Timeline of World War 2

TIMELINE OF WORLD WAR 2: World War 2 was the biggest and bloodiest conflict in the history of the human race, costing tens of millions of lives and completely transforming the world as it was. 

nazi-leadersHitler and members of the Nazi leadership in 1943.
@ Timeline of World War 2

Among the many causes of the war was unresolved resentment from World War I, the rise of fascism and communism in Europe and Asia as well as economic upheaval caused by the Great Depression. 

This World War Two timeline is split into four pages.  The first two deal with the war against Nazi Germany in Europe, from the invasion of Poland in 1939 to the fall of Berlin in 1945. 

A special focus is put on the war between German and Soviet Russia.  Often overlooked by Western historians, this conflict was many times the size of the front against the Germans led by the British and Americans.
Page three looks at Japan and the Pacific War, while page four deals with the African campaigns of World War 2.  Please leave any comments or questions you have at the bottom of the page.

Primary causes and steps along the way

End of World War 1 (November 11, 1918) The so-called “Great War” ends with victory for the Western Allies and a humiliating armistice for the German-led Central Powers. The European nationalism spawned by this war as well as problems with the Treaty of Versailles were two fundamental causes of World War 2.

The Third Reich begins (January 30, 1933) Nazi leader Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany, heralding the start of what he wants to be a “thousand-year Reich”.

guernica-bombingThe remains of Guernica in the Spanish Civil
War. Arial bombings such as this were to
foreshadow the mass devestation of the
Second World War.
@ Timeline of World War 2

Spanish Civil War (July 17, 1936 – April 1, 1939) Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union use this as a proxy war to test improved weapons and tactics. 

Remilitarization of the Rhineland (March 7, 1936) German troops remilitarize the Rhineland, a strip of Germany bordering France.

The Japanese invade China (July 1937) The Empire of Japan invades China and captures the capital, Beijing, after instigating the Marco Polo Bridge Incident.

Austria annexed (March 12, 1938) Germany takes over Austria in what they call the Anschluss or “link-up”.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is signed (August 23, 1939)  The Germans and Soviets sign a secret non-aggression treaty and agree to annex and carve up Eastern Europe into their own “spheres of influence”.  The Soviets agree to aid Germany in case it comes under attack by the United Kingdom and France.

The war begins

polish-soldiersPolish soldiers on the march in 1939.
@ Timeline of World War 2

The Invasion of Poland (September 1 – October 6, 1939)  German forces invade Poland using a staged attack by Nazis posing as Poles as a pretext.  The Soviets invade from the east on September 17 in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Resistance quickly collapses and Poland is subsumed into the German and Soviet empires.

War is declared (September 3) Britain and France declare war on Germany and start a naval blockade designed to hamper the Nazi economy.

The Winter War (November 30, 1939 – March 13, 1940) The Soviets attack Finland but are severely challenged by the Finns’ mastery of winter warfare and guerilla tactics.  The conflict ends in an uneasy peace, with Finland conceding some of its land to its much larger neighbor.

The Phoney War (September 1939 – April 1940) A period of uncertain inactivity in Western Europe as both the Axis and the Allies make war preparations but neither side moves to attack.  The Germans call it the Sitzkrieg, or “sitting war”.

Hitler pushes north (April 1940) Germany invades Denmark and Norway to secure its iron ore supply from Sweden.  Denmark immediately capitulates and Norway is conquered within two months.

Katyn massacre (April – May, 1940) Soviet secret police mass-executes about 22,000 Polish prisoners of war.

auschwitzThe network of concentration camps known as
Auschwitz were among the most infamous of the
war . @ Timeline of World War 2

Auschwitz begins (May, 1940) The Germans start to bring a network of concentration and extermination camps in occupied Poland online.  Over the course of the war over one million victims, of which about 90 per cent were Jewish, perish at Auschwitz.

Change of office (May 10, 1940) Winston Churchill replaces Neville Chamberlain as British Prime Minister due to dissatisfaction over the way Chamberlain handled the Norwegian campaign. 

Aggressors attack

Hitler pushes west (May 10, 1940) Germany starts its attack on Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherland and France.  The Germans use blitzkrieg tactics to quickly roll over the first three and use their tanks to devastating effect in the Battle of France.

Italy attacks (June 10, 1940) Hitler’s Italian allies join the attack on France in an unabashed land-grab.  Italian fascist dictatior Benito Mussolini’s troops are unequipped to fight in the Alps and have only limited success.

Russia expands (June 1940) The Soviet Union annexes the Baltic states and parts of Romania.

frenchman-weepsA Frenchman weeps after the Germans take over
his country in 1940. @ Timeline of World War 2

The Fall of France (June 22, 1940) France surrenders and is divided into German and Italian occupation zones and a puppet government in the south called Vichy France.  Hitler has the French leaders sign the armistice in the same railway coach Germany was made to sign the humiliating surrender in 1918 at the end of World War I.

The Battle of Britain (July 10 – October 31, 1940) Germany unsuccessfully attempts to gain control of British airspace as a prelude to a ground invasion.  British fighter plans including the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricanes duel with German fighters and bombers. The Germans initially target ports and air force bases and later civilian populations.

Axis unite (September 27, 1940) Germany, Italy and Japan formalize the Axis alliance by signing the Tripartite Pact. Under pressure from the Germans, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania join the pact in November.

Italy tries again (October 28, 1940) Italy invades Greece but is pushed back into a stalemate in neighboring Albania.

America offers funds (March 11, 1941) United States president Franklin Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease bill to financially support the Allies, leading to $50.1 billion worth of supplies shipped to the UK, France, China and the Soviet Union.

Balkans attacked (April-May 1941) Germany invades Greece and Yugoslavia and uses paratroopers to take the strategically important Greek island of Crete.

Bismarck sunk (May 27, 1941) Royal Navy ships sink the German flagship Bismarck, a huge morale-booster for the British.

A clash of titans

operation-barbarossaGerman troops in Russia during Operation Barbarossa
in 1941. @ Timeline of World War 2

Operation Barbarossa (June 22, 1941) Germany invades the Soviet Union. Hitler aims to exterminate communism and deliver Lebensraum (living space) for the "Aryan" race.  Soviet leader Joseph Stalin is caught by surprise and the Germans make swift progress towards Moscow.

The Battle of Smolensk (July 6 – August 5, 1941) The Soviets make their first concerted effort at counterattacking the Germans.  Although the Soviets are defeated, the battle costs the Nazis valuable time on their approach to the Russian capital.

Battle of Moscow (October 2, 1941 – January 7, 1942) German troops push all the way to the outskirts of the Moscow before their offensive stops and the Russians force them back.  It’s one of the most lethal battles in history claiming over 1,000,000 lives.

The First Battle of Kharkov (October 20 – 24, 1941) Germany captures the major industrial centre of Kharkov.

Soviets counterattack (December 5, 1941) Stalin draws up reinforcements from Siberia and the Far East and starts a massive counter-offensive against the Germans.

Wannsee Conference (January 20, 1942) Senior Nazis meet near Berlin to discuss the “Final solution to the Jewish problem”. Plans are made for the total extermination of Europe’s 11 million Jews.

Nazis push on (June 1942) Having thwarted the Soviet counterattack the Germans start their summer campaign.  They defeat the Soviets in the Kerch Peninsula and again at Kharkov and push south to seize the oil fields in the Caucasus.  The Soviets decide to make their stand at Stalingrad.

Page 1 of 4 1 2 3 4 »

The page Timeline of World War 2 was written by S. Anderson, 2011. Last updated 2011.

Share |

top of page

Selected references for Timeline of World War 2

• World Encyclopedia, 2005

• The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition 2008

• World War II, Behind Closed Doors, Laurence Rees, 2008

• A Short History of World War II, James L. Stokesbury, 2008

• Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945, Sir Max Hastings, Nov 1, 2011



• Britannica

• www.iwm.org.uk

Photo sources for Timeline of World War 2

• Nazi leaders ww2db.com

• Guernica bombing commons.wikimedia.org

• Polish soldiers commons.wikimedia.org

• Auschwitz de.wikipedia.org

• Frenchman weeps commons.wikimedia.org

• German troops in Russia commons.wikimedia.org

Unless otherwise stated, all photos used on the page Timeline of World War 2 are, to our knowledge, in the public domain. If you think otherwise, please let us know.