Key Events in World War II

"This is a new kind of war. It is warfare in terms of every continent, every island, every sea, every air lane."
--Franklin D. Roosevelt

Truly a global war, only 11 countries--Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Mongolia, Tibet, Sweden, Yemen, and Afghanistan--remained neutral, but even these were drawn in in various ways. World War II was fought in both European and Pacific theatres, but it also spread into the Middle East and Africa. WWII, even more than WWI, was a war that employed the new technologies in transportation, production, and firepower. It also was the clearest example yet of "total war," the large-scale employment of civilian production of supplies and armament, the targeting of civilian targets, and atrocities against non-military persons. By some estimates 60 million died in WWII: 20-25 million in the Soviet Union, 15 million in China, 6 million Jews in Europe, 4 million in Germany, 3 million in Poland, and 2 million in Japan to cite the larger figures. The total cost of the war is estimated at $1.5 trillion.


24 October 1929--Black Thursday--New York Stock Market collapses; economic shockwaves and hardship expand into the world economy.

September 1931--Japan invades Manchuria.

March 1933--Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany.

1933-League of Nations condemns Japanese aggression; Japan withdraws and steps up nationalist expansion in Asia.

August 1934--Hitler declared Fürer of the Third Reich.

1934--The Long March--Chinese communists pursues by Nationalists for 6,000 miles over one year. Only 4,000 of the original 100,000 reach Shaanxi.

1935-Italy conquers Ethiopia and annexes Libya.

1936-1939--Spanish Civil War; Italy supports Francisco Franco.

1937-Japan invades China, taking Beijing, then Shanghai.

1937-The Rape of Nanjing: over two months Japanese soldiers systematically rape 7,000 to 20,000 Chinese women, burn one-third of all homes, and execute several hundred thousand civilians.

September 1937--Chinese Communists and Nationalists agree to fight a common front against Japan

March 1938-Anschluss ("union"): Germany violates the Treaty of Versailles and realigns  with Austria.

September 1938--Munich Conference: Britain and France agree to Nazi annexation of Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. "Peace for our time."

1939--Italy annexes Albania.

March 1939--Nazis invade rest of Czechoslovakia

August 1939-Russian-German treaty of Nonaggression: Soviet Union forms pack with Nazi Germany allowing Germany to not fight a two-front war at first.

1 September 1939--Nazis invade Poland with a strategy of Blitzkrieg ("lightning war").

May 1940--Nazis invade Belgium and Netherlands

April 1940--Nazis occupy Denmark and Norway

22 June 1940--Surrender of France; French forced to sign armistice in the very railroad car the Germans signed the Treaty of Versailles.

June to September 1940--Battle of Britain: Nazis bomb Britain for six months in an attempt to weaken their resistance and invade the country.

September 1940--Tripartite Pact: 10-year agreement between Japan, Italy, and Germany as to military and economic cooperation.

September 1940-July 1941--Japan occupies French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia)

April 1941--Japan and Soviet Union sign non-aggression pact.

April 1941--Nazis move against Yugoslavia

22 June 1941-Operation Barbarossa--Nazis invade Soviet Union with largest military force in history.

1941--British forces conquer East Africa and invade Libya.

June 1941--SS Einsatzgruppen ("action squads") begin rounding up Jews, Slavs, and Roma (Gypies) for mass murder.

December 1941--Germans outside Moscow, but have to stop their advance due to winter conditions.

7 December 1941--Japan attacks Pearl Harbor--"a day that will live in infamy."

11 December 1941--Germany and Italy declare war on the U.S.

20 January 1942--Wannsee Conference--Nazis agree to evacuate all Jews from Europe into Poland for the death-camps. "The Final Solution." By 1945, over 5.7 million Jews have been killed, along with 3 million Polish Catholics.

February 1942--Japan forces British-held Singapore to surrender.

1942--Japan captures Borneo, Burma, Dutch East Indies, and Aleutian islands near Alaska.

4 June 1942-U.S. victory at Midway turns tide of Japanese aggression.

February 1943--Soviets drive back Germans at Stalingrad.

July 1943--Italy signs an armistice.

24 July-2 August 1943--firebombing of Hamburg

6 June 1944--D-Day, Allied invasion at Normandy--156. 00 Allied troops break the Axis line.

1945--U.S. Battles at Iwo Jima, Okinawa exact heavy losses; Japanese refuse to surrender.

4-11 February 1945--Yalta Conference--Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin meet.

March 1945--Firebombing of Tokyo

April 1945-Soviets capture Berlin.

7 May 1945--Germany surrenders.

6 and 9 August 1945--U.S. uses atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

8 August 1945--Soviet Union declares war on Japan.

15 August 1945-Japan surrenders unconditionally.

16 July-2 August 1945--Potsdam Conference--Truman, Churchill, and Stalin meet.

1945--Establishment of the United Nations

12 March 1947-Implementation of the Truman Doctrine.

1948-Marshall Plan--$13 billion plan to reconstruct western Europe.

1949--North Atlantic Treaty Organization established.

1955-Warsaw Pact established.


"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding