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1939 WW2 Events Timeline

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 5/12/2014

Despite having brewed for decades, 1939 served as the official starting year for World War 2 - marked by the German assault on Poland.

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There are a total of 48 1939 WW2 Events Timeline. Entries are listed below by date of occurrence.

1939
Monday
August 21st

The German battleship Graf Spee leaves Wilhelmshaven for the North Atlantic. She is commanded by Captain Hans Langsdorff. Her supply ship is the Altmark, which also leaves Wilhelmshaven.

1939
Thursday
August 31st

Adolph Hitler provides the final orders for the invasion of Poland.

1939
Friday
September 1st

German airborne elements begin bombardment of Polish defensive targets. At 6:00 AM, 50 German divisions making up Army Group North and Army Group South flood into Poland. Army Group South's mission is the capture of the Polish capital of Warsaw.

1939
Sunday
September 3rd

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announces that Britain is officially at war with Germany.

1939
Sunday
September 3rd

Athenia, a British passenger liner originating from Glasgow and traveling to Montreal, is targeted and sunk by German U-boat U-30 resulting the loss of 112 people. Athenia becomes the first naval casualty of the U-boat scourge in the Atlantic.

1939
Tuesday
September 5th

The Bosnia becomes the first merchantman to be sunk by the German U-boats.

1939
Wednesday
September 6th

Thirty-six Allied ships set out across the Atlantic in the first coordinated convoy crossing attempt.

1939
Friday
September 8th

German ground forces arrive at the outskirts of the Polish capital of Warsaw, covering an astounding 200 miles in a single week.

1939
Saturday
September 9th

Polish Poznan army units launch a counter-offensive against the German army at Kutno on the Bzura.

1939
Sunday
September 10th

Polish forces at the Modline fortress some 20 miles north of Warsaw fall under siege to the German Army.

1939
Sunday
September 17th

Soviet army elements begin their invasion of Poland from the east. Attacks occur near Vilnius and Bialystok.

1939
Sunday
September 17th

Polish resistance at the Bzura River north of Lodz finally surrender to the Germans. Some 170,000 Polish prisoners are taken captive.

1939
Monday
September 18th

The Polish city of Vilnius falls to the Soviet army.

1939
Monday
September 18th

The Polish government flees into Romania.

1939
Tuesday
September 19th

German and Soviet army elements finally meet one another in Poland at Brest-Litovsk.

1939
Friday
September 22nd

The Polish city of Bialystok falls to the Soviet Army.

1939
Friday
September 22nd

The Polish City of Lwow falls to the Soviet Army.

1939
Wednesday
September 27th

The Polish capital of Warsaw officially falls.

1939
Wednesday
September 27th

The German battleships Deutschland and Graf Spee are let loose on Allied shipping convoys in the North Atlantic.

1939
Thursday
September 28th

Polish forces fighting it out at the Modline fortress officially surrender.

1939
Friday
September 29th

The German-Soviet Boundary Friendship Treaty is signed between German representative von Ribbentrop and Soviet representative Molotov. Poland is divided into a western zone under German control and an eastern zone under Soviet control.

1939
Saturday
September 30th

The Graf Spee claims her first merchant vessel, the British freighter Clement, in the waters of the South Atlantic.

1939
Sunday
October 1st

The Graf Spee goes on to sink four more Allied merchant vessels during the month of October.

1939
Monday
October 2nd

The last valiant gap of Polish resistance - numbering some 4,500 soldiers under the command of Admiral Unruh - north of Danzig on the Polwysep Helski peninsula falls to the Germans.

1939
Wednesday
November 15th

The Graf Spee sinks the oil tanker Africa Shell off the coast of Madagascar.

1939
Monday
November 20th

The Graf Spee begins her return to a pre-designated waiting area in the South Atlantic. British cruisers Ajax, Achilles, Exeter and Cumberland begin pursuit.

1939
Thursday
November 30th

Five Soviet armies cross into Finland, beginning the Winter War.

1939
Friday
December 1st

The Soviet Union installs a Finnish-Soviet puppet government in Terijoki to be led by Otto Kuusinen.

1939
Tuesday
December 5th

After some initial advances, the Soviet Army if forced to stop by the Finnish defenses at the Mannerheim Line.

1939
Saturday
December 9th

As the Finnish winter worsens, Soviet attacks on Helsinki stall.

1939
Saturday
December 9th

The Soviet 44th and 163rd Divisions take the Finnish town of Soumussalmi.

1939
Wednesday
December 13th

At 7:25 AM, the British cruiser Ajax loses two of her turrets to the Graf Spee.

1939
Wednesday
December 13th

By 7:40 AM, the British cruisers Ajax and Achilles break battle and trail out of range of the Graf Spee's guns, though still in pursuit.

1939
Wednesday
December 13th

At 8:00 AM, Captain Langsdorff orders his lightly damaged Graf Spee towards the port at Montevideo in Uruguay with British ships in close pursuit.

1939
Wednesday
December 13th

At 6:50 AM, the British cruiser Exeter is heavily damaged by the Graf Spee, leaving only one turret functional and in flames.

1939
Wednesday
December 13th

At 6:40 AM, the British cruiser Achilles is damaged by shell splinters from the Graf Spee's guns.

1939
Wednesday
December 13th

At 6:14 AM, the Graf Spee opens fire on the British heavy cruisers Ajaz and Exeter.

1939
Wednesday
December 13th

The Graf Spee is spotted in the early morning hours by Commodore H. H. Harwood's British cruiser squadron.

1939
Wednesday
December 13th

The Graf Spee adds three more vessels - the Doric Star, Tairoa, Streonshalh - to its list of sunken Allied targets. She begins her voyage towards River Plate near Uruguay for a final combat patrol.

1939
Wednesday
December 13th

At approximately 12:00 PM, Graf Spee enters the harbor at Montevideo, Uruguay, with the intention on having her damaged repaired. With political pressure from Britain, the Uruguayan government offers the Graff Spee only 72 hours rest.

1939
Friday
December 15th

The Mannerheim Line holds as Soviet Army elements are kept at bay.

1939
Friday
December 15th

The deteriorating conditions of a Finnish winter protect Helsinki from additional Soviet attacks.

1939
Friday
December 15th

Valliant Finnish forces repel the Soviet Army out of Soumussalmi, retaking the town.

1939
Friday
December 15th

Finnish defenders keep the town of Nautsi from falling under Soviet control.

1939
Friday
December 15th

The Soviet 14th Army takes Petsamo.

1939
Sunday
December 17th

Graf Spee Captain Hans Langsdorff mistakenly believes there to be a large Royal Navy contingent waiting for his exit out of Montevideo harbor. As such, he orders the Graff Spee scuttled. The German vessel is effectively eliminated from the war.

1939
Sunday
December 17th - December 31st

Finnish Army elements cross into Soviet Karelia, unleashing hell on the Russian 44th and 163rd Divisions. Some 27,000 Russian soldiers are killed.

1939
Wednesday
December 20th

Choosing honor over justice, Captain Hans Langsdorff commits suicide, officially ending the reign of the Graf Spee.

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