This map is part of a series of 14 animated maps showing .

View series: Decolonization after 1945

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Colonial world dominance in 1939

This map is part of a series of 14 animated maps showing the history of Decolonization after 1945.

When World War II broke out, more than a third of the earth’s population lived in regions governed by colonial powers, the majority of which were European.

This European presence was particularly impressive in Africa:

-       British possessions spanned the continent from Cairo in the north to Cape Town in the south and spread westwards around the Gulf of Guinea. 

-        France’s territories were predominately in the north-west corner of the African continent: North Africa, French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa.

-       The rest of the continent was divided between Portugal, Belgium, Italy and, to a lesser degree, Spain

-       The Union of South Africa was a particular case. It became an independent state in 1910 and, after World War I, was granted a mandate by the League of Nations to administer the former German colony of South-West Africa. However, the country continued to be governed by white settlers.

In the Middle East, the United Kingdom and France were also awarded several mandates by the League of Nations in the years following the First World War: France was responsible for Lebanon and Syria, while Palestine and Transjordan were under British authority.

In the Arab Peninsula, the United Kingdom also ruled over the Gulf Emirates, Oman and Aden.

In Asia, several regions were also governed by foreign powers.

-       India, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore and the northern part of Borneo were British possessions. 

-       Most of the Indonesian Archipelago was governed by the Netherlands; the rest was divided between Australia and Portugal.

-       France dominated Indochina.

-       In 1910, Japan imposed its protectorate on Korea and, during the 1930s, took control of Manchuria and a large part of eastern China.

-       The United States had still not completed the process of independence in the Philippines.

-       The Russian Empire included large territories in Central Asia and the Caucasus

In addition, European countries had set up a few colonies on the American continent and on numerous islands and archipelagos around the world.