Second World War

The Second World War was the deadliest and most destructive global conflict in history, claiming the lives of more than 50 million people. Adolf Hitler started the war in 1939 when his German forces invaded Poland.

When did WW2 start? 1 September 1939

When did it end? 2 September 1945

Which countries were involved? The Second World War involved almost every part of the world. But the key players were the Axis powers on one side (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and on the other side
the Allies (France, Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and, to a lesser extent, China)

How many people died? It has been estimated that 50 million soldiers and civilians died in the Second World War

Why did WW2 happen? We can now say without equivocation that this was Hitler’s war, say expert historians including Professor Richard Evans, Sir Ian Kershaw and Laurence Rees

A ‘good’ war?

In contrast with the First World War, the 1939–45 conflict has been perceived in the UK as a ‘good’ war resulting in the triumph of western democracies over evil fascist regimes, says Emma Hanna, a lecturer in the School of History at the University of Kent. The Second World War, despite its many hardships and historians’ subsequent findings to the contrary, is remembered as a time the nation put aside differences and pulled together to fight for freedom.

It is therefore unsurprising that memories of the ‘finest hour’ have been frequently invoked in the British media, particularly in times of stress and uncertainty. The fascination with the Battle of Britain continues, together with the mythology of the Blitz and the now ubiquitous ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster (which was never actually deployed during the war but is now seen on mugs, tea towels and countless other products).

Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) was military and political leader of Germany from 1933 to 1945. Appointed chancellor in January 1933, by August 1934 Hitler had declared himself Führer - the leader of Germany. Hitler launched the Second World War in 1939 and is responsible for the death of millions of people, including an estimated six million Jewish people in the Nazi genocide
Nazi Germany (aka the Third Reich) is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945 when the country was ruled by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. Following his appointment as chancellor in 1933, Hitler and his Nazi government soon assumed dictatorial powers and tried to control and impose Nazi values on all aspects of people’s political, social and working lives, using propaganda and persecution
Orchestrated by anti-Semitic Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, the Holocaust saw the systematic murder of more than six million Jews. The Auschwitz concentration camp is the site of the largest mass murder in the history of the world: around 1.1 million people were killed there – 1 million of them Jews. Today the Holocaust is commemorated on Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January
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The Normandy landings – aka D-Day – took place on 6 June 1944, when Allied forces launched a combined naval, air and land assault on Nazi-occupied France. Codenamed operation Overlord, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history and marked the beginning of the campaign to liberate north-west Europe from German occupation
In 1940, as British troops retreated through France under fire from an advancing German Army, a massive evacuation was launched to bring the soldiers safely home. Between 26 May and 4 June 1940, a staggering 338,000 troops were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, in the remarkable Operation Dynamo
Britain’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965), who led the country to victory in the Second World War, is considered one of the defining figures of the 20th century. Churchill served as Conservative prime minister twice – from 1940 to 1945 (before being defeated in the 1945 general election by the Labour leader Clement Attlee) and from 1951 to 1955
The Battle of Britain, which took place between July and October 1940, was a major air campaign in which Britain’s Royal Air Force defended the British Isles against Nazi Germany’s air force, the Luftwaffe. Described by prime minister Winston Churchill as the RAF's finest hour, it was the first major military campaign in history to be fought entirely in the air. It was one of Britain's most important victories of the Second World War and prevented Germany from invading Britain
The Blitz – the German word for 'lightning' – was a sustained aerial bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe lasting eight months between September 1940 and May 1941. The Blitz killed 41,480 people, while another 86,000 people – including more than 7,500 children – were seriously injured

Wartime Britain

What was life like in Britain during the Second World War? Here we explore rationing, evacuation measures, crime, and the role of women
In March 1941 Winston Churchill coined the phrase ‘Battle of the Atlantic’ to describe a campaign that had opened on 3 September 1939. That battle would not conclude until the last day of the war. It was the longest, and perhaps strangest, clash of the Second World War – one that would see British merchant seamen using kites and wire-carrying rockets in defence of their ships...
The eastern front was a zone of conflict in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the Second World War, in which the German army along with its allies engaged the armies to its east. Notable Second World War battles fought on the eastern front include the battle of Moscow, Operation Barbarossa, and the battle of Stalingrad