WW2 Axis powers had enough successes early in the war to make dramatic gains in the European and Pacific theaters of war, but enough failures to doom themselves to ultimate defeat.
Britain’s policy of appeasement had failed to stop Hitler. Hitler invaded Poland on 1st September 1939 and Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. However, there was little fighting for the first six months of the war and this period is known as ‘the phoney war’.
There were two sides in World War Two
- Axis Powers – Germany, Italy, Japan
- Allied Powers – Britain, France, Soviet Union
The years 1939-1942 saw a string of victories for the WW2 Axis Powers:
- September 1939 – Germany invaded and occupied Poland.
- April/May 1940 – Germany invaded and occupied Denmark and Norway.
- 10th May 1940 – Hitler launched a Blitzkrieg against Holland and Belgium. Both countries were occupied.
- 19th May 1940 – British troops were pushed back to the beach at Dunkirk and had to be rescued by British boats.
- 22nd June 1940 – France was occupied by Germany.
- Early 1941 – Germany and Italy attacked and had successes in Yugoslavia, Greece and North Africa.
- 22nd June 1941 – Germany attacked Russia (Operation Barbarossa) and had made some gains.
- 7th December 1941 – Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor destroying ships, planes and radar stations.
- February 1942 – Japan took Singapore from the British.
Ironically it was often these successes that led to actions by the allies that resulted in ultimate failure for the WW2 Axis powers.
The Battle of Britain June 1940
After France was occupied, Britain stood alone against the Axis powers. Hitler decided to launch an invasion of Britain in June 1940.
German bombers flew across the Channel and dropped bombs on London and other large cities.
British RAF (Royal Air Force) planes defeated the German air force and Hitler was forced to call off the invasion.
Operation Barbarossa June 1941
In June 1941, Hitler sent 3 million soldiers and 3,500 tanks into Russia. The Russians were taken by surprise as they had signed a treaty with Germany in 1939.
Many Russian cities fell to Germany but Hitler had not expected the conquest of Russia to last into winter. The German soldiers did not have winter clothing and many froze to death.
By November 1942 the tables were turning and the Russians won their first victory against Germany at the Battle of Stalingrad.
The Battle of Midway June 1942
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USA declared war on Japan. On 11th December 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the USA.
The Japanese won a string of victories over the USA for the next six months. In June 1942 however, the USA defeated the Japanese navy at the Battle of Midway. Following this victory, the US navy was able to push the Japanese back.
El Alamein 23rd October 1942
During the early part of the war the WW2 Axis powers had a number of victories in British controlled North Africa.
The Axis powers wanted to capture the important Suez canal which would give them access to the Middle Eastern oil fields. Montgomery attacked the German-Italian army in North Africa with a massive bombardment followed by an armoured attack. He then proceeded to chase the routed enemy some 1500 miles across the desert.
The Germans did not take the Suez canal or the oil fields. This left their tanks and trucks short of fuel and prevented them from taking North Africa.
This article is part of our larger educational resource on World War Two. For a comprehensive list of World War 2 facts, including the primary actors in the war, causes, a comprehensive timeline, and bibliography, click here.