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Extra!: World War II

(CNN Student News) -- Use this explainer to help students understand the history of World War II, a topic relevant to current news.


  • September 1, 1939 - Germany invades Poland. This invasion begins what would be World War II.
  • June 10, 1940 - Italy joins the war on the side of Germany. Fighting spreads to Greece and northern Africa.
  • June 14, 1940 - German troops move into Paris.
  • July 1940 - May, 1941 - Germany and the United Kingdom fight an air war, with each side overestimating how many enemy planes it shoots down.
  • June 1941 - Germany invades the Soviet Union.
  • 1941 - Already occupying Laos and Vietnam, Japan takes over the whole of Indochina.
  • December 7, 1941 - Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, hoping to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Japan also attacks the Clark and Iba airfields in the Philippines, destroying over half of the U.S. Army's aircraft there. On the same day, Japan invades Hong Kong, Guam, the Wake Islands, Singapore and British Malaya.
  • December 8, 1941 - U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt asks for, and Congress approves, a declaration of war against Japan.
  • December 11, 1941 - Germany and Italy declare war on the U.S. Germany, Japan and Italy form a coalition called the Axis. Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Croatia and Slovakia eventually join the Axis. The U.S., Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union form a coalition called the Allies -- the group fighting the Axis. Eventually, 50 nations join the Allies. By Christmas 1941, Japan has captured Thailand, Guam, Hong Kong and Wake Island.
  • 1942 - The Allies stop the Axis advance in northern Africa and the Soviet Union.
  • February 1942 - Japan invades the Malay Peninsula. Singapore surrenders within a week.
  • June 4, 1942 - Battle of Midway. Japan's plan to invade the Hawaiian Islands, starting at Midway, is foiled when the U.S. cracks Japan's naval code. Japan attacks Midway, but the U.S. fights back with torpedoes and dive-bombers. Japan loses four aircraft carriers and more than 200 planes and pilots in what becomes the first clear victory for the U.S. over Japan.
  • August 1942 - Battle for Stalingrad begins as Germany pushes to take over the southern Russian city.
  • October 1942 - In the Battle of El Alamein, British troops force Axis troops to retreat to Tunisia.
  • July 10, 1943 - Allied forces arrive in Italy.
  • July 25, 1943 - The king of Italy fires Benito Mussolini, the Italian prime minister, who signed a treaty of friendship with Germany in 1936. Mussolini is arrested once he leaves the meeting.
  • February 2, 1943 - The last German troops in Stalingrad surrender, defeated in large part by the unusually cold Soviet winter. The defeat marks the halt of Germany's eastbound advance.
  • June 6, 1944 - D-Day. Allied forces land on the beaches of Normandy, gaining a place from which to funnel supplies and troops into Europe. Operation Overlord becomes the largest air, land and sea operation ever undertaken. The landing includes more than 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes, and more than 150,000 troops.
  • August 25, 1944 - American and Free French forces liberate Paris.
  • April 25, 1945 - Soviet troops surround Berlin.
  • April 30, 1945 - German leader Adolf Hitler commits suicide.
  • May 7, 1945 - Germany surrenders.
  • July 1945 - After President Truman learns of the first successful atomic bomb test, he tells the other Allied leaders about the test. The Allies then warn the Japanese that Japan will be destroyed if it does not surrender unconditionally. Japan continues fighting.
  • August 6, 1945 - The first atomic bomb used in warfare is dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing between 70,000 and 100,000 people.
  • August 9, 1945 - After getting no response from the Japanese government following the Hiroshima bombing, a second atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki; 40,000 people are killed.
  • August 14-15, 1945 - Japan agrees to end the war.
  • September 2, 1945 - Japan officially surrenders.
  • Some of the causes of World War II

  • The Peace of Paris - The treaties worked out in Paris at the end of World War I satisfied few. Germany, Austria and the other countries on the losing side of the war were especially unhappy with the Paris agreement, which required them to give up arms and make reparations, or payments for compensation. Germany agreed to sign the Treaty of Versailles only after the victorious countries threatened to invade if Germany did not sign.
  • Economic Issues - World War I left many economies in shambles, in both victorious and non-victorious countries. Although the European economy stabilized by the 1920s, the Great Depression in the U.S. contributed to economic downfall in Europe. Communism and fascism gained strength in the wake of economic problems.
  • Nationalism - An extreme form of patriotism that grew in Europe became even stronger after World War I, especially for countries defeated in World War I.
  • Dictatorships - Political unrest and unfavorable economic conditions lead to the rise of dictatorships in countries such as Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union.
  • Failure of Appeasement - Czechoslovakia had become an independent nation after World War I, but by 1938, the country was surrounded by German territory. Hitler wanted to annex the Sudetenland, an area in western Czechoslovakia where many Germans lived. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain wanted to appease Hitler and agreed to the German leader's demands for the Sudetenland after Hitler promised he would not demand more territory. Hitler seized the rest of Czechoslovakia in March of 1939.
  • Fast Facts

  • The Lend-Lease Act was created to allow the U.S. to lend or lease weapons, equipment or raw materials to any nation fighting the Axis. Eventually, 38 nations received about $50 billion in aid. Most went to the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.
  • The number of civilian casualties in World War II may never be known. Bombing raids, massacres, starvation and other war-related causes caused untold deaths.
  • Approximately 70 million people fought in the armed forces of the Axis and Allied nations.
  • The Soviet Union lost the most soldiers, more than seven million.
  • In 1948, the U.S. created the Marshall Plan to help rebuild war-torn Europe. Eventually, 18 nations received $13 billion in food, machinery and other goods.
  • U.S. Troop Statistics

  • 16,112,566 - Number of U.S. troops that served in the conflict
  • 671,846 - Number of U.S. wounded
  • U.S. Deaths: Battle: 291,557; Non-Battle: 113,842; Total In-Theatre: 405,399
  • (Sources: CNN Library, Dept. of Defense, World Book,

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