18.2 Axis Powers Advance

World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945. It pitted the Axis powers against the Allies, which eventually included Britain, France, the Soviet Union, China, the United States, and 43 other nations. Unlike World War I, with its defensive trenches, the new global conflict was a war of aggressive movement. In the early years, things went badly for the Allies as Axis forces swept across Europe, North Africa, and Asia.

Photo of a group of soldiers looking on a caravan of transport trucks smoking or on fire.

On June 22, 1941, under the code name Operation Barbarossa, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. It was the largest German military operation of World War II. German authorities planned to annihilate the Communist nation.


  • Trace the course of German aggression and British resistance in Europe.
  • Describe the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.
  • Explain how Japanese imperialism and the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war.

Key Terms

  • blitzkrieg
  • Luftwaffe
  • Dunkirk
  • Vichy
  • Erwin Rommel
  • Erwin Rommel (1891–1944) was a career military officer and one of Hitler's most successful generals. He took his own life after a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler.
  • Lend-Lease Act
  • Atlantic Charter
  • Hideki Tojo

Axis Domination of Europe

Germany's “Lightning War”

The Nazi invasion of Poland revealed the power of Hitler's blitzkrieg, or “lightning war.” The blitzkrieg used tank and air power technology to strike a devastating blow against the enemy.

First, the Luftwaffe, or German air force, bombed airfields, factories, towns, and cities. Screaming dive bombers attacked troops and civilians. Then fast-moving tanks and troop transports pushed their way into the defending Polish army, encircling whole divisions and forcing them to surrender.

As Germany attacked from the west, Stalin's forces invaded from the east, grabbing lands promised to them under the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Within a month, Poland ceased to exist as an independent nation. Because of Poland's location and the speed of the attacks, Britain and France could do nothing beyond declaring war on Germany.

Hitler passed the winter without much further action. Stalin's armies, however, forced the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to host bases for the Soviet military. Soviet forces also seized part of Finland, which put up stiff but unsuccessful resistance.

In April 1940, Hitler launched a blitzkrieg against Norway and Denmark, both of which soon fell. Next, his forces slammed into the Netherlands and Belgium.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments