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World War II

Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) rose to power as leader of the German Nazi Party in the 1930s. Between 1939 and 1945, more than 30 countries, including all the world’s major powers, were drawn into World War II. The world’s nations formed two opposing military alliances, the Axis powers (including Germany, Italy and Japan) and the Allies (including Britain, the Commonwealth countries, France, the Soviet Union and the USA). The war started in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, prompting Britain and France to declare war on Germany. From 1939 to 1941, Germany and Italy overran or subdued much of mainland Europe. From December 1941, Japan joined the Axis, making conquests across the Far East and Pacific Islands. Battles raged all over the world as the Allies fought back. The Allies defeated Germany in May 1945. Japan surrendered in August 1945 following the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

{alt}Hitler speaks at a rally, September 1939.{more}Click to play video

Rise of Nazism

People had called World War I the “war to end wars”, but the peace treaty that was drawn up in 1918 punished Germany severely for its part in the war. This led to extreme nationalism in Germany and the rise to power of the National Socialist (Nazi) leader, Adolf Hitler, in the 1930s. The aim of Nazi Germany was the creation of a New Order (Neuordnung) with Germany the ruler of the whole of Europe.

World War II was the most widespread war in history, with over 100 million combatants from over 30 countries. It was also the deadliest conflict in history, with an estimated 50 to 85 million fatalities.

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