British troops practising for D-Day, 1944

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Second World War

The Second World War took place between 1939 and 1945 and was the bloodiest conflict in human history. It split the world's nations into two opposing military alliances, the Allies and the Axis Powers.

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Explore Second World War stories

Lieutenant Jimmy Sale, 1941

The Sale Collection: Origins and early years

In the first instalment of this series, we learn about the origins of the 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters), its pre-war service and the outbreak of fighting in 1939.

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Passing German prisoners of war when moving up to the Aller, Germany, April 1945

Countdown to victory

In the spring of 1945, Allied armies began their final advance into the heart of Nazi Germany. After weeks of intense fighting, they secured victory, ending the most destructive war in Europe's history.

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The burning of Belsen, May 1945

The liberation of Belsen

As the British Army advanced into the heart of Nazi Germany in the spring of 1945, its soldiers were confronted with the full horrors of the Holocaust at the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

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Luck and superstition

Luck and superstition

Chance plays a significant part in deciding a soldier’s fate on the battlefield. Here we look at examples of close shaves and extraordinary escapes, and examine some of the superstitions soldiers draw on for comfort and protection.

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The war on glamour

The war on glamour

During the Second World War, the Army relied on women to perform essential military roles. But some of the tactics used to recruit new members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) proved highly controversial.

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Abram Games in his studio, c1941

Abram Games and the power of the poster

Abram Games was 'Official War Poster Artist' during the Second World War. Always direct, and occasionally controversial, his posters have left a legacy that continues to influence the art of persuasion used by visual designers today.

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Abram Games poster, 'Your Britain. Fight for It Now', 1942

Abram Games, ABCA and the fight for post-war change

During the Second World War, Abram Games produced a series of posters for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs. These aimed to remind soldiers what they were fighting for, while also offering a glimpse of the post-war society they could aspire to.

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The 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers with Achilles tank destroyers near Ferrara, April 1945

The battle for Italy

From 1943 to 1945, the Allies fought an attritional campaign in Italy against a resolute and skilful enemy. Far from being the ‘soft underbelly of Europe’, Italy became one of the Second World War’s most exhausting campaigns.

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Gurkhas open fire during an attack near Palel, April 1944

Battles of Imphal and Kohima

These formed the turning point of one of the most gruelling campaigns of the Second World War. The decisive Japanese defeat in north-east India in 1944 became the springboard for the subsequent re-conquest of Burma.

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ATS women at a train station, 1944

Breaking boundaries

During the Second World War women took on increasingly diverse roles. But, like their First World War predecessors, they were still prevented from fighting.

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Field Marshal Auchinleck, c1947

Claude Auchinleck: The auk

After initial successes in North Africa during the Second World War, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck transferred to India as Commander-in-Chief. His unstinting logistical support there was vital to the Allied re-conquest of Burma.

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East African soldiers with a captured Japanese flag, 1944 

The Far East campaign

Between December 1941 and August 1945, British Commonwealth troops and their allies fought a bitter war across the vast expanses of Asia and the Pacific Ocean against a tenacious and often brutal enemy.

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Explore Second World War events

What is Total War?
Secondary workshop

1 - 30 July 2020

FREE

What is Total War?

Investigate the concept of Total War by tracing the steps taken to prepare for industrialised conflict in the First and Second World Wars.

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London in the Second World War: The Blitz
Primary workshop

1 - 30 July 2020

FREE

London in the Second World War: The Blitz

Use sleuthing skills to discover the stories revealed in our Second World War time capsules. Delivered in partnership with the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

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British flag taken by the Japanese during the fall of Singapore, 1942
Talk

31 July 2020, 12pm

FREE

The Far East Campaign: Early Defeats

Join curators Jasdeep Singh and Dr Peter Johnston as they discuss the fall of Hong Kong and Singapore, and defeat in the first Burma campaign.

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Foe to Friend: The British Army in Germany since 1945
Exhibition

22 September 2020 - 1 July 2021

FREE

Foe to Friend

More than a million British soldiers have lived and served in Germany over the past 75 years. Immerse yourself in their stories and follow their evolution from conquerors and occupiers to allies and friends.

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Explore Second World War learning resources

How To Draw: Transport
Home Activity

KS1-KS2 (Ages 5 to 11)

How to Draw: Transport edition

Use our simple step-by-step instructions to draw Army-related transport.

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Pack your bag: Scavenger hunt
Home Activity

KS1-KS2 (Ages 5 to 11)

Pack your bag: Scavenger hunt

Download our at-home scavenger hunt and get ready to pack your bag for an adventure around the house.

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How to Draw: Second World War edition
Home Activity

KS1-KS2 (Ages 5 to 11)

How to Draw: Second World War edition

Use our simple step-by-step instructions to have a go at drawing items from the Second World War.

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Morse code challenge
Home Activity

KS2 (Ages 7 to 11)

Morse code challenge

Can you crack the code? Try our Morse code challenge at home!

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"First time @NAM_London today. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Thought the presentation & interpretation made the subject accessible..."