In its most basic sense, victory implies success, whether it’s in personal combat or a large scale war. World War II ended with the Allied powers, including Britain, the United States, China, and the Soviet Union, calming victory over Nazi Germany led Axis power.
So if we stick to our initial argument, the victors of perhaps the deadliest war in the history of mankind were the coalition of Allied nations, more specifically its leaders. It’s only logical.
But have you ever wondered which of the allied nations was benefited the most or who won World War 2 in true sense? It all comes down to the interpretation of success. Well, let’s find out.
For the sake of simplicity, we will take a look at every major country involved in the war one by one and assess what immediate effects the war had on them.
The United Kingdom
London (as seen from St. Paul’s Cathedral) after the Blitz, 29 December 1940
The United Kingdom entered the Second World War in 1939, shortly after Germany invaded Poland. Despite the fall of France (in 1940), its only major ally in the war at that time, Britain and its colonial empire continue to wage war against the European Axis powers.
Following the world war, the United Kingdom emerged as one of the powerhouses of world politics. It played an important role in establishing the World Bank, IMF, NATO and is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
Economically, however, the UK was in a dire state. By the end of the war, the British debt reached 200% of its GDP, matching the levels during the Napoleonic Wars.
The country borrowed a large sum of loan money from its Northern American allies (mainly from the United States) just to avert bankruptcy. The independence of its former colonies, India and Pakistan, in 1947 further hindered Britain’s economic dominance.
The Suez Crisis, which occurred after almost a decade after the war in 1956 marked the end of Britain’s status as a global power.
French Borders between 985 and 1947 | Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Since the middle ages, France has been in the midst of great wars whether it’s to unify the nation or to conquer the entire continent. It has been historically recognized as a military powerhouse in Europe.
In the Second World War, however, France was the first major casualty. After declaring war on Nazi Germany in September 1939, neither Britain nor France made any significant advances on the Western front for eight months (the period now known as Phony War).
The period was followed by a nearly one-and-a-half month military campaign, which was concluded after the conquest of France by Germany and Italy.
When the war ended in 1945, the French met the same fate as of the British. In less than two decades the country lost its colonial empire and came dangerously close to a civil war.
Winston Churchill with Alcide De Gasperi, first republican Prime Minister of Italy
Italy wasn’t a major player in this war, nor it ended on the winning side. It, however, allowed the country to move past its fascist history and embrace democracy. About nine months after the war, on 2 June 1946, Italy became a republic.
The republican constitution came into effect on 1 January 1948, which gave Italian women the right to vote for the first time in the nation’s history.
Despite losing its African colonies, Italy witnessed a brief stint of unexpected economic boom, also known as the Italian economic miracle, from 1950 to the late 1960s. Along with France and Britain, Italy is also a founding member of the European Union.
Poland suffered the third-largest civilian casualty in the war, after the Soviet Union and China. About 6 million Polish nationals, including 90% of the nation’s Jews, died or executed.
The post-war period in Poland was significantly different from those in other Western European countries. With the Polish government still in exile, Joseph Stalin implanted a pro-communist authority in the country.
The sociopolitical and economic complications that arose from this political setup took almost three decades to rectify, starting from the 1960s to 1990.
Poland has made a significant recovery since then. Its economy is not only considered as one of the fastest-growing but resilient one as well.
Japan surrendered to Allies on September 2, 1945, less than a month after the Hiroshima bombing. As a result, Japan lost all of the colonies, while its industries were destroyed. After a brief period of Allied occupation, Japan was granted United Nations membership in 1956. Supported by the United States, both economically and militarily, Japan achieved a significant growth that was only overshadowed by China in the 21st century.
U.S Soldiers preparing for the invasion of France in May/June 1944
The consensus is that the United States won World War II in absolute terms. It played a crucial role in the war; first by supplying war materials to its European allies, and then effectively neutralizing the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Compared to other allied nations, or Axis powers for that matter, the United States emerged from the war rather unscathed even though it lost more than 400,000 soldiers.
The country remained economically strong, mostly due to the massive industrial push during the war. It even issued a series of post-war loans to western European countries under the Marshall Plan. American citizens enjoyed some newfound social benefits as well.
Supported by its ever so strong military and economy, the country played a commanding role in the establishment of several international organizations including the U.N. In short, the Second World War helped the United States to remain a superpower when others lost their dominance at a world stage.
Chairman Mao Zedong proclaiming the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949
No country has suffered more civilian deaths (and second-largest total casualties) in this war than China. The Japanese war atrocities on Chinese people has often been compared with the holocaust or the genocide of the European Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany.
During the war, the four Allied powers, the US, the UK, China, and the Soviet Union were referred to as the “Four Policemen” and “trusteeship of the powerful”. When the war concluded, China retained its status as a major player in global politics.
Internally, however, the situation was dire. The world war not only crippled the Chinese economy but initiated a massive political tussle between the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Communist Party of China, which ultimately led to the Chinese Civil War.
The Soviet Union/USSR
Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin (left), with US President F.D Roosevelt and British Prime Minister W. Churchill in Tehran 1943
One could only imagine what could have happened if Hitler hadn’t invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. As it turned out, the Soviet involvement in the war helped steer the course of the war in the favor of Allies.
But make no mistake, the USSR paid hefty prize to thwart the invasion. In the Battle of Stalingrad alone, the Soviet military casualties crossed one million. About 27 million people died during the entire war in total.
Immediately after the war, the Soviet Union made significant improvements in its military and economy, while maintaining the planned economy approach. With the help of its immense natural resource deposits and satellite states in Eastern Europe, the USSR quickly became one of the superpowers.
A rare color image of the Nuremberg Trials | Image Courtesy: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Germany faced heavy repercussions after the war, both economically and politically. The country was divided into four military occupation zones, which later became known as West Germany (controlled by Western Allies) and East Germany (under Soviet control). The Nazi-occupied lands were also freed. German industries were purposefully reduced and so was most of its military.
However, with the Cold War on the horizon, the western Allies realized that the revival of the West German economy and the military is important for the revival of Western Europe as a whole.