World War II, or the Second World War (often abbreviated as WWII or WW2), was a global military conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, which involved most of the world's nations, including all of the great powers: eventually forming two opposing military alliances, the Allies and the Axis. It was the most widespread war in history, with more than 100 million military personnel mobilised. In a state of "total war," the major participants placed their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. Marked by significant events involving the mass death of civilians, including the Holocaust and the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare, it was the deadliest conflict in human history, resulting in 50 million to over 70 million fatalities.
The war is generally accepted to have begun on 1 September 1939, with the invasion of Poland by Germany and Slovakia, and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by France and most of the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth. Germany set out to establish a large empire in Europe. From late 1939 to early 1941, in a series of campaigns and treaties, Germany conquered or subdued much of continental Europe; amid Nazi-Soviet agreements, the nominally neutral Soviet Union fully or partially occupied and annexed territories of its six European neighbours. Britain and the Commonwealth remained the only major force continuing the fight against the Axis in North Africa and in extensive naval warfare. In June 1941, the European Axis launched an invasion of the Soviet Union, giving a start to the largest land theatre of war in history, which, from this moment on, was tying down the major part of the Axis military power. In December 1941, Japan, which had been at war with China since 1937, and aimed to dominate Asia, attacked the United States and European possessions in the Pacific Ocean, quickly conquering much of the region.
The Axis advance was stopped in 1942 after the defeat of Japan in a series of naval battles and after defeats of European Axis troops in North Africa and, decisively, at Stalingrad. In 1943, with a series of German defeats in Eastern Europe, the Allied invasion of Fascist Italy, and American victories in the Pacific, the Axis lost the initiative and undertook strategic retreat on all fronts. In 1944, the Western Allies invaded France, while the Soviet Union regained all territorial losses and invaded Germany and its allies.
The war in Europe ended with the capture of Berlin by Soviet and Polish troops and the subsequent German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945. The Japanese Navy was defeated by the United States, and invasion of the Japanese Archipelago ("Home Islands") became imminent. The war in Asia ended on 15 August 1945 when Japan agreed to surrender.
The war ended with the total victory of the Allies over Germany and Japan in 1945. World War II altered the political alignment and social structure of the world. The United Nations (UN) was established to foster international cooperation and prevent future conflicts. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the Cold War, which lasted for the next 46 years. Meanwhile, the influence of European great powers started to decline, while the decolonisation of Asia and Africa began. Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved towards economic recovery. Political integration, especially in Europe, emerged as an effort to stabilise postwar relations.
Allied leaders of World War II
The Allied leaders of World War II comprise some of the important political and military figures who fought for or supported the Allies during World War II.
Enver Hoxha - Leader of the Communist Party of Albania, which led the Albanian National Liberation Movement to a struggle in Albania undet Italy and Germany.
Leopold III of Belgium - reigned as Kimg of the Belgians from 1934 - 1951. After Belgium's surrender Leopoldo stayed to face the invaders, while his entire government had fled to Great Britian. The Germans held him under house arrest at the royal castle in Brussels until the end of the war. Hubert Pierlot - Prime Minister of Belgium from 1939 and 1945. Pierlot became the leader of the government during the Phoney War until the German invasion. Pierlot fled to Britain where he led the government in exile and formation of the Free Belgian Forces. Victor van Strydonck de Burkel - general of the Belgian Army who commanded the 1st Military Zone during the invasion of Belgium. After Belgium's surrender in 1940, he became Commander of the Belgian forces in Great Britain and then Chief of the Belgian Military Mission to Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. Auguste-Eduard Gilliaert - commander of the Belgian Experionary Forces during the East African Campaign. troops.
Getulio Vargas - President of Brazil from 1930 - 1945. Despite Brazil's quasi-fascist government of Estado Novo and strong economic ties with Nazi Germany, Vargas eventually died with the Allies after the sinking of five Brazilian ships by German U-Boats and declared war on the Axis in 1942. Joao Baptista Mascarenhas de Morais - commander of the British Expeditionary Force. He arrived in Italy with the first Brazilian troops in 1944 and commanded the Brazilian forces until the surrender of the Axis forces in Italy, being given the rank of Field Marshall. Euclides Zenobio da Costa - Commander of the 1st Infantry Division Brazilian Expeditionary Force, participated in operations in Italy. Olympio Falconiere da Cunha - went to Italy September 1944, commanding the 3rd Squadron of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force.
- British Empire and Commonwealth
King George VI - the reigning monarch of the British Commonealth during the war, and thus acted as Commander-in-Chief of a number of states including the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Several members of the Royal Family, including Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) served in the forces.
Robert Menzies - the Prime Minister of Australia from 26 April 1939 - 29 August 1941. He served a second term as Prime Minister between 1949 and 1966. Arthur Fadden - replaced Menzies as Prime Minister but was forced from office when his government collapsed on 7 October 1941. John Curtin - was Prime Minister from 7 October 1941 until his death on 5 July 1945. Curtin also formed a close working relationship with General MacArthur and directed the Australian Military to follow MacArthur's orders as if they were his own. Frank Forde - was appointed Prime Minister after Curtin's death, but lost the position over a leadership challenge. He had served as acting Prime Minister during periods when Curtin was out of the country or unwell during 1944 and 1945. Ben Chifley - replaced Forde and served as Prime Minister until 1949. Thomas Blamey - head of the Australian Army during the war, commander of Allied land forces in the South West Pacific 1942-1945. He became Australia's first and only Field Marshal after the war. In 1945 he signed the Japanese surrender documents on behalf of Australia.
William Lyon Mackenzie King - Prime Minister of Canada during the war. Despite initially favouring appeasement of Adolf Hitler, Kind asked the opinion of the Canadian parliament before advising George VI, as King of Canada, to declare war on Germany after the invasion of Poland. Harry Crerar - a general and the de facto commander of the Canadian military during the war. Crerar led the Canadian military during the invasion of Normandy. Guy Simonds - an army officer who commanded the 2nd Canadian Corps. He served as acting commander of the First Canadian Army, leading the Allied forces to victory in the Battle of Scheldt. After the war he was appointed Chief of the General Staff and was the youngest officer in the Canadian army to be promoted to the rank of General. E. L. M. Burns and Charles Foulkes successively commanded the 1st Canadian Corps during the war on the Western Front. Andrew McNaughton - the original commanding officer of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces at the beginning of the war, recalled to Canada to serve as Minister of National Defense. He was often attributed responsibility for the Dieppe Raid and was one of the inventors of RADAR.
- New Zealand
Michael Joseph Savage - Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1935 till his death in 1940. He declared war on Germany in 1939 by declaring Where Britain goes, we go! Where she stands, we stand ". Peter Fraser - Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1940 till 1949. He came into office after the death of Michael Joseph Savage. During the war, Fraser had a concern with ensuring that New Zealand retained control over its own forces. After serious losses in the Balkans Campaign in 1941, Fraser determined to retain a say as to where to deploy New Zealand troops. Bernard Freyberg, 1st Baron Freyberg - commander of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force and the New Zealand 2nd Division. Leading the Allied forces during the battle of Crete, Freyberg commanded the New Zealand 2nd Division through the North African and Italian campaigns. After the war he served as the Governor-General of New Zealand.
- Union of South Africa
Field Marshal Jan Smuts- the Prime Minister of South Africa from 1939 till 1948. He had served in the Imperial War Cabinet in the First World War and did so again as the most senior South African in favour of war, and became South Africa's first Field Marshal in 1941. After the war he represented South Africa at the drafting of the United Nations Charter. George Brink - a Lieutenant-General in theSouth African Military who commanded the 1st Infantry Division during the war. Brink successfully led the 1st Infantry Division during the East African Campaign. After the war he was responsible for the demobilisation. Isaac Pierre de Villiers - a Major-General in the South African Military weho commanded the 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to the war, de Villiers served as a Lieutenant in the South African Police and so the 2nd Infantry Division was responsible for internal secutiry operations and the beginning of the war.
- United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Winston Churchill - Prime Minister of the United Kingdon during most of the war, from 1940 - 1945. An early opponent of Hitler, he opposed appeasement of Germany. He was First Lord of the Admiralty at the outbreak of W\war, then came into power at the start of the Nazi invasion of France. During the Battle of Britain, Churchill's speeches boosted British morale during the darkest moments. Neville Chamberlain - formerly led a policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany, was Prime Minister during the first stages of the war, taking office in 1937, and resigning in 1940 after the failed Norwegian campaign. He died of cancer in November 1940, six months after resigning. Clement Atlee - Labour leader during the war. Serving as Deputy Prime Minister under Churchill, after the end of the war he was appointed Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945-1951. Dudley Pound - First Sea Lord, and the professional head of the Royal Navy from June 1939-September 1943. He chaired the Chiefs of Staff Committee, until 1942, which was responsible to Winston Churchill for the British military's conduct during the war. Alan Brooke - Chief of the Imperial General Staff (ead of Britain's army) from December 1941, and from March 1942, also chaired British Chief of Staffs Committee. He held the posts until the war end and as such was Churchill's foremost military advisor. January 1944 he was promoted to Field Marshall. Andrew Cunningham - succeeded Dudley Pound as First Sea Lord and naval member of the British Chiefs of Staff Committee in 1943. Remained in that post till the end of the war. Charles Portal - October 1940 succeeded Cyril Newall as Chief of Air Staff, the head of the Royal Air Force, and member of the British Chief s of Staff Committee. He was promoted to Marchal of the Royal Air Force in June 1944. Harald Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis - was Field Marshall and Commander-in-Chief of AFHQ, responsible for the direction of Allied troops in the Mediterranean theatre. Previously he had commanded the group that conducted the Allied invasion of Sicily and the Italian campaign. He had also commanded he 18th Army Group during the culmination of the Tunisia Campaign leading to the surrender of Axis forces in North Africa. He also oversaw Montgomery's Eighth Army's successful campaign to defeat the Axis forces in the Western Destert Campaign. Viscount Gort- commanded the British Expeditionary Force in France from 1939 -1940. He later served in a variety of posts, including Governor of Gibraltar and of Malta.
Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein - General (later Field Marshall) who led the Allied Forces in North Africa. He later commanded the Allied ground forces during Operation Overlord, accepting the surrender of the German forces on 4 May 1945. Hugh Dowding, 1st Baron Dowding - Air Chief Marshall who commanded RAF Fighter Command during Battle of Britain. Keith Park - Air Chief Marshall who commanded the fighter formation tasked with the defence of London during the Battle of Britain. Later being in charge of the defence of Malta. Arthur Harris - an Air Chief Marshall commonly known as 'bomber Harris' by the press. He was Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command and later a Marshal of the Royal Air Force during the latter half of World War II. Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma - Admiral of the Fleet, was Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in South East Asia 1943-1945. William Slim, 1st Viscount Slim - a General who led the British Fourteenth Army (often referred to as 'Forgotten Army') during the Burma Campaign 1942-1945.
Sir Humphrey Walwyn - governor of Newfoundland and chairman of the Commission of Government from 1936-1946. Former Royal Navy Admiral.
- British Malaya
Shenton Thomas - Governor of Straits Settlements and the British High Commissioner in Maaya 1934-1942. After the fall of Singapore he was taken as POW and imprisoned in Cell 24 of Changi Prison. Arthur Percival - General Officer Commandin Malaya at the start of the Pacific War. After the fall of Singapore he was taken POW. His surrender to the invading Japanese forces was the largest capitulation in British military history.
- British Mandate for Palestine
Harold MacMichael - appointed High Commissioner of the British Mandate for Palestine 1937-1944. Henry Maitland Wilson, 1st Baron Wilson - Field Marshal and commander of Ninth Army in the British Mandate of Palestine. During the Syria-Lebanon campaign he led the Allied forces in Syria and Lebanon against Vichy France. Promoted to General.
- British Raj
The Marquees of Linlithgow- Viceroy of India from 1936-1943. Muhammad Ali Jinnah - political Muslim leader of the All India Muslim League. Archibald Wavell, 1st Earl Wavell - in charge of Middle East Command at start of the war. Replaced by Claune Auchinleck in 1941, and became Commander-in-Chief, India. In 1943 Wavell succeeded Linlithgow as Viceroy of India. Claude Auchinleck (The Auk) appointed Commander-in-Chief, India in January 1941, after commanding Allied Forces during the fall of Norway.
- Republic of China
Chiang Kai-shek- leader of the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China and supreme commander of China Theatre, also including Burma. He was Chairman of the National Military Council, the highest political organ of wartime Chinese government. After the war his government retreated to Taiwan. Mao Zedong - leader of Communist Party of China. Zhand Xueliang - warlord of Manchuria after death of his father. A strong opponent of the Japanese ccupation of Manchuria after the Mukden incident. After the communists seized the mainland, he fled with the Nationalist Government to Taiwan. Chen Cheng - ahe led the Nationalist Revolutionary Army during the Battle of Wuhan. In 1943 he was appointed commander of the Chinese Expeditionary Force in the Burma campaign. After the war, became chief of general staff. Zhu De - commander of the main communist army that fought under the banner of the Nationalists Party. Li Zongren - the former Guangxi warlord that fought in alliance with Chiang Kai-shek during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Xue Yue - military commander that led the many successful defenses of Changsa. Claire Lee Chennault - commander of the Flying Tigers. Asked to establish American squadrons to aid the Republic of China., also helping to negotiate the establishment of the American Volunteer Group. The AVG began service with the Chinese Air Force in 1941, until disbanded in 1942.
- French Third Republic (Until 1940)
Albert Francois Lebrun - the last President of the Third Republic. Edouard Daladier - Prime Miniester from 1938 - 1940. He led the country during the opening stages of the war. Resigned 9 May 1940, day before the German invasion of France, because of his failure to aid Finland's defence in the Winter War. Paul Reynaud - succeeded Daladier as Prime Minister in 1940 and led France during the Battle of France. Philipe Petain advised him to come to separate peace with Germany, Reynaud refused to do so and resigned. Maurice Gamelin - commaned the French military uring the critical days of May 1940, before being removed from his position after failing to defend France from the Germans. Maxime Weygand - replaced Gamelin as commander of the French army in May 1940.
- Free French Forces (and later Fighting France and Provisional government of the French Republic)
Charles de Gaulle - leader of the Free French, and government-in-exile following the Fall of France. He eventually took nomical command of the French resistance and headed the French Army of Liberation from its foundation to the war's end. Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque - leader of the Freen French Forces, commaning forces both in Africa and in France. At the end of war he commanded the French Far East Expeditionary Corps in the First Indochina War, signing armistice with Japan on behalf of France 2 September 1945. Henri Giraud - de Gaulle's rival. Escaped from Germany where he was prisoner of war and co-founded the Free French movement with de Gaulle. Chief of Staff of the French Army of Liberation from 1943 - July 1944. Alphonse Juin - chief of staff of the French Army in July 1944 after being commander of the French Expeditionary Corps (130,000 men) in Italy. Marie Pierre Koenig - commander in chief of the French Forces of the Interior which effectively helped the Allies in the invasion of France. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny - commander of the First French Army, invading France with 260,000 men. His army numbered more than 320,000 men when he entered Germany with the integration of the FFI. Georges Catroux - main French military leader in Syria and Lebanon before entering De Gaulle's government. Andre Lemonnier - French Admiral who served as the French Navy Chief of staff in 1943 and led the French Navy's participation in Operation Dragoon (34 warships including one battleship and eight cruisers).
- Kingdom of Greece
George II of Greece - Pro British King of Greece from 1922-1924, and from 1935 till death in 1947. After Battle of Crete he was evacuated to Egypt and went to
Ionnis Metaxis - dictator and Prime Minister of Greece till his death in 1941. Maintained pro-British neutrality and 28 October 1940 ordered the Greek Army to repel Italian invasion of the country. Alexander Papagos - Greek General in Greco-Italian War and Battle of Greece, Commander-in-Chief when war was declared. Was arrested and sent to German concentration camp. Repatriated 1945 and rejoined the Army. Aris Velouchiotis - creator and chief leader of Greek People's Liberation Army, the country's largest guerrilla force.
Manuel Avila Camacho - Brigade General and President of Mexico from 1940-1946. Avila declared war against the Axis powers after two of Mexico's ships were destroyed by German submarines. Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez - Colonel and Commander of the Mexican Experitionary Air Force since 1 January 1945. Represented Mexico at the signing of the Japanese surrender documents on the USS Missouri, September 1. Radames Gaxiola Andrade - Captain and Commander of 201st Squadron under the 58th Broup of the 5th Air Force if the USAAF.
- Second Polish Republic (Until 1939)
ignacio Moscicki - President of Poland from 1926 - 1939. After the invasion of Poland he was forced to resign and went into exile in Switzerland. Edward Rydz-Smigly- Marshal of Poland and commander of Polish Armed Forces during the invasion of Poland. He took complete responsibility for Poland's defeat, later resigned and joined the resistance. Ovement as a common u der ground soldier. Henry, Sucharski- Polish army major, survived the war and posthumously promoted to rank of General.
Don Mauricio Hochschild - tin mine millionaire in Peru. Financed the release of 3,000 German Jews that were sent to Bolivia.
[The Holocaust -Martin Gilbert, After the Nuremberg Laws, page 55]
- Polish Government in Exile and Secret State
Wladyslaw Raczkiewiez- President of the Polish Government in Exile from 1939 - his death in 1947. Wen the Nazis invaded Poland he fled to London where he established the government in exile. Wladyslaw Sikorski- Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile and commander of the Polish Armed Forces. He supported reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Poland and the Soviet Union. Simorski was killed when his plane crashed into the sea 16 seconds after take off from Gibraltar. Stanislaw Mikolajczyk- succeeded Sikorski as Prime Minister. Tomasz Arciszewski- succeeded Mikolajzyck as Prime Minister, serving from 1944-1947. Kazimierz Sosnkowski - succeeded Sikorski as Commander in Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, serving in this capacity from 1943-1944. Wladyslaw Anders - a Polish General and commander of the 2nd Corps during the war. When Germany invaded Poland, he was captured by the Red Army. After Nazi invasion of USSR he was released and placed in command of the Polish Armed Forces in the East until 1942. Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski- commander of the Home Army during theWarsaw Uprising. Stanislaw Maczek - Polish commander, never defeated in battle, and fought as commander during the Polish Soviet War, the Invasion of Poland in 1939, and from initial landing in Normandy to end of the war as commander of the 1st Armoured Division (Poland) (Hill 262, Breda, Wilhelmshaven). Stanislaw Sosabowski - commander pf the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade, that fought with distinction at Arnheim. Marian Kukiel - commander of the 1st Polish Corps from formation in 1940 until 1942. He was Minister of War in exile from 1943-1944. Jan Zumbach - Squadron Leader of no 303 Polish Fighter Squadron from 1942 - 1943. He never fought during the invasion of Poland but fought during the Battle of Britain. Zumbach was awarded the Cross of Valour for his service during the war.
- Soviet Union
Joseph Stalin - General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during World War II. It was during Stalin's reign that the USSR emerged as a super power to rival the United States. As the supreme commander of the Red Army, he led the army to liberate the Soviet Union from Nazi occupation. Undisputed war leader. Georgy Zhukov - Soviet Field Marshal who led the arms to liberate the Soviet Union from Nazi occupation. He also led the Soviets to overrun much of Eastern Europe and to conquer and capture German's capitol, Berlin. After the war Zhukov was the supreme Military Commander of the Soviet Occupation Zone in Germany. Vyacheslav Molotov - Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union from 1939-1949. He was responsible for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which governed Soviet-German relations until June 1941 when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. He conducted urgent negotiations with Britain, and later the United States for wartime alliances. He secured Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchills agreement to create a second front in Europe. Mikhail Kalinin - Chairman of the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, nominal Head of State. A Communist Party elder, he was a key member of Stalin's inner circle of power until his death. He signed the order authorising the Katyn massacre. Vasily Chuikov - commanded the 64th and later the 62nd Army, which defended Stalingrad during the crucial Battle of Stalingrad. Leonid Govorov - became Soviet commander in Leningrad in 1942, and commanded the forces in Operation Spark. Promoted to Field Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1944. Ivan Konev - commander of the 19th Army during the erly days of the Nazi invasion. He led the Red Army on the Eastern Front and liberated much of Eastern Europe, helping in the capture of Berlin. Kirill Meretskov Hovhannes Bagramyan Konstantin Rokossovsky Boris Shaposhnikov Semyon Timoshenko Fyodor Tolbukhin Aleksandr Vasilevsky Matvei Zakharov Nikita Krushchev
- Saudi Arabia
Ibn Saud - King of Saudi Arabia from 1932-1953. He positioned Saudi Arabia as neutral during the war until 1945. However, he was generally in favour of the Allies and supplied the forces with oil.
- United States of America
Franklin D. Roosevelt - 32nd President of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. He had come to power during the Great Depression on a promise to heal the country. Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, he attempted to aid the Allies without declaring war. He died in office two weeks before the surrender of Germany. Harry S. Truman - 33rd President of the United States from 1945 - 1953, taking office after the death of Roosevelt. President Truman ordered the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. After the war he oversaw the recovery efforts. George Catlett Marshall - General of the rmy and Chief of Staff during the war. He oversaw the largest military expansion in American history. After the war he became Secretary of State and led the post war reconstruction effort in Europe, which became the Marshall Plan. For his role in the recovery he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. Henry H. Arnold - the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. Ernest King - Commander in Chief of the United States Fleet (1941-1945) as well as Chief of Naval Operations (1942-1945) and Fleet Admiral from 1944. Henry L. Stimson - Secretary of the War from 1940 - 1945. He was an early proponent for the war against Germany. He oversaw the raising and training of 13 million soldiers and airmen, supervised the spending of a third of the nation's GDP on the Army and Air Forces, helped formulate military strategy, and took personal control of building and ising of the atomic bomb. Cordell Hull - Secretary of State from 1933-1944. Responsible for foreign relations before the attack on Pearl Harbour. He sent the Hull note to Japan prior to the attack. After the war he was the key architect for establishing the United Nations and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. William Joseph Donovan - director of the Office of Strategic Services from 1942 until it was disbanded in 1945. Donovan and the OSS was responsible for collecting intelligence by the Army, Navy and State Department. For his actions he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.