World War II (1939–1945)

by: History SparkNotes

Key People

key-people Key People

Neville Chamberlain

The prime minister of Britain from 1937 to 1940, who advocated a policy of appeasement toward the territorial demands of Nazi Germany. This appeasement policy essentially turned a blind eye to Germany’s 1938 annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland.

Winston Churchill

The prime minister of Britain during most of World War II. Churchill was among the most active leaders in resisting German aggression and played a major role in assembling the Allied Powers, including the United States and the USSR.

James Doolittle

A U.S. Army general best known for leading the famous “Doolittle Raid” in 1942, in which B-25 bombers were launched from an aircraft carrier to bomb Japan and then crash-landed in China.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

A U.S. Army general who held the position of supreme Allied commander in Europe, among many others. Eisenhower was perhaps best known for his work in planning Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Europe. After the war, he was a very popular figure in the United States and was elected to two terms as U.S. president, taking office in 1953.

Hirohito

Emperor of Japan from 1926 until his death in 1989. Despite the power of Japan’s military leaders, many scholars believe that Hirohito took an active role in leading the country and shaping its combat strategy during World War II. After Japan’s defeat, he was allowed to continue to hold his position as emperor—largely as a figurehead—despite the fact that Japan was under U.S. occupation. Although many countries favored it, Hirohito was never tried for war crimes.

Adolf Hitler

Chancellor and self-proclaimed Führer, or “leader,” of Germany from 1933 until his suicide in 1945. After a rapid political ascent as the leader of the far-right Nazi Party in the 1920s, Hitler achieved absolute power and maintained it throughout his time as chancellor. During his rule, he took a very active role in the government of Germany, making military decisions and implementing edicts regarding the treatment of Jews and other minorities, such as the notorious “final solution” that condemned Jews to death at concentration camps in German-controlled parts of Europe. Just before Germany surrendered in 1945, Hitler committed suicide together with his wife, Eva Braun, in his bunker in Berlin.

Yamamoto Isoroku

The Japanese navy admiral who planned the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the attack on Midway in 1942.

Curtis LeMay

The commander of the U.S. Air Force’s 21st Bomber Command in the Pacific theater during World War II. LeMay is best known for developing the U.S. strategy of using massive incendiary bomb attacks on Japanese cities in order to break the Japanese will near the end of the war.

Benito Mussolini

Fascist prime minister who came to power in 1922 and ruled Italy as an absolute dictator. In many ways, Mussolini served as an inspiration to Adolf Hitler, with whom he chose to ally himself during World War II. In 1943, Mussolini was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by some of his subordinates, and in 1945 he was executed by Italian partisans just prior to the end of the war in Europe.

Friedrich Paulus

A field marshal in command of the German Sixth Army at the Battle of Stalingrad. Paulus surrendered what was left of the German forces in February 1943, despite Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s express orders not to do so. While a prisoner of war in the USSR, Paulus publicly condemned Hitler’s regime.

Erwin Rommel

A field marshal in the German army’s Afrika Korps who specialized in tank warfare. Rommel came to be known by both friends and enemies as the “Desert Fox” for his brilliant strategies and surprise attacks in Germany’s North Africa campaign.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The 32nd U.S. president, who led the country through the bulk of World War II until his death from a cerebral hemorrhage in April 1945, just a few months before the war ended. Together with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, Roosevelt played a decisive role in holding together the Allied coalition that ultimately defeated Nazi Germany.

Joseph Stalin

General secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922 until his death in 1953. In some ways, Stalin was responsible for the USSR’s severe losses at the beginning of World War II, as he failed to head the warnings of his advisors and did not allow the Russian military to prepare a proper defense. At the same time, he did succeed in holding the country together and inspiring among his people an awesome resistance against Germany, which ultimately forced a German retreat. Stalin’s own regime in the USSR was just as brutal as the Nazi regime in many ways, and the alliance between Stalin and the Western Allies always remained rather tenuous because of mutual distrust.

Harry S Truman

The 33rd U.S. president, who succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt upon Roosevelt’s death in April 1945. Truman, who led the country through the last few months of World War II, is best known for making the controversial decision to use two atomic bombs against Japan in August 1945. After the war, Truman was crucial in the implementation of the Marshall Plan, which greatly accelerated Western Europe’s economic recovery.

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