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A war fought from 1939 to 1945 between the Axis powers — Germany, Italy, and Japan — and the Allies, including France and Britain, and later the Soviet Union and the United States. The war began when the Germans, governed by the Nazi party, invaded Poland in September 1939 (see invasion of Poland). Germany then conquered France, using blitzkrieg tactics, and forced a desperate British withdrawal at Dunkirk. The Germans tried to wear down the British by heavy bombing, but the British withstood the attacks (see Battle of Britain). The Soviet Union signed a treaty with Adolf Hitler but entered the war on the side of the Allies after Germany invaded Russia in 1941. The United States was drawn into the war in 1941, when the Japanese suddenly attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. Japan made extensive conquests in east Asia but was checked by American victories at the Battle of Midway Island and elsewhere. The German invasion of Russia was halted at the Battle of Stalingrad. Allied forces took much of Italy in 1943, forcing its surrender. Beginning with the invasion of Normandy in 1944 (see D-Day), the Allies liberated France from German occupation and pressed on in Europe, defeating the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge and elsewhere. Germany surrendered in May 1945 (see V-E Day). The war in the Pacific ended in September 1945 (see V-J Day), after the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the aftermath of World War II, more constructive and less punitive measures were applied to the defeated countries than after World War I (see Marshall Plan, Nuremberg trials, and United Nations).
Note: The political leaders of the war included Winston Churchill of Britain, Adolf Hitler of Germany, Benito Mussolini of Italy, Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States, and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union. The military leaders included Charles De Gaulle of France; Bernard Montgomery of Britain; Hermann Goering and Erwin Rommel of Germany; Tito of Yugoslavia; and Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, William Halsey, Douglas MacArthur, Chester Nimitz, and George Patton of the United States.