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View series: The second World War, 1939-1945

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The War goes Global, June 1941 – end 1942

This map is part of a series of 15 animated maps showing the history of The second World War, 1939-1945.

After June 1941, the war spread to a large number of countries, in Europe and later in the Asian-Pacific region.  

In a matter of months, the conflict escalated into a world war and the Axis powers – Germany, Italy and Japan – were victorious on all fronts.

In Europe, Germany and the USSR had signed a non-aggression pact in 1939, but it seemed inevitable that war would one day break out between these two diametrically opposed ideological regimes.

In June 1941, Hitler launched the Eastern campaign with 150 German divisions, together with troops from Finland, Hungary and Romania. Soviet defence lines, thinly spread along a frontier stretching from the Baltic to the Crimea, were quickly penetrated.

To the north, German forces invaded the Baltic countries and, with support from Finnish regiments, laid siege to Leningrad.

To the south, armies led by Von Rundstedt advanced as far as the Donets Basin and occupied the Crimea.

In the centre, the far superior German troops advanced quickly and reached the outskirts of Moscow by the end of October.

But autumn rains and the arrival of winter brought the German armies to a halt. In some areas, including their forward positions around Moscow, they were even forced to withdraw.

In spring 1942, Hitler launched a new campaign towards the Don, the Volga and the oilfields in the Caucasian region to the South.

The objective was to move German troops forward quickly. By the end of the summer, they had gained control of the Caucasus Mountains and reached Stalingrad on the Volga. However, the Red Army, with its huge reserves of Russian soldiers, was far from defeated and was able to hold the ruined city of Stalingrad throughout the autumn.

In Asia, Japan already occupied the richest regions in China and no longer sought to hide its ambition to dominate the whole of Southeast Asia.

In July 1941, the Japanese army took control of French Indochina, forcing the United States to increase support for China and establish an embargo on deliveries of oil to Japan.

Towards the end of November, a Japanese flotilla of 40 ships, including 6 aircraft carriers, secretly left the Kuril Islands and headed for Hawaii and the military base at Pearl Harbor. Situated 3,500 kilometres from California, this port was home to the US Navy stationed in the Pacific as a gateway to Guam, the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

Japan launched a surprise attack against Pearl Harbor on 7 December and destroyed a large number of ships and many airplanes.

Four days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. As a result, the Americans took over the role of leader in the war against the Axis Powers.  

For a while, Japan dominated air and naval warfare in the region and as a result could launch lightening strikes throughout Southeast Asia and against numerous Pacific island groups:

Hong Kong fell on 25 December, and Singapore on 15 February 1942. The last American troops in the Philippines surrendered on 6 May.

Within a few months, Japan, sometimes with help from local populations who were only too happy to throw off their colonial masters, had taken control of British, American, Dutch and Australian territories from Burma to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Nevertheless, the Japanese troops were thinly spread and showed signs of battle fatigue.

In spring 1942, two major air-sea battles took place: the Battle of the Coral Sea in May and the battle of Midway in June, giving the advantage to the Allies.

In August, American troops landed at Guadalcanal and fought hard for many months to take control of the island.

In North Africa, the Axis armies’ campaigns were also successful during 1942. General Rommel, who had had to abandon eastern Libya at the end of the previous year, launched a new offensive and captured Tobruk. He continued his advance into Egypt and even reached a position from which he could threaten to take the Suez Canal.

However, the difficulties involved in maintaining supplies to the German and Italian armies and strong resistance by the Free French Forces at Bir-Hakeim slowed Rommel down and allowed the British to halt his advance at El-Alamein, a mere 60 kilometres from Alexandria.