World War 2 Facts for Children and Teachers
Check out these fascinating World War 2 facts for children and teachers studying the Second World War. There's a ton of helpful information and fascinating facts to find out!
When did WW2 start?
World War 2 began on 1st September 1939.
Who were the Nazis?
The Nazis were a political party in Germany, officially called the National Socialist German Worker’s Party. The leader of the Nazis was Adolf Hitler. In 1933, the German people voted that Hitler and the Nazis should run Germany so they gained power.
The Nazis believed that Aryans (people with blond hair and blue eyes) were the ‘master’ race and that all other people were inferior to them. Hitler wanted to eradicate these ‘lesser’ people from Germany to make Germany a powerful world leader once more.
This was the flag of the Nazi party - it has a swastika as the central symbol
Why did WW2 start?
In World War 1 (1914-1918), Germany was one of the countries that lost the war. Many other countries blamed Germany for the war. Germany was forced to sign an agreement that said they were to blame for the war, that they had to pay a fine, that they had to have land taken away and that they were only allowed a small army.
However, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis wanted Germany to be a powerful country again.They ignored the agreement and secretly started building up their army. They started to take back lands they had lost. Other countries decided not to fight them because they didn’t want another war to start.
Adolf Hitler, the leader of the German Nazi Party
However, Germany invaded Poland with 1 million soldiers on 1st September 1939. France and Great Britain then decided that they couldn’t let Germany keep breaking their agreement. They decided to support Poland and help protect them from the invasion. They declared war on Germany. This was the start of World War 2.
Other countries soon joined the war. Soon, there was barely a country left in the world who wasn’t involved in the war.
Teachers: If you're looking for more in-depth teaching material about how and when WW2 started, check out our ready-to-teach 'How did WW2 start?' lesson for KS2.
Which countries fought in WW2?
Those who fought against Germany were known as the Allies. Those who fought with Germany were known as the Axis..
The Axis countries included:
The Allied countries included:
- Great Britain
- United States
- South America
- ...and many more
Map of the world during WW2
Green = Allies
Blue = Axis
Grey = Neutral
What was the Blitz?
In 1940, Hitler attacked Britain. The German air force (known as the ‘Luftwaffe’) began dropping bombs on the cities of Britain. These attacks were called air raids.
The first bombing took place on 7th September 1940 with around 350 bombers flying across London. For eleven weeks, Britain was bombed every day by the Germans (apart from one night). The Luftwaffe particularly targeted docks, factories and railways so that Britain would be brought to a standstill.
Did you know...
The word ‘Blitz’ comes from the German word ‘Blitzkrieg’ which means ‘Lightning War’.
Damage in Westminster, London caused by the Blitz
How did the people stay safe during the Blitz?
Lots of measures were taken to protect people from the bombs of the Blitz:
Shelters: People were told to build shelters in their homes and gardens so they could protect themselves during air raids. One of the most popular was the Anderson shelter. This was made from corrugated iron sheets and dug halfway into the ground.
The Underground: In London, people used the Underground as a shelter. Hundreds of families would squeeze onto the platforms to keep safe from the bombings overhead.
Families stay safe during an air raid in London Underground
The Blackout: During the Blitz, the government told everyone to block out any light from their windows and doors using heavy blackout curtains, cardboard or anything else that would block the light. This was in order to confuse the German planes so they wouldn’t know where to drop their bombs. People were also not allowed to use street lamps or car headlights.
Evacuation: Children were sent from the cities as evacuees and sent to live with other families in the countryside to keep them safe from the bombs.
A propaganda poster encouraging evacuation
How many people died in the Blitz?
One third of London was destroyed during the Blitz. By the end of the Blitz, 60,000 people had died, 87,000 people had been injured and 2 million homes had been completely destroyed.
What was evacuation?
Evacuation was introduced by the government in 1939 because they were concerned about people’s safety in the big cities of Britain. Evacuation was mainly for children but some other groups of people were evacuated too, like school teachers, some disabled people and mothers with very young children.
Evacuees were sent out of the cities to live with a new family in the countryside. These host families were given some money each week to care for evacuees. Caring for evacuees was considered a national service – you could be fined if you refused to take in evacuees with no good reason.
Soldiers in the Second World War
When the war started, lots of men willingly joined the army to fight Hitler and Nazi Germany. However, Britain needed lots more men in order to fight. In 1940, 2 million more men were ordered to become soldiers and fight in the war. Some men were also conscripted and ordered to join the RAF or the Royal Navy.
Some men in certain professions didn’t have to sign up – jobs like being a farmer, a railway driver or a miner were considered crucial jobs that Britain could not do without. Those who were too old, weak or young to fight, as well as those in important professions, became members of the Home Guard. The Home Guard protected Britain’s coastline from attack.
What was life like for soldiers in WW2?
All men called up to be soldiers were sent to train before they went to the battlefield. Once trained, they could be sent anywhere around the world. A soldier’s experience in the war depended on what rank of the armed forces he was in, and where in the world he was posted.
For most soldiers, life was very difficult. They had rationed food, but rations were not always able to get through to the base. If they weren’t at an army base, they usually lived in tents or in holes dug in the ground. They often wouldn’t have access to heating, hot water or other home comforts.
Some soldiers were captured by the Axis troops and were sent to live in prisoner of war camps. Not everyone survived these camps, although many were released once the war ended.
British Troops at Sword Beach, Normandy
What did women do during WW2?
With so many men away at war, women had to step in and do the jobs men had done, just like they did during the First World War. They also had to carry on running their households, looking after children, growing food, and much more.
From 1941, women were called up for war work, such as working in weapons factories, driving buses or being air raid wardens.
There were also more than 640,000 women in the armed forces during WW2. These women had jobs like driving ambulances in war zones, being nurses at army hospitals or flying aircraft.
A women working in an aircraft factory during WW2
What was the Holocaust?
Hitler and the Nazis believed that people with blond hair and blue eyes (known as ‘Aryans’) were a ‘master’ race and that anyone else was ‘lesser’. It was Hitler’s plan to get rid of as many of these lesser races as possible. He wanted Germany to be a pure Aryan race; he particularly wanted to remove all Jews from Germany. Hitler called this ‘cleansing’. He considered Jews to be the ultimate enemy.
As soon as he came to power, Hitler started making life difficult for Jews living in Germany. People were encouraged to avoid anyone or anything associated with Jews, including Jewish businesses.
Then, in 1938, a Jewish boy murdered a German officer in France. This was used as an excuse to attack the Jews. In one night, over 1000 synagogues were burned, and Jewish homes, schools and shops were vandalised. Lots of Jews were killed.
The next day, 30,000 Jews were arrested and taken to a concentration camp just for being Jewish. A concentration camp was a place to put people that the Nazis wanted to remove from society. Soon, there were lots of concentration camps. Life in these camps was miserable. People were given very little food and water, and were forced to carry out hard labour.
But this wasn’t the worst part. Many Jews in concentration camps were murdered by the Nazis. Many were taken into a chamber where they were told they would have a shower. However, these were gas chambers that the Nazis used to kill dozens on Jews at a time.
By the end of WW2, more than 6 million Jews had been killed in the Holocaust.
Mothers and their children walking to the gas chambers at Auschwitz concentration camp
Teachers: If you're looking for a more in-depth lesson on the Holocaust for KS2 children, download our 'The Holocaust and Anne Frank' lesson.
When did the war end?
During the course of World War 2, the Axis troops had captured and occupied lots of countries, including France and Poland. But by 1944, lots of these countries were being freed by the Allies. Italy also changed sides in 1943 and declared war on Germany. Germany and the Axis powers were losing.
Then, on 30th April 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. A week later, Germany surrendered.
On 8th May 1945, Winston Churchill (Britain’s Prime Minister) announced that the war was over. This was known as VE Day (Victory in Europe Day). However, the war wasn’t officially ended all around the world until 2nd September 1945.
VE Day celebrations at Piccadilly, London
How do we remember the Second World War today?
It is thought that between 75-80 million people died during World War 2. Some of these died on the battlefield, some in prisoner camps and others were civilians who got caught in the crossfire.
Every year, on 11th November, we have Remembrance Day. This is a special day that has been observed ever since the end of the First World War to remember members of the armed forces who lost their lives protecting their country.
10 Interesting Facts about WW2:
- British soldiers got a ration of three sheets of toilet paper a day.
- To avoid using the German-sounding word ‘hamburger’ during the war, Americans instead called a hamburger a liberty steak.
- 8 out of 10 soldiers captured and held in Russian prisoner of war camps died in the camps.
- Over half of all people who died during WW2 were civilians.
- Britain built 132,500 aircraft during the Second World War.
- Britain had the least rationing of any country in Europe.
- Only a few countries decided to stay neutral in WW2. Countries like Spain, Sweden and Switzerland chose not to join either side.
- The number of people killed during World War 2 was more than the entire population of Great Britain today.
- Calvin Graham was only 12 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and is thought to be the youngest person who fought in the war. He won a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart before the Navy found out how old he was.
- Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler’s deputy in the Nazi party, was the last person to have been incarcerated in the Tower of London.