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World War II (1939–1945)

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Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Always use specific historical examples to support your arguments.

Study Questions

Compare the roles of Germany and Japan during World War II. Generally speaking, were their aggressions fundamentally similar or fundamentally different?

The respective roles of Germany and Japan in the initiation and escalation of World War II seem similar on the surface—a combination of economic ambition and racist ideology. However, the countries’ root motivations and the ways in which they were expressed were fundamentally different.

Both Germany and Japan engaged in large-scale territorial conquests in the years leading up to World War II. Hitler and other Nazi officials in Germany advocated the concept of lebensraum, the natural “living space” required by what they considered the racially superior German people. Under this doctrine, Hitler claimed openly that German territory needed to be expanded through conquest of surrounding nations. Though some of Japan’s leaders held similar beliefs in the racial superiority of the Japanese people, they also had concrete motivations for territorial expansion: Japan’s population was growing too large for the confines of the Japanese islands, and colonial holdings in Asia were arguably becoming necessary to feed and clothe the Japanese people.

Also, Japan’s economic problems were far more severe than Germany’s. Although the German people were indeed humiliated by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, Germany actually ended up not paying the bulk of the economic reparations that the treaty demanded. Rather, Hitler channeled the German people’s resentment to fuel his own schemes. Japan, however, though a victor in World War I, suffered when the United States and several European nations imposed high tariffs and blocked industrial imports. As a result, many Japanese people began to believe that whites were hostile to the idea of a developed non-white nation.

In response, Japan’s leaders asserted the superiority of their people and tried to change Japan into a colonial power itself, rather than a colonial subject. They therefore invaded and attempted to “develop” other Asian countries, including China and Korea. However, though Japanese policies in these countries were sometimes brutal, and often motivated by ideas of racial superiority, they were a far cry from the overtly genocidal goals of the Nazi death camps.

Ultimately, whereas Japan’s racist ideology and territorial ambitions grew as a result of real economic problems and Western exclusion, Hitler used Germany’s alleged economic woes and residual resentment from the Treaty of Versailles to promote his own racist ideas and premeditated plan to expand Germany’s borders.

Consider the role of technology during World War II. Did it fundamentally affect the outcome of the war? If so, how? If not, why not?

World War II saw the new application of many new technologies by military forces on all sides of the conflict, and some of them had a profound impact on the war. The airplane in particular became a fundamental instrument of war and changed the way many battles were fought. Much the same may be said of the aircraft carrier, which became crucial to the United States after so many of its battleships were lost at Pearl Harbor. As a result of these developments, the Battle of Britain in 1940 marked the first time in history when air power alone determined the course of a major battle, and the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942 was the first naval battle in history fought exclusively in the air, by carrier-based planes. Both sides also realized the effectiveness of radar as a way of warning against approaching enemy planes. Germany experimented with new missile technologies as well as both jet- and rocket-powered aircraft, but none of these projects was perfected in time to change the outcome of the war.

Although the majority of these new technologies had an effect on the war, they generally were created by one side in response to similar technologies being developed by the other side—the net effect of which was to balance out the new power these technologies offered. The notable exception was the atomic bomb, which the United States developed in secret from 1942 to 1945 and which Japan had no way to counter at the time. Indeed, Japan declared its surrender just days after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 . Even today, however, historians debate whether the atomic bomb changed the outcome of the war, as Japan may have been already very close to surrendering.

Explain Germany’s mistakes in Russia and the ways in which they affected the outcome of the war.

Most historians concur that Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union was one of the primary causes of Germany’s ultimate defeat. By invading the USSR, Germany made essentially the same mistake that Japan made by expanding so far across the Pacific. The huge expanse of the Soviet Union and the vast distances between its major cities required an enormous German invasion force. Despite this geographical challenge, Hitler assumed that Operation Barbarossa would take only six months, expecting Russia to capitulate rapidly after the shock of Germany’s initial, devastating attack. When events transpired differently, the German forces were faced with an enormous challenge, as their forces were dispersed and poorly equipped to deal with the brutal Russian winter. Russian soldiers and civilians, conversely, had plenty of room to retreat east when necessary, which caused the pursuing Germans to extend their supply lines so far that they were unable to maintain them. It was under these conditions that the Germans had to fight the massive battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. After the Germans lost both of these battles, they were no longer capable of maintaining their position and were forced to retreat to the west. Within a matter of months, the pursuing Red Army had pushed the Germans back through eastern Europe and toward a last stand on their home turf, which was the beginning of the end of the Nazi empire.

Suggested Essay Topics

1 . How and why was Germany allowed to annex Austria and the Sudetenland? Was there any justification for Britain and France’s policy of appeasement?

2 . Discuss the role that Italy played in World War II. How did the nation become involved in the conflict? How did its participation affect the direction of the war and Germany’s fortunes?

3 . Discuss the issues surrounding the United States’ decision to use atomic bombs against Japan. What motives were behind this action, and what arguments have been made against it?

4 . Explain how the situation in Europe immediately following the fall of Germany led directly to the Cold War. In your opinion, should the Western Allies have acted to oppose Soviet domination of Eastern Europe?

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Wwii essay questions

Welcome. This website aims to enhance insight of interesting and exciting World War 2 topics. Instead of over-detailed or too technical essays, its focus is presenting and explaining why and how things happened the way they did in World War 2, with a better perspective of when they happened during that war. It’s more useful and interesting to learn about World War 2 that way.

Sections: Strategy , Battles , Weapons , People , Intelligence

The "Big picture" perspective of the strategy and war effort of the warring nations in World War 2.

  • World War 2 summary – brief answers to the key questions about World War 2.
  • World War 2 casualties – insights, and statistics by country.
  • Causes of World War 2 – the root causes of World War 2.
  • The biggest mistakes – the alternative decisions which could dramatically change the course of the war.
  • When did Hitler lose the war – an attempt to mark the time when Adolf Hitler lost the chance to win World War 2.
  • The turning points of World War 2 – a list of the great strategic turning points of the war.
  • Russia in World War 2 – the great war plan, preparations, collapse, and recovery – a revised view.
  • Timeline – the main events timeline, before and during the war.

Battles and operations

The dramatic battles and operations, from vast campaigns to small but important raids, in land, at sea, and in the air, that decided the outcome of World War 2.

  • The Battle of Britain – the key causes for the German defeat in the Battle of Britain.
  • Kursk – the greatest tank battle of the war, and the last major German offensive in the East.
  • Stalingrad – the German army’s greatest defeat, and a major turning point of the war.
  • Midway – in this battle of aircraft carriers, Japan lost the initiative in the Pacific.
  • Blitzkrieg – the German tactic of rapidly advancing tank forces and massive air support.
  • Dambusters – the daring special air attack on German dams, using bouncing bombs.
  • Doolittle’s raid – America’s first air raid over Japan, that hit Tokyo in total surprise.

From the ancient spear, to today’s GPS-guided bomb, many wars saw the appearance of new weapons based on amazing technologies, but none saw such a dramatic and diverse flow of exciting new scientific developments and new weapons as World War 2. During six years of war, the most scientifically advanced nations recruited the best minds and enormous resources to an unprecedented arms race.

Land weapons:

  • Infantry weapons – rifles, sub machine guns, pistols, and other weapons.
  • T-34 – simply the best main battle tank of World War 2.
  • M4 Sherman – the main American tank. It won by numbers.
  • German tanks – Panzers, the German tanks which stormed Europe.
  • Tiger – the most formidable German tank. Lethal, heavy, and almost indestructible.

Airplanes and air weapons:

  • Bombers – the strategic weapons that struck at the enemy’s heart.
  • De Havilland Mosquito – the most versatile and successful allied aircraft.
  • Fallschirmjager – the German paratroopers and their combat operations.
  • Fieseler Storch – the first true short take-off and landing aircraft.
  • Kamikaze pilots – suicide warfare in World War 2, and its military and cultural rationale.
  • The Manhattan Project – the making of the atomic bomb.
  • Messerschmitt Me-262 – the world’s first operational jet fighter.
  • P-51 Mustang – the American long range fighter which defeated the Luftwaffe over Germany.
  • RADAR – the technology which revolutionized air and naval warfare.
  • Stuka dive bomber – the airborne element of the German Blitzkrieg weapons.

Ships and naval weapons:

  • Submarines – they almost defeated Britain, and paralyzed Japan. Also about frogmen and human torpedoes.
  • PT boats, Torpedo boats – The fast night raiders of the sea.

Leaders, Generals, Heroes

Despite the mobilization of millions, individual people greatly affected the course and outcome of wars. National leaders, Generals and Admirals, aces and heroes, and brilliant scientists.

  • Leaders – a complete list of the national leaders of the countries which participated in World War 2 .
  • German Field Marshals – a chronological review of the German field marshals of World War 2.
  • Heinrich Himmler – the power-hungry head of the Nazi SS.
  • Adolf Hitler – founder of Nazism, dictator of Germany 1933-1945. The ultimate aggressor and the ultimate evil.
  • Joseph Goebbels – the Nazi propaganda master.
  • Hermann Goering – Adolf Hitler’s brutal and greedy deputy, and head of the Luftwaffe.

  • Medal of Honor – the highest U.S. military decoration.
  • George Patton – the master of mobile warfare.

  • Knight’s Cross – the medal awarded to Germany’s greater heroes and commanders, and its recipients.
  • Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – Japan’s best Admiral, who planned the attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • Otto Skorzeny – Germany’s commando leader, nicknamed "The most dangerous man in Europe".
  • Erich Hartmann – a young German fighter pilot who became the highest scoring ace in history, with 352 victories.
  • Hans Joachim Marseille – the most amazing fighter pilot of World War 2 .
  • Quotes – a few selected wartime quotes which are still very meaningful today.
  • Intelligence

    In World War 2, military intelligence dramatically advanced. The use of new scientific methods and technologies, as well as great human efforts involving endless work, great risks, and brilliant thinking, made intelligence become an equally important part of the armed forces, a crucial element for victory.

    • Enigma – the German military cipher machine, and the allied efforts to break its code.
    • Luftwaffe bomber wing KG 200 – this top secret unit flew the most special missions with the most special aircraft.
    • Navajo code talkers – American-Indian Marines who used their complex native language to form an unbreakable code.

    Military Theory

    How to fight? How to win? – the following essays answer these questions, and provide many concrete examples from World War 2.

    • The principles of war – the timeless rules of thumb for fighting, strategy, and tactics.
    • The mechanisms of defeat – the various material and psychological ways to achieve victory.

    World War II

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    • Assignments & Activities
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    Sample of Discussion & Essay Questions

    Big Picture

    1. World War II transformed Europe and America’s relationship with Europe. In what ways was pre-WWII Europe unlike the Europe of today?
      • Could you imagine a similar conflict between the nations of Europe today?
        • Why or why not?
        • What ties them together?
      • What is most striking about America’s response to the European turmoil of the 1930s?
    2. Where are today’s international hot spots?
      • Do they seem similar to the European conflicts of the 1930s?
      • Is the United States similarly trying to avoid involvement? Explain.
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    Origins of World War II, 1919-41

    School Certificateand NCEA Essay Questions

    Origins of WorldWar II

    Why did the major European Fascist Powers carry out the policies of expansion in Europe in the 1930’s?

    What was the result of these by the end of 1939?

    How did the League of Nations propose to maintain peace?

    Why did it fail in the 1920’s and 30’s?

    What attempts and agreements were made by nations to preserve peace between 1922 and 1932?

    What were the weaknesses of these agreements?

    Show how Japan’s actions, 1930-1941, led to its entry into WW II.

    Why did the entry of the USA and the USSR into the war in 1941 pose a threat to the Axis Powers?

    In what ways did the Treaty of Versailles aim to reduce Germany’s strength?

    Why were other agreements to assist peace and security made 1920-1930?

    What events, 1931-1937, led to disagreement between nations?

    Why did Britain and France follow the policy of appeasement at The Munich Conference 1938?

    What efforts were made by the major powers to avoid war in the 1920s?

    Why were there threats to world peace by 1931?

    Why did Adolf Hitler and the Germans object to the Treaty of Versailles?

    In what ways did Hitler’s foreign policies upset international relations in Europe 1938-1941?

    Why was the League of Nations set up?

    What were the major weaknesses and failures of the League of Nations?

    Why did some countries adopt a policy of appeasement in the 1930s?

    How did the aggressive powers take advantage of appeasement 1935-1938?

    Why did the Fascist powers adopt aggressive foreign policies in the 1930s?

    How was this shown during the period 1931-1937?

    What aspects of the Treaty of Versailles caused bitterness in Germany after WW I?

    In what ways did Adolf Hitler fail to keep to the terms of the Treaty between 1933 and 1938?

    How did Hitler’s actions in 1938 and 1939 lead to the outbreak of war?

    What was the extent of Axis success by 1941?

    Why did the peace settlement after WW I cause ill feeling between Germany and the Allies?

    In what ways did relationships between European countries improve between 1924 and 1929?

    What aggressive actions threatened peace in Europe and Asia between 1930 and 1937?

    How did the League of Nations attempt to deal with these challenges?

    In what ways did major countries attempt to deal with international aggression from 1936 to 1941?

    Describe the successes of German and Japanese aggression in this period.

    Describe how the countries of Europe tried to secure peace throughout the 1920s.

    What weaknesses were there in their attempts to establish a permanent peace during this time?

    For what reasons did European nations become involved in war during the period 1937 to 1939?

    Describe how European conflict in 1939 spread into a world war by the end of 1941

    Describe international agreements that were signed in the 1930s.

    How did these agreements help to cause World War II?

    What attempts were made to restore and maintain peace after WWI, 1919-1920?

    How did people and countries react to these attempts to restore and maintain peace up to 1930?

    Describe actions by Germany in 1938 and 1939 that contributed to the outbreak of war.

    Outline ways in which the war was widened by the actions of the Axis powers by the end of 1941.

    In what ways did the terms of the Treaty of Versailles cause German anger?

    What measures were taken in the period 1920–1929 to maintain peace?

    What events in Europe from 1937 to 1939 led to the outbreak of war in 1939?

    How did the war spread between 1939 and 1941?

    What actions by aggressive powers increased tension in Europe and Asia between 1931 and 1937?

    How did the League of Nations and other countries respond to these actions?

    How did the countries of Europe seek to avoid war during the 1930s?

    Why did war break out in Europe in September 1939?

    What measures were taken in 1919 and 1920 to help restore and maintain peace after World War I?

    How did countries respond to these measures up to 1924?

    What aggressive actions by European and Asian nations threatened world peace between 1930 and 1937?

    How did nations and organisations respond to these aggressive actions?

    What aspects of the Treaty of Versailles caused bitterness in Germany after World War I?

    How did Adolf Hitler fail to keep to the terms of the treaty between 1933 and 1938?

    World War I

    World War I essay questions

    This collection of World War I essay questions has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors. These questions can also be used for short answer responses, research tasks, homework and revision activities. If you would like to suggest a question for this page, please contact Alpha History.

    2. How did the leadership of Otto von Bismarck shape the future of Germany to 1914?

    3. What were the outcomes of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71? How did these outcomes shape late 19th and early 20th century European relations?

    4. Explain how the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s ethnic, cultural and language diversity created problems for the ruling Hapsburg dynasty.

    5. Why was the Ottoman Empire considered the ‘sick man of Europe’? How did its problems affect or concern major European powers?

    6. Compare and contrast the British, French and German Empires at the beginning of the 20th century.

    7. Explain how militarism shaped and affected politics, economics and society in Germany to 1914. How democratic and representative was German government during this period?

    8. How did imperialism and imperial rivalry contribute to European tensions between 1871 and 1914?

    9. Discuss three alliances of the 19th and early 20th centuries, describing how each alliance affected European relations.

    10. Bismarck famously said that a European war would start from “some damn foolish thing in the Balkans”. What “foolish things” happened in this region in the decade before World War I – and how did they affect European relations?

    1. Identify and discuss the three most significant factors leading to the outbreak of World War I.

    2. Investigate and discuss the ‘war readiness’ and military strengths and weaknesses of Europe’s major powers in 1914.

    3. What was Weltpolitik and how did it contribute to European tensions to 1914?

    4. “Kaiser Wilhelm II was more responsible for the outbreak of World War I than any other individual leader.” To what extent is this statement true?

    5. In the early 1900s many believed England and Germany had much in common and should have been allies, not antagonists. What were the sources or reasons for Anglo-German tension prior to 1914?

    6. Investigate the relationship between Serbia and Austria-Hungary in the years prior to 1914. Why was Serbian nationalism worrying for Austro-Hungarian leaders?

    7. Austria considered Serbia wholly responsible for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. To what extent was the Serbian government truly responsible?

    8. It is often said that the alliance system made a major war inevitable. Did alliances alone compel European nations to war after June 1914 – or were other factors involved?

    9. Many historians suggest that the ‘failure of diplomacy’ led to war in 1914. What attempts did European diplomats make to negotiate and avoid war, and why did these attempts fail?

    10. What do the ‘Nicky and Willy telegrams’ (between the Russian tsar and German kaiser) reveal about the character and leadership of both men?

    11. Were the Kaiser and his advisors anticipating a European war that involved Britain? Explain how Britain became entangled in the road to war in mid 1914.

    12. Focusing on three different countries, describe how the press and the public responded to declarations of war in August 1914.

    13. Investigate anti-war sentiment in 1914. Which groups and individuals wrote, spoke or campaigned against war? What arguments did they put forward?

    14. Explain why the small nation of Belgium became so crucial, both in July and August 1914.

    15. Why did the Ottoman Empire enter World War I? What were its objectives and how prepared was it for a major war?

    2. What were the outcomes of the Battles of Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes in 1914? What did these battles reveal about the Russian military?

    3. What happened at the first Battle of the Marne in 1914? What were the outcomes of this battle and what influence did it have on the rest of the war?

    4. Compare the Western Front and Eastern Front as theatres of war. What were the similarities and differences in warfare on these two fronts?

    5. How did naval power and the war on the seas shape the course of World War I? Refer to at least three major battles or incidents in your answer.

    6. Why did the Allies consider the Dardanelles of strategic importance? Explain why the Dardanelles campaign of 1915 was a failure for the Allies.

    7. What were the main objectives of the war in the Middle East? Discuss at least three significant locations or battles in your answer.

    8. Why did Italy enter World War I in 1915? Where did most Italian troops fight and what impact did the war have on Italy?

    9. Explain why the Battle of the Somme was such a significant operation, particularly for British forces.

    10. Germany’s strategy of ‘unrestricted submarine warfare’ was largely responsible for bringing the United States into the war. Was it a reasonable or justifiable policy? Why was it adopted?

    2. It is often said that British soldiers were “lions led by donkeys”. To what extent was this really true?

    3. Explain why trench warfare became the dominant form of warfare on the Western Front.

    4. What was life like for the average trench soldier? What were the duties, routines and rotations for those who served in the trenches?

    5. Evaluate the use and impact of chemical weapons in World War I. Were they an important weapon of war – or were they used for terror and shock value?

    6. Prior to 1914 cavalry (horse-mounted soldiers) were an important feature of most armies. Did cavalry regiments play any significant role in World War I?

    7. Using evidence and referring to specific battles or events, explain which three weapons had the greatest impact on the battlefields of the Western Front.

    8. How were aircraft like planes and airships used in World War I? Did these machines have any impact on the war and its outcomes – or were they a sideshow to the real fighting on the ground?

    9. Tanks are one of the most significant weapons to emerge from World War I. Investigate and discuss the development, early use and effectiveness of tanks in the war.

    10. The Hague Convention outlined the ‘rules of war’ that were in place during World War I. Referring to specific examples, discuss where and how these ‘rules of war’ were breached.

    1. How did the public in Britain and other nations respond to the outbreak of war in August 1914? Was there unanimous support for the war?

    2. What impact did Kaiser Wilhelm II have on military strategy and domestic policy after August 1914? How effective was the Kaiser as a wartime leader?

    3. What powers did the Defence of the Realm Act give the British government? How did the Act affect life and work in wartime Britain?

    4. Referring to either Britain, France or Germany, discuss how one national government managed and coordinated the war effort.

    5. Investigate voluntary enlistment figures in one nation after August 1914. When and why did voluntary enlistment fall? What steps did the government take to encourage volunteers to enlist?

    6. Focusing on three different nations, discuss when and why conscription was introduced – and whether this attracted any criticism or opposition.

    7. What was the Shell Crisis of 1915? What impact did this crisis have on the British government and its wartime strategy?

    8. Using specific examples, explain how wartime governments used censorship and propaganda to strengthen the war effort.

    9. Why was there a change of wartime government in Britain in late 1916?

    10. What was the ‘Silent Dictatorship’ in wartime Germany? How effective was this regime in managing both the war effort and the domestic situation?

    2. How did the leadership of Lloyd George (Britain) and Clemenceau (France) invigorate the war effort in their countries?

    3. Discuss the issues and problems raised by conscription in Australia and Canada. Why was compulsory military service accepted in Europe but not in those two countries?

    4. Why did the government of Tsar Nicholas II collapse in February and March 1917? How did the war help bring about revolution in Russia?

    5. To what extent was the United States able to honour its pledge of neutrality in 1914-16?

    6. Was the entry of the United States into World War I inevitable? Or was it a consequence of unforeseen factors?

    7. What happened in the German Reichstag in July 1917? What did this reveal about German attitudes to the war?

    8. What impact did the Allied naval blockade have on German society and the German war effort?

    9. Explain the terms and effects of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed in March 1918. What implications did this treaty have, both for Russia and the war in general?

    10. What did German commanders hope to achieve by launching the Spring Offensive? What problems or obstacles did they face?

    2. Describe how the map of Europe was changed as a consequence of World War I and post-war treaties. What grievances might have arisen from these changes?

    3. Explain the fate of the Hapsburg dynasty and the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the conclusion of World War I.

    4. What happened to the Ottoman Empire and its territories after World War I? Describe its transition from a 19th century empire to the modern nation-state of Turkey.

    5. A French general said of the Treaty of Versailles that was not a peace but a “20 year armistice”. Was he correct and, if so, why?

    6. Why was Article 231 included in the Treaty of Versailles? What was the response to this particular clause, both in Germany and around the world?

    7. Discuss what happened to European colonial possessions after World War I. Were colonies retained, seized by other nations or liberated?

    8. How did the United States respond to the Treaty of Versailles? What were the global implications of this American response?

    9. How effective was the newly formed League of Nations at resolving conflict and securing world peace?

    10. Investigate and discuss the social effects of World War I in at least two countries. How did ordinary people live, during and after the war?

    11. How did World War I affect the social, political and economic status of women?

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