World War II year by year: conflict sweeps the earth

Almost every month brought dramatic developments in a global conflict – the pacts that fell apart, the bungled invasions and the political decisions that triggered them. Below, the key events of total war, as they happened...
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The Independent Online


18 September, 1931: Japan invades Manchuria

30 January, 1933: Adolf Hitler becomes German Chancellor

23 March, 1933: Enabling Act gives Hitler dictatorial powers

14 October, 1933: Germany leaves the League of Nations

19 August, 1934: Following the death of President Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler becomes Fuhrer, combining the offices of Chancellor and President

16 March, 1935: Conscription introduced in Germany – in breach of the Treaty of Versailles

7 March, 1936: Germany occupies the Rhineland

9 May, 1936: Italy invades Abyssinia

7 July, 1937: Marco Polo Bridge incident marks outbreak of Second Sino-Japanese War

14 December, 1937: Fall of Nanking to the Japanese

12-13 March, 1938: Germany announces Anschluss with Austria

30 September, 1938: Germany, France, Britain and Italy sign the Munich Agreement, allowing Germany to annexe the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia

10 October, 1938: German forces formally occupy the Sudetenland


15-16 March: Germany invades the rest of Czechoslovakia

27 April: Conscription is introduced in the UK

22 May: Germany signs "Pact of Steel" with Italy

23 August: Molotov and Von Ribbentrop sign Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact

25 August: Mutual Assistance Treaty signed between Britain and Poland

1 September: Germany invades Poland

1 September: Around 3 million people, mostly children, evacuated from UK cities

3 September: UK, France, Australia and New Zealand declare war on Germany

3 September: First internments of "enemy aliens" in the UK

5 September: US declares itself neutral in the conflict

3 September: Naval hostilities commence. A British liner, SS Athenia, is sunk the next day off Ireland. The Battle of the Atlantic begins

17 September: USSR invades Poland

13-14 October: HMS Royal Oak sunk by a U-boat at Scapa Flow, Orkney; 833 lives lost

30 November: USSR invades Finland

13-17 December: Battle of the River Plate; the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee is sunk


8 January: UK introduces rationing

12 March: Finland surrenders to USSR

9 April: Germany invades Denmark and Norway

10 May: Germany invades France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands

10 May: Churchill becomes PM

14 May: Home Guard formed

15 May: Holland surrenders to Germany

26 May-4 June: Dunkirk evacuation

28 May: Belgium surrenders to Germany

10 June: Norway surrenders to Germany

22 June: France signs armistice with Germany

3-6 July: Britain sinks French fleet in Algeria to stop Germany using it

10 July-17 September: Battle of Britain

25 August-16 May 1941: The Blitz

13 September: Italy invades Egypt

27 September: Japan signs Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. Hungary, Romania and Slovakia join the Axis in November


19 January-27 November: Allies defeat Italy in Abyssinia, Eritrea and British Somaliland

11 March: Lend-Lease Act signed, giving US economic support to Allies.

31 March-27 November: Allied forces in Tobruk (in Libya) besieged by Rommel

6 April-11 May: Germany invades Yugoslavia and Greece

30 April-30 May: Iraq pro-Nazi coup; allies invade

20 May-2 June: Battle for Crete; Germans win

27 May: Bismarck sunk

8 June-12 July: Allies invade Syria

22 June: Hitler launches attack on USSR

12 July: Anglo-Soviet Treaty signed

31 July: Goering instructs Heydrich to begin Final Solution

8-11 August: Atlantic Charter created by Churchill and Roosevelt, the basis of Anglo-US alliance

20 August: Siege of Leningrad begins

5-6 December: Germany quits attack on Moscow; Red Army counter-offensive

7 December: Japan attacks Pearl Harbor

8 December: US and UK declare war on Japan

11 December: Hitler declares war on the US; Japan invades Burma

26 December: Hong Kong falls to the Japanese


20 January: Wannsee Conference makes official the Nazis' "Final Solution" to the "Jewish question" – that is, the systematic extermination of Jews

26 January: US forces arrive in the UK

15 February: Singapore falls to the Japanese

27 February-1 March: Allies defeated by Japanese fleet in Battle of the Java Sea

2 March: Batavia falls to the Japanese

8 March: Rangoon falls to the Japanese; British driven out of Burma

23 April-6 June: "Baedeker Raids" bomb historic UK cities

26 May: Anglo-Soviet treaty; agree not to make peace with the Axis without the other's consent

30 May: Britain's first thousand-bomber raid on Cologne

4-7 June: Battle of Midway: decisive US naval victory over Japan

21 June: Rommel captures Tobruk

19 August: Dieppe Raid: failed attack on France costs 4,000 Allied lives

13 September: Battle of Stalingrad begins

23 October-4 November: Second Battle of El Alamein: Allies drive Germans out of Egypt

5 November: Allies take Madagascar

8 November: Allied invasion of North Africa begins


14-24 January: Casablanca Conference, at which Churchill and Roosevelt agree that the war can only be ended by Germany's unconditional surrender

2 February: German forces surrender at Stalingrad

5 March-24 June: Ruhr Air Offensive: RAF bombing raids on industrial targets in Germany

16-20 March: Height of the Battle of the Atlantic: German U-boats sink 27 merchant ships

19 April-16 May: Rising and subsequent destruction of Warsaw Ghetto

11-25 May: Second Washington Conference: Allies agree to postpone invasion of France to 1944

13 May: German and Italian forces surrender in North Africa

16-17 May: "Dambusters" raid on the Ruhr

23 May: Germany halts major U-boat operations in the Atlantic, effectively bringing to an end the Battle of the Atlantic

9-10 July: Allied Forces land in Sicily

24-28 July: Operation Gomorrah. RAF drop 2,300 tons of bombs on Hamburg in 48 minutes; firestorm makes 100,000 homeless

25 July: Fall of Mussolini

3-16 September: Allied landings in southern Italy

8 September: Italy surrenders

11 September: Germans occupy Rome; Mussolini rescued the next day

28 November: Tehran Conference: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin agree the post-war shape of Europe


12 January-18 May: Battles of Monte Cassino

22 January: Allies land at Anzio, Italy

27 January: 900-day Leningrad siege ends

5 June: Allies enter Rome

6 June: D-Day landings launch Allied invasion of mainland Europe

13 June: First V1 missile hits UK

20 July: Assassination plot against Hitler, led by Count Claus von Stauffenberg, fails

1 August-2 October: Warsaw Rising, ultimately unsuccessful, by Polish Resistance

15 August: Allies invade southern France

19 August: Paris liberated

3 September: Brussels liberated

12 September: Romania signs armistice

17-25 September: Airborne Allied attack fails at the Battle of Arnhem

20 October: US land in the Philippines

12 November: German battleship Tirpitz sunk, loss of 1,204 lives

16 December- 25 January 1945: Battle of the Bulge: major, unsuccessful, German counter-offensive in the Ardennes


17 January: Red Army enters Warsaw

26 January: Auschwitz liberated by Red Army

4 February: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin agree over occupation of liberated Europe at Yalta

13-14 February: Dresden firestorm after Allied bombing

7-23 March: Allies cross Rhine into Germany

12 April: President Roosevelt dies; Harry S Truman takes over

15 April: Bergen-Belsen concentration camp liberated

21 April: Red Army reaches Berlin

28 April: Mussolini captured and hanged

30 April: Hitler commits suicide

3 May: Japan surrenders Rangoon

7 May: Germany surrenders

8 May: VE Day

9 May: Russians enter Prague

1 July: US, British and French forces enter Berlin

16 July: US tests atomic bomb

17 July-2 August: Potsdam conference agrees terms of surrender required from Japan and draws up treaties to end the war in Europe

26 July: Clement Attlee becomes PM

6 August: Atomic bomb, Hiroshima

9 August: Atomic bomb, Nagasaki

2 September: Japan surrenders