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In 1945, World War II ended. It was the most

terrible war in history. Much of Europe and Asia lay
in ruins. About 55 million people had been killed in
only six years. More than half of them were civilians
(nonmilitary). But many people in many countries
felt that they had met and destroyed a great evil.
World War II began in 1939, when Germany
invaded Poland. Britain and France then declared
war on Germany. The United States entered the war
in 1941, after Japan bombed a U.S. Navy base in
Hawaii. The United States was on the side of Britain
and France

World War I helped cause World War II. World War

I had ended with the defeat of Germany in 1918.
Afterward, people in Germany were bitter. They
believed that they had been unfairly blamed for the
war. They were being made to pay money to
victorious Britain and France. They were forbidden
to rebuild their army.
Japan was bitter too. The Japanese had helped
defeat Germany. They felt it was their right to
expand their power in Asia. But Britain and the
United States blocked them.
In Germany, the Nazis came to power in 1933. Their leader
was Adolf Hitler. He blamed Germany’s problems on the
Jews. The Nazis admired violence and war. They had no use
for democracy.
Japan’s government was dominated by its army and navy. By
1940, it had treaties with Italy and Germany. These three
countries came to be called the Axis. All three were run by
dictators—rulers with total power.
In the 1930s, Japan seized parts of China and other Asian
countries. Seeing that no one stopped Japan, Italy and
Germany decided to expand their territory. Hitler, defying
Britain and France, rebuilt Germany’s army. Still no one tried
to stop him. In the late 1930s, he took over Austria and
On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. World War II
had begun.
Germany’s tanks, planes, bombs, and rapid troop movement
quickly overwhelmed Poland. This kind of warfare was called
blitzkrieg (“lightning war”) because it was so swift. In spring
of 1940, Hitler invaded western Europe. Denmark, Norway,
Belgium, The Netherlands, and France fell to the blitzkrieg.
Hitler was now master of Europe.
Britain remained free. Hitler wanted to destroy Britain’s air
force before invading the country. During 1940 and 1941,
German planes bombed England. British prime minister
Winston Churchill rallied his people to resist. The British
were helped by a secret invention, radar, which spotted
German aircraft. Germany never invaded England.
On June 22, 1941, Hitler’s armies invaded the Soviet Union.
By November, they were within 20 miles (32 kilometers) of
Moscow, the Soviet capital.

In the United States, most people hated Hitler. But

most Americans did not want to fight in any
“foreign wars.”
Japan, meanwhile, was expanding its empire in
Asia. The United States had stopped selling oil and
metal to Japan. Japanese leaders planned to seize oil
fields in Southeast Asia. They knew this would
mean war with the United States. So they got in the
first blow.
On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes bombed the
U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. They
sank or seriously damaged 21 ships. The United
States now joined the Allies (the countries fighting
the Axis).

Japan had attacked the United States. But U.S.

president Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that Germany
was the more powerful enemy. Hitler had to be
defeated first.
Germany and Italy controlled much of North Africa.
In 1942, American troops joined the Allies in North
Africa. By May 1943, the Axis armies had fled. In
July 1943, American, British, and Canadian troops
invaded Italy. American and British planes began
bombing Germany from airfields in England.
In November 1942, the Soviet armies stopped the
German advance. Then they started to push the
Germans back.

In 1944, Hitler was using most of his forces against the

Soviet Union. Then on June 6, 1944—known as D-Day—
British, American, and other Allied forces landed in
northern France. Now Germany had to fight on two
battlefronts—in France and the Soviet Union.
By the end of 1944, the Allies were advancing
everywhere. The Soviets pushed into Germany from the
east. The British and Americans led the drive from the
west and south.
In the Pacific, U.S. forces were rolling back the Japanese
empire. In fierce fighting, they captured island after
island in the Pacific. They moved ever closer to Japan.
By early 1945, Axis cities were being heavily bombed by
British and American planes.

On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered to the

Allies. Hitler had killed himself a week earlier.
Japan still held out. The Americans had
captured all the nearby islands. They were
preparing to invade Japan itself.
On August 6, 1945, the United States introduced
a terrible new weapon. An atomic bomb was
dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
Three days later, another atomic bomb was
dropped, on the city of Nagasaki. On August 14,
Japan agreed to surrender.

World War II caused enormous destruction. Much of

Germany and Japan had to be rebuilt from rubble.
Britain and many other nations suffered terrible damage.
The Axis suffered about 11 million military and civilian
deaths. The victorious Allies lost four times as many. In
the Soviet Union alone, more than 20 million died.
The world was shocked by Hitler’s death camps. In
these camps, the Nazis had murdered about 6 million
people. They included two-thirds of Europe’s Jews.
Germany and Japan were no longer military powers
after the war. Neither were Britain and France. The
United States and the Soviet Union had become the
world’s great powers.