 1949, Britain and France in the 1950s and China in the 60s. Thus, began the age of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).

Economically, the Post World War II period saw the adverse consequences of war manifested in the form of unemployment, food shortages, and inflation. Moreover, the large scale destruction of the major infrastructure in Europe required reconstruction efforts and associated costs.

This war also significantly weakened the economic capabilities of Britain and France, adversely impacting their ability to hold on to their colonies. Thus, during the period from 1945 – 1960, the decolonisation in Asia and Africa gathered pace.

Further, the Second World War converted large parts of Europe into graveyard and slave – camps. Many ancient cities got destroyed, and around 50 million people perished. A country like Poland lost as much as 20% of its population. Although the allied powers won the war, there was no true victor as both sides made huge losses in the event.

5. Summary

The Second World War marks one of the disastrous wars in the history of the world which had not only impacted the regions which were directly involved in the war but also affected other regions as well.

 It was the result of ambitious aims of the powerful victors of the First World War, the rise of Nazism and Fascism and the failure of the League of Nations to prevent the conflicting claims of these nations.

It affected the nations not only politically and territorially but also economically, making the European nations a war torn economy. In terms of destruction, the most threatening impact was made by USA on Japan by bombing two areas – Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which led to large destruction of men, material and means. This ended the war between the axis and allied powers.

  • According to UPSC Syllabus
  • Includes Previous Year Questions
  • PYQ Analysis
  • Plenty of Maps, Images for Illustration
  • Also useful for State PSC Examinations
  • A must-have book for all UPSC Aspirants

6. Multiple Choice Question

1] The new deal plan was introduced by whom?
a) Franklin Roosevelt
b) Hitler
c) Mussolini
d) Lord Balfour

Show Answer

Ans: a) Franklin Roosevelt

2] In 1929, which steps were taken by the USSR?
a) Formation of federation
b) Economic re-construction
c) Industrialisation
d) Both B and C
Ans: d) Both B and C

Show Answer

Ans: d) Both B and C

3] What was the purpose of signing Anti-Comintern Pact?
a) To establish anti-communist world government.
b) To fight against communism as the Axis powers.
c) Establish LON
d) Form UNO
Ans: b) To fight against communism as the Axis powers

Show Answer

Ans: b) To fight against communism as the Axis powers

4] The age of 1950 and 1960s was known as the starting point of?
a) World War 1
b) World War 2
c) Mutually Assured destruction
d) End of Cold war
Ans: c) Mutually Assured destruction

Show Answer

Ans: c) Mutually Assured destruction

5] The nuclear weapon was thrown on which cities by USA?
a) Nanking
b) Hiroshima and Nagasaki
c) Berlin
d) Volgograd
Ans: b) Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Show Answer

Ans: b) Hiroshima and Nagasaki

6] The battle of Stalingrad was fought between whom?
a) Russia and Germany
b) Russia and Poland
c) France and Germany
d) USA and USSR
Ans: a) Russia and Germany

Show Answer

Ans: a) Russia and Germany

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