World War II [1940-1945] SOURCE DOCUMENTS - History

World War II [1940-1945] SOURCE DOCUMENTS - History


Explore the history of the world, starting with the beginning of civilization as humans began to domesticate animals and engage in agriculture in the Neolithic Era (8000–5000 BCE). The development of agriculture allowed humans to form communities and engage in trade. These communities grew into civilizations, with some of the earliest located in Sumer, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley (Harappa), Andes, China, and Mesoamerica.

Starting around 3100 BCE, empires began to form through military conquest and strengthened through trade, the first being established in Egypt. Major empires to follow included the Persian, Greek, Macedonian, Seleucid, Xiongnu, Han, and Roman empires. The collapse of the Roman Empire around 476 CE introduced the period known as the Middle Ages or Dark Ages in Europe, from which it would not emerge until the Renaissance in the 14 th century. Also, in the 5 th century, Chinese dynasties were weakened by invaders, while the Mayan civilization in Central America became prominent in that region.

Islam developed in the 7 th century and spread rapidly through military conquest in the Middle East and beyond. Major Islamic empires (or caliphates) include Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, and Ottoman. Other important empires from around 600 to 1450 include the Byzantine, Mongol, Song, Mayan, Aztec, and Incan empires.

The Industrial Revolution in Europe began in the 18 th century, significantly modernizing technologies and concentrating more people in cities to work in factories. The European powers began a period of colonization that brought much of the world under their control, with the British, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese being the most prominent.

The age of empire effectively ended by the mid-20 th century as colonies gained their independence. Instead of empires, nations sought to exert their influence globally in trade and diplomacy. Technology continued to shape modern societies as computers and information technology developed and became integrated into everyday life. The 21 st century saw increasing globalization but also increasing threats to the environment that could threaten future human progress.


U.S. History, 1940-1945 -- World War II -- History 420: Primary Sources

The Avalon Project: World War II Documents &ndash Yale Law School &ndash A variety of primary-source documents on World War II.

Digital Public Library - "DPLA offers a single point of access to millions of items from libraries, archives, and museums around the United States." The DPLA portal allows you to search digital collections from institutions and organizations such as Hathi Trust, Internet Archive, the Smithsonian, the National Archives, Boston Public Library and more.

The Doctors Trial &ndash &ndash United States Holocaust Memorial Museum &ndash Excerpts from the trial at Nuremberg, Germany of the Nazi physicians accused of war crimes against concentration camp prisoners.

HathiTrust - HathiTrust is a partnership of academic libraries and research institutions that have come together to build and share a digital repository of print works. The HathiTrust Digital Library has "more than 10 million volumes, making it one of the largest research library collections in the world. Over 3 miillion of these volumes are in the public domain and fully viewable online."

Internet Archive - The Internet Archive hosts one of the largest collections of freely available digital content on the Web and includes digitized print books, audio files, moving images and, by means of the Wayback Machine, cached copies of websites.

Women Who Came to the Front &ndash Library of Congress &ndash An exhibit featuring the work of eight women who participated as journalists, broadcasters, and photographers during World War II.

World War II Posters: Powers of Persuasion &ndash National Archives &ndash An exhibit that displays and explains ten World War II propaganda posters. Additional World War II posters can be found in the World War II Poster Collection at the Northwestern University Library.


The Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings

5,000+ pages of original documents and testimony related to
the investigations into the attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 Dec., 1941.

Exhibits of the Joint Committee, Pt. 12, pp. 431-441
(The "Separate Volume" mentioned as having been destroyed in Japanese Monograph No. 97.)

The Myths of Pearl Harbor
A collection of files intended to correct
some of the many misconceptions and myths
about the Pearl Harbor Attack.
Suggestions for further additions are requested!

Click on the icon to visit the Pearl Harbor Attacked Message Board

"The Silent War Against the Japanese Navy",
written by one of the people who monitored
Japanese naval broadcasts from his station in the Philippines.

Studies on the use of "Ultra"-supplied military intelligence.
"Synthesis of Experiences in the Use of Ultra Intelligence,
U.S. Army Field Commands in the European Theatre of Operations."
Studies on Cryptology, NSA,
Document SRH-006, Record Group 457,
Records of the National Security Agency.

"Ultra and the Campaign Against the U-Boats in World War II"
Studies on Cryptology, NSA,
Document SRH-146, Record Group 457,
Records of the National Security Agency.

Speeches of Franklin D. Roosevelt
on foreign policy (selected documents from 1933 to 1942).

Pre-war policy
(Will be divided into years and countries as the collection grows.)
The Washington Naval Arms Limitation Treaty of 1922,
signed by Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the United States.

War Termination and Post-war policy.
(Will be subdivided as the need arises.)

Instruments of Surrender
(and related documents) for Italy, Germany, and Japan.

"United States Navy in WWII"
Various files on the U.S.N.,
including pre-war policy
and reports on the conduct of the war.

"Hyperwar"
Patrick Clancey's extensive WWII site.

Related Sites


Due to the proliferation of excellent sites we are no longer adding items to this list.
A very impressive and comprehensive listing of resources can be found at
PEACE AND SECURITY INTEGRATED INTERNET RESOURCE GUIDE
Canadian Forces College, Department of National Defence (Canada).
Please inform them if you have, or know of, a site not currently on their listing which you think should be included.


U.S. History, 1940-1945 -- World War II -- History 420: Reference Sources

Resources labeled as e-books are part of the PEA library collection. From off campus, you will need to provide your PEA user name and password to access the e-books. Books labeled as online version will take you to Openlibrary.org. This is a free digital public library. You will need to create a free account to borrow books. All of our online sources listed in the right column will require you to sign-in using your PEA user name and password from off campus.


World War II: America's Motivation and Impact

Following World War I, the United States hoped to avoid further entanglement with European politics that had drawn us into war. A strong isolationist sentiment developed that questioned the wisdom of our entry into The Great War as it was then known. However, the rise of military government in Germany, Italy and Japan and their invasions of neighboring countries became a major concern for United States leaders including President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Germany Instigates World War I

In Europe, Adolf Hitler led the rise of the Nazi Party, which claimed that Germany was treated unfairly in the peace treaty that ended WWI. He also sought to unite all German-speaking peoples, a policy that put him at odds with several neighbors like Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Great Britain and France tried to negotiate an end to German expansion, but the Soviet Union on Germany’s eastern front signed a non-aggression treaty with Hitler that opened the door to Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939. France and England came to the aid of the Poles and declared war on Germany. Hitler’s armies quickly overran Poland and then France, leaving Britain alone against German armies and air force. President Roosevelt wanted to come to the aid of our British allies, but public sentiment was not yet ready to send American soldiers to fight in another European war.

Meanwhile, Germany and Italy became partners with Japan that had designs on domination of Eastern Asia. Japan lacked natural resources like oil and rubber and created plans to attack neighboring countries that could supply them. They invaded Korea and Manchuria and then China. They also looked southward to the European colonies of Dutch East Asia and British Malaysia. They knew that the United States and Great Britain would fight to stop them. To weaken U.S. naval forces in the Pacific, Japan bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. America declared war on Japan, and on December 11, Germany and Italy lived up to their agreement with Japan and declared war on the United States. Iowan Henry A. Wallace had been elected vice president in 1940 and served there throughout most of the war.

American Offensive in European and Pacific Fronts

Instead of putting all its efforts to fight Japan, the United States made Europe its first priority. Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, and they agreed that Hitler was a greater danger than Japan. German planes were bombing London regularly, and many expected a Nazi invasion. The United States began mobilizing armies, converting its factories to produce war supplies, and encouraging farmers to boost production. British and American generals developed a plan to invade Europe through Italy before attempting an attack across the English Channel against heavily fortified defenses. Meanwhile, German armies had invaded the Soviet Union and were imposing frightening losses on military and civilian populations alike. The Soviets, with the aid of a brutal Russian winter, halted the Nazi advance and forced a German retreat. Finally, in June 1944, a combined American-British invasion force landed on the French coast of Normandy, established a beach head, and from there began an offensive that led to a German surrender in May 1945.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy took the offensive in the Pacific against Japan. The route to Japan led through several Pacific Islands that the Japanese defended with determination. Two Allied naval victories broke the strength of the Japanese fleet and allowed the Allied forces to get close enough to establish air bases from which bombers could strike Japanese cities. The estimates of the loss of life that would be required to force the main Japanese islands to surrender reached a million. During the war, in a very secret project, U.S. scientists had developed a bomb that was hundreds of times more powerful than anything before. In August, 1945, President Harry Truman ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing the world into the nuclear age. Japan surrendered within a matter of days, and WWII was over.

Some estimates of the loss of life due to fighting, disease and other war-related factors run as high as 60 million, or about 3 percent of the world's population at the time. The Soviet Union suffered the greatest cost, with some 20 million civilian and military casualties. The United States, protected by two oceans from the battlefields, sustained around 420,000 war-related deaths. Iowa soldiers killed or wounded are recorded as around 2,800.


Find out more about World War II, a global conflict that took place between 1939 and 1945 between a bloc of countries known as the Axis Powers and another bloc known as the Allied Powers. While very few nations were neutral in the conflict, the principal actors on the Axis side were Germany, Italy, and Japan, while the Allied nations were Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and France. Based on its scale, it was the deadliest international war in history, with millions of military personnel and civilian casualties all over the world, including six million Jews who died in what became known as the Holocaust, a genocide resulting from Nazi Germany’s state-sponsored systematic killing of racial and cultural groups it considered inferior.

Starting in the 1930s, Germany was led by Adolf Hitler and the ultra-nationalist National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi Party. Germany had been dissatisfied with terms that it faced as one of the losing parties of World War I. The Nazis came to power and believed in the superiority of the “Aryan race,” or white Europeans, and the inferiority of Jews, Slavs, Roma (commonly referred to as gypsies), persons with disabilities, and homosexuals. Their nationalism and their desire to expand their territory mirrored the goals of Italy, led by fascist Benito Mussolini, and the two countries became allies in 1936. This nationalism would attract Japan, led by Hideki Tojo, as the third member of the Axis Powers in 1940, forming the Tripartite Pact.

The war began with Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, prompting the United Kingdom and France to declare war. The following spring Adolf Hitler moved westward, rapidly subduing Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. By mid-June 1940, only the United Kingdom was left to oppose the Nazis’ military might. Meanwhile, Italy engaged British forces in North Africa and the Mediterranean.

Initially, the Soviet Union was on the side of the Axis Powers, but Adolf Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union in 1941 caused Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to align with the Allies. As the Nazis quickly penetrated deep into Soviet territory, victory seemed all but assured. During this time, they established a plan known as the “Final Solution” to systematically kill all Jews in the territories under their control. Having already established concentration camps in which to imprison political enemies and other undesirables, the Nazi regime created its first extermination camp at Auschwitz in Poland in 1941, building gas chambers to more efficiently kill prisoners. This was the beginning of the Holocaust.

The invasion of the Soviet Union stalled, however, when an early winter combined with the stress of maintaining long supply lines and a forceful Soviet counterattack brought the advance to a halt. Germany was now facing a protracted war on two fronts. The entrance of the United States to the war following Japan’s surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, brought considerable resources and manpower to the side of the Allies from 1941-1945. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the fateful event "a day that will live in infamy" as he appealed to the American people to enter the conflict. Congress authorized a declaration of war shortly after the attack. The U.S. Navy, who had been surprised at Pearl Harbor, would later engage with Japan in several key battles in the Pacific region, including the decisive Battle of Midway in 1942.

On the U.S. home front, American women accepted jobs in factories that supplied the military with war materiel and rations, inspiring the iconic wartime image of "Rosie the Riveter." Men joined the ranks of the armed forces, including the U.S. Army and the Air Force. Because of the Pearl Harbor attack, Franklin D. Roosevelt also authorized the detainment of Japanese Americans in internment camps, including Manzanar, for the duration of their time in the war. The discriminatory wartime treatment of Japanese Americans was regarded by many historians as a shameful act in U.S. history.

After the United States joined the war, the Axis powers began to lose key battles in the European theater, including the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942–1943 and the 1943 invasion of Italy that forced Italy to surrender. The war was the first to cover land, sea, and air to such a vast degree with the German Luftwaffe fighting in the sky and German U-boats (submarines) trolling the seas. Bombing raids occurred over several British cities, including London. The most critical military action during the conflict, however, was the massive Allied invasion of France known as D-Day, or Operation Neptune, which launched on June 6, 1944. Also known as the Normandy invasion, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history, as U.S., British, and Canadian servicemen landed on five separate beachheads in Normandy, France, to break through German defenses. The Allies slowly advanced on the western front for nearly a year more, while the Soviet Union pushed German forces back in the east. Following the Allied capture of Berlin, Germany unconditionally surrendered on May 8, 1945. It would have to answer for its war crimes in the internationally conducted Nuremberg Trials.

Despite the loss of its two primary allies, Japan refused to surrender. Hoping to quickly end the war, the United States decided to make use of a new secret weapon it had developed during the war: the atomic bomb. The destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki pushed Japan to surrender on August 15, 1945. WWII was over.


IV. The Japanese Search for Soviet Mediation

Documents 39A-B: Magic

39A: William F. Friedman, Consultant (Armed Forces Security Agency), “A Short History of U.S. COMINT Activities,” 19 February 1952, Top Secret

39B:“Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1204 – July 12, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

Sources: A: National Security Agency Mandatory declassification review release B: Record Group 457, Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, “Magic” Diplomatic Summaries 1942-1945, box 18

Beginning in September 1940, U.S. military intelligence began to decrypt routinely, under the “Purple” code-name, the intercepted cable traffic of the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Collectively the decoded messages were known as “Magic.” How this came about is explained in an internal history of pre-war and World War II Army and Navy code-breaking activities prepared by William F. Friedman, a central figure in the development of U.S. government cryptology during the 20 th century. The National Security Agency kept the ‘Magic” diplomatic and military summaries classified for many years and did not release the entire series for 1942 through August 1945 until the early 1990s.[36]

The 12 July 1945 “Magic” summary includes a report on a cable from Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo to Ambassador Naotake Sato in Moscow concerning the Emperor’s decision to seek Soviet help in ending the war. Not knowing that the Soviets had already made a commitment to their Allies to declare war on Japan, Tokyo fruitlessly pursued this option for several weeks. The “Magic” intercepts from mid-July have figured in Gar Alperovitz’s argument that Truman and his advisers recognized that the Emperor was ready to capitulate if the Allies showed more flexibility on the demand for unconditional surrender. This point is central to Alperovitz’s thesis that top U.S. officials recognized a “two-step logic”: relaxing unconditional surrender and a Soviet declaration of war would have been enough to induce Japan’s surrender without the use of the bomb.[37]

Document 40: John Weckerling, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, July 12, 1945, to Deputy Chief of Staff, “Japanese Peace Offer,” 13 July 1945, Top Secret Ultra

Source: RG 165, Army Operations OPD Executive File #17, Item 13 (copy courtesy of J. Samuel Walker)

The day after the Togo message was reported, Army intelligence chief Weckerling proposed several possible explanations of the Japanese diplomatic initiative. Robert J. Maddox has cited this document to support his argument that top U.S. officials recognized that Japan was not close to surrender because Japan was trying to “stave off defeat.” In a close analysis of this document, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, who is also skeptical of claims that the Japanese had decided to surrender, argues that each of the three possibilities proposed by Weckerling “contained an element of truth, but none was entirely correct”. For example, the “governing clique” that supported the peace moves was not trying to “stave off defeat” but was seeking Soviet help to end the war.[38]

Document 41: “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1205 – July 13, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

Source: Record Group 457, Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, “Magic” Diplomatic Summaries 1942-1945, box 18

The day after he told Sato about the current thinking on Soviet mediation, Togo requested the Ambassador to see Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and tell him of the Emperor’s “private intention to send Prince Konoye as a Special Envoy” to Moscow. Before he received Togo’s message, Sato had already met with Molotov on another matter.

Document 42: “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1210 – July 17, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

Source: Record Group 457, Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, “Magic” Diplomatic Summaries 1942-1945, box 18.

Another intercept of a cable from Togo to Sato shows that the Foreign Minister rejected unconditional surrender and that the Emperor was not “asking the Russian’s mediation in anything like unconditional surrender.” Incidentally, this “`Magic’ Diplomatic Summary” indicates the broad scope and capabilities of the program for example, it includes translations of intercepted French messages (see pages 8-9).

Document 43: Admiral Tagaki Diary Entry for July 20, 1945

Source: Takashi Itoh, ed., Sokichi Takagi: Nikki to Joho [Sokichi Takagi: Diary and Documents] (Tokyo, Japan: Misuzu-Shobo, 2000), 916-917 [Translation by Hikaru Tajima]

In 1944 Navy minister Mitsumasa Yonai ordered rear admiral Sokichi Takagi to go on sick leave so that he could undertake a secret mission to find a way to end the war. Tagaki was soon at the center of a cabal of Japanese defense officials, civil servants, and academics, which concluded that, in the end, the emperor would have to “impose his decision on the military and the government.” Takagi kept a detailed account of his activities, part of which was in diary form, the other part of which he kept on index cards. The material reproduced here gives a sense of the state of play of Foreign Minister Togo’s attempt to secure Soviet mediation. Hasegawa cited it and other documents to make a larger point about the inability of the Japanese government to agree on “concrete” proposals to negotiate an end to the war.[39]

The last item discusses Japanese contacts with representatives of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Switzerland. The reference to “our contact” may refer to Bank of International Settlements economist Pers Jacobbson who was in touch with Japanese representatives to the Bank as well as Gero von Gävernitz, then on the staff, but with non-official cover, of OSS station chief Allen Dulles. The contacts never went far and Dulles never received encouragement to pursue them.[40]


World War II Sources

Fordham University provides a list of links to online primary sources from the modern era.

A massive collection of resources from American history.

This is the largest library in the world. Also provides:

A great place for finding sources on modern warfare, particularly from a British perspective.

The British archive website which provides access to a huge range of materials.

The Churchill Centre was founded in 1968 to educate new generations on the leadership, statesmanship, vision, courage and boldness of Winston Spencer Churchill.

The German Propaganda Archive includes both propaganda itself and material produced for the guidance of propagandists. The goal is to help people understand the two great totalitarian systems of the twentieth century by giving them access to the primary material.

The National World War II Museum is home to thousands of oral histories and hundreds of thousands of photographs. This website offers the visitor a way to browse a sample of these collections and purchase images if interested

A collection of Australian newspapers from the past.

Find real primary source film footage of major historical events from the late 19th century to the late 20th century.


Museum Web Resources

Interactive Web site documenting the work of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), including efforts to assist Jewish refugees fleeing Europe during World War II. Presents timelines, recordings of AJC radio broadcasts, historic films, television programs, and oral histories. Also includes the complete text of the American Jewish Year Books published after 1899.

A project of Yale Law School. Makes available in electronic format documents from the Nuremberg War Crimes trials. Provides full-text access to the multivolume sets of the Nuremberg trial proceedings and transcripts originally published by the International Military Tribunal. Includes translations of many important Holocaust-related documents, such as the Stroop Report, the Warsaw Protocol, and the Night and Fog Decree.

Collects reproductions and translations of propaganda materials created in Nazi Germany and the German Democratic Republic. Includes examples of antisemitic broadsides and cartoons, speeches by various Nazi leaders, and visual materials that promoted the National Socialist agenda. Created by a member of the faculty of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Online collection of electronic resources on the Holocaust and Holocaust denial and revisionism. Includes the reproduction of numerous primary source materials, detailed information on Nazi documents, and evidence presented at the Nuremberg Trials as a means of refuting Holocaust deniers and revisionists.

Annotated bibliography featuring dozens of published diaries written before the war, in the ghettos, in hiding, and elsewhere under Nazi persecution. Includes references to secondary sources with information about Holocaust-related diaries.

Provides access to approximately 15,000 of the nearly 100,000 images in the Museum’s Photo Archives.

Presents footage drawn from the holdings of the Film and Video Archives, including film of the liberation of concentration camps, war crimes trials, Kristallnacht, the St. Louis, and Nazi speeches and propaganda.


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