World War II in Europe began when Hitler's Nazi Germany attacked Poland. Germany had allies such as Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. These European countries were part of the Axis Powers.
The countries that fought against Germany and the Axis Powers in Europe were called the Allied Powers. The main Allied Powers in Europe were Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France. Later the United States would help in defeating Hitler.
British Tank fighting in Europe
Source: U.S. Army Center of Military History
Leading up to War
When Germany lost World War I they were forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty not only took land from Germany, but required that they pay huge amounts of money in reparations to countries they had fought. As a result, the German economy did very poorly. The citizens of Germany were not only humiliated that they had lost World War I, but they were also poor and struggling. It was during this time that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came into power. Hitler promised he would bring Germany back to power.
Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Soon he had made himself dictator. Hitler said the country needed more land or "living space". First Hitler took over the country of Austria. Next, he took part of Czechoslovakia. The other European countries didn't want war, so they didn't do anything. Finally, when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the other countries knew he would not stop. France and Great Britain declared war on Germany and World War II had begun.
German Troops Invade Poland
Source: National Archives
Prior to invading Poland, Germany had made a deal with the Soviet Union. After Poland was defeated, the country was divided up between Germany and the Soviet Union. Even though France and Great Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, there wasn't a lot of fighting at first.
It was in April of 1940 when Germany went on the attack again. On April 9, 1940 Germany invaded Norway and Denmark. Soon after that, they invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. On June 22, 1940 Germany signed an agreement that gave them control of the Northern half of France.
Up until this point in the war, the Soviet Union had been allied with Germany. However, on June 22, 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Now the Soviet Union was on the side of the Allies.
The United States Enters the War
The United States had stayed neutral during the war. They tried to help out the Allies, but did not want to enter the fighting. However, on December 7, 1941 Japan attacked the US at Pearl Harbor. The US became a major power within the Allies Alliance.
By 1941 Germany had control over much of mainland Europe. They had tried to take over Great Britain in 1940 with the Battle of Britain, but failed. Germany's army was stretched thin and was fighting on three fronts:
Eastern or Russian Front
Mediterranean Front and Africa
Western Front (France and Great Britain)
Celebration when Paris was liberated from Germany Photo by Jack Downey
The Allies Start to Fight Back
In 1942 and 1943 the Allies began to fight back. The British Air Force began to bomb Germany, taking the war to German soil. The Allies also took control of northern Africa and then launched an attack on Italy forcing southern Italy to surrender. At the same time, the Russians defeated the German army on the Eastern Front and started to push them back towards Germany.
End of World War II in Europe
On June 6, 1944 the Allies attacked the Germans on the Western Front. This day is often called D-Day or the Invasion of Normandy. The Allies defeated the Germans and pushed them out of France. Germany then counterattacked and a great battle, called the Battle of the Bulge, was fought. Hundreds of thousands of US troops held the Germans back and the German army was finally defeated.
On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered to the Western Allies. The next day the Allies celebrated victory. May 8th is called V-E day or "Victory in Europe" day.
After World War II, Germany was split in half; the western half was controlled by the Western Allies and the eastern half by the Soviet Union.
Adolf Hitler committed suicide in a bunker on April 30, 1945 when he realized that Germany would lose the war.
Around 200,000 US soldiers lost their lives in battle in World War II in Europe.
United States General Dwight D. Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. At one point he was in charge of over 5 million soldiers.
The war in the Eastern Front was called the Great Patriotic War by the people in the Soviet Union.