World War II, 1935-45, was an armed conflict involving nearly all nations of the world in fighting that extended over a great many parts of the world. The opposing forces were known as the Axis on one side and the Allies on the other. The main Axis powers were Germany, Japan, and, until 1943, Italy. The Allies included Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France, and Canada.
World War II was the most widespread and deadly war in history. It was a total war, raining as much destruction on civilians as on armed forces (Remak, 45-49). It involved brutalities on a scale never before known. One of these was the attempt by Germany to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe.
Unlike World War I, World War II was fast-moving and mobile. There were periods of stalemate, especially in Italy, but none that compared with the lengthy periods of stalled trench warfare in World War I.
The tank and the airplane had been introduced during the World War I, but their use was more widespread and effective in World War II. The aircraft carrier emerged as the most important surface warship, and the submarine caused great damage, as it had in the earlier conflict (Cave Brown, 101-118).
New military developments of World War II included the use of parachute troops, radar, sonar, and suicide airplanes. The most destructive weapon ever developed—the atomic—was used in the closing days of the war (Liddel, 2001).
Women played a far greater part in World War II than in any previous conflict. They served in the armed forces as nurses, technicians, and clerks, and also look the place of men in factories and on farms. Some fought alongside men as guerrillas.
This study scrutinizes the condition of America in World War II from 1943-1945.
A. Attitude of the U.S. Before Pearl Harbor
Public opinion in the United States was divided. Although most Americans favored the Allied cause, there was strong opposition to even indirect involvement in the war. The German-American Bund and the American First movement were especially active in opposing aid to the Allies. The American Communists also opposed aid—until Germany attacked the Soviet Union; then they demanded immediate intervention (Lash, 78-82).
Government Actions. Despite opposition, the government supported the Allies from the very beginning. At the start of the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated the interest of the United States in the defeat of Hitler. On September 8, 1939, he proclaimed a state of limited emergency. On October 2, the Congress of American Republics, representing 21 nations in the Western Hemisphere, proclaimed a 300-mile (480-km) neutral zone (Bailey, 45-57).
Military and Naval Actions. Early in the war the U.S. Navy established a neutrality patrol to protect the passage of merchant ships within the 300-mile neutral zone. An agreement was reached with Denmark in April, 1941, under which the United States established bases on Greenland. On July 7, 1941, United States forces replaced British forces on Iceland (also Danish). Meanwhile, the first peacetime conscription (draft) in United States history had begun in 1940 (Dupuy, 66-83).
B. The United States in the war
Japan’s carrier-planer attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941, brought the United States into the war. War was formally declared by Congress on the following day, and declarations of war between the United States and Germany and Italy were exchanged on December 11.
Because of peacetime conscription, the United States had a million trained men under arms when the war began. Eventually an army of 11, 260,000 was raised, including men in the Air Forces. The navy raised 4,183,000 men, the Marines 669,000.
A naval expansion program had been adopted in July, 1940, and construction of new ships was pushed vigorously. By 1945, the U.S. Navy had become the largest naval force ever afloat, with 10, 562 ships, including 1, 258 warships.
While the United States had built many planes for the Allies, the Army Air Corps was still weak in 1941. In 1945, it had 69, 000 planes. During the war, the United States devoted virtually all of its material resources to the war effort. When the war began, however, the United States was ill equipped (Shapiro, 68-75).
A. The war with Japan
Pearl harbor. Eight of the 15 battleships of U.S. Navy were at Pearl Harbor when Japanese carriers launched their planes on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. The attack came as a surprise. The greatest loss was to the fleet of battleships. The Arizona was destroyed and the Oklahoma capsized. The West Virginia and California were sunk in shallow water and the Nevada was beached. Three cruisers and three destroyers were damaged. The fleet’s carriers, by a stroke of good fortune, were at sea and escaped the attack (Taylor, 121-126).
The Pearl Harbor attack put the United States Pacific fleet temporarily our of action—most of the ships were eventually refloated and repaired—allowing Japan to proceed with its conquests with comparative ease. But Pearl Harbor also had a harmful effect on Japan—it instantly united the American people behind the war effort, dashing all Japanese hopes for a negotiated peace.
Investigations of the Pearl Harbor disaster showed that the United States government was aware of the possibility of a Japanese attack, but had not considered Hawaii a probable target and had not definitely warned the command there. A radar warning on the spot was ignored (Morison, 162-167).
The Japanese made simultaneous attacks at many other points. Guam fell on December 10. Wake Island, heroically defended by its marine garrison, was taken on December 23.
B. Final Campaigns in the Pacific, 1944-1945
By the middle of 1944, the two American thrusts across the pacific were beginning to converge on Japan, whose main cities were now being continuously bombed. The immediate objective was the Marianas group of islands, including Saipan, Guam, and Tinian. The attack on Saipan was opened on June 15 by Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith’s Fifth Amphibious Corps, made up of two marine divisions and an Army division. After intense fighting, Smith completed capture of the island by July 9 (Graff, 123-126).
Battle of the Philippine Sea. The Saipan landing was supported by the Fifth Fleet, commanded by Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. Its principal group of ships, Task Force 58 under Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, had 15 carriers and could put nearly 900 combat planes in the air. The task force also had 7 battleships, 21 cruisers, and 69 destroyers.
On June 14, a Japanese fleet of 9 carriers, 5 battleships, 13 cruisers, and 28 destroyers, under Admiral Toyoda Soemu, was reported entering the Philippine Sea. On June 19, while the fleets were 300 miles (480 km) apart, Japanese planes attacked. Virtually American plane in the fleet went into action, and during that day some 340 Japanese planes were shot down with a loss of only 30 American planes—a battle referred to as the “Marianas Turkey Shoot.” An American attack against the Japanese fleet that night was less successful because the planes were sent beyond their range. Two American submarines sank two large Japanese carriers in June 20 (Liddel, 52-56).
In conclusion, the most profound political effects after the World War II were the emergence of the United States and the Soviet Union as the two leading world powers (often referred to as the superpowers), the rise of Communist China, and the division of the world’s nations into three groups—those allied with the United States, those allied with the Soviet Union, and those not committed to either.
Bailey, T.A. (2003). Hitler versus Roosevelt: The Undeclared Naval War, pp. 45-57 (Free Press).
Cave Brown, A. (2001). Bodyguard of Lies, pp.101-118 (Harper & Row).
Dupuy, T.N. (2004). The Military of History of World War II, 8th ed. Pp. 66-83 (19 volumes; Watts, 1962-65).
Graff, Stewart (2003). The Story of World War II, 3rd ed. Pp. 123-126 (Duton, 1998).
Lash, J.P. Roosevelt and Churchill, 1939-1941: The partnership that saved the West, pp. 78-82 (Putnam’s).
Liddel, Hart. (2001). History of the Second World War, 5th ed. Pp. 52-56 (Putnam’s 1999).
Morison, S.E. (2003). The Two-Ocean War: a Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, pp. 162-167 (Little and Brown).
Remak, Joachim (2001). The Origins of the Second World War, pp. 45-49 (Prentice-Hall).
Shapiro, M.J. (2004). Behind Enemy Lines: American Spies and Saboteurs of World War II, pp. 68-75 (Messener).
Taylor, Theodore (2001). Air Raid Pearl Harbor: the Story of December 7, 1941, pp. 121-126 (Crowell).