Timeline1939 Hitler invades Poland on 1 September. Britain and France declare war on Germany two days later. 1940 Rationing starts in the UK. German 'Blitzkrieg' overwhelms Belgium, Holland and France. Churchill becomes Prime Minister of Britain. British Expeditionary Force evacuated from Dunkirk. British victory in Battle of Britain forces Hitler to postpone invasion plans. 1941 Hitler begins Operation Barbarossa - the invasion of Russia. The Blitz continues against Britain's major cities. Allies take Tobruk in North Africa, and resist German attacks. Japan attacks Pearl Harbour, and the US enters the war. 1942 Germany suffers setbacks at Stalingrad and El Alamein. Singapore falls to the Japanese in February - around 25,000 prisoners taken. American naval victory at Battle of Midway, in June, marks turning point in Pacific War. Mass murder of Jewish people at Auschwitz begins. Operation Torch – the invasion of Morocco and Algeria by British and American forces. 1943 Surrender at Stalingrad marks Germany's first major defeat. Allied victory in North Africa enables invasion of Italy to be launched. Italy surrenders, but Germany takes over the battle. British and Indian forces fight Japanese in Burma. 1944 Allies land at Anzio and bomb monastery at Monte Cassino. Soviet offensive gathers pace in Eastern Europe. D Day: The Allied invasion of France. Paris is liberated in August. Guam liberated by the US. Okinawa and Iwo Jima bombed. 1945 Auschwitz liberated by Soviet troops. Belsen liberated by British troops. Russians reach Berlin: Hitler commits suicide and Germany surrenders on 7 May. Churchill declares 8 May 1945 as “Victory in Europe Day”; VE Day Truman becomes President of the US on Roosevelt's death, and Attlee replaces Churchill. After atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrenders on 14 August. Some major events 1939-45 History Between 1936 and the outbreak of war in 1939, there was much activity which now can be seen as German preparations for the European conflict, leading to mounting international tension - encompassing the Spanish Civil War, the Anschluss (union) of Germany and Austria, Hitler's occupation of the Sudetenland and the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Hitler also signed a non-aggression pact with Foreign Minister Molotov to keep Russia out of the war giving him freedom of action in western Europe. Events of 1939 Hitler’s demands for the port of Danzig and the “Polish Corridor” to be returned to Germany are rejected by Poland. On September 1 Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. While the USA proclaimed neutrality, it continued to supply Britain with essential supplies, and the critical Battle of the Atlantic between German U-Boats and British naval convoys commenced. Western Europe was eerily quiet during this 'phoney war'. Preparations for war continued in earnest, but there were few signs of conflict, and civilians who had been evacuated from London in the first months drifted back into the city. Gas masks were distributed, sandbags filled and everybody waited for the proper war to begin. In eastern Europe and Scandinavia, however, there was nothing phoney about the war. With the Ribbentrop (Non Aggression) Pact signed between the Soviet Union and Germany in late August, Russia followed Germany into Poland in September. That country was carved up between the two invaders before the end of the year, and Russia continued this aggression by going on to invade Finland. Events of 1940 Rationing was introduced in Britain early in the New Year, but little happened in western Europe until the spring. The 'winter war' between Russia and Finland concluded in March, and in the following month Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. Denmark surrendered immediately, but the Norwegians fought on - with British and French assistance - surrendering in June only once events in France meant that they were fighting alone. On 10 May - the same day that Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister of the UK - Germany invaded France, Belgium and Holland, and western Europe encountered the Blitzkrieg - or 'lightning war'. Germany's combination of fast armoured tanks on land, and superiority in the air, made a unified attacking force that was both innovative and effective. Despite greater numbers of air and army personnel - and the presence of the British Expeditionary Force - the Low Countries and France proved no match for the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe. Holland and Belgium fell by the end of May; Paris, declared an “Open City” to prevent damage was taken two weeks later. British troops retreated from the invaders in haste, and some 226,000 British and 110,000 French troops were rescued from the channel port of Dunkirk only by a ragged fleet, using craft that ranged from pleasure boats to Navy destroyers. In France an armistice was signed with Germany, leaving the puppet French Vichy government - under a hero of World War One, Marshall Pétain - in control in the 'unoccupied' part of southern and eastern France, and Germany in control in the rest of the country. Charles de Gaulle, as the leader of the Free French, fled to England (much to Churchill's chagrin) to continue the fight against Hitler. But it looked as if that fight might not last too long. Having conquered France, Hitler turned his attention to Britain, and began preparations for an invasion. For this to be successful, however, he needed air superiority, and he charged the Luftwaffe with destroying British air power and coastal defences. The Battle of Britain, lasting from July to September, was the first to be fought solely in the air. Germany lacked planes but had many pilots. In Britain, the situation was reversed, but - crucially - it also had radar. This, combined with the German decision to switch the attacks from airfields and factories to the major cities, enabled the RAF to squeak a narrow victory, maintain air superiority and ensure the - ultimately indefinite - postponement of the German invasion plans. The Germans were aware that Britain had radar or RDF as it was known at the time, but they presumed that like their own radar, it was being used for the purpose of watching shipping traffic in the channel. Apart from radar, the RAF Fighter Command also had an extremely efficient “command and control” system. The 'Blitz' of Britain's cities lasted throughout the war, saw the bombing of Buckingham Palace and the near-destruction of Coventry on the night of 14/15 November, and claimed some 40,000 civilian lives and added a new word to the vocabulary of war; to be “Coventrated”. Events of 1941 With continental Europe under Nazi control and Britain safe - for the time being - the war took on a more global dimension. Following the defeat of Mussolini's armies in Greece and Tobruk, German forces arrived in North Africa in February, and invaded Greece and Yugoslavia in April. While the bombing of British and German cities continued, and the gas chambers at Auschwitz were put to use, Hitler invaded Russia. Operation Barbarossa, as the invasion was called began on 22 June. The initial advance was swift, with the fall of Sebastopol at the end of October, and Moscow coming under attack at the end of the year. The bitter Russian winter, however, like the one that Napoleon had experienced a century and a half earlier, crippled the Germans. The Soviets counterattacked in December and the Eastern Front stagnated until the spring. Winter in the Pacific, of course, presented no such problems. The Japanese, tired of American trade embargoes, mounted a surprise attack on the US Navy base of Pearl Harbour, in Hawaii, on 7 December. This ensured that global conflict commenced, with Germany declaring war on the US, a few days later. Within a week of Pearl Harbour, Japan had invaded the Philippines, Burma and Hong Kong. The Pacific war was on. Events of 1942 The first Americans arrived in England in January - "Over paid, over sexed and over here" as the gripe went - meanwhile in North Africa Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps began their counter-offensive, capturing Tobruk in June. The Blitz intensified in both England and Germany, with the first thousand-bomber air raid on Cologne in May, and German bombing of British cathedral cities, otherwise known as the “Baedeker Raids” after the Baedeker Guide to British Cities which the Luftwaffe used to plan the air raids. Exeter, Bath, Norwich, York and Canterbury were attacked during a period between late April and early June 1942. In the Pacific, the Japanese continued their expansion into Borneo, Java and Sumatra. The 'unassailable' British fortress of Singapore fell rapidly in February, with around 25,000 prisoners taken, many of whom would die in Japanese camps and on the construction of the infamous Burma Railway in the years to follow. But June saw the peak of Japanese expansion. The Battle of Midway, in which US sea-based aircraft destroyed four Japanese carriers and a cruiser, marked the turning point in the Pacific War. The second half of the year also saw a reversal of German fortunes. British forces under Montgomery gained the initiative in North Africa at El Alamein, and Russian forces counterattacked at Stalingrad. Operation Torch launched on the North African coast in Morocco and Algeria by allied forces. The pressure on the Afrika Korps from the Torch landings in the West and the 8th Army from the East resulted in the Axis surrender in North Africa in May 1943. The news of mass murders of Jewish people by the Nazis reached the Allies, and the US pledged to avenge these crimes. Events of 1943 February saw German surrender at Stalingrad: the first major defeat of Hitler's armies. Battle continued to rage in the Atlantic, and one four-day period in March saw 27 merchant vessels sunk by German U-boats. A combination of improved anti-submarine weapons and techniques such as AZTEC or Sonar as it was known to the Americans, long-range aircraft and the codebreakers at Bletchley, however, were inflicting enormous losses on the U-boats. Towards the end of May Admiral Dönitz withdrew the German fleet from the contended areas - the Battle of the Atlantic was effectively over. In mid-May German and Italian forces in North Africa surrendered to the Allies, who used Tunisia as a springboard to invade Sicily in July. By the end of the month Mussolini had fallen, and in September the Italians surrendered to the Allies, prompting a German invasion into northern Italy. July saw the launch of Operation Gomorrah by the RAF and USAAF which practically destroyed the entire city of Hamburg in one of the greatest firestorms of the war inflicting severe damage on German war materials production. Mussolini was audaciously rescued by a German task force, led by Otto Skorzeny, and established a fascist republic in the north. German troops also engaged the Allies in the south - the fight through Italy was to prove slow and costly. In the Pacific, US forces overcame the Japanese at Guadalcanal, and British and Indian troops began their guerrilla campaign in Burma. American progress continued in the Aleutian Islands, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The Russian advance on the Eastern Front gathered pace, recapturing Kharkov and Kiev from Germany, and in July and August the Battle of Kursk becomes the largest ever clash of armour in history. Allied bombers began to attack German cities in enormous daylight air raids. The opening of the Second Front in Europe, long discussed and always postponed, was being prepared for the following year. Events of 1944 From March to July troops of the 14th Army hold Imphal and Kohima against almost overwhelming Japanese odds. With advances in Burma, New Guinea and Guam, Japan began its last offensive in China, capturing further territory in the south to add to the acquisitions made in central and northern areas following the invasion of 1938. However, their control was limited to the major cities and lines of communication, and resistance - often led by the Communists - was widespread. The Allied advance in Italy continued with landings at Anzio, in central Italy, in January. It was a static campaign. The Germans counter-attacked in February and the fighting saw the destruction of the medieval monastery at Monte Cassino after Allied bombing. Only at the end of May did the Germans retreat from Anzio. Rome was liberated on 5 June, the day before the Allies' 'Operation Overlord', now known as the D-Day landings. On 6 June - as Operation Overlord got underway - some 6,500 vessels landed over 130,000 Allied forces on five Normandy beaches: codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. Some 12,000 aircraft ensured air superiority for the Allies - bombing German defences, and providing cover. The pessimistic predictions that had been made of massive Allied casualties were not borne out. On Utah beach 23,000 troops were landed, with 197 casualties, and most of the 4,649 American casualties that day occurred at Omaha beach, where the landing was significantly more difficult to achieve, meeting with fierce German resistance. Overall, however, the landings caught the Germans by surprise, and they were unable to counter-attack with the necessary speed and strength. Anything that was moving and German was liable to be attacked from the air. Despite this, in the weeks following the landings Allied progress was slowed considerably, by the narrow lanes and thick hedgerows of the French countryside. Nevertheless, Cherbourg was liberated by the end of June. Paris followed two months later, officially liberated by de Gaulle’s Free French forces. Hitler's troubles were compounded by a Russian counterattack in June. This drove 300 miles west to Warsaw, and killed, wounded or captured 350,000 German soldiers. By the end of August the Russians had taken Bucharest. Estonia was taken within months, and Budapest was under siege by the end of the year. One glimmer of light for Germany came in the Ardennes, in France, where in December a German counteroffensive - the Battle of the Bulge - killed 19,000 Americans and delayed the Allies' march into Germany. Events of 1945 The New Year saw the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, and the revelation of the sickening obscenity of the Holocaust, its scale becoming clearer as more camps were liberated in the following months. British troops found their own evidence of Nazi atrocities when they liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 15th. The Soviet army continued its offensive from the east, while from the west the Allies established a bridge across the Rhine at Remagen, in March. Ironically it was intended that the Ludendorf Bridge be left intact until the last minute to allow retreating German troops to escape the Allied advance and return to German soil. While the bombing campaigns of the Blitz were over, German V1 and V2 rockets continued to drop on London. The return bombing raids on Dresden, which were requested by Stalin and ordered by Churchill devastated the city in a huge firestorm, have often been considered misguided. Meantime, the Western Allies raced the Russians to be the first into Berlin. The Russians won, reaching the capital on 21 April, although American and Russian forced did meet at Torgau a few days earlier. Hitler killed himself on the 30th, two days after Mussolini had been captured and hanged by Italian partisans. Germany surrendered unconditionally on 7 May, and the following day was celebrated as VE (Victory in Europe) day. The war in Europe was over. In the Pacific, however, it had continued to rage throughout this time. The British advanced further in Burma, and in February the Americans had invaded Iwo Jima. The Philippines and Okinawa followed and Japanese forces began to withdraw from China. Plans were being prepared for an Allied invasion of Japan, but fears of fierce resistance and the possibility of massive casualties prompted Harry Truman - the new American president following Roosevelt's death in April - to sanction the use of an atomic bomb against Japan. Such bombs had been in development since 1942; the Manhattan project, and on 6 August one of them was dropped from a B29 “Enola Gay” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later another was dropped on Nagasaki. No country could withstand such attacks, and the Japanese surrendered on 14 August. The Japanese surrender was accepted on behalf of the “Allied Nations” by Gen. McArthur on the fore-deck of the USS Missouri, his final words being “Let us pray that peace be restored to the world and that God preserves it always. These proceedings are closed”. The biggest conflict in history had lasted almost six years. Some 100 million people had been militarised, and 50 million had been killed. Of those who had died, 15 million were soldiers, 20 million were Russian civilians, six million were Jews and over four million were Poles.