A World War II Timeline

The Road to War: 1918-1939

11 November 1918

The First World War ended with Germany’s defeat. Many Germans blamed their political leaders. Among them was an angry and self-pitying soldier named Adolf Hitler. He would preach hatred and violence and ultimately led his nation to war once again.

6 November 1932

GERMANY: Hitler’s followers, the Nazi political party, grew in strength during the worldwide economic depression. No single political party was more popular. In the 1932 election the Nazis got one-third of the vote. One-third was enough to bring the Nazis to power. And Hitler soon seized the powers of a dictator.


GERMANY: Hitler and Italy’s dictator, Benito Mussolini, signed a pact for a Rome-Berlin “axis of power.” Japan later became a third member of the Axis.  

In l938, the German army was on the march. The Nazis occupied Austria in May. Czechoslovakia was taken the next year. Germany’s old enemies, Britain and France, warned that another act of aggression would mean war.

1 September 1939

POLAND: More than a million German soldiers moved across the border into Poland. And Europe was at war.

Blitzkreig (Lightning War): 1939-1941

27 September 1939

Poland was conquered before the democracies could intervene. An evil Nazi regime took control and enslaved the conquered people. Nearly five a half million Slavic men, women and children would die in Poland. Three million were Jews.

April-June 1940

NORTHERN EUROPE: France, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada declared war on Germany (the United States declared neutrality).

But Germany’s enemies were far away and unprepared for warfare. Nothing could stop Germany’s advance. In April 1940, the Nazis smashed Norway and Denmark. In early May, the German army crossed the border for Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and France. British and French forces were pushed to the sea at Dunkirk and evacuated to England. France surrendered in June (and her new government, in Vichy, put France on a road of collaboration with the Nazis).

Most of Europe was now under Nazi rule. Hitler gave Britain a choice: surrender or die.  But British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was defiant: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches….we shall fight in the fields and in the streets….we shall never surrender!”

10 July 1940

ENGLAND: German bombers struck English towns. Britain’s Royal Air Force (strengthened by pilots from Poland, Canada, and Czechoslavokia) struck back. The Battle of Britain had begun, and by October, Hitler faced his first defeat. The RAF slowly tore the German air force apart. Britain had won the battle, but German bombs still blasted England in bomb raids known as the Blitz.  

Meanwhile, Mussulini was in trouble. He had tried, and failed, to imitate Hitlers success. The Italians bungled an invasion of Greece, and the Greek army tossed them back. Then the Italians attacked Egypt, and were forced to retreat back to their colony of Libya. Hitler sent his army to Mussolini’s rescue.

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April 1941

The German army sliced south through Yugoslavia and Greece. In North Africa, German forces pushed the British back to Egypt. With Mussolini propped up, Hitler could now finish plans for his next invasion.

Russia had fought Germany in the First World War until the Russian czar was overthrown in a revolution. In 1917, Russia became the Soviet Union with Josef Stalin as dictator. It was this vast, resource-rich country that Hitler planned to strike.

22 June 1941

RUSSIA: Exactly one year after conquering France, 3.6 million Axis soldiers crossed the Russian border and began a war of terror. German soldiers were pardoned in advance for the murder of civilians. It was evil and stupid. The Nazis might have conquered the Soviet Union had they liberated the people from Communism. Instead, the brutalized Russians rose up in a Patriotic War for survival.

Germany wasn’t alone in the attack. Finland, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Italy also declared war on Russia. The Nazis believed this combined force could conquer the Soviet Union before winter. For a time, it seemed they were right.  

By September, the Axis decimated the Red Army and conquered the Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula. In October, Hitler was claiming victory. But a month later, his troops were stuck in the mud as the rain of autumn fell. Then rain turned to snow. Hitter began saying that Blitzkreig was a stupid word; no one should expect a quick victory. By December, the invaders were stuck 18 miles from Moscow, freezing in the cold.

7 December 1941

HAWAII: Japan was ready to enter the war. In a surprise attack, Japanese bombers struck the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This wasn’t all. At the same time, Japanese forces attacked the Dutch East Indies; the British in Malaya; and the Americans in the Philippines, Guam, Wake and Midway.  

The United Slates was now in the fight. The United States, Russia, Britain, Canada, Mexico, and 21 other nations and governments-in-exile around the world became the Allies. Calling themselves “The United Nations”, these 26 countries pledged to ensure life, liberty, independence, and religious freedom, and to preserve the rights of man and justice.” To do so, the war had to be won.

January-August 1942

UNITED STATES: Germany struck America in the only way she could. Her bombers could not reach America, but U-Boats (German submarines) could sink our ships. The coastal waters of the United States were the most dangerous in all the world.

On the other side of the globe, in May, the Japanese drive to Australia and New Zealand was halted at the Battle of the Coral Sea. A month later, at Midway, American divebombers sank the Japanese carrier fleet that had attacked Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile, Japanese forces landed, and were stranded, on two of Alaska’s Aleutian islands. In the Pacific and the China Sea, Japan went on the defensive, and the U.S. went on the attack. The offensive began on 7 August 1942 when the U S. Marines landed on Guadalcanal, an island east of New Guinea. It was a fierce fight on land and sea that lasted until 9 February 1943. By that time, Americans were battling Hitler’s forces in North .Africa.

The Tide Turns: 1942-1944

23 October 1942

EGYPT: It had been 18 months since Hitler sent his tanks to prop up the Italian army For all those months, Axis and British forces chased each other back and forth across the deserts of North Africa. Finally, on 23 October, the British “Desert Rats” won a decisive victory at the battle of El Alamein, Egypt. Axis forces retreated to Libya on 4 November. Four days later, an invasion landed behind them in the west.

8 November 1942

ALGERIA: American and British forces invaded northwest Africa in Morocco and Algeria. The main Axis army was surrounded. In May 1943, after brutal warfare in the desert sand. North Africa was won.

2 February 1943

RUSSIA: Stalingrad was one of the war’s most important battles. In that ravaged city, the Nazi advance was finally stopped. The German loss at Stalingrad was enormous: 160,000 German soldiers were dead from combat and frostbite. The surviving force of 100,000 Germans in the rubble of the city finally surrendered.

19 April 1943

POLAND: The Nazi’s war against conquered people went on. In the Warsaw ghetto, Jews fought back with what little weapons they had. The uprising was smashed on 13 May. The Warsaw ghetto was destroyed and its 56,000 Jews perished.

10 July 1943 I

ITALY: The Allies invaded Sicily (the island was liberated on 17 August).

3 September 1943

ITALY: British forces invaded mainland Italy at Reggio Calabria. The next day, Italy surrendered, but Hitler poured German troops into the country to continue the fight. Meanwhile, on the Russian front, the Soviets had launched a major attack at Kursk.

9 September 1943

ITALY: American forces (which included 25,000 soldiers from Brazil) landed on the Italian coast at Salerno. On 1 October, Naples was liberated but progress up the Italian boot was painfully slow. The Allies tried lo leap ahead with an amphibious assault at Anzio. The gamble failed. Troops landed on 22 January, but the Germans kept them trapped in the beachhead until 23 May 1944.

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6 June 1944

FRANCE: Allied forces invaded Nazi Europe on a 50-mile front in Normandy. France. On D-Day, more than 150,000 troops were landed, and the Allies took 10,000 casualties (both numbers are estimates, exact numbers will never be known).

22 June 1944

RUSSIA: Three years to the day from Germany’s surprise attack. Soviets launched a major offensive. Its aim was to clear the last of German troops from Russian soil.

20 July 1944

GERMANY: Military officers attempted to assassinate Hitler by planting a bomb. The attempt failed and Hitler was only wounded.

25 July 1944

FRANCE: The Allies had been penned in Normandy since D-Day. U.S. forces launched a massive breakout assault. Three days later, a hole had been punched through the German lines. Then, miles to the east, the Canadian army launched a second breakout. It was now the German army’s turn to be on the receiving end of an Allied Blitzkreig.

14-15 August 1944

SOUTHERN FRANCE: American and Free French forces invade the French Mediterranean.

25 August 1944

FRANCE: The Allies liberated Paris. Retreating Germans raced for home: the fortifications known as the West Wall (or Siegfried Line.) that protected the German Frontier.

14 September 1944

THE HÜRTGEN FOREST: U.S. troops entered the Hürtgen forest. Savage fighting there would go on until 8 December.

15 September 1944

NORTHWEST EUROPE: The Allied Blitz came to an end against German fortifications. Hitler now planned an attack that was Germany’s last chance for victory

16 December 1944

THE ARDENNES, BELGIUM:  The German attack began. It was aimed at what Hitler believed was the weak point: the front held by American soldiers. Instead, the outnumbered Americans fought with incredible bravery. The Germans got no further than a 45-mile penetration (or “Bulge”) into the American lines.

Year of Victory: 1945

16 January 1945

THE ARDENNES, BELGIUM: Americans had flattened the “Bulge” and pushed the Germans back to their West Wall.

4 February 1945

YALTA, UKRAINE, THE CRIMEA: Leaders of “The Big Three” (Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin) Among other points, Stalin agreed to allow free elections in Poland—a point he later would not honor. Central Europe would be liberated from the Nazis only to be enslaved by communism. Hitler’s war, aimed in part of the destruction of Russia, resulted instead in the spread of communism throughout the world.

8 February 1945

THE RHINELAND: The Allies pushed forward and entered Germany’s Rhineland region. By the third week of March, the Allies were crossing at many points alone the Rhine River. In April, the Allied forces were spreading everywhere across Germany while Hitler was sending orders to armies that no longer existed.

23 April 1945

GERMANY: U.S. and Russian troops met at Germany’s Elbe River. It was the first junction of the Allies fighting from east and west. General Hodges, of the U.S. First Army, asked for instructions from U.S. headquarters. Hodges received a message that said: “Be nice to them.” In 1944 and early 1945, the Russians had knocked four of Hitler’s allies out of the war: Finland, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria had all changed sides and declared war on Germany. In January l945, the Russians captured Warsaw, Poland, and advanced into East Germany. There, the Soviets committed widespread acts of brutality and murder as they sought vengeance on German people. By 26 April, the Russians began their assault on Hitler’s capital, Berlin

28 April 1945

ITALY: Mussolini was executed by Italian enemies of his Fascist regime.

30 April 1945

GERMANY: Hitler committed suicide with Russian troops just a quarter of a mile away from his headquarters.

7 May 1945

A shattered Germany surrendered. The war in Europe was over.

21 June 1945

OKINAWA: Fighting ended on Okinawa, an island 350 miles southwest of Japan. There had been no pause in the war against Japan. The Army Air Force had firebombed her cities. Ground forces had leapfrogged island chains, pushed across New Guinea, and reclaimed the Philippines. Americans heard for the first time of specks on the map such as Saipan, Guam and Iwo Jima. Now an invasion of the Japanese homeland was scheduled for 1 November.

16 July 1945

NEW MEXICO: The atomic bomb was tested.

26 July 1945

JAPAN: The Allies called for Japan to surrender: If not, the Japanese would face “prompt and utter destruction”. Japan rejected the ultimatum. The U.S. wasn’t bluffing.  

6 August 1945

JAPAN: The U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, unleashing death and destruction on a scale previously unimaginable. At least 80,000 people died in the blast. Two days later, the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing at least 35,000 people.

14 August 1945

UNITED STATES: President Harry Truman announced that Japan had accepted the terms of the Allies’ terms of surrender.

2 September 1945

JAPAN: The formal surrender was signed World War II was over.