World War II was a long war that devastated many countries in Europe and Asia. The war was divided into two theaters of war. This article is about World War II in Europe and Africa.
World War II was a devastating war that can be looked at as two distinct theaters of war, the European and African theater and World War II in The Pacific and Asian theater
The Cause of World War II in Europe
There is some debate on what caused World War II to start in Europe. Some say it was an extension of World War I, which ended in 1918. Some say that the reparations put on Germany after World War I caused Adolph Hitler to gain power and then attack the rest of Europe. Another argument states that the war was started to get the world out of The Great Depression.
The Start of World War II in Europe
World War II started on September 1, 1939 when Nazi Germany attacked Poland. When this occurred, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. The United States didn’t officially enter the war until December 8, 1941.
The Two Sides of World War II
World War II was a war with many countries involved and covered a large portion of the planet. The two sides of the war were divided between the Allies and Axis powers.
There were at least 50 countries on the Allied side, including the United States, Soviet Union (Russia), China, and Great Britain and including most countries in South America and Africa.
The Soviet Union did not start out as an Allied member, just days before the start of World War II, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact; an agreement Hitler had no intention of keeping. The pact ended with the German invasion of Russia in June 1941. At this time Russia allied with the US and Great Britain
The Axis powers mainly consisted of Japan, Germany and Italy.
World War II in Europe and Africa Escalates
Germany attacked and conquered Poland, France, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. In the meantime, the Soviets had attacked the eastern part of Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Italy attacked British Somaliland and Egypt.
On September 10, 1939, Canada declares war on Germany and the Atlantic war begins. German U-boats (submarines) begin attacking merchant ships in the Atlantic.
In July 1940, the German Air Force began bombing airfields in Southern England. September 7, 1940, the London Blitz began with German planes bombing London.
Before the US entered World War II, between 1939 and 1941, the war in Europe raged on. The US entered into agreements to lend Britain tanks, guns, ammunition, trucks, planes, food and other military parts, this was called lend lease. The US at this time was neutral and it was against US law to give these items and Great Britain couldn’t pay for them, so the lend lease idea came up.
The Leaders of World War II in Europe
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the United States until his death on April 12, 1945. At this time Vice President Harry S. Truman became president.
- Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain
- Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party and leader of the Soviet Union
- Adolph Hitler, Chancellor of the Nazi Party in Germany
- Benito Mussolini, Prime Minister of Italy
- After the fall of France, Charles de Gaulle was recognized as the leader of Free France.
- Marshall Petain became the leader of the German led puppet regime called the Vichy government.
Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin
Military Leaders of World War II in Europe and Africa
- General Dwight D. Eisenhower; in 1942 was the commander of the invasion of North Africa. In 1944 he was made the Supreme Allied Commander for the invasion of Normandy (D-Day). In December 1944 he was made General of the Army and was also elected president of the US for two terms from 1952 until 1960.
- General Omar Bradley commanded the Army VIII Corps in North Africa, II Corps into Italy and then given command of the 1st Army Group during the Normandy invasion.
- General George Patton commanded the western task force in the allied invasion of North Africa. Commanded the Seventh Army during the invasion of Sicily and commander of Third Army where he and his tank troops beat the Germans through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
- Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (Monty) of Great Britain, Commanded allied troops in North Africa and Europe throughout World War II.
- Erwin Rommel, also known as the Desert Fox was a German tank commander in North Africa and European battles.
Generals O. Bradley, D. Eisenhower and G. Patton Operation Market-Garden - September 1944
Major Battles of World War II in Europe and Africa
Battle of Dunkirk; between May 25 and June 4, 1940. German forces had surrounded British soldiers at Dunkirk, France. By June 4th, 300,000 allied soldiers had been rescued in what is called a miracle.
Operation Barbarossa began on June 22, 1941 with a German attack on Russia with 3 million soldiers, 3580 tanks, 7184 artillery guns and 1830 planes. This ended the non-aggression pact between the two countries.
The Battle of Britain: Between August and September 1940, the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) bombed Great Britain day and night as a prelude to a cross channel invasion of Britain. The British Air Force with the help of newly invented radar defeated the Luftwaffe and Germany was never able to invade Great Britain.
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major loss for Germany. The Germans tried to capture the Russian city of Stalingrad in June 1942 and failed losing over 200,000 soldiers at the battles end in February 2, 1943.
Battle of El Alamein in Egypt North Africa was a major victory for the allies against the Germans in Africa in May 1943. (There were two separate battles of El Alamein).
D-Day, The Normandy Invasion was the invasion of France by the Allies on June 6, 1944. American, British, Canadian and French soldiers crossed the English Channel in 5,000 vessels. It was a hard fought battle with 9,000 Allied soldiers dead by that night. This opened up a two-front war against the Germans combined with the Eastern Front war in Russia.
Battle of the Bulge (Battle of the Ardennes) was the last major German offensive of World War II starting in the bitter cold winter on December 16, 1944 in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium. The battle lasted until January 27, 1945 with 75,522 Americans killed, wounded or captured. The Germans lost 67,000 soldiers and valuable equipment spelling the end to Nazi Germany.
Street fighting in Caen, France in July 1944 American troops at the Battle of the Bulge
The holocaust was the planned extermination of the Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witness and the mentally ill. Adolph Hitler ordered these people to be shipped to what were called concentration camps where 6 million European Jews died and hundreds of thousands others were killed including Soviet and Polish prisoners of war and dissidents of Nazi Germany.
The Death Toll of World War II in Europe
The death toll is beyond words, both military and civilian. The total death toll of World War II is estimated to be 55 million people. The Soviet Union (Russia) had the worst death toll with 20.6 million killed, which was 10% of their prewar population. Europe was left in ruins after the war. The figures for the US and Great Britain are for both theaters of war.
- Germany 6.85 million
- Poland 6.2 million
- Yugoslavia 1.7 million
- Greece 520,000
- United States 400,000
- Great Britain 388,000
The End of World War II in Europe
World War II ended in the European theater when Germany signed an unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945. Victory in Europe was declared on May 8, 1945, VE Day (Victory in Europe). World War II was not yet over though as the the war in the Pacific still raged on. You can read about the Pacific war in Facts of World War II in the Pacific.
© Sam Montana – October 2010
History Place - Timeline of World War II in Europe
US Navy photos
World War II death toll