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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

History: World War One and World War Two: World War Two in Europe

Guide for Library Research on World War One and World War Two

Phony War

Phony War

British Army and French Air Force personnel outside a dugout named '10 Downing Street'  November 1939


The Phoney War (or Sitzkrieg - "Sitting War", a play on the word Blitzkrieg - "Lightening War") was the period from September 1939 to May 1940 when there were no major military operations by Britain and France against Germany.

Fall of France

Fall of France

Germans March by the Arc of Triumph in Paris 1940

May 10th 1940 Germany invaded France and the Low Countries (Belguim, Netherlands, Luxembourg) and completely defeated French forces. The French government collapsed and on June 22 1940 signed an armstice agreement with Germany. The agreement split the country with Germany occupying the North half and the Southern half being run by as a collaborationist puppet state known as Vichy. France remained under German occupation until the Anglo-American armies liberated it in 1944.

Vichy France

Vichy France

Hitler in Paris June 1940

After the collapse and surrender of France in 1940, the Germans split the country in half; the north was under direct German control while the south was a puppet state ruled out of the city of Vichy by Marshal Philippe Petain. Petain and Vichy were collaborators with the Germans and aided in the deportation of French Jews as part of the Holocaust. France was liberated by Anglo-American forces in 1944. Petain would be sentenced to death but the sentence would be commuted to life imprisionment.

Churchill Rises

Churchill Rises

Winston Churchill

Prior to 1940 Winston Churchill spent most of the 1930s in isolation as the lone voice calling out against a policy of appeasement of the Germans and for rearmament. After war broke out Churchill was brought into the Chamberlain government as First Lord of the Admiralty and on the eve of the invasion of France, with faith in Chamberlain at an all time low, Churchill was asked by King George to assume the office of Prime Minister. Throughout the difficulties that would follow - including Dunkirk, the London Blitz, and standing absolutely alone for a year against the Germans - it was Churchill who rallied the British to stand tall against their enemy.

Lend Lease

Lend Lease

Lend-Lease Materials

Enacted in March 1941, Lend-Lease was a policy under which the United States supplied materials to Britain, China, and eventually the Soviet Union. Due to earlier Neutrality Acts, Britain had been purchasing material from the United States under a cash-and-carry basis, paying for material with gold. But by 1941 they were running out of gold to pay for materials, and the increasily sympathetic United States sought ways to get around this and supply Britain with material. Lend-Lease was the way around, although the original act was mainly intended to allow the U.S. to supply the British without entering the war. The bill permitted the President to "sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of, to any such government [whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States] any defense article." In April 1941 this policy was extended to China and in October 1941 to the Soviet Union.  Lend-Lease continued until the end of the war in 1945.

Battle of the Atlantic

Battle of the Atlantic

Allied Tanker Dixie Arrow Torpedoed by U-71 1942

The Battle of the Atlantic refers to the continuous conflict between Germany and the Allies for control of the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic ocean. The Germans sought to end the Allied naval blockade of Germany while simultaneously creating a blockade of their own around Britain. The battle would cast German submarines against Allied ship convoys and would be at its heaviest from 1940 until mid-1943 though German threats still existed until the end of the war.

The Battle of Kursk

The Battle of Kursk

Soviet T-34 Tanks near Kharkov

The Batte of Kursk in 1943 was a decisive Soviet victory at Kursk near Moscow that blocked German offensives in the area. After Kursk the Germans were no longer able to launch major counteroffensives in that section of the Eastern front. Together with Stalingrad, it marked the beginning of the long German retreat from Russia.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Many Jews in ghettos across eastern Europe tried to organize resistance against the Germans and to arm themselves with smuggled and homemade weapons. Between 1941 and 1943, underground resistance movements formed in about 100 Jewish groups. The most famous attempt by Jews to resist the Germans in armed fighting occurred in the Warsaw ghetto.

In the summer of 1942, about 300,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw to Treblinka. When reports of mass murder in the killing center leaked back to the Warsaw ghetto, a surviving group of mostly young people formed an organization called the Z.O.B. (for the Polish name, Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, which means Jewish Fighting Organization). The Z.O.B., led by 23-year-old Mordecai Anielewicz.  Another group formed an organization as well called Z.Z.W (for the Polish name, Zydowski Zwaizek Wojskowy, which means Jewish MIlitary Union). Although initially there was tension between the ZOB and the ZZW, both groups decided to work together to oppose German attempts to destroy the ghetto. At the time of the uprising, the ZOB had about 500 fighters in its ranks and the ZZW had about 250.

On April 19, 1943, the Warsaw ghetto uprising began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. Seven hundred and fifty fighters fought the heavily armed and well-trained Germans. The ghetto fighters were able to hold out for nearly a month, but on May 16, 1943, the revolt ended. The Germans had slowly crushed the resistance. Of the more than 56,000 Jews captured, about 7,000 were shot, and the remainder were deported to camps.

USHMM Encyclopedia on The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

USHMM The Holocaust: A Learning Site for Students: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Yad Vashem Combat and Resistance The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project

 

Albert Einstein 1879-1955

During World War Two, all sides were trying to develop nuclear weapons. It was in fact fear that Germany would develop an atomic bomb that drove the American effort to create such a device. The the research and development project to develop atomic bombs in the United States was called The Manhattan Project. It successfully developed atomic bombs which were ultimately used against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. 

Britain Alone

Britain Alone

Following Dunkirk and the Fall of France in 1940, Germany had conquered all of Britains allies and drive the British army into a humiliating defeat off from continental Europe. The Germans then turned their full force on England with the hopes of breaking the will of the British people and forcing their government to agree to an armstice. The British, rallied by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, refused to surrender and chose to stand alone against the full assault of the Nazis, including brutal air raids against London and other British cities. They did this for an entire year, until the United States entered the war at the end of 1941.

Blitzkrieg

Blitzkrieg

German Soldiers in the East 1943

Blitzkrieg literally means "Lightening War" and is a type of warfare where heavy armour formations break though enemy defensive lines with short and powerful attacks and then encircle the enemy. This was the type of fighting the Germans used to defeat France and during the first phase of their invasion of the Soviet Union.

We Will Fight Them on The Beaches

Prime Minister Churchill pledges no surrender in a speech given to the House of Commons in the English Parliament on June 4 1940.

The London Blitz

The London Blitz

German Planes Flying Over London 1940

The London Blitz or just Blitz was a period from September 1940 to May 1941 of massive bombing of English cities conducted by Germany. The Blitz was part of the Battle of Britain, when the German Luftwaffe attempted to gain control of the air over England to allow for Germany to conduct an invasion, code named Operation Sea Lion. The RAF (Royal Air Force) fought back against overwhelming odds and prevented the Luftwaffe from achieving their objective. Instead of invading Britain, Hilter changed tactics and chose to invade the Soviet Union instead.

War in North Africa

War in North Africa

British Tank Officers in North Africa 1941

The North African Campaign of the Second World War was a series of campaigns fought in Libya and Egypt from 1940 to 1943, culminating at the Battle of El Alamein where the British under General Montgomery decisively defeated German forces and set the stage for Allied supremecy in North Africa as well as creating a jumping off point for the later Allied invasion of Italy.

Operation Barbarossa

Operation Barbarossa

German Tank Units in Russia July 1941

The German invasion of the Soviet Union launched on June 22 1941 was code named Operation Barbarossa. The German invasion of the east marked the begininng of the Holocaust as the Nazis began organizing the extermination of Jews in the conquered territories. The Germans hoped to capture Moscow and subdue Russia before winter set in but failed to do so.

Battle of Moscow

Battle of Moscow

Soviet Poster (Words say: "Defend our beloved Moscow!")

The Battle of Moscow was the German attempt to conquer the capital of the Soviet Union from October 1941 to January 1942.  The Germans were unable to capture Moscow before winter set in and when the temperature dropped the unprepared German army (which had expected to finish their campaign long before wintertime) was unable to recover.

 

Siege of Leningrad

Siege of Leningrad

Anti-Aircraft Guns Guarding Leningrad

Inside Russia, the Germans had the capture of three main cities as their objective; those cities were Moscow, Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg), and Stalingrad. They failed to capture any of them. With Leningrad, the Germans failed to swiftly capture the city and instead decided to beseige it; starting in September 1941 and ending in January 1944, the city was subject to blockade. Lasting for 900 days, the seige was one of the longest in history.

Battle of Stalingrad

Battle of Stalingrad

Soviet Soldiers in Stalingrad 1942

On the eastern front, the Battle of Stalingrad was the single most important battle of the war. After their loss at Stalingrad, the Germans lost momentum and went on a long retreat that would not stop until the end of the war. Fought from August 1942 to February 1943 in the city of Stalingrad (now called Volgograd), the battle was one of the bloodiest in history. Much of the fighting was in close quarters; sometimes soldiers from opposing sides would be only a room or a floor apart from each other.

D-Day 1944

D-Day 1944

D-Day Invasion 1944 by Robert Capa

On June 6 1944 the Allies opened up a second front as agreed at the Teheran Conference by invading Northern France. D-Day was the largest sea invasion in history and was key to the liberation of France and the conquest of Germany.

Battle of the Bulge

Battle of the Bulge

American Infantrymen of the 290th Regiment in Belgium 1944

The Battle of the Bulge was the last ditch German attempt to achieve victory on the western front. The surprise attack caught Allied forces by surprise but over the course of the battle (December 1944 to January 1945) the German offensive was destroyed. Officially the battle was known as the Ardennes Offensive because it was happening in the Ardennes region of Belgium but newspapers nicknamed it "Battle of the Bulge" because of the bulge created in the Allied lines on wartime maps.

Fall of Berlin

Fall of Berlin

Soviet Soldiers Raise Flag over Reichstag by Yebgeny Khaldei 1945

From January until the end of the war was declared in May 1945, the Soviet Union launched the last major offensive of the war with the objective of capturing Berlin. The actual battle in Berlin itself for control of the city was fought from April 20th when the city was encircled until May 2nd when it fell.

Hitler Dead

Hitler Dead

Stars and Stripes May 2 1945

On April 30 1945 Adolph Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun committed suicide.

Germany Surrenders

Germany Surrenders

"Don't shoot, comrades! We surrender!"

Between Hitler's suicide on April 30 and the end of the first week of May, German armies in a variety of locations began surrendering. On May 7th Alfred Jodl, the Chief of Staff of the German Army signed an unconditional surrender document for the Allies. On May 8th Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signed a similar document surrending to Soviet forces in Berlin under the command of General Zhukov. The war in Europe was now over.

V-E Day 1945

V-E Day 1945

V-E Day (or Victory in Europe) Day May 8th 1945 Spontaneous Celebration in Times Square

 

The Second World War in Europe (V-E Day) officially ended on May 8th. In the Soviet Union, because of the difference in time, it was already May 9th which is why Russia still celebrates May 9th as Victory Day instead of May 8th.

Dunkirk

Dunkirk

British Troops retreat from Dunkirk 1940

The Battle of Dunkirk, also refered to as the Dunkirk Miracle, took place from May 26 to June 4th 1940 with the evacuation of British and allied forces from Europe. The Germany army haulted operations for three days during which the British organized an evacuation of personnel. 330,000 troops were rescued but there was a huge loss of military equipment which had to be left behind, enought to equip eight to ten divisions.

Enigma Code Broken

Enigma Code Broken

Enigma Machine

Enigma was a enciphering language developed in the 1920s and heavily used by Germany before and during World War Two. During the war the British cracked the Enigma code and were able to gain a vast amount of intelligence which helped them in the war effort.

Allied Powers

Allied Powers

The Allied Powers in World War Two were in 1939 Britain (and the British Commonwealth), France, and Poland. In 1940 after the collapse of Poland and Fall of France, Britain stood alone for an entire year. In 1941 the United States entered the war on the Allied side following Pearl Harbor while the Soviet Union joined after Germany invaded them. China officially joined the Allies in 1941.

The Battle of El Alamein

The Battle of El Alamein

Infantry Advance at El Alamein 1942

The Second Battle of El Alamein was a battle in Egypt in 1942 where British forces under Gerneral Montogomery stopped and drove back German forces under Erwin Rommel. It was the closest the Germans ever got to the Suez Canal and their defeat eventually led to the loss of all of North Africa.

Invasion of Italy

Invasion of Italy

US Army Liberation of Rome June 4 1944

In 1943 Anglo-American forces launched off from North Africa and began the Allied invasion of Italy, starting with the successful invasion of Sicily in July. That same month Mussolini was overthrown but this did not end the conflict in the region. On September the whole of southern Italy was in Allied Hands. The German line running through central Italy known as the Winter or Gustav Line would take more than a year for the Allied forces to overcome. The famous battles of the Italian campaign including Monte Cassino and Anzio leading to the liberation of Rome were part of the offensive to overcome the Gustav Line. When the war ended most of the "boot" of Italy was in Allied hands but large parts of northern continental Italy were still under German control.

Siege of Bastogne

Siege of Bastogne

General McAuliffe at Bastogne 1944

During the Battle of the Bulge, one of the notable engagements was the Siege of Bastogne in December 1944. The US army trapped in the city refused to surrender and fought bravely against the Germans while being outnumbered. When asked to surrender by the Germans, the commander of the 101st Airborne division, General Anthony McAuliffe replied "NUTS!".

Allied War Conferences

Allied War Conferences

Churchill Roosevelt and Stalin at Teheran Conference 1943

During the war there were several conferences between Allied leadership where they met in person to decide on issues such as strategy and post-war goals. The three major conferences were Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdamn.

At Teheran in 1943 the Allies agreed to open a second front in France, which ultimately became the D-Day invasion.

At Yalta in 1944 the allies agreed that German surrender must be unconditional, Germany would be split among the Allies after the war as well as be demilitarized, the borders of Poland would be changed, Nazi war criminals would be tried, and the Soviets would enter the war against Japan as soon as hostilities with Germany concluded.

At Potsdamn in 1945 the Allies agreed to revise German borders, expel all Germans living in Eastern Europe to Germany, the unconditional surrender of Japan followed by new borders, Allied occupation of the country and demilitarization.

President Roosevelt and Truman

President Roosevelt and Truman

Harry Truman and FDR 1945

When running for his fourth term in 1944 FDR chose Harry Truman as his Vice-Presidental running mate. When Roosevelt died on April 2 1945, Truman became President. While FDR and Truman did not have a close working relationship and many were concerned that he would be up to the job, Truman promptly stepped in and helped to shape the end of the war and the post-war world. Truman would be responsible for the atomic bombing of Japan, birthing the Marshall Plan, sending in the Berlin Airlift, fighting the Korean war, recognizing the state of Israel, and shaping American policy in the Cold War.

What is the Holocaust?

What is the Holocaust?

The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews(including one and half million children) by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. It is the sum total of all anti-Jewish actions carried out by the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945: from stripping the German Jews of their legal and economic status in the 1930s`; segregating and starvation in the various occupied countries; the murder of close to six million Jews in Europe. Acts of oppression and murder of various ethnic and political groups such as the Roma (Gypsies), Slavs (Russians and other Eastern European nations) and the disabled in Europe by the Nazis is also a part of the Holocaust.

The biblical word Shoah (which has been used to mean “destruction” since the Middle Ages) became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of European Jewry as early as the early 1940s. The word Holocaust, which came into use in the 1950s as the corresponding term, originally meant a sacrifice burnt entirely on the altar. The selection of these two words with religious origins reflects recognition of the unprecedented nature and magnitude of the events. Many understand Holocaust as a general term for the crimes and horrors perpetrated by the Nazis.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Introduction to the Holocaust

Yad Vashem The Holocaust Definition and Preliminary Discussion

Click HERE to visit our Holocaust Libguide

V1 and V2 Rockets

V1 and V2 Rockets

V-2 Rocket

First Used in September 1944, mainly on London and Antwerp, the V-2 rocket (V for Vergeltungswaffe or Retribution) was the first ballistic missle.