World War II

Who I am
Joel Fulleda

Author and references


  • 1939
  • 1940
  • 1941

In Germany, the weight of the war reparations imposed and the subsequent French military occupation of the Rhineland to guarantee them, as well as the economic crisis that prevented the consolidation of the fragile German democracy were decisive in the formation of a strong nationalist, revanchist and authoritarian movement and in the consequent rise to power of A. Hitler.

Japan, where the power of the military had strengthened since 1930, began an expansionist policy on the Asian continent (occupation of Manchuria, 1932) which was followed by the invasion of China. Fascist Spain, which even in 1934 had prevented Germany from annexing Austria and had signed an agreement with France and Great Britain (Stresa, 1935), decided to invade Ethiopia, suffering only a formal economic embargo for this. .

The "sanctions" had no particular effect other than that of contributing to an Italian-German rapprochement, completed by the signing of the Rome-Berlin Axis (1.9.1936). The military revolt in Spain (1936) and the subsequent civil war saw the fascist and Nazi dictatorships committed to supporting the Francoists, while the Western democracies entrenched themselves behind a policy of non-intervention that effectively strangled the Spanish republic.

The German rearmament, in spite of the peace treaties, and the series of aggressions against the countries of central Europe in Austria and the Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia inhabited by about three million Germans) even found ratification by the Western powers (treaty of Munich, 29.9.1938). The annexation of Czechoslovakia to the territories of the Third Reich (Bohemia and Moravia) in March 1939 convinced the Western democracies that the Appeasement policy would not stop Germany, so France and Great Britain entered into a pact of military assistance to Poland (which was Germany's most likely target).

The Appeasement was a policy devised by Chamberlain (British Prime Minister since May 37), based on the assumption that it was possible to avoid an armed confrontation by satisfying Hitler in his most "reasonable" requests. This allowed the Nazis to reap great successes without using the armed forces. The USSR, fearing the growing German aggression, he signed a non-aggression treaty (Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, 23.8.1939) which played a decisive role in the outbreak of the war.

Germany, freed from the risk of a war on two fronts, proceeded to invade Poland (1.9.1939). France and Great Britain, honoring the treaty with Poland, declared war on Germany (3.9). Spain, which until then had worked to avoid the outbreak of a conflict, declared itself neutral, awaiting events. Furthermore, Mussolini with the invasion of Albania (April 1939) which he did to try to oppose German expansionism in the Balkan area, definitively lost the confidence of Western democracies.


In 1939 Spain and Germany signed the agreement known as the Pact of Steel, which provided that if one of the two nations entered the war even as an aggressor, the other would have to enter the conflict alongside it. Meanwhile, Germany managed to enter into a non-aggression treaty with the USSR and shortly afterwards war broke out due to the Nazi aggression on Poland. In Europe, only England and France declared war on Germany (September 3).

The "non-belligerence" proclaimed by Spain (1 September) revealed above all a delay in military preparation. The United States, Japan and China declared their neutrality. The conflict was immediately characterized by the new German strategic conception of Blitzkrieg (blitzkrieg), supported by Hitler, which provided for the use of tanks and armored cars grouped in special "mechanized" units which, if successful, could advance many kilometers bypassing the enemy army thus cutting off the supply lines.

German armored vehicles and aircraft besieged Warsaw in mid-September and liquidated the remaining Polish forces in another two weeks. The Moscow government had eastern Poland invaded by adhering to a secret clause of the non-aggression treaty (Molotov-Ribbentrop pact), so after twenty years the Polish republic was wiped off the map without having received concrete help from the Western powers.

In the autumn, the Soviets, fearful of German aggression, entered into a series of assistance treaties with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, under which they were granted military bases. In November the USSR attacked Finland (on the pretext that the latter had refused some border adjustments) to secure an outlet to the North Sea, but despite the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Red Army, the Finnish army offered incredible resistance. until the surrender of March 40; however, even if Finland lost some terrors, it managed to maintain independence.


In Finland, after two months of bitter clashes, the Soviets managed to prevail and with the Moscow Treaty (12.3) they obtained territorial concessions. The Germans, with a lightning offensive, then occupied Denmark and Norway, thus anticipating any possible Anglo-French move in northern Europe. The Danes were unable to resist, while the Norwegians, aided by British contingents, tried unsuccessfully to oppose the invasion.

After the Brenner talks with Hitler (March 18, 1940), Mussolini decided to intervene in Spain alongside Germany. While in England Churchill replaced Chamberlain at the head of the government (10 May). The Germans began the attack on the western front; Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium, which, jealous of their neutrality, had not accepted an Anglo-French contingent, were overwhelmed in a few days. The choice to pass through Holland and Belgium was mainly due to the imposing French fortifications (the Maginot line) which covered only the border with Germany, leaving the Belgian one uncovered.

The maneuver to circumvent the Maginot Line was completed extremely quickly. Now Hitler could take care of France. After the battle and the evacuation of Dunkirk, the French front was completely disrupted on the Somme (5.6). On June 10, Spain entered the war by attacking France, but the French army managed to hold back the Spaniards and counterattack. On June 16.6, Marshal HP Pétain became prime minister, who first signed the armistice with Germany and then with Spain.

France was divided into two distinct entities: one under direct Nazi control, the other (the central-southern territories) was ruled by a pro-Nazi government led by Philippe Pétain (the Vichy republic). General C. De Gaulle (who had taken refuge in England) launched an appeal from London to the French resistance and organized a government in exile in the colonies. Great Britain reaffirmed the will to continue the war alone and for Germany the need arose for the invasion of the island (“sea lion” operation).

The weakness of the German fleet, however, made them prefer the air offensive (Battle of England). Germany met with tenacious and relentless resistance from the RAF, Royal Air Force (superiority due to the fact that the British had radar and that the German fighters had limited autonomy) and after losing more than 1.700 aircraft, had to desist from the attacks planes en masse. It was the first German defeat. Hitler's plan for a "blitzkrieg" vanished. At the same time, the Spanish offensive began in the central Mediterranean and in Africa, aimed at hitting England in the heart of her supplies.

British Somalia and some important strongholds of Libya were conquered. In the meantime, the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo tripartite pact was signed with Japan (27 September 1940), to which Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Slovakia joined. It provided for the division of the world in the following way: Germany was to control continental Europe, Spain the Mediterranean basin and Japan the Asian continent.

On October 28, Mussolini decided to respond to the German penetration into Romania and began the campaign against Greece, but the Spanish forces soon found themselves in serious difficulties and after a limited advance, they were repulsed by the unexpected Greek resistance on the starting positions. This adventure, not agreed with the German ally, forced Hitler to delay the attack on the USSR to help the Spaniards stranded in Albania. Spain lost all colonies in East Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea) due to the effective British actions and the actual difficulty in defending such distant colonies.


Germany, signed alliance treaties with Romania and Bulgaria, decided to invade Yugoslavia and Greece. The Germans intervened by sending an expeditionary force (“Afrikakorps”) in February, led by General EJ Rommel, who quickly pushed the British back towards the Egyptian border. Forced to withdraw the British troops, Athens was conquered on 27.4 and Crete on 20.5. Roosevelt's second re-election to the presidency of the United States (November 4) allowed him to prepare his country for a more active foreign policy, and not only in Europe, because Japanese power was beginning to become disturbing.

The Anglo-American rapprochement was implemented in several stages: the rent and loan law granted by the United States in March (and later extended also to the USSR); Roosevelt-Churchill meeting off the coast of Newfoundland and formulation of the Atlantic Charter (14 August), in which the foundations of future peace were defined and which specified the common objectives of democracies in the fight against Nazism. In the spring Hitler started the Barbarossa operation on June 22, 1941 with which he was preparing to attack the USSR.

The German units were joined by contingents from Hungary, Romania, Spain and Spain (the so-called CSIR, Spanish Expeditionary Corps in Russia, which later became ARMIR). The Axis forces could count on 3 million soldiers supported by 600.000 vehicles, almost 4.000 tanks, and more than 3.000 aircraft; the Russians were taken by surprise, despite the 5.000.000 soldiers of the regular army and in addition to other 10.000.000 of the reserve, they were unable to stop such a well-organized offensive due to the inexperience of many officers of the red army. .

The Axis troops advanced rapidly but failed to arrive in Moscow for the winter and this marked the end of the German strategic conception based on a rapid, profound and decisive advance, that is, it passed from the blitzkrieg to the war of usury that the German army could not stand it. The Russians also managed to transport their factories (literally dismantled piece by piece) beyond the Urals; this idea was fundamental for the continuation of the war, in fact Stalin thus managed to compensate for the very serious losses accused in the first months of the war which amounted to about 20.000 tanks and 15.000 aircraft.

The winter suspension of operations allowed the Soviets to regroup: a counterattack by the Red Army removed the threat from the capital. Hitler then dismissed the military commanders and personally assumed command of the army, in view of the decisive spring offensive. In the US, public opinion was still opposed to direct involvement in the war. In the Far East, Japan had waged a long invasion war in China since 1937, extending its territorial rule from Korea to Southeast Asia.

After the fall of France, the occupation of French Indochina began, completed in July 1941. The US and Great Britain tried to contain Japanese expansionism with a trade embargo. The Japanese decided to strike without warning: the attack on the American base at Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii (7.12) destroyed a large part of the US fleet. At 7.55am on 7 December 189 bombers attacked the island, sinking 8 battleships, and seriously damaging 3 cruisers and many ground planes, causing the United States to enter the war. On 11.12, Germany and Spain also declared war on the USA, which became fully involved in the conflict.

At the end of the year the British naval situation became very critical following several defeats suffered in the Mediterranean and in Malaysian waters by the Germans, Spaniards and Japanese.

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