20 Major Battles of World War II

US Assault Troops landing on Omaha beach during the Invasion of Normandy
US Assault Troops landing on Omaha beach during the Invasion of Normandy. Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

There were literally hundreds of named battles fought in four major theaters during World War II, described as campaigns, sieges, battles, invasions, and offensive actions. As the compilers of "2194 Days of War: An Illustrated Chronology of the Second World War" have shown, battles pertinent to the conflict were fought somewhere in the world on every single one of those days.

Some conflicts on this list of major battles lasted only days while others took months or years. Some of the battles were notable for the material losses such as tanks or aircraft carriers while others were notable for the number of human losses, or the political and cultural effect the battle had on the combatants.

Dates and Numbers of Battles

Perhaps surprisingly, historians don't all agree on the exact dates of battles. For instance, some use the date that a city was surrounded while others prefer the date that major fighting commenced. This list contains the dates that are the most agreed upon.

In addition, casualties in battle are rarely completely reported (and are often altered for propaganda purposes), and published totals can include military deaths in battle, deaths in hospitals, wounded in action, missing in action, and civilian deaths. Different historians give different numbers. The table includes estimates of the military deaths in battle of both sides, the Axis and Allies.

20 Major Battles of World War II
Battle Dates Military Deaths Location Winner
Atlantic Sept. 3, 1939–May 24, 1945 73,000 Atlantic Ocean (naval) Allies
Britain July 10–October 31, 1940 2,500 British airspace Allies
Operation Barbarossa June 22, 1941–Jan. 7, 1942 1,600,000 Russia Allies
Leningrad (Siege) Sept 8, 1941–Jan 27, 1944 850,000 Russia Allies
Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941 2,400 Hawai'i Axis
Midway June 3–6, 1942 4,000 Midway Atoll Allies
El Alamein (First Battle) July 1–27, 1942 15,000 Egypt Stalemate
Guadalcanal Campaign Aug. 7, 1942–Feb. 9, 1943 27,000 Solomon Islands Allies
Milne Bay Aug. 25–Sept. 5, 1942 1,000 Papua New Guinea Allies
El Alamein (Second Battle) Oct. 23–Nov. 5, 1942 5,000 Egypt Allies
Operation Torch Nov. 8–16, 1942 2,500 French Morocco and Algeria Allies
Kursk July 5–22, 1943 325,000 Russia Allies
Stalingrad Aug. 21, 1942–Jan. 31, 1943 750,000 Russia Allies
Leyte Oct. 20, 1942–Jan. 12, 1943 66,000 Philippines Allies
Normandy (including D-Day) June 6–Aug. 19, 1944 132,000 France Allies
Philippine Sea June 19–20, 1944 3,000 Philippines Allies
Bulge Dec. 16–29, 1944 38,000 Belgium Allies
Iwo Jima Feb. 19–April 9, 1945 28,000 Iwo Jima island Allies
Okinawa April 1–June 21, 1945 148,000 Japan Allies
Berlin April 16–May 7, 1945 100,000 Germany Allies

Sources