The second World War

Conquests by Germany and Japan

The results of World War I, the international economic crisis during the 1930s, and Japanese expansionism created the breeding ground for World War II. The rise to power and ugly consequences of the National-Socialist movement and fascism in Germany and Italy could not be kept sufficiently at bay by the rest of Europe which had been weakened economically. In addition, as early as 1931, the Japanese had been able to overrun and occupy the Chinese province of Manchuria with little effort. In 1935, Adolph Hitler openly disregarded the stipulations laid down by the Treaty of Versailles in which the conditions for ending World War I had been established and began a large-scale process of rearmament. Then, in 1938, Hitler’s occupation of Austria and a mountainous area in Czechoslovakia (Sudetenland) was largely made possible by the far-reaching degree of indulgence expressed by France and England. Later all of Czechoslovakia would suffer the same fate, while Italy had already occupied Ethiopia in 1936 and Albania in 1939.

However, when the Germans marched into defenseless Polen on 1 September 1939, England and France remained loyal to their pact with Polen and declared war on Germany. In April 1940 German forces overran Denmark and Norway, and on 10 May 1940 they invaded The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg with a great show of force. Their military objective was to move through Belgium in order to attack Northern France which was being defended by a British expeditionary army. As the British were being forced to retreat to their homeland, they were aided by a ‘fleet’ consisting of thousands of private boats of all sizes which had set off from the entire southern coast of England to evacuate British soldiers from the beaches at Dunkirk. Germany had successfully invaded France, with the exception of an area in the south where a puppet government was established in Vichy.

After experiencing a heavy bombardment on Rotterdam, The Netherlands was forced to capitulate on 14 May 1940 when Germany threatened to continue their bombardments on other large Dutch cities. Members of the royal family and Dutch government were able to escape by boat to England.

In fact, Great Britain found itself now standing alone, and the situation appeared hopeless. The new Prime Minister of the War Cabinet, Sir Winston Churchill, had nothing more to offer his country than ‘blood, sweat and tears’. Large amounts of military supplies had been left behind in Dunkirk. Hitler was plotting to gain air supremacy in the skies over England, and with the help of landings in southeast England, force the British onto their knees. However, the British were given material support by the United States. Within a short period of time, American industry had been transformed into a war industry, and a never before seen stream of weaponry and other supplies began flowing into England, without a thought being given to the costs incurred which impoverished Great Britain would never have been able to repay. During the ‘Battle of Britain’ which took place from July until October 1940, Britain was able to maintain the upper hand in the air thanks to the incredible effort shown by fighter pilots in the Royal Air Force as well as to the opportune availability of the Spitfire. This forced Germany to abandon its plans for invasion.
After the Japanese had unexpectedly bombed the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on the island of Hawaii on 7 December 1941, the American government – as well as The Netherlands – declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy, and the tides of war began to turn. First, however, the Japanese would invade and occupy Birma, Malakka, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies (now known as Indonesia) taking Europeans (including ca. 140,000 Dutch) prisoner and interning them in prison camps under exceptionally difficult conditions.

Allies gain the upper hand

Hitler did not honor the pact signed with Russia and invaded the country in order to guarantee that the German military machine would have access to sufficient oil supplies from the Caucasus. The German campaign stranded at Stalingrad where, in February 1943, the German army was forced to retreat after both sides had suffered enormous losses. This would become the turning point of the war on the eastern front, after the British Field Marshall Montgomery had defeated the German and Italian armies in November 1942 at El Alamein, Egypt, which had been under the command of Rommel. The Americans then landed in North Africa, and Allied forces landed in Sicily on 10 July 1943. The Russians liberated Leningrad (now named St. Petersburg) in 1944 and crossed the former East Prussian border. On 6 June 1944 (‘D day’), the American General Eisenhower commanded the most massive landing ever seen on the beaches at Normandy. From there, the Allied forces set off towards Berlin, while at the same time the Russian army also marched towards this city from the east. In September 1944, during this massive Allied push, The Netherlands was liberated south of its major rivers. Part of this Allied offensive included the Battle at Arnhem (‘a bridge too far’) which in fact failed and the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes in December 1944.

At the end of April 1945, the Americans and Russians met up at Torgau on the river Elbe. On April 30th Hitler committed suicide, and on May 7th Germany surrendered. In The Netherlands, Germany had already surrendered on May 4th after which details of their capitulation were laid down on May 5th in hotel ‘De Wereld’ (The World) in Wageningen.

With respect to Japan, the same story and time frame applies. Facing tenacious Japanese opposition in Japan, the Americans were left with two options: they could either invade Japan themselves under the leadership of Truman, who had become the new American president after Roosevelt’s sudden death, or they could employ their newly developed atom bomb. They chose to drop the atom bomb in order to end the war rapidly because they had already suffered sizeable losses. In addition, Japanese authorities had not only threatened but were also making preparations to murder all prisoners of war, including women and children, in camps throughout Southeast Asia if an invasion took place. Atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, respectively. On August 15th, the Japanese emperor announced that Japan would capitulate. On 2 September 1945, the Japanese surrendered to the American Commander-in-Chief General MacArthur aboard the American flagship USS Missouri.