World War II Facts for Kids

  • World War 2 was a battle between two groups of countries which are known as the Allies and the Axis. 
  • The Allies were Britain, Russia, China, France, and the US. The Axis included Germany, Italy, and Japan.
  • There were lots of people killed and more land destroyed than ever before.

When the First World War happened, it made the world unstable. The next international conflict was World War II and it was worse. 

Adolf Hitler, a leader in Germany, had good ideas for the country but he wanted to take over all of Europe. He tried to make Germany stronger and sign treaties with other countries like Italy and Japan.

Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. It made Great Britain and France go to war with Germany. Hitler killed more than 6 million Jews in different concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Hitler’s plans for Germany

The war before World War II made Europe very unstable. The people who lost the war became angry and they wanted to make Germany more powerful. 

One of those people was Adolf Hitler. When Germany got more powerful, they started making new rules for themselves called the Nazis. These rules were not fair and some people disagreed with them.

In World War II, Hitler wanted to create the “best” race. He didn’t want Jews, gypsies, or people with disabilities to be part of it. So he imprisoned them and killed them.

Hitler became the leader of Germany in 1933. He wanted lands for German people to live on. Hitler’s goal was war, and he had a secret plan to rearm Germany even though it was against the treaty that ended World War I.

The war begins

Hitler and Joseph Stalin from Russia signed a pact in August 1939. Hitler was going to attack Poland, and France and Great Britain had promised to help. But the pact with Stalin meant that Hitler would not fight on two fronts when he attacked Poland, because he could have Soviet assistance in conquering and dividing the nation itself.

On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. Then on September 17th, Soviet troops invaded Poland from the east. This made it hard for Poland to defend itself. Soon after that Germany and Russia took control of Poland.

The German invasion of Poland was hard. The Poles lost 70,000 men, 133,000 were wounded and 700,000 were taken prisoner in the defense of their country. 50,000 Poles died fighting the Soviets following their invasion on September 16th. 45,000 Polish citizens were shot in cold blood during the German invasion of Poland.

The West Front

In 1940, Germany attacked Norway and Denmark. On May 10th, they also attacked Belgium and the Netherlands. Three days later, they broke through a line of defence in France called the Maginot Line with their planes and tanks.

The British Expeditionary Force was evacuated by sea, while the southern regions of France fought against the Nazis. Italy’s dictator Benito Mussolini allied with Hitler, and then he attacked France and Britain.

On June 14, German forces invaded Paris and a new government was formed. The French government asked for an armistice on the night of June 16. France has been divided into two zones: one occupied by German forces and the other by the French government. 

Hitler now turned his attention to Britain, which had an advantage because it was separated from Europe by the English Channel. 

Hitler wanted to invade England. He did this by bombing it. This was called the Blitz. The RAF fought back and eventually won the war. The US helped them so they could keep fighting.

Many people fought in this war. But some countries were not on one side or the other. Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, and Sweden stayed neutral during the fighting.

Rescue at Dunkirk

The German forces went to the French coast. The Allies were trapped around the city of Lille by the end of May 1940. They were outnumbered, outgunned, and bombed from the air. The Allied forces retreated to Dunkirk with their backs to the sea.

Great Britain set out to rescue the army with a fleet of 850 ships. They went across the English Channel. It also had Royal Navy ships, and civilian craft- yachts, lifeboats, motorboats, paddle steamers, and fishing boats- help with rescuing 338 thousand soldiers from Dunkirk.

Winston Churchill

The British had a very powerful weapon in Winston Churchill. He was their leader and he fought the Germans when they were alone. His talent helped him to rally the people behind an effort to defeat Germany.

In one famous speech, Churchill said that Britain was willing to

…wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us . . . against a monstrous tyranny . . . We shall fight on the

beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets . . . we shall never surrender.

Radars helped the RAF to fight back against the Nazis by telling how many enemies are coming, how fast they are going, and their direction. 

The British also smuggled a German machine called Enigma that could tell what messages were being sent between Nazi leaders. It could decode any message that the Nazis sent.

Hitler was surprised by the British. His decision then was to stop his attacks. Instead, he focused on other areas. The Allies learned from the Battle of Britain that Hitler’s attacks could be stopped.

Operation Barbarossa

By 1941, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria had joined the Axis. Nazi troops overran Yugoslavia and Greece that April. 

Hitler wanted to take over the Soviet Union because they had land. He also wanted to kill all Jews. 

On June 22nd, 1941, Hitler ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union. It was called Operation Barbarossa. 

The Germans had much fewer tanks and planes than Russians but they attacked Russia because Russians were not prepared for war. 

German forces put Leningrad under siege. By November, the city was cut off from the rest of Russia. 

To force a surrender, Hitler planned to starve people living in the city and destroy food that was stored in warehouses. People got hungry so they ate cattle as well as cats and dogs. Nearly one million people died in Leningrad during 1941-1942 because of hunger. But the city refused to fall.

Hitler looked at Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union. His army began attacking getting close to Moscow. 

But then the Nazis retreated as it got cold and their uniforms were summer uniforms. The Germans finally retreated again because they had lost a lot of people by then. Russian weather had stopped Hitler in the same way it had stopped Napoleon 150 years before.

The Eastern and Mediterranean Fronts

Germany wanted to conquer North Africa because Hitler was friends with Mussolini. But before that, Italy had not been in the war. 

Mussolini attacked British-controlled Egypt in September 1940. The Battle of Britain was still going on, but he ordered his army to attack anyway. 

Mussolini wanted to take the Suez Canal because it would help him get closer to oil fields in the Middle East. Italians pushed 60 miles into Egypt, and they forced British units back.

In December 1941, the British fought back against the Italian army. This was a disaster for the Italians. The British took 130,000 prisoners from Italy. 

Hitler sent a German tank force to save his Axis partner. This caught the British by surprise and they were forced to retreat.

The Holocaust

The Nazis believed that the Germanic peoples were a master race. They thought people who weren’t Germanic were inferior and would eventually lead to the Holocaust, which is when people would be killed because they were judged to be inferior.

When Hitler tried to get Jews to leave for other countries and they did not, he made them go to certain cities. They were there in overcrowded, dismal ghettos. The Nazis kept Jews from leaving these areas with barbed wire and stone walls. Many people died from hunger or disease

Hitler was mad that Jews didn’t die from hunger or disease. He had a plan to kill all the Jews called the Final Solution. It was a program of genocide, which means he wanted to just kill all of them.

Many Jews died in these camps and Nazi massacres. Only a few people helped them escape from the death camps to reach better lives. These rescuers hid the Jews in their homes or helped them to escape to other countries. The ones who survived were changed forever by what they experienced.

War in the Pacific Ocean

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and the US Navy. When Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, America found itself in a global war. 

Fighting in the Pacific was different from fighting in Europe. In Europe, there were big ground forces that drove into the enemy’s country. Both of these campaigns had battles where naval power, airpower, and ships were important. 

Japan launched a huge assault that swept through the US territories of Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines as well as British-controlled Hong Kong, Malaya, and Burma.

In 1942, the US Navy and Japanese forces fought to the Battle of Coral Sea. The US Navy stopped Japan for the first time. 

Then a month later US forces destroyed four Japanese aircraft carriers. This was a major victory for the US and it was important in stopping Japan from winning.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On 6 August, two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. Over 100,000 people died soon afterwards. On 9 August, another bomb was dropped and over 35,000 people died right away. 

Allied forces issued a challenge to the Japanese government to surrender but they did not listen to it. The hardliners thought that holding out for a long time was better than surrendering because their defences were strong enough

The most controversial decision of World War II was whether to drop atomic bombs on Japan.  It is hard to know if the Allies should have dropped the bomb because it is a complex matter but some people say it was necessary to end the war.

The Allied victory

In 1944, an Allied army freed France from Nazi rule. One year later, the Allies invaded Germany and forced them to surrender. 

On D-Day, also called the invasion of Normandy, British, American, French, and Canadian troops fought their way onto a 60-mile stretch of beach in Normandy, France. 

The Germans had dug in with machine guns, rocket launchers, and cannons behind concrete walls three feet thick. The Allies took heavy casualties that day among their forces. More than 2700 men died that day. 

The Allies rolled across the Rhine River into Germany. Their army of 3 million approached Berlin from the southwest. Another 6 million Soviet troops approached from the east. 

On April 30th Hitler killed himself. The city was falling under Soviet attack. The Germans surrendered on May 8th, 1945. 

The Japanese surrendered to General MacArthur at the beginning of September. The ceremony happened aboard the US battleship Missouri. With Japan’s surrender, the war had ended. 

Now, countries faced the task of rebuilding a world that was torn apart by war.

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