Detailed Timeline of
World War II (1939 - 1945)
Pact of Steel Between Germany and Italy (1939): Germany and Italy both conquered territories each felt were rightfully theirs, in Czechoslovakia (for Germany) and Albania (Italy). The Allies responded with strong rhetoric and threats of a military response if territorial conquests continued. This compelled Germany and Italy to enter into a new pact, pledging military support to one or the other if either was attacked.
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First Vienna Award to Hungary (1939): Nazi Germany awards the southern borderlands of Czechoslovakia to Hungary, to entice them to join the Axis Powers.
German-USSR Non-Aggression Pact (1939): Before the outbreak of WWII, Nazi Germany and the USSR were eager to end the status quo, and extend their respective spheres of control. Therefore, they signed a secret pact where they divided central and eastern Europe in half, with Germany being ceded all lands to the west, and the Soviets being ceded all territories to the east. Both were determined to regain lands lost during WWI, and with each other eliminated as a threat, there was little to stop them. Nazi Germany would strike first, invading and occupying most of Poland,. Within a few weeks, the Soviet Red Army pushed west, reclamining its lost territories in the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) as well as Eastern Poland. It struggled to gain only minimal territory from Finland though.
Spanish Dictator Attempts to Join Axis Powers (1939): General Franco ascends to the head of the Spanish government in 1939, as his faction gains victory against the socialist opposition in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Victory was achieved with the support of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Since Franco's authoritarian regime was ideologically-compatible with the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy), Franco attempted to reach an agreement with Hitler and Mussolini. However, Franco's proposal was insufficient, since a weakened Spain did not have enough to offer Europe's emerging powers. Nonetheless, Spain remains supportive to the Axis cause, offering naval bases for German ships. However, Franco's Spain refuses to adopt the Nazi's anti-Jewish policies, serving as a safe haven for Jews within Spain, and those escaping German-controlled France.
German Invasion of Poland, Start of WWII (Sept. 1, 1939): Germany invades Poland, officially beginning World War II in Europe (it had already begun in East Asia between China and Japan). Hitler was adamant about restoring ownership of the "Polish Corridor" (northern handle of Poland) since it was lost during WWI, reconnecting East Prussia to the rest of Germany. Poland and its ally, UK, attempted to negotiate with Nazi Germany, to cede the Polish Corridor in order to avoid war with a militarily superior Germany. Hitler preferred invasion and occupation of Poland, knowing that it had a secret non-aggression pact with the USSR, and that without Russia, Germany could not be stopped. When negotiations briefly stalled as Poland gave consideration to the final Nazi demand, Hitler seized the moment and invaded, under the misleading notion that talks had broken down. Poland was no match for the Nazi army, quickly placing most of it under German control, with the eastern portion coming under USSR occupation.
Allies Declare War on Germany (Sept 3, 1939): The United Kingdom and France declare war on Germany shortly after launching its invasion of Poland, commencing WWII.
Further Understanding: World War II Causes
Unlike WWI, where a variety of complex factors were at play, WWII (in
Europe) was primarily the result of two nations (Germany and Italy)
unsatisfied with the status quo imposed by WWI.
USSR Invasions of East Poland (Sept. 17, 1939): USSR invades Eastern Poland as part of its secret agreement with the Nazis, allowing Germany to take over the remaining majority of Poland.
Allies Engage Germany in Phony War (1939): The UK and France had pledged their support for Poland if invaded. When Poland was invaded, the British and French engaged in only minor skirmishes with Germany along the French-German border. This negligible level of intervention did nothing to aid the Poles in their struggle to defend themselves, which came to a quick end.
Soviets Take Control of Eastern Poland (1939): As part of the German-USSR Non-Aggression Pact, the Eastern borderlands of Poland were assigned to Soviet control. A few weeks after the Germans invaded Poland from the west, the Soviets began their invasion from the east to claim their agreed-upon portion. Officially, the USSR claimed now that Poland was no longer a sovereign state, it could not guarantee the protection of the ethnic Belarusians and Ukrainians in the eastern borderlands, necessitating Soviet occupation. In reality, the USSR was interested in expanding its sphere of control westward as far as possible to regain territories lost during the Russian Civil War. It also felt a need to recreate the large buffer territory to protect against threats from the west.
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Baltic Nations of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia Accept USSR Control (1939): The German-USSR Non-Aggression Pact assigned the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to Russia. The USSR had a guarantee that Germany would not intervene. Also, the Soviets knew that the western nations that supported the independence of these nations (UK, France, USA) would be unwilling to intercede on their behalf. After Germany invaded Poland, the USSR dispatched warships to the coast of each Baltic nation to satisfy their part of the pact. They arrived with an ultimatum, to either accept Soviet occupation, or prepare for an invasion. Within a few weeks (by October of '39), each of the three states had accepted the USSR's terms, essentially losing their independence.
Soviets Invade, Finland Holds Strong (1939): As part of the Soviet-Nazi non-agression pact, Finland was ceded to the USSR, along with the Baltic nations and Eastern Poland. The Soviet Red Army experienced little difficulty conquering the other nations, but ran into difficulties with Finland. With the large number of army officer executions under Stalin, much of the Red Army was inexperienced, enabling Finland to largely protect its borders.
Primary Combatants as of 1939:
German U-Boat Submarine Warfare in the Atlantic (1939): U-boats sink a few commercial boats and carriers, but Allies learn from WWI, and travel in convoys to minimize damage. However, Allies fail to successfully seek and destroy U-boats.
UK Naval Blockade of Germany (1939): United Kingdom imposes a naval blockade of German ports, which has a minimal effect upon German industry.