Lasting six years and one day, the Second World War started on 1 September 1939 with Germany's invasion of Poland and ended on 2 September 1945 with the Japanese surrender. Here is a brief timeline of the main events that engulfed the world into a catastrophic conflict.
Timeline of 1918 - 1939
Marinus van der Lubbe (13 January 1909 - 10 January 1934) was a Dutch communist who was tried, convicted, and beheaded by the Nazis for allegedly setting fire to the German Reichstag building on 27 February 1933. He was the first victim of the Nazis.
The Nazis exploited the fire to pass emergency legislation that abolished a number of constitutional protections and paved the way for Nazi dictatorship.
Former SA member, Hans-Martin Lennings, issued a statement to the notary in 1955 stating that he brought Marinus van der Lubbe to the Reichstag (ordered by Nazi parliamentarian and SA member Karl Ernst) on that evening in February 1933. When he arrived, the Reichstag was already burning. Therefore Marinus van der Lubbe could not have lit the building. This statement was only recently found in Hanover archives.
Van der Lubbe was given a posthumous pardon as the documents proved he could not have done it.
Timeline of 1940
Timeline of 1941
President Franklin D. Roosevelt asks the US Congress to declare war on Japan following the previous day's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. He spoke to the Congress: "Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions, and well understand the implications for the very life and safety of our nation. With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph so help us God. I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire."
Timeline of 1942
Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), convenes the Wannsee Conference in a villa outside Berlin. At this conference, he presents plans to coordinate a European-wide “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” to key officials from the German State and the Nazi Party.
The "Final Solution" was the code name for the systematic, deliberate, physical annihilation of the European Jews. At some still undetermined time in 1941, Hitler authorized this European-wide scheme for mass murder.
The Guadalcanal campaign, also known as the Battle of Guadalcanal and codenamed Operation Watchtower by American forces, was a military campaign fought between August 7, 1942 and 9 February 1943 on and around the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific theater of World War 2. It was the first major land offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan.
At Peenemünde, Germany the first launch of V-2 (German: Vergeltungswaffe 2, meaning 'Retaliation Weapon 2', with the technical name Aggregat 4 (A4) rocket is successful. The V2 rocket flies 147 kilometres wide and reaches a height of 84.5 kilometres and is therefore the first man made object reaching space in history.
Timeline of 1943
The Casablanca Conference (codenamed SYMBOL) or Anfa Conference was held at the Anfa Hotel in Casablanca, French Morocco, from January 14 to 24, 1943, to plan the Allied European strategy for the next phase of World War 2. In attendance were United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill. Also attending were the sovereign of Morocco, Sultan Muhammad V, and representing the Free French forces, Generals Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud, but they played minor roles and were not part of the military planning. Soviet general secretary Joseph Stalin declined to attend, citing the ongoing Battle of Stalingrad as requiring his presence in the Soviet Union.
After six months of fierce fighting on land, sea and air, Guadacanal is taken by American forces. The campaign ended Japanese expansion plans and perhaps signified the turning point of the war in the Pacific theatre.
The United States General Dwight D. Eisenhower is selected to command the Allied armies in Europe.
German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels gave a speech (also known as the Total War speech) at the Sportpalast in Berlin to a large, carefully selected audience on 18 February 1943, as the tide of World War 2 was turning against Nazi Germany and its Axis allies. The speech is particularly notable as Goebbels almost mentions the Holocaust, when he begins saying "Ausrotten" (extermination), but quickly changes it to Ausschaltung. (exclusion)
On March 13 to 14, 1943, SS and police carried out the operation, murdering around 2.000 Jews in the ghetto. The SS transferred another 2.000 Jews those capable of work to the Plaszow forced labor camp. The rest of the Jews were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau in two transports, arriving on March 13 and March 16. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, the camp authorities selected 549 persons from the two transports to be registered as prisoners. They others, approximately 2.450 people, were murdered in the gas chambers.
Lt. Jewell's crew release a body bearing false documents near the Spanish coast. Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu (picture) transported the body to Scotland on 17 April 1943. Later, the body washes up on the Spanish coast and is discovered by a local fisherman. They will go on to mislead the Germans about the site and timing of the Allied invasion of Sicily.
Admiral Karl Dönitz orders the majority of U-Boats to withdraw from the Atlantic because of heavy losses to new Allied anti submarine tactics. By the end of the month, 43 U-boats are lost, compared to 34 Allied ships sunk. This is referred to as "Black May".
Josef Mengele (32) comes to Auschwitz the extermination camp in Poland on May 24, 1943. The man who will quickly earn the nickname “the Angel of Death.”
Born March 16, 1911, in Bavaria, Mengele studied philosophy under Alfred Rosenberg, whose racial theories highly influenced him. In 1934, already a member of the Nazi Party, he joined the research staff of the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene.
The Battle of Kursk was a major Second World War engagement between German and Soviet forces on the Eastern Front near Kursk in the Soviet Union, during July and August 1943. The battle began with the launch of the German offensive Operation Citadel, on 5 July, which had the objective of pinching off the Kursk salient with attacks on the base of the salient from north and south simultaneously.
The Armistice of Cassibile was an armistice signed on 3 September 1943 and made public on 8 September between the Kingdom of Italy and the Allies during World War II, resulting in Italy joining the Allies and what the Germans believed to be the betrayal of Germany by Italy.
On 13 October, Pietro Badoglio and the Kingdom of Italy officially declared war on Nazi Germany. Badoglio continued to head the government for another nine months. On 9 June 1944, following the German rescue of Mussolini, the capture of Rome by the allies, and increasingly strong opposition to his government, Badoglio was replaced by Ivanoe Bonomi of the Labour Democratic Party
The second Schweinfurt raid, also called Black Thursday, was a World War II air battle that took place on 14 October 1943, over Nazi Germany between forces of the United States 8th Air Force and German Luftwaffe fighter arm (Jagdwaffe). The American bombers conducted a strategic bombing raid on ball bearing factories to reduce production of these vital parts for all manner of war machines. This was the second attack on the factories at Schweinfurt.
Operation Harvest Festival was the murder of 43.000 Jews at the Majdanek, Poniatowa and Trawniki concentration camps by the SS, Order Police battalions and Ukrainian Sonderdienst on 3 and 4 November 1943. After a series of Jewish uprisings in ghettos and extermination camps, Heinrich Himmler ordered the murder of the remaining Jewish forced laborers in the Lublin District of German-occupied Poland. Thousands of SS and police personnel arrived in Lublin on 2 November. SS and Police Leader Jakob Sporrenberg was in charge of the operation.
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin meet in Tehran to discuss war strategy; (on 30 November they establish an agreement concerning a planned June 1944 invasion of Europe codenamed Operation Overlord). Stalin at last got the promise he had been waiting for.
US General Dwight D. Eisenhower becomes the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. Three days later he was officially named head of Overlord, the invasion of Normandy and to lead the Allied Expeditionary Forces in the invasion of "Fortress Europe".
Timeline of 1944
The Leningrad-Novgorod strategic offensive was a strategic offensive during WW2. It was launched by the Red Army on January 14, 1944 with an attack on the German Army Group North by the Soviet Volkhov and Leningrad fronts, along with part of the 2nd Baltic Front, with a goal of fully lifting the siege of Leningrad. Approximately two weeks later, the Red Army regained control of the Moscow Leningrad railway, and on January 26, 1944 Joseph Stalin declared that the siege of Leningrad was lifted, and that German forces were expelled from the Leningrad Oblast.
Timeline of 1945
The army made a major advance into German held territory, capturing Kraków, Warsaw and Poznań. The Red Army had built up their strength around a number of key bridgeheads, with two fronts commanded by Marshal Georgy Zhukov and Marshal Ivan Konev. Against them, the German Army Group A, led by Colonel-General Josef Harpe, was outnumbered five to one. Within days, German commandants evacuated the concentration camps, sending the prisoners on their death marches to the west, where ethnic Germans also started fleeing.
In a little over two weeks, the Red Army had advanced 480 kilometres from the Vistula to the Oder, only 69 kilometres from Berlin, which was undefended. However, Zhukov called a halt, owing to continued German resistance on his northern flank (Pomerania), and the advance on Berlin had to be delayed until April.
The Battle of Berlin, designated as the Berlin Strategic Offensive Operation by the Soviet Union, and also known as the Fall of Berlin, was one of the last major offensives of the European theatre of WW2.
After the Vistula Oder Offensive of January and February 1945, the Red Army had temporarily halted on a line 60 km east of Berlin. On 9 March, Germany established its defence plan for the city with Operation Clausewitz. The first defensive preparations at the outskirts of Berlin were made on 20 March, under the newly appointed commander of Army Group Vistula, General Gotthard Heinrici.