Munich also sealed the relationship between Mussolini and Hitler. Despite their later alliance, Mussolini, a former Communist, rightly perceived significant differences between his nationalism and Hitler's racism. If Britain and France perceived Hitler as a buffer against Stalin, then Mussolini in the early s seemed like a buffer against Hitler.
What brought Italy and Germany together was the same complex of factors that eventually forged a three-way alliance with Japan: a shared desire for greater power, territorial ambitions that had supposedly been frustrated by the democratic powers, and a string of diplomatic and military successes that encouraged ever bolder moves. Japan, militarism, and expansionism.
When its troops marched into Manchuria in , Japan launched the first in the series of conquests and invasions during the s that set the stage for the war. Though nominally led by an emperor, Hirohito, by that time the nation had come under the control of military officers, who had imposed a dictatorship. The Japanese lacked a single powerful leader until Hideki Tojo emerged at the top in Although certainly authoritarian and strictly controlled, the Japanese system was technically not totalitarian, in the sense that it did not have a specific, animating modern ideology.
Instead, it relied on ancient national myths, combined with an abiding sense that Japan had been wronged in its struggle to make a place for itself as a world power. The Japanese belief system combined nationalistic and racial themes: like the Nazis, they regarded all other peoples as inferior.
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This would have seemingly made the Japanese and Nazi systems mutually exclusive, but because they were at opposite sides of the world, it provided a convenient formula for dividing the planet between them. Each of the three future participants in the Axis Pact set out to test the resolve of the other powers to oppose them, and found such opposition all but nonexistent. The League of Nations , formed to put an end to wars after World War I, failed to act decisively when Italy conquered Ethiopia in — 36, when Germany occupied the Rhineland in , when Japan conquered most of eastern China in — 38, or when Germany annexed Austria in Over the course of the first nine months of , Germany added the rest of Czechoslovakia, while Italy occupied Albania.
Britain and France, which on March 29 had pledged to support Poland, declared war, but did not attack Germany.
During the next few weeks, Germany and Russia divided Poland between themselves, and in November, the Soviet Union launched a separate war with Finland. Stalin had decimated his officer corps with his purges in the s, and his collectivization efforts had been accompanied by the imprisonment, starvation, and deaths of millions. The Soviet Union was to prove much stronger, however, than Hitler imagined.
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And if Hitler believed that Japan would join him in making war on the Soviets, he was mistaken; the Soviet performance against the Japanese during the little-known tank battle at Nomonhan in Manchuria in August, , effectively convinced the Japanese of Russia's true strength. From to , the Axis unquestionably had the upper hand in the conflict. During the first part of this period, nicknamed "the Phony War," hardly a shot was fired in western Europe. Only in the spring of did Hitler's forces resume action, conquering Denmark , Norway, the Low Countries , and France. The French, who relied on the defenses of the Maginot Line designed to fight a World War I — style conflict of limited movement , surrendered after a nominal resistance effort.
Most of the country fell under direct Nazi control, which a small portion to the southeast, with the town of Vichy as its capital, formed a pro-Axis government. The speedy capitulation of the French left the British alone in opposition to the Nazis. In May , Chamberlain resigned, and was replaced by Winston Churchill.
In this change, the British people gained an unexpected advantage; over the next five years, Churchill, widely regarded as one of history's great orators, would stir his people to action with a series of memorable speeches. Yet, the position of the British was perilous, and as the Nazi Luftwaffe launched an aerial campaign against them in August, it seemed that German victory was only a matter of time.
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He thus unexpectedly offered England a venue for fighting the Axis outside of Europe, and eventually German forces would be diverted into the Africa campaign. In southern Europe, Hitler managed to compel Bulgaria , Hungary , and Romania into joining the Axis, but this advantage was overshadowed by another diversion of forces caused by Mussolini. Mussolini invaded Greece in October , and Greek resistance proved so fierce that in April , German forces rolled into southern Europe. Churchill attempted to oppose them in Greece, but the Germans pushed back British forces, and in history's first airborne invasion, took the isle of Crete — an important Mediterranean base — in May.
But the Balkan campaign had pushed back Hitler's timetable for the most important campaign of the war, the invasion of Russia. The purpose of all other fighting up to that point had been to eliminate opposition as Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and rather than conquer Britain, Hitler preferred to enlist it as an ally against Stalin.
He called off attacks on British air bases in May , but by then the Nazi bombardment had inflamed British sentiment against Germany. On June 22, , the Nazis invaded Russia. Operation Barbarossa, as it was called — its name a reference to the twelfth century Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa — was the largest land invasion in history. Fought according to the blitzkrieg "lightning war" tactics already demonstrated elsewhere in Europe, the invasion relied on mechanized infantry divisions and Panzer tank columns with heavy aerial support.
The invasion would initially yield enormous victories for the Nazis, who quickly doubled the size of their territory by annexing most of western Russia. However, the Germans had started the invasion relatively late in the year and were eventually delayed in their advances, given the challenges posed by the Russian winter. This delay was partly due to the incursion into southern Europe, but also resulted from arguments between Hitler and his general staff, which put off the invasion for several weeks.
Not only did Hitler, a corporal in World War I, lack the generals' understanding of strategy, but he tended to be bold where prudence counseled caution, and vice versa. When he had a good chance of taking Britain, he demurred, but a year later, he swept into Russia without taking adequate stock of the consequences.
German troops were not equipped with clothing for the winter. This was in part a consequence of the fact that Hitler resisted apprising his armies or his people of the sacrifices necessary for war.watch
Whereas the Allies immediately undertook rationing efforts, Hitler was slow to enact rationing for fear of unleashing discontent. Likewise, he was ill-inclined to equip his men for a long campaign, and thus admit that such a campaign likely awaited them. America enters the war. Japan launched its first major offensive of the war in early December , when, in addition to attacking the United States at Pearl Harbor , it swept into the Philippines , Malaya, Thailand , and Burma. The result of these decisive attacks, combined with German victories in Russia, was to bring the Axis to the height of its powers in At that point, it seemed possible that the two major Axis powers, taking advantage of anti-British unrest in Iran and India , might even link up, thus controlling a swath of land and sea from Normandy to the Solomon Islands.
In actuality, events of would serve to bring an end to Axis hopes of world conquest. While the invasion of Russia would ultimately cripple the German Wehrmacht, or army, the introduction of the United States to the war would give the Allied force a seemingly bottomless supply of equipment with which to wage the war. It also brought in a vast military force that, alongside the British, would drive back the Germans in North Africa despite impressive resistance by the tank commander German Erwin Rommel and make two key landings on the European continent, in Italy and France. Thus, the attack on Pearl Harbor , intended as a first strike to eliminate American opposition, would prove a miscalculation on a par with Hitler's invasion of Russia.
Hitler welcomed the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor at the time, and quickly declared war on the United States, thus, giving him justification for sinking U. This proved a benefit to President Franklin D.
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Roosevelt, who, up to then, had been confronted by strong isolationist opposition to war with Germany. Unlike the Axis, the Allies were not bound by one single formal alliance. Instead, there were agreements such as Lend-Lease, whereby the United States provided equipment to Great Britain even before it entered the war.
There were also a number of conferences whereby the leaders of the Allied nations planned the postwar world. As with the Axis alliance of Germany and Italy, there was an alliance within this alliance — that of the United States and Britain. Between Roosevelt and Churchill was a strong personal bond that reflected the ultimate commonality of aims between their two nations.
More strained was the relation of these leaders with Stalin. The alliance with Soviet Russia was a marriage of convenience, as all three powers faced a common enemy in Nazi Germany, but Churchill in particular never let down his guard where Stalin was concerned. And he was right to do so, as Stalin's intelligence services were busy gathering secrets in England.
In neither case did these leaders speak for their entire nations. Chiang's Nationalists expended greater resources on fighting the Communists, led by Mao Tse-tung, than they did against the Japanese invaders. The Communists, who enjoyed widespread peasant support, proved able defenders, and though they would become enemies of the United States, at the time America regarded them as a useful ally against the Japanese.
As for de Gaulle, who operated from London, he represented only a tiny portion of France, most of which made little effort to resist Nazi and Vichy rule. Driving back the Axis in Europe. In Russia, the Germans got as far as the suburbs of Moscow before the winter — along with the resurgent Red Army and a defiant populace — caught up with them.