The Second World War is undoubtedly the most important theme studied in History during schooling: we find this period during the year of Third, First, but also Terminale. It is indeed the most important and catastrophic event of humanity in terms of victims.
Military Facts; Political collaboration or resistance; Genocide and mass control; Multiple and complex memories: there are many subjects that can be discussed concerning the Second World War which opposed the Allies to the Axis from 1939 to 1945.
Superprof offers you a summary of the main facts, important dates, terms to be defined as well as the great people who made the Second World War, the deadliest conflict in history, a consequence of the First World War and the Great Crisis of 1929. Attention, the French speak to the French… Let’s go!
From the beginnings of the war to the French defeat: 1938-1940
Philippe Pétain and Hermann Goëring met in 1940 and it was the start of a collaboration that sullied the history of France. (source: Humanité.fr)
First of all, here is a table listing definitions that will help you understand the subject of the Second World War:
With his NSDAP, he intends to take control in Germany, in order to apply his anti-Semitic ideas which can be read in his Mein Kampf . What’s more, he wants to restore the image of the German Empire and conquer the world under the aegis of the “Aryan race”. He acceded to the chancellery in 1933 and began arming his country in 1935 after becoming Reich Führer .
In 1936, he made an alliance with Italy and Japan. Strengthened by this alliance, the Japanese people invaded China in 1937: the war had already begun without anyone realizing it. Hitler also got into it by invading Austria the following year (the Anschluss ) and making claims to the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia.
The Munich conference of September 1938 is a failure because Chamberlain and Daladier do not dare to oppose Hitler who therefore annexes the Sudetenland. And yet, according to a 1938 poll in France, 70% of French people think that:
“France and England must now resist any new demands of Hitler”
However, nothing is done. On August 23, 1939, the Nazi-Soviet pact was signed between Hitler and Stalin. This pact means non-aggression between countries, but also a secret clause: the invasion and partition of Poland. On September 1, 1939 , Hitler invaded Poland, allied with France. On September 3, France and the United Kingdom declare war on Germany.
At the end of the month, Poland is completely conquered. It was not until May 10, 1940 that Hitler launched his armies to conquer the West: the Netherlands, Belgium and France. In a very short time, the Germans achieve a breakthrough by a Blitzkrieg which had not been planned at all. Suffice to say that the French Maginot Line was useless!
On June 14, 1940, Paris was taken and 2 days later Marshal Pétain was appointed president of the council . Thus, in a 1940 radio address, he said:
“It is with a heavy heart that I tell you today that we must stop the fight”
On June 22, an armistice was signed in Rethondes which divided France into 2: the North controlled by the German Wehrmacht; the so-called “free” South controlled by the Vichy regime. The occupation in France begins while Great Britain alone resists the Nazi and Fascist invaders led by Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
The dominant fascisms: 1940-1941
In 1939, Adolf Hitler was nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize… Fortunately, it was only a joke from a member of the Swedish parliament, still happy! (source: Liberation.fr)
From 1940 to 1941, the Germans wanted to invade Great Britain but the English resisted and the aerial battle ended with the Nazis abandoning them pure and simple to leave to invade other countries. During the year 1941, the fascist states chained the successes :
- Germany invades Norway and benefits from its iron mines,
- In September, the tripartite pact is signed with Italy and Japan,
- They are quickly joined by Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary,
- Italy attacks Greece and British Somalia,
- Japan seizes French Indochina,
- On June 22, the Germans invade the USSR (Operation Barbarossa ),
- The Germans enter Greece and Yugoslavia,
- The Germans take over from the Italians in Africa,
- The Japanese sink the American fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7.
At the end of 1941, the domination of the fascist states was total in Europe and North Africa, except in Great Britain which resisted valiantly. In 1942, Germany occupied all of France, for fear of Allied landings in the Mediterranean from Africa. The Nazis impose their law there and force to collaborate with them, which Pétain encourages.
Overall, the Axis forces impose their own regulations in the occupied territories as if this territory now belonged to them, recalling the living space of which Hitler spoke for the Aryans. Thereby :
“This war is not like those of the past: whoever occupies a territory also imposes his social system on it. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can advance. It could not be otherwise” – Joseph Stalin
In France, the population is divided into 3 parts: the collaborationists who participate in Nazi/Vichy regime politics; resistance fighters like Jean Moulin who, through their secret actions, passed on information, blocked German projects and dynamited railway lines to prevent German supplies; others undergoing the diet.
The Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor necessarily led to the entry into the war of the United States against Japan and therefore against its Axis allies. At the end of 1941, the war had indeed become global and the Axis for the moment dominated the battles and the territories.
Reversal of situation and crime against humanity: 1942-1943
“Today the very fact that an Auschwitz could have existed should prohibit anyone today from pronouncing the word Providence” – Primo Levi
With the United States in the balance, the cards are automatically redistributed. Their first target is of course the Japanese army, which continues its breakthrough in Asia by taking the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and the Solomon Islands. The Japanese are also threatening India and Australia while the Americans prepare.
Hostilities begin with an American response against the Japanese fleet in June 1942: Admiral Nimitz destroys 4 Japanese aircraft carriers, which greatly limits the presence of modern Japanese weapons in the Pacific. On the Western front, 6,000 Canadians landed in Dieppe in August, but more than half were killed or taken prisoner…
After the Battle of Stalingrad (September 1942 – April 1943), the Soviets reconquered Eastern Europe. Thus, the new allies that are the USSR, the United States, the English and Canada, attack the Nazis from the East and the West. Unfortunately, during this time, the occupied populations suffer.
In 1942, Europe was completely under Nazi control. Nazi totalitarian laws are applied everywhere: population control (Gestapo, denunciation), deportation of Jews and opponents, rationing in favor of Germany. In France, the Vichy regime had decided to collaborate with Hitler as early as 1940 to “alleviate the sufferings of the occupation”.
In 1943, the LVF and the STO were created. The Militia takes over from the Gestapo in the southern zone. The living conditions in the countries occupied by Germany became very difficult, especially for the Jewish populations who were hunted down.
Indeed, at the end of 1941 and beginning of 1942, the Nazis also began their genocidal project of the Jewish population of Germany and the occupied territories. They develop in January 1942 the Final Solution , a project of complete extermination of the Jews. They are executed on the spot or taken to extermination camps to be gassed.
In 4 years, more than 6 million innocent people have been massacred like beasts. France also plays a role in this elimination because the Vichy regime goes even further than the Nazis by sending children to the camps. In July 1942, the Vel d’Hiv Roundup took place , a huge arrest of Jews in France.
French responsibility has already been recognized many times by historians and politicians:
“This crime was committed in France by France. It was also a crime against France, a betrayal of its values that the Resistance, Free France, the Righteous were able to incarnate in honor” – François Hollande
This is the worst genocide ever perpetrated in history and the conditions of this massacre were far more than inhuman. At the end of 1942, “free” France was invaded by the rest of the Nazi troops and thus no French citizen had a choice: he had to collaborate or resist.
On the military side, the year 1943 was a success for the allies, whether for Stalin on the Eastern front or for Roosevelt on the Southern front, in Sicily in July. Benito Mussolini is relieved of his duties as Duce and arrested by King Victor-Emmanuel III at the end of the month.
He was then liberated by a German commando and constituted an island of resistance in northern Italy. However, this did not prevent Italy, then led by Marshal Badoglio, from joining the Allies against the Axis. Once again this century, Italy is turning around, in a good way.
Your history and geography teacher will explain.
The victory of the allies from 1944 and the results of the war
The American landing in Normandy is one of the key moments in the liberation of France!
In 1944, Churchill and Roosevelt hatched a plan to liberate France while relieving Soviet troops on the Eastern Front who were sort of doing all the work against the German armies. It was on June 6, 1944 that the Normandy landings took place under the code name of Operation Overlord .
With the help of the resistance which blocked the arrival of German reinforcements, the Anglo-Saxon breakthrough worked (at the cost of very many victims) and Cherbourg was taken on June 29 so that it would be easier to land troops and material. The Germans were quickly caught in a vice from August 15, when the Allies landed in Provence .
On August 25, Paris is liberated and Charles de Gaulle delivers a memorable speech there:
“We are here. We are at home here in Paris lifted up, standing up to free itself and which knew how to do it with its hands. No, we will not hide this deep and sacred emotion. Minutes ago, we feel it all of us, which surpass each of our poor lives. Paris, Paris outraged, Paris shattered, Paris martyred but Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the armies of France, with the support and the help of France as a whole: that is to say of France which is fighting. That is to say of France alone, of real France, of eternal France”
The Germans, retreating, commit terrible massacres such as that of Oradour-sur-Glane while the USSR enters Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and finally Germany. At the end of 1944, France was almost completely liberated thanks to Marshal Leclerc . The collaborationists and militiamen are judged by courts.
In 1945, Germany still resisted for a while, but after Hitler’s suicide which preceded the execution of Mussolini, an armistice was signed on May 8, 1945. It was also that year that the Soviet troops discovered the camps of concentration and in particular Auschwitz and the atrocities that were committed there.
Europe is liberated but fighting continues in the Pacific. The Japanese are still resisting, but the Americans have a weapon of mass destruction at their disposal: they drop 2 atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, causing more than 200,000 civilian casualties and the surrender of Japan.
The allied victors divide the world into zones of influence . This strengthens the power of the USSR and the United States. Europe is destroyed by the bombardments. Germany, Austria and Japan are occupied by the Allies. Their army is suppressed. The UN is responsible for fostering dialogue between nations and preventing another war.
The population is traumatized by the extent of the massacres (atomic bomb, concentration camps, genocides). The Nuremberg Tribunal judges crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis (Nuremberg) and the Japanese (Tokyo). The results are disastrous: 50 to 60 million victims, the majority of whom are civilians.
Here is the list of important characters to remember to understand this summary:
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt: President of the United States from 1933 to 1945,
- Harry Truman: President of the United States from 1945 to 1953,
- Dwight David Eisenhower: general then American president,
- Arthur Neville Chamberlain: Prime Minister of England from 1937 to 1940,
- Winston Churchill: Prime Minister of England from 1940 to 1945,
- Charles de Gaulle: leader of the French Resistance from 1940 to 1945 then French President,
- Joseph Staline: head of the USSR from 1928 to 1953,
- Jean Moulin: French resistance fighter and delegate of General de Gaulle in France,
- Leclerc (Philippe de Hauteclocque): Marshal of France who liberated Paris,
- Philippe Pétain: head of the collaborationist Vichy government from 1940 to 1944,
- Adolf Hitler: Führer of the Third German Reich,
- Benito Mussolini: Fascist Duke of Italy,
- Hirohito: Japanese emperor from 1926 to 1989,
- Hermann Göring: German Marshal and Politician of the Reich,
- Heinrich Himmler: German politician responsible for the Final Solution,
- Joseph Goebbels: German politician in charge of propaganda.