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What Were the Axis Powers?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Axis Powers were the three main belligerents in the Second World War: Italy, Germany, and Japan. A number of other nations also briefly joined them, and Italy actually left the alliance towards the end of the war. Together, these powers managed to take control of large amounts of land and other resources until they were defeated in 1945.

The term “Axis Powers” was actually coined by Benito Mussolini, leader of Fascist Italy, in 1936, when Italy and Nazi Germany signed a pact of friendship. Mussolini boasted that Germany and Italy would become the axis around which the rest of Europe would be forced to revolve. In 1939, the two countries sealed the deal with the Pact of Steel, and in 1940, they signed an official agreement, the Tripartite Pact, which included Imperial Japan.

A number of nations joined the Axis, often under pressure, including Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Thailand, and Yugoslavia. The alliance also bolstered themselves with an assortment of puppet states: Imperial Japan in particular had a number of such states that it used to control much of Southeast Asia, including governments in Manchuko, Burma, Vietnam, and Inner Mongolia.

Iraq and Finland both cooperated with the Axis Powers, offering resources, land, and expertise, although they signed no formal agreements. Other nations also cooperated to varying degrees, including occupied France, Portugal, Spain, and Denmark. After the war, the extent of cooperation on the parts of these countries was sometimes unclear, and often became a topic of controversy.

In opposition to the Axis Powers were the Allied Powers: the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union, assisted by a number of other nations including Australia, Canada, Norway, Belgium, and a range of South American countries.

Many people regard the Axis as the epitome of evil, pointing to the war crimes committed in the name of the alliance, and the obvious lust for power and resources exhibited by the big three members. In 2002, then-President George Bush played heavily on the associations with the Axis when he labeled North Korea, Iraq, and Iran the “Axis of Evil,” citing their involvement with terrorist activities.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon270240 — On May 21, 2012

Can you answer this question? What common characteristics were shared by the Axis leaders in World War II? My finals are coming up and I need this question now.

By GigaGold — On Jan 07, 2011

The fragmentation of Italy as an Axis power could have been easily predicted before Mussolini even began his Fascist regime. Italy has never seen itself as a whole country unit to the extent that Germany and Japan did, and there are regional prejudices which extend to rivalries between neighboring towns. Italians tend to be quite independent minded in private circles, which helped foster a strong Mafia and Camorra hatred toward the Northern Italian Mussolini. Some might call this corruption in the system, but that is not how Italians saw it. Eventually they hanged their own "leader." Il Duce was a harsh and obnoxious tyrant that few people really liked.

By BioNerd — On Jan 05, 2011

An interesting manga and anime based on the axis powers is called Hetalia. This name combines a Japanese word for "cute, pathetic" with the name of Italy, implying that Italy was a cute and innocent boy in WWII that really didn't get anything done. The countries are each played by a person in this manga, and Italy is the main character, with various representative nation characters, showing many of the characteristics of their nations.

By anon71221 — On Mar 17, 2010

cool. i'm doing a report about yugoslavia and axis powers.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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