Casualties in World War II
The most destructive war in all of history, its exact cost in human lives is unknown, but casualties in World War II may have totaled over 60 million service personnel and civilians killed. Nations suffering the highest losses, military and civilian, in descending order, are:
When did World War II begin?
Some say it was simply a continuation of the First World War that had theoretically ended in 1918. Others point to 1931, when Japan seized Manchuria from China. Others to Italy’s invasion and defeat of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935, Adolf Hitler’s re-militarization of Germany’s Rhineland in 1936, the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), and Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938 are sometimes cited. The two dates most often mentioned as “the beginning of World War II” are July 7, 1937, when the “Marco Polo Bridge Incident” led to a prolonged war between Japan and China, and September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, which led Britain and France to declare war on Hitler’s Nazi state in retaliation. From the invasion of Poland until the war ended with Japan’s surrender in September 1945, most nations around the world were engaged in armed combat.
Origins of World War II
No one historic event can be said to have been the origin of World War II. Japan’s unexpected victory over czarist Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) left open the door for Japanese expansion in Asia and the Pacific. The United States U.S. Navy first developed plans in preparation for a naval war with Japan in 1890. War Plan Orange, as it was called, would be updated continually as technology advanced and greatly aided the U.S. during World War II.
Competing ideologies further fanned the flames of international tension. The Bolshevik Revolution in czarist Russia during the First World War, followed by the Russian Civil War, had established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a sprawling communist state. Western republics and capitalists feared the spread of Bolshevism. In some nations, such as Italy, Germany and Romania, ultra-conservative groups rose to power, in part in reaction to communism.
Germany, Italy and Japan signed agreements of mutual support but, unlike the Allied nations they would face, they never developed a comprehensive or coordinated plan.