World War 2 facts for kids
World War II (1939-1945) – A brief history for kids

How it all started

On 3 September 1939, Britain and France went to war against Germany. The Nazi regime in Germany had invaded neighbouring countries in Europe like Austria and Czechoslovakia. Adolf Hitler, the German leader, wanted to extend his territory even further. When his soldiers marched into Poland however, Britain and France declared war on Germany.

Taking sides

At the start of the war, the Allies were Britain and France. Later they were joined by the Soviet Union and the United States of America. Germany, Italy and Japan formed the main Axis Powers.

Who were the leaders

Winston Churchill (1882-1965) was Britain’s leader and led the country throughout the war.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) was the US president. When he died just before the end of the war, Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) replaced him.

Josef Stalin (1879-1953) was the dictator who ruled Soviet Union.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) ruled Nazi Germany.

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), called Il Duce (Leader), ran Italy.

Japan had an emperor but the country was really led at this time by military men like General Hideki Tojo (1884-1948).

The Battle of Britain, the Blitz and Evacuees

Once they had conquered France and reached the English Channel, the Germans were poised to launch an attack on Britain. For this to happen they needed to win the air fights. They were unable to achieve this though, because of the pilots of the Royal Air Force. They successfully fought the ‘Battle of Britain’ in the skies during late 1940.

The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) then switched to bombing factories and ports in British cities instead. This was known as The Blitz (from the German blitzkreig meaning ‘lightning war’). London was hit by bombs nearly every night for 8 months. There were attacks on other British cities too.

Millions of children were evacuated from towns and cities and sent to live safely in the countryside.

The blitz World War 2 Children in 1940s London sitting in the rubble after a bomb has hit
WWII_London_Blitz_East_London, Public Domain, Wiki Commons
The_Civilian_Evacuation_Scheme_in_Britain_during_the_Second_World_War, Wiki Commons

The home front

With supply ships being sunk trying to get to Britain, most food items, including butter, meat, cheese and sugar, had to be rationed (shared out equally). Every piece of extra land that could be found, like parks and playing fields, was used as gardens to grow crops. Many jobs that had previously been done by men, who were now away fighting, were taken over by women.

Life for soldiers

During the conflict, warfare became totally global. There was fighting on all the main continents. Soldiers and airmen who enlisted to fight could find themselves in combat almost anywhere in the world. This could be from the snows of Russia and Norway to the sands of Libya and Morocco in North Africa.

Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Changing technology

The most important change on the battlefield was the development of motorised transport like tanks and personnel carriers complete with tracks that allowed soldiers to move around quickly in difficult terrain. Armies were equipped with better guns and communications were much improved. Modern aircraft were able to bomb targets long distances from base. 

The discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics helped to save lives and the use of x-rays and blood transfusions became more commonplace.

Resistance and Spies

Many of the countries occupied by Nazi Germany had resistance organisations, most notably France, Russia, Holland, Poland and Norway. They sabotaged factories and railways, published underground newspapers, organised strikes and forged documents.

The British organisation, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), sent secret agents into occupied Europe during the war. Their job was to intercept German communication or to feed back misinformation.

The Holocaust

Hitler and the Nazi Party blamed Jewish people for most of Germany’s problems. Jewish people were stripped of all their rights and had their property, businesses and possessions taken away from them.

The persecution of the Jewish people continued as the Germans conquered other lands in Europe. Other groups like Romani and Sinti peoples, Slavs, Communists and Russian prisoners of war were also targeted and treated harshly. These attempts to wipe out whole groups of people has become known as The Holocaust. Many millions of people died.

Victory in Europe

In June 1944, the Allies crossed the Channel to France to re-take Europe from the Nazis. Some 150 000 troops landed in Normandy on D-Day and on June 6th this year, people throughout the continent will be celebrating the 80th anniversary of this key event.

By April 1945, German troops had been pushed back into their own country and both Hitler and Mussolini were dead. Germany finally surrendered in May 1945 (VE or Victory in Europe Day) and, in September 1945, Japan also ended the fighting (VJ or Victory over Japan Day). In October 1945, 51 countries from across the globe formed the United Nations (UN) – an organisation aimed at preventing further wars.

Celebrating_VE-Day_London_1945, Public Domain, Wiki Commons
Ve_Day_Celebrations_in_London,_England,_UK,_8_May_1945_D24587Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Find out more

Now you know important information about World War II, you may want to find out more. You could use some of the ideas listed below:

  • Use large wall maps and atlases to locate the main centres of conflict during World War II.

  • Take a close look at propaganda posters produced during the war like ‘Dig for Victory’ and ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’.

Compare them with those produced in Germany and Russia. Think up some catchy slogans of your own.

  • Who was Alan Turing and what work did he do with others to find out just what the enemy were doing? He is often called the ‘father’ of the computer and his work is shown in the feature film The Imitation Game. You can learn more about him in our blog here.

  • The Channel Islands, a small group of islands close to the coast of France, was the only part of Britain occupied by the Nazis during the war. Find out what life was like for the islanders during the occupation.


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Written by John Davis