World War II
World War II (WWII or WW2) or the Second World War was a global conflict that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries, including all the great powers, fought as part of two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. Many participants threw their economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind this total war, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. Aircraft played a major role, enabling the strategic bombing of population centres and delivery of the only two nuclear weapons ever used in war. It was by far the deadliest conflict in history, resulting in 70 to 85 million fatalities, mostly civilians. Millions died due to genocides, including the Holocaust, as well as starvation, massacres, and disease. In the wake of Axis defeat, Germany, Austria and Japan were occupied, and war crimes tribunals were conducted against German and Japanese leaders.
The causes of the war are debated; contributing factors included the Spanish Civil War, Second Sino-Japanese War, Soviet–Japanese border conflicts, the rise of fascism in Europe, and tensions in the aftermath of World War I. World War II is generally considered to have begun on 1 September 1939, when Nazi Germany, under Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland. The United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany on 3 September. Under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union had partitioned Poland and marked out their "spheres of influence" across Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. From late 1939 to early 1941, in a series of campaigns and treaties, Germany conquered or controlled much of continental Europe, in a military alliance with Italy, Japan and other countries called the Axis. Following the onset of campaigns in North Africa and East Africa, and the fall of France in mid-1940, the war continued primarily between the European Axis powers and British Empire, with the war in the Balkans, the aerial Battle of Britain, the Blitz of the UK, and the Battle of the Atlantic. In June 1941, Germany led the European Axis powers in an invasion of the Soviet Union, opening the Eastern Front, the largest land theatre of war in history.