Why did Hitler make the fateful decision to invade Poland in 1939? How did Churchill turn defeat at Dunkirk into a victory on the home front? And why did Japan’s imperial designs lead to war in east Asia?

In the second episode of this series tackling the big questions of the Second World War, historian Laurence Rees guides you through the early years of the conflict – from Pearl Harbor to the fall of Tobruk.

Watch the next episode now, or go to the series homepage. Finished all five episodes? Discover more of our masterclasses and video lectures, including another from Laurence Rees devoted to the Holocaust.

Laurence Rees’ book Auschwitz: The Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’ won History Book of the Year at the British Book awards. His book The Holocaust: A New History was a Sunday Times Bestseller and described by the Telegraph as “the finest single volume account of the Holocaust ever written”. Educated at Oxford University, he has been awarded two Honorary Doctorates for this work.


Rachel Dinning, Premium Content Editor at HistoryExtra
Rachel DinningPremium Content Editor

Rachel Dinning is the Premium Content Editor at HistoryExtra, website of BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed.

Laurence ReesHistorian, author and documentary film-maker

As well as being a historian and author, Laurence Rees is a former Head of BBC TV History, and has won many awards for his work, including a British Book Award, a BAFTA and two Emmys.