Even though Japan had been fighting in China since 1937, most historians say that the war began on September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Within two days Britain and France declared war on Germany, although the only European battles remained in Poland. Germany was not alone. Pursuant to a then secret provision of its non-aggression Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the Soviet Union, Germany was joined in the battle to conquer Poland and to divide Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union on September 17, 1939. The Allies were initially made up of Poland, the British Empire, France, and others. In May, 1940 Germany invaded western Europe. Six weeks later, France surrendered to Germany. Three months after that, Germany, Italy, and Japan signed a mutual defense agreement, the Tripartite Pact, and were known as the Axis Powers. Then, nine months later, in June 1941, while still battling Britain, Germany betrayed and invaded its partner, the Soviet Union, forcing the Soviets into the Allied camp (although they still abided by their non-aggression treaty with Japan). In December 1941, Japan attacked the United States bringing it too into the war on the Allied side. China also joined the Allies, as eventually did most of the rest of the world. By the beginning of 1942, the major combatants were aligned as follows: the British Commonwealth, the United States, and the Soviet Union were fighting Germany and Italy; and the British Commonwealth, China, and the United States were fighting Japan. From then through August 1945, battles raged across all of Europe, in the North Atlantic Ocean, across North Africa, throughout Southeast Asia, throughout China, across the Pacific Ocean and, by air, in Japan.
Italy surrendered in September 1943, Germany in May 1945. The surrender of Japan marked the end of the... [continues]
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