Who Were the Axis Powers of World War II?

Soldiers march in Nazi Germany. Editorial credit: Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com.

As Germany, Italy, and Japan aggressively sought to expand and secure their territories in the mid-1930s, they became a major threat to global security leading to World War II. A treaty was signed between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in October 1936, after which Benito Mussolini declared that all other European nations would from then rotate around the Rome-Berlin "Axis". Almost simultaneously in November 1936, Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact or Anti-Communist Treaty with Japan. Italy joined the treaty in 1937.

This was the precursor to the Tripartite Pact of 1940, which integrated the military ambitions of the three countries. Germany, Italy, and Japan became the three major Axis Powers who were pitched against the Allied Forces in the deadliest war in history. The provisions of the Tripartite Agreement included mutual military assistance to any of the three nations if was attacked. The pact acknowledged each others’ dominance in their respective territories.

A major aim of the pact was to keep the United States out of the war. The ideology of the Axis Powers was to break what they saw as the hegemony of the Western powers and protecting the world from communism. The Axis Powers never held a trilateral summit and there was no real co-ordination during the war. The Tripartite Pact was a fluid treaty. Other allies and client states of Italy and Germany later joined the alliance like Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Slovakia.

The Axis Countries 

Nazi Germany

Editorial credit: Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com.

Germany was seething under the humiliating provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, which had settled World War I. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Adolf Hitler rose to prominence in the Nazi Party. After the death of President Paul von Hindenberg, Hitler declared himself President and embarked upon a violent campaign against his opponents. The proclamation of the Aryan race fuelled Hitler’s ambitions for world dominance. He wanted to make Berlin the world capital. With this began the ruthless oppression of Jews and other ethnic minorities, which culminated in genocide and the deaths of millions of people. Hitler’s opposition to communism and his bid to recover territories previously lost to Russia led to him to invade the Soviet Union in 1941.

Fascist Italy

Editorial credit: Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com.

Fascist Italy aimed for a "modern Roman Empire" with a return of the dominance over the Mediterranean Sea it had enjoined at the height of the ancient empire. However, the Italian Social Republic lacked the political and economic clout to achieve this on its own and depended on Germany’s military might. Before the war, under Hitler’s influence, Mussolini unleashed his own wave of terror against the Slovene community and the Jews. He advocated the extermination of the so-called low races whose higher birth rates would overrun Europe, which rightfully belonged to the Aryans and who deserved to dominate the world. However, he backtracked in 1933 by declaring that Aryan superiority was just a feeling and added that national pride is independent of race. However, his obsession with Roman territorial supremacy made Italy a client state of Germany well until the end of the war.

Imperial Japan

The Samurai warrior class had ruled Japan for centuries before the monarchy was re-established in the country with the Meiji restoration. Here began the modern era of Imperial Japan, which developed high ambitions for its presence on the world stage. With industrialization, Japan began building its military and economic might and embarked upon a mission of territorial expansion, by which it colonized smaller nations in Asia. By the start of the war, the emperor controlled more than 2,857,000 square miles of territory outside of Japan. The territorial aspirations of Asia’s Japan matched those of Europe’s Germany and Italy. It balanced the global power equation; Japan was a natural component of the Axis. However, its ambitions went too far when it attacked Pearl Harbor and brought the United States into the war in 1941.

Other Allies

During the war, many German and Italian allies like Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact. Slovenia was a client state of Germany and had also joined the Pact. After a coup d’etat in Yugoslavia, when a new regime came to power, Germany and Italy invaded the country. The result was the creation of the new state of Croatia, which also joined the Axis. The Soviet Union was also invited to join the Pact, but Hitler’s insistence on invading the country precluded that outcome. In any case, the Soviet Union soon joined the war on the side of the Allies. There were other allies and client states who were hesitant to confront the allied forces. Thailand refused to join due to its relations with the United States.

Defeat and Legacy

Once the United States entered the war, Japan’s comprehensive defeat in Asia was as sudden as its attack on Pearl Harbour had been. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to the collapse of the Japanese Empire. Germany overstretched itself by fighting on two fronts: the Western front against the allies and the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union. The punitive air bombardment into Germany devastated the country and pushed Hitler into a bunker where he preferred to shoot himself rather than being captured. The power structure changed in Italy, which was now dominated by communists. Mussolini was executed. By the time the war ended, great damage had been done to the economies of Europe. The genocides and the atomic bombings left immeasurable scars upon the world as well. 


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