World War II is definitely one of the most memorable events in human history. The global conflict lasted for six years, from 1939 to 1945. The great powers and most of the other countries on the planet were more or less involved in it, and eventually two alliances were created – the Allies and the Axis. More than a hundred million people around the world were involved in the war, and many countries decided to gather all their resources and use it to improve their war power.
The war took the lives of nearly 85 million people, and most of them were normal civilians, not soldiers. A huge part of the fatalities were people in the Soviet Union and China. Many horrific events were a part of the conflict – bombing, deliberate starvation, the Holocaust genocide, a number of massacres and first nuclear weapon attacks ever recorded in history.
WWII rearranged the political and social map of the entire globe. In order to prevent future conflicts, the United Nations was created. It proved to be a bond between countries and improved the cooperation between them. The winning forces – the UK, the US, France, China and the Soviet Union received permanent membership at the UN Security Council. The Soviet Union and the US had a notorious rivalry between them and initiated the Cold War, which existed for a whopping 46 years. The greatest countries in Europe lost their influence, and meanwhile Africa and Asia’s decolonization was initiated.The countries who suffered the greatest industrial loss started the journey towards recovery of their economic state. The common goal for most countries was to erase the pre-war conflicts and establish common goals and identity.
More than 70 years have passed since the end of WWII, which can be considered a long period of time by some and a short one by others. One way to look at the past is to compare the present state of some of the WWII locations with a big historical significance to the way they looked during the war.
1. The beginning of WWII – Gleiwitz Radio Station
In the very beginning of the war, the Nazis came up with a fake operation in which they set up a false attack against the Gleiwitz Radio Station. The idea was to blame Poland for the attack and therefore create a motive to initiate war actions. Germany had to be presented as the victim, so much thought had been put in executing the scenario. There was even an idea to broadcast propaganda speeches in Polish just to make it more convincing and to upset the German people, but that did not happen. A number of the prisoners at the concentration camp were forced to dress up like Polish soldiers, and on 31st August 1939 they attacked the station. As early as the next day the German army invaded Poland, using the set up attack as the reason, thus, the 1st of September 1939 marked the start of the Second World War.
2. France has fallen – Paris
The German army had already invaded France in the middle of 1940, and the British forces at Dunkirk had already retreated, but the Nazis decided to execute their second significant military operation to date, known by the code name Fall Rot.
The weakened French army could only initiate some resistant actions, but this spark was quickly extinguished by the German’s total supremacy by air and on land. The Maginot line was neutralized fast and the Nazi troops started moving further and further into France. They eventually arrived in Paris on 14th of June and found out that the city had practically no defense. France was unable to take on any action whatsoever and the only choice was to surrender immediately after Paris was overtaken. After the French surrendered, most of the other European countries were soon occupied by the Nazis as well.
3. The United States was Involved in WWII – Pearl Harbor / USS Arizona
The Japanese army struck unexpectedly on 7th December 1941. More than 360 planes bombed the Pearl Harbor military base, located on Oahu, Hawaii. The attack was the reason the US entered the Second World War.
After more than a decade in which the relations between Japan and the United States became worse and worse, such an attack was more than a climax. Things got really bad when the US government decided to freeze all Japanese assets in the US and declared an embargo on shipments over many vital materials such as petroleum. This decision was taken for a number of reasons, mainly Japan’s invasion of China 4 years earlier, as well as the alliance of the Japanese with the Axis powers (Italy and Germany) in 1940. By the time of the attack the United States had pretty much canceled all of their relations with Japan. Negotiations were never cancelled and Japan tried to talk the US out of the restrictions, but seeing that things are not getting anywhere, Prime Minister Tojo Hideki’s government voted on war actions to be executed.
4. Japan’s defeat was initiated – Midway Island
The war actions in the Pacific area were circulating, mostly around Midway Island, and the battle for that piece of land was the key moment for the whole region. The Japanese wanted to eliminate the US military power in the Pacific area, but it seemed that they calculated everything wrong. The battle was initiated just six months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and during the action in the beginning of June 1942 the US Navy was able to sink four Japanese carriers in four days. This was a severe loss for them and they started to realize that it would be extremely hard to replace the technical and manpower losses that were piling up fast, and this was something that they could not compete against the power of the United States who were able to replace their losses with far greater ease. After the Midway Island battle, Japan became a defensive participant in the war, simply unable to initiate an attack with their now limited source of power.
5. The battle which turned the tables – Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a crucial turning point in the war. Nazi Germany fought the Soviet Union in order to take over the control of Stalingrad in the southern part of Russia.
The confrontation is regarded to be one of the largest (it involved more than two million people military personnel) and bloodiest (nearly two million killed, injured or captured military and civilians) battles in warfare history. The German forces lost badly, and the Commanding Officers were forced to withdraw military forces from the West to replace the losses.
The German offensive was initiated in August 1942. They intended to use the 6th Army and parts of the 4th Panzer Army. Luftwaffe turned most of the city into ruins. Both sides constantly added reinforcements to their military units. The Germans were able to push the Soviet Army back into the west bank of the Volga River.
The Red Army launched the so-called Operation Uranus, designed to target the Romanian and Hungarian armies which were protecting the flanks of the German 6th Army. It actually worked and the 6th Army was completely surrounded in the Stalingrad area. They were ordered to stay there and attempts were made to supply them by air. Another two months of constant fighting followed. The Axis forces in Stalingrad were totally exhausted and they had run out of food and ammunition. Nothing more could be done and what was left of the German 6th army surrendered after more than five months of constant war action.
6. The day Western Europe was set free / Omaha Beach
Operation Neptune was initiated on the 6th of June 1944, a remarkable date also known as D-Day. It was the first day of the Normandy landings, which was the biggest invasion by sea in history and marked the beginning of the liberation of northwestern Europe from German occupation, as well as served as the initial step towards the Allied victory. The Allies used deception to fool the Germans about the real landing date and location, which was Omaha beach, one of the five beaches on D-Day and that was one of the reasons the Normandy invasion was a success.
7. The Rhine crossing – Remagen Bridge
Remagen’s Ludenhoff Bridge happened to be one of the only two intact bridges over the German Rhine River in March 1945. When the US army attacked the Germans, they tried to take down the bridge, but despite the demolition attempt, the structure remained relatively intact and the US forces were able to cross the river without any problems, and the bridge turned out to be the last obstacle for them in Germany.
The bridge eventually collapsed, within ten days of the crossing, but by that time another portable bridge had been set up on Rhine’s eastern bank.
8. Taking over the precious island – Iwo Jima / Mount Suribachi
The US forces were finally able to invade the island of Iwo Jima on 19th February 1945, and Mount Suribachi followed just four days later. The famous flag-raising took place here and Joe Rosenthal was able to photograph the moment.
Despite the island being invaded, it was still not secure enough, since the Japanese would not give up easily on their land. More than a month after the invasion it was finally declared to be secure by the US army, but the cost of the battle was not worth it, considering that the location of the island had no strategic value to them. However, the five weeks of intense action proved the battle to be one of the bloodiest Pacific fights during WWII.
The whole operation went under the code name Operation Detachment and was designed to gain full control of the island and the three airfields on it faster than it actually happened. The US thought that they might use the airfields to prepare for attacks on Japan’s main islands.
9.The War ended in Europe – Berlin / Führerbunker
Near Berlin’s new Reich Chancellery is where the Führerbunker was built. The structure was part of a large and pretty impressive bunker complex under the ground. The whole complex was built in two stages and was fully completed in1944.
The whole bunker complex was designed to be self-contained. One of the biggest problems for the structure was its location – it was below the water-table, which meant that the conditions inside were very damp and quite unpleasant.
Pumps were running non-stop in an attempt to remove as much groundwater as possible. Water supply was covered by a well pump, and electricity was provided by a diesel generator. The bunker had its own communication system, consisting of a telex machine, a telephone switchboard and an army radio set with a large antenna outside of the building. In the last days, due to worse conditions, Hitler was able to receive a good deal of the war news via the BBC broadcasts.
This bunker is the place that housed Hitler’s Headquarters and is also where he shot himself in the end of April 1945.
10. The nuclear attacks over Japan – Hiroshima
The final stage of the Second World War was marked by the US nuclear bombing over the Hiroshima and Nagasaki cities in Japan in August 1945. The United States executed the bombing after consent of the United Kingdom, as stated in the Quebec Agreement, but the justification of the attacks is a object of debate even today. The two nuclear attacks killed more than 129,000 people, which were mostly civilians and is thankfully the first and last usage of nuclear firepower in warfare history.
After these attacks the Japanese government decided to surrender because they simply had no other choice. The announcement of the decision was made on 15th of August 1945, just six days after the nuclear attack over Nagasaki and the declaration of war by the Soviet Union. That also meant that the Second World War was finally over, with the official end being marked on 2nd of September 1945 when Japan signed the instrument of surrender.