World War II ended six years and a day after Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, sparked the Second World War of the 20th century. By the time it concluded on the deck of an American warship on September 2, 1945, World War II had claimed the lives of an estimated 60 to 80 million people, or about 3% of the world’s population. The vast majority of those who died in the deadliest war in history were civilians, including 6 million Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust.
Germany used its ‘blitzkrieg’ (‘lightning war’) strategy to sweep the Netherlands, Belgium and France in the early months of the war and force over 300,000 British and Allied troops to evacuate the Continental Europe from Dunkirk. In June 1941, German dictator Adolf Hitler broke his non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and launched Operation Barbarossa, which brought Nazi troops to the gates of Moscow.
By the time the United States entered World War II after the Japanese bombardment of Pearl Harbor, German forces were occupying much of Europe, from the Black Sea to the English Channel. The Allies, however, turned the tide of the conflict and the following major events ended World War II.
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1. Germany pushed back on two fronts
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After storming across Europe in the first three years of the war, the overworked Axis forces were put on the defensive after the Soviet Red Army pushed them back in the brutal Battle of Stalingrad, which lasted from August 1942 to February 1943. The fierce battle for the city named after Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin claimed nearly two million lives, including the deaths of tens of thousands of Stalingrad residents .
As Soviet troops began to advance on the Eastern Front, Western Allies invaded Sicily and southern Italy, causing the fall of the government of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in July 1943. The Allies then opened. a western front with the D-Day amphibious invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. After gaining a foothold in northern France, Allied troops liberated Paris on August 25, then Brussels less than two weeks later.
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2. Battle of the Bulge
Germany found itself squeezed on both sides as Soviet troops advanced into Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania while the Western Allies continued to push east. Forced to wage a two-front war with dwindling resources, an increasingly desperate Hitler authorized a last-minute offensive on the Western Front in the hope of dividing Allied lines. On December 16, 1944, the Nazis launched a surprise attack along a densely wooded 80 km stretch of Ardennes Forest in Belgium and Luxembourg.
The German assault swelled the Allied line, but it did not break during six weeks of fighting in sub-zero conditions that left the soldiers suffering from hypothermia, frostbite and trench feet. American forces withstood all the might of what remained of German might, but lost an estimated 20,000 men in what was their deadliest battle of World War II. What came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge would prove to be Germany’s last breath as the Soviet Red Army launched a winter offensive on the Eastern Front that would take them to the Oder, unless 50 miles from the German capital of Berlin in the spring.
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3. Germany surrenders
After the incendiary bombardments of Dresden and other German cities that killed tens of thousands of civilians, the Western Allies crossed the Rhine and moved east towards Berlin. As they approached the capital, Allied troops uncovered the horror of the Holocaust by liberating concentration camps such as Bergen-Belsen and Dachau. With the collapse of the two fronts and the inevitable defeat, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker deep in the Reich Chancellery on April 30, 1945.
Hitler’s successor, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, began peace negotiations and on May 7 authorized General Alfred Jodl to sign an unconditional surrender of all German forces to take effect the next day. Stalin, however, refused to accept the surrender agreement signed at the headquarters of US General Dwight D. Eisenhower in Reims, France, and forced the Germans to sign another the next day in Soviet-occupied Berlin.
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4. Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Even after the Allied victory in Europe, World War II continued to rage in the Pacific theater. American forces had made a slow but steady push towards Japan after turning the tide of the war with victory at the June 1942 Battle of Midway. The battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in the winter and spring of 1945 were among the bloodiest of the war, and the U.S. military predicted that up to 1 million casualties would accompany any invasion of mainland Japan.
Weeks after the first successful atomic bomb test in Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, President Harry Truman, who had assumed the presidency less than four months earlier after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a authorized its use. against Japan in the hope of ending the war quickly. On August 6, 1945, the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on the manufacturing city of Hiroshima, immediately killing around 80,000 people. Tens of thousands of people later died from radiation exposure. When Japan failed to surrender immediately after the bombing of Hiroshima, the United States detonated an even more powerful atomic bomb on Nagasaki three days later, which killed 35,000 people instantly and 50,000 others. in its consequences.
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5. The Soviets declare war, Japan surrenders
In addition to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan came under increasing pressure when the Soviet Union officially declared war on August 8 and invaded Japanese-occupied Manchuria in northeastern China. With his Imperial Council deadlocked, Japanese Emperor Hirohito broke the tie and decided his country had to surrender. At noon on August 15 (Japanese time), the Emperor announced Japan’s surrender on his very first radio broadcast.
On September 2, World War II ended when US General Douglas MacArthur accepted Japan’s official surrender aboard the US battleship. Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay with a flotilla of more than 250 Allied warships.
Upon signing the agreement that ended 2,194 days of world warfare, MacArthur told the world on a radio show: “Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy is over. A great victory has been achieved. “
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