World War II
Just two decades after the First World War, the world is at war again. The Second World War was the deadliest war in history. It involved more than 30 nations and was the cause of an estimated 50-60 million military and civilian deaths. Six million of those killed were Jews in Nazi concentration camps. The Second World War lasted six long years.
The reason for the war was because of the instability in Europe following the First World War. It was ripe for another conflict. Germany, in particular, was economically unstable and politically divided, which allowed Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist (Nazi) Party to gain power. Hitler signed treaties with Italy and Japan to achieve his plans for world domination. War broke out when his troops invaded Poland in 1939.
World War II Timeline (1931-1945)
Japan invades Manchuria on China's eastern seaboard. The League of Nations took no action, undermining the League's influence.
This was one of the incidents that led to World War II. It again demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations.
Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy Sign a Treaty of Cooperation. This leads to the Pact of Steel in 1939 where Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini formalize the Axis Agreement. This partnered the countries in military and politics.
Rome-Berlin coalition announced.
Germany and Austria become united as one.
This pact allowed Germany to annex Sudentenland in western Czechoslovakia, which would offer key military positions to Nazi Germany in the war.
Despite the Treaty of Munich that prohibited such action, Hitler's troops invaded and occupied the country, annexing it into the Third Reich.
This was a secret codicil between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin that divided up eastern Europe into key areas of influence. The codicil included clauses for the division of Poland.
Germany does not declare war before launching a coordinated land-and-air attack that became known as a "blitzkrieg" on Poland.
Honoring their treaty with Poland, Great Britain and France declare war.
For months following the British declaration of war, the public called it a "phoney war" because Britain saw no military action.
Japan is at war with China, but declares neutrality in European war.
While Germany advanced from the west, the Soviet Union invaded from the east.
Germany and the Soviet Union divide Poland between them.
Germany attacks the Firth of Forth and damages the Southhampton and Edinburgh cruisers and Mohawk destroyer.
The League condemns the Soviet Union's mounting aggression against Finland. They waged the Winter War against Finland from 1939-1940.
The Soviet Union invades Finland, which calls for an armistice. Finland ends up ceding the north shores of Lake Lagoda and the Finish coastline on the Arctic Sea to the Soviet Union.
The Royal Air Force hits the German seaplane base at Hornum.
Denmark surrenders immediately. Norway holds out until June 9. With their fall, Hitler has safeguarded supply routes for Swedish ore and a way to break through the British naval blockade of Germany.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigns after his appeasement policies fail. Winston Churchill replaces him and forms a coalition government. He approaches US President Franklin Roosevelt for aid.
Germany launches a blitzkrieg attack against Holland and Belgium, leaving Rotterdam in ruin. Hitler then turns his attention to France.
Germany cut off the British from its allies at Dunkirk. By May 19, the Allied armies are trapped by the sea and ready for evacuation. On May 26, they initiated Operation Dynamo, an evacuation plan that called on British citizens to lend their ships to the effort. Hundreds responded, rescuing 338,000 troops, including 140,000 French who would later form the Free French Army under Charles de Gaulle. The RAF greatly reduced German air power during the nine day operation.
Great Britain, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India and South Africa declare war on Italy. Paris, however, is declared an open city by its mayor to prevent its destruction.
The French accept the armistice with Germany and its terms, establishing the Vichy government. Germany occupied the country for the rest of the war.
The Soviet Union forces Romania to give up the eastern province of Beesarabia and the northern half of Bukovina.
The Soviet Union occupies the Baltic States and engineers Communist coup d'états before annexing them as Soviet Republics. The entire operation took less than two months.
The British sink French vessels to prevent them from falling into German hands.
The German's goal of this air war was to destroy the Royal Air Force, to help with German invasion.
Three hundred German bombers raid London in the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombing. The "blitzkrieg" lasted until May 1941. The Germans wanted to weaken the British government.
It is the first peacetime draft for the US.
Germany, Italy and Japan sign the Tripartite Act, which recognized their right to take control of Europe and Asia.
Germany and Italy divide the disputed province of Transylvania between Romania and Hungary.
Nearly 16 million American men between the ages of 21 and 36 are required to register at draft boards across the country. Nearly 50 million men would register during the war.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the act to provide aid to Britain despite public opposition.
The first all-black unit of the US Air Corps is established. They are the 99th Pursuit Squadron, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
Yugoslavia surrenders on April 17. Greece holds out until early June.
Germany and Italy recognize the newly formed state by the leaders of the terrorist movement known as Ustasa. The new state includes the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Croatia joins the Axis Powers on June 15.
Germany invades the Soviet Union without declaring war. Finland joins the Axis before invasion, hoping to recoup losses from the Winter War. The Germans overrun the Baltic States and lay siege to Leningrad. Hitler sent 3 million soldiers and 3,500 tanks into the Soviet Union. Stalin immediately signs a treaty with Britain, creating an Eastern front that will result in 20 million casualties by the end of the war.
This act prevents discrimination against blacks and women in hiring practices for defense jobs. It marks the first federal act addressing civil rights since the Reconstruction.
Einsatzgruppen were mobile killing units made up mostly of SS and German police.
Using Luftwaffe raids, Germany launches attack on Moscow.
The siege lasted 872 days (but was often referred to as the 900-day siege) and resulted in more than 1 million civilian deaths.
Soviet Russia successfully defends their capital from Germany. Hitler believed capturing Moscow would defeat the Red Army. The battle resulted in more than 1 million casualties during the twenty days of battle, mostly suffered by the Soviets who lost more than 600,000. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin remained in Moscow throughout the battle.
This is the first US Navy vessel sunk in WWII.
Hundreds of Japanese warplanes attack the Pacific fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Eight battleships, three light cruisers, three destroyers and four other US Navy vessels are sunk or damaged in the attack; 164 aircraft are destroyed; and 2,403 Americans are killed. The Japanese also hit Guam, Wake Island, the Philippines, Malaya and Hong Kong on a day Roosevelt called "a date which will live in infamy."
Britain and the United States declared war on Japan.
German U-boats sink 25 tanker ships off the coast of America in an attempt to halt supply runs to the Allies. By summer of that year, the Germans would sink 230 Allied ships, sending nearly 5 million tons of goods into the sea.
The Conference finalizes plans to exterminate the Jews in Europe with a "Final Solution." Their plan included nearly 11 million people.
Philip Johnston, who was a World War I veteran, suggested the Marine Corps recruit Navajos and other tribes to send coded messages. The Army had been using Comanches, Choctaws, Hopis, Cherokees and other tribes to send messages in their native languages since 1940. These warriors were called "Code Talkers." During WWII, more than 400 Navajo served as Code Talkers.
The Japanese capture Singapore from the British and take approximately 60,000 prisoners.
This order allows the War Department to designate military areas in the US to exclude any person or persons of threat. It is the first step toward establishing the Japanese internment camps.
Commanders in Hawaii at the time of Pearl Harbor are court-martialed for dereliction of duty. During the course of the Congressional hearings and courts-martial, details of intercepted messages of warning about the attack were released.
General MacArthur was responsible for strategic defense of the entire Pacific Ocean.
Lt. Colonel James Doolittle oversees modifications of the B-52s at McClellan Field near Sacramento. The planes would depart on April 1 on a secret mission.
The US surrenders the Bataan Peninsula on the Philippine island of Luzon to the Japanese. Approximately 78,000 Filipino and American troops are forced to march 65 miles to prison camps under harsh temperatures and under extreme physically harassment by Japanese guards. Thousands died on the journey.
Lt. Colonel "Jimmy" Doolittle leads a B-52 bomber raid on Tokyo, Kobe, Nagoya, Yokohama and Yokosuka.
A notice is posted on the West Coast that all Japanese in the area would be sent to assembly centers.
The 420 Navajo that were being sent to the Pacific complete training in San Diego.
This battle was the first air-sea battle in history. It lasted four days and prevented the Japanese from controlling the Coral Sea and invading Port Moresby of New Guinea. When they landed, Allied Forces attacked and were victorious. This marks a change in American strategy from defense to a mix of defense and offensive maneuvers.
The Philippines fall under Japanese rule.
Germans destroy the Soviets as they attempt to take Kharkov back. They lose 280,000 men and 650 tanks in a total rout.
The British bomb Cologne in the first of many bombing raids on German soil. During the next three years of the war, British-American bombing will destroy much of urban Germany.
US troops fight to remove Japanese garrisons from US-owned islands of Attu and Kiska, west of Alaska. It was the only US land Japan would claim during the war. The battle was designed by the Japanese as a diversion to keep the US from Midway. The US retook the Aleutian islands in May 1943.
Six months after Pearl Harbor, the US Navy defeats the Japanese at Midway. Much of this victory was the result of Code Talkers. It marked a turning point in the Pacific campaign. It was the first defeat for the Japanese Navy in 350 years. The Japanese lost 3,500 men, four carriers, a cruiser and 332 aircraft. The US lost 307 men, the Yorktown, one destroyer and 150 aircraft.
This is the first attack on the US mainland in the war.
Germany and Axis partners fight their way to Stalingrad and move into the Caucasus after taking the Crimean Peninsula.
The Battle of Stalingrad was the most successful Soviet defensive position yet. It is widely considered one of the greatest battles of the war that stopped the German advance into the Soviet Union. It was also one of the bloodiest battles of the war with nearly 2 million casualties. It was known as Operation Barbarossa.
Soviet troops break through Hungarian and Romanian lines outside Stalingrad and trap the German army in the city. The German survivors of the siege surrender on February 2, 1943.
This was the first major offensive by the Allies in the Pacific theater. US Marines launch a surprise attack and take back the air base on Guadalcanal. Though it took six months to secure the island, the first supply ship arrives on August 12.
Churchill send General Alexander to destroy the German-Italian army, commanded by Field-Marshall Rommel, and all supplies and establishments in Libya and Egypt.
US troops stop the Japanese island-hopping advance in the Solomon Islands.
Nearly 110,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast are interred in Assembly Centers in one of 10 remote desert camps. They would be held until the end of the war in 1945. It is widely considered one of the worst American Civil Rights violations in the 20th century.
British Defeat Germany and Italy at El Alamein in Egypt, forcing Axis troops to retreat to the border of Tunisia. British General Montgomery attacked with a massive bombardment and then chased the enemy 1,500 miles across the desert.
US and British land in North Africa under the command General Dwight D. Eisenhower. They assume control of French Morocco and Algeria.
The Germans occupy Southern France as a retaliation of their invasion of Africa.
Franklin changes the status of Japanese American service members from 4-C (enemy aliens) to 1-A (fit for duty) and creates the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which would become the most decorated unit in US history.
Churchill and Roosevelt announce they will only accept an unconditional surrender from Axis Powers.
German Field Marshall Friedrich von Paulus surrenders to the Soviets, changing the momentum on the Eastern front.
The US is defeated and the Germans descend through the Kasserine Pass.
American reconnaissance planes spot 16 Japanese ships en route to New Guinea to secure the island. US and Australian aircraft begin a bombing campaign that decimated eight Japanese transports and four destroyers. They dropped 213 tons of bombs on the convoy. Japan also lost 102 of 150 planes that tried to engage American bombers. It was a devastating loss for the Japanese.
On April 17, an American listening post in the Aleutian Islands intercepts a radio transmission with details of Yamamoto's plans to tour bases in the South Pacific. US uses the information to have P-38 pilots shoot Yamamoto's bomber down, killing Japan's most popular military leader.
US forces in the Pacific launch a series of amphibious assaults on the Japanese base at Rabaul on the island of New Britain. MacArthur leads the Allied advance through New Guinea while Admiral William "Bull" Halsey commanded a northward advance through the Solomon Islands. They were able to surround the Japanese on Rabaul, cutting them off from the rest of Japan's controlled islands and neutralizing 100,000 Japanese troops.
US and Japan meet in the main conflict of the Aleutian Islands. The battle ends in US victory.
Africa falls to Allied control, ending the North African campaign.
Lt. Charles B. Hall was a Tuskegee Airman with the 99th Fighter Squadron. Flying his P-40, Hall shot down a Focke-Wulf 190 Würger over southwestern Sicily.
The Red Army wins after the Germans launch a tank offensive near Kursk. It was the largest tank battle in history and the costliest single day of aerial conflict. The Germans suffered 500,000 casualties. This Soviet victory was a major turning point in the war.
Following victory in North Africa, the Allied forces turn their attention to Italy. Allied forces land in Sicily and, after 38 days of fighting, gain control of the Mediterranean and prepare to assault the mainland.
The Fascist Grand Council votes no confidence in Benito Mussolini. He is arrested. The following day, martial law is declared in Italy.
The Badoglio government surrenders unconditionally to the Allies. The Germans move into the city and immediately seize control of Rome and northern Italy. The Germans free Mussolini and establish a puppet fascist regime to block the Allied advance.
Allied troops land on the beaches of Salerno near Naples.
In the second strike on Schweinfurt, Allied forces shoot down 60 Flying Fortresses. Germans lose 600 men.
Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin meet in Tehran to coordinate plans for a simultaneous attack on Germany. Churchill doesn't trust Stalin, but Roosevelt, who did not want to stand against Russia, agreed to a second front in France with no more movement to the East. This laid the groundwork for post-war Eastern Europe.
The US starts its Central Pacific Campaign against Japan. The first battle was seizing the Japanese-held island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. The Marines expected an easy victory, but they encountered issues with low tide and coral reefs preventing some crafts from landing. After 76 bloody hours, the Marines took the island. The list of dead is nearly as many as from six months of fighting at Guadalcanal.
The siege of Leningrad is lifted by the Red Army.
Allied forces land at Anzio near the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino. It was the site of an impasse between Allied forces and the German-Italian troops. The Allied forces needed to break through the German's Gustav Line, which was a series of military fortifications across Italy, to take Rome. US bombers destroy the abbey in a controversial move. The battle was fought in four parts over a five-month period. In the end, the Allied Forces took Rome, but each side lost at least 125,000 troops.
US Marines and Army troops launch an amphibious assault on three islets in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. It was where Japan had established their outermost perimeter of the war. US victory allowed the Pacific Fleet to advance on the Philippines and Japan.
The Narva Isthmus of Estonia was caught between the Germans and Soviets. Both sides wanted to control the area. Fighting was ferocious, claiming 550,000 casualties. In the end, both armies retreated and Estonia was free of Soviet occupation until they returned after the war.
Germany occupies Hungary to prevent it from deserting the Axis, appointing a pro-German minister president to ensure compliance.
Polish troops take the ruined Monte Cassino monastery, breaking the Gustav Line. German troops fall back.
More than 1,000 aircraft fly over the Channel carrying 24,000 paratroopers who are dropped behind enemy lines in Normandy. They are joined by more than 5,300 ships carrying 156,000 US, British and Canadian troops that storm Normandy beach in the greatest invasion in history. The operation opens a "Second Front" against the Germans. Less than a week later, the beaches were secure and more than 326,000 troops, 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 tons of equipment had landed at Normandy. Operation Overlord took 2,500 American lives on the bloodiest day in American history.
Allied forces bomb Japanese-held Saipan for two days before the US Marines storm the beach. They force the Japanese into retreat, but encounter brutal fighting conditions around Mount Tapotchau, the highest peak on the island. The Marines dubbed two areas of battle "Death Valley" and "Purple Heart Ridge." The trapped Japanese soldiers execute a banzai charge that fails. The US took the territory on July 9 after nearly four weeks of fighting. 16,525 Americans are killed, wounded or reported missing. More than 1,000 Japanese civilians were killed by their countrymen or committed suicide to avoid being captured by America.
The Japanese Combined Fleet and the US Navy battled in the Philippine Sea during the Battle of Saipan. The Americans take out more than 200 Japanese planes and two regular carriers. As the Japanese retreat, they lose another carrier and nearly 100 more planes. Admiral Raymond Spruance takes the victory and allows the Japanese to retreat without further incident in a controversial decision. It was the greatest carrier battle of the war.
The Red Army launches a massive offensive in easter Belarus the destroys a German Army Group Center. It allows the Soviet army to push onward. They arrive in Warsaw on August 1.
General Omar Bradley presented a breakout plan for Allied forces who were facing slow progress through France after D-Day. He called it Operation Cobra. Bradley wanted to focus efforts on a 7,000 yard stretch of the Stain-Lô-Periers Road. Allied forces began with aerial bombardment, then followed up with the 9th and 30th Infantry Divisions. The troops were charged with creating a breach in the German lines and holding it so the 1st Infantry and 2nd Armored Divisions could drive through the gap. German forces withdrew behind the Seine allowing Allied forces to advance to the Seine River. During the aerial battle, visibility was low and Allied pilots inadvertently fired on their own troops, killing 150. An additional 600 Allied troops were killed on the battlefield in the worst case of friendly fire in US history.
The non-communist underground Army of Poland attempts to liberate Warsaw before the Soviets arrive. They are outmatched and those who survived the battle surrender to the Germans on October 5.
Allied forces land in southern France and advance toward the Rhine River. Hitler pulls his 7th Army out of Normandy. They retreat amid enemy fire, trying to reach Germany. Out of the 80,000 who attempted the treacherous route through Allied forces, an estimated 10,000 perished.
With Soviet troops on the Prut River, Romanian opposition overthrows the Antonescu regime and launches a new government, which immediately signs an armistice to switch to the Allied side of the war. This act convinces Bulgaria to surrender on September 8.
Allied troops and Free French Forces enter the French capital and liberate Paris.
British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery launches an operation to seize a bridgehead north of the Rhine at Arnhem. Operation Market was the largest airborne and glider operation in history. It opened a route to the industrial Ruhr valley for British and US forces. It was the largest Allied air operation of the war and exacted heavy losses. By battles' end, 17,000 British, Canadians, Americans and Poles are killed, wounded or missing.
Warner H. Holzinger leads the US advance and becomes the first foreign soldier to step foot in Germany since Napoleon's reign.
This was the US Army's worst defeat in history. After three weeks of combat, the Americans had suffered 33,000 casualties and gained nothing.
US Marines land on Peleliu, one of the Palau Islands. They face heavy resistance from the Japanese and suffer severe losses during the controversial battle. It took two months to secure the island. Nearly every Japanese soldier was killed during the battle, almost 10,000 men. Of the estimated 28,000 US Marines and infantry troops, a full 40 percent died or were wounded.
The Hungarian fascist group Arrow Cross successfully carries out a coup d'état with German support, preventing a surrender to the Soviets.
The Japanese successfully use a decoy to lure the US Third Fleet away from Leyte Gulf as they attempted to converge three naval forces there, but it was a trap. The Japanese were met by the US 7th Fleet and the Allied Forces. Japan lost its ability to move supplies. This battle is a precursor to Allied troops landing in the Philippines and the beginning of the end for the Japanese navy.
The Germans try to re-conquer Belgium, which would split the Allied forces along the German border. It is a final, desperate offensive for the German forces that combined 20 infantry divisions of approximately 250,000 soldiers, followed by 600 tanks. By January 30, Allied forces regained the ground they had lost. More than 1 million troops took part in the six weeks of battle, with heavy losses for the Germans (100,000 men and all German tanks and aircraft lost). Americans lost 19,000.
German SS troops capture and disarm 150 US soldiers before killing 86 of them.
German officers approach the surrounded Americans at Bastogne to suggest surrender. General Anthony McAuliffe of the 101st Airborne replies, "Nuts!" The US did not surrender. On December 25, American tanks break through the German lines and join the 101st at Bastogne fortifying the position.
The largest island in the Philippines was taken by the Japanese in 1942. When US forces made it to the island in 1945, the fighting was fierce and included kamikaze pilots. Casualties for the battle were high: 330,000-350,000.
Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin agree to hold free elections in Eastern Europe following the war and to divide Germany and Austria into three occupied areas.
Allied forces bomb the history city of Dresden in a controversial operation. Dresden was not an active participant in the war or the site of any military or wartime activity. After two days of bombing, the city lay in ruin and at least 35,000 civilians were dead.
After 72 days of shelling, Marines land on Iwo Jima. Fighting continued for one month and 6,821 Americans died taking the island. 27 Medals of Honor were awarded for that battle alone. The Japanese suffered catastrophic losses.
Photographer Joe Rosenthal takes the photo of a recreated flag raising on the island. That photo becomes the iconic image of the US Marine Corps and the source for the Iwo Jima Memorial located near Arlington Cemetery.
American bombers drop thousands of 70-pound napalm bombs on Tokyo. The city, built from pine, paper and bamboo, burns, costing a million people their homes. For the next ten days, US bombing raids expand to Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe, killing approximately 50,000 Japanese.
On Easter Sunday, the US Navy's 5th Fleet and 180,000 Marines and Army troops descend on Okinawa, a 60-mile long island of Japan. The assault was called Operation Iceberg. It was the largest invasion force since D-Day. There was heavy resistance, including the use of kamikaze pilots. Americans lost more than 12,000 with 60,000 wounded. The Japanese lost 92,000 soldiers and an estimated 100,000 Okinawan civilians, many by suicide.
Harry S. Truman is sworn in as president.
The Soviets reach Berlin before the US and launch their final offensive. The Red Army surrounds Berlin. US and Britain would support the Soviet operation. Since Berlin was designated as a Soviet occupation zone, Eisenhower took a supporting position.
During the Battle of Okinawa, Americans attacked Hacksaw Ridge on the Maeda Escarpment. It was a 400-foot vertical cliff. Battle was brutal with heavy losses. The US took the ridge on May 6. Corporal Desmond T. Doss, an Army medic who refused to carry a gun, saved 75 wounded Americans during the battle.
Soviet troops break through to Rechstag, less than half a mile from where Hitler and his aides hide in a bunker. Rather than be taken, Adolf Hitler and his wife, Eva Braun, commit suicide.
American patrols find 110,000 starving "enemies of the Reich" at Mauthausen in Austria. The Germans had used the gas chamber until the end. Nearly 3,000 prisoners were executed on April 20 along with 33 Austrians who opposed Germany.
Admiral Donitz, whom Hitler had named his successor, attempted to surrender to the Western allies, but asked to be allowed to continue fighting with the Red Army. His offer was denied.
Admiral Donitz, Hitler's successor, offers an unconditional surrender to the Allies.
Victory in Europe is celebrated.
Churchill loses election for Prime Minister to Clement Attlee of the Labour Party.
Truman, Churchill and Stalin agree Japan must offer unconditional surrender or be destroyed.
Two torpedoes sink the ship and kill 300 of the nearly 2,000 on board. On August 2, the surviving crew are still awaiting rescue. By the time it arrives, another 880 are lost. Only 321 are saved.
Japan refuses to surrender.
Enola Gay drops the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In one instant, 40,000 men, women and children are obliterated. Another 100,000 die within days from burns or radiation. Japan still rejects the Allied terms of surrender.
Japan now faces war on two fronts. They still stand firm.
Another 40,000 civilians perish with more succumbing to burns and radiation in following days. In Tokyo, the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War is divided. The Emperor steps in.
MacArthur accepts Japan's surrender, formally ending World War II.