When the Japanese bombed Pearl
Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States of America was forced
to emerge from years of isolationism and enter the worst conflict in world
The seeds of the Second World War were sown when
totalitarian regimes rose in Germany, Italy, and Japan (the countries responsible
for forming the Axis Powers). Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader of Germany,
in seeking to expand his country's territory, invaded Czechoslovakia, Poland,
Belgium and France in 1939-40. Despite the efforts of Great Britain and
other Allied countries, Germany ran virtually unchecked through Europe in the first few years of the war, but was stopped short of an invasion
of England as the British held their own in the air-based Battle of Britain.
On the Eastern front, early victories against the Soviet Union were counterbalanced
by monumental losses at the Battles of Leningrad and Stalingrad.
Early U.S. involvement in the war was on an indirect level, as America delivered
valuable supplies to Allied comrades. However, that involvement became official
after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a day that in the immortal words of President
Franklin D. Roosevelt would "live in infamy." With U.S. aid, the
Allies began to recapture the territory which had been lost to the Nazis
in the early days of the war. Victories in North Africa and Sicily in 1943
exerted pressure on the Axis powers, and Italy ceased to be an enemy after
Mussolini was ousted in the summer of 1943.
American, British, and Canadian troops invaded German-occupied France on
June 6, 1944 -- an event which would forever be known as D-Day.
The invasion and subsequent Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944 eventually
turned the tide of the war in favor of the Allies. Germany's defeat became
a foregone conclusion when Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945; final
surrender would come eight days later. It was then that the world had to
come to terms with the slaughter of millions of people -- mostly Jewish
-- under the Nazi regime.
In the Pacific
Theater, the U.S. and Japan waged a back-and-forth struggle, with Japan
scoring early victories in the Philippines and the South Pacific. The U.S.
halted the Japanese advance at the Battle of Midway on June 5, 1942, one
of the first battles in naval history where neither of the main fleets came
within sight of each other. Fierce fighting in Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima
ensued, with the Allies coming out on top only after heavy losses. The Battle
of the Philippines in 1944 was the beginning of the end for Japan, as the
Japanese Navy was all but wiped out by Allied forces.
Fire bombs were dropped on Tokyo and other Japanese cities in early 1945,
but despite the damage, Japan was still reluctant to concede defeat. U.S.
President Harry Truman subsequently authorized the dropping of atom bombs
on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which occurred on August 6 and
9, 1945. Japan surrendered unconditionally on September 2, 1945.
The statistical results of World War II were stunning: all told, approximately
61 million people lost their lives, with the Soviet Union (over 25 million)
and China (11 million) suffering the most fatalities, most of them civilians.
As a result of the war, the United States emerged as the world's leading
military and economic power, and geopolitical boundaries changed radically,
with the Soviet Union controlling most of Eastern Europe. The strained relations
between these two nations would set the stage for the Cold War, which would
define global politics for decades to come.
Get a comprehensive overview of the planning and
execution of the Normandy invasion.
Harbor History Directory
Spotlight on the surprise attack includes an overview
of events and useful links.
Tribute is dedicated to the warship which was lost
at Pearl Harbor.
Read about this World War II prison drama starring
Read about a young cartoonist's exploits with the
379th Fighter Squadron.