History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: World War II

War: European Theatre click here for audio

On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. This began the European war, and was a carefully planned action. The Non-Aggression Pact had been signed with the Soviet Union, ensuring that the USSR would do nothing to stop the action. A secret portion of the agreement ensured that the Soviet Union would benefit by acquiring the Baltic Republics (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania), the Ukraine, and the eastern half of Poland as a result. Britain, France and her allies declared war.

The blitzkrieg machine moved quickly into Scandinavia and France, collaborating with the fascist French Vichy, who were allowed to control southern France. Spain was already fascist, though independent under General Franco. Italy controlled the south, so the next step was Britain. Failing to bomb the British into submission after switching from military to civilian targets (like London), the Nazis turned their sites on the Soviet Union and attacked in May 1941. Stalin, the Soviet Premier, joined the Allies. By 1942 (the same year Japan was controlling the Pacific), the Axis controlled Europe:

The Big Three (Churchill of Great Britain, Roosevelt of the U.S., and Stalin of the Soviet Union) planned the Allied strategy for the war. Stalin's biggest concern was to get his allies to open the "second front" -- invade northern France and force Germany to fight on two fronts. But Churchill of Britain had two reasons to oppose this: the British military's desire to attack the weaker points first, and Churchill's own concern about Stalin's future ambitions in Eastern Europe. The U.S. generals wanted to open the second front and head straight for Berlin. But President Roosevelt had to keep Stalin and Churchill talking, since the two men did not trust each other. He agreed to Churchill's strategy for 1942 and 1943: attacking North Africa, then Italy. But in 1944 he sided with Stalin, hoping that the Soviet Union would be a full participant in the United Nations after the war. This disappointed Churchill, who had hoped for an invasion of the Balkans in the south, which would secure eastern Europe for democratic governments. But Operation Overlord took place in June 1944, and combined British and American troops began pushing toward Berlin.

Soviet troops simultaneously began a major offensive from the east, and liberated Eastern Europe as they headed toward Berlin to meet up with the British and Americans. V-E Day (Victory in Europe) was May 8, 1945. The war against Japan still raged, but would end in August with the dropping of the atomic bomb. The founding of the U.N. had occurred in April 1945.

Workbook document: The U.N. Charter

9. The Holocaust ->