The five phases

A bunker crew receives music instruments and sundry other items for leisure time activities during the Phoney War

World War Two: Five phases

The Phoney War (September 1939‒April 1940)

The War had five phases:

The Phoney War (September 1939‒April 1940)

Hitler conquered Poland. There was no other major activity on land, although there were actions at sea. Historians believe that this period saw very little action as all countries involved were biding their time and waiting for the other to make the first move. The governments of Germany, Britain and France began to issue propaganda. The British government even flew over Germany but, rather than dropping bombs, they dropped propaganda leaflets. Very little of military significance happened that was noticeable. However, all countries were developing their military bases and new technologies. People began to get frustrated and some evacuated children were sent home because people felt there was no point staying in the countryside when there were no bombs to worry about.

Blitzkreig (April 1940‒June 1940)

The Nazis conquered Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France. The British Expeditionary Force was trapped at Dunkirk, but managed to withdraw by sea back to Britain. On 4th June, 1940, Winston Churchill delivered one of the most famous speeches of all time to the House of Commons in Westminster. In it, he warned about the possibility of a German invasion of Britain and said to the inspiration of many: We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Britain and the empire stands alone (July 1940‒June 1941)

  • Britain withstood the German Airforce, called the Luftwaffe, in the Battle of Britain (July‒September 1940).
  • But Britain was alone, and in great danger of losing the war.
  • The Luftwaffe bombed London for 76 nights running (the Blitz), then other cities such as Coventry. People took cover in air raid shelters; some were made of corrugated iron in gardens; others were located inside train stations and tunnels.
  • The British were driven out of Greece and most of North Africa.
  • The British ran out of money, and had to sign the Lend-Lease Agreement with America (America sold arms to Britain, to be paid back after the war).

The tide turns (1941‒1943)

  • In June 1941, Hitler invaded Russia, known as Operation Barbarossa. This brought Russia back into the war, this time against Germany. The failure of Operation Barbarossa was the first major German defeat.
  • In December 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. This brought America into the war.
  • As a result the Allies gradually began to win the war:
  • In June 1942 the Americans defeated the Japanese at the Battle of Midway.
  • In November 1942 the British won the Battle of El-Alamein in Egypt.
  • In January 1943 the Russians defeated the Nazis at the Battle of Stalingrad.

Victory (1943‒1945)

  • In 1944, the Nazis launched V-1 rockets, known as doodlebugs, which fell randomly in southern Britain.


  • After D-Day on 6 June 1944, Germany was gradually driven back in Western Europe by the British, Americans and their allies.
  • The Americans and British continued the strategic bombing campaign on German cities.
  • The Russians advanced in Eastern Europe and in April they reached Berlin. Hitler committed suicide.
  • Germany surrendered and war came to an end in Europe shortly afterwards and VE Day was announced on 8 May 1945. Winston Churchill announced this with caution: We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead. He was speaking of Japan, where the war would continue for three months more.
  • On 6 August 1945, the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and again on Nagasaki on 9 August. Within weeks Japan surrendered, and VJ Day was announced 15 August 1945. By this stage, Winston Churchill was no longer Prime Minister. Clement Attlee had taken over following a general election in which the majority of people voted for a Labour government believing that they would help them more in recovering from the destruction of war. Attlee said, at midnight,The last of our enemies is laid low.