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

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

For almost two years during the Second World War (1939-45), the Allies fought a bitter struggle in Italy against a determined and skilful enemy. Far from being the ‘soft underbelly of Europe’, Italy became one of the 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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Major Herbert 'Blondie' Hasler and a colleague paddling a canoe, c1942

Herbert 'Blondie' Hasler: A Cockleshell Hero

Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler was an inventor, pioneering yachtsman and special forces canoeist. In December 1942, he led the daring ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ raid on Bordeaux harbour.

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Captain Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott, c1944

Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott: Covert beach surveyor

During the Second World War, Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott founded the Combined Operations Pilotage Parties to undertake covert beach reconnaissance. This proved vital for the success of Allied seaborne invasions.

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Captain Roger Courtney, 1943

Roger Courtney: SBS pioneer

Major Roger ‘Jumbo’ Courtney founded the Special Boat Section during the Second World War. This became one of Britain’s most important Special Forces and was a parent unit of the modern Special Boat Service.

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Explore Second World War events

London in the Second World War: The Blitz
Primary workshop

6 January - 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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What is Total War?
Secondary workshop

6 January - 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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Dressed for War
Talk

26 February 2020, 6.30pm

£5.00

Dressed for War

Bestselling author and historian Julie Summers reveals how the identity of 'Vogue' magazine was forged in the Second World War.

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Lonely Courage
Talk

13 March 2020, 11.30am

FREE

Lonely Courage

Join historian Rick Stroud as he celebrates the heroines of the Special Operations Executive who fought to free Nazi-occupied Europe.

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