World War II was a global conflict that was primarily fought between the Allied powers (Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States) and the Axis Powers (Italy, Japan and Germany) between the years of 1939 and 1945. The conflict ultimately cost million of lives, both civilian and military. The war can be divided up into two major theaters; Pacific and European.
In the Pacific, the expansionist Empire of Japan began capturing neighboring islands and territories as early as 1931, but the generally agreed upon date for the war beginning was 1941 when the Japanese invaded Thailand and bombed Pearl Harbor. Both Britian and the U.S. moved quickly to defend their territories from futhur Japanese aggression, and soon a major naval war was underway between the three powers. As the Allies readied themselves for a naval counter-offensive, Japan struck quickly taking several island colonies including the Philippines in early 1942. It wasn’t until the Battle of Midway that the tide turned and soon the Japanese were losing what had become a war of attrition. The U.S. strategy of “island hoping” to get within bombing range of Japan’s home islands and eventually invade progressed slowly, but with the capture of Okinawa in 1944. The huge death tolls incurred while taking this island led to a revised strategy of bombing the home island into submission, culminating in 1945 dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan. The nation finally surrendered soon after.
The European War began in 1939 when Hitler ordered the forces of Germany to invade Poland. This triggered a response from both France and Britain, bringing them into the war against Germany and Italy. Germany’s armed forces scored decisive victories in 1940 even capturing Paris and forcing France out of the war. Soon, Britain was the only allied power remaining, and Hitler ordered the country captured or destroyed. When Germany was unable to gain air superiority over Britain, the planned invasion was called off and a massive bombing campaign was begun, known as the Battle of Britain. Despite massive bombing raids, Germany couldn’t force the British to surrender. Frustrated, Hitler ordered Germany forces to invade the Soviet Union in 1941. The invasion went smoothly until Soviet forces managed to regroup and halt the Germans in key cities such as Stalingrad and Leningrad. Soon, they began forcing the Germans back. By this time the U.S. had also entered the European conflict, opening up fronts in Italy in 1942 and eventually France in 1944 with the D-Day landings. Hitler refused to surrender, eventually committing suicide before the final German surrender in 1945.