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World War II altered the political alignment and social structure of the world. The United Nations (UN) was established to foster international co-operation and prevent future conflicts. The great powers that were the victors of the war—the United States, the Soviet Union, China, the United Kingdom, and France—became the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the Cold War, which lasted for the next 46 years. Meanwhile, the influence of European great powers started to decline, while the decolonisation of Asia and Africa began. Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved towards economic recovery. Political integration, especially in Europe, emerged as an effort to stabilise postwar relations and cooperate more effectively in the Cold War.[citation

The start of the war is generally held to be 1 September 1939, beginning with the German invasion of Poland; Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. Other dates for the beginning of war include the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War on 7 July 1937.

Others follow the British historian A. J. P. Taylor, who held that the Sino-Japanese War and war in Europe and its colonies occurred simultaneously and the two wars merged in 1941. This article uses the conventional dating. Other starting dates sometimes used for World War II include the Italian invasion of Abyssinia on 3 October 1935. The British historian Antony Beevor views the beginning of the Second World War as the Battles of Khalkhin Gol fought between Japan and the Mongolia, Soviet Union from May to September 1939.

The exact date of the war's end is also not universally agreed upon. It has been suggested that the war ended at the armistice of 14 August 1945 (V-J Day), rather than the formal surrender of Japan (2 September 1945); in some European histories, it ended on V-E Day (8 May 1945). However, the Treaty of Peace with Japan was not signed until 1951, and that with Germany not until 1990.

Casualties and war crimes

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Estimates for the total casualties of the war vary, because many deaths went unrecorded. Most suggest that some 75 million people died in the war, including about 20 million soldiers and 40 million civilians. Many civilians died because of disease, starvation, massacres, bombing and deliberate genocide. The Soviet Union lost around 27 million people during the war, including 8.7 million military and 19 million civilian deaths. The largest portion of military dead were ethnic Russians (5,756,000), followed by ethnic Ukrainians (1,377,400). One of every four Soviet citizens was killed or wounded in that war. Germany sustained 5.3 million military losses, mostly on the Eastern Front and during the final battles in Germany.

Of the total deaths in World War II, approximately 85 percent—mostly Soviet and Chinese—were on the Allied side and 15 percent on the Axis side. Many of these deaths were caused by war crimes committed by German and Japanese forces in occupied territories. An estimated 11 to 17 million civilians died as a direct or indirect result of Nazi ideological policies, including the systematic genocide of around six million Jews during the Holocaust along with a further five million ethnic Poles and other Slavs, notably Ukrainians and Belarusians, Roma, homosexuals and other ethnic and minority groups.]

Roughly 7.5 million civilians died in China under Japanese occupation. Hundreds of thousands (varying estimates) of ethnic Serbs, along with gypsies and Jews, were murdered by the Axis-aligned Croatian Ustae in Yugoslavia, with retribution-related killings of Croatian civilians just after the war ended.

The best-known Japanese atrocity was the Nanking Massacre, in which several hundred thousand Chinese civilians were raped and murdered. Between 3 million to more than 10 million civilians, mostly Chinese, were killed by the Japanese occupation forces. Mitsuyoshi Himeta reported 2.7 million casualties occurred during the Sank Sakusen. General Yasuji Okamura implemented the policy in Heipei and Shantung.

The Axis forces employed limited biological and chemical weapons. The Imperial Japanese Army used a variety of such weapons during their invasion and occupation of China and in early conflicts against the Soviets. Both the Germans and Japanese tested such weapons against civilians and, in some cases, on prisoners of war.

While many of the Axis's acts were brought to trial in the world's first international tribunals, incidents caused by the Allies were not. Examples of such Allied actions include population transfers in the Soviet Union, Operation Keelhaul, expulsion of Germans after World War II,rape during the occupation of Germany, and the Soviet Union's Katyn massacre, for which Germans faced counter-accusations of responsibility. Large numbers of famine deaths can also be partially attributed to the war, such as the Bengal famine of 1943 and the Vietnamese famine of 1944–45. Brutalised by war and fuelled by racist propaganda, many American soldiers in the Pacific mutilated corpses and kept grisly war trophies.

It has been suggested by some historians, e.g. Jörg Friedrich, that the mass-bombing of civilian areas in enemy territory, including Tokyo and most notably the German cities of Dresden, Hamburg and Cologne by Western Allies, which resulted in the destruction of more than 160 cities and the deaths of more than 600,000 German civilians be considered as war crimes. However, no international law with respect to aerial warfare existed before and during World War II, which was one of the main reasons why Japanese and German officers escaped prosecution for their aerial raids on Shanghai, Chongqing, Warsaw, Rotterdam, and British cities during the Blitz.

THE BLITZ

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The Blitz (from German, "lightning") is the phrase used in English to describe the period of sustained strategic bombing of the United Kingdom by Germany during the Second World War.

Between 7 September 1940 and 21 May 1941 there were major aerial raids (attacks in which more than 100 tonnes of high explosives were dropped) on 16 British cities. Over a period of 267 days (almost 37 weeks), London was attacked 71 times, Birmingham, Liverpool and Plymouth eight times, Bristol six, Glasgow five, Southampton four, Portsmouth three, and there was also at least one large raid on another eight cities. This was a result of a rapid escalation starting on 24 August 1940, when night bombers aiming for RAF airfields drifted off course and accidentally destroyed several London homes, killing civilians, combined with Churchill's immediate response of bombing Berlin.

Starting on 7 September 1940, London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 57 consecutive nights. More than one million London houses were destroyed or damaged, and more than 40,000 civilians were killed, almost half of them in London. Ports and industrial centres outside London were also heavily attacked; the major Atlantic sea port of Liverpool was the most heavily bombed city outside London, suffering nearly 4,000 dead. Other ports including Bristol, Cardiff, Hull, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Southampton, and Swansea were also targeted, as were the industrial cities of Birmingham, Belfast, Coventry, Glasgow and Manchester. Birmingham and Coventry were heavily targeted because of the Spitfire and tank factories in Birmingham and the many munitions factories in Coventry; the city centre of Coventry was almost completely destroyed.

The bombing did not achieve its intended goals of demoralising the British into surrender or significantly damaging their war economy. The eight months of bombing never seriously hampered British production, and the war industries continued to operate and expand. The Blitz did not facilitate Operation Sea Lion, the planned German invasion of Britain. By May 1941 the threat of an invasion of Britain had passed, and Hitler's attention had turned to Operation Barbarossa in the East. In comparison to the Allied bombing campaign against Germany, the Blitz resulted in relatively few casualties; the British bombing of Hamburg in July 1943 alone inflicted about 42,000 civilian casualties.

Several reasons have been suggested for the failure of the German air offensive. The Luftwaffe High Command (Oberkommando der Luftwaffe, or OKL) failed to develop a coherent long-term strategy for destroying Britain's war industries, frequently switching from bombing one type of industry to another without exerting any sustained pressure on any one of them. Neither was the Luftwaffe equipped to carry out a long-term strategic air campaign; it was not armed in depth, and its intelligence on British industry and capabilities was poor. All of these shortcomings denied the Luftwaffe the ability to make a strategic difference.

Very deeply-buried shelters provided the most protection against a direct hit. The government did not build them for large populations before the war because of cost, time to build, and fears that their very safety would cause occupants to refuse to leave "deep shelters" to return to work, or that anti-war sentiment would develop in large groups. The Communist Party's leading role in advocating for building deep shelters was seen by the government, especially after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, as an attempt to damage civilian morale.The most important existing communal shelters were the London Underground stations. Although many civilians had used them as such during the First World War, the government in 1939 refused to allow the stations to be used as shelters so as not to interfere with commuter and troop travel, and the fears that occupants might refuse to leave. Underground officials were ordered to lock station entrances during raids; but by the second week of heavy bombing the government relented and ordered the stations to be opened. Each day orderly lines of people queued until 4 pm, when they were allowed to enter the stations. In mid-September 1940 about 150,000 a night slept in the Underground, although by the winter and spring months the numbers had declined to 100,000 or less. Noises of battle were muffled and sleep was easier in the deepest stations, but many were killed from direct hits on several stations.] Communal shelters never housed more than one seventh of Greater London residents, however. Peak use of the Underground as shelter was 177,000 on 27 September 1940, and a November 1940 census of London found that about 4% of residents used the Tube and other large shelters; 9% in public surface shelters; and 27% in private home shelters, implying that the remaining 60% of the city likely stayed at home. The government distributed Anderson shelters until 1941 and that year began distributing the Morrison shelter, which could be used inside homes.

Public demand caused the government in October 1940 to build new deep shelters within the Underground to hold 80,000 people but were not completed until the period of heaviest bombing had passed. By the end of 1940 significant improvements had been made in the Underground and in many other large shelters. Authorities provided stoves and bathrooms, and canteen trains provided food. Tickets were issued for bunks in large shelters to reduce the amount of time spent queuing. Committees quickly formed within shelters as informal governments, and organizations such as the British Red Cross and the Salvation Army worked to improve conditions. Entertainment included concerts, films, plays, and books from local libraries. Although only a small number of Londoners used the mass shelters, as journalists, celebrities, and foreigners visited they became part of the national debate on societal and class divisions. Most residents found that such divisions continued within the shelters, and many fights and arguments occurred regarding noise, space, or other issues. Contrary to prewar fears of anti-Semitic violence in the East End, one observer found that the "Cockney and the Jew [worked] together,
Although the intensity of the bombing was not as great as prewar expectations so an equal comparison is impossible, no psychiatric crisis occurred because of the Blitz even during the period of greatest bombing of September 1940. An American witness wrote "By every test and measure I am able to apply, these people are staunch to the bone and won't quit ... the British are stronger and in a better position than they were at its beginning". People referred to raids as if they were weather, stating that a day was "very blitzy". However, another American who visited Britain, the publisher Ralph Ingersoll, wrote soon after the Blitz eased on 15 September that:

A majority of responsible British officers who fought through this battle believe that if Hitler and Goering had had the courage and the resources to lose 200 planes a day for the next five days, nothing could have saved London ... What no one will ever know now, thank God, is whether even the English could have taken it for longer than those nine days. Most of the most observant, informed, and intelligent people with whom I talked don't believe they could have. They believe that, at that time, another few days of continuous mass daylight raids and the fires would have been inextinguishable, the streets really impassable, important leaders would have been killed, the population finally shell-shocked into flight or submission.

Ingersoll added that, according to Anna Freud and Edward Glover, London civilians surprisingly did not suffer from widespread shell shock, unlike the soldiers in the Dunkirk evacuation. The psychoanalysts were correct. Although the stress of the war resulted in many anxiety attacks, eating disorders, fatigue, weeping, miscarriages, and other physical and mental ailments, society did not collapse. The number of suicides and drunkenness declined, and London recorded only about two cases of "bomb neuroses" per week in the first three months of bombing. The special network of psychiatric clinics opened to receive mental casualties of the attacks closed due to lack of need. Many civilians found that the best way to retain mental stability was to be with family, and after the first few weeks of bombing avoidance of the evacuation programs grew. Glover speculated that the knowledge that the entire country was being attacked, that there was no way to escape the bombs, forced people to accept and deal with the situation.

The cheerful crowds visiting bomb sites were so large they interfered with rescue work, pub visits increased in number (beer was never rationed), and 13,000 attended cricket at Lord's. People left shelters when told instead of refusing to leave, although many housewives reportedly enjoyed the break from housework. Some people even told government surveyors that they enjoyed air raids if they occurred occasionally, perhaps once a week. Despite the attacks, defeat in Norway and France, and the threat of invasion, overall morale remained high; a Gallup poll found only 3% of Britons expected to lose the war in May 1940, another found an 88% approval rating for Churchill in July, and a third found 89% support for his leadership in October. Support for peace negotiations declined from 29% in February. Each setback caused more civilians to volunteer to become unpaid Local Defence Volunteers, workers worked longer shifts and over weekends, contributions rose to the £5,000 "Spitfire Funds" to build fighters, and the number of work days lost to strikes in 1940 was the lowest in history.

Between 20 June 1940, when the first German air operations began over Britain, and 31 March 1941, the OKL recorded the loss of 2,265 aircraft over the British Isles, a quarter of them fighters and one third bombers. At least 3,363 Luftwaffe airmen were killed, 2,641 missing and 2,117 wounded. Total losses could have been as high as 600 bombers, just 1.5% of the sorties flown. A significant number of aircraft were wrecked during landings, or downed by bad weather.

Although not specifically prepared to conduct independent strategic air operations against an opponent, the Luftwaffe was expected to do so over Britain. From July until September 1940 the Luftwaffe attacked RAF Fighter Command to gain air superiority as a prelude to invasion. This involved the bombing of English Channel convoys, ports, and RAF airfields and supporting industries. Destroying RAF Fighter Command would allow the Germans to gain control of the skies over the invasion area. It was supposed that RAF Bomber Command, RAF Coastal Command, and the Royal Navy could not operate effectively under conditions of German air superiority.[26]

The Luftwaffe's poor intelligence meant that their aircraft were not always able to locate their targets, and thus attacks on factories and airfields failed to achieve the desired results. British fighter aircraft production continued at a rate surpassing Germany's by 2 to 1. The British produced 10,000 aircraft in 1940, in comparison to Germany's 8,000. The replacement of pilots and aircrew was more difficult. Both the RAF and Luftwaffe struggled to replace manpower losses, though the Germans had larger reserves of trained aircrew. The circumstances affected the Germans more than the British. Operating over home territory, British flyers could fly again if they survived being shot down. German crews, even if they survived, faced capture. Moreover, bombers had four to five crewmen on board, representing a greater loss of manpower. On 7 September, the Germans shifted away from the destruction of the RAF's supporting structures. German intelligence suggested Fighter Command was weakening, and an attack on London would force it into a final battle of annihilation while compelling the British Government to surrender.

The decision to change strategy is sometimes claimed as a major mistake by the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL). It is argued that persisting with attacks on RAF airfields might have won air superiority for the Luftwaffe. Others argue that the Luftwaffe made little impression on Fighter Command in the last week of August and first week of September and that the shift in strategy was not decisive. It has also been argued that it was doubtful the Luftwaffe could have won air superiority before the "weather window" began to deteriorate in October. It was also possible, if RAF losses became severe, that they could pull out to the north, wait for the German invasion, then redeploy southward again. Other historians argue that the outcome of the air battle was irrelevant; the massive numerical superiority of British naval forces and the inherent weakness of the Kriegsmarine would have made the projected German invasion, Unternehmen Seelöwe (Operation Sea Lion), a disaster with or without German air superiority