Origins and Early Stages of the Second World War

How events in the 1930s developed into a war that spanned continents.

The Treaty of Versailles
The Maginot Line

The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles, signed in June 1919, was intended to bring a lasting peace to Europe following the end of World War I. Unfortunately, the treaty was seen as overly punitive by many of the defeated nations, and resentment in Germany towards the victors, particularly France and Britain, began to build. This resentment was further fuelled by the economic hardships that the treaty imposed on Germany, such as the $269 billion reparation payments and the limitation of the German military.

The treaty also deliberately created a number of new states in Central and Eastern Europe, which were seen as a violation of the principle of self-determination. This further fuelled the resentment of the German people, who felt that they had been treated unfairly. This resentment was a major factor in the rise of the Nazi Party, and ultimately in the outbreak of World War II.

The rise of the Nazis

The rise of the Nazi Party in Germany was a complex process that began in the aftermath of World War I. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war, imposed harsh economic and political conditions on Germany, leading to widespread discontent and a search for a new leader. Moreover, poor economic conditions caused by the ripple effects of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 meant that many Germans lived in poor conditions.

Adolf Hitler, a former soldier and leader of the Nazi Party, was able to capitalize on the dissatisfaction and used his powerful oratory to gain support. He was appointed Chancellor in 1933 and quickly set about consolidating his power.

Hitler used a combination of legal and illegal measures to gain control. He passed the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave him the power to make laws without the approval of the Reichstag, and he used the Gestapo, the secret police, to suppress opposition. He was able to gain control of the media, the judiciary, and the military, and he used these powers to eliminate his opponents and to create a totalitarian state.

Appeasement and isolationism

The policy of appeasement and isolationism adopted by European countries and the United States in the 1930s was a response to the resurgence of Germany. In an effort to avoid another devastating war, the major powers sought to appease Hitler and his demands.

This policy of appeasement was based on the belief that if Hitler’s demands were met, he would be satisfied and the world would be spared from war. Unfortunately, this policy of appeasement only emboldened Hitler and allowed him to expand his power and influence.

The policy of isolationism adopted by the United States was based on the belief that the United States should not become involved in the affairs of other countries. Policy makered feared that the United States would be dragged into a war that it was not prepared to fight.

Annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia

In 1938, Germany began its expansion with the annexation of Austria.This annexation, also known as the Anschluss, occurred in March 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria into the German Third Reich.

The annexation was met with little resistance from Austria, as the majority of the population supported the move. The Anschluss was accomplished through a combination of military threats and diplomatic negotiations.

Germany’s expansion also extended towards Czechoslovakia in 1938. The Munich Agreement, signed in September 1938, was signed by Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy, and it allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia with a large ethnic German population.

The agreement was intended to prevent a war between Germany and Czechoslovakia, but it ultimately led to the annexation of the entire country. The motivations for the Munich Agreement were primarily driven by the desire to avoid war and appeasement of Hitler by European leaders.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a non-aggression treaty between Germany and the Soviet Union signed in August 1939. It was a surprise move by the two countries, who had been ideological enemies for decades. The pact was a major factor in the outbreak of World War II, as it allowed Germany to invade Poland without fear of Soviet intervention. It also allowed the Soviets to annex parts of Eastern Europe.

The pact was seen as a betrayal by many in the West, who had hoped that the two countries would remain enemies. It was also a major shock to the international community, as it seemed to indicate that the two countries had formed an alliance.

Despite this, the pact did not last long, as Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. The pact had been a major factor in the outbreak of the war, and its consequences would be felt for years to come.

The invasion of Poland

On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, launching the Second World War. The invasion was swift and decisive, with the German army advancing rapidly and taking control of the country within a few weeks. The Polish army was no match for the German forces and was quickly overwhelmed. This was the first major military action of the war and marked the beginning of a conflict that would last for six years and cause immense destruction and loss of life.

The invasion of Poland was a major turning point in the history of the world. It marked the beginning of a conflict that would cause immense suffering and destruction, and ultimately lead to the end of the Nazi regime in Germany. It also marked the start of a new era in global politics, with the two superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union emerging as the dominant forces in the world. The invasion of Poland was a pivotal moment in the history of the world and would have a lasting impact on global politics.

The Phony War

The period of the Phony War was a time of tense inaction on the Western Front. After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the French and British declared war on Germany, but no major military action was taken by either side.


This period of tense inaction was caused by a number of factors. Firstly, both sides were still in the process of mobilizing their forces, and the French and British were not yet ready to launch a major offensive. Secondly, both sides were wary of the other’s strength and were unwilling to risk a major confrontation.

The period of the Phony War was characterized by a number of minor skirmishes and raids, but no major battles. The French and British forces were mainly engaged in defensive operations, while the Germans were content to remain on the defensive and wait for an opportunity to strike. This period of tense inaction was finally broken by the German invasion of France in May 1940. The Phony War had come to an end, and the Second World War had begun in earnest.

The Winter War

The Winter War of 1939-1940 was a conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland. The Soviet Union had been planning to invade Finland since the 1930s, and in November 1939, they launched their attack. In deciding to do so, they were emboldened by the knowledge that, per the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Germany wouldn’t come to Finland’s defense.


The Finns had a much smaller army than the Soviets, but were well-organized and mounted a brave defense. They were able to withhold a full conquest of the country, and ceded around 10% of their territory in the East to the Soviets. This was widely seen as a victory for Finland at the time, given the immense size of the Red Army.

The Soviet Union’s invasion of Finland was a major event in the lead up to World War II. It was a demonstration of the Soviet Union’s power and a warning to other countries in the region.

The Norwegian campaign

The German invasion of Norway in April 1940 was a strategic move to secure the vital shipping routes between Germany and Sweden. This was a crucial step in the Nazi plan to gain control of the Baltic Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.

The Norwegian campaign was a success for the Germans, as they were able to quickly take control of the country and its resources. However, the campaign also had a significant impact on the Allies, as it forced them to divert resources away from other fronts to counter the German threat.

The Norwegian campaign was a major factor in the early stages of the Second World War. It demonstrated the German’s ability to quickly and effectively take control of a country and its resources. It also highlighted the importance of the shipping routes to the German war effort, as it allowed them to gain access to vital resources from Sweden and other countries.

The fall of France

The fall of France was a major turning point in the Second World War. In May 1940, Hitler’s forces invaded the country, and within weeks, the French government had capitulated.


The French defeat was a result of a combination of factors. Firstly, the French had not adequately prepared for the attack, and their forces were quickly overwhelmed by the German onslaught. Secondly, the French had failed to make use of their strategic advantages, such as the Maginot Line, which could have slowed the German advance.

Lastly, the French had not anticipated the effectiveness of the German Blitzkrieg tactics, which involved fast moving Panzer tank columns and allowed Germany to quickly take control of the country.

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