3rd Year: World War II

Main Page: International Relations in the 20th Century

Allied troops landing at Normandy, France, on D-Day (6 June 1944)

It's the most famous war in history, and the most destructive. The Second World War lasted for six years, from 1939 to 1945. It began when Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on it as a result, and the two sides quickly became known as the Allies (Britain, France, later the US, and others including colonies) and the Axis (Germany, Italy, Japan, and others inclduing colonies).

The first few months of the war became known as the "Phoney War", as very little fighting actually occurred. For the first year after the invasion of Poland, however, Hitler's forces were practically unstoppable. By 1940, France had fallen under Nazi rule, while much of Eastern Europe had either been invaded or became allied to Germany. Poland had been divided up between Germany and the Soviet Union, but Hitler still planned to march further east and defeat the Soviets. In 1941, Japan launched an attack on the Pearl Harbour naval base in Hawaii which brought America out of her policy of isolation and into the war. This changed the Allies' luck, as did the failure of Hitler's attempted invasion of Russia that same year.

The war was not just fought on land, but also in the sea and in the air. Although German troops never invaded Britain, the Luftwaffe did bomb British cities (including Belfast), but they were eventually repelled by Allied air forces during the Battle of Britain. In 1944, the Allies launched Operation Overlord (which began on what is known as D-Day). Allied troops landed in Normandy in France (where the Normans had come from all those centuries ago!) and liberated France, after which they kept moving west towards Germany. On the east, Soviet troops were pushing the Germans back and were moving towards Germany from that direction. By 1945, Mussolini had been overthrown and killed, most of Germany's conquests had been freed, and Hitler was left trying to command troops who were no longer there. When the Soviets reached Berlin, Hitler committed suicide rather than be captured. The war in Europe had ended.

Across the Pacific Ocean, America and Japan continued fighting for a few more months - also by air and by sea - until US President Harry Truman ordered that a new type of weapon, the atomic bomb, be dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Thousands were killed in the attack, and after a second bomb was dropped in Nagasaki, the Japanese surrendered. World War II was finally over.

But what kind of world had emerged from it?

Continue to Option 1: The Rise of the Superpowers

  • German successes, 1939-42
    • Blitzkrieg, the Phoney War, the Invasion of France, Operation Sealion, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, the Desert War.
  • Allied successes, 1942-45
    • Operation Barbarossa and Stalingrad, American entry, War in the sea and air, Operation Overlord and D-Day, the German surrender, the war against Japan.
  • The results of WWII: Death, destruction, war trials, the Cold War, European unity, Superpowers, East/West Germany

This (1942) is most land gained by Hitler and his allies in Europe during the war.
The Allies are in red, the Axis are in blue. Countries in white are neutral.
The Nazi invasion of Russia was failing and the Soviets would soon push back all the way to Germany.
The Allies would invade Nazi-occupied France in 1944 and keep pushing to Germany from the west.
Click here to see the image full-sized.

    Click here for exam questions you can be asked about this topic. (Higher and Ordinary)

    BBC History: World War II
    British Spitfires.
    These planes fought in the Battle of Britain.
    The BBC have a huge site dedicated to World War II. Click on the buttons to find out more about a particular event in the war. There are images, films, audio, speeches, news reports, all kinds of sources. Highly recommended.

    BBC Primary History: World War II
    This is targeted for younger people, but it still gives a lot of good information on life in Britain during the war. (for information on life in Ireland during the war, click here). 

    History.com: World War II
    Just like the BBC site, History.com gives a lot of information on all aspects of the war, with all kinds of sources at your disposal. Anyone who watches the History Channel will know that they mostly show WWII documentaries, so it's only natural they'd have a good WWII site.

    Battle of Britain Newsreel (YouTube)
    A British newsreel about the Battle of Britain. There are hundreds of WWII newsreels available online. It would be impossible to link to them all, so do a Google or YouTube search for them if you're interested. You're a History student, so always watch out for propaganda - you're going to find a lot of it here.

    Joseph Stalin
    You've learned about the Axis leaders, so learn about the Allied leaders. Stalin led the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953. If you go on to study History in Leaving Cert, you'll learn more about him.

    Winston Churchill
    You might remember Churchill from Irish history, where he popped up a few times. He succeeded Neville Chamberlain as British Prime Minister in 1940, and led Britain throughout the war. There's also a video of David Cameron talking about why Churchill is his favourite Prime Minister (opinion!).

    Franklin D. Roosevelt
    The only person to be elected US President four times in a row (since then a two-term limit has been made law), FDR led America from 1932 until his sudden death in 1945.

    Harry S Truman
    When Roosevelt died, his Vice President, Harry Truman, took over. It was Truman who ordered the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Hirohito was Emperor of Japan during the war. Unlike Hitler and Mussolini, he was not overthrown or killed, instead he reformed and remained Emperor until 1989.

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    The American-Japanese side of the war isn't covered as much in the course as the European side was, so learn more about the event which ended the war here. 

    Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, the Allied leaders.