World War 2 Timeline

Much of the impetus for the outbreak of World War II can be traced back to the end of World War I. A humiliated and unstable Germany and rising fascist sentiments throughout Western Europe contributed to a conflict that would end in the loss of millions of lives.

What Were the Causes of World War II?

Following the end of World War I, the Allied powers signed the Treaty of Versailles. The document was negotiated with virtually no input from Germany but decided that the nation, which had been destroyed economically by the conflict, would be parceled into four parts and controlled by the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, France. The document indicated the national boundaries and also made arrangements for reparations that were to be paid by Germany to the nations that had suffered as a result of the conflict.

The result was a destabilized Germany with an uneasy new democracy, a volatile economy and a population that had largely been decimated and were humiliated by the new arrangements. This sense of discontent was vocalized by Adolf Hitler who, along with his German Socialist Workers Party, spoke of the need for a strong Germany with a heavy emphasis on the "purity" of the Aryan race and the necessity for room to be created for that race to expand.

Hitler's vision of a downtrodden Germany ready to rise up and claim its rightful place as a global power galvanized a disenfranchised population and led to the rise to power of the Nazi party in the 1930s. In 1938, Hitler began his plan to unite all German-speaking people into one nation with the annexing of Austria, known as the Anschluss.

While these events were troubling to the Allied powers and to the nations bordering Germany, it wasn't until 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, that war was officially declared.

World War II Timeline

  • In 1938, Hitler annexes Austria and demands a return of German-speaking people in Czechoslovakia.
  • In 1939, Hitler invades Czechoslovakia.
  • Later in 1939, Britain arms Poland and reassures them of their support should a German invasion take place. 
  • In September of 1939, Hitler invades Poland; subsequently, Britain and France declare war on Germany. 
  • In 1940, Hitler invades Norway and Denmark and launches his blitzkrieg against Holland and Belgium.
  • In June of 1940, Italy, under Mussolini, enters the war on the side of the Germans, hoping to reap the benefits of the war.
  • In 1940, Hitler begins his bombing campaign against Britain, killing civilians in an effort to destroy the nation's morale.
  • Later in 1940, Germany, Italy and Japan sign the Tripartite Pact.
  • In 1941, Hitler invades Russia; the United States, not yet part of the war, offers aid.
  • In December of 1941, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor; the next day, Britain and the United States declare war on Japan.
  • The United States defeats the Japanese at the Battle of Midway in 1942, pushing the Japanese army back.
  • In 1942, the Russians defeat the Germans at the Battle of Stalingrad.
  • In September of 1943, Italy surrenders.
  • In 1944, the United States defeats German forces on D-Day. 
  • In December of 1944, the Germans were defeated by the Allies in the Battle of the Bulge.
  • In April of 1945, Hitler commits suicide before his inevitable capture. 
  • Days later, German forces surrender. 
  • On May 8, 1945, an Allied victory was celebrated in Europe.
  • Later in the summer of 1945, the United States, fearful of a lengthening conflict in the Pacific, drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Days later, the Japanese army surrenders.

How Many Years Did World War II Last?

World War II lasted for approximately six years. It began officially in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland and concluded in 1945 with the liberation of Europe by the Allied powers and the eventual surrender of the Japanese.

What Were the Global Repercussions of World War II?

Following World War II, much of Europe was in shambles and faced a future of economic uncertainty. One of the results of World War II was the formation of the United Nations with the goal of maintaining global and international stability. Russia and the United States were the only two nations that hadn't been economically harmed during the war. On the contrary, the war had boosted the United States out of the Great Depression and launched it into an era of economic prosperity. The USSR had taken control of parts of Germany and was sowing the seeds for the beginning of the Cold War.