World War II Major Events Timeline

Learn about the major events from 1918 to 1941 that sparked the first phase of World War II. From the acrimonious end of World War I, to the rise of the Nazi party, to the brutal opening of the new war, it was a traumatic time to be alive. Witness many of these events in World on Fire Season 1.


  1. November 11, 1918

    World War I Ends

    Britain, France, the US, and other allies defeat Germany, bringing an end to World War I, billed as “the war to end all wars.”

  2. January 30, 1933

    Hitler Appointed German Leader

    Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany and later assumes dictatorial powers. German rearmament takes off.

  3. September 1, 1939

    World War II Begins

    Germany invades Poland, inciting Poland’s allies Britain and France to declare war on Germany.

  4. September 17, 1939

    Soviet Union Invades Poland

    Working in concert with Hitler, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin orders the invasion of Poland, securing a share of Polish territory.

  5. September 27, 1939

    Warsaw Captured

    Warsaw surrenders to German troops. Poland holds out for another 9 days before capitulating.

  6. December 13, 1939

    UK Wins War’s First Sea Battle

    British cruisers defeat a German pocket battleship at the Battle of the River Plate, the first major naval engagement of World War II.

  7. April 8, 1940

    Norway Invaded

    Germany invades Norway, ending a 6-month period of limited land operations called the “Phony War.”

  8. May 10, 1940

    Churchill Becomes Prime Minister

    Winston Churchill replaces Neville Chamberlain as British Prime Minister. The same day, Germany invades Belgium.

  9. May 26-June 4, 1940

    Miracle of Dunkirk

    The trapped British army evacuates to England from Dunkirk, France, surviving to fight another day.

  10. June 14, 1940

    Paris Falls to Nazis

    Paris falls to German forces. France capitulates 11 days later.

  11. July 10-October 31, 1940

    Britain Fights for Its Life

    The Battle of Britain pits German bombers against British fighters in a thwarted German prelude to invasion.

  12. December 7, 1941

    U.S. Plunged into War

    Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, starting war with the US. Sensing weakness, Hitler declares war on America 4 days later.

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