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World War II (WWII or WW2), also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. In a state of total war, directly involving more than 100 million personnel from more than 30 countries, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, resulting in 70 to 85 million fatalities, with more civilians than military personnel killed. Tens of millions of people died due to genocides (including the Holocaust), premeditated death from starvation, massacres, and disease. Aircraft played a major role in the conflict, including in strategic bombing of population centres, the development of nuclear weapons, and the only two uses of such in war.

World War II is generally considered to have begun on 1 September 1939, with the invasion of Poland by Germany and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by the United Kingdom and France on the 3rd. From late 1939 to early 1941, in a series of campaigns and treaties, Germany conquered or controlled much of continental Europe, and formed the Axis alliance with Italy and Japan, along with other countries later on. Under the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union partitioned and annexed territories of their European neighbours: Poland, Finland, Romania and the Baltic states. 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 the British Empire, with war in the Balkans, the aerial Battle of Britain, the Blitz, and the Battle of the Atlantic. On 22 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 and trapping the Axis, crucially the German Wehrmacht, in a war of attrition.

Japan, which aimed to dominate Asia and the Pacific, was at war with the Republic of China by 1937. In December 1941, Japan attacked American and British territories with near-simultaneous offensives against Southeast Asia and the Central Pacific including an attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor. Following a US declaration of war against Japan, which followed one from the UK, the European Axis powers declared war on the United States in solidarity with their ally. Japan soon captured much of the Western Pacific, but its advances were halted in 1942 after losing the critical Battle of Midway; later, Germany and Italy were defeated in North Africa and at Stalingrad in the Soviet Union. Key setbacks in 1943—including a series of German defeats on the Eastern Front, the Allied invasions of Sicily and the Italian mainland, and Allied offensives in the Pacific—cost the Axis its initiative and forced it into strategic retreat on all fronts. In 1944, the Western Allies invaded German-occupied France, while the Soviet Union regained its territorial losses and turned towards Germany and its allies. During 1944 and 1945, Japan suffered reversals in mainland Asia, while the Allies crippled the Japanese Navy and captured key Western Pacific islands.

The war in Europe concluded with the liberation of German-occupied territories, and the invasion of Germany by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union, culminating in the fall of Berlin to Soviet troops, the suicide of Adolf Hitler and the German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945. Following the Potsdam Declaration by the Allies on 26 July 1945 and the refusal of Japan to surrender on its terms, the United States dropped the first atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima, on 6 August 1945, and Nagasaki, on 9 August. Faced with an imminent invasion of the Japanese archipelago, the possibility of additional atomic bombings, and the Soviet entry into the war against Japan and its invasion of Manchuria on 9 August, Japan announced its intention to surrender on 15 August 1945, cementing total victory in Asia for the Allies. In the wake of the war, Germany and Japan were occupied, and war crimes tribunals were conducted against German and Japanese leaders. Despite their well documented war crimes, mainly perpetrated in Greece and Yugoslavia, Italian leaders and generals were often pardoned, thanks to diplomatic activities.

World War II changed the political alignment and social structure of the globe. The United Nations (UN) was established to foster international co-operation and prevent future conflicts, and the victorious great powers—China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States—became the permanent members of its Security Council. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the nearly half-century-long Cold War. In the wake of European devastation, the influence of its great powers waned, triggering the decolonisation of Africa and Asia. Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved towards economic recovery and expansion. Political integration, especially in Europe, began as an effort to forestall future hostilities, end pre-war enmities and forge a sense of common identity.

World War II Media

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A new jointly-used Armed Forces Reserve Center in Great

A new jointly-used Armed Forces Reserve Center in Great

A new jointly-used Armed Forces Reserve Center in Great Falls, Montana is now named the Capt. John E. Moran and Capt. William W. Galt Armed Forces Reserve Center. Soldiers in the U.S. Army Reserve’s 364th Sust... More

Photograph of the Conference on Research on the Second World War

Photograph of the Conference on Research on the Second World War

This is a photograph from the Conference on Research on the Second World War. Pictured from left to right are: Dr. Robert W. Krauskopf (Conference Co-Director) (Ret.) Gen. J. Lawton Collins, Miss Barbara Tuchma... More

Photograph of Extraordinary Congress of the International Council on Archives

Photograph of Extraordinary Congress of the International Council on A...

This is a photograph from the first session of the International Council on Archives. Dr. Etienne Sabbe of Belgium is speaking. Historic Photograph File of National Archives Events and Personnel

Radio Direction Finder Station

Radio Direction Finder Station

This photograph depicts the Radio Direction Finder Station in North Truro, Massachusetts. Administrative History of the First Naval District in World War II

Untitled

Untitled

Berryman Political Cartoon Collection

In celebration of the 228th Marine Corps Birthday, a US Marine Corps (USMC) Marine wears a World War II (WWII) era uniform as part of the historical period uniform pageant, held aboard Marine Corps Base (MCB) Quantico

In celebration of the 228th Marine Corps Birthday, a US Marine Corps (...

The original finding aid described this photograph as: Base: Marine Corps Base, Quantico State: Virginia (VA) Country: United States Of America (USA) Scene Camera Operator: CPL Christopher M. Tirado, USMC ... More

World War II (WWII) area photograph of US Marine Corps (USMC) First Lieutenant (1LT) Edward O. Shaw, taken at Guadalcanal, 1943. 1LT Shaw is an ace pilot and is credited with 13 kills

World War II (WWII) area photograph of US Marine Corps (USMC) First Li...

The original finding aid described this photograph as: State: Guadalcanal Country: Solomon Islands (SLB) Scene Camera Operator: Unknown Release Status: Released to Public Combined Military Service Digital P... More

Female Worker, Watertown Arsenal

Female Worker, Watertown Arsenal

This photograph depicts a female worker at her job at the Watertown Arsenal during the World War II era. Photographs

Photograph of the USS California after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor

Photograph of the USS California after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Ha...

Original caption: The USS California (BB44) after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7 1941. Abandoning ship. General Photographic File of the Department of Navy

Photograph of the USS Shaw in Floating Drydock after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor

Photograph of the USS Shaw in Floating Drydock after the Japanese Atta...

Original caption: The USS Shaw (DD373) in floating drydock after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7 1941. General Photographic File of the Department of Navy

Photograph of Planes and Hangars Wrecked in the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor

Photograph of Planes and Hangars Wrecked in the Japanese Attack on Pea...

Original caption: Planes and hangars wrecked in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7 1941. NAS Pearl Harbor. General Photographic File of the Department of Navy

Photograph of Gun Crews during the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor

Photograph of Gun Crews during the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor

Original caption: Gun crews during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7 1941. Marines and soldiers fire on raiding Japanese planes. General Photographic File of the Department of Navy

Photograph of Pearl Harbor

Photograph of Pearl Harbor

Original caption: Pearl Harbor, HI. Thick smoke rolls out of a burning ship during the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. December 7, 1941. Col... More

Aircraft at Hickam Field, Hawaii (HI) continue to burn and explode, in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and other military installations

Aircraft at Hickam Field, Hawaii (HI) continue to burn and explode, in...

The original finding aid described this photograph as: Base: Hickam Field State: Hawaii (HI) Country: United States Of America (USA) Scene Camera Operator: Unknown Release Status: Released to Public Combin... More

Photograph of the Capsized USS Utah and the USS Raleigh in the Background after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor

Photograph of the Capsized USS Utah and the USS Raleigh in the Backgro...

Original caption: The capsized USS Utah (AG16), and the USS Raleigh (CL7) in the background after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7 1941. General Photographic File of t... More

Photograph of Japanese Planes in Action Over Pearl Harbor

Photograph of Japanese Planes in Action Over Pearl Harbor

Original caption: Japanese planes in action over Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7 1941. The USS Narwhal (SS167) in foreground was not hit. General Photographic File of the D... More

Photograph of the USS Arizona after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor

Photograph of the USS Arizona after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbo...

Original caption: The USS Arizona (BB39) after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7 1941. General Photographic File of the Department of Navy

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The objects in this collection are from The U.S. National Archives and Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was established in 1934 by President Franklin Roosevelt. NARA keeps those Federal records that are judged to have continuing value—about 2 to 5 percent of those generated in any given year. There are approximately 10 billion pages of textual records; 12 million maps, charts, and architectural and engineering drawings; 25 million still photographs and graphics; 24 million aerial photographs; 300,000 reels of motion picture film; 400,000 video and sound recordings; and 133 terabytes of electronic data. The Defense Visual Information Distribution Service provides a connection between world media and the American military personnel serving at home and abroad. All of these materials are preserved because they are important to the workings of Government, have long-term research worth, or provide information of value to citizens.

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