IB History I: The Early Stages of World War II


September 1939-April 1940: Little action occurs.  Germany is finishing its partition of Poland.  The western nations (Britain and France) simply aren’t prepared to fight.


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April 1940: Denmark and Norway fall (Prevents an initial naval blockade)

May 1940: The Low Countries are occupied


Following the surrender of the Low Countries the German launch their push into France.  The French had hoped the Maginot Line would hold yet it was designed to stop an infantry assault not the blitzkrieg.  France surrenders in 6weeks. 


France is split in two by the Nazis:


Northern and Western section are occupied

A resistance government in London headed by Charles de Gaulle (Free France) operates insurgency missions in the territory


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Southeastern area is set up as a Nazi puppet government under Charles Pretain (Vichy France)





The main Anglo French army had been trapped at the port town of Dunkirk on the English Channel.


Hitler never directly attacked (?) over 330,000 of the men are able to be evacuated across the channel.


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Dunkirk coincides with the ascension of Winston Churchill as British Prime Minister


            Had served in the war cabinet during World War I

            Oversaw the failed amphibious landing at Gallipoli

            Attains the office of Prime Minister at 66

            Proved to be an inspirational leader


Churchill remarks after the operation at Dunkirk “that evacuations don’t win wars”


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Churchill desperately wants to get the Americans involved,

FDR cannot overcome objections from the isolationist Congress


Summer 1940: Britain effectively stands alone (France fallen, US, USSR out)



Battle of Britain (Fall 1940)


August to October: Relentless bombing of British military targets by the German Luftwaffe (Air Force)


In late September, Hitler switches the targets from military to civilian targets

Widely seen as a mistake, allowed the Royal Air Force to rebuild

Bombing usually galvanizes a population in resistance


Hitler is never able to achieve air superiority over England and must abandon plans for a cross-channel invasion (Operation Sea Lion)



Lend Lease: March 1941, gave the U.S. the ability to militarily supply the British


Atlantic Charter: May 1941, Symbolic agreement between the US and Britain on a post war world

The two countries pledge that this is a war of ideals not an opportunity for territorial gain




Early in 1941: Hitler consolidates his control over southeastern Europe

Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania are incorporated as German allies

Yugoslavia and Greece are conquered by June 1941



Invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa)


Three motivating factors for Hitler’s war on the USSR

1.      The need for territory: Lebensraum

2.      Opportunity to eliminate large Jewish settlements

3.      Access to large Soviet oil fields


Initial plans call for the invasion to commence in April 1941

Delayed to June 1941, due to problems securing Greece and Yugoslavia


Battlefront on the Eastern Front is immense: 1800 miles


The front will see an estimated 9 to 12 million casualties (Bloodbath)

Three targets points: (Leningrad: North, Moscow: Center, Stalingrad: South)


The Russian winter halts the advance in early 1942

It will take until the winter of 1943 before the Russians could counter the Nazis


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Pearl Harbor: December 7th 1941


Early in 1941, the US had cut off trade relations with Japan due to Japanese aggression in Asia


November 1941, the Japanese military council concludes war with the US is inevitable, and to have any hope of victory must strike first

12/7/41: Japanese attack by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto wipes out half the US Pacific fleet

12/8/41: US declares war on Japan

12/12/41: Germany declares war on the United States


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The attack on Pearl Harbor is followed by a Japanese invasion of the American held Philippines

The lead US general Douglas MacArthur is forced to evacuate the islands