The Second World War: Causes, Development, and Consequences


Nationalist Discontent: at the end of WWI Germany was unhappy because the Treaty of Versailles made it give territory to Poland and Czechoslovakia, and Italy was unhappy because it hadn’t been given the territories it wanted in the Mediterranean. Both countries desired to recover lost territories. Economic Protectionism: protectionist policies to reduce imports (adopted in the Great Depression of the 1930s) forced the countries to find new markets for their products. This created tensions between the countries. Expansionist Policies: Germany, Italy, and Japan wanted to expand their territories to acquire new raw materials and satisfy their territorial demands. Appeasement Policies: territorial expansion of Germany and Italy was tolerated by Great Britain since it supported a policy of appeasement. The Failure of the League of Nations: created to keep the peace and avoid the outbreak of the war, was unable to meet its objectives due to its limited measures: economic and political sanctions (it could prohibit commercial/diplomatic relations with aggressive countries) and expel any country that threatened the peace from the league.

Japanese, German and Italian Expansionist Policies:

– Japan occupied Manchuria (1931) to defend economic interests and north of China (1933-1938) to develop its economic activity with the iron and coal deposits.

– Italy occupied Abyssinia (1935) because the King refused to concede the territories they were demanding and Albania (1939).

– Germany: reincorporated the Saar as the result of a vote (1935). Occupied the Rhineland; a demilitarized area since the Treaty of Versailles (1936). Annexed areas with German population: Austria and Sudetenland (in Czechoslovakia). Czechoslovakia protested, but Hitler called the Munich Conference and the European powers accepted the annexation in exchange for Hitler’s promise to make no territorial claims in Europe. And finally occupied Czechoslovakia, breaking the agreement (1939).


The expansionist policy divided the countries into 2 opposing sides:

– The Axis. In 1936, Germany and Italy signed a pact. In the same year, another with Japan (to defend itself against Communist USSR). Italy joined the alliance in 1937, and it became known as the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis in 1940.
Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria joined but did not intervene in the war.
Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the USSR in 1939 (not to fight and to divide Poland between them).

– The Allies. Great Britain abandoned its appeasement policy and signed a pact of mutual support with France in 1939. That year, after Germany tried to annex Danzig; Great Britain, France and Poland signed a defense agreement in case of German attack.
War broke out in Europe on 1 September 1939, when France and Great Britain declared war against Germany since it had invaded Poland. The USSR occupied the eastern territories of Poland and Finland (because of the non-aggression pact with Germ). In 1941, the USA joined the war following an attack by Japan; and the USSR when Germany invaded it, breaking the non-aggression pact.


Franco supported Germany because Hitler had helped him in the civil war. In 1940, during a meeting, Hitler asked for Franco’s support in the war, but Franco asked for conditions which were impossible for Germany to fulfill. So, Spain remained neutral.

THE BLUE DIVISION: Although Spain was neutral, Franco collaborated with the Axis sent the Blue Division (volunteer troops) to support the German army’s on the Eastern Front. In 1943 this troops withdrew from the conflict and Spain maintained strict neutrality for the rest of the war.


FIRST PHASE: AXIS OFFENSIVES IN EUROPE, AFRICA AND ASIA (1939-1942) In Europe, Germany used its strategy of blitzkrieg (rapid and successive attacks on the enemy front), in addition to the element of surprise and the combination of air attacks with land attacks. These made the Germans won various victories: ( In 1940, after the invasion of Poland, German forces occupied Denmark and Norway to the north, and the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France to the west. In the Battle of Britain (1940), Hitler wanted to invade Britain, but the German air force was defeated.) (In 1941, Hitler broke the non-aggression pact and ordered the invasion of the USSR (Operation Barbarossa). So, Stalin (Russia) joined the Allies, and the Soviet forces used a scorched earth strategy to destroy anything that the enemy could use. The German forces advanced rapidly but the arrival of winter stopped them from attacking Moscow.) ( In 1941, Germany conquered Greece and Crete. Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria joined the Axis.) (In Africa, in 1940, Italy, with the help of the German army, the Afrika Korps, led by Field Marshall Rommel, defeated the British army.) 

(In Asia and the Pacific, in 1941, Japan invaded French colonies in Indochina and began their expansion in the Pacific. The USA tried to stop that by announcing an embargo on steel/petroleum exports to Japan, so Japan attacked the American naval base (Pearl Harbor, Hawaii). The USA declared war on Japan and joined the Allies.)


– The war in Africa ended due to the collab. between Great Britain and the USA.

– In 1942, General Montgomery, who was in charge of the British army, forced the enemy troops out of Egypt in the Battle of El Alamein.

– The Americans landed in Morocco and Algeria and advanced towards Tunisia where the Germans and Italians were defeated in 1943. The Allies attacked southern Italy from here.

In Europe, the following battles and events signaled the end of the war: 1= The battle of the Atlantic (1942-1943): the use of aircraft carriers and destroyers by the allies ended the threat from German submarines which they used to isolate Great Britain. 2= 
The battle of Stalingrad (Russia) (1942-1943): German forces occupied the city but the Soviet army counter-attacked and they were forced to surrender and retreat from the USSR. 3=Allied troops invaded most of the Italian peninsula. As a result, Mussolini was dismissed in 1943 and executed in 1945. 4=The Conference of Tehran (1943): the representatives of Great Britain (Winston Churchill), the US (Franklin Roosevelt) and the USSR (Stalin) agreed to open a new front in France, liberating Western Europe and accelerating the end of the war. 5=On 6 June 1944, the allied troops (North Americans, British and Canadians), under Eisenhower landed in Normandy (France) and forced the Germans to retreat as far as Paris (liberated in August). 6=After France was liberated (September 1944), the Allies advanced towards Germany from 3 fronts: France, the USSR and north of Italy. In May 1945, they entered Berlin and Hitler committed suicide. On 8 May 1945, Germany surrendered.


– In the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of the Midway (1942), the Japanese were defeated and lost control of the Pacific islands. The landing of the Americans on Guadalcanal (1942-1943) consolidated the Allied advances.page2image42778176

– In the naval Battle of the Philippine Sea (1944), most of the Japanese aircraft carriers, ships and planes were destroyed by the North Americans.

– At the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa (1945), the Japanese used kamikaze pilots to stop Allied troops from reaching Japan, but the Americans defeated them.

– In August 1945, the US president Harry Truman dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan finally surrendered on 2 September 1945, and the Second World War ended.


During the Second World War the economy was at the service of the needs of the war and society was conditioned by the effects of war.


Between 1939 and 1945, the European countries established a wartime economy for supplying arms to the troops.

– Raw materials (coal, iron, nickel) were overexploited for the use in the iron and steel industry, which developed greatly.

– Petroleum extraction increased to provide the necessary fuel.

– The consumer goods industries concentrated on manufacturing military vehicles. The ones used in WWI were improved and new types were built (aircraft carriers, helicopters).

– Development of scientific research and useful technology for war: atomic bomb (its radioactivity caused illnesses and death).


– Investment in military resources made the civilian population to suffer food shortages and rationing systems of basic products. – People had to change their habits to protect themselves from bombing-raids. They turned off the lights and covered the

windows. Part of the population was evacuated to rural areas or shelters. In countries occupied by Germany:

– A resistance movement of secret groups of civilians who informed the Allies against the Germans, helped Jews and escaped prisoners of the war escape from the country, etc.

– Collaborators living in countries occupied by Germany who supported the Nazis. Persecuted and informed on resistance members, communists and Jews, and distributed Nazi propaganda.

– The number of exiles increased in fear of being arrested or executed. Those who couldn’t escape were deported. 7M people were sent to work in German factories all over Europe.

– Persecution and extermination of the Jewish population, as well as communists, Slavs, gypsies and homosexuals.

The systematic extermination of the Jewish population in all the Axis countries by the Nazis.

first measures in Germany :

– A law excluded Jews from German administration.
– Mixed marriages were prohibited.
– Jews couldn’t occupy liberal professions.
– Pogrom known as ‘The night of the broken glass’ in which 7500 business were destroyed and 91 Jews killed.

– Expropriation of Jewish businesses.
– Jews were forced to live in ghettos.
– Masses of Jews were exterminated in concentration camps.

the final solution:In 1942, at the Wannsee Conference, the Nazis decided to annihilate the Jewish population definitely in concentration camps. There, they were forced to work until they died or gassed to death in gas chambers. The bodies were burned in ovens and their remains removed by other Jewish prisoners.

humanitarian aid:Thousands of Jews were saved (by other Jews through associations such as The Movement for Care of Children who rescued 10000 European Jewish children, or Spanish diplomat, Ángel Sanz-Briz, who saved 5200 Hungarian Jews).


In 1945, before the end of WWII, US President Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Churchill and Soviet leader Stalin met to draw up the peace treaties.

– The Yalta Conference (Crimea, USSR, February 1945): agreed that the Allies would occupy Germany and Japan and the USSR would receive part of Poland. The creation of the UN.

– The Potsdam Conference (Germany, August 1945): agreed that Germany would be divided into 4 zones (each one for a specific Allied country). Germany would be disarmed. War criminals would be prosecuted. The US would take control of Japan.

After the conference, the Nuremberg Trials (November 1945). Punished the Nazi war criminals.


At the Conference of San Francisco (1945), the UN was created to replace the League of Nations.

maintain international peace, protect humanity from further wars and defend basic human rights.

It approved the Declaration of Human Rights and adopted new mediation measures to prevent conflicts. It created an armed force (the Blue Helmets) to work in areas of conflict.

main bodies:

general assembly (representatives debate topics), security council (5 permanent and 10 non-permanent members make decisions about conflicts), secretariat (carries out tasks), economic and social council (present projects for socioeconomic development), international court of justice (resolves judicial problems).



– 55M people died during the Second World WWII.
– The greatest losses were among the active population, as the soldiers were all of working age.


– The war destroyed large areas of farmland and cities, towns, factories, and basic infrastructure. – The cost of the war was high and many countries did not have the resources to rebuild cities.


– Germany was occupied by the Allies, a democratic republic was established in Italy, and, in Japan an American military government was installed to set up a democratic system.
– France and Great Britain lost their positions as leading international powers.
– The world was divided into 2 main spheres of influence: the Western Bloc, led by the US, and the Eastern Bloc, led by the USSR.

– The Allied powers occupied areas which had previously belonged to the defeated powers, and the map of Europe changed again.


This was the process through which the former colonies in Asia, Africa and Oceania became independent. Between 1947 and 1975, practically all of the colonial empires disappeared and new nations were created.

the causes:

– Main cause: active participation of the colonies in the WWII.
– After the war, most European countries lacked the military and economic resources they needed to control their colonies.

– The UN supported the right of self-determination, and rejected colonialism.

– The colonies became aware of the exploitation and political discrimination they had suffered, and created nationalist mov. led by a colonial elite educated in Europe, such as Mahatma Gandhi in India.

the development:

In some cases, the process of colonial independence was peaceful (agreements), in some violent (wars).

– India became independent from Great Britain peacefully, in 1947, thanks to a nationalist movement led by Gandhi. It was divided into India and Pakistan.

– Indonesia became independent from the Netherlands in 1947, and Algeria from France in 1962, both after wars and conflicts.

the consequences:

– Creation of new politically different nations.
– Political instability: civil wars, ethnic conflicts and religious conflicts.
– Economic underdevelopment because the colonizing countries had not created industry, infrastructure or education systems for the colonies.
– Neo-colonialism: in order to survive, the colonies had economic dependence on the former colonizing countries.
– High-population growth due to improvements in healthcare and to a growth in birth rates.