A Timeline of WWII (1939-1945)
This condensed timeline includes major events of the Second World War,
and tries especially to cover those events encountered frequently in the
"What Did You Do in the War, Grandma?" interviews.
A goal of the timeline is to provide a general outline
that allows events unfamiliar to our readers, to be identified
chronologically. In preparing the timeline, we have used a number
of reference books, including
Trager (1992, 1994),
and Dupuy (1993).
1939 || 1940 ||
1941 || 1942 ||
1943 || 1944 ||
- April 10
- Having annexed Austria in March, Germany's Adolph Hitler calls a
plebiscite which shows that more than 99 percent of Austrians favor
union with Germany's Third Reich.
- June 15
- The US Congress passes the Fair Labor Standards Act, the first
national effort to legislate a minimum hourly wage (25 cents)
and a ceiling on the number of working hours (44 per week).
- September 30
- The Munich Pact is signed. The British and French allow Hitler to
Sudetenland, a 16,000-square-mile area of Czechoslovakia with a
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) says this will
satisfy Germany and bring "peace for our time ... peace with honor."
- November 9
- The largest pogrom in German history takes place, as Jewish shop
windows are smashed, and the shops, as well as homes and synagogues, are
looted, destroyed and burned. Between 20,000 and 30,000 Jews are
taken to concentration camps.
- January 16
- Physicists Lise Meitner and Otto R. Frisch describe the process
by which a neutron causes the disintegration of the uranium
nucleus into "two nuclei of roughly equal size." They call this
process "nuclear fission."
- March 14
- After annexing the Sudetenland, Germany invades the rest of
Czechoslovakia, while Italy launches an invasion of
Albania (see map).
- March 28
- The Spanish Civil War ends, as Madrid falls to the forces of
- August 23
- Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia sign a mutual non-aggression pact.
is signed by German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Josef
Stalin's commissar of foreign affairs, V. M. Molotov.
- September 1
- German troops and aircraft attack Poland. Soviet troops will invade
Poland from the east on September 17, and Poland will surrender to the
Germans on September 27.
- September 3
- After Hitler ignores their demand for German withdrawal from Poland,
and as the British ship Athenia is sunk by German U-boats
off the coast of Ireland, Great Britain and France formally declare
war on Germany.
- September 17
- American aviation hero Charles A. Lindbergh makes his first
anti-intervention radio speech. The U.S. non-intervention movement
is supported not just by Lindbergh, but by former president Herbert Hoover,
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Henry Ford, Lindbergh and a number of senators
and congressmen as well.
- September 28
- Poland is partitioned between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.
- November 4
- Although President Roosevelt has declared American neutrality in the
war in Europe, a Neutrality Act is signed that allows the US to send
arms and other aid to Britain and France.
- November 30
- Soviet troops invade Finland.
- December 16
- In Washington, the National Women's Party meets and urges
the Congress to act on an Equal Rights Amendment.
- January 30.
- The U.S. government issues its first Social Security checks,
totaling just over $75,000.
- March 18
- Mussolini and Hitler announce Italy's formal alliance with Germany
against England and France.
- May 7
- British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin resigns in disgrace. He
will be replaced by Winston Churchill on May 10.
- May 10
- The German Blitzkrieg ("lightning war") begins, as Rotterdam
and other Dutch cities are attacked from the air. By the end of the month,
the Dutch armies will have surrendered, Belgium will have surrendered,
and the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk will be
- June 10
- Italy declares war on Britain and France, and U.S. President Roosevelt
announces a shift from neutrality to "non-belligerency," meaning more
active support for the Allies against the Axis.
- June 14
- German troops enter Paris and, as a French appeal for U.S. aid
is declined, the French fortress at Verdun falls to the Germans.
- June 28
- In the U.S., the Alien Registration Act (the Smith Act) passed by
aliens to register and be fingerprinted; the Act makes it illegal to
advocate the overthrow of the US government.
- July 9
- As German air attacks over Britain intensify, the
British Royal Air Force begins night bombing of German targets.
- August 17
- Germany declares a blockade of British waters, and begins a
bombing campaign which, by September, will be killing hundreds each
day. In November, German air raids will kill more than 4,500 Britons.
- September 27
- Germany, Italy and Japan enter into a 10-year military and
economic alliance that comes to be known as the "Axis". Hungary
and Romania will join the Axis in November.
- October 29
- Conscription begins in the U.S. It is the first military
draft to occur during peacetime in American history.
- November 5
- Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected to an unprecedented third term
as president, with 54 percent of the popular vote. He defeats
Republican Wendell L. Willke.
- January 6
- Contrary to widespread isolationist sentiment,
President Roosevelt recommends a "Land-Lease" program that will
provide U.S. aid to the Allies.
- April 6
- Greece and Yugoslavia are invaded by German troops.
- April 16
- Britain receives its first American "Lend-Lease" aid
shipments of food. By December, millions of tons of food will
have arrived from the U.S.
- May 31
- British troops arrive in Iraq and will prevent Axis sympathizers from
taking over the government there. In early June, British and Free French
troops will invade Syria and Lebanon to prevent those countries from
being taken over by the Germany.
- June 22
- German troops invade Soviet Russia,
breaking the "nonaggression" pact signed in 1939. Two days
later, President Roosevelt promises US aid to Russia.
- June 25
- President Roosevelt creates a U.S. Fair Employment Practice
Committee (FEPC), after a march by 50,000 black Americans
is threatened by A. Philip Randolph to protest unfair labor practices in
the government and the war industry.
- June 28
- Vannevar Bush is named director of the Office of Scientific Research
and Development (OSRD), which has just been created by President Roosevelt.
- August 9
- Secret meetings between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister
Churchill begin off the coast of Newfoundland. They will result in the
Atlantic Charter, which contains eight points of agreement on the aims of
- September 11
- President Roosevelt issues an order that German or Italian ships
sighted in U.S. waters will be attacked immediately.
- September 29
- German troops invading the Ukraine
machine-gun to death between 50,000 and 96,000 Ukranians
(of which at least 60 percent are Jews), in Babi Yar, a ravine about
30 miles outside of Kiev.
- October 17
- The Kearny, a U.S. destroyer, is torpedoed off the coast of
Iceland by a German U-boat. On the 31st, the American destroyer
Reuben James is sunk by a German U-boat, killing 100.
- December 7
- Just before 8 a.m., Honolulu time,
360 Japanese planes attack Pearl Harbor,
the U.S. military base on the Hawiian island of Oahu. The attack
cripples the U.S. Pacific fleet, and kills more than 2,300 American
soldiers, sailors, and civilians. The attack precedes Japan's
formal declaration of war, which is delivered by the Japanese foreign
minister to the U.S. embassy in Tokyo more than seven hours later.
The Providence Journal "War
Americans remembering Pearl
chat with the nation following the bombing
- December 8
- President Roosevelt addresses the U.S. Congress, saying that
December 7 is "a date that will live in infamy." After a vote of
82-0 in the U.S. Senate, and 388-1 in the
House, in favor of declaring war on Japan, Roosevelt signs the
declaration of war. (See Roosevelt's
famous address to Congress requesting that war be declared.)
- December 11
- Germany and Italy declare war on the U.S.
President Roosevelt calls an end to official U.S.
neutrality in the war in
Europe, declaring war on Germany and Italy.
View The Providence Journal cover,
- January 2
- Japanese troops capture Manila.
- January 10
- Japanese troops invade the Dutch East Indies.
- January 14
- An order from President Roosevelt requires all aliens to register
government. This is the beginning of a plan to move Japanese-Americans
into internment camps in the belief that these people might aid the
- February 2
- Congress appropriates 26.5 billion dollars for the U.S.
Navy, bringing total U.S. war costs since June of 1940 to more than
115 billion dollars.
- February 15
- Japanese troops capture Singapore.
- February 19
- Executive Order 9066 is signed by President Roosevelt,
authorizing the transfer of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans
living in coastal Pacific areas to concentration
camps in various inland states (and including inland areas of
California). The interned Japanese-Americans lose an estimated
400 million dollars in property, as their homes and possessions
are taken from them.
Japanese-American internment experience.
- April 9
- The Philippines fall to Japanese troops.
- April 28
- Coastal "dimouts" go into effect along a fifteen-mile
strip on the Eastern Seaboard, in response to German U-boat activity
of the U.S. Atlantic coast.
- May 14
- The U.S. Congress establishes The Women's Auxiliary Army Corps
(WAAC), under the direction of Oveta Culp Hobby, editor of the
- May 15
- Gasoline rationing goes into effect in the Eastern United States.
Nationwide rationing will begin in September.
- May 30
- The first 1,000-bomber attack on German industrial targets is
carried out by Britain's Royal Air Force, as the German city of
Cologne is raided.
- June 6
- In reprisal for the May 29 assassination of German
Deputy Gestapo chief
and "Protector" of Czechoslovakia, Reinhard Heydrich,
German troops attempt to execute every male in the
Czech village of Lidice (Bohemia), and they then set fire to the
- June 13
- President Roosevelt authorizes the creation of the U.S. Office
on War Information (OWI). The first director is Elmer Holmes Davis,
a CBS commentator and novelist.
- June 21
- German field marshal Erwin Rommel and his troops capture Tobruk,
- June 28
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) captures eight German
agents that have landed by U-boat on Long Island.
- July 16
- French police round up 30,000 Parisian Jews, and German
troops bus them out of the city to concentration camps.
Approximately 30 will survive.
- July 30
- The Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services (WAVES)
is authorized by the U.S. Congress.
- August 19
- Canadian commando troops attack the coastal French city of Dieppe,
but German defenders abort the raid and 3,500 Canadians are lost.
- August 22
- The Battle of Stalingrad begins. The battle will claim the lives
of 750,000 Russian soldiers, 400,000 German soldiers, nearly 200,000
Romanian soldiers, 130,000 Italian soldiers, and 120,000 Hungarian soldiers.
- September 16
- The Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) are established
in the U.S.. The armed forces will be supplied with more than
1000 auxiliary pilots through this organization.
- November 7
- A joint U.S.-British force of 400,000 troops,
under the direction of General Eisenhower, begins landing at
Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. They will successfully overtake
the French garrisons there.
- November 10
- In response to Mahatma Gandhi's demand that India be granted
independence from Britain immediately, Prime Minister Churchill, in a
speech at Mansion House, says "I have not become the King's First
Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British
- December 1
- In the U.S., coffee joins the list of rationed items.
- December 2
- At the University of Chicago's Staff Field, the first controlled,
self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction is realized by a team of
scientists working under the name of the
"Manhattan Engineering District."
- December 24
- In Germany, the
first surface-to-surface guided missile is launched in Peenemunde.
The rocket has been designed by 30 year-old rocket engineer
Wernher von Braun.
- January 11
- President Roosevelt submits his budget to the U.S. Congress.
100 billion of the 109-billion-dollar budget is identified with
the war effort.
- January 22
- Forces representing Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S.
capture the southeaster tip of New Guinea from Japanese troops, in
an attempt to protect Australia from a Japanese invasion.
- January 23
- British forces capture Tripoli.
- February 7
- In the U.S., shoe rationing begins, limiting
civilians to three pairs of leather shoes per year. The ration
in Britain is one pair per year.
- February 8
- Allied forces capture Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, in
- February 16
- Dr. Mildred Harnack-Fish, a German resistance fighter born
in the U.S., and sentenced to death by the German
government for her work in the Resistance, and is
beheaded at Berlin's Plotzensee Prison.
- February 28
- A group of wives of Jewish men gather in Berlin to stop the
deportation of their husbands to concentrations camp. The group
of women will
grow to 1,000 by March 8 and will succeed in forcing Joseph
Goebbels to order the release of 1,500 men.
- March 29
- Meat rationing begins in the U.S., but the ration is 28
ounces per week, and meat production rises by approximately
50 per cent.
- April 1
- In the U.S., meat, fats, canned goods, and cheese are now
all rationed. Attempting to stem inflation,
President Roosevelt freezes wages, salaries, and prices.
- May 27
- In the U.S., President Roosevelt issues an executive order
forbidding racial discrimination by government contractors.
- May 29
- In the U.S., an issue of The Saturday Evening Post is
published with a cover illustration by Norman Rockwell that
introduces an American icon known as
"Rosie the Riveter."
- June 14
- The U.S. Supreme Court rules, in West Virginia Board of
Education v. Bernette, that a West Virginia state law that
requires school children to salute the flag, on penalty of
expulsion, is unconstitutional.
- June 22
race riots in Detroit, involving thousands,
leave thirty-four people dead. A race riot in Harlem, New York
City, will erupt on August 1.
- July 5
- The Battle of Kursk begins. Soviet troops will eventually
defeat the Germans, after a week of heavy fighting and tens of
thousands of casualties on both sides.
- July 9
- An invasion of Sicily begins by British paratroopers and American
- September 9
- Although the Allies have announced the unconditional surrender of
Italy, German forces in Italy continue to oppose Allied troops. When
the U.S. Fifth Army lands at Salerno, they sustain heavy losses.
- November 6
- Soviet troops retake Kiev.
- December 17
- President Roosevelt repeals the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Acts of
1882 and 1902, thus allowing Chinese residents of the United States
to be eligible for citizenship. The new Chinese Act also allows
for the immigration of up to 105 Chinese annually.
- January 20
- Russian troops recapture Novgorod, and will retake
Leningrad a week later. By early May, they will have recaptured
Odessa and Sevastopol as well. Meanwhile the British Royal
Air Force bombs Berlin with more than 2,300 tons of bombs.
- March 24
- 335 Italians, at least 255 of whom are civilians, are
shot by German troops in the Fosse Ardeantine caves outside
of Rome. The massacre is ordered by S.S. Colonel Herbert
Kappler, in response to the killing of
35 German soldiers.
- April 3
- In the case of Smith v. Allwright, the U.S. Supreme
Court rules that an American cannot be denied the right to vote
because of color.
- May 3
- In the U.S., meat rationing ends, except for certain select cuts.
- June 6
- "D-Day": The Allied invasion of Europe commences just after
midnight, as more than 175,000 troops land at Normandy. The
largest invasion force in
history, it includes 4,000 invasion ships, 600 warships,
and 10,000 planes.
- June 10
- More than 600 people are massacred by German troops in
the French town of Oradour-sur-Glane. While the men are shot
immediately, the women and children are locked in a church
the alter of which is set on fire; those who try to escape
the flames are shot.
- June 12
- German V1 remote-controlled rockets begin to hit London.
By September, the "improved" V2 rockets will target
London as well as Antwerp, killing and maiming thousands.
- June 22
- In the U.S.,
President Roosevelt signs the Servicemen's Readjustment
Act that will provide funds for housing and education after the
war. It is better known as the GI Bill of Rights.
- July 3
- The Russian city of Minsk is retaken by Russian troops, and
100,000 Germans are captured.
- July 8
- As a U.S. taking of Saipan becomes certain, hundreds of
Japanese civilians commit suicide rather than surrender.
Allied B-29 bombers can reach Tokyo from Saipan, thus the
capture of the island will be a turning point in the
Pacific war. The Tokyo government collapses within 2 weeks.
- July 20
- An assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler, planned by
some of Hitler's generals, is unsuccessful.
- August 4
- In Amsterdam, Otto Frank and his family (including his
daughter Anne, then 15) are captured by the Gestapo. Jewish,
been in hiding for more than two years, kept by Miep and Jan
Gies, but have been betrayed by someone familiar with their
hiding place and are put on the last convoy of trucks to
- August 25
- Paris is liberated by Allied French troops, after four years
of German occupation.
- October 20
- Allied forces invade the Philippines. Belgrade is captured by
Soviet Russian and Yugoslav partisan troops.
- November 7
- Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected to a fourth term as U.S.
President, and Harry S. Truman becomes the Vice-President.
- November 29
- In passing the Federal Highway Act, the U.S. Congress establishes
the U.S. National System of Interstate Highways that is planned to
reach 182 of the 199 U.S. cities with populations above 50,000.
- December 16
- The Battle of the Bulge begins. It the last major German
counteroffensive, as allied troops are pushed back in Belgium's
Ardennes Forest. As Allied lines fall back, a "bulge"
is created in the center of the line,
giving the battle its familiar name (see
Two weeks of intense fighting in brutal winter weather follow
before the German offensive is stopped.
- January 26
- Russian troops find fewer than 3,000 survivors when they
liberate Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland.
The German S.S. has
moved many of the remaining prisoners to camps inside Germany.
From 1939 to 1945, one third of the Jews living in the world
will have died in German concentration and extermination camps.
- February 4
- U.S. troops invading the Philippines have received reenforcements,
and a force led by General McArthur enters Manila. The city will
be completely retaken in less than three weeks.
- February 13
- British planes attack the German city of Dresden,
bombing with phosphorus
and high explosives; the firestorm created by the bombing kills
an estimated 135,000.
- March 9
- U.S. B-24 bombers attack Tokyo,
starting fires that will kill more than 120,000.
- March 16
- On Iwo Jima, a month-long struggle
comes to an end, as U.S. forces capture the 8-square-mile island.
Possessing Japan's last line of radar defense to warn against American
Iwo Jima is a strategically significant prelude to the invasion of
- April 11
- US troops reach the Elbe River (in Germany). They halt
there and meet
advancing Russian troops on April 25.
- April 12
- After suffering a massive cerebral
hemorrhage, President Roosevelt dies. He is 63.
S. Truman (1884-1972) is sworn in as President. Providence Journal cover.
- April 21
- U.S forces capture Nuremberg, and Russian forces reach the
suburbs of Berlin.
- April 28
- At Lake Como, in Italy, Benito Mussolini and 12 of his
former Cabinet officers are executed. German forces in Italy
will surrender unconditionally on the 29th.
- April 30
- With Russian shells falling on Berlin, Hitler marries his
mistress Eva Braun in his bombproof Berlin bunker. He then
poisons her and kills himself. His remains are never
Cartoon from the Providence
- May 7
- Germany surrenders unconditionally
to General Eisenhower at Rheims, France,
and to the Soviets in Berlin. President Truman
pronounces the following
day, May 8, V-E Day.
The U.S., Russia, England, and France agree to split occupied
Germany into eastern and western halves.
- June 21
- The Pacific island of Okinawa is captured by the Allies.
Japan has lost 160,000 men in fighting on the island;
more than 12,500 Americans have died on Okinawa as well.
- July 17
- U.S. air attacks on Tokyo continue, after planes have dropped
leaflets threatening destruction from the air if the Japanese do
not agree to unconditional surrender.
- July 30
- Torpedoes sink the U.S.S. Indianapolis in the Indian Ocean.
- August 2
- The Potsdam conference ends after more than two weeks of deliberations.
Allied leaders have been discussing what should become of Germany.
- August 6
- The U.S B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay,
drops an atomic bomb on the Japanese industrial city of Hiroshima.
The city is leveled, and an estimated 100,000 people are killed
immediately (another 100,000 will die later from radiation sickness
and burns). On August 9, a second bomb will be dropped
on the Japanese city of Nagasaki.
(Read Eyewitness accounts
of exposure to the A-bomb -- translated from the Japanese Documentary:
Hiroshima Witness, produced by Hiroshima Peace Cultural Center and NHK,
and located at: (http://126.96.36.199/mf/hibakusha/).
- August 10
- The Japanese sue for peace after the bombings of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, and U.S. President Truman declares that August 14th will
be V-J (Victory over Japan) Day.
To date, nearly 55 million people have died in the Second World War,
including 25 million in the Soviet Union, nearly 8 million in China,
and more than 6 million in Poland.
- August 19
- In the U.S., rationing of gasoline and fuel oil comes to an end.
- September 2
- General MacArthur accepts the formal, unconditional
surrender of Japan in a ceremony
aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
- November 23
- Butter rationing comes to an end, and sugar
is the only item that continues to be rationed in the U.S.
- December 15
- A new election law is passed in Japan, at the urgence of the
occupying Allied forces, which gives Japanese women voting rights.
- December 27
- The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development is
created. Of the more than 7 billion dollars contributed by 21
countries, the U.S. has subscribed more than 3 billion dollars
to the World Bank.
See also the United
States Naval Chronology of World War II (Maintained by Chris Meyers).
1939 || 1940 ||
1941 || 1942 ||
1943 || 1944 ||
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