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World War I had led to instability in Europe which set the stage for World War II, an even more devastating conflict. The political and economic instability in Germany, paired with resentment over the Treaty of Versailles’ harsh terms, contributed to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, and quickly pronounced himself Führer, or supreme leader, in 1934. He began rearming Germany - a violation of the Treaty of Versailles - and made alliances with Italy and Japan against the Soviet Union. Hitler was able to occupy Austria and annex Czechoslovakia because other nations were either distracted or trying to avoid another confrontation.

By 1941, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria had joined the Axis, and German forces had taken over Yugoslavia and Greece. However, Hitler’s real goal was to invade the Soviet Union. The invasion was codenamed Operation Barbarossa. Hitler wanted the expansive Soviet territory to give the Aryan “master race” the space it needed to expand. However, Hitler and his commanders argued, delaying their attack, and allowing for a Soviet counterattack and winter weather to interfere with their plans.

The second part of Hitler’s plan to further the Aryan race was to exterminate the Jewish people from Europe. His plan, called the “Final Solution,” was introduced around the time of Operation Barbarossa. Over the next three years, more than 4 million Jews would die in death camps in German occupied Poland.

Prisoners in the Dachau Concentration Camp

On December 7th, 1941, Japanese aircrafts attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. More than 2,300 American troops died, and the attack unified the American public in favor of entering World War II. The US declared war on Japan on December 8th, 1941, and shortly after the Axis Powers declared war on the US.

Despite a series of Japanese victories, the US won the Battle of Midway in 1942, which was a turning point in the war. The Allies began “island hopping,” a strategy which helped them get closer to being able to invade the Japanese mainland.

In 1939, Hitler and Joseph Stalin signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. This worried Great Britain and France because Hitler had been planning to invade Poland, and Britain and France had guaranteed Poland military support if it were invaded. Hitler invaded Poland from the west on September 1st, 1939. France and Britain declared war on Germany on September 3rd, beginning World War II. The Soviet Union invaded from the east on September 17th, and Poland quickly fell.

After an Allied invasion of Italy, Mussolini’s government fell in July of 1943. The German troops in the Soviet Union, with winter approaching and running out of supplies, surrendered after the Battle of Stalingrad in January 1943.

On June 6th, 1944, now celebrated as “D-Day,” the Allies began an invasion of Europe on the beaches of Normandy, France. Hitler focused on Western Europe, which led to Germany’s defeat in the east. Hitler attempted to drive the Americans and British back at the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive. The Allies bombed Germany heavily and then invaded by land, but Soviet forces had already occupied part of the country. Hitler committed suicide on April 30th, 1945, and Germany formally surrendered on May 8th.

In April of 1940, Hitler invaded Norway and occupied Denmark. In May, German troops swept through Belgium and the Netherlands. Hitler then struck French forces, breaking through French fortifications constructed after World War I. On June 14th, German troops entered Paris, and just two days later the French government requested an armistice. Hitler then turned his attention to Great Britain. However, the Royal Air Force defeated the German Air Force, causing Hitler to postpone plans to invade Britain.

In June of 1940, Hitler also signed the Pact of Steel with Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Italy declared war against France and Great Britain on June 10th.

Allied leaders Truman, Churchill, and Stalin discussed post-war Germany and the war with Japan at the Potsdam Conference in 1945.

After Iwo Jima and Okinawa resulted in serious casualties, the US feared a land invasion would be even more bloody. As a result, President Truman authorized the use of the atomic bomb. The bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. On September 2nd, 1945, the US accepted Japan’s surrender.

Axis Powers: Germany, Italy, Japan

Allies: France, Great Britain, United States, Soviet Union