WWII and post-war Britain

Britain and France went to war with Germany in September 1939. Enemy planes dropped bombs on cities in Britain. Allied ships were sunk by submarines. In July 1940, German planes started bombing British coastal towns, defences and ships in the English Channel in order to gain control of the skies in the South of England.

People expected cities to be bombed, as enemy planes tried to destroy factories. But bombs would hit homes and schools too, so children would be in danger. The government tried at the start of the war to empty the cities of children and mothers, this was evacuation, to protect them from air raids.

Over the summer of 1940 the Royal Air Forces held off the Luftwaffe in perhaps the most prolonged and complicated air campaign in history. This arguably contributed immensely to the delay and cancellation of German plans for an invasion of the United Kingdom (Operation Sea Lion). Of these few hundred RAF fighter pilots, Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said in the House of Commons on 20 August, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." By mid-September 1940, after many battles, Germany postponed their planned land invasion of Britain as the RAF effectively fought off the German Luftwaffe. This period is known as The Battle of Britain.

A hero of those dark hours, Winston Churchill, was a leader of the wartime coalition Government. With his rhetoric, British bulldog spirit, iconic V for victory sign and cigar, he inspired the nation to its greatest efforts. He was an inspirational statesman, writer, orator and leader who led Britain to victory in the Second World War. He served as Conservative Prime Minister twice. On 8 May 1945 Winston Churchill stood on a Whitehall balcony and addressed the excited crowd below. "In all our long history," he said, "we have never seen a greater day than this." Churchill had stood against Hitler and won – the day was his.

6 June 1944 was D-Day, when Allied forces landed in Normandy (France) to begin the liberation of western Europe. Everyone hoped the war would soon be over. However, there were many fierce battles in Europe and in the Pacific war with Japan before the fighting stopped in 1945.


The aftermath of World War II was the beginning of an era defined by the decline of the old great powers and the rise of two superpowers: the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States of America (USA), creating a bipolar world. Allied during World War II, the US and the USSR became competitors on the world stage and engaged in what became known as the Cold War. Western Europe and Japan were rebuilt through the American Marshall Plan whereas Eastern Europe fell in the Soviet sphere of influence and rejected the plan. Europe was divided into a US-led Western Bloc and a Soviet-led Eastern Bloc.