War and Conflict

World War II

How did World War II begin?

The war began on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, which was soon crushed by German chancellor and führer Adolf Hitler’s (1889–1945) war machine. But while the Nazis moved in from the west, Poland was under attack by the Soviets from the north and east. The events in the Eastern European country had set the stage for a major conflict.

After Poland, the Germans moved into Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and France, taking control as they went. By June 1940 only Great Britain stood against Hitler, who was joined by Axis power Italy. Before long, fighting had spread into Greece and northern Africa.

In June 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union, enlarging the scope of the conflict again. With the world’s focus on war-torn Europe, Japan executed a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941, which drew Americans into the war. The war would not end until 1945.

More than 2,300 people were killed in the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor; the attack drew the United States into World War II.

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