Chapter 24 The Second World War (1939-1945)

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Chapter 24

The Second World War (1939-1945)

At the end of World War I, most governments in Europe became republics with elected legislatures. Political parties fought to gain power. Most countries went through difficult economic times. The war had destroyed farms, towns, and cities all over Europe. People could not find work, food, or supplies they needed. By the 1930s, all of Europe was suffering from the Great Depression.

In Asia, countries were also affected by the Great Depression. They, too, were experiencing economic and political troubles.

In 1939, war broke out in Europe. In 1941, the United States was attacked. Americans were once again in a world war.

  • How did the Second World War begin?

  • Why did the United States enter the war?

  • How did the United States prepare for war?

  • How did the United States bring the war to an end?

Key Words You will be using these words in this chapter. Look them up in the glossary at the back of Part 2.





---The famous photograph, left, shows U.S. troops raising the American flag after winning the Battle of Iwo Jima. The U.S. postage stamp honors the event.

Trouble in Europe and Asia

The Second World War was caused by three nations-Germany, Italy, and Japan. They had been taken over by dictators who set up totalitarian governments. The dictators came into power because of economic and political problems that developed after World War I.

Mussolini Takes Over Italy

In Italy, economic and political problems led to violent strikes and riots. Benito Mussolini was the leader of the Italian Fascist Party. He promised to end Italy's problems and bring order to the country. He also promised to make Italy a world power.

In 1922, Mussolini became Italy's premier. People who opposed him were threatened, beaten, and murdered. Soon, Mussolini had become dictator of Italy.

Hitler Takes Over Germany

In Germany, people were angry about the depression and high unemployment in their country. They were also angry about the peace treaties their leaders had signed after the war. The treaties punished Germany for the war. Germany had to pay huge war fines. It had to give up resources such as land and overseas colonies. It could not build up an army or keep troops in the Rhineland. (That was the strip of German land that bordered France.)

Adolph Hitler was the leader of the Nazi Party. He promised to end the depression in Germany and bring prosperity back to the country. He also promised to get back German territory and to rebuild Germany as a powerful world empire.


In 1933, Hitler became chancellor, or prime minister, of Germany. Like Mussolini, he used violence to crush people who opposed him. By 1934, Hitler was dictator. He set up a totalitarian government that controlled industries, schools, newspapers, and the police and military. He began to build up a powerful army.

Hitler gained support by telling the Germans that they belonged to a "master race." He said that the "master race" would rule the world. He also told Germans that Germany's problems were caused by Jews. He and his followers began a program of arresting, torturing, and murdering German Jews and other people that Hitler said were inferior and, therefore, enemies of Germany. Those included Gypsies, Slavs, and sick or disabled people.

A Military Power Grows in Asia

While Germany and Italy were building their military forces in Europe, Japan was becoming the strongest military power in Asia.

During the 1920s, Japan's military leaders began to take over the country. They used terrorism and violence to gain power. By 1937, military leaders had total control of the government. They set up a military dictatorship to rule the country.

Japan Begins Aggression

The dictators of Germany, Italy, and Japan wanted to expand their territories. They planned to do that through military aggression-invading other countries. Japan was the first to act. In 1931, Japanese troops invaded northern China and seized Manchuria, which belonged to China. The League of Nations protested the invasion of China. But it did nothing to stop Japan.

Italy and Germany Act Next

In 1935, Italian troops invaded Ethiopia, a country in East Africa. They next invaded Albania, a country in Europe. The League of Nations and the United States protested Italy's actions but did nothing to stop Italy.

In 1936, Hitler sent German troops into the Rhineland. Britain and France protested that Germany was violating its peace treaties. But they did nothing to stop Germany.

War Begins

Next to Germany were the countries of Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. In 1938, Germany invaded Austria.

Hitler then turned to Czechoslovakia. He demanded that part of it be placed under German control.

British and French leaders met with Hitler at a conference in Munich, Germany. At the Munich Conference, they agreed that Germany would control part of Czechoslovakia. In return, Hitler promised that Germany would seize no more territory.

But Hitler did not intend to honor the agreement. In March 1939, German troops took over all of Czechoslovakia. Then, on September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland without warning. On September 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany.

World War II had begun.

Looking Back

1. What did Mussolini and Hitler promise to do for their countries?

2. How did the League of Nations act when Japan, Italy, and Germany invaded other countries?

3. What agreement was made at the Munich Conference? Did Hitler honor the agreement?


The United States Enters the War

During World War II, Italy, Germany, and Japan formed an alliance. The alliance was called the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis.

The three countries became known as the Axis Powers, or the Axis. Britain and France and the countries that sided with them were called the Allies.

The Allies were not prepared for war in 1939. But the Axis had been building military power for years. Germany had a huge, well-trained army, equipped with the most modern tanks and other weapons. It also had the largest air force in the world.

Germany used a new form of warfare called blitzkrieg to quickly conquer most of western Europe. (Blitzkrieg is a German word meaning "lightning war.") Squadrons of German planes would suddenly appear to bomb a country's military bases and factories. At the same time, hundreds of German tanks and thousands of troops would quickly move into that country's cities. Using those methods, Germany conquered Poland and France, each within a month. Within three months, Germany had also conquered Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

Americans Support the Allies

In 1939, President Roosevelt declared that the United States would remain neutral in the war. But the President and most Americans supported the Allies: Americans believed that Germany and Italy were threats to democracies such as the United States. America began selling military supplies to the Allies. In 1940, President Roosevelt turned over 50 American warships to Britain.

By June 1940, Britain stood alone against Germany in Europe. During 1940 and 1941, German planes bombed British cities every night.

By late 1940, Britain was running out of money to buy American supplies. In 1941, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act. The Act allowed the President to lend or lease (rent) war materials to Britain and the other Allies. Payment or return of the materials would be worked out after the war.

Getting materials to Britain was difficult. German submarines sank many British supply ships. In 1941, President Roosevelt ordered the American navy to escort British ships as far as Iceland. German submarines began to attack American ships.

Japan Attacks Hawaii

After Germany invaded France in 1940, Japan set up military bases in French Indochina, colonies in Southeast Asia that belonged to France. 1b show that it disapproved of that action, the United States stopped the sale of gasoline and many other items to Japan. America also made a large loan to China, to help China in its fight against the Japanese invasion.

On December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor, an important naval base in Hawaii. The Japanese also attacked nearby air force bases. The attack caught Americans by surprise. In two hours, about 18 American ships and over 150 American planes were damaged or destroyed.

The next day, Congress declared war against Japan. Germany and Italy then declared war against the United States.

Looking Back

1. What were the Axis Powers?

2. How did the United States help Britain during the first years of the war?

3. Why did the United States declare war against Japan in 1941?


---Left: During World War II, women did many jobs to help win the war. This picture shows a civilian pilot who instructed other women. Right: Manzanar was a Japanese­ American relocation camp in California. This photograph was taken by Ansel Adams, a famous photographer.

Americans at War

The attack on Pearl Harbor outraged Americans. Within weeks, thousands of Americans volunteered for the armed forces. By the end of the war, six million men and women had volunteered. Another ten million men were drafted.

The Government Rations Goods

The government declared that certain materials, such as rubber, gasoline, meat, and sugar were essential, or necessary, to the war effort. Those goods were needed by the armed forces.

The government began to ration essential goods. American families were given ration stamps, or coupons. Those stamps allowed people to buy only a certain amount of each rationed item.

American Production Increases

When the war began, many Americans were still unemployed because of the depression. But many jobs opened up during the war years and the depression ended.

In 1942, President Roosevelt set up the War Production Board. The board ordered factories to convert (change) from peacetime to wartime production. Automobile factories began to produce jeeps and tanks. Clothing companies began to produce uniforms. Other factories began to produce planes, ships, and other military supplies.

By 1944, American war production was twice that of Germany, Italy, and Japan combined. America's industrial output was an important reason that the Allies won the war.

The Japanese Relocation Camps

After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Japanese troops invaded country after country in Southeast Asia. In the United States, frightened Americans heard that California would be invaded next. They also heard stories about Japanese-American spies. The stories were not true. But in 1942, President Roosevelt ordered the army to relocate (move) 110,000 Japanese Americans from their homes on the west coast.

Men, women, and children were forced to give up their properties and live in huge camps surrounded by barbed-wire fences. Those camps were located in such places as the deserts of the West and Southwest. Armed soldiers kept watch over the Japanese Americans and made sure they did not leave. Japanese Americans were kept in such relocation camps until 1945.

Despite such treatment, many young Japanese Americans still wanted to fight for their country. In 1943, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was formed. It was an army unit that was made up almost entirely of Japanese-American soldiers.

The 442nd unit fought in Europe. It won more medals than any other unit its size.

Looking Back

1. How did the government organize industry to prepare for war?

2. What happened to Japanese Americans on the west coast after the attack on Pearl Harbor?

3. What was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team?


The War in Europe

Twenty-six nations had joined the Allies by 1942. (Later, the Allies would grow to include 49 nations.) The most powerful Allied nations were the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union (Russia).

In January 1942, President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill worked out the Allies' plan for winning the war: The Allies would first defeat Germany and Italy. Then they would defeat the Japanese in Asia.

Germany Advances in Russia and Africa

In June 1941, Germany had attacked the Soviet Union. By winter, German troops had advanced far into Soviet territory and were threatening the Soviet capital of Moscow.

German forces had also won control of much of North Africa. By summer 1942, German troops had pushed into Egypt and were trying to take the Suez Canal there.

The Suez Canal had been built by the French and was now under British-French control. It connected the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. If Germany took the Suez Canal, the Germans would control the Mediterranean. They could then move easily into oil-rich Iran and Iraq.

The Allies Attack

In late 1942, the British defeated the Germans at El Alamein in Egypt, near the Suez Canal. The British then pushed the Germans west, across Egypt and Libya.

Meanwhile, American troops landed in Morocco and Algeria. The Americans then moved east across Algeria toward the British army in Egypt and Libya. The Germans were trapped between the two Allied armies. In May 1943, the Germans surrendered in Tunisia.

The Allied forces then moved north from Tunisia, invaded Sicily, and entered Italy. Members of Mussolini's government rebelled against him. They arrested Mussolini and put him into prison. (Mussolini escaped but was later captured and executed by the Italians.) In 1943, the Italian government surrendered to the Allies.

Soviet Forces Push the Germans Back

In the winter of 1941-1942, Soviet troops stopped the German advance on Moscow. Hitler then ordered German troops to capture Stalingrad in southern Russia. After months of bitter fighting, Soviet forces defeated the Germans there.

By 1944, Soviet forces had driven the Germans from the Soviet Union. Soviet troops also captured Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. Those were countries in eastern Europe that Germany had conquered.

Looking Back

1. What was the Allied plan for defeating the Axis?

2. Why was it important for the Allies to keep Germany from controlling the Suez Canal?

3. What did the Italian government do after putting Mussolini into prison in 1943?


---General George Patton was the commander of a U.S, tank division that helped win the war in Europe.

Allied Victory in Europe

Since early 1944, the Allies had been building a huge force in England. Tons of supplies and thousands of men were sent from America to England. The Allies planned to invade Europe, free France, and then invade Germany. General Dwight Eisenhower was in charge of the invasion. He was the commander of Allied forces in Europe. General Eisenhower picked June 6, 1944, as the invasion day. That day became known as D-Day.

The Invasion Begins

On June 6, thousands of ships and airplanes left England and crossed the English Channel to France. More than 120 thousand Allied soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy in occupied France.

The invasion was a success. By late July, Allied troops were marching across France. In August, the French capital of Paris was liberated (freed) from the Germans. Within a few months, all of France had been liberated.

The War in Europe Ends

Early in 1945, the Allies invaded Germany. British and American troops attacked Germany from the west. Soviet troops attacked from the east. On April 30, Hitler killed himself. On May 2, Soviet troops captured the German capital of Berlin. And on May 8, Germany's surrender was official. The war in Europe was over.

The Holocaust

When Adolph Hitler came to power in the 1930s, he had ordered the building of concentration camps in Europe. Those are large prison camps that can each hold large numbers of prisoners. From the 1930s through World War II, Hitler and his followers ordered millions of Jews and other "enemies" arrested and placed in the camps.

In Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Belgium, France, and elsewhere, German troops rounded up whole neighborhoods of Jews and sent them to the camps.

As the Allies marched through Germany and eastern Europe, they entered the concentration camps. All the fighting and death the soldiers had seen had not prepared them for what they found there.

At some camps, soldiers found bodies stacked like firewood. The bodies were covered with terrible cuts and bruises. The soldiers also found large rooms that had been used as gas chambers. Hundreds of prisoners at a time had been locked in those rooms and killed with poison gas.

The survivors of the camps looked like living skeletons. They told stories of men, women, and children being starved, tortured, and shot.

Twelve million "enemies" of Germany died in the concentration camps. About half of them were Jews.

Today, the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis is known as the Holocaust. A holocaust is the complete destruction of something, usually by fire. For Jews, the Holocaust meant destruction of entire families and villages. They were destroyed not by fire, but by prejudice and hate.

Looking Back

1. How did D-Day help lead to Germany's surrender in the war?

2. What was the Holocaust?


The War in Asia

---This photograph shows General MacArthur and Philippine officers wading to shore after Americans took back the Philippines.

On April 12, 1945, Franklin Roosevelt died. Vice-President Harry Truman took his place. By then, the war in Europe was almost over. But in Asia, victory still seemed far away.

Japan's Advance in the Pacific Is Stopped

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, they had moved quickly through the Pacific. Within weeks, they had captured the American island of Guam and Wake Island in the Pacific. By early 1942, they controlled all the major islands in the Pacific, including the Philippine Islands, much of China, and all of Southeast Asia. Nothing seemed to stop the Japanese in their advance through the Pacific. Americans were fearful that the Japanese would attack New Zealand and Australia, then Hawaii and California.

But the United States Navy won two important sea battles that stopped the Japanese advance in the Pacific. Those victories ended the Japanese threat to New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, and the west coast of the United States. In May 1942, the United States Navy defeated a Japanese fleet in the Coral Sea, northeast of Australia. A month later, another American fleet defeated a Japanese fleet near the Midway Islands.

Island-hopping in the Pacific

Japanese forces were spread across the Pacific on dozens of islands that lay between the United States and Japan. Those islands provided strong defense for Japan.

American military leaders decided on a plan of attack that would weaken the Japanese forces in the Pacific. The plan came to be called island-hopping. According to the plan, United States forces would capture only certain key islands. Those islands would then become bases from which to attack other islands. As each island fell, the American forces would move closer to Japan, until they could finally invade it.

In 1943 and 1944, American forces captured key islands of the Solomon, Gilbert, and Marshall Islands. In October 1944, Americans under the command of General Douglas MacArthur landed in the Philippines. Later that month, the American navy destroyed a Japanese fleet at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. That defeat left the Japanese fleet almost powerless in the Pacific. By early 1945, General MacArthur had taken back the Philippines. He then prepared for the invasion of Japan.

By spring 1945, American forces had captured the island of Okinawa, about 350 miles south of Japan. American planes began to bomb Japanese cities regularly.

Looking Back

1. Once the Japanese controlled major islands of the Pacific, where did Amercians fear Japan would attack?

2. How did American forces plan to defeat the Japanese in the Pacific?

3. Map work: Look at the map at the top of the next page. What countries and islands were under Japanese control?


America Decides to Use the Atomic Bomb

The invasion of Japan never took place. In 1942, President Roosevelt had ordered work to begin on a secret project. The project was called the Manhattan Project, and its goal was to build a new kind of weapon that was more destructive than anything known-an atomic bomb.

In July 1945, the first atomic bomb was tested in the desert of New Mexico. It was the world's first nuclear weapon. The explosion was more powerful than 19,000 tons of TNT. It could be seen miles away.

President Harry Truman decided to use the atomic bomb against Japan if necessary to bring an end to the war. In late July, the Allies warned Japan that it faced total destruction if it did not surrender. But Japanese leaders refused to surrender.

The War Ends in Asia

On August 6, 1945, a single plane dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Hiroshima was destroyed in one bright flash. Seventy thousand people died in a matter of seconds.

On August 9, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. When the explosion was over, more than 40,000 people were dead.

On August 14, Japan surrendered. And on September 2, 1945, Japanese officials signed a treaty of surrender.

The War Took Millions of Lives

World War II was finally over. It had been the most destructive war the world had ever known. Millions had died in the fighting, in the bombings of the cities, and from disease and starvation. Historians believe that more than 55 million military and civilian people all over the world died during the war.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war. But they also brought the world into the nuclear-age in which people live with a new kind of fear. People still argue about the use of the atomic bombs in World War II. And they argue about the construction of more nuclear bombs today by governments all over the world.

Looking Back

1. How did the Manhattan Project help end the war and change the world?

2. How did the United States force Japan to surrender?


Chapter 24


Facts First

Use words below to complete each sentence.

atomic bombs


concentration camps



Pearl Harbor

hard times


Harry Truman

World War II

1. Mussolini and Hitler rose to power during in Europe after World War I.

2. In Asia, military leaders ruled .

3. Japan, Italy, and Germany seized belonging to other nations.

4. began in Europe after Germany invaded Poland.

5. The United States entered the war after Japan attacked .

6. On , Allied forces landed in Normandy and began the liberation of France.

7. Allied troops found where millions of Jews had been murdered.

8. The Allied plan to approach Japan by capturing Pacific islands was called .

9. became President when Franklin Roosevelt died.

10. President Truman ordered dropped on Japan.

Word Check

Write the meanings of each of these words. Then use each word in a sentence.





Skill Builder

Find out more about these people and events of the war years.

Irving Berlin


Iva D'Aquino (Tokyo Rose)

Office of Strategic Services (OSS)

Anne Frank

A. Philip Randolph

Executive Order 8802

Raoul Wallenberg

International Red Cross

United Service Organization (USO)

Chapter 24 Notes

Read over the chapter. Find answers to these questions:

1. Who were the dictators of Germany, Italy, and Japan? How did they rise to power?

2. How did World War II begin?

3. Why did the United States join in the fighting in 1942?

4. What was the Holocaust?

5. Why did Japan surrender in 1945?

Be a Historian

Interview someone who remembers World War II. Ask him or her what life was like during the war years.


These words and expressions became well known to Americans during World War II. Find out what they mean. Look them up in a dictionary or an encyclopedia. Or ask someone who remembers World War II about them.

blackout curtain


black market


Flying Fortress



V-J Day




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