Nature of WWII?

Different from WWI because people could move faster (air warfare, tank warfare). This made logistics, movement, managerial-type planning important.

Similar because industrial capabilities, state control over populations, technical developments important.

Importance of civilian labor (see: industrial capability importance) meant killing civilians more common. (Morale, material goods, make enemy as a nation stop existing.) Ethnic groups sometimes seen as state enemies, see: genocides. (More common than Armenian genocide.) Not just the Jews persecuted.

What were main events, and how did new tech & tactics influence them?

Divide into three phases.

Blitzkrieg & rapid advances, 1939-42

Initial phases had rapid attacks that were way more effective than WWI equivalents. Germany took Poland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, France weeks after invading. Britain had rapid victories in North Africa over Italians (before Afrika Korps quickly defeated them). Germany conquered lots of USSR after 1941-06 until winter. Japan took lots of American and European colonies 1941-11 to 1942-02.

Counter-attacks from 1942-02

Situation began reversing. Allied Powers (Allies) did counter-attacks. Russia started kicking out Germany after Stalingrad (1942 winter), British drove back Germans in El Alamein, USA held Solomon Islands in Pacific and began recapturing territory after Midway. Britain reversed U-boat success. By 1943, Allies had initiative.

Late-war heavy, costly fighting

Axis saw victory as remote, couldn’t really end war. Attempted to wear down opposition. Civilian casualties & attrition rose. Maximum force applied, ignoring casualties. Technical innovations (including widespread aerial bombing) important, culminated in nukes.

Initial attacks and the theory of Blitzkrieg

WWII opened the way WWI closed. Germany didn’t want trench warfare, so they used small & sudden groups of storm troops. They used fast tanks and motor vehicles to move into enemy territory. Air attacks supported them, infantry followed them, artillery backed them.

Goal: Create sense of chaos among enemy. Cities bombed, refugees attacked, radio messages falsified, spies rumored to exist. Defenders bewildered and their supply chains cut. Stuka dive bombers especially effective. The essence: Apply maximum force at key points, then drive swift mechanized troops forward.

Military writers like Captain Basil Liddell Hart and Heinz Guderian provided theory.


Germany and Russia encircled Poland between 1939-09-1 and 1939-09-17. Russia invaded east on 1939-09-17, Poland forced to surrender. Showed value of Blitzkrieg tactics, which included: - Forces could act on own initiative due to training: Middle ranks could take over in emergencies. - Commanders set broad objectives but left implementation flexible. Strong points abandon-able when needed, rapid advances could occur without 100% of units ready.

Meanwhile, Polish forces spread over 3000 km frontier, high command unwilling to give ground at first by concentrating main defense on smaller area. Britain and France didn’t show up quickly enough.

France and the Netherlands

British energies still focused on failing Norwegian campaign, and they took little initiative on Western Front. France failed to extend Maginot Line (static defense system) along their border with Belgium. Not enough French-British cooperation happened. Germany took advantage of British plans to enter Belgium in the event of a German invasion by driving a wedge between French-British lines using a heavy attack. German tanks entered France at Sedan while Britain and France entered Belgium. Allies thought Ardennes forest would prevent tanks but were wrong.

German tanks & dive bombers beat French in Belgium. In Sedan, Germany combined air force, dive bombers, rapid tank attacks, and met weak resistance because the Allies were in Belgium. On 1940-05-12 to 1940-05-14, Germans crossed River Meuse and forced French retreat. France couldn’t cope with speed. German thrust separated British and French. Refugees clogged roads. German planes disrupted near-battlefield areas. Attack halted 1940-05-15, letting British gather at Dunkirk to be evacuated (3.3e5 rescued, Germany not having a full-scale attack was a fatal mistake, although they lost lots of gear). French tried and failed to establish river supply lines. 1940-06-22 armistice signed.

No heroic attempt to hold a line or any firm defensive system! Belgium surrendered quickly, British actions were weaker than 1914 equivalents. Germany only fought on one front and in fact imported Russian goods. Tanks and armored cars made Germans less tired. Germans exposed flanks at points, but the Allies couldn’t respond due to air attacks. Only the Dunkirk evacuation saved the British army from complete destruction.

Would Germans have failed without Blitzkrieg?

Victory depended on good German planning and tactics, and bad French-British planning and preparation. Germany then decided that Blitzkrieg tactics would always work. However, German effectiveness can be credited to it being a one-front war and bad Allied cooperation and planning.

France, Britain, Poland couldn’t make good defensive fronts or get good air support. Allies unprepared for offensive campaigns.

Allied civilians also uninterested in war, because for them it would only maintain status quo. Britain had been somewhat pro-appeasement, France had been divided, and Poland didn’t expect anything.

Blitzkrieg in Asia

Japan saw rapid-movement warfare against an unprepared foe was great! They then planned a sudden assault on Pearl Harbor and European colonies.

Britain, USA, France, Netherlands didn’t have a joint anti-Japanese defensive strategy. Germany had already conquered the regions that had colonized French Indochina and the Netherlands’ Indies. Britain was distracted by North Africa and home defense, and depended on Singapore naval bases, and Australian-reinforced Malaya forces, despite their inexperience, poor leadership, and lack of preparation. Japan sunk British warships Prince of Wales and Repulse due to lack of air cover, and took Malaya and Singapore with numerically inferior forces.

General Arthur Percival surrendered with the goal of preventing civilian casualties. Australian troops essentially went straight from landing to surrender. Japan took American Phillipines and Netherlands’ Java & Sumatra through rapid amphibious landings. Japan won through air power and speed, not numbers, taking advantage of American and European distraction and lack of preparation.

Why did the war continue?

The role of Britain

Germany didn’t destroy British forces at Dunkirk, leaving Britain with >3e5 soldiers. They lost air control in Battle of Britain and didn’t focus on their navy enough, allowing Britain to continue controlling the British Channel & North Sea. Therefore, Germany couldn’t invade British Isles. Churchill also wouldn’t negotiate with Hitler.

Britain also attacked Italians in North Africa from an Egyptian base, and their empire provided manpower (2.4e8 residents), overseas bases, materials. They effectively made Hitler fight a war on 2 fronts most of the time.

US aid to Britain

Britain depended on American credit and industry for war supplies. Trade was vulnerable to U-boats depsite merchants traveling in convoys. The 1941-03 Lend-Lease Act let the president sell, transfer, exchange, lease or lend war supplies to anyone whose defense was vital to US defense.

FDR called USA the arsenal of democracy in 1940-12, and America was optimizing for war supplies at the time. Germany attempted to cut this supply line, had U-boats attack US shipping, and FDR issued a shoot-first order. Germany thought US isolationism would prevent Americans from supplying Britain.

German setbacks in Eastern Europe

Germany won in Greece and Yugoslavia the same way it did in Poland. Therefore, they expected Operation Barbarossa would work. They attempted to invade Russia starting 1941-06-22. (Were delayed 5 weeks by failing Italian invasion of Greece and Yugoslavian aspiring uprising.) Germans had 4x planes, 1.6x soldiers, 1.8x artillery, 1.5x tanks. Plans were based on prior successes. Wanted 3 groups: Northern group approaching Leningrad, central group approaching Moscow, southern group approaching Kiev and Black Sea.

Principles from Blitzkrieg were applied at a larger scale. Russians were poorly lead (see: Stalin’s military purges), disoriented by German speed, and rapidly driven back. 4.5e6 died by 1941-12. Germany failed to exploit communism’s unpopularity due to overconfidence. Conquered areas were oppressed and suffered extreme violence and confiscation. 9e7 Russians ended up under German rule. However, by 1941-10, Russian forces had a stable front line.

Germany blamed weather, but Russian counter-attacks and holding positions was important. Moscow’s defense halted German advance. Northern German armies prevented in Rostov from aiding center. Weather was still important.

Soviets good at getting aid, and Russia had better supply lines than Germans due to lack of rapid victories. Stalin was more prepared to sacrifice lives than France was, and Russia was at least as determined as the Nazis were. As 1942 began, Germans were trapped in a war of attrition.

Japanese failures in the Pacific

Japan hadn’t destroyed aircraft carriers at Pearl Harbor due to them being out. US commanders hadn’t taken simple precautions, though this didn’t matter much long-term. Aircraft began to dominate the Pacific, making aircraft carriers matter more. While Pearl Harbor killed 2.4e3 and prevented US from halting Japanese invasions of European colonies, it also prompted the US to declare war.

Aircraft carriers and air power’s importance gave the US the long-term advantage in the Pacific due to production capabilities. 1942-06 Midway victory prevented Japanese defensive ring and destroyed Japanese aircraft carriers.

The high cost of war

Germany underestimated costs due to initial successes and looting. It seemed they could win without WWI death levels. However, starting 1941-10 Eastern Front losses mounted, and Allied bombing raids on Germany stung.

Inadequate Italian preparation

Italy wanted swift victories, but their Greek and North African, Ethiopian, and Somalilandi losses and need to send troops to Russia made this desire unfeasible.

Why did the tide turn in 1942-43?

Japan defeated at Midway and stopped advancing, Germans defeated at El Alamein in Africa and withdrew, Germans were held in Battle of Stalingrad and defeated in 1943-02.

The Battle of Stalingrad

By 1942, WWII was long sieges and assaults on cities. WWII was in the countryside, mostly. Germans & Russians had sieges in Russia, and Allies bombed German and Japanese cities by air. Civilian casualties high. Germans wanted to prevent draw of troops into Russian campaigns by trying to win Stalingrad and allow Germany to take Egypt, Suez Canal, Middle-Eastern oil. However, British kept Egypt and Russians kept Stalingrad.

Russians had millions of casualties, but they were at home and could send in supplies and reinforcements. Germans were far from home, didn’t have reserves, and their factories were being bombed. They also had to spread out troops to keep Continental Europe and North Africa under control. They also needed Romanian and Italian aid. At Stalingrad, German troops were weakened by the winter, encircled by a Russian attack on their weak point, and surrendered 1943-02. This was the first major German surrender. Afrika Korps had already been driven back in El Alamein in 1942-10, and Hitler (ignoring advice) had tried to get a breakthrough in the Russian front to aid them.

Russians demonstrated that when 2 industrialized nations fight, the defending one (which is closest to its resources) generally wins. Germans began retreating after the Battle of Kursk, making tanks no longer usable for dynamic forward movement.

The Far East and North Africa

Japan couldn’t use dynamic and sudden attacks and couldn’t conquer New Guinea. US troops drove them back in the Solomon Islands with Navy and Air Force help. With US support, Britain began removing Germans from North Africa in part to prepare to attack Italy.

The impossibility of compromise

Why didn’t the war end once the Axis realized they lacked Allied industrial capacity, they were threatened by Russia and the US and not just weak or reluctant countries, Blitzkrieg tactics weren’t feasible, their population was being bombed, and the only war plan likely to succeed was the Shoah?

Whole populations were mobilized, and peace without 100% victory or defeat seemed infeasible. Hitler and his closest circle were adventurers, not statesmen, and they wanted death and destruction. Goebbels found wholesale slaughter exhilarating. Stalin was ideological, expansionist, irredentist, and willing to have high death tolls. The Allies wanted unconditional surrender due to seeing Japanese and German violence as unacceptable. Japanese honor codes were strongly anti-surrender.

The long final phase

1943+ Allied counter-attacks made new elements prominent.

Amphibious landings

Amphibious landings grew. After Operation Torch (1942 US landings in North Africa) worked, Sicily and later more of Italy was invaded in part through landings at Anzio. The invasion of Normandy was the biggest seaborne warfare invasion force (1944-06-06, D-Day).

US invasion forces wanted to to control Japanese island defenses through island-hopping (Marines going from island to island with air and naval support), culminating in assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. People were going to invade Japan itself, but the atomic bombs ended the war.

Amphibious landings required lots of Allied cooperation, good logistics, and sea and air power. A stronger German navy or weaker US navy would have meant they wouldn’t work. Allied industry made them possible.

Air Power

Allies also stepped up air power use as WWII ended. Germany and Japan had used it, but didn’t have resources for sustained engagement. Allied bombing of Germany and Japan much larger than Battle of Britain.

Bombers and fighters developed rapidly. Jet aircraft transformative. RADAR usage important to Battle of Britain. Germany developed rockets, but not quickly enough to be decisive. Nuclear weapon development only feasible in the US due to advanced industrialization and lots of resources.

Allies had few qualms about bombing civilian targets in enemy cities while seeking total victory and ending high-casualty infantry usage. Germans developed pilotless rockets 1944, launched 1e4 V1 rockets and some V2s, damaging Britain. However, Allies captured launch sites.

Modern warfare weapons and techniques

Tank usage levels unprecedented. War had smallish infantry units work together through radio communications and commanders knowing the overall plan. British campaigns in Burma were characterized by devolved responsibility. Chindit guerilla activities behind the lines were spectacular examples of this.

Determined attacks

Italy fell easily in 1943, but Japan and Germany resisted even after victory was clearly impossible. British forces suffered major losses while invading western Germany. Despite WWI-level losses, WWII differed in that progress was made. Notable setbacks: Misuse of parachute-dropped forces (Operation Market Garden 1944-09-17), German surprise attack in Ardennes in 1944 winter.

Japanese resistance also strong: Kamikaze pilots used, civilians in captured territories committed mass suicide. Ironically, this may have made US more likely to use the atomic bombs.

Similarities to WWI: Slow Allied progress in Italy was like WWI infantry struggles. Some deadlocked trench periods, like German defense of Monte Cassino. However, the warfare wasn’t generally trench warfare.

The war at sea and in the air

In WWI Britain had blockaded German shipping. WWII turned tables. Germany had food and supplies because territory gains, but Britain needed supplies from its empire and the US. U-boats attacked this shipping and almost cut off British supplies in the Battle of the Atlantic. Convoys, depth charges, and radar detection countered the German submarine threat by 1943. British code-breaking was important for this.

WWII showed how submarines and planes were important. Without planes, ships were vulnerable. Pacific warfare had planes take off from aircraft carriers, which was new. Allied invasions used ships, landing craft, air support.

The end of the war


Once Hitler committed suicide and Germany then surrendered on 1945-05-08, the results were unquestionable. There wasn’t an ambiguity like in the 1918 armistice. Major German cities had been destroyed, US, British, and Soviet occupiers met on the Elbe, the Russians flew the Soviet flag from the Reichstag in Berlin, and German civilians starved and were abused by Soviet occupiers. Everyone disliked Germany because of the death camps. German minorities were persecuted and kicked out of Eastern Europe. It was really clear that Germany lost.


By Japan’s 1944-09-02 surrender, its cities were in ruins, its armies had been pushed back a lot, Russia had occupied Korea, Manchuria, and Sakhalin. Japan’s air force and navy were destroyed, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been destroyed by atomic bombs. In the Emperor’s first broadcast, he said the war had not necessarily gone in a way that was to Japan’s advantage, ending WWII on 1945-08-15.

What best explains the Axis losing?

Japan and Germany had powerful states, strong ideologies, determined leaders, and formidable war machines. However, they didn’t have lots of industrial resources, and they were vulnerable on two fronts. The USA and USSR had incredible manpower and industrial capabilities, making the Axis defeat inevitable.

However, individual commanders like Erwin Rommel, Georgy Zhukov, Bernard Montgomery were really smart. Dwight D. Eisenhower was good at organizing. Churchill and Roosevelt were really determined, and democracy may have prevented individual Allied leaders from making stupid decisions the way Hitler did. Therefore, don’t discount individuals.

What was the significance of the home front?

Total war needed lots of government control and population commitment.


WWII had strong ideolgical component, making rallying opinion important. Radio, higher cinema attendance, rise of talkies, simple TV forced higher propaganda sophistication. Propaganda wasn’t just crude posters and staged films of heroic battles. Germany and Allies informed their populations more. Goebbels declared total war and admitted failure at Stalingrad, uniting Germany. Britain didn’t downplay sacrifices and instead focused on pulling together for a better post-war world. American propaganda used Hollywood and offered future peace through a UN. Soviet propaganda used traditional patriotism and Russian values, state power to prevent desertion, and Stalin was portrayed as a national and not a Communist hero.

The growth of government power

Pre-1939, Italian, Russian, German dictators and Japanese military leaders had used secret police and speech restrictions for establishing control. This increased during war. Hints of criticism were severely punished, and secret police (Gestapo, Kempetai) were used in occupied territory. Britain and the USA were repressive. They imprisoned potential enemies (Japanese, German, Italian immigrants) sans trial and censored people. Taxes were high, rationing imposed, conscription universal. However, Britain and the US still were democracies.


Britain was less harsh towards conscientious objectors. In the dictatorships, principled objection to war wasn’t a thing. Reluctance to commit genocide was acceptable in the German army, though no conscientious objection was allowed. Foreign workers were subject to harsh discipline.


Women were essential to war due to production needs and the need for full mobilization. More women were involved than in WWI, but this wasn’t an innovation. 2.2e7 women involved in production of war goods by 1945. Nazis had to compromise ideals of pure womanhood being apolitical and away from struggle due to their need for women in factories and other essential services. Women also participated in the concentration camps.

In Britain and America, women worked in factories, farms, transport, drove and piloted military vehicles, were often bombing targets. Women were conscripted in Britain. 3.2e5 American women served in uniform, but only 16 died in action. 2e3 Polish women fighters were POWs. Women were especially involved in guerilla and partisan fighting and suffered consequences when they lost. Women were very important to Soviet and Chinese military and industry.

Apparently the Women hold up half the sky quote is from Mao Great Leap Forward Zedong and people throw it around and name stuff after it? Wow.


Lots of advances made in supporting working women with families (cheap restaurants and child care), but it didn’t last in Britain. Britain and Europe shifted to the political left.

A key to imperialism’s decline was 1947 Indian independence. While short-term effects of a rushed withdrawal were disastrous. Rushed attempts to prevent Muslim-Hindu conflicts led to seemingly-arbitrary Pakistan borders that created an East and West Pakistan separated by India. Hindu and Muslim refugees caught outside their borders were violently attacked. Territory disputes over Jammu and Kashmir occurred, and Pakistan still hasn’t accepted the borders. East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971.

After Britain left India, imperial collapse became inevitable. Britain left Palestine in 1948, leaving Arab-Jewish conflict between settlers Britain had admitted in 1917. France was reluctant to let go of colonies, but Vietnamese defeated them in 1954. Britain prevented communism in Malaya, but allowed more self-government and eventual independence in Southeast Asia. They gave way to the wind of change in Africa only reluctantly.

Greater unity and international co-operation

France and West Germany followed Holland, Belgium, the Netherlands’ lead in economic integration to prevent war. They formed several agreements, the key one in 1952 forming the European Coal and Steel Comunity, which became the European Economic Community in 1958’s Treaty of Rome. German-French rivalry didn’t happen again. Economic & political cooperation grew in Eastern Europe through Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) formed 1949.

Out-of-place random Shoah notes

Denmark evacuated Jews to Sweden, Warsaw Uprising killed a fair number of Germans.