Phases of the War (Cartoon by Ted Scorfield, 'All in together this foul weather, 1941)  

The Second World War is usually considered to have begun with the German invasion of Poland on 3 September 1939 though one can trace the sequence of events back to the German invasion of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939 and the British and French pledge to support Poland on 29 March. The war spread to the Pacific with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941.

The war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945 (VE Day) when the Germans signed the official surrender that had been offered the previous day. The war in the Pacific ended with the decision on 14 August 1945 and the announcement by the Emperor of Japan in a broadcast to his people on 15 August 1945 (VP day) that Japan would accept the Allies ultimatum to surrender. The formal surrender to General Douglas MacArthur in Tokyo Bay followed on 2 September (VJ Day).

Phase 1

The Phony War
September 1939 to May 1940

Referred to by Churchill as the 'Twilight War', this was the phase of the war following the collapse of Poland and its surrender on 27 September during which, with limited exceptions, no military operations occurred in continental Europe. The only military confrontations for many months were skirmishes along the French border and at sea, especially in terms of the toll exacted by German U Boats, and the Soviet invasion of Finland in November 1939 leading to the Finnish surrender in March 1940. Although the Germans invaded Denmark and Norway on 9 April the Phony War is usually considered to have ended with the German invasion of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and France on 10 May. On the same day Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister of Britain and Winston Churchill became head of a new Coalition government.

Phase 2

The fall of France and the Battle of Britain
May 1940 to October 1940

During this phase the military situation for the Allies rapidly deteriorated in continental Europe with the surrender of the Netherlands and Belgium before the end of May, and the British evacuation from France at Dunkirk between 27 May and 4 June. The German Army entered Paris on 14 June and France signed an armistice on 22 June while Italy declared war on the Allies on 10 June. Between 10 July 1940 and mid October 1940 the German made a series of bombing raids on Britain during what became known as the Battle of Britain. Hitler declared a blockade of Britain and by early September had made plans for the invasion of Britain but these plans were put on hold by mid October. Nevertheless, German air raids continued after October while the Allies had also commenced bombing raids on Germany including Berlin (first bombed in August 1940).

Phase 3

War on several fronts and the attack on the Soviet Union - November 1940 to August 1941

In March 1941 the war with Italian forces in North Africa that had commenced before the end of 1940 was expanded with the beginning of German involvement in the Desert War under the command of General Rommel. The Germans invaded Yugoslavia and Greece in the following month with both countries surrendering in less than three weeks, and then occupied Crete in May following the largest paratroop invasion in the entire War. In May the British ship Hood was sunk by the Bismarck which in turn was sunk by the British navy. On 22 June Hitler launched his invasion of the Soviet Union and by mid August the German Army was marching on Leningrad.

Phase 4

The continuing war in the Soviet Union and increasing tension leading to War in the Pacific
August to December 1941

By early October the Germans had begun their advance on Moscow while the British Aircraft carrier the Ark Royal was sunk off Gibraltar. By late November, however, the tide was turning in Russia and the march on Moscow was abandoned in early December with the Soviet launching a major counter offensive on 6 December.

In the Pacific the Australian cruiser Sydney was sunk by the Germans in November. On 7 December the Japanese launched their attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii: the United States and Britain each declared war on Japan on the following day and Germany declared war on the US on 11 December.

Phase 5

The Japanese march southward and the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway - December 1941 to June 1942

On 8 December the Japanese invaded Malaya, Thailand the Philippines; on 10 December they sank the Prince of Wales and Repulse off the Malayan coast; and on 11 December Burma was invaded. Manila fell and Hong Kong surrendered before the end of the month followed by Malaya in January and Singapore in the following month. Soon after, the Dutch East Indies were overrun. On 19 February the Japanese had also launched their first bombing raid on Darwin and the US forces under MacArthur left the Philippines on 22 February. In Burma first Rangoon and then Mandalay were captured, the latter at the beginning of May five days before the battle of the Coral Sea. This battle, and then more significantly the Battle of Midway in June, ensured that the Japanese fleet played little active part for the rest of the war.

In Europe, German air raids on Britain intensified but were matched by British and American bombing raids on Germany with the first thousand bomber raid against Cologne at the end of May.

Phase 6

German defeats in the Soviet Union and North Africa and the turning of the tide in the Pacific
July 1942 to February 1943

During the second half of 1942 the war continued with German successes in both North Africa and the Soviet Union until the Battle of Stalingrad commencing in September. In November the Soviet launched a counter offensive at Stalingrad and at the beginning of February 1943 the German surrender at Stalingrad represented the biggest defeat inflicted to date on the German armies. Meanwhile, in October 1942 Montgomery launched his counter attack at El Alamein and on 4 November the Germans were defeated and other North African towns were retaken over the following weeks and months. At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 the Allies announced that the European war could only end with the unconditional surrender of the Germans.

In Papua by mid September the Japanese had been in sight of Port Moresby but thereafter they were steadily driven back along the Kokoda track (Trail) and eventually, by February 1943, out of Papua with heavy losses: this effectively ended the prospect of a Japanese invasion of Australia. In February 1943 the American recaptured Guadalcanal in the Solomons.

Phase 7

The lead up to the opening of a second front in Europe
February 1943 to June 1944

By the middle of 1943 the Germans had largely been driven out of North Africa and in July the Allies invaded Sicily. In October 1943 Italy reentered the war on the Allied side though Mussolini had escaped and set up an alternative fascist government. After a long campaign the Allies entered Rome in June 1944. A month earlier In May 1944 the Germans finally surrendered to the Soviet in the Crimea.

Throughout 1943 the American forces had gradually achieved the recapture of the remainder of New Guinea.

Phase 8

The landing at Normandy leading to the final collapse of Nazi Germany - June 1944 to May 1945

From the time the Allies landed on the beaches at Normandy thus opening up a second front on the West it took eleven months for the Allied forces advancing from the west and the Soviet troops from the east to force a German surrender, the liberation of France and the low Countries. The Russians reached Berlin and Hitler committed suicide at the end of April about a week before the final surrender. During their advance the Soviet drove the Germans out of a number of eastern European countries which were subsequently part of the communist bloc for several decades.

In the Pacific Australian troops played only a limited part in the island-hopping advance towards Tokyo. On 20 October 1944 General MacArthur returned to the Philippines and Manila was recaptured on 28 February 1945. Mandalay fell to British and Indian troops on 20 March and Rangoon on 3 May while American troops landed on Okinawa on 1 April.

Phase 9

The dropping of the atomic bombs and the Japanese surrender - July to August 1945

The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August and the second on Nagasaki on 9 August. The Japanese surrendered on 15 August and the surrender documents were signed on 2 September.

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