A Fractured Alliance

Extreme nationalism in a global conflict

The Axis powers, originally known as the Rome–Berlin Axis and later the Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis, were a military coalition that initiated the Second World War, opposing the Allies.

The primary members were Nazi Germany, the Kingdom of Italy, and the Empire of Japan.

Despite their unified far-right stance and opposition to the Allies, the Axis powers lacked significant coordination and ideological unity.

Germany, Italy, and Japan had different strategic priorities and often pursued their own national interests, leading to disjointed military efforts.

The absence of a central command structure and frequent disagreements over territorial ambitions further weakened their alliance.

This lack of cohesion contributed to operational inefficiencies and ultimately hindered their ability to effectively challenge the more coordinated and ideologically unified Allied forces.

Japanese axis powers poster from the 1930’s. Japan joined the Axis powers by signing the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy on September 27, 1940. Seeking to expand its influence in Asia and counter Western powers, Japan solidified its alliance with the European fascist regimes.

Japanese axis powers poster from the 1930’s : r/PropagandaPosters (reddit.com)

German Soldiers Marching in the East in 1941 during Operation Barbarossa. Barbarossa, launched in June 1941, was Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union. It aimed to quickly conquer Soviet territories, secure resources, and crush communism, marking a significant expansion of Axis military efforts during the Second World War.

World War II in Color: German Soldiers Marching in the East in 1941 (ww2colorfarbe.blogspot.com)

...Hungary and Romania contributed significant forces to the Eastern Front...

The lesser-known but still significant Axis powers during the Second World War included Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Slovak Republic.

These nations joined the Axis to regain territories and counter regional threats.

Hungary and Romania contributed significant forces to the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union.

Bulgaria, initially neutral, aligned with the Axis in 1941 but did not declare war on the Soviet Union.

Romanian soldiers marching through Constanta, Romania, circa 1941. Romania joined the Axis in 1940, contributing significantly to the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union. Under Ion Antonescu, Romania provided critical resources, including oil, and fought alongside German forces, aiming to regain territories lost after the First World War.

German Federal Archives, Identification Code N 1603 Bild-030 


...internal resistance and political instability...

Slovak Republic (or Slovakia) became an Axis power after declaring independence from Czechoslovakia on the 14th March 1939, under German pressure.

Led by President Jozef Tiso, Slovakia aligned closely with Nazi Germany.

It contributed troops to the invasions of Poland and the Soviet Union, primarily to secure favour with Hitler. Despite its support for Axis military efforts,

Slovakia faced internal resistance and political instability.

Ultimately, the country's collaboration led to significant economic exploitation and the persecution of its Jewish population.

Jozef Tiso, President of the Slovak Republic

Prvá Slovenská Republika (tumblr.com)

Slovak partisans near Banská Bystrica in the Slovakia, 1944.  Slovakia joined the Axis in 1939 after declaring independence from Czechoslovakia. Under President Jozef Tiso, it contributed troops to the invasions of Poland and the Soviet Union, facing internal resistance and political instability.

Once Upon a Time in War: Photo (swallowthesky.org)

...Finland's alliance with Germany was pragmatic and not ideologically aligned...

Italian propaganda poster, produced between 1939 and 1941, showing the three flags of the main Axis powers, reigning over six others, along with the words 'Vinceremo' which translates to 'We Will Win'.

Italian WW2 Propaganda Posters - Comando Supremo

Finland, though not formally an Axis power, cooperated with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union during the Continuation War (1941-1944).

Driven by a desire to reclaim territory lost in the Winter War, Finland's alliance with Germany was pragmatic and not ideologically aligned.

Finland maintained its independence throughout the conflict.

Vichy France, established after France's 1940 defeat by Germany, collaborated with the Axis powers under Marshal Philippe Pétain.

While technically neutral, Vichy France supported Axis policies, facilitated Nazi operations, and contributed to the persecution of Jews.

Its collaborationist regime persisted until Allied forces liberated France in 1944.

The men of the Finnish Häme Cavalry Regiment(HRR) on horseback and skiing. Velikaja Niva. 15th March 1942. Finland, while not formally part of the Axis, cooperated with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union during the Continuation War (1941-1944) to reclaim lost territories. This alliance was pragmatic, not ideological, as Finland sought territorial recovery.

24 amazing colour photos of Finland during WW2 (inktank.fi)

The Independent State of Croatia, established in 1941, was a puppet state of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Led by the Ustaše regime under Ante Pavelić, it aligned with Axis powers, contributing military forces and supporting their operations. The regime was notorious for brutal persecution and genocide during its rule.

...significant internal resistance...

Thailand allied with Japan during the Second World War after being invaded in 1941.

Under Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram, Thailand declared war on the Allies in 1942.

However, there was significant internal resistance, and after Japan's defeat, Thailand renounced its Axis alliance and cooperated with the Allies.

Boundaries of the Independent State of Croatia, the Croatian Nazi Puppet State during the Second World War. The Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi puppet state established in 1941, aligned with Axis powers. Led by the Ustaše regime, it provided military support to Germany and committed atrocities against Serbs, Jews, and Roma during the war.

[Map] Boundaries of the Independent State of Croatia, the Croatian Nazi Puppet State during WWII : r/NoSillySuffix (reddit.com)

...exploited Burma's resources...

As an Axis puppet state, the State of Burma was established by Japan during the Second World War to legitimize its occupation.

The Japanese promised independence and enlisted local leaders to form a provisional government.

However, true power remained with Japan, which exploited Burma's resources and used its territory for strategic military operations against the Allies.

Despite initial cooperation, Burmese dissatisfaction grew due to harsh Japanese control, eventually leading to widespread resistance and collaboration with Allied forces for liberation.

Ba Maw, Prime Minister of the State of Burma, having just been awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by Japan in March 1943.

State of Burma - Wikipedia

Street scene, Manchukuo, c. 1940. Manchukuo, as an Axis puppet state, provided Japan with crucial resources and strategic positioning. It facilitated Japanese military operations in Asia and symbolized Japan's imperial ambitions, strengthening Axis presence in the region during the Second World War.

Miscellaneous scenes of Manchukuo, c. 1940. | Old Tokyo

...Manchukuo served Japan's imperial ambitions...

A poster celebrating the first anniversary of the founding of Manchukuo.

Nagoya City Museum, from the Kurita collection

Manchukuo: Imperial Japan’s Puppet State | Nippon.com

Manchukuo, established in 1932 by Japan, was a puppet state in Manchuria.

Japan installed the last Qing emperor, Puyi, as a figurehead ruler while maintaining full control.

Manchukuo served Japan's imperial ambitions, providing raw materials and acting as a strategic base for further expansion into Asia.

The regime enforced Japanese policies, often brutally, to suppress dissent and exploit local resources.

Manchukuo's existence symbolized Japan's aggressive militarism and colonial ambitions during its participation in the Axis alliance.

Advertisement of congratulation towards the establishment of the new Nationalist government on Taiwan Nichi Nichi Shimpō.

Wang Jingwei regime - Wikipedia

...it aimed to legitimize Japanese control...

The Wang Jingwei Regime (also known as Reorganized National Government of the Republic of China), established in 1940, was a puppet government set up by Japan in occupied China.

Led by former Nationalist leader Wang Jingwei, it aimed to legitimize Japanese control and counteract Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist forces.

The regime promoted collaboration with Japan, adopting pro-Japanese policies and suppressing resistance.

Despite promises of peace and prosperity, it faced widespread unpopularity due to its perceived betrayal of Chinese interests, ultimately serving Japan's strategic goals during the Second World War.

Wang Jingwei was head of the Reorganized National Government.

Wang Jingwei regime - Wikipedia

Japanese soldiers posting instructive posters on the Japanese language in the Second Philippine Republic. The Second Philippine Republic, a Japanese puppet state, was established in 1943 to legitimize Japanese occupation. It promoted Japanese interests and policies, serving as a tool for resource exploitation and regional control during the Second World War.

Second Philippine Republic - Wikipedia

...sought to gain Filipino support for the war effort...

The Second Philippine Republic, established in 1943 under Japanese occupation, was a puppet state led by President José P. Laurel.

Japan intended to legitimize its control and secure local cooperation. The regime promoted Japanese policies and sought to gain Filipino support for the war effort.

Despite promises of independence and development, it was widely viewed as a tool for Japanese exploitation.

The collaboration fostered significant resistance, with many Filipinos joining guerrilla movements against both the puppet government and Japanese forces.

The Hellenic State during was a puppet government established by Axis powers in Greece following their invasion in April 1941.

Governed by Greek collaborators under German and Italian supervision, it faced immense internal resistance from various Greek partisan groups.

The state struggled with economic hardships, widespread famine, and relentless guerrilla warfare.

Its authority was largely symbolic, overshadowed by the influence and control of the occupying Axis forces until the end of the war in 1944.

Azad Hind, or the Provisional Government of Free India, was established in 1943 by Indian nationalists in exile during the Second World War.

Led by Subhas Chandra Bose and supported by the Axis powers, it aimed to overthrow British rule in India. Azad Hind had its own army, the Indian National Army (INA), which fought alongside Japanese forces in Southeast Asia.

Although it did not achieve its goal, it significantly inspired India's independence movement.

Mengjiang, also known as Mengkukuo, was a puppet state established in Inner Mongolia by Imperial Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Formed in 1939 under the leadership of Prince Demchugdongrub, it was intended to serve Japan's strategic interests in China. Mengjiang's government was heavily controlled by the Japanese military and aimed to promote Pan-Mongolism.

Despite its nominal autonomy, it remained largely dependent on Japan until its dissolution following Japan's defeat in in 1945.

A Spanish volunteer in the 'Blue Division' tending the grave of a fallen comrade. The Spanish blue division which was sent to the Eastern front consisted of a total of 50 thousand volunteers in the period from 1941 - 1943.

...Yugoslavia experienced a coup after initially joining the Axis...

Spain and Yugoslavia, though not formal Axis powers, are often associated with them due to their political contexts during the Second World War.

Spain, under Franco's fascist regime, provided indirect support to Axis powers, such as allowing the Blue Division to fight alongside Nazi Germany.

Yugoslavia experienced a coup after initially joining the Axis, leading to Axis invasion and occupation.

Both countries' complex interactions with Axis powers contribute to their association with the Axis during the war.

Josip Broz Tito, leader of the Yugoslav Partisans, fiercely opposed the Axis powers. He led a robust resistance movement against their occupation, promoting anti-fascist ideology and ultimately contributing significantly to the Axis defeat in the Balkans.


...further integrated the military objectives of Germany, Italy, and Japan...

Flags of GermanyJapan, and Italy draping the facade of the Embassy of Japan on the Tiergartenstraße in Berlin, September 1940.

Axis powers - Wikipedia

The main (and most well known) Axis powers – Germany, Italy and Japan - emerged from diplomatic efforts by these three countries in the mid-1930s to advance their expansionist goals.

The first significant step was the protocol signed by Germany and Italy in October 1936, after which Italian leader Benito Mussolini declared that European countries would revolve around the Rome–Berlin axis, coining the term "Axis."

In November 1936, Germany and Japan ratified the Anti-Comintern Pact, an anti-communist treaty, with Italy joining in 1937, followed by Hungary and Spain in 1939.

The Rome–Berlin Axis evolved into a military alliance in 1939 with the Pact of Steel, and the Tripartite Pact of 1940 further integrated the military objectives of Germany, Italy, and Japan, along with other nations.

These agreements formed the basis of the Axis alliance.

Every territory the Axis powers(including co-belligerents) occupied/controlled for any duration of time during the Second World War.

Every territory the Axis powers(including co-belligerents) occupied/controlled for any duration of time during WW2 : r/MapPorn (reddit.com)

At its height in 1942, the Axis controlled significant parts of Europe, North Africa, and East Asia through occupation, annexation, or puppet states.

Unlike the Allies, the Axis powers had minimal coordination and never held three-way summit meetings; their interests often conflicted.

The Axis alliance dissolved with its defeat in 1945.


The term "axis" was first applied to the Italo-German relationship by Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini in September 1923.

In the preface to Roberto Suster's "La Germania Repubblicana," Mussolini wrote, "there is no doubt that in this moment the axis of European history passes through Berlin" (non v'ha dubbio che in questo momento l'asse della storia europea passa per Berlino).

At the time, Mussolini was seeking an alliance with the Weimar Republic against Yugoslavia and France over the dispute concerning the Free State of Fiume.

Hungary's Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös later used the term when advocating for an alliance between Hungary, Germany, and Italy in the early 1930s.

Although Gömbös influenced the Italo-Hungarian Rome Protocols, his sudden death in 1936 while negotiating with Germany ended Hungary's pursuit of a trilateral axis.

Subsequently, contentious negotiations between Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano and German Ambassador Ulrich von Hassell led to the Nine-Point Protocol.

Map depicting amongst others, the Free State of Flume. Mussolini's dispute over the Free State of Fiume began after the First World War when Italian nationalists, led by poet Gabriele D'Annunzio, seized the city in 1919. Mussolini supported annexation and sought an alliance with the Weimar Republic to counterbalance French influence, culminating in Fiume becoming part of Italy in 1924.

...an alliance would allow Italy to expand its influence in Europe...

Hitler and Mussolini at a joint parade of the German and Italian army – 1940. The Rome-Berlin axis - signed on the 1st November 1936 - solidified the link between the two countries.

Biography of Benito Mussolini, the Fascist Dictator of Italy – Özhan Öztürk Articles (ozhanozturk.com)

This agreement was signed by Ciano and his German counterpart, Konstantin von Neurath, in 1936. Mussolini announced the creation of the Rome–Berlin axis on the 1st November of that year.

Italy, under Duce Benito Mussolini, had aimed for a strategic alliance with Germany against France since the early 1920s.

Even before becoming Italy's head of government, Mussolini had advocated for an alliance with a defeated Germany after the Paris Peace Conference (1919–1920).

He believed that such an alliance would allow Italy to expand its influence in Europe.

In early 1923, as a goodwill gesture, Italy secretly delivered weapons to the German Reichswehr, which had been severely disarmed under the Treaty of Versailles.

German press representatives at their hotel at the Paris Peace Talks in Versailles. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 imposed harsh penalties on the defeated nations, fueling resentment in Germany, Italy, and Japan. This discontent and desire for territorial expansion significantly contributed to the formation of the Axis Powers.

THE PARIS PEACE CONFERENCE, JANUARY-JUNE 1919 | Imperial War Museums (iwm.org.uk)

...Germany desired revenge against France...

By the 1920s, Italy identified 1935 as a crucial year for preparing for a potential war against France, coinciding with the expiration of Germany's Versailles Treaty obligations.

Meetings in Berlin in 1924 between Italian General Luigi Capello and German military figures like Hans von Seeckt and Erich Ludendorff discussed military collaboration, concluding that Germany desired revenge against France but needed Italian assistance due to a shortage of weapons.

However, Mussolini insisted that in any alliance with Germany, Italy must lead, not follow.

In the early 1930s, Italian Foreign Minister Dino Grandi emphasized Italy's "decisive weight" in European politics, recognizing that while Italy was not yet a major power, it could influence the balance between France and Germany by strategically supporting one side.

Early tensions

In 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany. Since the 1920s, Hitler had advocated for an alliance with Italy.

Shortly after becoming Chancellor, Hitler sent a message to Mussolini expressing admiration and anticipation for German–Italian friendship and potential alliance.

Aware of Italy's concerns over South Tyrol, Hitler assured Mussolini that Germany had no interest in the region. In "Mein Kampf," Hitler stated that the benefits of a German–Italian alliance outweighed the issue of South Tyrol.

After Hitler's ascension, the Four Power Directorate proposal, which Italy supported, gained interest from Britain.

However, Hitler was not committed to it. Mussolini urged Hitler to consider the diplomatic advantages of breaking Germany’s isolation by joining the Directorate and avoiding immediate conflict.

The proposal allowed Germany to rearm under foreign supervision in stages, which Hitler rejected.

German leader Adolf Hitler. Hitler played a central role in forming the Axis by forging alliances with Italy and Japan to advance expansionist goals, signing key treaties like the Anti-Comintern Pact and the Tripartite Pact.

Postcard Führer und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler, Julius | akpool.co.uk

Jubilant Austrians welcome German troops during the Anschluss on the 13th March 1938. In the years leading up to the Anschluss, tensions between Germany and Italy arose from conflicting interests in Austria. Mussolini initially opposed Hitler's ambitions to annex Austria, fearing a stronger Germany would threaten Italian influence in the region.

17 Color Photographs of the Anschluss in 1938 ~ Vintage Everyday

Mussolini distrusted Hitler's intentions regarding Austria and South Tyrol.

He informed Hitler that he supported Engelbert Dollfuss's anti-Marxist government in Austria and opposed Anschluss. Hitler contemptuously replied that he intended to "throw Dollfuss into the sea."

This disagreement strained relations between Hitler and Mussolini.

To resolve the impasse over Austria, Hitler sent Hermann Göring to negotiate with Mussolini in 1933.

Göring argued that Nazi control of Austria was inevitable and that Italy should accept it, reiterating Hitler's promise to respect the South Tyrol frontier.

In response, Dollfuss visited Italy, asserting his government's efforts against Marxists and claiming that Nazi support in Austria would wane once Marxists were defeated.

In the 1930s, tensions between Hitler and Mussolini brewed over Austria and South Tyrol. Hitler's desire to annex Austria clashed with Mussolini's ambitions, while control over South Tyrol stirred ethnic tensions. Their complex relationship underscored the volatile power dynamics reshaping Europe, leading to broader geopolitical consequences.

South Tyrol: Climb the Peaks, Own the Trails and Love the Dolomites - Active-Traveller

...Austrian Nazis assassinated Dollfuss...

Austrian Chancellor Englebert Dollfuss in Geneva, 1933. His assassination by Austrian Nazis would create tension between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. 

Axis powers - Wikipedia

In June 1934, Hitler and Mussolini met in Venice.

The meeting was contentious. Hitler demanded Mussolini pressure Dollfuss to include Austrian Nazis in his cabinet, which Mussolini refused.

Hitler then promised to accept Austria's independence temporarily due to internal tensions in Germany. Galeazzo Ciano later claimed the leaders agreed not to interfere in Austria.

The assassination of Dollfuss on the 25th July, 1934, by Austrian Nazis marked a significant escalation in tensions between Italy and Germany.

Mussolini, furious over the attack and suspecting Hitler's involvement, swiftly deployed troops to the Brenner Pass, signaling his commitment to defending Austrian independence.

Hitler, eager to avoid a conflict with Italy, disavowed any Nazi involvement and severed ties with the Austrian Nazi party.

Austrian soldiers and police street fighting during the July 1934 coup. The coup, which resulted in the assassination of Chancellor Dollfuss, strained relations between Hitler and Mussolini. Hitler's desire for Nazi control in Austria conflicted with Mussolini's support for Austrian independence, leading to tension between the two leaders.

Old photo 1934 Austria smashed the July coup, the German-Austrian merger fell through - iNEWS (inf.news)

...Mussolini's willingness to collaborate with Western powers to counter German aggression...

In response to the crisis, Italy turned to France for support, signing a Franco-Italian accord aimed at safeguarding Austrian sovereignty.

Military discussions between French and Italian staffs ensued, exploring the possibility of joint action in the event of a German incursion into Austria.

This shift in alliances demonstrated Mussolini's willingness to collaborate with Western powers to counter German aggression and preserve the status quo in Central Europe.

Ultimately, the Dollfuss assassination served as a catalyst for closer cooperation between Italy and France and strained relations between Italy and Germany, setting the stage for future diplomatic maneuvers and alliances in the lead-up to the Second World War.

A flourishing relationship

The fallout from the Dollfuss assassination marked a turning point in the relationship between Germany and Italy, leading to the strengthening of their alliance.

In response to Mussolini's decisive action, Hitler recognized the importance of maintaining friendly relations with Italy.

Despite initial tensions over Austria, Hitler saw the strategic value of aligning with Mussolini's Fascist regime. This recognition led to a series of diplomatic overtures aimed at solidifying the German-Italian partnership.

Relations between Germany and Italy improved in 1935 due to Hitler’s support for Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, while other nations condemned the invasion and advocated sanctions against Italy.

An Italian propaganda poster promoting German - Italian cooperation.

2376d2575c60955cd1315fce267d5977--nazi-propaganda-ww-posters.jpg (474×681) (pinimg.com)

Ethiopian troops transport captured Italian cannone da 65/17 modello 13 artillery to forward positions in maneuvers against the fascist Italian troops during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. The conflict helped improve German-Italian relations as Hitler's support for Mussolini's invasion strengthened their bond. Germany's diplomatic backing of Italy during international condemnation fostered closer ties, paving the way for future Axis collaboration.

Anti-Worlds: Ethiopian troops transport captured... (tumblr.com)

Germany and Italy united in their mutual support for Generalissimo Francisco Franco's Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War.

One key event that further helped improve relations was the signing of the Rome-Berlin Axis on October 25, 1936.

This agreement formalized the political and military cooperation between Germany and Italy, laying the groundwork for future collaboration.

The Axis pact served as a counterbalance to the growing influence of the Allied powers in Europe and the escalating tensions leading to the Second World War.

...assured him that the Anschluss would not threaten Italian interests...

Hitler on the front cover of a magazine, 1st March 1938, promoting the Anschluss with the words "Österreichische Woche" (Austria Week). 

Poster - magazine. Anschluss Austria 1 March 1938 "Österreichische Woche" (aboutww2militaria.com)

Following the signing of the Axis pact, Mussolini and Hitler embarked on a series of state visits and meetings to strengthen their personal rapport and coordinate their policies.

Mussolini's visit to Germany in September 1937 and Hitler's return visit to Italy in May 1938 reinforced their commitment to the Axis alliance and deepened their mutual trust.

The Anschluss, or annexation of Austria by Germany on March 12, 1938, further solidified the bond between Hitler and Mussolini.

Despite initial reservations from Mussolini, who sought to maintain Italian influence in Austria, Hitler assured him that the Anschluss would not threaten Italian interests.

Mussolini eventually acquiesced to the annexation, signaling his willingness to support German expansion in exchange for German assurances of Italian territorial integrity.

Enter Japan

Interest in forming an alliance between Germany and Japan began when Japanese diplomat Hiroshi Ōshima visited Joachim von Ribbentrop in Berlin in 1935.

Although Japan was initially reluctant to make an alliance against the United Kingdom and France, Ōshima informed von Ribbentrop of Japan's interest in a German–Japanese alliance against the Soviet Union.

Von Ribbentrop expanded on this proposal, suggesting that the alliance should oppose the Comintern.

The proposed pact received mixed reactions in Japan. Ultra-nationalists within the government supported it, while the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Japanese Foreign Ministry were staunchly opposed.

Hiroshi Ōshima, Japanese ambassador to Germany

Hiroshi Ōshima - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia

...a nation hostile to Japan...

They feared that such a pact might disrupt Japan's beneficial relations with Britain, which had helped Japan rise in the international community.

In Germany, the pact was popular among the upper echelons of the Nazi Party but faced opposition from the Foreign Ministry, the Army, and the business community, which had financial interests in the Republic of China, a nation hostile to Japan.

Adolf Hitler meeting with Japanese ambassador Hiroshi Ōshima. Hitler saw Japan's alliance as strategically advantageous, enhancing Axis power in Asia and the Pacific. He viewed Japan's military prowess as complementary to his own ambitions, believing their cooperation would secure dominance over global affairs.

(C) Mourning the Ancient

...fearing that an Italo-Japanese alliance would further antagonize Britain...

On learning of German–Japanese negotiations, Italy also showed interest in forming an alliance with Japan.

Italy hoped that Japan's close relations with Britain could pressure Britain into adopting a more accommodating stance towards Italy in the Mediterranean.

In the summer of 1936, Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano informed Japanese Ambassador Sugimura Yotaro of Italy's interest in a similar agreement with Japan.

Initially, Japan dismissed Italy's proposal, prioritizing a German–Japanese alliance against the Soviet Union and fearing that an Italo-Japanese alliance would further antagonize Britain, which had condemned Italy's invasion of Ethiopia.

Japanese navy soldier guarding the German embassy in Shanghai, circa 1937.


The signing of the Tripartite Pact by Germany, Japan, and Italy on 27 September 1940 in Berlin. Seated from left to right are the Japanese ambassador to Germany Saburō Kurusu, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Galeazzo Ciano, and Adolf Hitler.

Signing ceremony for the Axis Powers Tripartite Pact - Axis powers - Wikipedia

...a more positive Japanese attitude towards Italy...

Japan's attitude towards Italy changed in 1937 after the League of Nations condemned Japan for aggression in China, leading to international isolation.

Italy's continued support for Japan led to a more positive Japanese attitude towards Italy. Japan then offered proposals for a non-aggression or neutrality pact with Italy.

The Tripartite Pact was signed by Germany, Italy, and Japan on September 27, 1940, in Berlin.

German and Japanese banners on display. Germany and Japan, united by the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936 and the Tripartite Pact of 1940, emerged as Axis allies. Their collaboration, spanning from 1936 to 1945, aimed to expand territories and challenge Allied powers, profoundly influencing the course of the Second World War.


The pact was subsequently joined by Hungary on the 20th of November 1940, Romania on the 23rd of November 1940, Slovakia on the 24th November 1940, and Bulgaria on the 1st of March 1941.

The Axis economies

In 1938, the Axis powers had a combined population of 258.9 million, while the Allied powers, excluding the Soviet Union and the United States, had a population of 689.7 million, giving the Allies a 2.7 to 1 advantage.

Germany, including Austria, had 75.5 million people, Japan had 71.9 million (excluding its colonies), and Italy had 43.4 million (excluding its colonies).

In contrast, the United Kingdom had a population of 47.5 million and France had 42 million, both excluding their colonies.

Japanese women working on a bomber engine. Although Japan did not mobilize women to the extent of other nations during the Second World War, there were still many that were put to work, albeit poorly paid in comparison to the male workers.

The Japanese Economy and the Effect of the Second World War - Owlcation

In terms of wartime gross domestic product (GDP), the Axis powers reached $911 billion in 1941, measured in 1990 international dollars.

The Allied powers had a combined GDP of $1,798 billion, with the United States alone contributing $1,094 billion, surpassing the Axis total.

...Italy, however, did not significantly mobilize its economy...

The war's economic burden on participating countries is reflected in the percentage of their gross national product (GNP) devoted to military expenditures.

In 1939, Germany allocated nearly one-quarter of its GNP to the war, which increased to three-quarters by 1944.

Japan similarly committed 22% of its GNP to its war effort in China in 1939, rising to three-quarters by 1944.

A German tank factory in 1940. The Axis economy during the Second World War heavily impacted its industry, prioritizing military production over civilian needs. This shift strained resources, led to labor shortages, and caused widespread economic instability, ultimately undermining long-term industrial sustainability.

Rare photographs show the tank factories of the Second World War, 1940-1945 - Rare Historical Photos

Italy, however, did not significantly mobilize its economy, keeping its GNP allocation for the war effort at prewar levels.

Both Italy and Japan faced industrial limitations, with small economies heavily dependent on international trade and external sources for fuel and industrial resources. Consequently, their mobilization efforts remained low even by 1943.

Among the Axis powers, Japan had the lowest per capita income, while Germany and Italy's income levels were comparable to that of the United Kingdom.

Romania's oil was crucial to the Axis, providing 94% of Germany's oil imports in 1940 and 75% in 1941. Italy, lacking natural and synthetic oil production, was even more dependent on Romanian oil.

The loss of Romanian oil following Romania's defection from the Axis in August 1944 marked Hitler's first acknowledgment that the war was lost.

Crowds greet a saluting Adolf Hitler at a cornerstone ceremony at a Volkswagen factory, 1938. Volkswagen, established in 1937, was a major Nazi economic achievement, symbolizing industrial modernization and mass production. Created to provide affordable cars for Germans, it boosted employment and showcased the regime's ability to transform economic visions into reality.

Hugo Jaeger—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Adolf Hitler Among the Crowds: Color Photos of the Fuhrer's Fans | TIME

Cooperation and exploitation

The economic collaboration between Axis powers during the Second World War was a strategic effort to maximize resources for the war effort, heavily relying on the exploitation of occupied territories, trade agreements, and forced labour. Germany, Italy, and Japan coordinated their economic policies to support their military objectives, seeking to create self-sufficient war economies.

Germany led the way in exploiting occupied territories. The Nazi regime systematically plundered the resources of occupied countries, including raw materials, food supplies, and industrial output. This exploitation extended to seizing assets, repurposing factories for war production, and stripping cultural artifacts.

The Nazi economic plan also involved forced labor; millions of civilians from occupied territories were deported to Germany to work in factories, farms, and construction projects under brutal conditions.

German occupied France. With most petrol diverted to German forces to run their tanks, ships, and planes, civilians were forced to find alternative sources of fuel for their vehicles. Germany exploited France's resources by seizing raw materials, agricultural products, and industrial output. They also utilized French factories for war production and conscripted French laborers through forced labor programs to support their military efforts.

André Zucca

Rare color photos of German-occupied Paris during World War II, 1940s - Rare Historical Photos

Italy and Japan adopted similar strategies in their respective spheres of influence.

Italy exploited resources from its African colonies and territories in the Balkans.

Japan, following its aggressive expansion in Asia, exploited the natural resources of Southeast Asia, including oil, rubber, and minerals, which were critical for its war machine.

The Japanese also employed forced labor, with many Asian civilians and prisoners of war subjected to harsh conditions in labor camps.

Trade agreements were another vital component of Axis economic collaboration.

The Tripartite Pact of 1940 formalized cooperation between Germany, Italy, and Japan, fostering economic ties.

This pact facilitated the exchange of raw materials, technological knowledge, and military supplies, aiming to strengthen each member’s war capabilities.

Australian soldiers after their release from Japanese captivity in Singapore, 1945. The Japanese used prisoners of war as slave labor during the Second World War, forcing them into grueling work on projects like the Burma Railway. These POWs endured brutal conditions, starvation, and abuse, leading to high mortality rates.

Forced labourers and their fate | End of Empire

A German propaganda poster in Pairs with the slogan ‘They give their blood – give your work to save Europe from Bolshevism’. The Axis powers utilized forced and slave labor during WWII, exploiting millions from occupied territories and prisoner-of-war camps. These laborers were subjected to harsh conditions, producing war materials, building infrastructure, and supporting the Axis economies under brutal and inhumane conditions.

André Zucca

Rare color photos of German-occupied Paris during World War II, 1940s - Rare Historical Photos

The role of forced labour was significant across the Axis powers. Not only did it provide a steady workforce for war production, but it also helped maintain the illusion of economic stability and productivity.

However, the reliance on forced labour had dire humanitarian consequences, resulting in immense suffering and high mortality rates among the labourers.

Germany: The Third Reich

In 1941, Adolf Hitler attributed the outbreak of the Second World War to the intervention of Western powers against Germany during its conflict with Poland, labeling it the fault of "European and American warmongers."

Hitler's vision was for Germany to become the world's dominant state, with Berlin transformed into Welthauptstadt ("World Capital") Germania.

He argued that Germany needed to expand territorially due to an overpopulation crisis, necessitating lebensraum ("living space") to secure resources and improve living conditions.

Since the 1920s, the Nazi Party had promoted German expansion into Soviet-held territories.

German soldiers during the First World War. Once the war ended, Germany faced humiliation due to the Treaty of Versailles, which imposed heavy reparations, territorial losses, military restrictions, and full war guilt, causing widespread resentment and economic hardship.

Color by Klimbim 0.1: Image (wordpress.com)

...leading to widespread national resentment...

Following the First World War, Germans felt humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles, which imposed heavy reparations and territorial losses.

The treaty's harsh terms stripped Germany of significant territories, limited its military capabilities, and placed full blame for the war on the nation, leading to widespread national resentment.

This economic strain led to hyperinflation in the early 1920s, wiping out the savings of many Germans and destabilizing the economy.

The French occupation of the Ruhr in 1923, a response to Germany's failure to meet reparations payments, further exacerbated the situation by crippling German industrial output.

The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 further plunged Germany into economic despair, with massive unemployment and social unrest.

These dire conditions created fertile ground for radical political movements.

A 1937 Nazi propaganda poster entitled 'Bolshevism without a mask' depicting a demonic caricature of a communist oppressing German workers. Propaganda was regularly used to support and promote the Nazis virulent hatred of Communism.

The Virtual Museum of the Holocaust and the Resistance – MODULE 5: The Twin Drivers of Nazi Culture (mcmaster.ca)

...a potent mix of nationalism, anti-Semitism, and anti-communism...

German soldiers at a Nazi Rally. These rallies, such as those in Nuremberg, used grandiose spectacle, propaganda, and powerful oratory to promote their ideology, instilling unity, nationalism, and loyalty to Hitler, effectively mobilizing and indoctrinating the masses.

The Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, capitalized on public discontent by promoting the stab-in-the-back legend, which falsely claimed that internal enemies, particularly Jews and Communists, had betrayed Germany during the First World War.

This narrative suggested that Germany's military had been undefeated on the battlefield but had been undermined by these internal groups, fueling widespread resentment and scapegoating.

By exploiting these sentiments, the Nazis created a potent mix of nationalism, anti-Semitism, and anti-communism, which resonated deeply with many Germans disillusioned by economic hardship and national humiliation.

Promising to restore Germany to its former glory, rebuild the economy, and reassert German pride, the Nazis garnered significant support.

Their message of renewal and strength struck a chord with a populace desperate for change, ultimately leading to their rise to power in 1933, when Hitler was appointed Chancellor.

Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, Germany, 1937. In the late 1930s, Hitler envisioned a dominant Third Reich, expanding territorially across Europe. He aimed to establish Aryan supremacy, dismantle the Treaty of Versailles, and create a totalitarian state, leading to aggressive militarization and geopolitical upheaval.

Hugo Jaeger—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Adolf Hitler Among the Crowds: Color Photos of the Fuhrer's Fans | TIME

...went unchallenged by the international community, emboldening Hitler further...

Hitler initially concealed his true intentions by signing a 10-year Non-Aggression Pact with Poland in 1934, presenting an image of peaceful cooperation.

However, Germany soon began to dismantle the post-First World War order by renouncing the Treaty of Versailles and re-militarizing the Rhineland in 1936.

This bold move went unchallenged by the international community, emboldening Hitler further.

German soldiers entering Czechoslovakia on the 15th March 1939. The German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939 was ordered by Hitler to expand German territory, gain strategic advantage, and access Czechoslovakia's industrial resources. It followed the Munich Agreement's annexation of the Sudetenland and marked a blatant violation of previous international agreements.

BBC World Service - Witness History, The German Invasion of Czechoslovakia

...Germany fully invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia...

In 1938, Germany annexed Austria in a move known as the Anschluss, expanding its territory without opposition.

Following this, Hitler turned his attention to the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia with a significant ethnic German population, and secured its annexation through the Munich Agreement.

The occupation of the Memel territory soon followed.

In March 1939, Germany fully invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia, breaking previous agreements.

In August 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the Soviet Union divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence, setting the stage for the Second World War with Germany's invasion of Poland on the 1st September 1939.

An Austrian newspaper from 12th March 1938. detailing the support from the Austrian population for the 'Anschluss'. 

The headline reads 'German troops on Austrian soil. Welcomed by the population with tremendous enthusiasm - Joint march of German and Austrian soldiers in Kufstein.'

Weiner Holocaust Library Collection

Early Nazi foreign policy – The Holocaust Explained: Designed for schools

A crowd cheers in Florence, Italy, during Hitler's state visit in 1938. Germany and Italy's relationship was crucial in the lead-up to the Second World War. Their alliance, solidified by the Rome-Berlin Axis in 1936, strengthened their military and political influence, setting the stage for coordinated expansionist ambitions and global conflict.

Hugo Jaeger—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Adolf Hitler Among the Crowds: Color Photos of the Fuhrer's Fans | TIME

...A diplomatic crisis erupted...

By the late 1930s, Germany had sought better relations with Poland to prevent it from aligning with the Soviet Union and appealed to anti-Soviet sentiment.

Germany justified its war against Poland by citing the treatment of the German minority and Polish resistance to incorporating the ethnically German-majority Free City of Danzig into Germany.

A diplomatic crisis erupted when Germany demanded the annexation of Danzig, leading to Poland's refusal and Germany's general mobilization on 30 August 1939. 

...the strategic necessity of occupying these countries...

This was followed by the Invasion of Poland on the 1st September 1939.

Germany justified its invasion of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in May 1940 by claiming it suspected Britain and France would use the Low Countries to launch an invasion of the Ruhr region.

Hitler emphasized the strategic necessity of occupying these countries to protect Germany.

Adolf Hitler views victory parade in Warsaw after the German invasion of Poland, 1939. Hitler's success in conquering Poland in 1939 validated his ideology of German expansionism, demonstrating military might, securing lebensraum ("living space"), and fostering nationalist pride, thereby solidifying his grip on power.

Hugo Jaeger—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Invasion of Poland, 1939: Color Photos From WWII's First Front | TIME

...created from Czechoslovakia's dismemberment...

After the stunning German successes of 1940, Nazi Germany found itself in control of vast expanses of Europe, incorporating numerous countries.

Occupied territories included the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, created from Czechoslovakia's dismemberment, and the General Government in occupied Poland.

Reichskommissariats were established in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Norway for future Germanic incorporation, while those in the east, like Ostland and Ukraine, were intended for German settlement.

Young inmates at the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration camp. Hitler's virulent anti-Semitism profoundly shaped Nazi behavior towards Jews, viewing them as a threat to Aryan purity and societal stability. His ideology fueled widespread persecution, leading to the systematic genocide known as the Holocaust and the establishment of concentration camps for extermination and forced labour.


...exterminate millions of Jews, political dissidents, prisoners of war, and others deemed undesirable...

The concentration camps in German-occupied territories were horrifying symbols of Nazi brutality during the Second World War.

Places like Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, and Bergen-Belsen were used to imprison, torture, and exterminate millions of Jews, political dissidents, prisoners of war, and others deemed undesirable by the regime.

These camps embodied the darkest depths of human cruelty and stand as haunting reminders of the systematic genocide that occurred during the Holocaust.

In Norway, Vidkun Quisling's regime collaborated with the Nazis, but strong resistance movements emerged. Post-war, Quisling and other collaborators were executed, and his name became synonymous with treachery.

A German mortar squad marching behind a Panzer III tank during Operation Barbarossa. Launched on the 22nd June 1941, it was Nazi Germany's massive invasion of the Soviet Union. Marking a crucial Eastern Front campaign, it aimed to conquer Soviet territories but ultimately failed, leading to significant German losses and a turning point in the Second World War.

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...viewing them as American imperialism...

The invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 aimed at securing lebensraum and combating communism.

Initially, Hitler rejected the idea of supporting an anti-communist Russian army led by Andrey Vlasov, but by 1944, mounting losses led to the recognition of Vlasov's forces as allies.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Germany declared war on the US.

Hitler denounced the Atlantic Charter and the Lend-Lease Act, viewing them as American imperialism.

He criticized President Franklin D. Roosevelt's use of "freedom," accusing it of being a guise for exploiting the world and its masses.

Hitler viewed the USA with contempt, perceiving it as a racially mixed and culturally degenerate society. He underestimated American industrial and military capabilities, believing the nation to be incapable of sustaining a prolonged war, a miscalculation that contributed to his downfall.

Hitler: ¿cómo se convirtió en nazi? (elcomercio.es)

...marked the weakening of the German military...

By the end of 1941, Germany occupied much of Europe, showcasing its military prowess.

However, the tide turned with devastating defeats at Stalingrad and the Battle of Kursk in 1943, which marked the weakening of the German military.

These setbacks, coupled with significant Allied landings in France (D-Day in 1944) and Italy (1943), stretched German forces thin and paved the way for the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

Two German snipers surrender to the troops of the Third Army of the United States on the 26th March, 1945. In the last few months of the Second World War, Germany faced relentless Allied advances from the west and Soviet forces from the east. Berlin fell in May 1945, leading to Hitler's suicide and Germany's unconditional surrender, ending the war in Europe.

Ww2 Explorer (@ww2_explorer) • Instagram photos and videos

Italy: A new Roman Empire?

Mussolini aimed to create a "New Roman Empire," beginning with the invasion and annexation of Ethiopia in 1935 - 1936, which led to the proclamation of the Italian Empire. Mussolini envisioned a grand plan for Rome during his regime.

He aimed to merge the cultures of ancient Rome and the fascist present, transforming the city into a glorious mecca for global visitors.

Mussolini’s vision was to establish Rome as the capital of a new fascist Roman Empire.

His ambitious public-works projects sought to showcase the regime’s capabilities and revive Rome’s former dominance.

Hitler, influenced by Italy’s designs, aspired to create something even more impressive for Germany.

For Mussolini, everything was a battle in spirit, and his new Rome had to surpass the city of Augustus

Benito Mussolini led Italy into the Second World War as part of the Axis, seeking territorial expansion and a "New Roman Empire." However, Italy's military struggles and economic woes made it heavily reliant on German support.

Benito Mussolini - Wikipedia

A scale model showing what EUR would have looked like had it been completed. EUR, an acronym for “Esposizione Universale Roma” (meaning Rome’s Universal Exposition), is a district in Rome. It dates back to the Fascist era and was originally planned as the site for the 1942 World’s Fair, intended to showcase twenty years of Fascism in Italy. Benito Mussolini initiated this project, but due to the Second World War, the fair never took place, leaving the district incomplete. 

The EUR: Mussolini's New Rome - Warfare History Network

...leading to deteriorated relations and French naval threats...

Despite League of Nations protests and sanctions, Italy left the League in 1937 and joined the Anti-Comintern Pact.

After the Munich Agreement in 1938, Italy demanded colonial concessions from France, which France refused, leading to deteriorated relations and French naval threats.

Amidst this tension, Hitler promised military support to Italy in a January 1939 speech.

In 1939, Italy invaded Albania and signed the Pact of Steel with Germany.

Italian fascists during Adolf Hitler's 1938 state visit. Italian Fascism and German National Socialism shared ideological similarities, including authoritarianism, nationalism, militarism, and anti-communism. Both emphasized state control, suppression of dissent, and the belief in racial or cultural superiority, aiming to create powerful, unified, and expansionist states.

Hugo Jaeger—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Adolf Hitler Among the Crowds: Color Photos of the Fuhrer's Fans | TIME

...Economic difficulties and inadequate military resources...

Italy was ill-prepared for a wider, global war, having only been involved in more localised conflicts since 1935, including the Spanish Civil WarEconomic difficulties and inadequate military resources hampered Italy's war efforts.

By 1940, Mussolini decided to intervene in the war despite opposition from military leaders due to insufficient resources and unpreparedness.

Italy entered the Second World War on the 10th June 1940 and justified its intervention in Greece in October 1940 by alleging British strategic use of Greece against Italy.

Italian soldiers on the Alps place a piece of artillery. Western Front 1940. When Italy entered the war in 1940, its military faced significant challenges, including outdated equipment, inadequate supplies, poor training, and a lack of coordination. These deficiencies led to struggles in campaigns like North Africa and Greece, undermining Italy's effectiveness as an Axis power.

Italian soldiers on the Alps place a piece of artillery. Western Front 1940. [1915x2000] : r/HistoryPorn (reddit.com)

...that hindered Italian progress and threatened its existence...

In April 1941, Italy intervened in Yugoslavia, citing Italian irredentist claims and supporting Croatian separatists, including the Ustaše movement led by Ante Pavelić.

Mussolini justified Italy’s war declaration against Britain and France by condemning them as "plutocratic and reactionary democracies" that hindered Italian progress and threatened its existence.

Italy resented the sanctions imposed by the Western powers during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, which Italy framed as a defensive action against Ethiopian aggression in the Walwal incident of 1934.

Italy, like Germany, claimed territorial expansion was necessary for spazio vitale ("vital space") for the Italian nation.

Italian propaganda poster depicting a Japanese, Italian and German soldier attacking. The slogan reads 'Victory. For the new social order, for civilization'.

Italian WW2 Propaganda Posters - Comando Supremo

Italian soldiers in North Africa manning a Breda 20mm Anti-aircraft gun and wearing pre-war wool m37 uniform. Picture taken in 1941 during the Axis drive to Egypt.

World War II in Color: Italian Soldiers in North Africa with Anti-Aircraft Gun (ww2colorfarbe.blogspot.com)

By 1941, Italy's independent military campaigns faltered, and the country became dependent on Germany.

German forces dominated the military efforts in North Africa and the Balkans, highlighting Italy's subordinate position.

Italy's economic struggles led to tensions with Germany, including the forced labor of Italian workers in Germany.

Italy's colonial holdings included the Dodecanese Islands, Montenegro, and Albania.

...faced a massive uprising...

Montenegro was intended to be an "independent" state under Italian control but faced a massive uprising. Albania, dominated by Italy since 1913, was fully occupied in 1939.

In Africa, Italy's colonies included Italian East Africa (Eritrea, Somalia, and Ethiopia) and Libya, directly incorporated into Italy in 1939 but remaining under colonial administration until 1943.

Italy's dictator Benito Mussolini (centre) is surrounded by German paratroopers after his rescue. Mussolini's rescue in 1943 by German commandos, known as the Gran Sasso raid, was significant as it restored him to power in the Italian Social Republic, bolstering Axis morale and prolonging Italian fascist resistance. 

Picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS 

Mussolini's liberation as a successful PR coup (jungefreiheit.de)

...summarily executed by firing squad...

Following the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, King Victor Emmanuel III dismissed Mussolini, leading to Italy's armistice with the Allies on 8 September 1943.

Mussolini was rescued by Germans and led the Italian Social Republic, a puppet state in northern Italy.

In the summer of 1944, after the German defeats at Cassino and Anzio, central Italy, including Rome, was liberated.

Northern Italy was liberated following the final spring offensive and the general insurrection of Italian partisans on the 25th April 1945.

Mussolini was captured by the Italian resistance and summarily executed by firing squad.

The Italian campaign during the Second World War marked a significant chapter in the country’s history, leading to the end of Fascist rule and the collapse of the Italian Social Republic

Crowds attend a retreat ceremony, in which the American flag that flew over the White House on the 7th December 1941 was raised over the Victor Emmanuel II Monument in Rome, circa early June 1944. The monument is in the right background. Building at left bears a sign reading Rome Area Command.

Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

USA C-799 Liberation of Rome, June 1944 (navy.mil)

Italian soldiers captured in Sicily following the landing of the allied troops. July 1943.


Rising Sun: The Empire of Japan

In the aftermath of the First World War, Japan experienced a period of political and economic turbulence.

The 1920s saw a rise in nationalism and militarism, fueled by dissatisfaction with the Treaty of Versailles and Japan's desire for greater regional influence. Economic instability, exacerbated by the Great Depression, further fueled expansionist ambitions.

Japan, as one of the Axis powers during the Second World War, played a significant role in the conflict. Chronologically, Japan's involvement began with its expansionist policies in the 1930s.

Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1931 marked the beginning of its aggressive expansion in East Asia.

Despite condemnation from the international community, Japan's military continued to assert dominance in the region, leading to escalating tensions with China.

This would  lead to the invasion of China in 1937, and the Second Sino-Japanese War, which some historians consider to the be actual start of the Second World War.

The Japanese government commissioned artists to create war-themed art during the Second World War. This painting by Saburo Miyamoto entitled “We Will Never Stop Attacking” was one such example. Japanese propaganda posters glorified military strength, emphasizing honor, sacrifice, and national unity. They depicted soldiers as heroic figures, reinforcing the nation's aggressive expansionist and militaristic ideology.

Japanese Propaganda Painting – “We Will Never Stop Attacking” by Saburo Miyamoto – Brian.Carnell.Com

The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) Special Naval Landing Forces troops in gas masks and armed with the Type 11 Light Machine Gun during the Battle of Shanghai in 1937.  It was a major early conflict in the Second Sino-Japanese War, involving fierce urban combat and significant casualties on both sides.

Rising Sun in the East (ussastoria.org)

...Japan sought to establish a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere...

General Hideki Tojo. As Prime Minister, he was pivotal in aligning Japan with the Axis powers. His aggressive military policies and expansionist ambitions drove Japan's involvement in World War II, solidifying its Axis allegiance.

In 1940, Japan aligned itself more closely with Germany and Italy by joining the Axis powers.

This alliance aimed to challenge the influence of the Allied powers, particularly Britain, France, and the United States.

Japan sought to establish a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, envisioning itself as the dominant power in the region.

Key personalities in Japan during this period included Emperor Hirohito, who held a symbolic but influential position as the head of state.

Military leaders such as General Hideki Tojo played crucial roles in shaping Japan's wartime policies and strategies.

Tojo, in particular, served as Prime Minister during much of Japan's involvement in the Second World War.

The red-brick Imperial Hemp Weaving Co. Building, Nihonbashi Bridge, Tokyo 1930. In the 1930s, Tokyo symbolized Japan's rising power and influence. Modern infrastructure, industrial growth, and military expansion showcased its ambition. The city's blend of tradition and innovation marked Japan's emergence as a formidable global force, reshaping Asia's geopolitical landscape.

Imperial Hemp Weaving Co. Building, Nihonbashi, c. 1930. | Old Tokyo

...Japan's military conducted operations across the Pacific...

Japan's relationship with other Axis powers was largely characterized by shared military goals rather than deep ideological alignment.

While Japan cooperated with Germany and Italy in certain military campaigns, such as the Tripartite Pact signed in 1940, there were significant differences in their objectives and interests.

Japan focused primarily on expanding its territorial control in East Asia, while Germany pursued dominance in Europe and Italy sought to establish influence in the Mediterranean.

...the beginning of Japan's involvement...

During the Second World War, Japan's military conducted operations across the Pacific, aiming to secure resources and territory for its empire.

The attack on Pearl Harbor on the 7th December 1941, brought Japan directly into conflict with the United States. This event marked the beginning of Japan's involvement in the wider Pacific theater of the war.

USS Maryland BB-46 (left) and the capsized hull of USS Oklahoma BB-37 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The surprise attack galvanized the United States' entry into the Second World War, dramatically altering the conflict's dynamics. This shift brought immense industrial and military resources against the Axis powers, significantly weakening their position and accelerating their eventual defeat.

Rare and Incredible Color Photographs of the Attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 ~ Vintage Everyday

...defeat became increasingly apparent...

Japanese victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima

Throughout the war, Japan faced significant challenges, including the Battle of Midway in 1942, which dealt a severe blow to its naval capabilities.

Despite initial successes and territorial gains, Japan's military expansion eventually became unsustainable as Allied forces, particularly the United States, mounted counteroffensives in the Pacific.

Japan's defeat became increasingly apparent with the loss of key territories and naval battles, culminating in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

These devastating attacks prompted Japan's surrender, leading to the end of World War II and the beginning of the Allied occupation of Japan.

A Japanese soldier surrendering during fighting in the Pacific Theatre. The Japanese defeat in the Pacific Theatre culminated in the Axis powers' downfall. The relentless Allied offensives, culminating in atomic bombings, crippled Japan, leading to its surrender. This marked a decisive turning point, hastening the collapse of Axis ambitions globally.

Royston Leonard / mediadrumworld

Horrors of Pacific War brought to life in colour photos: US troops battle Japanese soldiers trained to fight to the death - World News - Mirror Online


The Kingdom of Hungary, under Regent Admiral Miklós Horthy, became the first country outside of Germany, Italy, and Japan to join the Tripartite Pact, signing on 20 November 1940.

Political instability had plagued Hungary until Horthy, a nobleman and Austro-Hungarian naval officer, became regent in 1920.

Many Hungarians sought to recover territories lost through the Treaty of Trianon.

Under Gyula Gömbös's government, Hungary aligned closer to Germany and Italy, driven by shared desires to revise post-First World War peace settlements.

The anti-Semitic policies of the Nazi regime also found sympathy in Hungary.

Hungarian leader Miklós Horthy and German leader Adolf Hitler in 1938.

Hungary in World War II - Wikipedia

The Hungarian capital, Budapest in the 1942. Hungary joined the Axis in 1940 to regain lost territories, participating in invasions of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. It faced severe losses and switched sides in 1944 under Soviet pressure.

Hungary in color (1940-1943) - Mai Manó House Blog

...Hungary gained lands through the First Vienna Award...

Hungary initially refused to join Germany's planned invasion of Czechoslovakia during the Sudeten Crisis, but post-Munich Agreement, it pursued diplomatic rapprochement with Germany to prevent too close an alliance with Romania.

This stance led to favorable territorial settlements: Hungary gained lands through the First Vienna Award, annexed Carpathian Ruthenia after Czechoslovakia's breakup, and received Northern Transylvania from Romania via the Second Vienna Award.

Hungarian forces supported Germany during the invasion of Yugoslavia, leading to the annexation of parts of Yugoslavia and the UK's diplomatic break with Hungary.

Territories that Hungary gained back with the Vienna Awards and military occupation (1938–1941).

TeritorialGainsHungary1920-41 - Hungary in World War II - Wikipedia

...the Hungarian Second Army was decimated...

Though initially non-participative in the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Hungary became a belligerent on 27 June 1941.

Over 500,000 Hungarian soldiers fought on the Eastern Front, with all five Hungarian field armies engaged.

Hungary signed the renewed Anti-Comintern Pact on 25 November 1941 and contributed significantly to actions against the Soviets.

By the end of 1943, Soviet forces had gained the upper hand, and the Hungarian Second Army was decimated on the Voronezh Front.

Before German occupation, around 63,000 Jews perished in Hungary. Post-occupation in late 1944, 437,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, most of them killed, leading to nearly 560,000 Hungarian Jewish casualties overall.

Hungarian Arrow Cross army/militia and a German Tiger II tank in Budapest, October 1944.

Hungary in World War II - Wikipedia

Ferenc Szálasi, Arrow Cross Party Leader

Ferenc Szalasi colorized photo by CheyTacRose on DeviantArt

In 1944, Horthy’s attempts to negotiate peace with the Soviets led to his abdication after German commandos, led by Colonel Otto Skorzeny, kidnapped his son in Operation Panzerfaust.

Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross Party then established a brutal regime, killing as many as 38,000 Jews in fewer than three months and deporting many to death camps.

The Red Army surrounded Budapest soon after Szálasi took power.

Despite fierce resistance, Budapest fell, and pro-German Hungarians retreated to Italy and Germany.

In March 1945, Szálasi fled to Germany, leading a government in exile until Germany's surrender in May 1945.


The Kingdom of Romania, under the leadership of King Carol II and later General Ion Antonescu, was the first country besides Germany, Italy, and Japan to join the Tripartite Pact on November 20, 1940.

Despite aligning its economy with Nazi Germany through a 1939 treaty, Romania retained some pro-British sympathies and had historical ties with Poland.

After the fall of France and Poland, Romania felt isolated, and pro-German, pro-Fascist sentiments grew.

Victoriei Avenue in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, 1930's. Romania's membership in the Axis led to severe hardships for its population, including significant military casualties, economic strain, and devastating losses among Jewish and Romani communities due to collaboration in Nazi-led deportations and genocidal policies.

Victoria Avenue, Bucharest (1930's) : r/BalkanHub (reddit.com)

...forced the king to abdicate...

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 allowed the Soviet Union to annex Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina from Romania in 1940.

Additionally, the Second Vienna Award, arbitrated by Germany and Italy, forced Romania to cede Northern Transylvania to Hungary. Southern Dobruja was ceded to Bulgaria.

To stabilize the country and secure German protection, King Carol II appointed General Ion Antonescu as Prime Minister in September 1940.

Antonescu soon forced the king to abdicate, installing King Michael I and declaring himself Conducător with dictatorial powers.

The National Legionary State, led by the Iron Guard and Antonescu, was proclaimed on the 14th September 1940.

German and Romanian troops on the 22nd June, 1941. Romania, fighting alongside Germany on the Eastern Front, suffered devastating losses. Despite initial successes in recapturing lost territories, Romanian forces faced severe casualties, particularly during the Battle of Stalingrad, leading to significant human and material costs.


How and why Romanians fought against the Soviets in WWII (PHOTOS) - Russia Beyond (rbth.com)

...Romania faced devastating losses...

Romanian Leader, Marshal Ion Antonescu, Antonescu led Romania into the Axis, aligning with Nazi Germany. He implemented fascist policies, contributed troops to the Eastern Front, and participated in the Holocaust, resulting in significant military and civilian casualties during the Second World War.

Marshal Ion Antonescu - Romanian Forces | Gallery (ww2incolor.com)

Romania joined the German-led invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, with Antonescu being a close military advisor to Hitler.

Romanian troops recaptured Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina and contributed significantly to the Eastern Front, including battles in Crimea and the Caucasus.

Despite initial successes, Romania faced devastating losses, particularly at Stalingrad, prompting Romanian officials to secretly negotiate peace with the Allies.

Under Antonescu, Romania became a fascist dictatorship and a totalitarian state. Approximately 250,000 Jews perished under the regime, with many being deported to concentration camps.

By 1944, as the Soviet forces advanced, Romania switched sides on August 23, 1944, joining the Allies and fighting against Germany until the end of the war.

A Romanian owned, German made Bf-109 fighter aircraft being prepped. During the Second World War, Romania utilized Axis equipment extensively, including German Panzer tanks, Sturmgeschütz assault guns, and Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. These supplies bolstered Romania's military capabilities, significantly influencing their contributions on the Eastern Front.

World War II in Pictures: Romanian Air Force (filminspector.com)

...Romania's strategic oil reserves and industrial capabilities were crucial to the Axis war effort...

After Italy's armistice in September 1943, Romania became Germany’s main European ally until switching sides in August 1944.

Romanian forces continued to contribute significantly to Axis military operations and production, including designing and producing military equipment.

Romania's strategic oil reserves and industrial capabilities were crucial to the Axis war effort.

However, the tide turned, and Romania's switch to the Allies marked a significant shift in the war's dynamics.


The Kingdom of Bulgaria, under Tsar Boris III, signed the Tripartite Pact on March 1, 1941.

Following its defeat in the First World War, Bulgaria sought to reclaim territories in Macedonia and Thrace, which were divided between Yugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey.

Throughout the 1930s, right-wing elements in Bulgaria fostered closer ties with Nazi Germany.

In 1940, Germany pressured Romania into signing the Treaty of Craiova, returning Southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria.

Germany further promised Bulgaria territorial expansion to the borders outlined in the Treaty of San Stefano if it joined the Axis.

Sofia, capital of the Kingdom of Bulgaria, 1930's Bulgaria joined the Axis on the 1st March, 1941, under Tsar Boris III, seeking to reclaim lost territories. It allowed German troops to use its territory for the invasions of Yugoslavia and Greece, receiving territorial rewards in return.

Royal Bulgaria in Colour | Kingdom of Bulgaria in the

...spent the subsequent years combating nationalist groups...

Bulgaria supported the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece by allowing German troops to use its territory for their attacks.

As a reward, Bulgaria was permitted to occupy southern and southeastern Yugoslavia (Vardar Banovina) and northeastern Greece (parts of Greek Macedonia and Greek Thrace).

Bulgarian forces in these regions spent the subsequent years combating nationalist groups and resistance movements.

Despite pressure from Germany, Bulgaria did not participate in the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union and never declared war on the Soviet Union.

However, the Bulgarian Navy engaged in several skirmishes with the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, which targeted Bulgarian shipping.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Bulgaria declared war on the Western Allies.

Bulgarian troops invading the so-called Western Outlands in Eastern Serbia 19 April 1941. During WWII, Bulgaria, as part of the Axis, occupied Vardar Banovina in Yugoslavia, facilitated German troop movements, and fought against local nationalist resistance groups.

Bulgaria during World War II - Wikipedia

...severe Allied bombing of Sofia and other major Bulgarian cities...

This declaration was largely symbolic until August 1943, when Bulgarian air defenses and the air force attacked Allied bombers returning from raids on Romanian oil refineries.

This led to severe Allied bombing of Sofia and other major Bulgarian cities during the winter of 1943-1944.

Colonel Ivan Bonev, Commander of the 9th Infantry Regiment during the defense of the town of Kyustendil and the surrounding area, September 1944. Bulgaria, initially an Axis power under Tsar Boris III, sought to switch sides in 1944 as the Red Army advanced. The new government declared neutrality, expelled German troops, but the Soviets invaded, leading to a pro-Soviet coup.

Royal Bulgaria in Colour | Kingdom of Bulgaria in the

...fought against the Germans in Yugoslavia and Hungary, suffering significant casualties...

Boris III, Tsar of Bulgaria, (3rd October 1918 - 28th August 1943). Boris viewed the Axis alliance as a strategic opportunity to regain lost territories, despite his cautious approach and reluctance to fully commit to Nazi Germany's war efforts.

Royal Bulgaria in Colour | Kingdom of Bulgaria in the

On September 2, 1944, with the Red Army nearing the Bulgarian border, a new government sought peace with the Allies, expelled the remaining German troops, and declared neutrality.

Despite these actions, the Soviet Union declared war on Bulgaria on September 5, and the Red Army entered Bulgaria on September 8 without resistance.

A coup d'état on September 9, 1944, brought the pro-Soviet Fatherland Front to power.

Subsequently, the Bulgarian army, now part of the Red Army's 3rd Ukrainian Front, fought against the Germans in Yugoslavia and Hungary, suffering significant casualties.

Despite these efforts, the Paris Peace Treaty treated Bulgaria as a defeated country. Bulgaria retained Southern Dobrudja but had to relinquish all claims to Greek and Yugoslav territory.

War Crimes and Atrocities

Throughout World War II, the Axis powers perpetrated numerous war crimes and atrocities that shocked the world and left a lasting scar on human history.

These heinous acts, committed against both military personnel and civilians, ranged from genocide and mass killings to systematic human rights abuses.

One of the most notorious examples of Axis war crimes was the Holocaust, the systematic extermination of six million Jews by Nazi Germany. Under Adolf Hitler's regime, Jews were rounded up, deported to concentration camps, and subjected to forced labor, starvation, and mass shootings.

The scale and brutality of the Holocaust remain unparalleled in modern history, symbolizing the depths of human depravity.

Apart from the Holocaust, the Axis powers were responsible for numerous other atrocities across Europe, Asia, and Africa. In Eastern Europe, the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing squads, executed millions of Jews, Roma, and other minorities in mass shootings.

In Asia, the Imperial Japanese Army committed atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking, where hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians were brutally murdered, raped, and tortured.

The Axis powers also engaged in widespread violations of the laws of war and human rights. They targeted civilians, bombed civilian populations indiscriminately, and conducted scorched-earth policies to destroy entire communities.

The use of forced labor, including prisoners of war and civilian populations, was widespread, with millions subjected to slave labor in factories, mines, and construction projects.

Following the end of the war, the Allied powers established international tribunals to prosecute Axis war criminals for their atrocities.

The Nuremberg Trials, held in Germany between 1945 and 1946, prosecuted prominent Nazi leaders for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes against peace.

Similarly, the Tokyo Trials prosecuted Japanese military leaders for their roles in wartime atrocities.


Resistance movements and underground networks played a crucial role in opposing Axis rule in occupied territories during the Second World War.

These movements emerged in various countries across Europe, including France, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Norway, as well as in regions under Axis control in Asia.

One of the primary challenges faced by resistance fighters was the constant threat of reprisals from Axis authorities. Resistance members risked arrest, torture, and execution if discovered, and many operated in secrecy to avoid detection.

Additionally, the lack of resources and support posed significant obstacles to their efforts, as they often had to rely on clandestine networks for communication, funding, and supplies.

Danish resistance fighters during the Second World War. Danish resistance members engaged in clandestine operations, including the production of illicit publications, espionage, and acts of sabotage. Prominent groups like BOPA and Holger Danske operated in Copenhagen, while smaller factions like the Samsing Group and the Churchill Club also participated in sabotage activities. These brave individuals were responsible for eliminating approximately 400 Danish Nazis, informants, and collaborators by 1944, and later targeted German nationals as well.

Danish resistance in WW2 (colorized) by Anamnesisss on DeviantArt

Despite these challenges, resistance movements made significant contributions to the Allied war effort. They engaged in acts of sabotage, espionage, and intelligence gathering, disrupting Axis supply lines, communications, and military operations.

Resistance fighters carried out assassinations of Axis officials and collaborators, as well as rescue missions to liberate prisoners of war and persecuted minorities.

In occupied countries like France and Poland, resistance groups played a vital role in organizing underground networks to provide shelter, food, and medical aid to refugees, escaped prisoners, and persecuted individuals, including Jews and political dissidents.

These networks also facilitated the smuggling of weapons, ammunition, and supplies to resistance fighters and Allied forces behind enemy lines.

The resistance movements were not homogeneous and often consisted of diverse groups with different ideologies and objectives.

Communist, socialist, nationalist, and liberal factions coexisted within these movements, united by their common goal of liberating their countries from Axis occupation.

The contributions of resistance fighters to the Allied war effort were instrumental in weakening the Axis powers and hastening their defeat.

Their bravery, sacrifice, and determination inspired hope and solidarity among occupied populations and served as a powerful symbol of resistance against tyranny and oppression.

After the war, many resistance members were recognized for their heroism and awarded medals of valor by Allied governments, commemorating their vital role in the struggle for freedom and democracy.

Italian partisan Rosy Remelli in Val Camonica, Lombardy, Italy in 1944. At just 14 she was the youngest Italian partisan of the war. Italian partisans played a crucial role in resisting Axis occupation, conducting guerrilla warfare, sabotage, and intelligence gathering. Their actions disrupted enemy operations and contributed significantly to the Allied war effort.

Italian partisan Rosy Remelli in Val Camonica, Lombardy, Italy. At just 14 she was the youngest Italian partisan of the war. 1944 : r/wwiipics (reddit.com)

Further reading