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In the elections of 1932, the Nazi Party won 37% of the vote, which in the fragmented political scene of the Weimar Republic meant they became the biggest single party. Hitler leveraged his plurality to undermine the Chancellorship and gridlock the Reichstag until President Hindenburg finally agreed to share power by making Hitler Chancellor.
President Hindenburg was eighty-six and suffering from lung cancer, so everybody knew he didn't have much longer to live. After becoming Chancellor, Hitler began plans to seize power, so when Hindenburg finally died, Hitler was ready. He called a referendum, started a voter intimidation campaign, and received about 90% of the vote approving the merger of the Chancellorship and Presidency into one position: Führer, German for "leader" or "guide."
From the moment Hitler took power, he was looking to expand the territory of his new "Third Reich" (or Empire). His first big move was the annexation of Austria, which had long standing cultural ties with Germany as well as many German speakers.
There were plenty of Austrian Nazis ready to take power and do Hitler's bidding, but it took a military invasion to accomplish the annexation. "Anschluss" was the euphemism used by the Nazis, and it means "joining," but annexation just feels like a better word to use. "Invasion," however, is the technically correct term, regardless of whatever popular support that invasion might or might not have had.
Neville Chamberlain did and said a lot of things as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. But he'll always be remembered as that guy who tried to make nice with Hitler and said some naive thing like, "peace in our time."
Chamberlain was the advocate of a diplomatic policy of appeasement, which in practice amounted to allowing Hitler to do things against international law, invading neighboring countries "because they wanted it," remilitarizing "because the Great War was a long time ago," etc.
This was a similar invasion of another country accomplished by Hitler through the manipulation of German-speaking people in lands formerly contiguous and/or culturally tied with Germany, the threat of military invasion and the mass production of propaganda, and finally by actually invading.
This was a secret pact named after the diplomats from Germany and the USSR who got it done. It guaranteed neutrality between the two powers and provided for the division of the territory between them, including Poland. The two-sided invasion of Poland proceeded almost immediately. The pact was broken with the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Germany's fight-to-the-death invasion of the Soviet Union.
German and Soviet forces split Poland in two, and met little effective resistance. In many ways Poland was at the epicenter of WWII's cruelty and horror because of this brutal partitioning and the successive subjugations during the course of the war. This was the moment the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany.
The Battle of the Atlantic began with the sinking of the civilian ship SS Athenia by a German submarine, or U-Boat. It was primarily a battle between German submarines and Allied sub-hunting destroyers trying to protect convoys of supply ships.
France's Maginot Line, a heavily fortified defensive structure that some thought impenetrable, was completely useless against the German "Blitzkrieg" (lightning war) tactics, which used armored divisions to outflank and circle around French defensive positions to incredible effect. It only took Germany about a month to win the Battle of France.
With the complete defeat of French and UK forces in France, an enormous evacuation of troops to the United Kingdom began with urgency. Civilian boats were commissioned and in Dunkirk harbor hundreds of vessels picked up as many soldiers as they could to ferry them across the English Channel. Over 300,000 troops were evacuated.
For nearly four months, the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) and the RAF (Royal Air Force) battled fiercely over British airspace, the English Channel, and the Atlantic. While at first the Luftwaffe targeted trade ports and other infrastructure, Hitler eventually directed them to increasingly bomb civilian centers, especially London.
The lifeline to the United Kingdom, China, and soon, the Soviet Union was passed into law. FDR's hard work of convincing lawmakers and shifting public opinion finally paid off and kept the Allies going well before American troops became a factor.
Codenamed Operation Barbarossa, this was probably the largest and most destructive military offensive in history. It was the surprise attack on the Soviet Union by Germany and its allies. Four million men (give or take) stormed across the Eastern European countryside, with SS death squads rounding up civilians, Jewish and otherwise, and burying them in mass graves behind the advancing Wehrmacht. The Soviet Union had a huge army, but was caught completely off guard, overwhelmed by the fast German armored divisions flanking defensive positions and emplacements.
Started at the height of summer, the offensive stalled once the infamous Russian winter set in. Having made it to the outskirts of Moscow, Leningrad, and later, Stalingrad, after the summer of 1942 the Axis powers would never again mount a significant offensive, and the Soviets would begin their slow, long march toward Berlin.
A surprise attack on the American military base in Pearl Harbor was devastatingly effective, but the major components of the American Pacific fleet was fortuitously out at sea, allowing the United States to regroup and push forward in the Pacific Theater much earlier than the Japanese had hoped. (Source)
This was the moment that propelled the United States into WWII, rallying public opinion against the Axis powers and marginalizing the isolationists. FDR gave one of his most famous speeches, calling December 7th "a date which will live in infamy," right before formally declaring war on Japan. Declarations against Germany and Italy came very soon after.
Operation Barbarossa was a momentous military success in its early months, but by the summer of 1942, German forces had already been halted at the thresholds of Moscow and Leningrad, and added a third: Stalingrad.
All three of these enormous battles were among the most bloody and terrible in human history. After the Battle of Stalingrad began, German forces gained virtually no territory, and were only pushed back West, with millions of soldiers and civilians dying on both sides the whole time.
This was the invasion of the Northern coast of Africa, which was held by German-sympathetic Vichy France forces. It marked the beginning of an eventually successful North African campaign that pushed Axis forces out of the continent, and set the stage for the invasion of Italy from the south.
The long awaited and prepared for mainland invasion of Europe by the United States, Great Britain, and Canada began on June 6th on the beaches of northern France. Stalin had wanted his Western allies to begin a second front much earlier than that, but by the middle of 1944 was already making very significant headway toward Berlin.
FDR's health had been noticeably declining for a while, and while posing for an official portrait, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The war was well under control, but big decisions remained to be made.
With Berlin completely surrounded on both the East and the West, and despite the inevitability of total defeat, Hitler never gave orders to his generals to surrender. And instead of facing capture at the hands of the Soviets, he committed suicide in his bunker.
The final Nazi surrender was marked by celebrations all over the Western world, and dubbed, V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day.
The final, decisive blow to Japan in WWII was the aerial detonations of "Fat Man and Little Boy," the first two (and so far only) nuclear weapons ever actually used on a population. Some historians dispute the necessity of these bombings, claiming Emperor Hirohito was ready to surrender but just needed time and symbolic concessions.
Others say without the devastation of the two cities and the display of the unprecedented power of nuclear weapons, the Japanese command would have refused to surrender until the Allies actually invaded and occupied Japan, with millions dead and wounded and the complete ruination of countrywide infrastructure.
However you look at it, after the use of those two weapons, no one can rationally advocate their use against other nuclear powers, as the resulting nuclear exchange would kill tens, if not hundreds of millions and could very well imperil the continued survival of all humans on the planet.