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WWII Multimedia Timeline: 1939-1941

September 1, 1939: Germany Invades Poland, WWII Begins
PM Chamberlain Announces Declaration of War
sound Chamberlain announces declaration of war

September 3: British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announces British declaration of war against Germany. France, Australia, and New Zealand also declare war on Germany.

September 5: The U.S. proclaims neutrality.

September 14: Canada declares war on Germany; Battle of the Atlantic begins.

Invasion of Poland Radio Broadcasts

September 17, 1939: The Soviet Union invades Poland.
Hitler watches a victory parade in Warsaw, October 1939
Hitler watches a victory parade in Warsaw, October 1939
September 28, 1939: Warsaw, Poland, surrenders to German forces.

October 1939: Hitler orders "Aktion T 4," the euthanasia of the sick and disabled ("life unworthy of life").

October 4, 1939: sound Radio News: Awaiting Hitler's speech to the Reichstag.

October 6, 1939: German and Soviet forces gain full control over Poland & begin to divide the country between them.

October 8, 1939: Germany annexes Western Poland and Danzig. Russia begins Sovietization of newly acquired area.
October 13, 1939: Charles Lindbergh gives a speech urging U.S. Neutrality.
October 14, 1939: sound Radio News: German troops are on the French border. There is a rumor that Gemany might make one more peace offer to France before attacking. In the Far East, American Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew chastises the Japanese armed forces for their conduct in China. Domestic news includes the New York World's Fair, and reaction to Lindbergh's speech.

November 8, 1939: An assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler fails.

November 30, 1939: The Soviet Union attacks Finland.

December 2, 1939: sound Radio News: Russians make slow progress in war in Finland. Roosevelt urges American weapons manufacturers to not sell to nations that bombard civilians.
Joseph Grew, U.S. Ambassador to Japan
Joseph Grew, U.S. Ambassador to Japan
December 14, 1939: The Soviet Union is expelled from the League of Nations.

December 30, 1939: sound Radio News: Hitler told his people that 1940 will be the most decisive year in German history.
Lord Haw Haw

British subject William Joyce made pro-German wartime broadcasts from Berlin as Lord Haw Haw
sound February 27, 1940 broadcast

February 11, 1940: sound Radio News: President Roosevelt has sent Sumner Welles to Europe on a mission to meet with the leaders of the great powers. there is strong sentiment against imposing economic sanctions on Japan.

March 12, 1940: Finland signs a peace treaty with the Soviet Union.

April 9, 1940: sound Radio News: Germany invades Denmark and Norway.

May 1, 1940: sound Radio News: Update on the war in Norway. The first civilian casualties in England.
Winston Churchill in uniform
Winston Churchill in uniform
May 10, 1940: Germany invades France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands; Winston Churchill becomes the British Prime Minister.

May 15, 1940: The Netherlands surrenders to Germany. There is a growing realization that America is not properly prepared to defend this hemisphere.

May 26, 1940: During the Battle of France, the British Expeditionary Force is cut off from the French army by the German advance. Some 340,000 British and French soldiers retreat to the port city of Dunkirk, six miles from the Belgian border. The Allies begin a withdrawal from Dunkirk by sea, leaving behind their heavy equipment.
May 28, 1940: Belgium surrenders to Germany.

May 29-June 2, 1940: The Dunkirk evacuation continues. The German army could easily destroy the retreating forces, but the German offensive is limited to attacks by the Luftwaffe, Germany's air forces. It is not clear why the army was not ordered to attack. Some believe Hitler still wanted to negotiate a peace with England, while others believe he was saving his resources for the pending invasion of Russia. Winston Churchill ordered any ship or boat available, large or small, to pick up the stranded soldiers. It took over 900 vessels to evacuate the Allied forces.
Map of Dunkirk
Map of Dunkirk, 1940
June 3, 1940: The Dunkirk evacuation ends; German forces bomb Paris.

June 4, 1940: Speech: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addresses the House of Commons on the Dunkirk disaster.

June 10, 1940: Norway surrenders to Germany. Italy declares war on England and France.
Speech: President Roosevelt Address at the University of Virginia.

June 14, 1940: German forces enter Paris.

June 16, 1940: French WWI hero Marshal Philippe P??tain is legally voted in as French Head of State by the French Parliament.

June 18, 1940: Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini meet in Munich. The Soviet Union begins their occupation of the Baltic states.

Radio Broadcasts
sound Speech: Winston Churchill's "This Was Their Finest Hour" speech before the House of Commons.
Adolf Hitler leaves the rail car in the Forest de Compi??gne, June 21, 1940
June 21, 1940: sound Radio News: Adolf Hitler meets with French representatives in the Forest de Compi??gne to deliver the armistice terms. The meeting takes place in the same rail car in which Germany had surrendered to France in 1918. The ceremony lasts only twenty minutes. Rather than reading the terms of the armistice, the Germans are read a text prepared by Hitler which says that Germany had never been military defeated during the Great War. Rather, she had been duped by President Wilson and the Allies into ceasing hostilities. Following this reading, Hitler orders that the French be given the armistice terms and then leaves the rail car. He takes no further role in the armistice discussions.

June 22, 1940: France signs an armistice with Germany. General Charles Huntziger signs for
France. Field marshal Wilhelm Keitel signs for Germany. The Germans occupy the north and west of the country, including Paris and all of the Atlantic coastline. The remaining two-fifths of France's prewar territory will be administered by its administrative centre in the resort town of Vichy (thereby creating the pro-German Vichy government).

June 23, 1940: Hitler tours Paris.

June 24-June 28, 1940: The Republican National Convention in Philadelphia is held. New York businessman Wendell Willkie is nominated.

June 28, 1940: England recognizes General Charles de Gaulle as the leader of the Free French.
Adolf Hitler in Paris, June 23, 1940
Adolf Hitler in Paris, June 23, 1940
July 1, 1940: German submarines begin attacking Allied merchant shipping in the Atlantic Ocean.

July 2, 1940: The Export Control Act is created by Presidential proclomation. The President may, whenever he deems "necessary in the interest of national defense," prohibit or curtail the exporting of military equipment, munitions, tools, and materials. The Act is designed to curtail Japan's imperial notions.

July 3, 1940: British attack and damage naval vessels at Oran and Mers-el-Kebir, and seize French men-of-war in British ports.
sound Radio News: German planes launch the worst air raids yet on England. German police authorities in Amsterdam have ordered all Jews there to register within a few days. Japanese army leaders have presented to the cabinet a formal statement disagreeing with Japan's new foreign policy. The cabinet statement was criticized as being too mild and too conciliatory toward the Democratic nations.

soundRadio News: Fulton Lewis on President Roosevelt's press conference.

July 5, 1940: President Roosevelt invokes the Export Control Act against Japan, prohibiting the exportation of strategic minerals and chemicals, aircraft engines, parts, and equipment. Vichy France breaks off diplomatic relations with Great Britain.

July 9, 1940: sound Radio News: The French Parliament will dissolve and France will become a totalitarian state. Henry Stimson in confirmed by the Senate to be Secretary of War.

sound Radio News: Fulton Lewis on Wendell Willkie's press conference.
July 10, 1940: Germany launches an air offensive against England. The battle takes place over the English Channel, as German planes attack British shipping. The Battle of Britain has begun. Major resources will have to be committed by the RAF to protecting English shipping convoys.

July 15-July 18, 1940: The Democratic National Convention is held in Chicago. Franklin D. Roosevelt wins the nomination for a third term on the first ballot. sound 7/16: Radio News: Elmer Davis.

July 19, 1940: President Roosevelt signs the Naval Expansion Act providing for 1,325,000 tons of combatant shipping, 100,000 tons of auxiliary shipping, and 15,000 aircraft. The act will expand the U.S. Fleet by 70 percent.

July 21, 1940: Following the Soviet invasion in June, the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia had rigged elections in which only Soviet candidates were allowed to run. The new pro-Soviet governments join the Soviet Union.

July 26, 1940: President Roosevelt invokes the Export Control Act against Japan, prohibiting the exportation of aviation gasoline and certain classes of scrap iron steel.

August 2, 1940: Media reports indicate that Japan is growing bolder. The Japanese press is turning sharply against America. Yet no one believes Japan's policies will lead to war with America.

August 3-19, 1940: The Italians occupy British Somaliland in East Africa.

August 16, 1940: US Marines take control of some parts of Shanghai; Japan makes demands to U.S. regarding Shanghai.

August 17, 1940: Germany declares a blockade of the British Isles.

August 23-24, 1940: First German air raids on Central London.

August 27, 1940: President Roosevelt signs a joint resolution authorizing him to call Army Reserve components and National Guard into Federal service for 1 year.

August 30, 1940: Vichy France consents to Japanese military occupation of ports, airfields, and railroads in northern Indochina.

August 31, 1940: President Roosevelt calls 60,000 National Guardsmen into Federal service.

September 3, 1940: President Roosevelt announces the "Destroyers for Bases" executive agreement with Great Britain. The U.S. will give Great Britain 50 destroyers in return for 99-year leases on bases in the Bahamas, Antigua, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Jamaica, and British Guiana.

September 4, 1940: Secretary of State Cordell Hull warns the Japanese to respect the territorial integrity of French Indochina. News reports say that the Japanese will occupy French Indochina next Friday, and will eventually threaten Philippines.
Battle of Britain photographs
Battle of Britain photographs
September 7, 1940: A massive series of German raids involving nearly four hundred bombers and more than six hundred fighters target docks in the East End of London. Civilian casualties are 300 dead, 1300 wounded. Repeated waves of attacks continue until 0500 the next day. The codeword "Cromwell" was passed nation-wide, and church bells rung out in warning that a German invasion might be underway.

September 9, 1940: The U.S. Navy awards contracts for 210 ships including 12 aircraft carriers and 7 battleships. Germany warns that all ships in war zones prescribed by the Axis are subject to attack,
"regardless of nationality."
Battle of Britain Radio Broadcasts
Phase I: Channel Battles: July 10-August 11
Phase II: Early Assault Against Costal Airfields: August 12-23
Phase III: The Luftwaffe targets the airfields: August 24-September 6
Phase IV: Day attacks on British towns & cities: September 7-onward
sound 9/7: Relative quiet in the air war (broadcast a few hours before a massive German attack)
September 16, 1940: The Burke-Wadsworth Bill establishes the selective service and authorizes the first peacetime draft in U.S. history. The first draftees are selected in December.

September 24, 1940: U.S. House committee considers an economic boycott of Japan.

September 27, 1940: Japan signs the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, making them allies. sound Radio News: Japan takes bold anti-American attitude.

October 7, 1940: German troops enter Romania.
Japs Join Axis
FDR at Camden facility, October 23
October 16, 1940: Sixteen million men register for the draft under Selective Training and Service Act.

October 23, 1940: sound Speech: After touring the Camden shipbuilding facility in New Jersey, President Roosevelt delivers a major campaign address in Philadelphia.

sound Radio News: New York welcomes Wendell Willkie.

October 27, 1940: sound Radio News: The New York World's Fair closes.
Wendell Willkie campaigns in New Jersey
Wendell Willkie in New Jersey, October 7
Anti-FDR no third term button
Anti-FDR no third term button
New Yorkers watch election returns in Time Square
New Yorkers watch election returns in Times Square, November 5, 1940
October 30, 1940: sound Speech: Roosevelt at Boston.

October 31, 1940: British forces occupy Crete.

October 28, 1940: Italy invades Greece.

November 2, 1940: sound Speech: Franklin D. Roosevelt campaign speech at Cleveland.

November 5, 1940: Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected for an unprecedented third term over Wendell Willkie. sound Radio News: Election night interviews, Kansas City, MO.
November 6, 1940: sound Radio News: Fulton Lewis: The election is over at last.

November 8, 1940: Admiral Nomura is appointed Japanese Ambassador to the United States.

November 11-12, 1940: A British torpedo bomber raid cripples the Italian fleet at Taranto, Italy.

November 20, 1940: Hungary joins the Axis.

November 22, 1940: Greece defeats the Italian 9th Army.

November 23, 1940: Romania joins the Axis.

December 9-10, 1940: The British begin a western desert offensive in North Africa against the Italians.

December 29, 1940: President Roosevelt announces he will make America an "arsenal of democracy". The Detroit automobile industry retools for war. Large factories, like the one at Willow Run, begin turning out thousands of bombers, fighters, and other weapons of war. The city of Detroit becomes known as the "arsenal of democracy."
January 6, 1941: President Roosevelt delivers the State of the Union Address. The speech becomes known as the "Four Freedoms" speech.

January 7, 1941: U.S. Ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew in Tokyo warns that "there is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the U.S., are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack at Pearl Harbor. I rather guess that the boys in Hawaii are not precisely asleep." The office of Naval Intelligence receives the message, weighs its importance, and ignores it.

January 20, 1941: sound Speech: President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third inaugural address.

January 22, 1941: Tobruk in North Africa falls to the British and Australians.
FDR State of the Union Address
sound President Roosevelt delivers the "Four Freedoms" speech, January 6, 1941
January 30, 1941: Germany announces that ships of any nationality bringing aid to Great Britain will be torpedoed.

February 9, 1941: sound Speech: Winston Churchill says to America, "Give us the Tools."

February 11, 1941: British forces advance into Italian Somaliland in East Africa. sound Radio News: The Japanese ambassador arrives in Washington; FDR says that if there is a war with Japan, it will not affect deliveries to Britain, but does not think there is danger of such a war.
FDR rejects deal from the Japanese
FDR rejects deal from the Japanese, The Detroit Free Press, February 21, 1941
February 20, 1941: The Japanese proposes a "commercial understanding" with the U.S., providing for Japanese dominance of the Dutch East Indies. Since 97% of America's rubber supply is imported from the region, Roosevelt flatly rejects the proposal. He goes on to warn the Japanese that any movement south of China will mean trouble.

March 7, 1941: British forces arrive in Greece.

March 11, 1941: The Lend-Lease Act becomes law. The president may "lend, lease, or otherwise dispose of" to any country whose defense was vital to the U.S., arms and other equipment up to $7 billion.
April 1941: The U.S. establishes naval bases in Greenland and begins to patrol the Atlantic.

April 6, 1941: Germany invades Greece and Yugoslavia.

April 13, 1941: Japan signs non-aggression pact with Russia.

April 14, 1941: German General Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps attack British forces in Tobruk.

April 17, 1941: Yugoslavia surrenders to Germany.

April 27, 1941: Greece surrenders to Germany.

May 1, 1941: The German attack on Tobruk is repulsed.

May 10, 1941: Deputy F??hrer Rudolph Hess flies to Scotland.

May 15, 1941: The British counter-attack in Egypt, called Operation Brevity, begins.
May 23, 1941: Charles Lindbergh speaks at an America First rally at Madison Square Garden, New York.

May 24, 1941: The British ship Hood is sunk by the German ship Bismarck.

May 27, 1941: sound Radio Report: The British Navy sinks the Bismarck.

sound Radio Address: President Roosevelt issues "a proclamation that an unlimited national emergency exists and requires the strengthening of our defense to the extreme limit of our national power and authority."
sound Charles Lindbergh at Madison Square Garden, May 23
June 4, 1941: A Pro-Allied government is installed in Iraq.

June 8, 1941: The Allies invade Syria and Lebanon.

June 14, 1941: The U.S. freezes German and Italian assets.
June 22: Germany invades Russia
Map of the German attack on Russia, 1941
June 22, 1941: Germany invades Russia. FDR extends Lend-Lease to Russia.

July 14, 1941: sound Radio News: Mutual reporter John B. Hughes makes an ominous prediction about Japan.

July 2, 1941: Japan recalls her merchant ships from the Atlantic Ocean, and calls more than 1 million army conscripts.

July 7, 1941: President announces to Congress that an executive agreement has been made with Iceland for United States troops to
Radio Broadcasts
occupy that country. FDR orders 4,000 Marines to Iceland.
July 21, 1941: sound Radio Speech: President Roosevelt urges congress to extend the Selective Training and Act so that those nearing the end of their one-year call-up will remain at the ready.

July 23, 1941: sound Speech: Former presidential candidate Wendell Willkie urges unlimited aid to Britain.

July 25, 1941: Japan announces they are going to "protect" French Indo-China (what is today Vietnam). From there they can easily menace The Dutch East Indies (where there are important oil wells) and the Philippines.
Wendell Willkie attends a "Beat Hitler" rallyWendell Willkie attends a "Beat Hitler" rally
Wendell Willkie at a "Beat Hitler" rally, July 17
General Douglas MacArthur
General Douglas MacArthur
July 26, 1941: Army Forces, Far East is organized under the command of Lt. Geneneral Douglas MacArthur. The Philippine military forces are called into service with United States Army. FDR freezes all Japanese assets in the U.S. This ends all trade, even forces Japanese ships that are in U.S. ports to depart without loading or unloading their cargo. All oil products are cut off to Japan.

July 28, 1941: Japan freezes United States assets.

July 29, 1941: The Japanese occupy southern Indochina.

July 30, 1941: The American River gunboat Tutuila (PR-4) is bombed by Japanese planes at Chunking, China. The Japanese apologize for the incident the next day.
President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill meet during the Atlantic Charter Conference
Roosevelt Churchill meet during the Atlantic Charter Conference
August 14, 1941: FDR and Winston Churchill issue the Atlantic Charter from Argentia Bay in Newfoundland. Roosevelt had travelled to Argentia aboard the heavy cruiser USS Augusta, escorted by the battleship USS Arkansas, the cruiser USS Tuscaloosa and the destroyer USS McDougal, while Churchill made the journey across the Atlantic aboard the battleship HMS Prince of Wales.

The Atlantic Charter established a vision for a post-World War II world, despite the fact the United States had yet to enter the War. The participants hoped in vain that the Soviet Union, having been invaded in June her previous ally Nazi Germany, would adhere as well. In brief, the eight points were:
1. no territorial gains sought by the United States or the United Kingdom;
2. territorial adjustments must conform to the people involved;
3. the right to self-determination of peoples;
4. trade barriers lowered;
5. postwar disarmament;
6. freedom from want and fear;
7. freedom of the seas;
8. an association of nations.
September 4, 1941: A German submarine and the U.S.S. Greer exchange fire off the coast of Iceland. The Greer had been tracking the submarine and relaying its position to a British plane, which had then dropped 4 depth charges on the sub. No damage done. FDR condemns the attack, orders naval vessels to escort merchant ships, and orders them to "shoot on sight" any German submarines they encounter. sound Radio Speech: President Roosevelt on the Greer incident, September 11. sound Radio News: following the president's speech.
October 14, 1941: sound Radio News: Navy Secretary Knox says that a collision with Japan is inevitable.

October 17, 1941: German submarine attacks the U.S.S. Kearny, 11 killed.

October 19, 1941: US merchant ship Lehigh is torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off West Africa.

October 30-31, 1941: German submarine attacks and sinks the USS Salinas and the USS Reuben James, (a tanker and a destroyer), killing 96. Congress authorizes the arming of merchant ships. All restrictions on commerce are removed. The U.S. is essentially now engaged in undeclared war at sea with Germany.
November 5, 1941: sound Radio News: Special envoy Saburo Kurusu is coming from Japan to Washington; Japan's threats usually don't amount to much; arrival of Kurusu is of vital importance; speculation as to what his arrival means.

November 14, 1941: US Marines are ordered to leave Shanghai, Peiping, and Tientsin, China.

November 17, 1941: sound Radio News: President conferenced with Hull and Japanese special envoy Kurusu; Japanese want to send an additional 50,000 troops to Indo-China; Japanese Hawk in Tokyo wants all of Japan on a war footing.
Japanese Special Envoy Saburo Kurusu
Japanese Special Envoy Saburo Kurusu
Japanese Ambassador to the US Kichisaburo Nomura
Japanese Ambassador to the US Kichisaburo Nomura
November 26, 1941: Document: Secretary of State Cordell Hull hands a document to Ambassador Nomura. It consists of two parts: an oral statement, and an outline of a proposed basis for agreement between the United States and Japan.

November 27, 1941: Adm. H. R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, sends "war warning" message to commanders of the Pacific and Asiatic Fleets.

November 30, 1941: Japanese Foreign Minister Tojo rejects United States proposals for settling the Far Eastern crisis.
December 4, 1941: The German army reaches the gates of Moscow. Hitler makes a huge tactical blunder and does not press the attack, but darts off deeper into Russian territory without having taken Moscow. The Russians have time to regroup and launch their own offensive. This, and the notoriously bad Russian winter guarantees that the German army will be retreating from the eastern front for the rest of the war.

December 5, 1941: Japan assures the United States that her troop movements in French Indochina are only precautionary. sound Radio Address: Senator Tom Connally (D-TX) reminds the Japanese that the US has a mighty navy in the Pacific.

December 6, 1941: Document: President Roosevelt sends a personal message to the Emperor of Japan. sound Radio News: Crisis in US-Japan Relations: Secretary Hull awaits Japanese response to commuication. Attention focuses on Japanese troop movements in Indo-China.

December 7, 1941: The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and many other targets in the Pacific.

U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull
U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull
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Last modified July 21, 2012