Events of 1939 - WW2 Timeline (January 1st - December 31st, 1939)


Despite having brewed for decades, September of 1939 served as the official start of World War 2 - marked by the German invasion of Poland.

While the start of World War 2 was marked by the German invasion of neighboring Poland, it was - at its core - fallout remaining from what became World War 1 decades earlier. A rearmed Germany looked to right-the-wrongs of the armistice of 1918 and its military might was showcased to the world in September of 1939. What lay ahead would become a bloody and years-long conflict that would ensnare the rest of the world - leaving Germany a shell of its former self and ultimately divided by the conquerers.

The Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Japan, the primary co-members of the Axis powers and both to be soundly beaten in the war, would fare no better.

There are a total of (75) Events of 1939 - WW2 Timeline (January 1st - December 31st, 1939) events in the SecondWorldWarHistory.com database. Entries are listed below by date-of-occurrence ascending (first-to-last). Other leading and trailing events may also be included for perspective.


Day-by-Day Timeline of Events


Monday, August 21st, 1939

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.

Thursday, August 31st, 1939

Event person portrait
Adolf Hitler provides the final orders for the invasion of Poland.

Friday, September 1st, 1939

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.

Saturday, September 2nd, 1939

The governments of Britain and France deliver their ultimatums to German officials in regards to the German invasion of Poland.

Sunday, September 3rd, 1939

France declares war on Germany.

Sunday, September 3rd, 1939

The government of Australia declares war on Germany.

Sunday, September 3rd, 1939

New Zealand declares war on Germany.

Sunday, September 3rd, 1939

The British transatlantic passenger liner SS Athenia is sunk by German U-boat U-30, killing 128 aboard.

Sunday, September 3rd, 1939

Britain declares war on Germany leading British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to arrange a war cabinet.

Sunday, September 3rd, 1939

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.

Monday, September 4th, 1939

The British Royal Air Force launches its first bombing missions against German targets - these being warships stationed off of the northwest coast of Germany.

Tuesday, September 5th, 1939

The government of South Africa declares war on Germany.



Tuesday, September 5th, 1939

The United States government declares its neutrality in the European conflict.

Tuesday, September 5th, 1939

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

Wednesday, September 6th, 1939

The Polish government and military command flee Warsaw.

Wednesday, September 6th, 1939

German forces advance beyond Lodz.

Wednesday, September 6th, 1939

German forces take Krakow.

Wednesday, September 6th, 1939

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

Thursday, September 7th, 1939

French forces begin light fighting against German elements near Saarbrucken.

Thursday, September 7th, 1939

Britain launches the first of many convoys across challenged Atlantic waters.

Friday, September 8th, 1939

The German Tenth Army reaches the Warsaw perimeter.

Friday, September 8th, 1939

The German Fourteenth Army arrives near Przemysl.

Friday, September 8th, 1939

General Guderian's tank force reaches the Bug River just east of the Polish capital.

Friday, September 8th, 1939

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



Saturday, September 9th, 1939

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

Monday, September 10th, 1939

Canada declares war on Germany.

Monday, September 10th, 1939

General Lord Gort and his British Expeditionary Force begin to arrive on French soil.

Sunday, September 10th, 1939

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

Wednesday, September 13th, 1939

French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier begins setting up his war cabinet.

Sunday, September 17th, 1939

The British aricraft carrier HMS Courageous is sunk southwest of the Irish coast by German U-boat U-29.

Sunday, September 17th, 1939

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

Sunday, September 17th, 1939

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

Monday, September 18th, 1939

The Polish city of Vilnius falls to the Soviet army.

Monday, September 18th, 1939

The Polish government flees to Romania and is held. A government-in-exile is hastily arranged.

Tuesday, September 19th, 1939

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

Thursday, September 21st, 1939

Romanian Prime Minister Armand Calinescu is assassinated by elements of the fascist group "Iron Guard".



Friday, September 22nd, 1939

The Polish city of Bialystok falls to the Soviet Army.

Friday, September 22nd, 1939

The Polish City of Lwow falls to the Soviet Army.

Wednesday, September 27th, 1939

The Polish capital of Warsaw officially falls.

Wednesday, September 27th, 1939

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

Thursday, September 28th, 1939

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

Friday, September 29th, 1939

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.

Saturday, September 30th, 1939

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

Sunday, October 1st, 1939

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

Monday, October 2nd, 1939

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.

Saturday, October 14th, 1939

The British Royal Navy battleship HMS Royal Oak is sunk by U-47 with 833 lives lost.

Saturday, November 4th, 1939

The United States government revises its neutral stance and allows for sales of military goods to occur - the buyer responsible for payment and transport.

Wednesday, November 15th, 1939

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



Monday, November 20th, 1939

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.

Sunday, November 26th, 1939

With worsening relations between Finland and the Soviet Union, the Soviets pull out of their non-aggression pact with Finland.

Thursday, November 30th, 1939

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

Friday, December 1st, 1939

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

Saturday, December 2nd, 1939

The Finnish government seeks assistance from the League of Nations.

Tuesday, December 5th, 1939

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

Saturday, December 9th, 1939

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

Saturday, December 9th, 1939

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

Wednesday, December 13th, 1939

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.

Wednesday, December 13th, 1939

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

Wednesday, December 13th, 1939

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

Wednesday, December 13th, 1939

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



Wednesday, December 13th, 1939

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

Wednesday, December 13th, 1939

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

Wednesday, December 13th, 1939

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.

Wednesday, December 13th, 1939

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.

Wednesday, December 13th, 1939

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.

Thursday, December 14th, 1939

The Soviet Union is expelled from the League of Nations.

Friday, December 15th, 1939

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

Friday, December 15th, 1939

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

Friday, December 15th, 1939

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

Friday, December 15th, 1939

The Soviet 14th Army takes Petsamo.

Friday, December 15th, 1939

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

Sunday, December 17th, 1939

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.



Sunday, December 17th - December 31st, 1939

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

Wednesday, December 20th, 1939

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

Saturday, December 23rd, 1939

7,500 Canadian soldiers arrive in Britain.



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