Axis leaders of World War II

The Axis leaders of World War II were important political and military figures during World War II. The Axis was established with the signing of the Tripartite Pact in 1940 and pursued a strongly militarist and nationalist ideology; with a policy of anti-communism. During the early phase of the war, puppet governments were established in their occupied nations. When the war ended, many of them faced trial for war crimes. The chief leaders were Adolf Hitler of Germany, Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Hirohito of Japan.[1][2] Unlike what happened with the Allies, there was never a joint meeting of the main Axis heads of government, although Mussolini and Adolf Hitler did meet on a regular basis.

Japanese propaganda poster of the Shōwa era showing Adolf Hitler, Fumimaro Konoe and Benito Mussolini, the political leaders of the three main Axis powers in 1938

Kingdom of Bulgaria (1941–1944)

Bogdan Filov

The Third Reich (Nazi Germany)

Adolf Hitler was the Austrian-born leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party
Heinrich Himmler was Commander of the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Minister of the Interior
  • Adolf Hitler was leader of Nazi Germany, first as Chancellor from 1933 until 1934. He later became Germany's Führer from 1934 until he killed himself in Berlin in 1945. Hitler came to power during Germany's period of crisis after the Great War. The time of this was somewhere between the 1920s and early 1930s. During his rule, Germany became a fascist state with a policy of anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust. Hitler pursued an extremely aggressive foreign policy that triggered World War II. He committed suicide on April 30, 1945, along with Eva Braun his long term mistress whom he had married slightly less than 40 hours before they committed suicide.
  • Joseph Goebbels was Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda from 1933 until 1945. An avid supporter of the war, Goebbels did everything in his power to prepare the German people for a large-scale military conflict. He was one of Hitler's closest associates and most devout followers. After Hitler's suicide, Goebbels and his wife Magda had their six children poisoned and then also committed suicide. He became Chancellor for one day before his death.
  • Hermann Göring was Reichsmarschall and Prime Minister of Prussia. Within the short life of the Third Reich, Göring held a variety of public offices heaped upon him by Hitler. He was the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, President of the Reichstag, Original Head of the Gestapo, Minister of Economics, Paramount Chief of the War Economy, Head of the Four Year Plan, Reichmarshall of the Greater German Reich, Minister of the Forests of the Third Reich and finally defendant Number 1 at the Nuremberg Trials. Hitler awarded Göring the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross for his successful leadership. Originally, Hitler's designated successor, and the second highest-ranking Nazi official. However, by 1942, with his power waning, Göring fell out of favor with the Führer, but continued to be the de jure second-in-command of the Third Reich. Göring was the highest-ranking Nazi official brought before the Nuremberg Trials. He committed suicide with cyanide before his sentence was carried out.
  • Heinrich Himmler became the second-in-command of Nazi Germany following Göring's downfall after the repeated losses of the Luftwaffe which the Reichsmarshall commanded, as Supreme Commander of the Home Army and Reichsführer-SS. As commander of the Schutzstaffel (SS), Himmler also held overall command of the Gestapo. He was the chief architect of the "Final Solution" and through the SS was overseer of the Nazi concentration camps, extermination camps, and Einsatzgruppen death squads. He held final command responsibility for annihilating "subhumans" who were deemed unworthy of living. Shortly before the end of the war, he offered to surrender "Germany" to the Western Allies if he was spared from prosecution as a Nazi leader. Himmler committed suicide with cyanide after he became a captive of the British Army.
  • Joachim von Ribbentrop was the German Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1938 to 1945. He was condemned to death at Nuremberg and hanged.
  • Karl Dönitz was made Großadmiral of the Kriegsmarine on 30 January 1943 and was President for 23 days after Hitler's suicide. Under his command the U-boat fleet conducted unrestricted submarine warfare during the Battle of the Atlantic. After the war he was tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to ten years in prison.
  • Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk was Leading Minister of the German Reich in the short-lived Flensburg government in 1945.
  • Martin Bormann was head of the Party Chancellery (Parteikanzlei) and private secretary to Adolf Hitler. He gained Hitler's trust and derived immense power within the Third Reich by controlling access to the Führer and by regulating the orbits of those closest to him.
  • Rudolf Hess was Hitler's deputy in the Nazi Party. Hess hoped to score a stunning diplomatic victory by sealing a peace between the Third Reich and Britain. He flew to Scotland in an attempt to negotiate peace, but was arrested. He was tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • Albert Speer was German Minister of Armaments from 1942 until the end of the war, in which position he was responsible for organizing most of the logistical aspects of Germany's war effort. He was tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
  • Alfred Rosenberg was a German philosopher and an influential ideologue of the Nazi Party. He is considered one of the main authors of key National Socialist ideological creeds, including its racial theory, persecution of the Jews, Lebensraum, abrogation of the Treaty of Versailles, and opposition to degenerate modern art. During the war he headed the NSDAP Office of Foreign Affairs and later the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories. After the war he was condemned to death at Nuremberg and hanged.
  • Reinhard Heydrich was SS-Obergruppenführer (general) and General der Polizei, chief of the Reich Main Security Office (including the Gestapo, Kripo, and SD) and Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor (Deputy/Acting Reich-Protector) of Bohemia and Moravia (in what is now the Czech Republic). Heydrich served as president of the ICPC (later known as Interpol) and was one of the main architects of the Holocaust. He died of wounds from an assassination attempt in Prague 1942.
  • Ernst Kaltenbrunner was an SS-Obergruppenführer. He was appointed by Himmler as chief of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) in January 1943, the SiPo, (Sicherheitspolizei) made up of the combined forces of the Gestapo (secret state police) and the Kripo (Kriminalpolizei) and the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt); after Reinhard Heydrich's assassination. Further, Kaltenbrunner was in command of the Einsatzgruppen death squads. He was the highest-ranking SS leader to face trial at Nuremberg and be executed.
  • Wilhelm Canaris was a German admiral, and chief of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944. During the Second World War, he was among the military officers involved in the clandestine opposition to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. He was executed in the Flossenbürg concentration camp for the act of high treason.
  • Wilhelm Keitel was an army general and the chief of the OKW, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or High Command of the German Military, throughout the war. He was condemned to death at Nuremberg for the commission of war crimes and hanged.
  • Alfred Jodl was an army general and operations chief of the OKW throughout the war. Like his chief, Keitel, he was condemned to death at Nuremberg and hanged.
  • Franz Halder was a German general and the chief of the OKH, Oberkommando des Heeres, from 1938 until September 1942, when he was dismissed after frequent disagreements with Hitler
  • Kurt Zeitzler was a German general and the chief of the OKH, from 1942 until July 1944.
  • Walther von Brauchitsch was commander-in-chief of the army from 1940 until his dismissal in December 1941, when Hitler took personal command of the army.
  • Erich Raeder was Großadmiral of the Kriegsmarine (Navy) from 1 April 1939 until 30 January 1943.
  • Fedor von Bock served as the commander of Army Group North during the Invasion of Poland in 1939 and commander of Army Group B during the Invasion of France in 1940. Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, he was named commander of Army Group Center and commanded Operation Typhoon, the ultimately failed attempt to capture Moscow during the winter of 1941. His final command was that of Army Group South in 1942 before being dismissed by Hitler. He was killed by British aircraft on May 4, 1945.
  • Albert Kesselring was a German Luftwaffe general. He served as commander of Luftflotte 2 for the early part of the war, commanding air campaigns in west and east, before being assigned as commander-in-chief of German forces in the Mediterranean, a position he would occupy for most of the war, commanding German forces in the defense of Italy. In March 1945, he became the last German commander-in-chief in the west.
  • Robert Ritter von Greim was a German Generalfeldmarschall (field marshal) and pilot. Greim was the commander of a Luftflotte (Air Fleet) which took part in the Invasion of Poland, the Battle for Norway and the Battle of Britain. His greatest tactical achievement was his Luftflotte's involvement in the battle of Kursk and his planes' bombing of the Orel bulge during Operation Kutuzov. He was also one of the principal commanders of Operation Weserübung, The Blitz, Western Front, Battle of Berlin and Operation Barbarossa. At the end of the war he was appointed the supreme commander of the Luftwaffe after Göring had been dismissed for treason. After the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945, Greim was captured by the Allies. He committed suicide in an prison on 24 May 1945.
  • Gerd von Rundstedt was a Generalfeldmarschall (field marshal) in the German army and held some of the highest field commands in all phases of the war. He commanded large formations during the invasion of Poland and Battle of France. During Operation Barbarossa, he was named commander of Army Group South. In 1942 he was appointed commander of OB West. He retained this command (with several interruptions) until his dismissal by Hitler in March 1945.
  • Erich von Manstein is credited with the drawing up of the Ardennes invasion plan of France. In the Soviet campaign, he also conquered Sevastopol in 1942 and was then made Generalfeldmarschall and took command of Army Group South. A command he held until he was dismissed by Hitler in March, 1944. He is often considered one of the finest German strategists and field commanders of World War II.
  • Heinz Guderian was the principal creator of Blitzkrieg. He commanded several front line armies in the early years of the war, most notably Panzergruppe Guderian during Operation Barbarossa. Guderian later served as chief of staff of the army from July 1944 to March 1945.
  • Erwin Rommel was the commander of the Afrika Korps in the North African campaign and became known by the nickname "The Desert Fox". Rommel was admired as a tactical genius by both Axis and Allied leaders during the war. He was subsequently in command of the German forces during the battle of Normandy. He was forced to commit suicide on October 14, 1944, for being implicated in the July 20th plot against Hitler.
  • Walter Model was a general in the German army who became best known as a skilled practitioner of defensive warfare on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. Following the invasion of Normandy in June, 1944 he was reassigned to the west where he took command of Army Group B. He was also the principal architect of the Ardennes Offensive. He committed suicide on April 21, 1945.
  • Hans-Jürgen von Arnim was a German colonel general and commander-in-chief of the Army Group Africa and de facto commander of the Afrika Korps from March 9, 1943, until his capture by the British Indian Army's 14th Infantry Division on May 12, 1943.

Kingdom of Hungary (1940–1945)

Ferenc Szálasi

Kingdom of Italy (1940–1943), Italian Social Republic (1943–1945)

  • Victor Emmanuel III of Italy was King of Italy and the supreme head, with Mussolini, of the Royal Italian Army, from 1935 he became Emperor of the Italian Empire. He supported Mussolini in 1922 during the March on Rome and he named him prime minister. In 1943, after successive military defeats, he, along with Marshal Pietro Badoglio, dissolved the Fascist government, dismissed and arrested Mussolini and arranged an armistice with the Allies, setting up a Royalist government in Southern Italy led by the Marshal.
  • Benito Mussolini was Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy from 1922 until 1943. The founder of fascism, Mussolini made Italy the first fascist state, using the ideas of nationalism, militarism, anti-communism and anti-socialism combined with state propaganda. In 1925, he assumed dictatorial powers as the Duce ("Leader") of Fascism, and was subsequently called Duce by his Fascist supporters. From 1925, King Victor Emmanuel III delegated his powers to Mussolini and opposition to Mussolini and the Fascist state was seen as treason. Though his regime influenced Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, Mussolini did not subscribe to Nazi racial theories, dismissing them as mythical and fabricated. Only in 1938, under increased pressure from Hitler, did he adopt anti-Semitism as a state policy, and opposed the deportation of Jews by the Germans from Italian territory. Mussolini was the official head of the Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale, MVSN ("Volunteer Militia for National Security"), often called the "Blackshirts", who were Fascist partisans loyal specifically to him, rather than the King. Successive military defeats from 1941, culminating in the Battle of El Alamein in 1942 and the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, led to Mussolini and his government's dissolution and dismissal by the King. Arrested on the orders of the King, Mussolini was rescued by the Germans and became the puppet Head of State of the Italian Social Republic (regime under control of Nazi Germany) in northern Italy. Mussolini was executed by Italian partisans on 28 April 1945, while attempting to flee to Spain.
  • Pietro Badoglio was Marshal of the Army. He led the Italian Army during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. He resigned in 1940 after the Italian defeat in Greece. In 1943 he arranged with the Allies for an armistice and set up a Royalist government in Southern Italy (Brindisi).
  • Ugo Cavallero was the head of the Italian Royal Army during the Second World War, his powers being delegated to him from the King, who was the official supreme commander of the Italian Royal Army. He led Italian forces during the Greco-Italian War in which Italian forces faltered badly.
  • Italo Gariboldi was the commander of the Italian forces at the Battle of Stalingrad.
  • Arturo Riccardi was the head of the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) from 1940 to 1943, his powers being delegated to him from the King, who was the official supreme commander of the Italian Royal Navy.
  • Inigo Campioni was a commander of the Italian Royal Navy during the battles of Taranto, Cape Spartivento, and Calabria.
  • Angelo Iachino succeeded Campioni as commander of the Royal Italian Navy.
  • Italo Balbo was the most important person of the Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) from the 1930s until his death in 1940. His powers were officially delegated to him from the King, who was the official supreme commander of the Italian Royal Air Force. He also commanded the Tenth army in Libya until his death.
  • Galeazzo Ciano was appointed minister of foreign affairs in 1936 by Mussolini (who was also his father-in-law) and remained in that position until the end of the Fascist regime in 1943. Ciano signed the Pact of Steel with Germany in 1939 and subsequently the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Japan in 1940. Ciano attempted to convince Mussolini to bring Italy out of the war as casualties mounted but was ignored. In 1943, Ciano supported the ousting of Mussolini as prime minister. Ciano was later executed by Fascists in the Italian Social Republic for betraying Mussolini.
  • Rodolfo Graziani was commander of Italian North Africa and Governor-General of Libya. Graziani was ordered to invade Egypt by Mussolini. Graziani expressed doubts about the ability of his largely un-mechanized force to defeat the British, however, he followed orders and the Tenth Army attacked on September 13. He resigned his commission in 1941 after being defeated by the British in Operation Compass. Graziani was the only one of the Italian marshals to remain loyal to Mussolini after Dino Grandi's Grand Council of Fascism coup, and was appointed Minister of Defense of the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, or RSI). Graziani had under his command the mixed Italo-German LXXXXVII "Liguria" Army (Armee Ligurien) of the RSI.
  • Giovanni Messe was the commander of the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia (Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia, or CSIR). The CSIR fought on the Eastern Front, fighting with German forces against the Soviet Union. He later led Axis forces in the Tunisia Campaign. He is considered by many to be the best Italian general of the war.
  • Alfredo Guzzoni was commander-in-chief of the Italian forces during the Allied Invasion of Sicily.
  • Rino Corso Fougier was a general in the Royal Italian Air Force and Chief of Staff 1941-43.
  • Giuseppe Fioravanzo was one of the "intellectuals" of the Regia Marina; he was one of the main authors of the development of Italian naval doctrine between the two World Wars.
  • Junio Valerio Borghese was the commander of the Decima Flottiglia MAS.

Empire of Japan

Hirohito, the Emperor of Japan
Hideki Tojo, Supreme Military Leader of Japan and Prime Minister of Japan from 1941 to 1944

Kingdom of Romania (1940–1944)

King Michael I (left) and Ion Antonescu (right)

Client states and protectorates of the Axis

Independent State of Croatia (1941–1943)

Ante Pavelić
Philippe Pétain
Jozef Tiso

French State (1940–1944)

  • Philippe Pétain was an Army Marshal and Chief of State of Vichy France from its establishment in 1940 until the invasion of Normandy in 1944. The Pétain government collaborated with the Nazis, and organized raids to capture French Jews. The Pétain government was opposed by General de Gaulle's Free French Forces, and eventually fell to them. After the war, Pétain was tried for treason and sentenced to life in prison.
  • Pierre Laval was Pétain's head of government in 1940, and from 1942 to 1944. Under his second government, collaboration with Nazi Germany intensified. In 1945, Laval was tried for treason, sentenced to death and executed.
  • René Bousquet was the deputy head of the Vichy police force.
  • Joseph Darnand was the commander of the paramilitary French Militia. A pro-Nazi leader, he was a strong supporter of the Hitler and Pétain governments. He established the Milice to round-up Jews and fight the French Resistance. He was tried for treason and executed after the war.
  • Jean Decoux was the Governor-General of French Indochina representing the Vichy government. Decoux's task in Indochina was to reverse the policy of appeasement towards the Japanese led by his predecessor General Georges Catroux, but political realities soon forced him to continue down the same road. Arrested and tried after the war, Decoux was not convicted.

Slovak Republic (1939–1945)

Puppet states of Nazi Germany

Leonhard Kaupisch
Vidkun Quisling
Milan Nedić

Protectorate of Denmark (1940–1945)

Province of Ljubljana (1943–1945)

Norwegian National government (1940–1945)

Government of National Salvation, Serbia (1941–1944)

Puppet states of the Kingdom of Italy

Albanian Kingdom (1940–1943)

Kingdom of Montenegro (1941–1943)

Joint German-Italian puppet states

Hellenic State (1941–1944)

Puppet states of Imperial Japan

State of Burma (1943–1945)

Kingdom of Cambodia (1945)

Republic of China-Nanjing (1940–1945)

Provisional Government of Free India (1943–1945)

Kingdom of Laos (1945)

Great Manchu Empire

  • Puyi was the Emperor of Manchukuo from 1934 until the disestablishment of the state in 1945. He was installed by the Japanese after the Invasion of Manchuria. He was captured and imprisoned by the Soviet Union, and later handed over to the People's Republic of China.
  • Zhang Jinghui was the Prime Minister of Manchukuo. Zhang was a Chinese general and politician during the Warlord Era who collaborated with the Japanese to establish Manchukuo. After the war, he was captured and imprisoned by the Red Army.
  • Xi Qia was the finance superintendent of Manchukuo in 1932, a minister of Manchukuo in 1934, and palace and interior minister in 1936. At the end of World War II he was captured by the Soviets and held in a Siberian prison until he was returned to China in 1950, where he died in prison.
  • Chang Hai-peng, general of the Manchukuo Imperial Army.

Mengjiang United Autonomous Government

  • Demchugdongrub was the vice-chairman, then the chairman. In 1941 he became chairman of the Mongolian Autonomous federation.
  • Li Shouxin

Second Philippine Republic (1943–1945)

Empire of Vietnam (1945)

Co-belligerent state combatants

Various countries fought side by side with the Axis powers for a common cause. These countries were not signatories of the Tripartite Pact and thus not formal members of the Axis.

Finland (1941–1944)

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim

Kingdom of Iraq (1941)

Faisal II

Kingdom of Thailand (1940–1945)

Plaek Pibulsongkram

See also


  1. Ferro, Marc (February 15, 2007). Ils étaient sept hommes en guerre. Robert Laffont Group. ISBN 978-2221100943.
  2. Burleigh, Michael (January 1, 2010). Moral Combat: A History of World War II. Harper. ISBN 978-0007195763.
  3. Daniel Barenblat, A plague upon humanity, 2004, p.37.
  4. Yoshiaki Yoshimi, Dokugasusen Kankei Shiryō II, Kaisetsu(Materials on Poison Gas Warfare), 1997, pp.25–29., Herbert P. Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, 2001
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