September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945
World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war lasting from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world’s countries—including all the great powers—forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis.
The chief Allied powers were Great Britain, France (except during the German occupation, 1940–44), the Soviet Union (after its entry in June 1941), the United States (after its entry on December 8, 1941), and China.
The three principal partners in the Axis alliance were Germany, Italy, and Japan. These three countries recognized German domination over most of continental Europe; Italian domination over the Mediterranean Sea; and Japanese domination over East Asia and the Pacific.
The Start of World War II in Europe
Lead by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, over one million German troops invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Just two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany—and the world was once again at war.
World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. An estimated total of 70–85 million people perished, about 3% of the 1940 world population (est. 2.3 billion).
The End of World War II in Europe
REIMS, France — World War II ended in a French schoolhouse 75 years ago on May 7, 1945 when German commanders signed their surrender to Allied forces.
Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Western Allies and the Soviet Union at 2:41 a.m. French time. It took place in the headquarters of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and was signed for Germany by Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, new Chief of Staff of the German Army. The surrender was signed for the Supreme Allied Command by Lt. Gen. Walter Beddel Smith, Chief of Staff for Gen. Eisenhower. Also participants in the signings were Gen. Ivan Susloparov of the Soviet Union and Gen. Francois Sevez for France.
Gen. Eisenhower was not present at the signing, but immediately afterward Gen. Jodl and his fellow delegate Gen. Adm. Hans Georg Friedeburg were received by the supreme commander. Asked sternly if they understood the surrender terms imposed upon Germany, and whether they intended to carry them out, their response was confirmed. Elation at the news was tempered by the realization that the war against Japan remained unresolved.
The end of the European warfare, the greatest, bloodiest, and costliest war in human history — claiming at least 40 million casualties on both sides of killed, wounded and captured — resulted after five years, eight months and six days of conflict which circled the globe.
Japan Surrenders – 2 Sept 1945
Although the unconditional surrender of Imperial Japan to the Allies was announced on August 15, 1945, the hostilities of World War II ended with the formal signing aboard the USS Missouri on September 2nd which effectively ended World War II.
With the jubilation of V-E Day and Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, followed by Japan’s on August 15th and the formal Instrument of Surrender on September 2nd, the United States and its Allies celebrated the end of World War II.
Since the European Axis Powers had surrendered three months earlier (V-E Day) on May 8, 1945, V-J Day was the effective end of World War II, although a peace treaty between Japan and most of the Allies was not signed until 1952 and between Japan and the Soviet Union in 1956.
Following news of the Japanese acceptance and before Truman’s announcement, Americans began celebrating “as if joy had been rationed and saved for the three years, eight months and seven days since Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941’s attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.”
The largest crowd in the history of New York City’s Times Square gathered to celebrate. The victory itself was announced by a headline on the “zipper” news ticker at One Times Square, which read “OFFICIAL *** TRUMAN ANNOUNCES JAPANESE SURRENDER. ***” The six asterisks represented the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. In the Garment District, workers threw out cloth scraps and ticker tape, leaving a pile five inches deep on the streets. The news of the war’s end sparked a “coast-to-coast frenzy.”
The Voices of our Heroes
In considering the sacrifice and endurance of our military forces during WWII, we continue to remember their extraordinary service, as exemplified by a few for the many. These veterans are no longer with us but their “Voices From the Front Lines” continue.
Japanese POW Fiske Hanley II endured his harrowing 5 months of brutal captivity and torture as a special prisoner before his release on August 29, 1945. Hanley described the most beautiful sight of the war was that of American planes flying overhead in mass in coming to his rescue.
Honolulu, Hawaii and Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, James Hardwick was there, survived, and earned 5 Battle Stars. He would later witness General MacArthur’s “I Shall Return Speech” while serving in the Philippines as the Japanese invaded.
Santiago Diaz, a Mexican immigrant, joined the US Army as a Medic. As one of the most targeted military personnel by the Japanese, he requested and served in this dangerous position. During one of the bloodiest battles in the jungles of Guadalcanal, Santiago earned his greatest wish and became a US Citizen.
James Reid, 4th Marine Division, served on Saipan in the battle between the Japanese and Americans for strategic possession. While there, Reid would coax Japanese women and children not to commit suicide by jumping off a ridge. Suffering a head wound from a Japanese soldier, Reid was sent to Maui to recover, and later served on Iwo Jima.
Those who survived the battle of Iwo Jima and its immense casualties, were training at Hilo, Hawaii for the Invasion of Japan. Don Graves, of the Marines 5th Division, was attending an event August 15, 1945, when at 9:00 p.m. six photographers burst into the room, yelling “the war is over!”
Graves recalled, “is this true? We could not believe it. We returned to our bunks; there was not a dry eye! The long war was behind us. We immediately stopped training for invasion and were to be the first troops to occupy Japan.