ABSTRACT.The Second World War began as two wars of continental domination, in China and then in Europe. Some of the major campaigns were fought partly or entirely at sea, but the real importance of the sea was that it permitted the Western alliance to unify its efforts, shipping supplies and armies around the world, and to choose its targets, while at the same time dividing and isolating its enemies.
RÉSUMÉ.La seconde guerre mondiale commença par deux guerres de domination continentale, en Chine puis en Europe. Certaines des principales campagnes s'exécutèrent partiellement ou intégralement en mer. Cependant, le véritable rôle de la mer fut de permettre à l'alliance occidentale d'unifier ses efforts, de transporter des armées et des stocks d'approvisionnement à travers le monde et de choisir ses cibles tout en divisant et isolant ses ennemis.
“Because World War II was in truth worldwide, it was basically a naval war.” Chester Nimitz set out this assessment in his foreword to a 1961 history.Nimitz had been the most successful admiral of that war, as Commander-in-Chief of the American Pacific Fleet; in a long and distinguished career he also served as Chief of Naval Operations.
The statement that 1939–1945 was “basically a naval war” is an extreme one. To evaluate it we need to bear in mind that the conflict was indeed “in truth worldwide” and that it was an extremely complex event. Few simple generalisations can be made, and the war needs to be considered from multiple national perspectives. And in enumerating “basic” features, the causes of the Second World War, and the conduct and results of that struggle must be treated as distinct entities.
THE CAUSES OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Nimitz's use of the word “naval” is narrow for present purposes; “maritime” is better – for discussion of the role of “the sea”. But even so, it is hard to argue that the Second World War was essentially caused by maritime issues. It might be there were “deep” causes related to the sea: challenges by regional “revisionist”(“new-order”) powers – Germany, Italy and Japan – to the existing overseas empires of the European powers, especially Britain. But that is really too general to be helpful.
This is not the place to detail the origins of the war. But in very general terms the eventual “worldwide” conflagration had two distinct sites of ignition.