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.
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.”
January 30, 1933
Hitler Appointed German Leader
Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany and later assumes dictatorial powers. German rearmament takes off.
September 1, 1939
World War II Begins
Germany invades Poland, inciting Poland’s allies Britain and France to declare war on Germany.
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.
September 27, 1939
Warsaw surrenders to German troops. Poland holds out for another 9 days before capitulating.
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.
April 8, 1940
Germany invades Norway, ending a 6-month period of limited land operations called the “Phony War.”
May 10, 1940
Churchill Becomes Prime Minister
Winston Churchill replaces Neville Chamberlain as British Prime Minister. The same day, Germany invades Belgium.
May 26-June 4, 1940
Miracle of Dunkirk
The trapped British army evacuates to England from Dunkirk, France, surviving to fight another day.
June 14, 1940
Paris Falls to Nazis
Paris falls to German forces. France capitulates 11 days later.
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.
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.