Presented by Prof Dennis Showalter Historian. World War Two was the most destructive global conflict in history. Cities were destroyed by air raids, the atom bomb was dropped on Japan and six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Over 50 million soldiers and civilians died. However, the war that consumed half the world started with a peace agreement.
Chamberlain makes a speech about the Munich Agreement. With Nazi Germany expanding its territories in Europe, Britain, France and Germany sign the Munich Agreement, which states the Czechoslovakian region of Sudetenland should be given to Germany and Hitler can claim no more land.
But the Munich Agreement fails to deter Hitler from his expansionist plans and in March he invades Czechoslovakia breaking the terms of the treaty.
A German battleship opens fire on the Polish garrison in Danzig Gdansk. It is the first military engagement of World War Two. Simultaneously 1. They tear across the country aided by 1, German aircraft which bombard Polish towns and cities. On 2 September Chamberlain sends an ultimatum to Hitler: if he does not withdraw his forces by the following day, there will be war.
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Chamberlain announces that Britain is at war with Germany. Britain and France have agreed to defend Poland under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. When Germany refuses to withdraw, Britain and France declare war. The small Polish army is hopelessly outdated and still has several cavalry divisions.
They put up plucky resistance for three weeks but are finally defeated by Germany's powerful army. On 17 September, suspecting Hitler may attack the Soviet Union, Stalin sends the Red Army to occupy eastern Poland to protect Soviet interests and gain more influence in the region. Britain and France are now at war with Germany but for eight months Western Europe is largely peaceful. Many expect Germany to continue its military expansion beyond Poland, but it delays its advance.
Caught between giants
This gives time for the British Army, made up of around , men, to travel to France. Allied forces are put on alert, guarding the border with Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. The French reinforce an impressive series of fortifications along the German border, the Maginot Line, but crucially they do not extend it to reach the Belgian frontier.
He resigns as prime minister on 10 May and is succeeded by Winston Churchill. German troops use Blitzkrieg tactics and unleash a surprise attack to storm through neutral Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands before crossing the border into northern France.
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The French, with most of their forces on the Maginot Line further south, are outmanoeuvred and outfought. In the ensuing battles the German Army suffer , casualties, but the Allies suffer more with , casualties. Hopelessly outgunned, the British Army retreats towards the coast. Evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk. German military success continues as they reach the coast at Abbeville in Northern France and cut off the British Army between Lille and the sea.
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Defeated and humiliated, around , men, including , French and Belgian soldiers, retreat north with their backs to the sea. They are no match for the ruthless German forces and their surrender looks inevitable, but an enormous rescue mission is undertaken to save them. Between 26 May and 4 June a ragtag fleet, ranging from battleships to pleasure boats braves the Channel to save the stranded soldiers. The incredible courage of the British civilians becomes known as 'Dunkirk spirit'. German forces take Paris on 14 June. However he is quickly outvoted and forced to resign.
Germany is now the dominant power in Western Europe. For you, the French people, it is simply a question of following me without mental reservation along the path of honour and national interest. With France conquered, Germany plans a knockout blow to Britain across the Channel. Hitler wants to attack Britain in the summer of , but before he launches a ground invasion, he must gain air superiority by destroying the Royal Air Force.
The Low Countries were under German occupation by the end of May.
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On June 22, , France signed an armistice with Germany. The armistice provided for the German occupation of the northern half of France and permitted the establishment of a collaborationist regime in the south with its seat in Vichy. From July 10 to October 31, , the Germans waged, and ultimately lost, an air war over England, known as the Battle of Britain. In accordance with sphere of influence arrangements with Nazi Germany in , the Soviet Union invaded Finland at the end of November After a bitterly fought winter war, the Soviets forced the Finns to cede territory along the northern shores of Lake Lagoda north of Leningrad St.
Petersburg and on the Arctic coastline in March The Soviet Union occuiped and annexed eastern Poland in Italy entered the war on June 10, , and invaded southern France on June Dissatisfied with Italy's share in the spoils at the armistice negotiations, Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini attacked Greece in October from Albania which the Italians had seized in April Both adventures resulted in military disaster that required German intervention. By mid-June, the Axis powers had subdued Greece.
Out of the collapse of Yugoslavia arose the so-called Independent State of Croatia under the leadership of the fascist and terrorist Ustasa organization. The new state, which encompassed Bosnia and Herzegovina, formally joined the Axis on June Germany occupied eastern Slovenia, the Serbian Banat and most of Serbia proper.
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Italy seized Istria and western Slovenia, attached Kosovo province to Albania, and occupied the Croat-Dalmatian coastline and Montenegro. After permitting Bulgaria to occupy Greek Thrace, Germany and Italy divided Greece into occupation zones, with the Italians in the west and the Germans in the east. Finland, seeking redress for its defeat in the winter war of —, joined the Axis and the German invasion. By the end of October , German troops had advanced deep into the Soviet Union, overrunning the Baltic states and laying siege to Leningrad in the north; capturing Smolensk and marching on Moscow in the center; and capturing Kiev Kyiv and approaching Rostov on the mouth of the Don River in the south.
Stiffening Red Army resistance in August and again in November prevented the Germans from capturing the key cities of Leningrad and Moscow. On December 6, , Soviet troops launched a significant counteroffensive that drove the Germans permanently from the outskirts of Moscow.
One day later, on December 7, , Japan, still engaged in warfare on the Chinese mainland, launched a surprise air attack on Pearl Harbor , Hawaii. The United States immediately declared war on Japan. Great Britain followed suit. In the late spring and early summer of , the British were able to halt the Japanese advance in Burma; and the US soundly defeated the Japanese navy at Midway in the Pacific. For the next three years, Allied air forces systematically bombed industrial plants and cities all over the Reich, reducing much of urban Germany to rubble by In late and early , Anglo-American forces achieved a series of significant military triumphs in North Africa.
The failure of Vichy French armed forces to resist enabled the Allies to quickly occupy French North Africa to the Tunisian border within days of landings on the beaches of Morocco and Algeria on November 8, It also triggered the German occupation of Vichy France on November 11, Trapped in Tunisia, the Axis forces in Africa, approximately , troops in all, surrendered in May In June , the Germans and their Axis partners resumed their offensive in the Soviet Union, reaching Stalingrad Volgograd on the Volga River, securing the Crimean peninsula, and penetrating deep into the Caucasus region by late September In November, Soviet troops launched a counteroffensive northwest and southwest of Stalingrad that cut off the German forces in the city.
The Germans mounted one more offensive at Kursk in July , the biggest tank battle in history, but Soviet troops and tanks blunted the attack and assumed a military initiative that they would not again relinquish. By late , the Germans were forced to evacuate the Caucasus and to relinquish Kiev. In July , the western Allies successfully landed in Sicily. Led by Field Marshal Pietro Badoglio, the Italian Army took advantage of the political vacuum to overthrow the Fascist regime, replacing it with a military dictatorship. Tell the Publisher! No customer reviews. Share your thoughts with other customers.
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