The events of World War II can be viewed in two movements: the expansion of Axis territory before 1943, and the gradual reconquest by Allied forces until victory in 1945. Germany and Italy's rapid gains in Europe and Africa and Japan's expansion in Asia left the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and Australia on the brink of invasion. But decisive Allied victories, helped by the United States' entry into the war, halted that expansion. The liberation of Axis-occupied territory was hard fought, and in many cases did not occur until the unconditional surrenders of Japan and Germany.
Axis conquest in Europe took place in four main offensives: the invasion of Poland in 1939, the western Blitzkrieg of 1940 (ending in the British evacuation at Dunkirk and capitulation of France), the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece in 1941, and Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. By 1943, with those territories under Axis control and Italy, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria in alliance with Germany, mainland Europe was an almost uninterrupted fortress of Axis territory (save the neutral countries Switzerland, Spain, and Sweden).
Allied intrusion into Europe began with the 1943 landings in Italy and continued with the 1944 D-Day landings in France. By 1945, American, British, Commonwealth, and Free French forces had liberated France, Belgium, and much of Italy; Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands would remain in Nazi hands until the war's end. On the Eastern front, the Soviets beat back Axis forces from Moscow and Stalingrad, eventually capturing much of central Europe in their drive to Berlin. The Soviets annexed these areas or installed Soviet-aligned governments. Those post-WWII borders remained largely unchanged until the dissolution of the USSR and Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Each row indicates a territory held by an Axis power in WWII. The height of the row represents a territory's population. The color of the row describes its occupation status: Axis, Soviet, Allied, or independent. The darkness of the red indicates the percentage of the population killed during the war.
The timeline marker corresponds to the date on the map. Drag the marker to scroll through time and update the map. Hover your mouse over rows in the timeline to view more details about the occupier, liberator, and population. Nations with an asterisk (*) were Axis nations, not occupied territories.
The battle lines in Africa and the Middle East were drawn along the colonial possessions of France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Germany's African colonies were lost during the First World War, but Italy retained a strong foothold with its colonies of Libya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea. Axis territory in Africa grew rapidly with the fall of France in June 1940, placing all French colonies under the Axis-aligned Vichy France puppet government.
British and Free French forces defended against a combined German and Italian invasion of Egypt then went on to recapture Lebanon, Syria, Madagascar, and other Vichy French territory. America joined the Allied cause in 1941 and assisted in the capture of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. By May 1943, the Germans and Italians were entirely expelled from Africa and the Allies prepared to invade Europe.
For most of native Africans, however, true liberation would not come for more than two decades; France and the United Kingdom would hold on to their colonies until the 1960s.
Japan already had a sizeable empire at the start of World War II, including much of China (occupied during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937), Korea, Taiwan, and many smaller islands in the Pacific. The fall of France in 1940 gave Japan control of French Indochina (today Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos). Only the United States stood in the way of complete domination in Asia, and Japan laid plans for a strike on Hawaii.
The attack on Pearl Harbor forced the United States into the war. Japan swept through Asia, capturing Thailand, Burma, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), the Philippines, Guam, Hong Kong, and Singapore in a matter of months. The decisive American victory at the Battle of Midway crippled the Japanese navy and halted their advance. American, British, and Commonwealth troops fought long campaigns in Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. It would take three years of bloody amphibious assaults and two atomic bombs to end the war and liberate Japanese-held territory.
Population in 1939 was sourced primarily from this Wikipedia page. Wartime deaths was sourced from this Wikipedia page. The death figures comprise civilians and troops killed from that territory, but not foreign military deaths killed in that territory (for example, the Ryukyu Islands figure does not include the Japanese soldiers killed on the islands, only the deaths of Ryukyu civilians and soldiers). Additional information was sourced from World War II Database.
Occupation and liberation dates typically refer to the date when the capital city of a territory was captured. In most cases, the territory names appear as they existed in 1939 (such as Burma rather than Myanmar, or Somaliland rather than Somalia). Sources for dates, occupiers, and liberators is attached to each territory in the dataset.
Visualizations were coded in D3.js. Download the source data here.