This is the story of the greatest war of world history, of men and encounters that cast huge shadows across time. In this 13-part series we examine the events and personalities that drove World War II. In part one of this series we look at the legacy of Versailles and the League of Nations and their impact on events to come. The Versailles Conference and Treaty supposedly ended World War I; the guarantee of peace was the punishment and weakening of Germany. This humiliation would fuel the fire of one man's ambition to exact revenge - Adolf Hitler. When Hitler came to power in 1933 he did so on a wave of anti-Versailles feeling, assuring the German people that he would destroy the slave treaty of Versailles and once again make Germany a great power. With the impotence of the League of Nations further illustrated by their failure to act against Italy's invasion of Ethiopia and Japan's subsequent war on China, Hitler realised there was nothing to stop his plans for German rearmament and expansion. In 1938 he announced his plans to annexe Austria. With this country now in his pocket the way was clear for Hitler to move on to his next target - Czechoslovakia. As 1938 drew to a close Britain's Prime Minister was talking of appeasement, whilst a lone voice in Parliament, Winston Churchill, was warning the world about the coming dangers of Nazism.
In this episode, we examine the might of the Japanese as they win victory after victory in the Pacific. In this phase of the conflict the Allies endured some of their most significant losses.
Even after the triumph of VE Day, there still remained a war to be fought. The final act of this war was played out in the skies above Japan. A new US President, Harry Truman, took the devastating decision to deploy a new weapon against the forces of Japan. The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the dreams of Imperial Japan were ended at a stroke.
If any of those involved in the war doubted what all the fighting had been for then the last months of conflict would show them. As soldiers entered the territory of the Third Reich conclusive proof of the evils of Nazism was found as the death and concentration camps were uncovered.
By the Spring of 1944 it seemed obvious that the Allies would have to mount an invasion of Western Europe in order to bring about the end of the war. In an elaborate game of double cross the Allied forces managed to convince Germany that this attack would happen at the French port of Calais. In fact the real target lay further to the west, in Normandy.
In this episode, we see how across the world the forces of the Axis were in retreat. In the sands of the desert Rommel had been overwhelmed by the Allies and driven out of Africa. A new legend was born in the shape of Bernard Montgomery.
As the conflict continued, countries in all corners of the globe became deeply entangled in their own theatres of war. In the desert the Afrika Korps seemed certain of their successful capture of Egypt. But yet another change of British commander saw the arrival of a man who created his own desert legend, a legend to match Rommel.
This episode begins in Russia, with Stalin's army fighting to defend Moscow. Hitler believed his enemies beneath contempt as both communists and as Slavic people. He intended to obliterate them; for this conflict the end would only come at the expense of the total destruction of one side or the other.
In this episode, we look at the impact of the Battle of Britain. Hitler's aim was total air supremacy, to negate British Naval power and enable the German army to cross the Channel and invade Britain. But the battle proved to be more complex.
As 1940 drew to a close the conflict was spreading. Disasters were continuing to unfold around the Italian war effort. The invasion of Greece had turned to catastrophe as the Italians were driven back into the hills of Albania. In North Africa the British Army drove the Italians deeper into retreat. These failures had begun to draw Germany further into the south to rescue its Axis comrade. At the same time another front had opened up in North Africa; Erwin Rommel and his North Afrika Korps stepped up to take their place in history.
On May 13, 1940 Winston Churchill became Britain's Prime Minister. He gave no quick solution to the conflict but swore there would be no appeasement of Hitler. This decision was made all the more difficult as, in the first few hours of Churchill taking office, the war in Europe exploded into life.
The time that followed the destruction of Poland came to be known as the Phoney War, a period were neither side wanted to engage the other. Both armies used the time to fortify their positions and many, on both sides, hoped that the war might simply go away if neither side upset the other.
Now that his systematic deletion of the Versailles Treaty was complete, Hitler began to turn his eyes to his weaker neighbours. The Anschluss had made Germany even stronger and now Hitler focused his attention on Czechoslovakia and Poland.
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