World War 2 Timeline – 1939

by Ben Johnson

Important events of 1939 and the start of the Second World War, including Prime Minister Chamberlain’s (pictured to the left) ultimatum to Hitler; withdraw German troops from Poland or war will be declared.

Goosestepping Troops

1 Sept Germany invades Poland. First use of Blitzkrieg. Britain and France give Germany an ultimatum to get out. Blackout and evacuation plans are put in place in Britain.
2 Sept Chamberlain sends Hitler an ultimatum: withdraw German troops from Poland or war will be declared. The Luftwaffe gains air superiority over the Polish air force.
3 Sept Germany ignores the ultimatum and Britain and France declare war on Germany.
British troops (the BEF) are ordered to France. The passenger liner SS Athenia is the first British ship to be sunk by Nazi Germany in the war. Carrying 1,103 civilian passengers, including 300 Americans, she had departed Liverpool bound for Montreal. Torpedoes fired from the German submarine U-30, would see 98 passengers and 19 crew members killed.
4 Sept The RAF raid German warships based in the Heligoland Bight.
6 Sept The new South African government led by Jan Smuts declares war on Germany. In a vote on the previous day, the South African Parliament had rejected a motion to remain neutral in the war; Egypt breaks off relations with Germany,
9 Sept The IV Panzer Division reaches Warsaw and the city is effectively put under siege.
A Panzer Tank
17 Sept Sixteen days after Nazi Germany had invaded Poland from the west, the Russian Red Army attacks from the east. Now facing massive opposition on a second front, Polish troops are ordered to evacuate to neutral Romania.
24 Sept 1,150 German aircraft bomb Warsaw.
26 Sept The Luftwaffe attack the Royal Naval base at Scapa Flow. German propaganda claims they have sunk the carrier HMS Ark Royal, when in reality the 2,000 lb bomb had missed by almost 30 yards! A Skua aircraft from Ark Royal shoots down the first German plane of the war.
27 Sept With civilian losses estimated at 200,000 Poland surrenders to Germany. Polish lands are divided between the Soviet Union and Germany, as are 660,000 prisoners of war. For the poor Poles however, many worse atrocities were still to come!
6 Oct Last Polish troops cease fighting. Hitler launches his “last” Peace Offensive to the Western democracies, but this is rejected by British PM Neville Chamberlain.
14 Oct HMS Royal Oak is torpedoed at Scapa Flow in Orkney, Scotland, by German U-Boat 47. Of the old ship’s complement of 1,234, more than 800 men and boys died as result. Still visible, the Royal Oak is a designated war grave.
30 Nov Without a formal declaration of war, Russia’s Red Army invade Finland – the Winter War. The Soviet air force bomb the capital Helsinki, whilst 1,000,000 troops pour across the border.
13 Dec The Battle of the River Plate, the first naval battle of the war, is fought and ends with the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee in flames after being scuttled in the River Plate Estuary off Montevideo, Uruguay.
The German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee
14 Dec As a result of its invasion of Finland, Russia is expelled from the League of Nations.

Ready to defy Hitler!

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