When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, there were a number of countries who stood in opposition to this expansionist pursuit of power. These countries together formed what is called the Allies of World War Two. The ‘Big Three’, as defined by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, comprised of Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Soviet Union. A fourth major power towards the end of the war was China. A series of other countries contributed to the Allied war effort, including one of the biggest players at the start of the war: France. However, many countries that initially supported the Allied effort were invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany over the course of the war, which is why France was not able to maintain its role as a major figure during the early 1940s. Ultimately, as Germany began losing control in the latter years of the war, more countries began fighting for the Allies, ultimately leading to victory over Germany.
The Allies when war broke out in 1939 were France, Poland, and Great Britain (which inevitably meant the involvement of the Commonwealth countries). Poland was invaded immediately, and so was unable to continue as an Allied country. There were a number of Polish resistance groups (including the Home Army) which operated unofficially and in secret, working with the other Allied forces to bring down the Nazi regime. This ultimately led to the transfer of vital information between the resistance groups and the governments of Great Britain and the USA, in particular regarding the death camps.
The origins of this alliance between countries can be traced back to World War One, in which the USA, Russia, France and Great Britain all fought (at different times) against the German army. Great Britain, France and the USA were the key figures in drawing up the Treaty of Versailles – the document which formalised the end of World War One. It naturally followed that these countries would unite again in opposition of Nazi Germany. Along with these countries, other Allied forces in World War Two included: Norway, Yugoslavia, Greece, the Netherlands, and the countries of the Commonwealth – in particular, the British Raj (the territories now known as the Republic of India, Burma/Myanmar, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). Many of these areas were occupied during the course of the war, but continued to contribute as Poland did through underground resistance movements. The Greek resistance in particular showed great opposition to the German invasion.
The countries united by their anti-German sentiments called themselves the ‘United Nations’, and indeed developed into the formal UN in 1945. The name was developed in 1942 by Roosevelt, and was the combined vision of him and Winston Churchill – “the alliance that was then fighting for its life against Hitler and his Axis allies” (Plesch 2011: xiii). Roosevelt’s ‘Big Three’ were in control of the Allied strategies, and the leaders of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the USA met at the 1943 Tehran Conference to finalise the approach that would be taken by the united Allied forces.
The Soviet Union was not initially an ally. Stalin and Hitler drew up a pact of non-aggression between themselves in August 1939, which divided Polish territory into two occupied sections – the East by the Soviet Union, and the West by Nazi Germany. This essentially signed Stalin up for neutrality in the upcoming war, but Germany made void the terms of their agreement in 1941 by staging Operation Barbarossa – the attempted invasion of the Soviet Union. This was ultimately a foolish move on the part of Hitler, since this made the Soviet Union side wholeheartedly with the Allies in June 1941, and led to the over-stretching of German resources and man-power.
In December 1941, the USA was targeted by Japan in the attack on Pearl Harbour. This resulted in the USA declaring war on Germany and joining the Allied effort. Many historians argue that this was the turning point of the war: “the more far-sighted [German soldiers] sensed that this world war, with the United States, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union aligned against them, would be unwinnable.” (Beevor, 2012)
As the war progressed, more and more countries leant their support to the Allied effort. Brazil was the only South American country to fight in World War Two, joining the Allies in August 1942. Brazil was encouraged to join by trade agreements with the USA, and was eventually persuaded to declare war when Brazilian merchant ships were attacked by the Germans. The Brazilians mainly fought on the Italian Front. Mexico also joined the Allies in 1942, following an attack on Mexican oil tankers by German submarines.
The Allies were ultimately victorious, reaching the ruined Berlin in May 1945. As a result of this, the UN was formalised 1st January 1942, with 26 countries among its members. Great Britain was the only one of the major Allied countries to have been consistently and officially fighting against the Germans from September 1939 to May 1945.
- Plesch, D., 2011, America, Hitler, and the UN: How the Allies Won World War II and Forged Peace. London: I B Tauris & Co. Ltd.
- Beevor, A., 2007, Berlin: the Downfall 1945. London: Penguin.
- Beevor, A., 2012, The Second World War. London: Weidenfeld &Nicolson.
- Fitzgerald, S., 2006, Pearl Harbour: Day of Infamy. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books.
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