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Analyze how German aggression in Europe and Japanese aggression in Asia contributed to the start of World War II and summarize the major battles and events of the war. On a map of the world, locate the Allied powers (Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States) and Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan).

Map Key: Dark Green: Allies before Pearl Harbor/Light Green: Allies After Pearl Harbor/Orange: Axis Powers/Gray: Neutral Countries

Topics on the Page

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Teaching Resources and Primary Sources
A. Fascism in Germany and Italy
B. German rearmament and militarization of the Rhineland
C. Germany’s seizure of Austria and Czechoslovakia and Germany’s invasion of Poland
D. Japan’s invasion of China and the Rape of Nanking
E. Pearl Harbor, Midway, D-Day, Okinawa, the Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima, and the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences

Focus Question: How did German and Japanese aggression contribute to the start of World War II ?

rotating gif.gifFor more on the beginnings of of World War II and Japanese and German drives for empire, see World History WHII.23

Map_of_USA_MA.svg.pngSee also AP United States History Second World War

external image Red_apple.jpg Lesson Plans for Teaching about World War II from Ken Burns' series The War.

timeline2_rus.svg.pngSummary Outline of Key Eventsfrom BBC History.
Europe, 1945

lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on the political Dr. Seuss

Multimedia.pngVisit the "World War II Propaganda" website for a large collection of movies, music, speeches and photos from all sides of the war.


Here is a brief powerpoint formatted review on both sides of the war, when they entered and why.
This lesson plan includes a map for students to color in along with other reading and information based exercises!

This interactive map uses a time slider to show progressions of battles, effects of the war, and casualties!

Treaty of Versailles

Factors in the peace settlement (primarily the Treaty of Versailles ) after WWI left Germany and Japan in turmoil and the rest of the world susceptible to the actions of an aggressive power that did not want to resolve disputes agreeably.
  • The creation of the League of Nations, a bold step towards international cooperation, was left incomplete since the organization had no power to enforce any decision militarily or to compel any of its members to act.
    • When Japan's invasion of Manchuria was challenged by the League, Japan simply withdrew from the organization.
  • The Great Depression caused global economic hardship which was most acute in countries like Germany, where inflation rose at a staggering pace. Germans suffering extreme economic hardship often saw Hitler and Nazism as a last chance.
    • The Treaty of Versailles also established World War I reparations that bankrupted Germany in the 1920s and gave the fledgling Nazi party great public resentment to use in its drive for power.
  • The allied countries of Great Britain, France, USSR, and the United States were still reeling from their losses in WWI and had little interest in military action.

German and Japanese aggression exploited these weaknesses in their own countries and the world by creating an alluring alternative in global conquest.

Here is a timeline with some photos that details events after the Treaty of Versailles up until the Nuremberg trials begin.
Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 10.36.54 AM.pngOn October 3, 2010, Germany made its final payment of World War I reparations. This represented interest on foreign bonds it issued in 1924 and 1930; the sum was initially set at 269 billion gold marks, around 96,000 tons of gold, before being reduced to 112 billion gold marks by 1929, payable over a period of 59 years.

Multimedia.pngCrash Course video on World War II.

A. Fascism in Germany and Italy

Fascism is a form of government in which the needs of the individual and other interests are subjugated to the needs of the state and in which an authoritarian leader or ruling body seeks to advance a nationalistic agenda based on the ethnic and cultural values of the ascendant segment of the population.
  • In Italy, where the word was coined from the Latin word fasces (an ancient Roman symbol of power), fascism was introduced by il Duce (“the leader”), Benito Mussolini .
    • Mussolini and the fascists came to power in 1921-22 by first winning 35 seats in the Italian parliament then having thousands of followers in black shirts march on Rome, causing the Italian king to let them form a new government.
      • In 1926, all anti-Fascist parties were outlawed. In addition to a strictly-ordered society, Mussolini promised the Italian people a new Roman Empire and launched an invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.
  • In Germany, Adolf Hitler, having written the rambling, racist Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) in prison for his part in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, exploited a 1932 National Socialist Party (Nazi) election victory and the ailing health of President von Hindenburg to achieve appointment as chancellor in January 1933.
    • Seeking racial supremacy and lebensraum (“living space”) for the German people, Hitler (calling himself the Fuhrer, or ‘leader’) and the Nazis embarked on a campaign which would directly controvert many of the central provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.

Click here to read the article "Rise of Fascism"

Article on Mein Kampf in contemporary Germany

  • Click here for a lesson plan on the differences between fascism and democracy
  • Click here for a lesson plan on the differences between fascism and communism

Click here for quizlet flash cards on Fascism in Italy and Germany

Multimedia.pngHere are videos from the Smithsonian Channel, talking about the rise of Mussolini and the Black Shirt Movement in Italy.

B. German rearmament and militarization of the Rhineland

This article does a great job of summing up the rearmament and militarization of the Rhineland and why it was important for Hitler. The following sums up the points mentioned in the article.
  • German's military was severely weakened by the Treaty of Versailles, it limited Germany to a small navy (1/3 the size of Britain's), a 100,000 man army and no air force.
    • For Hitler to achieve his dream of conquering Europe he would need a revitalized military.
  • Going against the Treaty of Versailles he started training reserve troops that would not be officially counted as part of his 100,000 man army, there by giving germany a reserve group of trained man to call on.
    • He also secretly started rebuilding Germany's Navy and Air Force (The Luftwaffe)
  • On 16 March 1935 Hitler finally publicly acknowledged his rearmament plans, denounced the Treaty of Versailles and one year later he re-militarized the Rhineland in western germany, this was suppose to be a bufferzone for France so they wouldnt fear a german invasion so close to their border.
    • The rearmament of the German military would take many years before the out break of the war.
  • Hitler spent a lot of time and resources on rebuilding, increasing the size of the army, navy and air force. Also modernizing each branch with better ships, planes, vehicles and technology to create a better equipped and trained fighting force.
    • This force would eventually steam roll over most of Europe in the first years of the war

Multimedia.pngThis video does a great job of talking about Germany's rearmament and its impact on the early years of the war for Europe.

primary_sources.PNGThe Treaty of Versailles (Articles 42 and 43) expressly stipulated that the Rhineland (the region of Western Germany which surrounds the Rhine River) would be demilitarized and act as an unarmed buffer “guaranteeing” French security from her traditional adversary, Germany, and allow France an avenue through which to aid her allies Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania in the event of German aggression. On March 7, 1936, Hitler sent a contingent of 20,000 troops to begin rearming the region with more to follow. French and British public opinion did not favor a military response and an opportunity to keep Hitler in check was lost.
Multimedia.pngClick here to watch parades of German soldiers during rearmament

C. Germany’s seizure of Austria and Czechoslovakia and Germany’s invasion of Poland

German Plane bombing Warsaw, Poland, 1939
German Plane bombing Warsaw, Poland, 1939

  • Hitler sought to unite German-speaking people into one nation.
  • In February 1938, he invited Austrian chancellor von Schuschnigg to meet with him at his Berchtesgaden villa in Bavaria. Hitler intimidated him into signing an agreement to bring Austrian Nazis into his government.
  • When the chancellor later reneged, Hitler’s troops marched into Austria, forced von Schluschnigg’s resignation, and declared the Anschluss, or union, of Austria and Germany.
  • Annexation of a mountainous region in Western Czechoslovakia inhabited in part by German-speakers known as the Sudetenland, was Hitler’s next aim.

primary_sources.PNGThough the French had a mutual aid agreement with the Czechs, the prime ministers of France and Britain, Daladier and Chamberlain, met with Hitler in 1938 and signed the Munich Pact, handing over the Sudetenland (Sudetenland Seizure) in exchange for (in Chamberlain’s infamous words) “peace in our time.”
  • On March 15, 1939, German troops advanced against the remainder of Czechoslovakia. On September 1 of that same year, Hitler unleashed his blitzkrieg, or ‘lightning war’ on Poland for the first time.
  • Although this blatant aggression did finally provoke Britain and France to declare war against Germany, Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, took a portion of Poland for themselves, and the battle for Poland was over before the allies could even mobilize.

Multimedia.pngClick here to watch video coverage and explanation of the invasion of Poland.

D. Japan’s invasion of China and the Rape of Nanking

  • After the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, Japan had become the dominant foreign power in the Manchurian industrial region of northern China.
  • On September 18, 1931, junior officers in the Japanese army blew up a section of railway (owned by Japan) nearby a Chinese army outpost and then used this ‘Mukden Incident’ and the need to protect Japanese business interests as a pretext for invading.
  • Manchuria was soon under Japanese control, but open war did not begin between the two nations until 1937.
  • Japanese advances around Shanghai in the summer of 1937 met stiff Chinese resistance, which upset Japanese plans. After finally achieving victory at Shanghai, 50,000 Japanese soldiers marched on Nanking.
  • Taking the capital in only four days, the Japanese had orders to “kill all captives” and what happened over the following six weeks is sometimes regarded as the worst single atrocity in the World War II era.
    • The Rape of Nanking consisted of “citywide burnings, drownings, strangulations, rapes, thefts and massive property damage” and took the lives of 600,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians.


Female_Rose.pngThe Nanjing Massacre (The Rape of Nanking): Case Study from Gendercide Watch

The Nanjing Massacre: Scenes from a Slaughter 75 Years Ago

Meanwhile, Japan and Russia signed a five year nonaggression pact with each other.

Focus Question: What were the major battles and events of the war?

Soldiers crossing the Rhine during World War II
Soldiers crossing the Rhine during World War II

E. Pearl Harbor, Midway, D-Day, Okinawa, the Battle of the Bulge, Iwo Jima , and the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences.

Ernie Pyle

Ernie Pyle: Wartime Columns
  • In 1944, Ernie Pyle won a Pulitzer Prize for his stories about ordinary soldiers.

Obituary: Ernie Pyle is Killed on Ie Island; Foe Fired When All Seemed Safe (April 19, 1945)

Multimedia.pngJapanese Sign Final Surrender! on battleship Missouri in Toyoko Bay, September 2, 1945, from YouTube. Includes voice of American general Douglas McArthur. This film was not available to the public before 2012.

primary_sources.PNGCaptured: The Pacific and Adjacent Theaters in World War II contains photographs, many of them rare, documenting the attack on Pearl Harbor and many of the major Pacific theater campaigns of WWII.
Multimedia.pngLast Flight of Bomber 31 explores the fate of an American war plane that crashed in eastern Siberia during World War II.

external image OrteliusWorldMap.jpeg
lesson_plan_icon.jpg Lesson Plan: Turning the Tide in the Pacific from the National Endowment for the Humanitie

Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona burning, Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941
USS Arizona burning, Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941

  • Pearl Harbor - On December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy” (according to FDR), Japanese planes flew a raid on the U.S. Naval yard at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which swiftly crippled the U.S. Navy by sinking or badly damaging 18 ships and destroying 350 planes.
    • Around 2,400 people were killed and another 1,178 injured. This was the end of American isolationism; the following day, Congress declared war on Japan at the president’s urging and three days later Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S

primary_sources.PNGClick here for Pearl Harbor Attack Documents.

Four U.S. battleships—the Arizona, California, West Virginia, and Oklahoma—were sunk; the Nevada was beached in sinking condition. Three other battleships, three cruisers, a seaplane tender, and a repair ship were damaged. Also sunk were three destroyers, a target ship, and a mine layer.

The Japanese attack, however, failed to destroy workshops and repair facilities, enabling the U.S. Navy to repair and put back into service some of the damaged vessels.
  • The attack also did not target fuel storage depots nor the submarine base, and missed three American aircraft carriers that were at sea.
    • Nevertheless, the losses sustained by the U.S. fleet on December 7 and the loss of two British ships—the Prince of Wales and Repulse—on December 10 gave the Japanese temporary control of the western Pacific.

Dorie Miller, first African American Navy Cross recipient
Dorie Miller, first African American Navy Cross recipient

Multimedia.pngClick here to see a virtual Pearl Harbor battlefield, from the History Channel.
Multimedia.pngInteractive USS Arizona Memorial

timeline2_rus.svg.pngTimeline of the Pearl Harbor Attacks
timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here and here for very detailed timelines from December 6 to 8
Multimedia.pngVideo of Pearl Harbor Attacks

Pearl Harbor Survivors returning to Pear Harbor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nzThZ3TM_A

womens history.jpg
An Army Nurse's Pear Harbor Experience

  • Click here for a lesson plan on the "A Date Which Will Live in Infamy" speech
  • Click here for a lesson plan based on survivor accounts of Pearl Harbor

multicultural.pngClick here to read about Dorie Miller, a cook who fought in Pearl Harbor and received the first Navy Cross to an African American for his actions

Japanese Interment began shortly after Pearl Harbor.
  • On February 19, 1942, FDR signed Executive Order 9066, which ordered all Japanese Americans to relocate to internment camps, where they were forced to give up everything to be watched over by armed guards.
    • Click here for a collection of resources on Japanese Relocation and Internment from the National Archives.


  • Midway -June 4-7, 1942. Prior to the battle, the Japanese were in control of the war in the Pacific, but the battle at Midway put them on an even ground. A Japanese invasion force heading for Hawaii was assembling near Midway, a strategic Pacific island, when their communications were intercepted by forces under Admiral Nimitz. Nimitz ordered his carrier planes to “inflict maximum damage on the enemy” and Japan lost four aircraft carriers which they could not replace, a cruiser, and 322 planes.
Sinking of the Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma
Sinking of the Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma

timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline on the Battle of Midway
game_icon.svg.pngSee an animation of the engagement unfold at The Battle of Midway
map-ancient-rome-2.jpgClick here for an interactive map of the Battle of Midway
lessonplan.jpgClick here for the lesson plan "Turning in the Tide in the Pacific"
Multimedia.png Click here for a video link on the Battle of Midway


  • D-Day -On June 6, 1944, Allied forces (American, Canadian, and British) landed on the beaches of Normandy to begin the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe in the largest sea-land-air operation in history. German retaliation was withering but within a month the Allies had managed to land a million soldiers. On July 25, massive bombardment opened a gap for General Patton and the Third Army to advance toward Paris. On August 25, the French capital was liberated after four years of Nazi occupation and all of France, Belgium, Luxembourg and most of the Netherlands were freed by the end of September.
primary_sources.PNGClick here to read first hand accounts of D-Day
external image Approaching_Omaha.jpg
map-ancient-rome-2.jpgClick here for an interactive map of D-Day from BBC
Multimedia.pngVideo of the Invasion of Normandy

Click here for interactive maps and charts on D-Day

timeline2_rus.svg.pngTimeline of the Events of D-Day
multicultural.pngClick here and here for info on all African-American troops that participated in D-Day
lessonplan.jpgClick here for the lesson plan "Victory in Europe 1944-1945"
womens history.jpgClick here for pictures of women nurses aiding in the weeks after D-Day


  • Okinawa-Shortly after Roosevelt’s death, the Japanese made a final bloody stand at Okinawa with 1,900 kamikazes sinking or damaging more than 300 ships and killing more than 5,000 Allied seamen. When the fighting was over on June 22, 1945, more than 7,600 Americans had died but the Japanese had lost a staggering 110,000 lives.
timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline on Okinawa
map-ancient-rome-2.jpgClick here for an interactive map of Okinawa

The Battle of the Bulge

  • The Battle of the Bulge- Hitler conceived a dramatic counterattack as the Allies pushed from Normandy toward the European interior and his elite SS troops broke the American line near Antwerp in a dense fog. As they moved to the west, German troops captured 120 American GIs and summarily executed many of them. The Germans fought ferociously to expand the “bulge” they had made in the Allied invasion line for a month but afterward the German war effort was exhausted.
lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on the Battle of the Bulge
multicultural.pngClick here to read an article on African American soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge
timeline2_rus.svg.png Click here for a link to a timeline and a short description on the Battle of the Bulge

Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima - one of the most costly battles of the Pacific campaign of World War II, fought in February and March 1945 on the island of Iwo Jima (now Iwo To).

external image Suribachi_flag_NYWTS_edited.jpg

  • About 6,800 U.S. personnel lost their lives in capturing the island from the Japanese; Japanese losses were estimated at more than 21,000.
    • The conquest of the island provided American air units with the first base inside the Japanese inner-defense system from which to attack the heart of industrial Japan with medium bombers escorted by fighters.
      • Before the actual invasion on February 19, the island was subjected to air and sea bombardment for three months. In spite of the pre-invasion assault, some Japanese were still firmly entrenched in underground fortifications in the soft volcanic soil.
  • The marines secured the island after a month of the most severe fighting in their history. Mount Suribachi, the highest point on the island and an important defense position, was captured on February 23. The campaign was officially declared ended on March 16.
    • More than 6,000 Marines died taking this tremendously fortified island in the Pacific, but it was of great strategic importance because from Iwo Jima a heavily-laden bomber can reach Japan.
Multimedia.pngIwo Jima: Arias and Lansford Audio/Video from PBS's //The War// documents the experience of two U.S. Marines
lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on Iwo Jima

timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline of Iwo Jima
map-ancient-rome-2.jpgClick here for an interactive map of Iwo Jima

Animated Map of Iwo Jima http://www.historyanimated.com/Iwo.html

Video of American flag being raised at Iwo Jima
  • Click here to read about a Japanese soldier's letters written during Iwo Jima
  • Click here to read about a Hollywood debate on African Americans portrayed in WWII movies

Yalta and Potsdam Conferences

  • Yalta Conference - In February 1945, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met on the Crimean Peninsula to discuss their visions for a postwar world order.
    • The groundwork for the United Nations was laid, based on the principles of the Atlantic Charter and Stalin agreed to enter the war against Japan after Germany was defeated (in exchange for some Japanese islands). Stalin also agreed to allow free elections in Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe.
  • Many historians say that FDR failed at the Yalta Conferences. I
    • t is possible that FDR had too much faith in the Soviet Union and Stalin. Many of the actions that took place at the Yalta Conference can be viewed as appeasing Stalin. An example of this would be allowing the Soviets to have control over elections in Poland, which Stalin wanted to expand into. Click here for an article on FDR's failures at Yalta.
  • An important agreement reached at Yalta but not disclosed until later provided for a Soviet declaration of war on Japan within 90 days of the end of the war in Europe.
    • After the defeat of Japan, the USSR was to receive the southern half of Sakhalin Island, the Kuril Islands, and special privileges on the Chinese mainland. Text of the Yalta agreement was released in 1947.
primary_sources.PNGYalta Conference Agreements
Churchill, Truman and Stalin, 1945
Churchill, Truman and Stalin, 1945

  • Potsdam Conference - meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and the United Kingdom, following the unconditional surrender of Germany in World War II.
    • It was held in Potsdam, near Berlin, from July 17 to August 2, 1945. The purpose of the conference was the implementation of decisions reached previously at the Yalta Conference.
    • The U.S. was represented by President Harry S. Truman and the USSR by Premier Joseph Stalin. The United Kingdom was represented at first by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and later by the new prime minister, Clement Richard Attlee .
primary_sources.PNGOn July 26, the U.S., British, and Chinese governments issued an ultimatum, called the Potsdam Declaration, to the Japanese government, confronting Japan with a choice between unconditional surrender and total annihilation; the USSR was not then at war with Japan and was not a party to the ultimatum. The representatives at the conference also set up a Council of Foreign Ministers to draft peace treaties and confirmed their intention to try Axis war criminals.



Lesson Plan: Harry Truman at Potsdam Conference

Tuskegee Airmen, 1944
Tuskegee Airmen, 1944

African Americans in World War II

See Historical Biography page on The Tuskegee Airmen

555th Parachute Infantry Battalion: The Triple Nickels
  • First Black paratroopers

Multimedia.pngTrailer for film Red Tails

"Double V" campaign was created that aimed for victory at home and abroad.

During WWII, African American troops were segregated from the white troops or given roles in the kitchen. African Americans felt that it was hypocritical for the US to be fighting for freedom overseas while freedom was being denied at home.

primary_sources.PNGClick here for speeches and writings on the Double V campaign

World War II and the Double V Campaign, a lesson plan from the New York Public Library

Here is a great medium length article with some clips from poems and speeches about the 'Two Front Battle' to further students idea of African American conflict around the war.

multicultural.pngClick here and here for information on African Americans in WWII and how their treatment returning from war influenced the Civil Rights Movement

Here is a look at African Americans in the Pacific, focusing a bit more on naval units.

A People at War from the National Archives highlights the contributions of the thousands of Americans, both military and civilian, who served their country during World War II.

African American soldiers marching in France during World War II
African American soldiers marching in France during World War II

Rotating_globe-small.gifExperiencing War: Buffalo Soldiers, The 92nd in Italy presents firsthand recollections of African American soldiers serving in World War II. Buffalo Soldiers refers to the African American cavalry regiments of the 19th century who fought in the Civil War and the Spanish American War. This website is maintained by the Library of Congress and the Veteran's History Project.

Multimedia.pngFor the Love of Liberty: The Story of America's Black Patriots has videos and photographs of African Americans in the military. This website has been developed by the United States Army.

external image Walker_Spitfire.jpg


See Historical Biography Page on Women in World War II

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 9.41.22 AM.pngNative Americans in World War II

See Historical Biography page on the Navajo Code Talkers
  • Impact of Navajo Code Talkers in WWII

Gay_flag.svg.pngLGBTQ History

Historical Biography Page on Alan Turing
  • Alan Turing worked in the British Cryptanalytic department during World War II, working to decipher encrypted German messages. He also happened to be gay.
  • Here is more on his magnificent story and the machines he created that helped immensely in furthering war efforts.
  • Check out a demonstration of how the Turing machine works its mathematical magic!

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 1.14.11 PM.pngTo read more, especially about coding and decoding machines, check out Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in WWII by Stephen Budiansky.

LGBTQ history and actors in World War II.

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 11.29.04 AM.pngComing Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II, Allan Berube, Free Press, 1990