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Timeline: World War II in Europe

1939-1942 | 1943-1945  


Germany invades Poland August: The Russians and the Germans sign a non-aggression pact. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin agree not to invade each other's borders. The two leaders secretly plan to divide Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe between them.

September: Employing blitzkrieg (literally, "lightning war") tactics, Germany invades Poland. Polish military forces are unprepared for the ferocity of Germany's attack.When efforts to negotiate a withdrawal fail, Britain and France declare war on Germany. World War II begins.


Winston Churchill May: As Germany marches into Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, Winston Churchill replaces a disgraced Neville Chamberlain, the man responsible for the appeasement of Hitler, as prime minister of Great Britain.

June: Germany captures Paris, and France surrenders to the Nazis. Exacting revenge for his nation's defeat in the first World War, Hitler forces French officials to sign surrender papers in the same railroad car in which Germans signed the armistice of 1918.

July 10: The Battle of Britain begins. A three-month battle fought in the skies over Britain will include destructive bombing raids on London and other cities, but by the end of October, the British will hand Hitler his first defeat.


March: President Franklin Roosevelt convinces a largely isolationist Congress to pass the Lend-Lease Act, allowing the U.S. to sell or lend war materials to "any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States."

June: Roosevelt freezes German and Italian assets in the U.S.

August: Emerging from secret meetings conducted on warships off of Newfoundland, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt unveil the Atlantic Charter. The charter outlines goals concerning "the final destruction of Nazi tyranny," and a pledge to support "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live."

December Pearl Harbor destruction 7: The United States is thrust into war when Japan launches a devastating surprise attack on the U.S. Naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. President Franklin Roosevelt will ask the Congress to declare war on Japan the following day, December 8th.

December 11: Germany and Italy declare war on the U.S.


Troops arrive January: U.S. troops arrive in Europe. Through March, the number of troops shipped overseas averages about 50,000 per month -- a number that will soar upwards of 250,000 per month in 1944.

August: Germany begins its assault on the Russian city of Stalingrad. In a battle that will rage for six months, and take hundreds of thousands of German and Russian lives, the Red Army finally defeats invading Nazis. The long, bloody battle proves to be a turning point in the war, as Germany begins a retreat from the Eastern Front.

See a related timeline of World War II in the Pacific on the American Experience MacArthur Web site.

1939-1942 | 1943-1945  

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