Fought between 1939 and 1945, World War II was the most costly and destructive war in history - many millions of people were killed and injured. One by one, countries joined the conflict and the world divided into the Axis powers (led by Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allies (made up of Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and, later, the USA).
In 1933, Hitler sweeps to power in Germany, due partly to resentment of the Treaty of Versailles, signed after World War I. The treaty forbids German expansion, but Hitler’s troops enter Austria in 1938. At the time, European leaders fail to oppose Hitler, who becomes more aggressive.
War erupts (September 3, 1939)
After Hitler’s troops invade Poland on September 1, France and Britain declare war on Germany. Hitler occupies Poland with overwhelming force.
Blitzkrieg (May 10, 1940)
Hitler invades the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Luxemburg using Blitzkrieg (lightning war) tactics with air power and fastmoving tanks. On the same day, Winston Churchill becomes prime minister of Britain.
Dunkirk (May 27-June 3, 1940)
As German troops march into France, thousands of Allied troops are trapped on beaches at Dunkirk, on France’s northern coast. They are rescued by British and French civilian boats that ferry troops to safety across the Channel.
Italy joins the war (June 10, 1940)
Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy, joins the war as a member of the Axis powers. He orders the invasion of Greece, but Hitler has to send in troops to help.
Fall of France (June 14, 1940)
France, one of Europe’s greatest powers, has fallen after just six weeks of fighting. German troops triumphantly enter Paris. Much of the country is now occupied by German troops. Hitler turns his attention further afield.
War in the desert (June 1940 - May 1943)
Allied and Axis forces push each other back and forth across Egypt and Libya in North Africa. Both sides depend on tanks and aircraft to journey across the hostile desert terrain.
Battle of Britain (July 10 - October 31, 1940)
Hitler launches an air attack on Britain across the English Channel. British planes keep control of the skies and prevent an invasion thanks to the invention of radar, which helps pilots track enemy planes.
The Blitz (September 1940 - May 1941)
For almost 40 weeks, Germany targets British towns and cities with nighttime bombing raids, nicknamed the Blitz, to cripple Britain’s war effort. People take cover in underground shelters and children are evacuated to areas less at risk of attack.
Battle of the Atlantic (1940 - 1941)
Britain relies on oil, food, and raw materials arriving by sea from America, but German U-boats (submarines) attack and sink supply ships. Allied ships start to sail in escorted convoys (groups).
Tobruk siege (January 22 - December 10, 1941)
The Allies take Tobruk in Libya, North Africa, and then resist German attacks in a nine-month siege. This dogged defense prevents any German advance into Egypt.
Invasion of the Balkans (April 6, 1941)
German, Italian, and Bulgarian troops attack Yugoslavia. After terrible losses, Yugoslavia surrenders. The Battle of Greece ends with the fall of Athens on April 27. Hitler now has direct access to the Mediterranean Sea.
Russia invaded (June 22, 1941 - February 2, 1943)
Germany attacks Russia with a huge force, but after almost two years of fighting, Germany is defeated at the Battle of Stalingrad on February 2, 1943 after a bitter winter. The Battle of Stalingrad is a crucial turning point in the war.
Operation Torch (November 8, 1942)
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt brings America into the war, his soldiers help in the successful invasion of North Africa. After seven months of fighting, German and Italian troops are forced to surrender.
Bombing raids (June 10, 1943)
The Allies decide that America will bomb German cities by day and that the British will bomb them by night to force Germany into submission. The relentless bombing raids kill around 600,000 civilians and destroy many cities.
D-Day (June 6, 1944)
After four years of planning, "Operation Overlord" begins: the Allied invasion of France. Around 150,000 troops land on the French coast, and after six weeks of fighting German forces, they start to push across France, liberating towns and cities from Nazi occupation as they go.
The fall of Berlin (April 23, 1945)
Two and a half million Soviet troops and 6,000 tanks are deployed for the final attack on the German capital. On April 30, Soviet soldiers take control of the Reichstag, Germany’s former parliament building.
Germany surrenders (May 7, 1945)
Hitler commits suicide on April 30, and Germany surrenders unconditionally to the Allies seven days later, thereby ending war in Europe. May 7 is declared VE (Victory in Europe) Day, sparking joyful victory celebrations in the Allied countries.
At the Potsdam Conference on July 17, 1945, the Allies divide Germany, and Berlin, into controlled zones. The United Nations is created, with the aim of finding peaceful solutions to conflict. Although the war is over, Europe faces an enormous refugee crisis.