There are various reasons for the causes of the Second World War. This article explains in detail all the reason that causes the Second World War. However, before we directly explain the causes of the Second World War, let’s have a quick look at the impact of the Second World War.

The Second World War lasted from 1939 to 1945. In fact, the war was a devastating war in the history of the world. More than 50 million people lost their lives in the war, of these, 28 million were civilians. 12 million people died in the concentration and labor camps.

In Poland out of 6 million dead, five million were civilians. In this respect, Soviet Russia was the worst sufferer. She lost 20 million lives, which was about 10% of her total population. Germany lost about 6 million lives. The material loss in terms of money was no less staggering. The war cost the warring nations around $1,384,900,000.

Causes of the Second World War

The Treaty of Versailles contained the germs of the War

Germany had gone to World War I with great ambitions of world domination. The German people had made extreme sacrifices in the hope of receiving the reward of world domination at the end of the war. The German Emperor and German statesmen expected an easy victory. However, the results of War upset all calculations of the Germans. Germany had nothing but disappointment and bitterness in store for her. The most “superior” nation in the world had to swallow the bitter pill of the Treaty of Versailles. It brought nothing but utter humiliation to the Germans.

The War-guilt was writ large on the forehead of Germany. Efforts were made to mutilate Germany so that she might not be able to rise again and disturb the peace of the world. Also, she was deprived of all her overseas colonies.

Most of the German colonies were divided between England and France. Germany was cut into two parts with the creation of the Polish Corridor. Several strips of territory like Danzig were snatched away from her. For a long time to come, she was deprived of her riches coal and iron resources. Besides, she pays a huge bill of reparations and she was to bear, for a long time to come, the burden of an army of occupation. Militarily, Germany was completely weak. She could keep an army of one lakh men only.

It was but natural that the great power like Germany should smart under such humiliating and degrading treatment. But, she reveals her future attitude to the world when her officers sank the naval fleet rather than handing it over to the Allies. Similarly, German officers and soldiers burnt the packs of French flags and works of art when they were ready for despatch to France under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. This happened on the eve of the singing of the Treaty of Versailles. Thus, Germany violates the terms of the Treaty even before the signing of the treaty. Germany later took to aggressive measures for what it could not achieve through negotiation and peaceful means.

Militarist Japan Attacks China

Militarist Japan Attacks China was another causes of the Second World War. Japan had come out of the War with her hunger and ambitions unsatiated. She regarded the reward of a few islands and some possessions on the mainland of China as a poor compensation for the part she had played in the War on the side of the Allies. But she complaints that she did not have an equal share in the distribution of spoils. Her military resources had very much increased and her population was constantly increasing. Moreover, she wanted markets for the consumption of her goods. She had coveted Manchuria and attacked and occupied it in 1931.

The League of Nations failed to prevent Japan from setting up a puppet regime in Manchuria. England and France were busy with their domestic problems and did not want to bring about a war over the question of the distant Manchuria. Thus, Japan had its way. Flushed with an easy victory over Manchuria, the Japanese military leaders made up their minds to take over actual control of the administration into their hands. Thus, in 1932, amidst a wave of political murders and assassinations including that of the Prime Minister, the militarists succeeded in taking things into their hands.

The Constitutional and civil authorities ceased to function and Japan became a Semi-Fascist State. She now looked at the mainland of China like a hungry vulture. She had already left the League of Nations and was not afraid of a censure there. To ward off the possibility of Russian intervention, Japan entered into an Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany. She then fell upon her helpless victim in 1937 and started a systematic conquest of the mainland. Japan entered World War II in 1941 with an attack on Pearl Harbour.

Aggressive Intentions of Fascist Italy

Italy too did not satisfy with the Peace Settlement. She regarded her gains inadequate. Her ambition was to carve out a large African Empire. Mussolini established a Fascist regime in Italy and thus, gave the lead to the rest of Europe to follow her example.

In 1926, Italy established a protectorate over Albania. Italian aggression became naked, when unprovoked, she attacked Abyssinia in 1935. She succeeded in conquering this African state in spite of the opposition from League circles.

Italy too quitted the League because their policies and aims were incompatible with the Covenant of the League. With these moves, the world was slowly moving towards a general war.

In 1937, Italy joined the Berlin-Tokyo Anti-Comintern Pact. Thus, it forms the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis. Once again, an aggressive bloc with ulterior motives of world domination had come into existence. In the spring of I939, Italy forcibly occupied Albania. On May 22, 1939, Italy entered into a ten-year military Pact with Germany. The stage was then set for action.

Germany prepares for War under the Nazi regime

Germany had a brief experiment in parliamentary government but the Weimer Republic failed to deliver goods to the people. Millions of unemployed and half-starved Germans fell an easy prey to the Utopian propaganda of the National Socialists who promised to make Germany once again great. The National Socialists adopted terrorist methods to capture power. Ultimately, Hitler, the leader of the National Socialists, became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933.

That very year, on the failure of the Disarmament Conference, Germany secured the right, to re-arm herself. Also, she quitted the League of Nations. On the death of Hinderburg in August 1934, Hitler became President. He became the Fuehrer (leader) and as such emerge out to be the supreme ruler of Germany. Once again, the German policy, as under William II, became aggressive and dominating. While appeasing England by a naval agreement in 1935, Hitler moved German troops into Rhineland in 1936.

England and France did nothing against this violation of the Treaty of Versailles except the sending of some mild paper protests – thrown into the waste-paper basket in Berlin. While showing peaceful aspiration, Hitler at the same time started preparations for a Second War. Germany had started making 3 powerful fighting-force armed with tanks and war-planes.  In I936, Hitler denounced the Locarno Pact. Also, an Anti-Comintern pact was signed with Japan in I936, and Italy joined it next year, Thus Germany was on the warpath.

The Anglo-French Weakness Responsible for War

A part of the blame for the War 1939-45 may be thrown on England and France. They failed to stop and check things when they could easily do it. For this reason, they were responsible for undermining the authority of the League of Nations too. Japan was allowed to swallow Manchuria. England and France forgot that in a changing world, their defensive line could be in far off Manchuria. Similarly, when Italy attacks Abyssinia, France looks on in the hope that Italy would be ultimately her friend.

However, Mussolini from Italy had already decided to change the road. He went instead towards Berlin. He left the League and even denounced the Franco-Italian Treaty. Again, it was sheer vacillation on the part of England and France; when they failed to take an effective step in 1936, against the re-militarization of the Rhineland by Germany. It seems England and France had some wishful thinking on the prospects of a Russo-German War. They failed to realize and see the shape of things to come. Similarly, Western democracy did not respond to the call of the “Loyalists” in the Spanish Civil War.

On the other hand, the victory of General Franco was merely due to the help rendered by Germany and Italy. In this way, Hitler and Mussolini added another member to their family of dictators. Thus, England and France failed miserably to check the rising tide of the Fascist regimes in Europe and it was due to their vacillating policy.

The failure of the League brings War nearer

The failure of the League was another causes for the Second World War. The aim of the League of Nations was to preserve the peace of the World. But, with two Great Powers- the United States and the Soviet Russia-Out of it, it was bound to fail. The Soviet Union joined it too late-when it had already become defunct. Moreover, the League had no armed fumes and its decisions had to be unanimous.

The League was effective when it deals with small powers. However, when the Great Powers involves, it could not do anything. One after the other, Great Powers openly flouted its authority. Japan gave the first shock in 1931 when she attacked Manchuria. Italy almost challenged the League and secured her objective in 1936-Abyssinia. Thus, the authority and the prestige of the League had come to an end, and all the three Great dictatorial Powers Germany, Japan and Italy had left it by 1936.

The small nations had lost all confidence in the effectiveness of the collective security under the Covenant of the League. Thus, the last hopes of mankind for peace had vanished with the failure of the League.

Hitler annexes Austria and Czechoslovakia

Hitler was very clear about his objectives even before coming to power. He had visions of a “Greater Germany” consisting of all the Germans living on the Continent; and contiguous to Germany. He had promised his people that he would unite the Germans under one flag. On assuming power, Hitler stirred up trouble in Austria. The National Socialists of Austria took orders from him. Notwithstanding the fact that in 1936 he had assured Austria “complete sovereignty”, he took steps for its amalgamation with Germany.

Two years later, Hitler had occupied (March 1938) Austria forcibly. The provisions of the Treaty of Versailles could not give Austria 8 separate existence for a long time. There was no opposition to Hitler’s decree that “Austria is a land of the German Reich”.

The next objective of Hitler was Czechoslovakia. For that matter, the Sudeten German Party stood active for his help. Hitler demands the German majority areas of Czechoslovakia and threatens war on that country if his demands were not welcome by the end of September 1938. Once again, England and France wavered to make war on the question of Czechoslovakia. Possibly, they were not ready for it.

While Russia favored a stiff attitude towards Germany, the British Prime Minister, Chamberlain, fled to Germany and appeased Hitler at Munich (September 1938). Chamberlain brought back peace to England but the peace was without honor. Hitler occupied the Sudeten land, and a little later, declared a protectorate over the whole of Czechoslovakia. The Western democracies looked on in impotency and the small nations lost all confidence in the guarantees and promises of these powers. Thus, the world faced a grim situation at the end of 1938. War could come at any time. Thus, from the above points, we can say that Hitler is one of the main causes of the Second World War.

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England and France awake from their lethargy

England realized on Hitler’s annexation of Czechoslovakia that there could be no end to the ambitions of the unscrupulous dictator, and her policy of appeasement would not pay any dividends. There was thus a momentous change in the foreign policy of Britain. She was now ready to check German aggression in any part of Europe.

The historic declaration of the new British foreign policy came in the worlds that Britain had been united from end to end in a conviction that we must now make our position clear and unmistakable, whatever may be the result. We welcome the co-operation of any country, whatever may be its internal system of government, not in aggression but in resistance to aggression. This was the first clear indication that Britain meant business. She entered into alliances and gave guarantees to the small Powers of Europe-Greece, Roumania, Poland, and Turkey, and declared that “In the event of any action being taken, which clearly threatens independence, and which Governments consider it vital to resist with their national forces. His Majesty’s Government will feel bound to lend at once all the support in their power”.

France stood by Britain in this hour of trial and, entered into a close military alliance with her. Thus, it forms the so-called “Grand Alliance” for the preservation of peace. Once again, the Powers of Europe were divided into two hostile camps and war could come about any moment.

German Attack on Poland-One of the Main Causes of the Second World War

In May 1939, Germany signed a military alliance with Italy. Germany was now fully ready for war. However, she did not want to fight on two fronts. She started the world by signing a Non-Aggression Pact with the Soviet Union in August 1939. This was a signal for the war. It was a masterstroke of German diplomacy. She succeeded in drawing a wedge between her enemies. Hitler’s intention was to finish off with England and France first and then to fall on Russia.

On the other hand, Soviet Russia had been disgusted with the Anglo-French attitude over Austria and Czechoslovakia and she did not put any faith in their words. Hitler now made his demands on Poland the restoration of Danzig, and a strip of territory across the Polish Corridor, in order to build a rail and motor road to East Prussia. However, he attacked Poland on Sept 1, 1939, at five O’clock without giving Poland a chance to negotiate. Poland, as it happened, was the unhappy victim of the critical move in the ghastly game. As a result of Hitler Poland attacked Poland,  England and France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. The Second World War had begun.

Summarize of the Causes of the Second World War

The causes of the Second World War were born not of the First World War as the latter’s cause was in the policy of Bismarck in 1870. The period between the two World Wars had been termed as “twenty year’s truce”. The dictated peace of Versailles did not satisfy the Germans. Along with this treaty the appeasement policy, ideology, failure of disarmament and collective security, isolation of the United States, and the series of crises led to the War in 1939.

The treaty of Versailles contained the seeds of the Causes of the Second World War. Diktat or the dictated peace angered the Germans. The war-guilt cause, territorial re-adjustments, and economic provisions of the treaty were insulting to Germany. It alone had to undertake disarmament. The victors of the First World War did not observe the principle of reciprocity. Nazi Germany under Hitler denounced the treaty and violated the provisions of the treaty. Hitler could understand the psychology of the Germans and used the treaty as a weapon for his aggressive designs. France and Britain were silent when the provisions were violated. It was too late when they reacted.

The failure of collective security was responsible for the Second World War. The League of Nations was responsible to maintain peace. But the covenant of the League was violated. Article 10 became a dead letter. The League system of collective security failed. In spite of the Locarno pact and Kellogg-Briand Pact, the world was moving towards disaster in the 1930s. The League of Nations remained a silent spectator when Japan invaded Manchuria, Italy invaded Ethiopia. The failure of the League led to another War.

As there was the failure of collective security, thus, nations began to rearm themselves. The World Disarmament Conference of February 1932 failed, Germany violated the clauses of the treaty of Versailles regarding disarmament. It withdrew from the Disarmament Conference in 1933. The viewpoint of France and Germany were the opposite. The former wanted to base security upon military strength. Germany wanted a reduction in the French army. Thus, After the failure of disarmament, the nations increased their expenditure on arms and the world marched towards the inevitable Second World War.

The United States did not sign the Treaty of Versailles. It also was not a member of the League. This isolation of the United States increased the French fear. The French had hoped that American presence would restrain Germany. In the inter-war period, the absence of the United States made the Peace-keeping body (the League) ineffective. Perhaps, Hitler would not have followed an aggressive foreign policy if the United States was there to check it.

The fear of communist Russia made the West to treat Stalin as a greater danger than Hitler. Politicians of Britain and France hated the revolutionary path of the Soviet Union. They were afraid of communist agitation among their own people. The West failed to understand the policies of Germany and Italy were directed against both communist Russia and democracies. Even the Russian desire for an alliance with Britain was not possible as the latter did not want it. The result was the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact. This pact secured Hitler’s promise of non-aggression from Stalin. The former then attacked the Western democracies.

The road to war in 1939 went through different steps. The Japanese seizure of Manchuria in 1931 was opposed by verbal protest only. Neither the United States nor the League acted effectively. Japan withdrew from the League in 1933. France and Britain wanted to appease Mussolini. In I935, he began the invasion of Ethiopia. The Italian troop movement through the Suez Canal was not checked. Article 16 of the League, providing for economic sanctions was not applied rigorously. The Laval-Mussoline Pact of 1935 had also improved relations between France and Italy. Mussolini occupied Ethiopia.  Afterward, there was a Rome-Berlin axis in October 1936. Italy left the League in 1937. Italy and Germany also supported the anti-democratic forces of Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

The final step to the Second World War was Hitler’s attack on Poland. Before it, he had taken steps that brought the world nearer to war. His “Third Reich” had criticized the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles limiting German armaments. Hitler sent troops in March I936 to the demilitarized Rhineland. He signed a treaty with Mussolini. This was Rome-Berlin Axis of October 1936. Hitler concluded a treaty with Japan known as Anti-Comintern pact directed against the Soviet Union. Italy joined it in 1937 and the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis came into being. Hitler was encouraging Nazi agitation in Austria for annexation to Germany. In March 1938, he sent troops to Austria and made annexation or Anschluss a fact. Germany became more powerful. There was an increase in its economic power and armed forces. It also controlled the communications of South-Eastern Europe by rail, river, and road.

Hitler’s next target was Czechoslovakia. The pretext was the self-determination of the Sudeten German. The British and French wanted to appease Hitler. Neville Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, and Mussolini met in Munich on 29th September, I938. Czechoslovakia was dismembered. Sudeten area came under Germany. Slovakia became autonomous. Munich was a bitter tragedy for the Czechs. In March I939, Hitler showed his real desire. Thus, he occupied Czechoslovakia.

The policy of appeasement was a failure leading to another World War. Hitler was not at all satisfied with Czechoslovakia. The motive behind the appeasement was to satisfy the dictators with Ethiopia, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. Hitler next turned towards Poland.

Poland became the final step towards the Second World War. The Polish Corridor separating East Prussia from the rest of Germany was an insult to the Germans. Danzig was also separated. Britain had signed a pact of mutual assistance with Poland in April 1939. To check the danger from the east, Hitler had signed the non-aggression pact in August 1939. He attacked Poland on 1st September 1939. On 3rd September, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Thus, the Second World War began.

Conclusion on the Causes of the Second World War

After the First World War, the League of Nations was formed with the object of preventing wars internationally. But, it becomes only a nominal pact, for Germany, Italy, and Japan set aside the terms of the pact. On the other hand, the league could not prevent them from their aggressive policy. As soon as Hitler came to power, German withdrew from the League. She attacked and occupied Rhineland in 1936. The greatest event during the period was the formation of the Axis Powers by signing the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1937.

During the Civil War in Spain, the German army marched into Austria and occupied it. By the end of 1938, Germany practically violated all the terms of the treaty and declared war on Britain and France. In August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact. At the same time, Great Britain and France also made a declaration guaranteeing the integrity and independence of Poland, Greece, Romania, and Turkey. In 1939 Germany annexed Czechoslovakia and Italy occupied Ethiopia.

Germany demanded, in March 1939, the return of Danzig and the right to maintain a rail and motor road across the Police Corridor to East Prussia. On August 29, 1939, Germany demands that a Polish delegate with full powers be sent to Berlin for settlement of all German Polish difference. It was further stipulated that the Polish delegate should reach Berlin on August 30. It was an unreasonable demand and was intended to give no time to Poland. Before Poland could send any reply, Germany had cut all communication lines. At 4.45 am on September 1, Germany, without declaring war, invades Poland by air and land. On September 3, Great Britain declared war on Germany. The French Government also followed suit. Thus, Europe entered the Second World War exactly twenty-five years and one month after the outbreak of the First World War.

Source: Mohammed Rafi Komol & O. Jnanendra Singh
A Guide to History of Modern Europe 1789-1945.
Imphal, Khumanthem Babudhon, 2018,

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