The Second World War

The Second World War

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  • Background to the Second World War
  • Chronology of the Second World War
  • Political Figures
  • European Diplomacy
  • Second World War Battles
  • Second World Air War
  • Countries and the Second World War
  • Second World War at Sea
  • Armed Forces: 1939-1945
  • Soldiers, Sailors and Pilots
  • Military Figures
  • French Resistance Index
  • United States Military Figures
  • The Resistance
  • British and Commonwealth Military Figures
  • Resistance in Nazi Germany
  • German Military Figures: 1930-45
  • Nazi Germany
  • Military Leaders in Japan
  • Holocaust
  • French Military Leaders
  • Secret Service
  • The Home Front
  • Women at War
  • Journalists
  • War Photographers
  • Art
  • Timeline: Technology
  • Weapons
  • Scientists

The Second World War: A Complete History

A history of the Second World War that covers all the war fronts, the fighting on land, at sea and in the air, the activities of resistance and partisan groups, espionage, secret intelligence, strategy and tactics, war leaders, generals, admirals and air marshals, individual acts of heroism on all the war fronts and behind the lines, the fate of prisoners of war, the bombing of cities, the submarine war, and the aftermath of the war. The first history of the Second World War in which the fate of the Jews and of the many other civilian victims is an integral part of the war narrative.

The Second World War : A Complete History

It began with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. By the time it came to an end on V-J Day-August 14, 1945 -it had involved every major power and become global in its reach. In the final accounting, it would turn out to be, in both human terms and material resources, the costliest war in history, taking the lives of thirty million people.
In one brilliant volume, eminent historian Martin Gilbert offers the complete history of the Second World War. With unparalleled scholarship and breadth of vision, Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill as well as one of the leading experts on the Holocaust, weaves together political, military, diplomatic, and civilian elements to provide a global perspective on the war, in a work that is both a treasure trove of information and a gripping, dramatic narrative.

"In his transmission of the horror of the war, Martin Gilbert has achieved something no other historian but he could. There is indeed a relentless force about chronology when it is used as a tool by an historian of the stature of Martin Gilbert."
-The Sunday Telegraph

"Gilbert's flowing narrative is spiced with anecdotal details culled from diaries, memoirs, and official documents. He is especially skillful at interweaving summaries of military
strategy with vignettes of civilian suffering." -Newsweek

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The Second World War: a complete history

The 60th anniversary of the Normandy landing brought a barrage of World War II titles. This 1989 book by the eminent British historian provides a single-volume overview. It offers grim detail and . Читать весь отзыв

The Second World War: a complete history

Though few one-volume histories of World War II have been published in the last ten years, the 50th anniversary of the war's start has inspired new works: Gilbert's book and John Keegan's The Second . Читать весь отзыв

The Second World War, History And Remembrance

by Peter Lavelle May 8, 2016 2.5k Views

As the 71st anniversary of fascism’s demise in Europe approaches, history is being re-cast, particularly events before, during, and after World War II. This history is being reinterpreted and even rewritten in a number of post-Soviet and Eastern European states. This approach often undermines, or even denies, the role the Soviet Union (its peoples and soldiers) played in the defeat of Nazi Germany. This has less to do with historical knowledge than it does with scoring cheap geopolitical points in the present at Russia’s expense.

In some Baltic republics and quite openly today in Ukraine, Nazi collaborators are honoured as war veterans, while Soviet war memorials are moved, dismantled and, in some cases, publicly destroyed with great media fanfare. Most in Russia consider this not only insulting, but also a dangerous rehabilitation of ideas that their citizens paid such a high price to eliminate. This is especially painful when the suffering people of Ukraine’s Donbas remain the subject of assault and punishment by the western-backed regime in Kiev that openly celebrates Nazi collaboration.

The hitherto accepted history of World War II (or the Great Patriotic War, as it is known in Russia) is undergoing revision. Ordinarily, this should not surprise anyone up until recently, such traditional narratives were the product of the Cold War. The ideological conflict that pitted Soviet ‘developed socialism’ against Western capitalism resulted in diverging ideologically couched explanations for the defeat of Nazi Germany.

The Western take was that the Allies, specifically the United States, “saved the world from tyranny in the name of democracy and other liberal values.” Soviet ideologists, by contrast, stressed “the defeat of a murderous and very aggressive ideology: fascism.”

As long as the Cold War continued, these two renditions could coexist, although the West consistently understated the Soviet contribution to Hitler’s defeat and whitewashed the fascist movements in Eastern Europe. All of this started to change with the Russia-accepted self-collapse of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal from the Cold War in 1991.

Every country and every society needs a common history. National narratives bind a nation together and create a sense of community. All the new sovereign states that came into being with the end of the Soviet Union are very keen to establish new national histories. But in doing so, most of them have had to address specific and often painful episodes related to World War II and the decade of the 1930s and early 1940s.

As the successor state to the Soviet Union, Russia adheres steadfastly to the belief that it liberated a great swathe of Europe from fascism. To craft what they believe are coherent, if not self-satisfying, national histories, many in the Baltics, Ukraine, and some Eastern European states now like to challenge Russia’s historical rendition (and seemingly with Washington’s encouragement). They claim that not only did the Soviet Union not liberate them from fascism, but that it replaced Nazi Germany as an occupying power.

Embedded in this claim is a double-edged sword. First, those who argue that the Soviets should not be credited with defeating fascism implicitly also deny the role of those in the Baltic republics, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe who sacrificed their lives to end Nazi rule. Second, there is also denial about how many in Eastern Europe actually did welcome the end of Nazi tyranny and accepted communist ideas. Many were more than happy to see the demise of collaborationists, fascists, racists, and ultranationalists.

To be sure, there were those who didn’t, and their grievances are legitimate and should be heard however, history is not as black and white as nationalist historians and governments (then and now) would like us to believe. For example, I lived in Poland during much of the 1980s when the free trade union Solidarity was enjoying its greatest popularity. At the time, Polish society was polarised one-third of the population strongly supported Solidarity, and one-third the pro-Moscow regime, while the remaining third waited on the sidelines to see how the standoff between those two would end. And to this day, some Poles still have many good things to say about communist Poland.

What is very disturbing about historical revisionism when it comes to World War II is the attempt to airbrush from the record fascist ideas, groups, and individuals that infested Europe in the 1930s and 󈧬s. The Cold War-era interpretation of World War II was a convenient opportunity to overlook nasty homegrown fascism all over Europe, particularly in the east. In Ukraine, there isn’t even an airbrush in play today, just a western media closing its eyes to rhetorical and imaginary that is truly shocking.

After the war ended, few wanted to dwell on how fascism and gross right-wing nationalism — very often anti-Semitic — captured the imagination of the European body politic. Political imperatives were far more important, and so confronting the Soviet Union took precedence. It became acceptable to ignore unpleasant episodes.

This is still happening today, particularly in Ukraine. Instead of facing up to the sins of the past, it is all too easy to blame contemporary Russia for the real or imagined sins of the Soviet Union. Using this line of argument, Russia can and should claim it, too, was a victim of the Soviet Union.

It is unfortunate that a new discursive pathology has come into vogue. Many feel that the sole way to prove their historical legitimacy and virtue is by casting themselves in the role of victim. This is history gone wrong. All too often a person’s national identity is defined by how someone else wronged him or her.

Today states blame other states for their own problems in the present because of a very specific, and again self-serving, interpretation of what happened in the past. Equally unfortunate is the knee-jerk tendency to blame “Putin’s undemocratic Russia” for the woes of its neighbors. This is politics on the cheap and a contemptible attitude to what history should really be all about.

Denying the Holocaust is a legal offense in Germany. This is the case in many countries in the world and is morally right. Consigning to oblivion the murder of millions of people is simply wrong. Russia wants the same to hold true for the 27 million Soviet citizens (at the very least) who gave their lives to defeat Hitler’s murderous regime.

It is important to remember Germany and France embarked upon an open and honest discussion to reconcile their long-standing historical differences after the Second World War. What we see now is the opposite: history is being used to divide countries and peoples in Eastern Europe and Russia. These divisions, in turn, open the door for the worst possibility: the slow but very real rehabilitation of a new form of fascism.

Peter Lavelle is anchor of RT political debate program CrossTalk. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of his employer.

History of the Second World War Wesley Livesay

History of the Second World War is a weekly podcast which will cover World War 2, beginning with the tumultuous years after the First World War, continuing into the descent into war during the 1930s, through the war years, and then into the post war aftermath.

56: Second Sino-Japanese War Pt. 7 - Sinking Deeper

After the fall of Nanking, there was still no end in sight for the fighting in China.

55: Second Sino-Japanese War Pt. 6 - Death and Suffering in Nanking

After the Japanese Army took Nanking in December, what would follow was pain, death, and suffering.

Jutland Stream:

54: Second Sino-Japanese War Pt. 5 - Failure and Retreat

With the Japanese landings from Hangzou Bay the Chinese positions in and around Shanghai become completely untenable.

53: Second Sino-Japanese War Pt. 4 - Battle for Shanghai

After the fighting spilled outside the city with Japanese landings on the river, the fighting would continue for months.

52: Second Sino-Japanese War Pt. 3 - Shanghai

While the Japanese invasion of northern China continued, further south the first major battle of the war was about to begin in the streets of Shanghai.

51: Second Sino-Japanese War Pt. 2 - Moving South

The establishment of the puppet state of Manchuria would not be the end of the adventures of the Japanese in China, and instead they would endeavor over the course of the next decade to extend their influence, and during that expansion they would eventually fall into a full scale war with China. This episode will first look at why the Japanese felt they had to constantly increase the territory under their control, before looking at the Marco Polo Bridge incident, which would ignite the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Guided History

World War I left an economically, politically, physically, and emotionally divided and devastated Europe. England, France, the Soviet Union, Japan, Germany and other countries had faced countless causalities and were exhausted. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 was created to resolve the destruction that Europe had been left with. Germany and its allies were given harsh, massive ramifications. From this, Europe tried to pick itself back up. During this period, ideologies, like Nazism, Fascism, and communism, became prevalent, Europe’s economy, beginning in the middle of the 1920’s, recovered, for the most part, and several issues, like Germany’s large reparation bills, were worked through. Despite all the events during this period, the origins of the Second World War are certain to most: the Treaty of Versailles. However, this has been highly debated over the last few decades. With this debate, numerous other interpretations of these origins have risen. For example, some focus on the ideology, economics, or even just Adolf Hitler. In retrospect, all of these aspects are factors in the outcome of the Second World War.

This research guide examines various sources on this topic. It includes sources in the form of books, articles, reports, and videos. The sources are separated into sections, general overview, social, economic, and ideological causes of the war. Because of this, the sources offer a wide range of opinions on the topic. The general overview sources provide arguments and views of the general origins of the war. On the other hand, the social, economic, and ideological sources are more specific and only argue the respective causes as the cause of World War II. With this in mind, none of the sources propose the Treaty of Versailles as the main or most significant cause of the war. This guide will portray the diverse focuses and interpretations of the origins of the war.

Bell, P.M.H.. The Origins of the Second World War in Europe. London: Longman Group, 1986.

  • This book analyzes several interpretations of the origins of World War II. It is able to look at both sides of every argument before drawing its own conclusion. It points out the social, economic, ideological, and military influences on the start of the war. The book creates a solid background of the events in Europe between 1919 and 1939 that lead up to the war. Overall, P.M.H. Bell creates a thorough examination of the origins of the Second World War and gives the reader a chance to discover numerous different interpretations and come to their own opinions and conclusions. It is easy to understand and uses great organization of the author’s points and arguments.

Taylor, A.J.P. The Origins of the Second World War. Simon & Schuster, 1996.

  • In this book, the author, A.J.P. Taylor, draws some highly controversy and interesting conclusions about the origins of World War II. One of his arguments is that Hitler never had any plans for German expansion or a great war. He also argues against several accepted truths about the causes of the war. Besides this, he discusses the influence of the Treaty of Versailles, economics, and Hitler’s foreign policy. This book makes convincing arguments and is a respectable source of information about the basis of the Second World War. It can be hard to follow on some points however, the simple language makes it accessible for anyone.

North, David. “Seventy years since the outbreak of World War II: Causes, Consequences and Lessons.” World Socialist Web Site, 2009.

  • This is a report based on a lecture that addresses the general causes, consequences, and lessons of World War II. With these topics, the report also includes different analyses, figures of the total deaths in the war, and an explanation of the significance. Although this gives a decent overview of the causes, it sometimes slips into biased statements and arguments. Still, this is a good source for the generality of the topic, while also including extra important facts on other aspects of the war.

Overy, R.J.. The Origins of the Second World War. Pearson, 2008.

  • Unlike most books on the origins of the Second World War, this book examines this topic on a more multi-national level. The author argues that to correctly look at this topic, it has to cover the topic internationally, the decline and rise of different empires. The author also examines Germany’s invasion of Poland and Hitler’s reaction to the war that came from this action. This book gives a fresh, clear explanation of the causes of the war and examination of the causes from the perspectives of Japan to England.

Kershaw, Ian. The ‘Hitler Myth’: Image and Reality in the Third Reich. Oxford University Press, 1987.

  • This book provides a thought-provoking analysis of Hitler’s personality and his popularity with an enormous amount of people. The author explains the importance of Hitler’s image and the propaganda that accompanied it. He also provides useful data that portrays the different stages of this myth. Overall, the book focuses on primary sources such as information from Nazi party officials to the opponents of the Nazi party. This source gives a fantastic explanation of the ‘Hitler Myth’ and how it worked the way it did. The data provided helps the book achieve its strong standing.

This video is the first part of the journey of Hitler’s rise to power. It focuses on the events that led to the dominantion of the Nazi Party and why they did. This source is a good source of background information on the people Hitler surrounded himself with, the reasons people were attracted to him and how his popularity rose.

Gordon, Robert J.. Did Economics Cause World War II?. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2008.

  • This article examines the economic influences on the Second World War. It points out that there is little focus on economics has a cause of the war, and this mostly consists of discussion of economics and its influence on the outcome of the war. This article largely references the book, Economic History of Nazi Germany, by Adam Tooze. It also largely discusses Germany’s agricultural situation and the inevitability of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. This source gives a rare view about economics as a major cause and expresses it through facts and strong points.

Bendersky, Joseph W. A Concise History of Nazi Germany: 1919-1945. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007.

  • This book, while also looking at other factors, majorly focuses on the Nazi ideology and its influence. It discusses the decision making that resulted in the Nazi rules and practices. Bendersky gives an overview of general factors, social, economic, and political, that took part in the cause of the war. This source is useful and reputable when looking at the Nazi ideology, as well as an overall look at the origins of World War II. The book provides a great outline topic and appeals to several viewpoints.

This video focuses on how Nazism and Fascism were causes of World War II. It starts from explaining the instability of Europe after World War I and continues to the rise of Nazism and Fascism and their connection. This source provides a thorough description of events that led to the Second World War and the involvement of ideology. It includes numerous images and videos from that time to strengthen its argument.

Jewish History

The Second World War was the most cataclysmic war in the history. It killed tens of millions, changed the face of civilization and unleashed forces undreamed of in their potential and terror. It was also a war against unadulterated evil. If a war could be called just, it was the Allied efforts against Hitler.

On September 1, 1939, the war began when massed German forces crossed the border into Poland. England and France had pledged to come to Poland’s aid in such an event, and after in inexcusable delay declared war against Germany. A great wave a fear overcame the Germans, as Hitler’s generals recorded in their diaries which were made public after the war. Had England and France immediately invaded the western provinces of Germany the fate of the world could have been changed. However, they showed no such resolve.

While Germany’s bold actions and tactics became known as a blitzkrieg (“lightening war”), the actions of England and France were sarcastically referred to as a sitzkrieg (“sitting war”).

Their inaction gave Germany a free hand to overwhelm the Polish army. It also gave German’s generals tremendous experience employing their revolutionary new military tactics, experience they would use to devastating effect later against the Allies. Germany’s air force, the Luftwaffe, terrorized not only the Polish army, but defenseless civilians – both those fleeing the carnage and those in Poland’s cities and villages. They especially targeted Jewish sections of the cities and villages, including extra sorties on Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.

As German forces overran Poland, the world stood aghast, but there was little anyone could do. The entire war was over in a month.

Hitler now turned his attention – and his army – west.

The Rise of Churchill

On May 10, 1940, Hitler invaded Belgium, which crumbled in a matter of days. After subduing the Belgians faster than anyone believed possible, the Germans then did the unthinkable and attacked France through the Ardennes Forest, a supposedly impassable natural barrier. The panzers burst out of the forest and ripped through French lines. The mighty French army – the largest standing army in Europe — was completely broken in a week.

The French summoned one of their heroes in the First World War, General Philippe Petain, who said they had no choice but to surrender, and on June 22, 1940, the French officially surrendered. The new head of France was a right-wing, anti-Semitic fascist by the name of Pierre Laval. They moved the seat of government in Paris, which was occupied, to the unoccupied Vichy province. France was out of the war.

As the French fell apart, the British continued fighting, but their army was trapped and began a slow retreat to a port where they hoped to evacuate as many troops as possible: Dunkirk. In what would become known as “The Miracle of Dunkirk,” more than 300,000 soldiers were rescued in 10 days. Every imaginable boat that could float was used to cross the channel and pick up stranded troops 24 hours a day without let up. All the while they were fired upon and bombed from the air. Thousands were killed and drowned. Nevertheless, it was a miracle how many survived.

In hindsight, Dunkirk was the beginning of victory for the Allies. Had the British army not been rescued there its army would have been gone, its spirit crushed, and the British government may well have surrendered. When Prime Minister Winston Churchill got up in the House of Commons to speak about it he received a standing ovation. However, in his confident yet sober tone he informed the British people, “Wars are not won by evacuations.”

Churchill, more than any individual, rallied the British to war. He could capture the hearts and minds of people with a word or a gesture. His gift for the turn of a phrase, his magnificent choice of words and his grand eloquence became legendary. “We shall fight on the beaches,” he thundered. “We shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills we shall never surrender….”

Churchill is an example of how the Almighty chooses a person and nurtures him for the right moment. For decades, Churchill had been in the “wilderness” of British politics. He was the odd man out, even as late as 1938. Incredibly, despite his success leading the nation during the war, he was voted out of office as soon as the war was over.


In the United States, Franklin Roosevelt recognized Hitler for the threat he was and knew he needed to be stopped, but he could not express that openly because public sentiment was strongly opposed to war. Americans did not want to get involved in another war between Europeans, Churchill’s speeches notwithstanding. They refused to admit how global the conflict really was, and how it would come to their doorstep whether they liked it or not.

Politically, the Isolationists in America wielded great power. Their viewpoint was abetted by rampant anti-Semitism in the United States. Father Charles Coughlin was a popular radio host who ranted against the Jews and praised Hitler. The German-American Bund marched in the streets.

Roosevelt, nevertheless, positioned himself for war as much as possible. In his Lend-Lease program he gave England 50 American destroyers. It was not so much for the worth of the destroyers, which were old, but for the psychological message it sent.

Roosevelt also broke with tradition and ran for a third term. No president before or since has ever been elected for more than two terms. He felt that he was God’s instrument and was indispensable to the Western world.

The Battle of Britain

As Hitler considered plans for the invasion of England, the German air force tried to crush the British into submission through air power, what became known as the Battle of Britain. London was bombed heavily for months. The British sustained tremendous civilian casualties.

Despite that, it became a rallying point and only stiffened British resolve. Against all odds, the British air force decimated the German air force, which would never be the same. Once again the immortal words of Churchill summed it up best: “Never in the history of mankind have so many owed so much to so few.”

The British victory in the Battle of Britain meant that Germany’s plans for an invasion of England would have to be scrapped. Although isolated, the island nation now became a dangerous foe on the Nazi Empire’s western front.

Operation Barbarossa

To this point, Hitler had led the Germans to victory, but now he would lead them – through his own conceit and madness – to defeat. Hitler convinced himself that he was a military genius and that he knew better than his generals. If he had listened to them, he reasoned, Germany would not have won decisive battles in Poland and France. He was the cause of victory.

Despite the danger of a two-front war, he was anxious to take over Russia in order to destroy the communists and annihilate its two to three million Jews. Therefore, he authorized Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia.

On June 22, 1941, Germany launched the attack. It caught the Russians completely by surprise and was devastating. In a month some two million Russians were killed, wounded or captured! German troops pushed to the outskirts of Leningrad in the north, Smolensk (18 miles west of Moscow) in the center and Kiev in the south. Russia was prostrate. Everyone expected them to surrender. Stalin almost suffered a nervous breakdown. His ministers made plans to evacuate Moscow and move to the Ural Mountains.

But Hitler had overextended himself. The supply lines from Germany stretched more than 1500 miles. The roads and railways (where they existed) were bad – and then winter set in. It was the coldest, bitterest winter in a century. The German troops were caught with summer clothing. They never expected to fight into the winter.

Stalin, with brute force, was able to raise another two to three million men and throw them into the breach. The German offensive stalled.

Day of Infamy

At this time, the United States had economically provoked Japan in such a way that, frightened for its own interests, militarists came to power. On December 7, 1941, they attacked the American Pacific fleet stationed in Pearl Harbor. The news galvanized Americans of all types.

The United States immediately declared war on Japan — not Germany. There was still not much sentiment to declare war against Germany. However, Hitler could not control himself and declared war against America. Congress in turn declared war against Germany and the world war was on.

The United States would prove to be the weight that decided the war against Germany. Winston Churchill wrote in his memoirs that he went to sleep on December 7, 1941, for the first time in eight years knowing that the Western world was saved.

End of the Thousand Year Reich

In the summer of 1942, Hitler authorized an attack designed to deliver a killer blow to Russia. His forces would push all the way to Stalingrad, the key city to Russia’s natural resources in the south.

After a titanic struggle, in what would be the bloodiest battle in history, the Russians prevailed at Stalingrad. It marked the end of Germany’s domination of Russia. There would still be years of fighting and millions of casualties, but the fate of Germany was sealed.

By early 1944, the Russians reached the borders where they had been at the beginning of the war. As the German army was retreating in the east, the Allied launched the amphibious invasion of Normandy in the west on June 6, 1944, “D-Day.” It was the largest and most complicated sea to land invasion in history. After some staunch German resistance, they finally broke through and rampaged through the countryside until they recaptured Paris and liberated all of France.

At the end of 1944, Germany would mount a short-lived but successful surprise attack in what became known as The Battle of the Bulge, but strategically it was all over. The German army was decimated and running out of fuel. Its production centers and major cities were almost completely obliterated by Allied bombing. Germany was at its knees.

As the end approached, Hitler and other leading Nazis moved into a series of reinforced, underground bunkers in Berlin. They were living in a fantasy land, convinced that they would yet be saved by the United States who would see the inescapable logic of making peace with Germany and attacking Russia. Hitler never could understand how deep the hatred toward him and everything he stood for was. The Nazis never really appreciated the evil they had done. It is almost incredulous.

Hitler committed suicide at the end of April 1945 and Germany officially surrendered on May 7. The war in Europe was over.

Into the Atomic Age

In April, 1945, Franklin Roosevelt died while still in office. Vice President Harry Truman took his place. Again, it was one of God’s “accidents.” One can see God’s hand in the promotion of this little known senator to the most powerful position in the world.

It was Truman who was bequeathed the terrible decision whether or not to drop the atom bomb on Japan. He decided that he was not going to risk a million American casualties and authorized the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In August 1945 the war with Japan was over as well.

The world was a smoldering ruin. How it was reconstructed, especially the Jewish world, will be the topic of the next few articles.

The Second World War : a complete history

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Second World War (WWII)

Memories of the First World War—the tragic loss of life, the heavy burden of debt and the strain on the country's unity imposed by conscription—made Canadians, including politicians of all parties, loath to contemplate another such experience. Initially, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King warmly supported British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasing German leader Adolf Hitler. When Chamberlain postponed war by sacrificing Czechoslovakia in the Munich crisis of September 1938, King thanked him publicly, and Canadians in general certainly agreed. Nevertheless, the shock of this crisis likely turned opinion towards accepting war to check the advance of Nazism. Only gradually did ongoing Nazi aggression alter this mood to the point where Canada was prepared to take part in another great war. King himself had no doubt that in a great war involving Britain, Canada could not stand aside.

Members of the Connaught's Own Rifles bidding farewell, New Westminster, BC, June 1940 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C38723). A Canadian soldier with a German prisoner who was captured during the Dieppe Raid. (courtesy of Library and Archives Canada-a210156-v6)

US President F.D. Roosevelt, Canadian PM W.L.M. King and British PM Winston Churchill at Québec, August 1943 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-14170).

Declaration and Mobilization

When the German attack on Poland on 1 September 1939 finally led Britain and France to declare war on Germany, King summoned Parliament to "decide," as he had pledged. Declaration of war was postponed for a week, during which Canada was formally neutral. The government announced that approval of the "Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne," which stated the government's decision to support Britain and France, would constitute approval of a declaration of war.

On September 9 the address was approved without a recorded vote, and war was declared the following day. The basis for parliamentary unity had in fact been laid in March, when both major parties accepted a program rejecting conscription for overseas service. King clearly envisaged a limited effort and was lukewarm towards an expeditionary force. Nevertheless, there was enough pressure to lead the Cabinet to dispatch one army division to Europe. The Allies' defeat in France and Belgium in the early summer of 1940 and the collapse of France frightened Canadians. The idea of limited and economical war went by the board, at which point the only limitation was the pledge against overseas conscription. The armed forces were rapidly enlarged, conscription was introduced June 1940 for home defence (see National Resources Mobilization Act), and expenditure grew enormously.

Dieppe, Hong Kong and Italy

Recreation of the battle by war artist Charles Comfort (courtesy Canadian War Museum/12276).

The pebble beach in Dieppe. Image courtesy of Richard Foot. German soldiers lead Canadian prisoners of war through the streets of Dieppe. (Image courtesy of Library and Archives Canada-C-014171.)

The army expanded, and by late 1942 there were five divisions overseas, two of them armoured. In April of that year the First Canadian Army was formed in England under Lieutenant-General A.G.L. McNaughton. In contrast with the First World War, it was a long time before the army saw large-scale action. Until summer 1943 the force in England was engaged only in the unsuccessful Dieppe Raid (19 August 1942), whereas two battalions sent from Canada had taken part in the hopeless defence of Hong Kong against the Japanese in December 1941. Public opinion in Canada became disturbed by the inaction, and disagreement developed between the government and McNaughton, who wished to reserve the army for a final, decisive campaign.

The government arranged with Britain for the 1st Canadian Infantry Division to join the attack on Sicily in July 1943, and subsequently insisted upon building its Mediterranean force up to a two-division corps (by adding the 5th Division). This produced a serious clash with McNaughton, just when the British War Office, which considered him unsuited for field command, was influencing the Canadian government against him. At the end of 1943 he was replaced by Lieutenant-General H.D.G. Crerar.

Crerar was appointed to command of I Canadian Corps in the UK he took that formation to Italy in November 1943 (courtesy DND/Library and Archives Canada/PA-166584). Royal Canadian Artillery firing at enemy positions, Sicily, 1943 (photo by J. Smith, courtesy DND/Library and Archives Canada/PA-151748). Snipers of the Royal 22e Régiment in the Liri Valley, Italy. (L-R) Private Amalie Dionne, Lance-Corporal Paul Fortin, Privates Henri Thibault, Guste Bernier, Harry Gilman, Robert Riral. (Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, PA-117835.) Lt.-Gen. E.L.M Burns, near to Rimini, Italy, 23 September 1944. (Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, PA-171701)

The 1st Division was heavily engaged in the Sicilian campaign as part of the British Eighth Army, and subsequently took part in the December 1943 advance up the mainland of Italy, seeing particularly severe fighting in and around Ortona. ( See also: The Italian Campaign.) In the spring of 1944 Canadians under Lieutenant-General E.L.M. Burns played a leading role in breaking the Hitler Line barring the Liri Valley. At the end of August the corps broke the Gothic Line in the Adriatic sector and pushed on through the German positions covering Rimini, which fell in September. These battles cost Canada its heaviest casualties of the Italian campaign.

The final phase of Canadian involvement in Italy found 1st Canadian Corps, now commanded by Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes, fighting its way across the Lombard Plain, hindered by mud and swift-flowing rivers. The corps' advance ended at the Senio River in the first days of 1945. The Canadian government, so eager to get its troops into action in Italy, had soon begun to ask for their return to join the main Canadian force in Northwest Europe. Allied policy finally made this possible early in 1945, and the 1st Corps came under the First Canadian Army's command in mid-March, to the general satisfaction of the men from Italy. All told, 92,757 Canadian soldiers of all ranks had served in Italy, and 5,764 had lost their lives.

The Normandy Campaign

Map of the Normandy invasion with allied forces. Image: Originally published in Time magazine. The Normandy coastline near Omaha Beach. Image: u00a9 Richard Foot. View looking east along 'Nan White' Beach, showing personnel of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade landing from LCI(L) 299 of the 2nd Canadian (262nd RN) Flotilla on D-Day.(photo by G. Milne, courtesy Library and Archives Canada, PA-137013). Canadian Infantry going ashore during the Normandy invasion . Image: u00a9 Canadian Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada. Infantrymen of Le Régiment de la Chaudière resting behind a Universal Carrier in a low ground position along the Normandy beachhead in June, 1944.u00a0 Image:Lieut. Ken Bell / Canadian Department of National Defense / Library and Archives Canada / PA-140849. Lance-Corporal W.J. Curtis of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (R.C.A.M.C.) bandages the burnt leg of a French boy whose brother looks on in Boissons, France. June 19th, 1944. Image: Lieutenant Ken Bell / Canadian Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-141703. After a series of fierce battles, Canadians finally seized Falaise on 16 August 1944 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-131233). Major David Currie (second from right, pistol in hand) oversees the surrender of German soldiers in Saint Lambert-sur-Dives, 19 August 1944. Currie was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions that day (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-111565).

In the final great campaign in northwest Europe, beginning with the Normandy Invasion (code name Operation Overlord) on 6 June 1944, the First Canadian Army under Crerar played an important and costly part. The army's central kernel was the 2nd Canadian Corps, under Lieutenant-General G.G. Simonds, who had commanded the 1st Division in Sicily it was composed of the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions and the 4th Canadian Armoured Division. Throughout, the army was part of the 21st British Army Group commanded by General Sir (later Field-Marshal Lord) Bernard Law Montgomery.

In the landing phase, only the 3rd Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade were engaged and fighting under the 2nd British Army. These formations landed on D-Day on a section of Canadian-designated shoreline code-named Juno Beach. There was bitter fighting on the beach, and subsequently as the Canadians moved inland.

The Canadian formations played a leading part in the breakout from the Normandy bridgehead in August, fighting against fierce opposition to reach the French town of Falaise and subsequently to close the gap south of it through which the enemy was retiring to avoid being trapped between the British and Canadians coming from the north and the Americans approaching from the south. Falaise was taken on August 16 and on the 19th the Allies finally made contact across the gap.

Belgium, Holland and Germany

Canadian personnel carrier in the Rhineland, 1945 (courtesy DND/PA-146284). While the Americans and the British focussed on the Rhine bridgehead, a German garrison of some 120 000 remained on their left flank in Holland. Commander Bernard Montgomery ordered the Canadians to clear them out. 1945 (photo by Grant, courtesy DND/PA-136176). Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery and commander of the First Canadian Army General Henry Crerar, Netherlands, 1945 (photo by Bell, courtesy DND/PA-140409). Canadian troops during the celebrations in Holland, 1945 (courtesy DND/PA-146284).

The next phase was one of pursuit towards the German frontier. The 1st Canadian Army, with the 1st British Corps under command, cleared the coastal fortresses, taking in turn Le Havre, Boulogne, and Calais. Early in September the British took Antwerp, but the enemy still held the banks of the Scheldt River between this much-needed port and the sea. The Canadians fought a bitter battle to open the river through October and the first week of November.

The first major Canadian operation of 1945, the Battle of the Rhineland, was to clear the area between the Maas and the Rhine rivers it began February 8 and ended only March 10 when the Germans, pushed back by the Canadians and the converging thrust of the 9th US Army, withdrew across the Rhine. The final operations in the west began with the Rhine crossing in the British area on 23 March thereafter, the 1st Canadian Army, still on the left of the line, liberated east and north Netherlands and advanced across the northern German plain (see Liberation of the Netherlands). When the Germans surrendered on Field-Marshal Montgomery's front on 5 May, the 2nd Canadian Corps had taken Oldenburg, and the 1st Canadian Corps was standing fast on the Grebbe River line while, by arrangement with the Germans, food was sent into the starving western Netherlands. The entire campaign had cost the Canadian Army 11,336 fatalities. Some 237,000 men and women of the army had served in northwest Europe.

The Air Campaign

Three Spitfires, with RCAF roundels visible, over France (photography by RCAF 414 Photo Squadron, courtesy Jack Ford). An Allied airfield at Eindhoven, Netherlands, the home base of three fighter squadrons and 414 Photo Squadron. (Photography by RCAF 414 Photo Squadron, courtesy Jack Ford). Smoke billows after an Allied bombing mission at Caen, France, in 1944 . (Photography by RCAF 414 Photo Squadron, courtesy Jack Ford)

The war effort of the Royal Canadian Air Force was deeply affected by its management of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Great numbers of Canadians served in units of Britain's Royal Air Force, and the growth of a national Canadian air organization overseas was delayed. Nevertheless, by the German surrender, 48 RCAF squadrons were overseas, virtually completely manned by Canadian officers and men. A landmark was the formation of No. 6 (RCAF) Bomber Group of the RAF Bomber Command on 1 January 1943. It grew ultimately to 14 squadrons. It was commanded successively by Air Vice-Marshals G.E. Brookes and C.M. McEwen. The Bomber Command's task was the night bombing of Germany, a desperately perilous job calling for sustained fortitude. Almost 10,000 Canadians lost their lives in this command.

Canadian airmen served in every theatre, from bases in the UK, North Africa, Italy, northwest Europe and southeast Asia. Squadrons in North America worked in antisubmarine operations off the Atlantic coast and co-operated with US air forces against the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands. At one time or another seven RCAF squadrons served in the RAF's Coastal Command over the Atlantic. RCAF aircraft destroyed or had a part in destroying 20 enemy submarines. In the northwest Europe campaign of 1944–45 , the RCAF deployed 17 squadrons. During the war 232,632 men and 17,030 women served in the RCAF, and 17,101 lost their lives.

The Naval War

HMCS St. Laurent at Halifax, by Edwin Holgate, 1941, oil painting on canvas. On 2 July 1940 the St. Laurent rescued more than 850 people after the liner Arandora Star was sunk by a German submarine. In December 1941, it sank U-Boat 356 while serving as a convoy escort (courtesy Canadian War Museum/11489). Depth charges explode astern a frigate in the North Atlantic, January 1944 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/Lawrence/DND/PA-133246).

The Royal Canadian Navy was tiny in 1939, but its expansion during the war was remarkable: it enlisted 99,688 men and some 6,500 women. It manned 471 fighting vessels of various types. Its primary task was convoy, protecting the troop and supply ships across the Atlantic. It carried an increasing proportion of this burden, fighting grim battles sometimes of several days' duration with U-boat "wolfpacks. " Its vast expansion produced some growing pains in 1943 measures had to be taken to improve its escort vessels' technical equipment and in some cases crew training. During the war it sank or shared in sinking 33 enemy submarines.

After the Atlantic Convoy Conference in Washington in March 1943, the Canadian Northwest Atlantic Command was set up, covering the area north of New York City and west of the 47th meridian a Canadian officer, Rear-Admiral L.W. Murrary, was responsible for convoys in this area. Apart from their main task in the Battle of the Atlantic, Canadian naval units took part in many other campaigns, including supporting the Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942 and to the Normandy operations of June 1944, the RCN contributed some 110 vessels and 10,000 men.

During the war it lost 24 warships, ranging from the "Tribal " class destroyer Athabaskan, sunk in the English Channel in April 1944, to the armed yacht Raccoon, torpedoed in the St Lawrence in September 1942 (see U-Boat Operations). In personnel, the navy had 2,024 fatalities.

The Industrial Contribution

In August 1943 aircraft workers at Malton, Ontario, swarm around the first Canadian-built Lancaster bomber. Named the Ruhr Express, the bomber served with 419 Squadron before being shot down in January 1945 (City of Toronto Archives/SC266/86576).

Canada's industrial contribution to victory was considerable, though it began slowly. After the Allied reverses in Europe in 1940, British orders for equipment, which had been a trickle, became a flood. In April 1940 the Department of Munitions and Supply, provided for in 1939, was established with C.D. Howe as minister. In August 1940 an amended Act gave the minister almost dictatorial powers, and under it the industrial effort expanded vastly. Various Crown Corporations were instituted for special tasks. New factories were built, and old ones adapted for war purposes.

Whereas in the First World War Canadian production had largely been limited to shells (no weapons were made except the Ross Rifle), now a great variety of guns and small arms was produced. Many ships, notably escort vessels and cargo carriers, were built there was large production of aircraft, including Lancaster bombers and the greatest triumph of the program was in the field of military vehicles, of which 815,729 were made.

Much of the work in the nation’s factories, and in the home-front military services, was carried out by women, who were recruited into the labour force, many for the first time, to fill jobs vacated by men on duty overseas.

More than half the industrial war material produced went to Britain. Britain could not possibly pay for all of it so Canada, in the interest of helping to win the war, and keeping her factories working, financed a high proportion. At the beginning of 1942 a billion-dollar gift was devoted to this purpose. The next year a program of mutual aid to serve Allied nations generally, but still in practice mainly directed to Britain, was introduced. During the war Canadian financial assistance to Britain amounted to $3,043,000,000.

Atomic War

Canada had a limited role in the development of atomic energy, a fateful business that was revealed when atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in August 1945. Canada had an available source of uranium in a mine at Great Bear Lake, which led to Mackenzie King's being taken into the greater Allies' confidence in the matter in 1942. That summer the Canadian government acquired control of the mine. A team of scientists that had been working on the project in England was moved to Canada.

Tension developed between Britain and the US, but at the Québec Conference of September 1943 an Anglo-American agreement was made that incidentally gave Canada a small share in control. A Canadian policy committee decided in 1944 to construct an atomic reactor at the Chalk Nuclear Laboratories. The first reactor there did not "go critical " until after the Japanese surrender. Canada had no part in producing the bombs used against Japan, unless some Canadian uranium was used in them, which seems impossible to determine.

Relations with the Allies

Leaders Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the first Quebec Conference in August 1943 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-14168). Winston Churchill and Lieutenant General A.G.L. McNaughton study a military map at Canadian Headquarters, March 1941 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-119399).

Canada had no effective part in the higher direction of the war. This would have been extremely difficult to obtain, and King never exerted himself strongly to obtain it. It is possible that he anticipated that doing so would have an adverse effect upon his personal relations with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which he considered very important to him politically.

The western Allies' strategy was decided by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, a purely Anglo-American committee. Its most important decisions were made in periodical conferences with political leaders, two of which were held at Québec. Even to these King was a party only as host. Although Canadian forces were employed in accordance with the Combined Chiefs ' decisions, it is a curious fact that Canada was never officially informed of the institution of the committee at the end of 1941. Even formal recognition of Canadian sovereignty was minimal although the directives of the Allied commanders for the war against Japan were issued in the names of the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the directive to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander in northwest Europe, under whom large Canadian forces served, made no mention of Canada.

Canadian relations with the US became notably closer during the war. From the moment King resumed office in 1935, he had cultivated his connection with Roosevelt. During the first months of the war there was little contact, but the fears aroused by early German victories immediately produced a rapprochement. On 18 August 1940, King and Roosevelt, meeting at Ogdensburg, NY, announced an agreement (not a formal treaty) to set up a Permanent Joint Board on Defence, which met frequently thereafter to discuss mutual defence problems. In 1941 Canada's balance of payments with the US became serious, largely because of the difficulty of financing imports from the US resulting from Canada 's industrial production for Britain. It was solved by the Hyde Park Declaration on 20 April. Nevertheless, King sometimes worried over what he saw as a danger of the US absorbing Canada. A reaction to American activity in the Canadian North (eg, the building of the Alaska Highway in 1942) was the appointment in 1943 of a Special Commissioner for Defence Projects in the Northwest, to reinforce Canadian control in the region.

The Conscription Issue

The worst political problems that arose in Canada during the war originated in the conscription question, and King had more difficulties in his own Liberal Party than with the Opposition. The election of 26 March 1940, before the war reached a critical stage, indicated that the country was happy with a limited war effort and gave King a solid majority. French Canada's lack of enthusiasm for the war and its particular opposition to conscription were as evident as in the First World War (voluntary enlistments in Québec amounted to only about 4 per cent of the population, whereas elsewhere the figure was roughly 10 Per cent). By 1942, agitation for overseas conscription in the English-speaking parts of the country led King to hold a plebiscite on releasing the government from its pledge. The result was a heavy vote for release in every province but Québec. Nevertheless, there was still little active enthusiasm for conscription in English Canada when Arthur Meighen returned to the Conservative leadership and advocated overseas conscription, he failed to be elected even in a Toronto constituency. But the atmosphere changed after casualties mounted.

After the Normandy campaign in 1944 a shortage of infantry reinforcements arose and Minister of National Defence Colonel J.L. Ralston told Cabinet that the time for overseas conscription had come. King, who had apparently convinced himself that there was a conspiracy in the ministry to unseat him and substitute Ralston, dismissed Ralston and replaced him with McNaughton. The latter failed to prevail on any large number of home-defence conscripts to volunteer for overseas service, and King, finding himself faced with resignations of conscriptionist ministers, which would have ruined his government, agreed to send a large group of the conscripts overseas. Québec reluctantly accepted the situation, preferring King's to any Conservative administration, and he was safe again until the end of the war.

Making the Peace

Canada had little share in making the peace. The great powers, which had kept the direction of the war in their own hands, did the same now. The so-called peace conference in Paris in the summer of 1946 merely gave the lesser Allies, including Canada, an opportunity of commenting upon arrangements already made. Canada signed treaties only with Italy, Hungary, Romania and Finland. With Germany divided and the eastern part of the country dominated by the Soviet Union, there was never a German treaty. In 1951, Canada, like other Western powers, ended the state of war with Germany by royal proclamation. That year a treaty of peace with Japan, drafted by the US, was signed by most Allied states, including Canada (but not including the communist powers).

Cost and Significance

V-E (Victory in Europe) Day was celebrated all across Canada, as in Ottawa shown here on 8 May 1945 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/PA-114440). The Canadian war cemetery at Dieppe. Image courtesy of Richard Foot. Cassino War Cemetery, Italy (courtesy Commonwealth War Graves Commission, photo by Jacqueline Hucker).

The financial cost of the Canadian war effort was astronomical. Expenditure for the fiscal year 1939–40 was a modest $118,291,000. The next year it rose to $752,045,000 in the peak year, 1943–44, it was $4,587,023,000. The total through the fiscal year 1949–50, for the 11 years beginning 1939–40, was $21,786,077,519.12. Other costs due to the war have continued to accumulate. During the war, 1,086,343 Canadian men and women performed full-time duty in the three services. The cost in blood was smaller than in the First World War, but still tragic: nearly 44,000 lost their lives, including those sailors who died serving in the Merchant Marine.

The significance of the Second World War in Canadian history was great, but probably less than that of the First. National unity between French and English was damaged, though happily not so seriously as between 1914–1918. The economy was strengthened and its manufacturing capacity much diversified. National pride and confidence were enhanced. The status as an independent country, only shakily established in 1919, was beyond doubt after 1945. Canada was a power in her own right, if a modest one. On the other hand, it had been made painfully clear that "status " did not necessarily imply influence. A middle power had to limit its aspirations. Real authority in the world remained with the big battalions, the big populations, and the big money.

The Second World War - History

Over seventy years on the terrible events and outcome of the Second World War remains hugely relevant and important. Far from diminishing interest in this truly global conflict is increasing. The internet has enabled detailed research into ancestors&rsquo war records to an extent unimaginable a decade or so ago.

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Watch the video: World War II In Colour: Episode 1 - The Gathering Storm WWII Documentary (August 2022).