From 1939 to 1942, Hitler’s German war machine strung together a nearly undefeated campaign throughout Europe. From Poland, France, Holland, Belgium and more it appeared that Hitler’s path towards world domination was fathomable. The central turning points that will be seen in this unit are the Battle of Stalingrad and the invasion of Europe by the Allies. Following the colossal defeat in Stalingrad, the once indestructible Axis forces were showing signs of mortality. As the Allies continued to fight throughout Europe, the tide of war changed with the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, known famously as D-Day. Following the Allied invasion of Normandy, the Allies began their trek of liberation throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. From 1942-1945 the world witnessed some of the bloodiest and deadly war campaigns in history. Despite the overwhelming numbers of Allied resources and soldiers compared to the Axis, the war continued to bring fierce and unrelenting combat until Japan surrendered on August 14th, 1945. The last three years of the war are defined by the liberation of Nazi occupied lands, the brutal fighting throughout the Pacific, and the use of an apocalyptic weapon the world has never seen used again.
By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!
In this unit, students will be introduced to the major events and decisions that occurred between 1942-1945. A major teaching point to this unit will have students define the term “turning point” and analyze one or more decisions or events that occurred during this time period that had a significant impact on World History. One aspect of this unit that students will research is the power of Political Cartoons during World War II and the significance they had in shaping a national identity. Students will also research the chronology of events that took place during this time period, understand who the key leaders were, and debate one of the most controversial decisions in World History with President Truman’s decision to use the Atomic Bomb on Japan to end World War II.
Essential Questions for World War II: (1942-1945)
What were the major turning points in World War II from 1942-1945?
What countries were involved in the war from 1942-1945?
How was political cartoons and rhetoric used throughout World War II?
Was the United States justified in using the Atomic Bomb on Japan?
World War II: (1942-1945) Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers
For this activity, will create a spider map that reflects the 5 Ws of D-Day. Students will either create their own or use teacher-created questions that answer a “Who, What, When, Where, and Why” question about the Allied Invasion of France known as “D-Day”. For each question answered, students should respond to the question with a visual representation that either uses the Storyboard That images or the Photos For Class search bar on the page.
Example D-Day 5 Ws
WHO led the D-Day invasion?
The Allied invasion of Normandy, France was known as Operation Overlord. The Supreme Allied Commander was General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower and the Allied powers spent months planning this elaborate and incredibly significant invasion.
WHAT countries were involved in D-Day?
D-Day was a well-planned and choreographed effort by the Allied Powers. The amphibious assault on the Germans was carried out by soldiers from UK, US, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Poland.
WHERE were the landings sites for the Allies during D-Day?
Operation Overlord consisted of the largest amphibious invasion in world history. This invasion was spread across five beachheads named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
WHEN did D-Day occur?
D-Day occurred on the morning of June 6th, 1944. The invasion occurred almost five years into the war and became one of the key turning points on the road towards German defeat.
WHY did the D-Day invasion take place?
D-Day was the beginning of a wide-ranged, systematic effort to liberate Europe from Nazi control. Although the Allied powers had been fighting the Axis since 1939, this successful invasion is seen by many as the beginning of the end for the Axis powers.
For this extended activity, students should create a T-Chart that compares and contrasts the different beach invasions during D-Day. Students should select from Utah beach, Omaha beach, Gold beach, Juno beach, and Sword beach. Students should research the terrain, leaders, casualties, and outcomes of the invasions and share with their peers the similarities and differences between these incredibly significant beaches for the Allied liberation of France.
For this activity, students will create a spider web map that reflects the research of a major turning point during 1942-1945. A turning point is a decision, action, or change that greatly impacts the direction or outcome of a situation. Once students have researched a turning point from the war, they should create a three panel storyboard that responds to the following questions:
What was the event?
What was the outcome of the event?
How did this event change the course of history?
Possible World War II Turning Points
The Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Kursk
The Battle of Midway
The Manhattan Project
The use of the Atomic Bomb on Japan
Failed assassination attempts on Hitler
Example Turning Point: The Battle of Kursk
What was the Battle of Kursk?
The Battle of Kursk proved to be one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Combined, the total battle featured over 2,000,000 soldiers and an unprecedented 6,000 tanks. The staggering amount of tanks used in this battle had never been seen in combat up until this point in World History.
What was the Outcome of the Battle of Kursk?
Despite the massive Russian casualties, the battle was a decisive victory for the Russians. Thanks to the more mobile Russian T-34 tanks, the German army suffered a catastrophic loss both physically and mentally following the battle. This would be the last major German offensive of the Eastern Front in World War II.
How did the Battle of Kursk Change the Course of History?
Although it is difficult to predict theoretical outcomes of historical events, one could argue that if the Germans had won this battle, they very well could have won the war. A Russian loss would have surrendered the oil-rich Caucasus to the Germans. With an added level of fuel, the German army could have possibly won World War II.
For this extension activity, students will create an additional component to their storyboard that theorizes what they believe could have happened if their event occurred differently. For example, a student may argue that the war may have had a drastically different outcome if Hitler never invaded Russia, if Truman never dropped the Atomic Bomb, or Alan Turing did not “crack” the German Enigma machine. Students should share with their classmates their theories and have their peers share with them how credible they believe their theories were.
In this activity, students will research the time period of 1942-1945 and create a detailed timeline that reflects the major events of the last few years of the war. Students should focus on political, military, and technological events in their research. Throughout this unit, teachers should emphasize the phrase “turning-point” and have students research at least one event that can be seen as a major turning point during the last few years of the war. For each event, students should create a title of the event, a visual representation, and a written description that includes the overall significance of the event. In order for students to thrive in this assignment, they should be encouraged to research ten events, and select the five that they found to be the most interesting.
Example World War II Timeline
September 8, 1943 - Italy Surrenders
On September 8th, 1943 Italian General Pietro Badoglio formally surrendered to American General Dwight Eisenhower. With the surrender, the Allied forces began Operation Avalanche which began the Allied invasion of Italy.
June 6, 1944 - D-Day
On June 6th, 1944 the Allied Invasion of Normandy France began. Under the name, "Operation Overlord", 156,000 troops, along with over 50,000 vehicles, stormed the largest amphibious invasion in history.
December 16, 1944 - Battle of the Bulge
Following D-Day, the German army attempted to halt the allies by splitting their forces in two. The Battle of the Bulge was the name given to the massive German counteroffensive in the bitter cold December of 1944. Despite almost 90,000 American casualties, the Allies were able to achieve victory and greatly diminish the chances of a German War victory.
April 30, 1945 - Hitler Commits Suicide
On April 30th, 1945 Adolf Hitler committed suicide. Hidden in his bunker in Berlin, Hitler was allegedly informed that the Russian army was about one to two days away from overtaking the city of Berlin and he chose to end his own life rather than flee. With this action, the infamous Nazi Party lost their leader and the World moved on from one of the most notorious figures to have ever walked this planet.
August 6, 1945 - Atomic Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima
On August 6th, 1945, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The blast immediately killed 80,000 people and thousands more would die due to the devastating effects of the nuclear fallout. The United States would use another atomic bomb on Nagasaki which would be the final major action of World War II.
August 14, 1945 - V-J Day
On August 14th, 1945 the Japanese Emperor Hirohiro formally surrenders unconditionally to the United States government. After six years and over 60 million deaths (3% of global population) World War II officially ended.
For the extension activity, students can create an entire class timeline. Students will be required to print out their events and cut and paste them to a larger timeline in the front of the class. Before each student adds an event they should share with the class the event that they are choosing and include at least one fact or description of significance of the event.
For this activity, students will research one of the most controversial decisions in World History: the use of the atomic bomb on Japan to end World War II. At the discretion of the teacher, this can be used as a preparatory activity that leads up to a classroom debate on the use of the bomb. In order for students to fully grasp the complexities of Truman’s decision, students should create a T-Chart that reflects two arguments that support the use of the bomb and two arguments that oppose the use of the bomb. For each argument, students should include the title of the argument, a visualization of the central aspect of the argument, and a written description that summarizes the focal point of the argument.
Example Argument Comparison T-Chart
Use the Atomic Bomb
Do NOT Use the Atomic Bomb
Save Lives Over the Long Run
Loss of Innocent Lives
After witnessing the thousands of lives lost with the American invasion of Europe, the American government wanted to prevent another long and deadly land invasion. The Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated that well over 1 million civilians and soldiers could have been killed with a land invasion.
When the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, thousands of innocent men, women, and children were instantly killed. The horrific nuclear fallout would also lead to countless medical complications for years to come.
The Use of the Bomb Shortened the War
Nuclear Weapons are Inhumane and Illegal
After witnessing the World at War since 1939, the American government decided that the use of the atomic bomb could lead to a Japanese surrender and end the war as opposed to another multi-year extension of death and destruction.
According to the Hague Regulations on Land Warfare, "the attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.” The land and people living in the areas of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not only attacked, but the lands were uninhabitable due to the contamination brought forth by the atomic bombs.
Students will use their research from the initial activity to take part in a classroom debate about whether President Truman and the United States government were justified in the use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. Teachers should either assign the “team” that the student will be on or let them decide for themselves. For students that argue that Truman should not have dropped the Atomic Bomb, have them decide what he should have done instead. Students should use their previously created storyboards to help the class understand their arguments fully while they present their arguments to the class. Depending on teacher’s decision, they may score the debate as it unfolds, have the students vote on which side won, or if another class is available you can have the other class serve as the un-biased voters.