Brief history of WWII

The causes of the war

The First World War officially ended on June 21, 1919, when the Allies agreed to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles . This Treaty, initialed in the absence of the vanquished, imposed on Germany considerable war reparations which, 30 years later, will be at the origin of the Second World War. It was essentially Clemenceau who thus pushed to “punish the vanquished”.

Treaty of Versailles – ic, Vittorio Orlando , President of the Italian Council, Georges Clemenceau , Head of the French Government and Minister of War and Woodrow Wilson , the American President

Interwar Germany (known as the “ Weimar Republic (1919-1933)”) was crushed by the reparation of war damage. She sank into misery and hyperinflation. This situation led to the emergence of populism with the appearance of small groups:

  • Communists ( leagues Spartakist of Rosa Luxemburg for example), guided by Moscow;
  • and nationalists ( the SA of Ernst Röhm) .

Demobilized at the end of the war, Hitler was used by the governor of Bavaria as an “informant”. Bavaria was at that time the scene of clashes between the aforementioned groups. As such, he infiltrated the NSDAP (National Socialist Deutsche Partei) , a tiny political party then led by A nton DRAXLER , a notorious anti-Semite, before becoming its leader and allowing, thanks to his talents as a speaker and the support of its propaganda chief Joseph Goebles (1897-1945) , his success in defending nationalist and anti-Semitic theses. He simplified the name to National Socialist party or Nazi party for short. Prestigious former officers, such as Marshal Lundendorff, the strategist of the First World War, ((1865-1937), joined him.

Hitler, a fine politician, very quickly understood what he could get from “the fear of the Reds”, on the one hand, and the feeling of humiliation created by the “ Diktat of Versailles ”, on the other. In 1922, the coming to power of Mussolini’s fascistsin Italy (march of the black shirts on Rome) was for Hitler the demonstration that the conquest of power was possible, including by force. He did not cease then, as a skilful orator, to multiply the meetings denouncing “the Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy” (theorized in the pamphlet which then circulated under the cloak (The protocol of the wise men of Zion). Hitler, the main cause of the defeat of 1918, as Jews and Communists organized strikes behind the front lines to ruin the war effort (the stab in the back ( Dolchstoßlegende )). putsch failed in 1923 (known as  »  Putsch de la brasseri e »), Hitler took advantage of his stay in prison to write, under the pen of Rudolf HESS (1814-1987) , Mein Kampf (my fight), a real political program in which he establishes the superiority of the Arian race. His hatred of the Jews also led him to describe the first elements of what would become the final solution (an organized program for the elimination of the Jews (implemented under the leadership of Reinhard Heydrich during the Wansee conference in January 1942). first serious events for the Jewish community will take place on the night of November 9 to 10, 1938, during the night of crystal (the sacking of businesses by the Nazis).

Hitler also describes in Mein Kampf his desire to expand Germany’s living space ( Lebensraum) to the east to the detriment of the “inferior races”, Slavs in particular. His desire for revenge against France is omnipresent in Mein Kampf , thus announcing the Second World War.

The 1929 crisis hit Germany hard, which had depended on American capital since 1918. She brought additional supporters to the Nazi Party.

The beginnings of war

The Nazi Party became Germany’s leading party in the 1933 elections. President Hindenburg offered Hitler the post of Chancellor, which he accepted. The Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933, organized in secret by the Nazis, became the pretext to ban the Communist Party. The first concentration camp ( Dachau ) opened its doors on March 20, 1933. The political police (GESTAPO ) was premiered the following month with Reinhard Heydrich, then Heinrich Himmler (1929-1945). The first anti-Jewish laws were immediately passed ( Nuremberg Laws on the protection of German blood in 1935). The SS (Schutzstaffel), a real political militia, also saw the light of day, headed by Heinrich Himmle r. Hitler eliminated his former allies who were too agitated during the Night of the Long Knives (June 1934), including Ernst Röhm and the main SA leaders. When Hindenburg died (August 2, 1934), he decided to combine the functions of chancellor and president. Hitler therefore had fertile ground for the development of Mein Kampf’s program .

At the same time, Hitler began to prepare for war by remilitarizing Germany in willful violation of the Treaty of Versailles . The weakness of the French woman confirmed to her that the great powers, traumatized by the millions of deaths of the Great War, no longer wanted to engage in a new conflict. In 1935, the invasion of Ethiopia by Emperor Haile Selassie I by Mussolini’s troops showed the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations (SDN) . This League of Nations had been desired at the end of the First World War, in particular by Aristide Briand and Woodrow Wilson the US President to prevent or resolve international conflicts. The discredit of the League of Nations was complete after the massacre (or rape) of Nanjing by the Japanese in 1937 with the death of 80,000 Chinese. This institutional apathy encouraged Hitler to annex Austria (the Anschluss) in March 1938 , then in August 1938 the Sudetenland . France (of Daladier ) and England (of Chamberlain ) accepted the fait accompli by signing with Mussolini and Hitler the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938 . He ensured Stalin’s neutrality(German-Soviet pact of August 23, 1939) to prevent, in the event of conflict with France, a second front in the East. It was not until after the invasion of Poland, on September 1, 1939, that France and England declared war on Germany. To everyone’s surprise, Stalin’s Germany and USSR shared Poland between them (within the framework of the then secret German-Soviet pact). The Soviets even took advantage of this to invade Finland. The second world war had started.

A global conflict

The Second World War began with « the funny war », during which the enemies remained a whole year the weapon in the feet: the French and the British behind the Maginot line and the Germans behind the Siegfried line .

The French defeat

Hitler took advantage of this to continue rearming Germany. On May 10, 1940, knowing he was ready, he ordered his generals to launch a lightning war ( Blitzkrieg ) on Belgium and the Netherlands with the strategic objective of attracting the Franco-British armies to the north. The Ardennes, thus defenseless, were easily crossed in a few weeks by the armored vehicles of the Wehrmacht under the orders of Guderian . On June 22, 1940, France capitulated. Hitler demanded an official ceremony in the Retondes wagon , where the German surrender of 1918 had been signed. England remained alone in the conflict.

France in the war

The National Assembly voted full powers for Marshal Pétain (hero of the great war in Verdun ) putting an end to the Third Republic, which had emerged after the fall of the Second Empire (1870). The latter engaged the country on the path of collaboration, the culmination of which was Montoir’s handshake between Hitler and Pétain in October 1940. France was then divided between an occupied zone in the north and a free zone in the south. . Vichy became the new capital of “free France”. The government of Pierre Laval , new president of the Council, settled there and began to push even further the collaboration with the first anti-Jewish laws which ended inJuly 1942 at the Rafle du Vel’d’hiv : thousands of Jews, gypsies and disabled people were arrested by the French police and piled up in Vel’d’iv with a view to their deportation. Laval organized the sending of French workers to Germany as part of the compulsory labor service (STO), as well as French soldiers on the Russian front (Charlemagne division). The General de Gaulle was one of the high-ranking alone in opposing this policy. On June 18, 1940, he launched his call for resistance on the BBC in London. He organized resistance networks with Jean Moulin , relying in particular on the armed forces of Free France in North Africa. The attack of the French fleet stationed atMers El Kebir (Algeria) by the Royal Navy was used by the Vichyists as part of their anti-British propaganda, but justified by De Gaulle : the French ships risked falling into the hands of the Nazis. More than a thousand French sailors were killed.

A world war

At the other end of the earth, Japan (of Emperor Hiroito ), ally of Germany and Italy within the framework of the triple alliance (sealed by the steel pact of 1940), s’ also engaged in an expansionist policy (started in the 1930s with the invasion of the Chinese province of Manchuria). The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor (the main US military port on the Pacific) in October 1941 threw America into war alongside the Allies. American opinion, hitherto isolationist, in fact tipped public opinion. President Roosevel therefore initiated a policy of massive material aid to Churchill’s England, disrupted only by theU-boats of Admiral Dönitz infesting the Atlantic.

After the failure of the Battle of Britain (1940) led by Göring’s Luftwaffe (Air Force) , Hitler asked his generals to prepare an attack in the east ( Operation Barba-rossa (Redbeard), June 22, 1941) aimed at implementing its policy of conquering « living space ». After a meteoric advance of the German army, the Russians managed to stabilize the situation in Stalingrad. Stalin’s troops engaged in the counteroffensive that would lead them to Berlin. From 1943, the weakening of the German armies was felt on all fronts.

In North Africa, the Africa Korp of Rommel had to fall back before the combined assaults of the French and the British of Montgommery , in particular on El Alamein (Egypt) in July and October 1942. The landing of Normandy, on the night of 5 au June 6, 1944, was the starting point for the reconquest of occupied France. Germany began to curl up on its territory, then on its only capital Berlin. The latter fell into the hands of the Russians in June 1945. The Allies then prepared for the post-war period at the Yalta conference in February 1945, the aim of which was threefold:

  • coordinate militarily to bring the conflict to an end quickly;
  • prepare the new organization of Europe;
  • work for global stability.
Allied leaders at the conference.  From left to right: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin.
Yalta Conference in February 1945 – Roosevelt – Staline – Churchill

Hitler, wanting to avoid the public lynching suffered by Mussolini, committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin. Admiral Dönitz’s Germany accepted an unconditional surrender, leaving the 3rd Reich in ruins. The defeat was also the occasion to discover the horror of the concentration camps, fruits of the anti-Semitic policies of Nazi Germany. Germany was divided by the Allies into four zones of occupation.

In the Pacific, the Americans had to use the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima to overcome the incredible tenacity of the Japanese enemy.

The results of the war: heavy consequences

A very heavy human toll, especially civilian

This conflict was the deadliest in the history of mankind with 50 million dead, military and civilians, 6 million Jews lost their lives. The material balance was also important: many cities, such as Dresden in Germany or Warsaw in Poland, were completely destroyed.

The Cold War

The Second World War shaped the world as we know it today. It opened the doors of Europe to Stalin who installed communist regimes in all the conquered eastern territories, pulling down, in the words of Churchill , an iron curtain in Europe which will rise in 1990 under the impetus of the reformer. Gorbachev . The Berlin Wall was the most concrete expression of Churchill’s prophecy ( Fulton’s speech on March 6, 1946) . To counter the Communist advance in Europe, US President Truman set up the M arshall plan to revive the economy of the devastated countries.

Creation of Israel

Under the leadership of Ben-Gurion , a UN vote allowed the Jews to have a state (Israel) on the lands of Palestine. This creation is at the origin of many conflicts in the Middle East which still rage today. The foundation in 1962 of Arafat’s PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) is a case in point.


The United Nations was founded in 1945. On December 9, 1948, the organization adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and on December 10, 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is how we began to envision a prosperous European construction, in particular to avoid the repetition of conflicts on the old continent. . Reconciliation between France and Germany became essential in the context of the cold war which took hold between the two new great powers: the United States and the Soviet Union.


The Second World War sounded the death knell for the European powers, of which the colonial Empire began to crumble. From May 8, 1945, the first disturbances shook Algeria ( Sétif massacres ); others will be added in particular in Indochina, then in all the French possessions.

The nuclear deterrence that has maintained peace since 1945 between the great powers is also directly linked to this conflict.

The Nuremberg trials

The Nazi dignitaries still alive were tried at the Nuremberg trials (1945-46). It was an opportunity for world public opinion to discover the horror of the camps. Twelve of them were condemned to death: Martin Bormann (Hitler’s aide-de-camp and probable successor), Hans Frank (governor of Poland), Wilhelm Frick (Minister of the Interior), Hermann Göring (boss of the Luftwaffe and number 2 of the regime) Alfred Jodl (leader of the Wehrmacht commandos), Ernst Kaltenbrunner (architect of the Shoah), Wilhelm Keitel (general), Joachim von Ribbentrop (foreign minister), Alfred Rosenberg(theorist of the Nazi regime), Fritz Sauckel (responsible for forced labor in Germany), Arthur Seyß-Inquart (governor of the Netherlands) and Julius Streicher (Hitler’s companion since the 1923 putsch).

In summary


Treaty of Versailles (1919) – Hitler Chancellor (1933) – Nuit des Longs Couteux (1934) – Nuremberg Laws (1935) – Massacre in Nanjing (China) by the Japanese (1937) – Anschluss (Austria) – Munich Agreement ( 1938) – Crystal Night (1938) – Steel Pact (Italy – Germany) – German-Soviet Pact


Invasion of Poland by the Germans – Declaration of war by France and England on Germany – Funny war – Partition of Poland between Germans and Soviets – Invasion of Finland by the Soviets.


Campaign in France – Dunkirk – Occupation of Belgium and the Netherlands – Battle of Britain – Appeal of De Gaulle – Armistice – Attack of the Italians in North Africa – Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis – Montoir handshake – Invasion of Greece by Mussolini.


Non-aggression pact (Japan – USSR) – Operation Barbarossa – Atlantic Charter – Pearl Harbor – US declaration of war on Japan – Declaration of war Germany on the US.


Wannsee Conference – US Bombardment on Tokyo – Midway – Mutual Assistance Treaty Great Britain / USSR – Canadian Raid on Dieppe – Allied Landing in North Africa – Stalingrad


Casablanca Conference – Wehrmacht Capitulation in Stalingrad – Guadalcanal – Arrest of Jean Moulin – Allied Landing in Sicily – Kursk – Fall of Mussolini – Quadrant Conference in Quebec – Allied Landing in Italy – Liberation of Corsica – Tehran Conference.


Italian surrender – Normandy landing – US landing in the Marianas – Failed attack against Hitler – Allied landing in Provence – Liberation of Paris – Battle of the Bulge.


Soviets in Berlin – Yalta Conference – Liberation of Manila – Liberation of Auschwitz – Capture of Budapest by the Soviets – Battle of Okinawa – Suicide of Hitler – Fall of Berlin – Surrender of Germany – Conference of San Francisco – Conference of Potsdam – Hiroshima and Nagasaki – Death sentence of Marshal Pétain – Capitulation of Japan.

After war

Nuremberg Trial – Indochina War – Marshall Plan – Tokyo Trial – Universal Declaration of Human Rights.