Timeline as Text
Western Front | 1st August 1939
Many of the most consequential - and catastrophic - decisions of the Twentieth Century were taken by one man - Adolf Hitler.
Eastern Front | 1st August 1939
Stalin was forced into war on 22nd June 1941 when the Germans invaded. How had Stalin's character and previous history contributed to this catastrophe?
Eastern Front | 24th August 1939
In the early hours of 24 August 1939, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov, the Foreign Ministers of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, signed a pact of non-aggression between their two countries.
Western Front | August 1939
Why did Hitler want war?
Hitler, according to Professor Richard Evans, wanted to ‘create in eastern Europe what he thought of as the equivalent of the American West.’ This film examines the barbarity of Hitler’s ‘vision’ and why it meant war.
Western Front | August 1939
What was the road to war?
An examination of the reasons for the conflict – from the settlement at the end of the First World War to the infamous Munich Agreement in September 1938.
Holocaust | 1st September 1939
Around 3,000 Einsatzgruppen (special task forces) entered Poland in the wake of the German Army. These troops – drawn from the German Security forces – were ordered to destroy ‘anti-German’ elements in occupied Poland.
Western Front | 1st September 1939
Just before 5am on 1 September the Germans invaded Poland from the west as part of ‘Plan White’.
Western Front | 3rd September 1939
At 11.15 in the morning of 3 September, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, announced that after the Nazi invasion of Poland two days before, ‘this country is at war with Germany’. A few hours later the French also declared war on Germany.
Eastern Front | 17th September 1939
Soviets invade Eastern Poland
600,000 Red Army troops crossed into Poland from the east, led by General Kovalov in the north and General Timoshenko in the south. The Soviets were initially welcomed in many places, the Poles believing that they were receiving ‘help’ in their fight against the Nazis. But it soon became clear that this was simply another invasion – though one, like the Nazi conquest in the west of Poland, with a strong ideological basis.
Eastern Front | 27th September 1939
Ribbentrop and Stalin meet
Ribbentrop returned to Moscow in order to finalise the division of Poland, the Baltic States and other territory in the east between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Now that both the Germans and the Soviets had invaded Poland the discussions could openly concentrate on the intricacies of where the border should be between them. Stalin wanted, for example, to exchange some of Poland for a free hand in Lithuania.
Western Front | 27th September 1939
In the wake of the successful German advance and the Soviet invasion on 17 September, much of what was left of Polish resistance was concentrated in the last days of September around the Polish capital, Warsaw. The Germans first subjected Warsaw to a fierce artillery and air bombardment, then on 26 September Warsaw was stormed from the east and the west by the Germans. The city capitulated the following day.
Western Front | 11th October 1939
The economist Alexander Sachs presented a long letter from Albert Einstein (which in turn had been drafted by the Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard) to President Roosevelt. In the letter, Einstein outlined the vast potential of recent research into Uranium, which might lead to the construction of ‘extremely powerful bombs of a new type’. As a result, Roosevelt formed a ‘Uranium committee’.
Holocaust | 18th October 1939
Eichmann's Nisko plan begins
Adolf Eichmann oversaw the deportation of several thousand Austrian and Polish Jews to the east of Poland, in an area south of Lublin called Nisko. This was an immediate – and ill-prepared – attempt to demonstrate how the Jews could be ‘removed’ from the Reich and sent to a so-called ‘Polish reservation’. Conditions in the Nisko area were appalling for the Jews and the Nazis could not cope. The deportations were stopped within weeks.
Western Front | October 1939
Whilst serving in a German Army transport regiment in 1939 he witnessed a series of atrocities committed by the SS.
Holocaust | October 1939
A rare case of Hitler signing a controversial document relating to the mass killing of civilians. ‘Euthanasia’ killings had been practised before this date in Germany, but this document gave them formal status.
Western Front | 8th November 1939
Attempt to kill Hitler
George Elser, a joiner from Wurttemberg with Communist sympathies, planted a bomb in the Burgerbraukeller in Munich timed to go off when Hitler was giving a speech. Hitler did give the speech but left earlier than expected, and though the bomb killed eight people and injured sixty three more the German leader escaped. He said he survived through ‘providence’ but it was simple good fortune that he did not die that night.
Holocaust | 16th November 1939
Polish wear yellow star
The Jews in the Polish city of Lodz were ordered to wear a yellow star on their clothing to mark them out from non-Jews. Seven days later the Jews in the area the Nazis called the General Government were ordered to wear a white badge marking them as Jews. Soon all Polish Jews were ordered by the Nazis to mark themselves out by wearing a badge. This was the first attempt to identify Jews in this way en masse by the Nazis.
Pacific Front | 24th November 1939
Japanese take Nanning
As part of an offensive to prevent the Chinese receiving supplies from Hanoi, then in French Indo China, the Japanese captured the major city of Nanning in Kwangsi Province in China. This was a considerable victory for the Japanese who had been hampered by guerrilla attacks by Chinese forces in the area they occupied. Now the Japanese could frustrate a trade route that accounted for around half of Chinese supplies.
Eastern Front | 30th November 1939
Soviets attack Finland
The Soviet attack on Finland began with the bombing of Helsinki, followed by a mass invasion in which 1,500 tanks and 3,000 aircraft took part. The Soviets wanted to gain sufficient Finnish territory to protect the nearby city of Leningrad (today’s St Petersburg) as well as the valuable port of Hanko. They expected a swift victory against the massively outnumbered Finns – but this was to be a long and costly struggle.
Holocaust | November 1939
What was the attitude of the Nazis towards the Jews? Part One
German Jews were persecuted from the moment the Nazis came to power in 1933. But the German invasion of Poland resulted in a radicalization of Nazi persecution.
Holocaust | 17th December 1939
By this date, as a result of action taken over the preceding three weeks, nearly 90,000 Poles had been forcibly deported from their homes in the area of central Poland the Nazis called the Warthegau, to the area around Kracow the Nazis called the General Government. The Poles were moved to accommodate Baltic Germans who were arriving ‘home to the Reich’. This was but one phase of the Nazis’ wildly ambitious plans to reshape Poland.
Western Front | 17th December 1939
Sinking of Graf Spee
The German pocket battleship, Admiral Graf Spee, was damaged by British warships at the Battle of the River Plate on 13 December. The ship was forced to enter the port of Montevideo in neutral Uruguay for repairs. Ordered to leave by the Uruguayan authorities, Captain Hans Langsdorff sailed his ship out into the estuary and scuttled her. He had not wanted to confront the waiting British warships.
Western Front | 1st January 1940
Hitler's ideological beliefs were integral to the decisions he made and the way he conducted his leadership throughout the war.
Holocaust | 13th January 1940
Polish disabled killed
Heinrich Himmler witnessed a mass gassing by use of carbon monoxide. The victims were Polish mental patients and the location was Fort VII in Posnan in the area of Poland the Nazis called the Warthegau. The Nazis had been murdering Polish disabled people by shooting them since their arrival in Poland in September. One group of killers alone, the Eimann commando, had killed nearly 2,000 mental patients by December.
Eastern Front | January 1940
Finns resist Red Army
By now the Red Army had suffered huge losses in its attempt to break through the Finnish defence system known as the Mannerheim Line, a collection of anti-tank traps, pillboxes and concrete gun emplacements. The Finns were helped by the Arctic winter - temperatures below minus 40 degrees Celsius and long, dark nights - and their guerrilla tactics of using small groups to attack the Red Army and then retreat.
Holocaust | 8th February 1940
Creation of Lodz ghetto
The Nazi authorities in Lodz, in a part of Poland known by the Germans as the Warthegau, announced the creation of a ghetto in which to place the Jewish population of the city. This was believed to be only a temporary measure since the eventual fate of the Polish Jews was still imagined to be deportation. But the Jews were considered so ‘dangerous’ by the Nazis that they wished to have them kept separate pending deportation.
Eastern Front | 10th February 1940
Soviets deport Poles
During the night the Soviet NKVD arrived at tens of thousands of homes in occupied Eastern Poland to deport Polish families. Those targeted were Polish veterans (‘Osadniks’), their relatives and others – like members of the intelligentsia – thought to be a threat to Soviet rule. Most were deported to Siberia to work in labour camps and in the logging industry. In total between 130,000 and 200,000 were forced out of their homeland.
Western Front | 25th February 1940
RCAF arrive in UK
The first contingent of the Royal Canadian Air Force arrived in Britain. Canadian soldiers had been arriving in Britain since the autumn of 1939. In all around half a million Canadians were to fight in the Second World War, with a similar number from Australia and around 200,000 from New Zealand.
Holocaust | February 1940
Estera was one of the 230,000 Jews imprisoned in the Lodz ghetto. Together with her parents and her sister she experienced the horrific conditions within the ghetto.
Eastern Front | 5th March 1940
Katyn order signed
Stalin, along with fellow Politburo members Voroshilov, Mikoyan and Molotov, personally signed a proposal from Beria, head of the NKVD, that led to the murder of more than 20,000 prominent citizens from Eastern Poland, many of them officers in the Polish army. The crime would come to light when one of the three burial sites, at the Katyn forest near Smolensk in central Russia, was discovered by the Germans in April 1943.
Eastern Front | 12th March 1940
Finns make peace with Soviets
The Treaty of Moscow, which ended the Soviet-Finnish war, was signed, with all fighting ceasing a day later. Despite a number of impressive Finnish victories against the Red Army – most notably the Battle of Suomussalmi – it was clear that eventually the sheer weight of Soviet superior numbers would tell. Stalin now forced the Finns to make peace with the Soviets on slightly worse terms than those he had originally demanded.
Holocaust | 23rd March 1940
Nisko plan abandoned
By an order of Hermann Goering the plan originated by Adolf Eichmann to deport Jews to a ‘reservation’ in the east of Poland, around Lublin, was officially brought to an end, although sizeable deportations had in fact ceased in late October the previous year. In total, just under 100,000 Jews had been deported to this ill-planned and potentially deadly location. Most of the survivors were now imprisoned in ghettos.
Western Front | 28th March 1940
Paul Reynaud, who had succeeded Daladier as French Prime Minister (and had also made himself Foreign Minister) signed an agreement with the British that guaranteed that neither the British nor the French would make any peace with Germany individually. This would prove distinctly problematic for the French, for less than three months later they made a separate peace with Germany at Compiegne.
Pacific Front | 30th March 1940
Puppet regime in Nanking
The capital of the Republic of China, Nanking, had first been taken by the Japanese in December 1937. The atrocities committed by the Imperial Army in the wake of the capture of the city were many and various and became known as ‘the Rape of Nanking’. On 30 March 1940, the Japanese recognised a new, puppet Chinese regime based in Nanking overseen by Wang Ching-wei, who had defected from the Nationalist cause.
Western Front | 9th April 1940
Norway and Denmark invaded
In pursuit of Operation Weserubung the Germans invaded both Norway and Denmark. The Nazis wanted control of Norway in order to protect the vital Swedish iron ore shipments routed through the Norwegian port of Narvik, and also to have easy access to the North Sea – something that was to be of particular importance once the Allied supply convoys to the Soviet Union began little more than a year later.
Western Front | 10th April 1940
It rapidly became clear within a few hours of the German invasion of the country that the Danish armed forces were wholly inadequate to repel the attack. King Christian X, after swiftly consulting political and military leaders, agreed to a ceasefire and the occupation of his country was completed the following day. Denmark would now become a vital source of food supplies for the Third Reich.
Eastern Front | 13th April 1940
Second Polish deportation
This second major deportation from Eastern Poland primarily targeted the relatives of those prominent Polish people who had been murdered at Katyn and the other two murder sites. The NKVD deported a minimum of 60,000 people (though other estimates put the number at several hundred thousand). The deportees were sent to remote areas of the Soviet Union like Kazakhstan where around a third of them died.
Western Front | 17th April 1940
Allied soldiers land in Norway
Whilst one Allied force landed at Namsos, two days later another group of British soldiers came ashore with the intention of moving on Trondheim. The numerous equipment and communication problems of the campaign (at one point the Royal Navy and the British Army had contradictory orders) and the air superiority of the Germans made the attempt to retake Norway untenable and by 8 June the Allied troops were evacuated.
Holocaust | 30th April 1940
Lodz ghetto sealed
The Nazis ordered the Lodz ghetto to be sealed. 230,000 people were crammed together, imprisoned behind wire fences in the city. The local Nazi ruler, Arthur Greiser, believed that the Jews had ‘hoarded’ wealth and so he made them pay money at inflated prices in order to buy food and other necessities. What would happen to the Jews when their money ran out had not been decided.
Western Front | 10th May 1940
German Army Group B attacked Holland and Belgium at 5.35am on 10 May. But it was the surprising, simultaneous breakthrough of Army Group A, through the forest of the Ardennes, that was to cause the Allies the greatest problem.
Western Front | 10th May 1940
Why was the British army trapped at Dunkirk?
This video reveals the secrets behind the Nazis' success in May/June 1940.
Western Front | 10th May 1940
Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, succeeding Neville Chamberlain, on the very same day the Nazis began their massive attack on Western Europe.
Holocaust | 15th May 1940
The memo called for the Poles to be turned into a nation of ill-educated slaves and for the Jews to be sent forcibly ‘to Africa or some other colony’. Himmler also wrote that he considered ‘physically exterminating a people’ was ‘fundamentally un-German’.
Western Front | 28th May 1940
The Belgian King, Leopold III, after a fruitless attempt to negotiate a surrender with the Germans, finally surrendered his country unconditionally. After the Germans had taken the major fortification of Fort Eban Emael early in their attack, and Belgium’s neutrality had hampered the plans of the Allies, defeat had seemed inevitable. King Leopold III chose to remain in Belgium, interned in his palace at Laeken.
Western Front | 10th June 1940
Italy declares war
Up to now the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, had equivocated about the Italian role in the war. Though Italy had signed the so-called ‘Pact of Steel’ with Nazi Germany the Italians had remained neutral. But now, seeing the massive success of the Germans in Western Europe, Mussolini decided that Italian interests were best served by siding with the Nazis. It was a decision he – and to some extent the Germans – would regret.
Eastern Front | 15th June 1940
Soviets occupy Lithuania
The Red Army entered Lithuania under the terms of a ‘Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation’ which was effectively forced on the Lithuanians after their country became part of the Soviet ‘sphere of influence’ as a result of the Nazi/Soviet pact. As a result, on 5 August 1940, Lithuania became part of the Soviet Union. There then followed a repressive Soviet rule until the Nazi invasion in June 1941.
Western Front | 22nd June 1940
French surrender is signed
The French – with a new Premier, Marshal Petain – agreed an armistice at Compiegne in the same railway carriage that the Germans had signed the document that ended the First World War. The Germans imposed huge financial demands on the French, occupied directly the industrial north and west of the country, annexed Alsace Lorraine, and established a toothless French zone in the south with a capital at Vichy.
Holocaust | June 1940
How did Auschwitz develop - 1940?
Auschwitz accepted its first Polish prisoners on 14 June. It was a surprising beginning for a place later so associated with the Holocaust, because the original purpose of Auschwitz was not to exterminate Jews.
Western Front | June 1940
How could the British army escape from Dunkirk?
Churchill called the successful evacuation of more than 300,000 Allied troops from Dunkirk a ‘miracle of deliverance’. But how was this ‘miracle’ possible?
Holocaust | June 1940
As one of the first prisoners to be sent to Auschwitz, Jerzy Bielecki suffered many of the initial horrors of the place – including the infamous 'hanging' torture.
Western Front | 3rd July 1940
French fleet destroyed
A Royal Navy task force attacked the French fleet at the Battle of Mers-el-Kebir, off French Algeria. The British were concerned that the fleet might fall into the hands of the Germans and so turned on their erstwhile ally. Around 1,300 French sailors were killed and half a dozen battleships damaged in an action that still remains controversial – though certainly demonstrated, at the time, that Britain planned to fight on.
Holocaust | 3rd July 1940
Franz Rademacher, an official in the German Foreign Office with special responsibility for the Jews, wrote a memo to his boss suggesting that West European Jews could be ‘removed from Europe, to Madagascar, for example’. This forced deportation depended, of course, on the British making peace. And the regime in Madagascar would still have been genocidal for the Jews – though the Holocaust as we know it might not have happened.
Western Front | 16th July 1940
Hitler approves Operation Sealion
A directive for Operation Sealion – the German plan to invade England – was signed by Hitler. A necessary pre-condition of the invasion was the destruction of the RAF so that the Royal Navy could be neutralized by attack from the Luftwaffe and the German transport ships and barges could land without hindrance. Throughout the summer and autumn Hitler appears to have been distinctly lukewarm about this operation.
Eastern Front | 21st July 1940
Baltic states suffer under Soviets
On this day both Estonian and Latvian political assemblies were forced to accept a variety of Soviet sponsored, repressive measures, prior to the annexation of all the Baltic States by the Soviet Union the following month. Like Lithuania, both Latvia and Estonia had been forced to sign a ‘Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation’ with the Soviets in the wake of the Nazi/Soviet pact.
Pacific Front | 20th August 1940
Hundred Regiments campaign
Launch of a campaign against the Japanese by the Chinese Communists in Hebei and Shanxi provinces. More than a hundred regiments of the Chinese Communist army took part. Chinese losses were much greater than Japanese, and though elements of the infrastructure were damaged, by the end of the year the Japanese had reasserted control. But the campaign did demonstrate the sheer numerical strength of the Communists.
Western Front | 25th August 1940
Bombing of Berlin
The first RAF bombing raid on Berlin - launched in retaliation for the bombing of London by the Luftwaffe during the course of the Battle of Britain. (This German bombing had not been authorized by the German leadership). Around 100 British bombers flew to Berlin to bomb Tempelhof airport and the industrial area around the Siemens factory. The raid infuriated Hitler and led to planned German raids against London.
Western Front | August 1940
How important was the Battle of Britain?
The Battle of Britain was fought - primarily - over the skies of the south of England in the summer and autumn of 1940. How did the British win this battle, and did victory really prevent a German invasion?
Western Front | 7th September 1940
How did the Blitz affect British morale?
The first mass German raid on London – in response to Hitler’s order calling for ‘disruptive attacks on the population’. More than 25,000 tons of German bombs would fall on British cities by May 1941.
Holocaust | 12th September 1940
Warsaw ghetto established
Hans Frank, Nazi ruler of the area of Poland known as the General Government, which included Warsaw, finally agreed to the creation of a sealed ghetto in the city. Arguments for and against this action had been made during the preceeding months. Nearly 450,000 Jews were to be forced into less than three percent of the area of the city of Warsaw.
Western Front | 13th September 1940
Italians invade Egypt
Benito Mussolini ordered Marshal Graziani, commander of the Italian units in Libya, to attack Egypt, thus starting the war in the Western Desert which would last until 1943. The great prize in this war was control of the Suez canal, linking the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. But the Italian campaign soon faltered – their troops were ill equipped and ill led.
Pacific Front | 22nd September 1940
Japan enters Indo-China
Units of the Japanese Army of Canton attacked Vichy-run French Indo-China (today’s Vietnam and Cambodia). An agreement to allow the Japanese to place 6,000 troops in Indo-China had recently been signed, but this contravened it. The Japanese swiftly took the city of Lang Son in the north and a subsequent naval landing threatened the port of Haiphong. The fighting was over by 26 September and an uneasy accommodation reached.
Western Front | 27th September 1940
Tripartite Pact is signed
Signed in Berlin, this was a mutual assistance agreement between Germany, Italy and Japan. It reasserted the common interests between the three countries after the tension caused by the Nazi/Soviet pact the year before. Each country vowed to come to the others' aid if attacked by another state. It served to demonstrate to the West - if further demonstration were needed - how threatening these totalitarian regimes were.
Western Front | September 1940
By the end of September it was obvious to the Germans that they were losing too many planes, relative to the loses inflicted on the RAF, to ever win the Battle of Britain.
Western Front | 23rd October 1940
Hitler meets Franco
The German leader held talks with the Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco, at the border town of Hendaye. The discussions, held aboard Hitler’s train, were fruitless. The Spanish would not come into the war unless the Germans promised them huge territorial gains (and perhaps not even then). Hitler later said he would rather have his teeth pulled than endure another such meeting.
Western Front | 28th October 1940
Italians invade Greece
Benito Mussolini ordered another ill fated attempt at expanding Italian control with the invasion of Greece. Italian forces, in possession of Albania since 1939, crossed the border into Greece only to face fierce resistance, led by General Alexander Papagos, which halted their advance and began to force them back. By November the Italians had been pushed back into Albania.
Western Front | October 1940
Much of London was devastated in the German raids which began in earnest in the autumn of 1940. Stacey Simkins was one of those who tried to fight the fires on the ground.
Western Front | 5th November 1940
Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the United States for an unprecedented third term, defeating Wendell Willkie. At the end of the campaign FDR had given an assurance that American troops would not be sent to a foreign war. But he still wanted to support the British war effort. Getting the balance right between these two issues would occupy Roosevelt for the next year, before Pearl Harbour in December 1941.
Eastern Front | 12th November 1940
Molotov meets Hitler
The Soviet Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, met Hitler and Ribbentrop in Berlin. The conference was not a success. The Soviets wanted detailed answers to questions about German intentions, and Hitler wanted the Red Army to join in the fight against Britain. The nature of these talks confirmed Hitler in his belief that the Nazis should attack the Soviets.
Holocaust | 29th November 1940
'Ewige Jude' première
The first public showing of the notorious anti-Semitic film ‘The Eternal Jew’ (Der Ewige Jude). Infamously the film contains a sequence showing footage of Jews in the ghettos of Poland intercut with rats. The importance of this film is that it demonstrates the intensity of Nazi hatred for the Jews (Hitler was consulted about its content and construction) before the mass extermination of the ‘Final Solution’ was ordered.
Pacific Front | November 1940
He was sent, in 1940, to take part in the Japanese war against the Chinese. As a former soldier of the Imperial Army he gives a graphic description of the horrendous atrocities he saw committed by the Japanese.
Western Front | 8th December 1940
Operation Compass in desert
This attack in the Western Desert on the Italians, by forces led by the British Lieutenant General Richard O’Connor, was a major success. Italian morale was low and the British had control of the sky and the advantage of barrages from the Royal Navy offshore. Within little more than a week the Italians had been ejected from Egypt and nearly 40,000 prisoners had been taken.
Western Front | 17th December 1940
FDR reveals Lend Lease
In a radio broadcast to the American people President Roosevelt outlined the idea of ‘Lend Lease’, a system of providing aid to Britain. ‘The best immediate defence of the United States,’ said FDR, ‘is the success of Great Britain in defending itself.’ The idea was that the USA would ‘lend’ Britain war materials and then either get them back unused at the end of hostilities or be reimbursed financially.
Eastern Front | 18th December 1940
Hitler issues a directive calling for the invasion of the Soviet Union. It is named Operation Barbarossa after Frederick I, a German who became Holy Roman Emperor (‘Barbarossa' means ‘red beard’). A myth grew up around Frederick I that he was not dead, but sleeping, and one day would awake to take Germany to glory. This forthcoming war, Hitler believed, was a defining moment for the Nazis.
Western Front | December 1940
What was the ‘Special Relationship’ before Pearl Harbour?
How did Franklin Roosevelt manage to support the British war effort before Pearl Harbour, when so many Americans wanted to keep out of the war?
Western Front | 6th January 1941
Lend Lease to Congress
In his message to Congress introducing the Lend Lease legislation, FDR talked of the importance of a ‘moral order’ to oppose the will of dictators and made a clear statement of American policy in the world: ‘Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them.’
Western Front | 19th January 1941
Allies attack Northern Abyssinia
The British commander, General Sir Archibald Wavell, ordered around 70,000 troops – mostly South African – to confront the forces of the Viceroy of Italian East Africa, the Duke of Aosta. Just as they had in the desert with Operation Compass, the Italians proved to have little stomach for the fight and were driven from Ethiopa (then called Abyssinia), a country they had taken in 1936.
Western Front | 22nd January 1941
Allies capture Tobruk
The British 7th Armoured Division (known as the ‘Desert Rats’) took Tobruk from the Italians as part of Operation Compass. The port of Tobruk, in today’s Lybia, was a key strategic location in this desert war and was to change hands a number of times.
Western Front | 7th February 1941
Italians surrender at Benghazi
Forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth – including the famous 7th Armoured Division – continued to push the Italians back, into the far west of Libya. The port of Benghazi was captured on 7 February and that same day the Italian army under Marshal Graziani surrendered. But the Germans were arriving to bolster their erstwhile ally, and they would prove much harder to dislodge.
Western Front | 12th February 1941
Rommel arrives in Africa
Major General Erwin Rommel arrived in Tripoli to take command of the German Afrika Korps (formally named on 19 February). Already a hero to the Germans as a result of his actions in the invasion of France in May 1940, he was sent by Hitler to shore up the poor performance of the Italians. He soon mounted an offensive against the forces of the British Empire and began to push them back out of Western Libya.
Eastern Front | 1st March 1941
Bulgaria joins Axis
The Bulgarians, under King Boris III, had been trying to stay neutral in the war as both the Nazis and the Soviets had wanted their support. But now they succumbed to pressure from the Nazis to join the Axis. Not least because German soldiers would shortly pass through their country in pursuit of the invasion of the Balkans and Greece, but also because of the prospect of territorial gains for themselves.
Holocaust | 1st March 1941
Himmler visits Auschwitz
Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and recently appointed ‘Reich Commissar for the Strengthening of German Nationhood’, visited Auschwitz for the first time. His trip coincided with the decision of the industrial giant, I G Farben, to open a Buna (synthetic rubber) factory nearby. Himmler now saw a whole host of ‘opportunities’ for the SS to profit from the proximity of the camp to the factory – by providing slave labour and raw materials.
Holocaust | 3rd March 1941
Cracow ghetto ordered
A ghetto was formed in Cracow, the historic Polish city, capital of the area of Poland the Nazis called the General Government. Previously a large number of the Jews of the city had been deported to elsewhere in the General Government. Now the remaining 15,000 Jews were crammed into an area of the city designed for less than a quarter of that number.
Holocaust | 9th March 1941
Lublin evacuations ordered
Following the example set in Cracow, Nazi officials in Lublin pursued a twin policy of expelling the majority of Jews from the city and then ghettoizing the remainder. Thus around 20,000 Jews would eventually enter the Lublin ghetto, the construction of which was ordered on 24 March.
Western Front | 11th March 1941
Lend Lease signed
The Lend Lease bill passed into law after a lengthy debate. Discussions about the bill (deliberately numbered 1776 - the year of the American Revolution - to emphasize its importance to the USA) had raised the public consciousness about the war in Europe; something Roosevelt had planned.
Western Front | 26th March 1941
Coup in Yugoslavia
Prince Peter II of Yugoslavia was at the head of a coup to overthrow Prince Regent Paul who the day before, on 25 March, had led Yugoslavia into joining the Axis powers. Hitler was driven into a fury – he wanted all energies directed into preparation for the invasion of the Soviet Union, and now he knew the German army would have to crush the coup to secure this flank.
Western Front | 6th April 1941
Germany attacks Yugoslavia
Half a million German troops and their allies invaded Yugoslavia in a lightning attack which brought swift results. On 12 April Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia, fell to the invaders. Five days later, on 17 April, the Yugoslavs surrendered. It marked the beginning of fierce partisan resistance which Tito’s communists and Mihailovic’s monarchists would continue for years.
Western Front | 10th April 1941
Siege of Tobruk begins
The Afrika Korps under General Rommel began the siege of Tobruk, the important port on the coast of Libya. Whilst Rommel’s forces had managed to push the Allied troops out of most of Western Libya the Australian units at Tobruk had held out. The siege was finally lifted in November 1941 when the British launched Operation Crusader.
Eastern Front | 13th April 1941
A non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Japan was signed in Moscow. Stalin was anxious to protect the Soviet Union from any possible attack from the east and hoped this agreement would do just that. He was equally concerned to maintain positive relations with Nazi Germany, saying to a German embassy official after the pact with Japan was signed: ‘We will be your friends – whatever may come!’
Western Front | 20th April 1941
Germans attack Greece
Following the success of their rapid subjugation of Yugoslavia, the Germans attacked Greece. Once again their victory was swift, with the Greek army on the mainland crushed by 23 April. The Greek Prime Minister, Alexandros Koryzis committed suicide. Forces of Britain and its Empire sent to help the Greeks had proved unable to stop the advance and there was then a mass evacuation of Allied forces to Crete.
Western Front | 9th May 1941
Enigma machine captured
British sailors from HMS Bulldog managed to capture a German naval Enigma encoding machine from a German submarine, U-110. This was of great significance for the codebreakers at Bletchley Park in southern England as the naval Enigma machine contained an extra encoding rotor – a fourth – which the German military Enigma machine did not.
Western Front | 10th May 1941
Rudolf Hess arrives in Scotland
Hess, Hitler’s deputy, flew to Scotland in a Messerschmitt 110 and then parachuted out to land on the estate of the Duke of Hamilton – a British aristocrat who he had previously met. Hess hoped to negotiate peace with the British and so leave the Nazis a free hand in the east. But he was clearly psychologically unstable and Hitler was furious when he learnt what his deputy had done. Hess’ mission, not surprisingly, came to nothing.
Eastern Front | 13th May 1941
The German High Command issued an order which stated that draconian measures were to be taken against the Soviets in the forthcoming war. Partisans were to be shot out of hand and collective reprisals approved. On 6 June the ‘Commissar order’ followed, which stated that captured Soviet political officers were to be shot immediately. Hitler, in a speech on 30 March, had inspired all this, saying this was to be a war of ‘annihilation’.
Eastern Front | 23rd May 1941
Wehrmacht economic agency report
The central economic agency of the German army produced a report estimating that up to 30 million people could be expected to starve to death in the Soviet Union as a consequence of Nazi policy, which was to both feed the Germany army at the expense of the Soviets and to take food away to feed German citizens. The Nazis thus intended to kill enormous numbers of Soviet citizens as an integral part of their invasion strategy.
Western Front | 27th May 1941
The Bismarck, a German battleship of more than 40,000 tons, had left her base with the cruiser Prince Eugen to attack Allied convoys in the Atlantic. Pursued by British warships she had managed to sink HMS Hood before eventually being damaged first by torpedoes from British planes and then by torpedoes from HMS Dorsetshire. Less than 150 of the more than 2,000 German sailors on Bismarck survived.
Western Front | 28th May 1941
British evacuate Crete
On 20 May the Germans had mounted a massive airborne raid on Crete. Parachutists from General Karl Student’s Fliegerkorps attempted to capture key airfields on the island. Despite knowing of German intentions via ULTRA intelligence, British and Empire forces under the command of Lt General Freyberg were overwhelmed by the German attack and eventually forced to evacuate from Sphakia, a port on the south east of the island.
Holocaust | 22nd June 1941
Around 3,000 Germans in four Einsatzgruppen (task groups) entered the Soviet Union immediately behind the front line troops. They were told to kill Communist functionaries, selected Jews, and others who posed a ‘threat’ to Nazi rule.
Eastern Front | 22nd June 1941
Why did the Nazis invade the Soviet Union?
Hitler’s decision to launch this, the largest land invasion in history, is now seen to have been a disastrous one. So why was the decision ever taken to attack the Soviets?
Eastern Front | 22nd June 1941
In the largest land invasion in history, more than three million German troops crossed the border into Soviet territory in three giant thrusts.
Western Front | 27th June 1941
Hungary declares war
Hungary had benefited territorially from German aggression (or threat of aggression) for several years – gaining part of Slovakia after the Munich agreement in 1938 and northern Transylvania from Romania in 1940. Now, convinced that the Nazis were likely to win in the battle against Stalin, and motivated in part by a fear of Slavic expansion, the Hungarian government declared war on the Soviet Union.
Eastern Front | 28th June 1941
Minsk is captured by Germans
Less than one week after the start of the invasion, German troops entered Minsk, capital of the Soviet republic of Belorussia. It was an astonishing success and one which caused Stalin, when he heard the news, to storm out of a military briefing saying ‘Lenin founded our state and now we’ve f**ked it up!’ Stalin then returned to his dacha outside Moscow and only returned to work after being coaxed back by members of the Politburo.
Eastern Front | 29th June 1941
On 29 June Stalin stormed out of a meeting with his generals and then retreated to his dacha. Was all this a sign that the Soviet leader was cracking under the pressure?
Holocaust | June 1941
How did Auschwitz develop - 1941?
The Nazi war of 'annihilation' fought on the Eastern Front was to make its mark on Auschwitz, as the SS started killing Soviet prisoners at the camp - eventually with Zyklon B.
Holocaust | June 1941
In the Baltic states around 80% of the killing squads were eventually made up of locals – men like Petras Zelionka. In this devastating testimony he describes how he personally took part in the murder of Jews in the autumn of 1941.
Pacific Front | 25th July 1941
Japan attacks Indo-China
As a result of ‘permission’ granted by the Vichy government the day before, Japanese forces moved to occupy southern Indochina, including the important strategic city of Saigon. The Japanese had placed troops in northern Indochina the previous autumn and would now move to make this territory – today’s Vietnam, as well as eastern Cambodia – part of their ‘Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere’.
Pacific Front | 26th July 1941
USA freezes Japanese assets
In direct response to the Japanese occupation of southern Indochina, the American government ‘froze’ all Japanese assets in the USA. A few days later the Americans cancelled export licences for petrol and oil destined for Japan. Since the Japanese received three quarters of their oil from the USA, this was an act which raised the political tension very considerably.
Holocaust | 28th July 1941
Sick leave Auschwitz to be gassed
As part of the adult 'euthanasia' action - called 14f13 as it applied to concentration camps - around 500 sick inmates of Auschwitz were taken from the camp and transported to a mental hospital at Sonnenstein in Germany. There they were killed - gassed with bottled carbon monoxide. Thus the first Auschwitz prisoners to die by gassing were murdered away from the camp, and were killed because they were sick, not because they were Jews.
Holocaust | 31st July 1941
Goering signs 'Final Solution'
Hermann Goering signed a document calling on Reinhard Heydrich to work on a ‘comprehensive blueprint’ for the ‘intended Final Solution’. Once thought by some to be the document ordering the Holocaust, this is now believed to be one of the last attempts by the Nazis to ‘solve’ their overall Jewish ‘problem’ by forced ‘emigration and evacuation’. This would still have led to many deaths, but not the Holocaust as we know it.
Eastern Front | July 1941
How successful was the initial invasion of the Soviet Union?
Given their eventual catastrophic defeat, it is easy to forget that initially it seemed as if Hitler and his troops were in sight of victory.
Eastern Front | July 1941
As a soldier with the Tenth Panzer Division he fought for several years in the Soviet Union, and took part in brutal anti-Partisan actions.
Eastern Front | July 1941
Georgy Semenyak tells a personal story that encompasses the horror of the early days of the invasion of the Soviet Union, through to his harrowing experience of imprisonment in German captivity.
Holocaust | July 1941
What was the attitude of the Nazis towards the Jews? Part Two
Within weeks of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union special killing squads were murdering whole Jewish families - and the Jews of Europe were now under greater threat.
Western Front | 1st August 1941
The Americans joined the war in 1941, a decision forced upon them by Pearl Harbour. But had FDR wanted America in the war all along?
Western Front | 14th August 1941
Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill issued a joint statement of principles, subsequently known as the ‘Atlantic Charter’. The Charter laid out in eight points the two leaders' 'hopes for a better future for the world'.
Holocaust | 24th August 1941
'Euthanasia' action stopped
Hitler ordered the ‘euthanasia’ killings to be stopped in response to public disquiet – not least the critical sermon of Bishop Galen in Westphalia. Between 70,000 to 100,000 people were killed as a result of this policy. Even after the order was issued, sick concentration camp prisoners were still killed and many personnel trained in ‘euthanasia’ moved onto the gassing of the Jews.
Eastern Front | August 1941
Why was the war against the Soviets a 'different kind of war'?
Hitler had ordered that the war in the Soviet Union would be a war of ‘annihilation’. What motivated that terrible demand, and what were the consequences of it?
Pacific Front | August 1941
As a doctor serving in the Imperial Army in China he personally committed a series of atrocities against Chinese civilians.
Eastern Front | 8th September 1941
Siege of Leningrad begins
German troops from Army Group North began the blockade of Leningrad (today’s St Petersburg). The Germans had decided not to risk losing soldiers in house-to-house fighting inside the city (as they were later to do in Stalingrad) but to try and starve the inhabitants into submission. During the next 900 days around one million people inside the city would die.
Western Front | 16th September 1941
American warships help British
Following the August meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill, the Americans had agreed that their warships would escort convoys to Britain as far as Iceland. What this demonstrated to the Germans was the progressive participation of the Americans in the war – despite their professed neutrality. German U boats – under orders not to sink American ships – could now not be sure which targets were permitted and which were not.
Eastern Front | 19th September 1941
Germans capture Kiev
Hitler had ordered that the direct advance towards Moscow be diverted for a short time in order to secure Ukraine and its capital, Kiev. This objective was now gained and the battle of Kiev was a huge success for the Germans, with over 600,000 Soviet troops captured in the largest encirclement battle in history. When Hitler saw newsreel of the battle he called it ‘a heroic epic such as there had never previously been.’
Holocaust | 29th September 1941
Jews killed at Babi Yar
More than 33,000 Jews were murdered at Babi Yar, a ravine outside Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. The Jews – men, women and children – were killed by units of Einsatzgruppe C. This act of murder, spread as it was over only two days, was the largest single act of killing of the Holocaust. The Jews were shot in batches at the edge of the giant ravine.
Holocaust | September 1941
How did Auschwitz develop - 1941-2?
In September 1941 the Nazis began building a huge new camp, just a mile and a half away from the existing main camp. They called this new camp Birkenau.
Holocaust | September 1941
German Jews wear yellow star
Adolf Hitler, at a meeting with Josef Goebbels on 19 August, authorized that German Jews should be ordered to wear a yellow star in order to mark them out from other Germans – a measure that came into effect in September. Goebbels had also called for German Jews to be deported east. His state secretary, Leopold Gutterer, had said on 15 August that Jews not working should be ‘carted off to Russia… best of all actually would be to kill them.’
Holocaust | September 1941
Zyklon B killings at Auschwitz
Some time in late August or early September, Fritzch, deputy commandant of Auschwitz, conducted a killing experiment with the poisonous insecticide, Zyklon B. The basement of the notorious prison block, Block 11, was sealed and Soviet prisoners of war and sick Polish inmates of the camp were gassed. The SS then experimented in subsequent killings to find the correct dose of Zyklon B needed to kill human beings effectively.
Eastern Front | 1st October 1941
Of all the major leaders in World War Two, Stalin was the one who changed most as a military leader- here's how.
Eastern Front | 10th October 1941
Battles of Bryansk/Vyazma
The third and fourth Panzer armies, part of German Army Group Centre, managed to encircle several hundred thousand Red Army soldiers at Vyazma. In total, combined with simultaneous Soviet losses at the nearby battle of Bryansk, the Germans captured over half a million Soviet prisoners and the road to Moscow seemed open. But the Germans were behind schedule and the autumn rains had begun.
Eastern Front | 16th October 1941
There was panic in Moscow as thousands tried to flee the city. Recent research has shown that even Stalin considered escaping from the Soviet capital, taking a train further east.
Holocaust | October 1941
In October 1941, Lucille Eichengreen, her sister and her mother were forcibly deported east to the Lodz ghetto from their home in Hamburg. She movingly describes their struggle for survival.
Holocaust | October 1941
In the middle of September, Hitler authorized that German Jews should be deported east. These forced deportations began in October.
Eastern Front | October 1941
As an officer with an NKVD unit he helped suppress the panic in Moscow in October 1941.
Holocaust | 1st November 1941
Work begins on Belzec
The building of the first extermination camp with fixed gas chambers began at Belzec in eastern Poland. The camp would eventually gas Jews by the use of carbon monoxide exhaust gas from engines. Whether Belzec was primarily a local initiative within Hans Frank’s General Government, or confirmation of a higher intention at this early point to exterminate all the Jews, is still a matter of debate.
Western Front | 14th November 1941
Sinking of Ark Royal
The British aircraft carrier, HMS Ark Royal, was torpedoed by the German submarine U-81 on 13 November, and finally sank the next day. Ark Royal was returning to Gibraltar after a mission to Malta. She was one of the first purpose built aircraft carriers in the world, and aircraft from Ark Royal had previously successfully attacked the Bismarck.
Pacific Front | November 1941
Japanese decide on war
At a meeting on 5 November the Japanese government, under Prime Minister Tojo, had finally resolved, with the consent of Emperor Hirohito, to launch an attack on the United States and other Allied powers if a diplomatic solution to the dispute with the Americans was not imminently resolved. The countdown to Pearl Harbour had begun.
Eastern Front | 5th December 1941
In the early hours of the morning of 5 December the Red Army began a counter attack against the Germans around Moscow. The Soviets eventually managed to push almost the whole front back more than fifty miles.
Pacific Front | 7th December 1941
Why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour?
At first sight the Japanese decision to mount a surprise attack on the American fleet in Hawaii seems almost inexplicable. They knew they could never win this war militarily. So why did they do it?
Pacific Front | 7th December 1941
President Roosevelt appeared before Congress on 8 December 1941 and asked for confirmation of the fact that since the Japanese attack the previous day ‘a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire’.
Holocaust | 8th December 1941
First Jews arrive at Chelmno
Jews from the Polish towns of Kolo, Klodawa and the surrounding area, were transported to Chelmno to be killed in the gas vans which were now based there. This marked the first systematic mass gassing of Jews. The main reason Chelmno was established was to murder the so-called ‘unproductive’ Jews from the Lodz ghetto nearby – and they started arriving at Chelmno in January.
Pacific Front | 11th December 1941
Germany declares war on America
Hitler’s decision to declare war on America, four days after Pearl Harbour, has puzzled many people. After all, he was not obliged to do so under the terms of his alliance with the Japanese. But the reason for his action is straightforward. Hitler believed that war with America was all but inevitable – especially since American warships were already protecting British convoys in the western Atlantic.
Holocaust | 12th December 1941
In an important speech to the Nazi leadership – both Gauleiter and Reichleiter – Hitler linked the outbreak of this new ‘world war’ with a ‘prophecy’ he had given in January 1939 about the fate of the Jews.
Western Front | 22nd December 1941
Arcadia conference in Washington
The first Washington conference (code-named Arcadia) began in the American capital. Churchill had lost no time in crossing the Atlantic to meet with President Roosevelt after Pearl Harbour two weeks earlier. Churchill was anxious to ensure that Roosevelt committed to the policy of defeating the Nazis first, before the Japanese – something the American President agreed to do at this meeting.
Pacific Front | December 1941
Gene La Rocque
Gene La Rocque was a young American naval officer serving with the Pacific fleet based at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. He personally experienced the attack of 7 December.
Holocaust | December 1941
What was Hitler’s role in the Holocaust?
An examination of Hitler’s contribution to the extermination of the Jews.
Western Front | 1st January 1942
After the invasion of the Soviet Union and the subsequent entry of America into the war, Germany entered a phase of the conflict that Hitler had not expected.
Western Front | 1st January 1942
How did FDR manage to deal, first with the British and then with the Soviets? And what role did his overwhelming self belief play in all this?
Eastern Front | 5th January 1942
Stalin plans victory
In the wake of the success of the Red Army counter attack around Moscow, Stalin announced to the STAVKA (the Soviet High Command) an extremely ambitious plan to advance on all fronts. Both General Zhukov and Nikolai Voznesensky, the economic organizer, objected on logistical grounds but were ridiculed by Stalin – with the latter told he was a man who ‘only ever mentioned problems’.
Pacific Front | 11th January 1942
Kuala Lumpur captured
On the night of 7 December and the early morning of 8 December, the Imperial Army attacked Malaya (today’s Malaysia) and Thailand. Progress was swift, and the Japanese managed to outwit the British and Empire forces – who were relatively inexperienced in jungle warfare – on the advance south. Taking Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaya, and then pushing on towards the ultimate objective of this campaign – Singapore.
Holocaust | 16th January 1942
Lodz Jews sent to Chelmno
The first transport of Jews from the ghetto of Lodz arrived at the gas van facility at Chelmno to be killed. These Jews had been selected as ‘unproductive’ and the Chelmno facility was constructed to murder them - and tens of thousands like them. In turn, groups of them were forced into the back of vans and driven two miles to the forest of Rzuchowski – on arrival they were dead, gassed by carbon monoxide from the vans’ exhaust.
Holocaust | 20th January 1942
This conference, chaired by SS General Reinhard Heydrich, with minutes taken by Adolf Eichmann, discussed a series of murderous measures to be taken against the Jews.
Western Front | 21st January 1942
Rommel fights back
The British had launched Operation Crusader to try and push Rommel back into eastern Libya; but now Rommel counter attacked and, once more, drove British and Empire forces back and the Afrika Korps successfully took the port of Benghazi. It seemed as if Rommel was all but invincible in the desert – and the frequent replacement of British commanders had only led to more defeat.
Pacific Front | January 1942
How could the Japanese defeat the Allies in 1942?
Starting with their attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 the Japanese embarked on a massive offensive against the Allies in the Pacific and across South East Asia. Why were they so successful so quickly?
Pacific Front | 8th February 1942
Japanese attack Singapore
At the end of January, British and Empire forces had retreated from mainland Malaya to the island of Singapore. And though Lt General Arthur Percival, the British commander, had around 70,000 troops at his disposal, he chose to position them around the coastline of the island. This meant that when the Japanese attacked on a narrow front they were successful, even though they only possessed half the number of troops as the British.
Pacific Front | 15th February 1942
Though there was talk of one last attempt to fight back, Lt General Percival decided to surrender Singapore to the Japanese. Churchill called this ‘the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history.’
Western Front | 21st February 1942
'Bomber' Harris appointed
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris (nicknamed 'Bomber' Harris because of his fervent belief in the power of bombing) was appointed to command RAF Bomber Command just a week after the British strategy of ‘precision’ bombing changed to one of ‘area’ bombing – in which the houses of civilians were deliberately targeted. He remains an extremely controversial figure.
Western Front | February 1942
Why did the British start bombing civilians?
The RAF began the war with the policy of targeting enemy military or industrial targets. But then, early in 1942, that policy suddenly changed to embrace the deliberate destruction of civilians. Why?
Pacific Front | February 1942
He was one of 60,000 allied troops who surrendered to the Japanese at Singapore. An Australian doctor, he vividly describes the horror of imprisonment at the hands of the Japanese.
Pacific Front | 9th March 1942
Japanese capture Java and Rangoon
During March, the Japanese 16th Army advanced through the island of Java, then part of the Dutch East Indies. Their propaganda, that they had arrived to ‘liberate’ the local population, was – initially – successful. Meantime, the Japanese 15th Army had moved into Burma and soon threatened the capital, Rangoon. British and Empire forces withdrew from Rangoon on 7 March and shortly afterwards the city fell into Japanese hands.
Holocaust | 27th March 1942
French Jews sent to Auschwitz
The first transport of Jews from France left for Auschwitz - the first such transportation in Western Europe. Of the 1112 men who boarded the train at Compiegne, 1008 were dead within five months. German military commanders had ordered the deportation of Jews and Communists in reprisal for acts of resistance within France, and as an alternative to the shooting of hostages.
Western Front | March 1942
Atlantic losses at new high
The early months of 1942 proved to be a ‘happy time’ for German U boats in the Atlantic. The U boats, now free to operate up to the coastline of America and to sink American ships at will, were inflicting devastating losses on Allied shipping. In February 1942, for example, 154 ships were sunk – a total of 680,000 tons; whilst in March that had risen to 273 ships and 834,000 tons.
Holocaust | March 1942
Deportation of Slovakian Jews
The first Jews from outside Poland to be sent to Auschwitz came from Slovakia, with around 1,000 Slovakian women arriving on 26 March. The Jews were treated with particular brutality and were later liable for selection for the gas chambers.
Holocaust | March 1942
Gassing begins at Auschwitz
A small peasant cottage in a remote area of Birkenau camp - known as the ‘little red house’ or ‘Bunker 1’ - was converted by the SS into an improvised Zyklon B gas chamber. Jews from the local area of Upper Silesia were the first to die here, considered ‘unfit to work’.
Holocaust | March 1942
Gassing begins at Belzec
Around the middle of March 1942 the first transport of Jews arrived at Belzec to be killed. Several thousand Jews from the nearby ghetto at Lublin were murdered in gas chambers using carbon monoxide exhaust. This was the first use of purpose built gas chambers to kill Jews, though improvised killings at Auschwitz and the use of gas vans predated the opening of Belzec extermination camp.
Pacific Front | 9th April 1942
Japanese capture Bataan peninsula
The Bataan Peninsula, at the southern end of the island of Luzon in the Phillipines, was the scene of an important victory for the Japanese. On 11 March, American General Douglas McArthur had withdrawn from the island. But with no escape possible for the majority of Allied forces, they surrendered to the Japanese. Nearly 80,000 of them were then forced out of the peninsula in what became known as the ‘Bataan Death March’.
Western Front | 15th April 1942
George Cross award to Malta
During the war Malta was bombed intensively. Hitler had ordered that the island be pulverized prior to an invasion, and from the start of January the Luftwaffe had kept up a near constant barrage. To commemorate the resistance of the islanders, Malta was awarded the George Cross. King George VI’s citation said the award was: '...to bear witness to a heroism and a devotion that will long be famous in history.’
Pacific Front | 18th April 1942
Doolittle raid on Tokyo
This operation, launched from the USS Hornet, was one of the most potentially hazardous of the war. Sixteen American B-25 twin engined bombers, led by Lt Colonel James Doolittle, took off from the Hornet in order to attack Japan. After the raid none of the planes succeeded in landing at bases in China as planned, though the majority of the aircrew involved still survived the mission.
Holocaust | 21st April 1942
Channel Island Jews deported
Three Jewish women - Auguste Spitz, Marianne Grunfeld and Therese Steiner - were deported from Guernsey in the Channel Islands to France. Then in July they were sent to Auschwitz, where they died. The Channel Island authorities had cooperated with the Germans during the deportation process, just as they had previously cooperated over other restrictions placed on the islands’ Jews.
Pacific Front | 25th April 1942
British order retreat from Burma
As a result of the capture of Rangoon and the more recent advance of the Japanese, it was clear that the remaining British and Empire forces in Burma faced encirclement. At a meeting between General Sir Harold Alexander, two Chinese generals and the American General Joseph Stilwell on 25 April, it was therefore decided that Chinese forces should retreat north to China and the British and Empire forces west to India.
Pacific Front | April 1942
Captured by the Japanese in early 1942, he endured several years of horrendous imprisonment.
Pacific Front | 2nd May 1942
As they continued their advance through Burma, the Japanese Imperial Army - with the help of Burmese nationalist forces - captured Mandalay, a key strategic point on the Allied supply line to China. The city, in central Burma on the Irrawaddy River, was not to be liberated from Japanese occupation until March 1945.
Pacific Front | 4th May 1942
Battle of the Coral Sea
One of the most significant battles in naval history - the first in the new era of carrier based warfare. Over four days the American and the Japanese navies attacked each other from the sky, as the US ships tried to stop the Imperial Army landing at Port Morseby in New Guinea. In the main encounter, on 8 May, the USS Lexington was sunk and the USS Yorktown damaged, and two Japanese aircraft carriers were also put out of action.
Eastern Front | 12th May 1942
Battle of Kharkov
The Soviets launched one of the most ill fated offensives of the war, around the city of Kharkov in the east of Ukraine. Red Army troops, led by Marshal Timoshenko, with ‘political leadership’ from Nikita Khrushchev, were allowed to advance unopposed by the Germans before being encircled. By 28 May the Red Army had lost over 250,000 troops. Ultimately, Stalin’s poor leadership was largely responsible for the catastrophe.
Western Front | 26th May 1942
Rommel launches desert offensive
Rommel and his Afrika Korps began a new offensive against Allied forces in the Western Desert. They pushed through the Gazala Line and moved towards Tobruk. It was a strategy fraught with risk as his Panzers carried barely sufficient fuel and yet were expected to make swift progress through the Libyan desert towards their objective.
Western Front | 27th May 1942
Reinhard Heydrich, acting Reich ‘protector’ of the Czech lands, was attacked by two Czech soldiers who had been parachuted into the country by the RAF. In an operation code-named ‘Anthropoid’, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš confronted Heydrich as he was driven in an open top car to his office in Prague. A grenade thrown by Kubiš exploded near Heydrich, injuring him. He later died from the wounds.
Western Front | 29th May 1942
Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, visited Washington, desperate to gain a commitment from the Americans that there would be a ‘second front’ – an invasion of France – that year.
Western Front | 30th May 1942
RAF bomb Cologne
This was the first of the famous ‘thousand bomber raids’. In fact, 1,047 bombers left from bases in Britain to bomb Cologne, in what was – in part – a gigantic statement of the ability of RAF Bomber Command to wreak havoc on enemy cities as part of the relatively new 'area' bombing strategy. Around one third of Cologne – Germany’s third largest city – was damaged. Forty one bombers were lost.
Holocaust | May 1942
Gassing begins at Sobibor
The second of the so-called ‘Operation Reinhard’ camps to begin gassing, Sobibor was established east of Lublin. Experimental killing had taken place in April, with the first major transports beginning in early May. Like Belzec, Sobibor was purely a place of murder, with the vast majority of the Jews killed on arrival. And, also like Belzec, its prime function, in the early months, was to kill Jews from the Lublin area.
Pacific Front | 4th June 1942
How decisive was the Battle of Midway?
After the inconclusive action that was the Battle of the Coral Sea, the scene was set for an epic encounter between the Americans and Japanese in the Pacific around Midway.
Western Front | 4th June 1942
Reinhard Heydrich died of his wounds in a Prague hospital – his doctors had thought he might well recover. Heydrich’s body was taken to Berlin for a state funeral, one of the grandest ever held under the Nazis. Himmler gave the eulogy in front of Hitler, Goering and other Nazi leaders. Hitler, privately, was furious that a man as ‘irreplaceable’ as Heydrich had been so stupid as to leave himself open to such an attack.
Pacific Front | 4th June 1942
The American, Admiral Nimitz, managed to mastermind the defeat of the Imperial Navy warships directed against Midway atoll.
Western Front | 10th June 1942
Destruction of Lidice
The Gestapo believed there was some link between the Czech village of Lidice and the assassins who killed Heydrich, and so German forces completely destroyed it, killed immediately all males over sixteen, and sent the women and children to a concentration camp. It was an action symptomatic of the Nazis’ belief system; as was the decision to name the killings in camps like Sobibor and Treblinka, ‘Operation Reinhard’ in Heydrich’s honour.
Holocaust | 11th June 1942
Eichmann holds deportation meeting
Adolf Eichmann chaired a meeting in Berlin at which an ambitious schedule was drawn up to deport to Auschwitz - as soon as possible - 10,000 Belgium Jews, 15,000 Dutch Jews and 100,000 French Jews.
Holocaust | 15th June 1942
First transport of Jews from Holland
The first transport of Jews left Westerbork in north east Holland for Auschwitz. Over the next two years (the last transport left in September 1944) just over 100,000 Jews would be deported from Holland - the majority to either Auschwitz or Sobibor. The best known of these deportees is Anne Frank, who died in Bergen-Belsen camp in March 1945.
Western Front | 20th June 1942
Tobruk captured by Germans
Rommel and the Afrika Korps finally managed to capture the port of Tobruk on the Libyan coast which had been a thorn in their side for more than a year. More than 30,000 Allied soldiers – many of them South African – were taken prisoner. This was one of the high points of the German campaign in the Western Desert.
Holocaust | 22nd June 1942
First deportation from Drancy
The first transport of Jews left Drancy concentration camp in the suburbs of Paris for Auschwitz. Drancy, a collection of concrete blocks of flats, would become a key location in the subsequent deportation of the Jews of France. Conditions within Drancy were appalling.
Eastern Front | 28th June 1942
Germans launch Operation Blue
This massive German summer offensive of 1942 was designed to capture the oil fields of the Caucasus. Hitler had told his military leaders that ‘if I don’t get the oil’ then ‘I must end the war’. The five German armies involved made considerable initial gains as the Soviets withdrew in front of them, with the city of Voronezh captured on 6 July.
Eastern Front | 4th July 1942
PQ17 is attacked by Germans
PQ17, the largest Allied convoy so far to set sail for the Soviet Union, was ordered to ‘scatter’ by the Admiralty as a result of false intelligence that German warships were in the area. Once denied convoy protection the ships were intensely vulnerable to U boat and bomber attack. Of the 39 ships in PQ17, 24 were destroyed. As a result, convoys to the Soviet Union were temporarily suspended.
Holocaust | 17th July 1942
Himmler visits Auschwitz
Heinrich Himmler visited Auschwitz, and witnessed the selection of newly arrived prisoners and then their subsequent gassing in the ‘Little White House’ – the second cottage converted into gas chambers. The following day he witnessed the flogging of a female prisoner. He was pleased with what he saw, and immediately promoted the commandant, Rudolf Hoess, to the rank of SS Obersturmbannfuehrer (Lt Colonel).
Holocaust | 19th July 1942
Himmler orders resettlement
Himmler ordered the ‘resettlement’ (a euphemism for killing) of the ‘entire Jewish population of the General Government’ (the Nazi controlled central-eastern area of Poland) to be ‘carried out and completed by 31 December’. Himmler had thus set a date for the extermination of several million Polish Jews.
Eastern Front | 23rd July 1942
Hitler splits his forces
In his Directive Number 45, Adolf Hitler ordered the forces of Operation Blue to be split and given different objectives. Army Group B would attack Stalingrad on the river Volga, whilst Army Group A would move south east to try and conquer the oil fields of the Caucasus. These two objectives had originally been planned to be accomplished sequentially; now Hitler – desperate for swift success – wanted them gained simultaneously.
Holocaust | July 1942
Gassing begins at Treblinka
The death camp of Treblinka, on a railway junction east of Warsaw, was the largest of the so-called ‘Operation Reinhard’ camps (but still small compared to Auschwitz/Birkenau). Treblinka was the camp where the vast majority of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto were killed. Under its first commandant, Irmfried Eberl, an enormous number of Jews were murdered within the first four weeks of the camp’s operation – some 300,000.
Western Front | July 1942
On 12 July 1942, Brian Clarke’s ship was sunk by a U-boat. He and his comrades then faced an arduous journey in a lifeboat to try and save themselves.
Pacific Front | 7th August 1942
Americans attack Guadalcanal
Nearly 20,000 US Marines landed on Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands to the east of New Guinea. The battle for this small island would become one of the most epic of the war – lasting until January 1943. The Marines attempted to hold Henderson field, the runway they depended upon for supplies, against fierce Japanese attack. By December around 40,000 American troops would be fighting on this island.
Eastern Front | 12th August 1942
Churchill had made the arduous journey to Moscow to try and deal with Stalin’s anger that the ‘Second Front’ – the Western Allies' planned landing in France – would not take place until 1943 at the earliest.
Western Front | 13th August 1942
Manhattan Project begins
Colonel (later Brigadier General) Leslie Groves was appointed as director of the ‘Manhattan Engineer District’ – the code name for the project for the development of the nuclear bomb. Experiments into this potential new weapon had been carried out before this date, but from now on the Manhattan Project would be high priority. The physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer led the scientific research from Los Alamos in New Mexico.
Western Front | 17th August 1942
First USAAF heavy bombing
The first attack on occupied Europe mounted by the American Eighth Army Air Force now stationed in Great Britain. This bombing raid, on transport targets at Rouen in France, illustrated – from the beginning – a very different strategy to that of British Bomber Command. The Americans, bombing by day, intended only to attack ‘precision’ targets of military or industrial importance – not to take part in ‘area’ bombing.
Western Front | 19th August 1942
Dieppe raid fails
The Allies launched a disastrous raid on the French port of Dieppe. Around 6,000 troops – nearly 5,000 of them Canadians – took part in this attempt to test German defences. The operation faced difficulties from the first. The element of surprise was lacking, as was adequate coordination. Having landed at dawn, the Allied troops were forced to withdraw by early afternoon having suffered heavy casualties.
Holocaust | 19th August 1942
Stangl at Treblinka
The commandant of Treblinka, Irmfried Eberl, had presided over a massive killing operation – around 300,000 people murdered in about a month. But the consequence had been bloody chaos, with bodies strewn around the camp and the gas chambers unable to cope. He was now replaced by the more murderously efficient Franz Stangl, previously commandant of Sobibor.
Eastern Front | 23rd August 1942
She was just eleven years old when she, her youngest sister and elder brother were trapped behind enemy lines at Stalingrad.
Eastern Front | 23rd August 1942
Germans reach Stalingrad
The German 6th Army, under General Paulus, reached the Volga river and saw Stalingrad in front of them, to the south. Hitler wanted the city utterly destroyed, and thought that this task could be accomplished in less than ten days. On this day – 23 August – the Germans began the attack with the most intense aerial bombardment seen so far on the Eastern Front.
Western Front | August 1942
Having been married by telephone, she traveled to America at the end of the war to make a new life with her US Airforce husband.
Western Front | August 1942
What impact did the Americans have on Britain in WW2?
Between 1942 and 1944 more than a million Americans arrived in Britain. At the end of the war around 60,000 British women decided to become GI Brides. Why?
Western Front | 5th September 1942
Allied victory at Alam el Halfa
The Allies succeeding in halting Rommel’s advance, and Alam el Halfa marked the furthest east the Afrika Korps would ever reach. Churchill had visited Egypt in August and had installed two new commanders who would make a difference – General Alexander, who was placed in overall charge of operations, and Montgomery, who was given command of the Eighth Army.
Eastern Front | 5th September 1942
Stalin issues Partisans order
In his Order 189, ‘On the Tasks of the Partisan Movement’, Stalin outlined the role he wanted for the Soviet partisans, who operated behind German lines. This was a somewhat belated recognition of the importance of the partisans – a force Stalin had always been ambivalent about. But their growing success at hampering the German lines of communication was now recognised, and by 1944 there would be around 500,000 Soviet partisans.
Western Front | 12th September 1942
Sinking of Laconia
The British ship Laconia, carrying 3,500 people – including 1,800 Italian POWs – was sunk by a German U boat in the south Atlantic. The U boat crew attempted to mount a rescue, but were later attacked by a British bomber as they were towing life boats. Only just over 1,000 people subsequently survived. As a result of this incident, Grand Admiral Doenitz ordered that U boats should not attempt such humanitarian actions in the future.
Pacific Front | September 1942
New Guinea defeat for Japan
The Japanese Imperial Army, which had successfully forced Australians back in New Guinea, now withdrew in order to help its comrades at Guadalcanal. The fighting in New Guinea had been some of the fiercest of the war. There were even instances of Japanese troops, desperately short of supplies, eating human flesh.
Western Front | 4th October 1942
Raid on Sark
A small team of British commandos landed on the German occupied Channel Island of Sark. As the commandos made their escape several Germans they had taken were killed. Shortly afterwards Hitler issued his ‘Commando order’ which called for all enemy special forces operating behind the lines to be shot if captured – even if they were in uniform.
Western Front | 23rd October 1942
Battle of El Alamein begins
Bad health had compelled Rommel to return to Germany, and so when the battle of El Alamein started the Afrika Korps was commanded by less talented General Georg Stumme. British and Empire forces, under General Montgomery, outnumbered the Germans and Italians and, during the evening of 23 October, advanced through German minefields (known as the ‘Devil’s garden’) and battle was joined.
Pacific Front | October 1942
He arrived in New Guinea as part of an Australian division, tasked with pushing back the Japanese in some of the most arduous and dangerous fighting conditions of the whole war.
Western Front | October 1942
How did the Allies win the Desert War?
The Desert War is forever associated with Field Marshal Montgomery and the battle of El Alamein - but just how great a general was Monty?
Holocaust | October 1942
What was the mentality of the perpetrators?
1942 was the year in which the Nazis killed the largest number of Jews. And by the autumn the death factories of the Holocaust were working with murderous efficiency. What sort of people could create this hell on earth?
Western Front | 4th November 1942
Rommel, who had returned from sick leave on 25 October, finally conceded the battle was lost and ordered his troops to withdraw.
Western Front | 8th November 1942
The Allies – in a force largely composed of American units – landed in French Morocco and Algeria. The idea was to create a ‘Second Front’ and push forward and confront Rommel from the east. Over 60,000 troops took part in the landings, and two days later the Vichy French commander, Admiral Darlan, ordered a cease fire – effectively surrendering French forces to the Allies.
Eastern Front | 11th November 1942
German assault on Stalingrad
The Germans launched what turned out to be their final major offensive to conquer Stalingrad. Several times in the previous months the Nazis had proclaimed that the battle was all but won, but each time the 62nd Soviet Army embedded in the city, led by the brilliant but tough Vasily Chuikov, had survived. And this time, despite the ferocity of the German offensive, was to prove no different.
Western Front | 11th November 1942
Germans occupy all France
In response to the cooperation of the Vichy French government in French Morroco with the invading Allies, the Germans moved to occupy all of France and to destroy the ‘privileges’ enjoyed by the government based in Vichy. On 27 November, when the Germans attempted to capture the French fleet based at Toulon, French sailors scuttled their ships to prevent them falling into German hands.
Eastern Front | 19th November 1942
Gradually, since the disaster of the Kharkov offensive in May, Stalin had begun to listen more to what his commanders were saying. The result was Operation Uranus, the Soviet attempt to encircle the Germans in Stalingrad.
Pacific Front | 30th November 1942
Battle of Tassafaronga
This naval encounter, sometimes called the Battle of Guadalcanal, took place off Tassafaronga Point on the island. Japanese warships and transport vessels were attempting to drop supplies to Imperial Forces on Guadalcanal when they were intercepted by the American Naval Task Force 67 which outnumbered them. But the Japanese managed to win the encounter, damaging or sinking four American warships.
Western Front | November 1942
As a soldier with the famous Seventh Armoured division, he fought at El Alamein.
Eastern Front | November 1942
The brutality of the house to house fighting in Stalingrad almost defies imagination. Helmut Walz was one of those who took part in this struggle, and he vividly reveals just what it was like.
Western Front | 7th December 1942
Commando raids on France
A commando force of ten Royal Marines was launched from the British submarine HMS Tuna off the coast of France. Split into two-man teams in five canoes the commandos paddled towards Bordeaux Harbour to place mines on Axis ships. On 11 November they succeeded in attacking and damaging five vessels. Only two commandos made it back to Britain, the other eight were killed – six executed under Hitler’s 'Commando order'.
Eastern Front | 12th December 1942
Germans launch Winter Storm
Field Marshal von Manstein was ordered by Hitler to attack the Soviet forces of Operation Uranus from the south west and push through to relieve the trapped Sixth Army in Stalingrad. Meantime, Goering promised to keep Stalingrad supplied from the air. Neither relief attempt worked and on Christmas Eve Manstein ordered his troops to retreat to avoid encirclement themselves.
Pacific Front | 21st December 1942
Allies advance in Burma
The 14th Indian division of the British Army attempted to capture the Japanese-held port of Akyab in Burma, but were repulsed by the Imperial Army. It was an action that marked the end of a dispiriting – if not disastrous – year for the Allied war effort in Burma; a country now all but entirely controlled by the Japanese.
Holocaust | 28th December 1942
Sterilizations at Auschwitz
The German Professor of Medicine, Dr Clauberg, started sterilization experiments in Auschwitz/Birkenau. He carried out much of his work in Block 28 of the women’s camp. In a series of painful and often deadly experiments, Clauberg injected a variety of chemical substances into the womb and ovaries of female prisoners. Heinrich Himmler, in particular, was interested in finding an efficient and easy method of sterilizing people.
Pacific Front | 2nd January 1943
Buna, New Guinea falls
In October 1942, units of the 32nd US Division had landed in the east of Papua New Guinea and together with Australian units, who were already fighting in the country, they advanced to attack Buna on the northern coast. After fierce fighting they managed to take the town – an important strategic victory in the New Guinea campaign.
Western Front | 14th January 1943
Casablanca Conference begins
This conference was notable for President Roosevelt’s announcement that the Allies would only accept ‘unconditional surrender’ from the Germans. Roosevelt and Churchill (Stalin had been invited but did not attend) also agreed on a plan to attack Sicily. Stalin, however, believed he was being ‘betrayed’ by the West, because a date for the invasion of France was not yet confirmed.
Holocaust | 18th January 1943
First Warsaw ghetto uprising
By the start of 1943, Jewish leaders within the Warsaw ghetto knew that anyone deported from the ghetto would die – most likely in the death camp of Treblinka. Now, when the Germans attempted to deport several thousand more Jews, there was an armed revolt by Jewish fighters within the ghetto. After a few days the Germans called off the deportations – though whether that was a direct result of the insurgency is still debated.
Western Front | 23rd January 1943
Allies capture Tripoli
Soldiers of the 5th Infantry Brigade, part of Montgomery’s Eighth Army, entered Tripoli in Libya. Ever since his defeat at El Alamein, Rommel had been forced to retreat, and the capture of this important port was a further blow for him. Tripoli also gave the Allies air bases from which to relieve Malta, and was an important victory as they sought to drive Axis forces from North Africa.
Eastern Front | 31st January 1943
After the failure of Manstein’s relief effort – Operation Winter Storm – in December, it was clear that the Sixth Army was doomed. 90,000 German troops were taken prisoner.
Eastern Front | January 1943
How did the Soviets win at Stalingrad?
The battle of Stalingrad is believed by many to be one of the iconic events of the Second World War. But how did the Red Army gain victory?
Eastern Front | 8th February 1943
Soviets retake Kursk
In the wake of the success of Operation Uranus and the destruction of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad, the Red Army attacked and took back the city of Kursk, three hundred miles south west of Moscow. Eight days later they retook Kharkov in the east of Ukraine – the SS units holding it had withdrawn, against Hitler’s explicit orders.
Pacific Front | 9th February 1943
By December 1942 it had become clear to the Japanese leadership that it was impossible to supply their troops on Guadalcanal with adequate food, equipment and reinforcements. The Imperial Army then staged one of the most effective and secretive withdrawals of the war, successfully evacuating over 10,000 men. The battle for this one island, which had begun the previous summer, was finally over.
Pacific Front | 13th February 1943
Operation Longcloth in Burma
The first ‘Chindit’ operation behind Japanese lines, led by the legendary British commander Orde Wingate. 3,000 British, Indian and Gurkha troops, supplied by air drops, harassed the Japanese in Burma, blowing up bridges and disrupting lines of communication. Just over 2,000 of the men managed to return from the operation three months later.
Western Front | 18th February 1943
'White Rose' leaders arrested
A small number of students in Munich formed an opposition group called ‘White Rose’ and protested at the nature of the Nazi regime and the course of the war. They issued a pamphlet at Munich University disapproving strongly of the ‘destruction’ at Stalingrad, were arrested and immediately executed.
Western Front | 18th February 1943
Goebbels announces 'Total War'
Josef Goebbels, in one of the most famous speeches of the war, called for ‘Total War’. The carefully chosen audience at the Berlin Sportpalast responded to Goebbels’ demand for fanatical resistance and sacrifice enthusiastically. But though Hitler heartily approved of the speech, it did not bring Goebbels the additional powers he craved.
Holocaust | 25th February 1943
Deportation of Greek Jews
The first transport of Greek Jews was sent by the Germans to Auschwitz. These Jews, from Salonika, had been subjected to numerous anti-Semitic actions since the start of the month. The whole Nazi process of forcing the Jews to wear yellow stars, give up their property and move into ghettos had been accomplished in a matter of weeks. In all, more than 40,000 Jews from Salonika would be sent to Auschwitz.
Eastern Front | February 1943
SMERSH was one of the most feared organisations of the war - literally translated as, "Death to Spies", SMERSH was the Soviet counter intelligence unit. Zinaida Pytkina served with them.
Pacific Front | 2nd March 1943
Battle of the Bismarck Sea
The Allies attacked a large Japanese convoy carrying around 7,000 Imperial Army troops to New Guinea. In what was, once again, a demonstration of the ability of air power to destroy surface ships, the Allies sunk twelve Japanese vessels and killed around 3,000 men. In retaliation for previous Japanese actions the Allies even shot Japanese who were in life boats.
Eastern Front | 14th March 1943
Germans retake Kharkov
The Germans, who had abandoned Kharkov the month before, returned and retook the city, in an action that demonstrated that the Red Army advance post Stalingrad had reached the limit of its current military endurance. Hitler, who had condemned these same troops for previously leaving the city, was now ‘very happy’.
Western Front | 16th March 1943
Germans sink 22 ships
Thanks to unusually accurate intelligence reports, a total of forty U boats were guided in the mid-Atlantic to two Allied convoys - HX 229 and SC 122. The result was unparalleled success in a single action. Twenty two ships were sunk – nearly 150,000 tons of shipping. It was a triumph for the leadership of Grossadmiral Doenitz and a huge setback for the Allies.
Holocaust | March 1943
How did Auschwitz develop - 1943?
The spring of 1943 is a landmark moment in the history of Auschwitz, with the opening of a combined crematorium and gas chamber complex at Birkenau.
Holocaust | March 1943
A combined crematorium and gas chamber complex opened at Auschwitz/Birkenau. By the early summer of 1943 a total of four such buildings were operational. Auschwitz/Birkenau now had the capacity to kill around 150,000 people a month.
Eastern Front | 11th April 1943
On 11 April Radio Berlin announced to the world that the Germans had uncovered several thousand bodies of Polish officers in the forest of Katyn, near Smolensk in Russia.
Pacific Front | 18th April 1943
Death of Yamamoto
In Operation Vengeance, American planes from Guadalcanal intercepted and then shot down over Bougainville Island in the Solomons a Japanese transport plane carrying Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto. Admiral Yamamoto, one of the architects of the Pearl Harbour attack, had long been a hate figure to the Americans, and this attack was personally authorized by President Roosevelt.
Holocaust | 19th April 1943
Second Warsaw ghetto uprising
When the Germans entered the ghetto they met strong resistance from lightly armed Jewish fighters who fought from house to house and whose strongholds were in the sewers of the city. The Germans, under the leadership of the infamous SS Brigadier Stroop, ruthlessly attempted to destroy the ghetto – almost brick by brick.
Western Front | 13th May 1943
Germans defeated in North Africa
Rommel, who following the defeat at El Alamain had withdrawn to Tunisia, had been halted by the Allies at Medenine on 6 March. Shortly afterwards he left Africa on sick leave for Germany. It was clear that the Axis forces had been defeated in North Africa. Starved of supplies by a sea blockade, they had found themselves outnumbered and outgunned. The few remaining German units surrendered on 13 May and the African campaign was over.
Holocaust | 16th May 1943
Warsaw ghetto uprising crushed
The Germans succeeded in suppressing the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and razed whole areas of the city to the ground. On 8 May two leading commanders of the uprising had committed suicide, and now others tried to escape the ghetto via the sewer system. Several hundred German soldiers were killed and over 10,000 Jews.
Western Front | 17th May 1943
RAF 617 Squadron attacked dams in the Ruhr, the industrial heartland of Germany, using a special ‘bouncing bomb’ developed by the inventor Barnes Wallis. Led by the young, glamorous Wing Commander Guy Gibson – who was awarded the Victoria Cross for the raid – this action became one of the most famous of the war. But though two dams were breached, there was little lasting damage to the Nazi war effort.
Western Front | 24th May 1943
On 24 May, Grand Admiral Doenitz ordered all U boat actions in the North Atlantic to stop. Over recent weeks it had become obvious that the losses of U boats were no longer sustainable.
Pacific Front | May 1943
From the spring of 1943 onwards, British occupied Bengal (today’s Bangladesh) suffered an appalling famine in which around three million people died. The causes of the famine are still debated – Burma, a huge producer of rice was now, of course, under Japanese control. What is without question is that much of the British action in the face of this human catastrophe was slow and relatively uncaring.
Holocaust | 11th June 1943
Himmler liquidation order
Heinrich Himmler issued an order calling for all ghettos in Poland and the Soviet Union to be ‘liquidated’. But in effect this process had begun many months before and thus this statement acknowledged an action that was already taking place. The Operation Reinhard camps - like Treblinka and Sobibor - had been in operation for about a year already, mostly killing Jews from these ghettos.
Western Front | 21st June 1943
Arrest of Jean Moulin
Jean Moulin, one of the most important figures in the early French Resistance movement, was arrested by the Germans. He was then tortured and died on 8 July. He had met General de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, in London in the autumn of 1941, who had recognised Moulin’s importance to the resistance. On his return to France Moulin had attempted to coordinate all the disparate – and often small – resistance groups.
Pacific Front | 29th June 1943
Operation Cartwheel New Guinea
The American General, Douglas MacArthur, ordered an offensive which was ultimately aimed at the key strategic town of Rabaul on the northern tip of New Britain Island in Papua New Guinea. Just as they had at the Battle of Midway, the Allies made good use of ULTRA intelligence to launch unexpected attacks on the Japanese and by early September the Japanese had been forced to withdraw from Rabaul.
Eastern Front | 5th July 1943
Germans launch Operation Citadel
The Germans mounted a gigantic offensive - involving more than 2,000 tanks and about 700,000 troops - around the town of Kursk, south west of Moscow. They attacked simultaneously north from Kharkov and south from Orel. But the Soviets, thanks to military intelligence, knew they were coming and had prepared extensive defensive fortifications. The scale of the tank battles that followed were unlike anything ever seen before.
Western Front | 10th July 1943
The Allies land in Sicily
15 Army Group, commanded by General Alexander, invaded Sicily in Operation Husky. It would take just under forty days to conquer the island and remove the Germans. But because the Americans had not yet agreed to follow this offensive with the invasion of the Italian mainland, many Axis forces managed to escape across the narrow Strait of Messina to Calabria.
Eastern Front | 13th July 1943
Hitler agreed that Operation Citadel should be brought to an early end. The Germans’ last big eastern offensive of this war had failed.
Western Front | 25th July 1943
Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, attended an audience with the Italian King and was told that the Grand Fascist Council had voted to remove him from office. He was arrested as he left the King’s palace. And so the first Fascist dictator had been deposed – and without bloodshed.
Western Front | 27th July 1943
RAF firebomb Hamburg
The RAF bombed Hamburg on three nights in July – the 24th, 27th, and 29th – and one night in August – the 2nd. But it was the raid on the 27th that was the most deadly, causing the first bombing firestorm in history. More than 40,000 Germans – the vast majority civilians – died in the raids and around half of this key German port was destroyed.
Holocaust | 2nd August 1943
Jewish prisoners in Treblinka rose up against the Ukrainian guards and the German commanders of the death camp. These prisoners – Sonderkommando – had been forced to help in the killing process on pain of their own immediate death. Now they ran at the main gate, armed with stolen German weapons, and around 300 managed to escape. But only about 100 survived the war.
Pacific Front | 6th August 1943
Battle of Vella Gulf
During the night, in the Vella Gulf off the island of Vella Lavella in the Solomons, American warships came across a Japanese naval task force which was attempting to reinforce the island. The American ships launched a torpedo attack and sank three Japanese destroyers almost immediately, thus demonstrating the extent to which the US Navy had learned from previous mishaps in night attacks on the Japanese.
Western Front | 17th August 1943
First Schweinfurt raid
The Americans mounted their largest bombing raid yet, on the German ball-bearing factories of Schweinfurt. It was also the mission that resulted in the greatest American losses so far, with nearly one plane in six not making it back to Britain.
Eastern Front | 23rd August 1943
Kharkov falls to Soviets
In the wake of their success at Kursk, the Red Army moved on the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov, advancing from the north east. On 22 August the Germans had begun to withdraw from the city, so the Soviets moved swiftly that night and by the next day Kharkov was in their hands. The city had changed hands several times during this war – it would not change hands again.
Western Front | 29th August 1943
Danish government falls
The Danish government resigned, after refusing to institute a state of emergency in the country after the Nazis had ordered them to. Incidents of resistance and general civil disobedience had been increasing in Denmark during 1943 partly fuelled, after the German defeat at Stalingrad, by the strengthening awareness that – most likely – the Nazis would lose the war.
Western Front | 8th September 1943
On 8 September, Marshal Pietro Badoglio announced an armistice. Secret negotiations had been going on with the Allies for weeks about the Italian surrender.
Western Front | 9th September 1943
Allies land at Salerno
Early in the morning the American 5th Army landed at Salerno, south of Naples, on the Italian mainland. Montgomery had landed further south a few days earlier. The German defence at Salerno was extremely effective, with the Allies suffering twice as many casualties as the defenders. It took a week for the Allies to secure effectively the beachhead and landing grounds.
Eastern Front | 25th September 1943
Smolensk retaken by Soviets
In the Smolensk offensive the Red Army forced the Germans back another 120 miles, and in the process re-took the city of Smolensk in western Russia. This was to be of significance not just militarily but politically, as now the Soviets were in control of the murder and burial site at Katyn, near Smolensk, and would begin to falsify the history of the killings to support their claim the Germans had committed the crime.
Western Front | 1st October 1943
Allies capture Naples
The Allies entered a devastated Naples. Immediately before the arrival of Allied troops the Germans had suppressed an attempt at an uprising and now when they left the city they destroyed whatever might be of value to the Allies – the docks in particular were in ruins. Many Neapolitans were starving and suffering from illness and disease.
Holocaust | 1st October 1943
Attempted Danish deportation
The Germans attempted to deport all 8,000 Danish Jews. But in one of the few truly heartening moments in the history of the deportations, the non-Jewish population acted to hide Jews and then transport them by boat to neutral Sweden. Fewer than 500 Danish Jews were eventually captured by the Nazis. Though whether the Nazis pursued the deportation with vigor is still debatable.
Holocaust | 4th October 1943
In the Golden Hall in Posen, Poland, Himmler talked openly to SS leaders about the nature of the extermination of the Jews. ‘It is a page of glory in our history,’ he said, referring to the mass killing of the Jews, ‘that has never been written and is never to be written.’
Western Front | 14th October 1943
Second Schweinfurt raid
On what became known as ‘Black Thursday’ the American Eighth Army Air Force launched a second raid on the German ball-bearing factories of Schweinfurt. More than 70 American bombers, operating far into Germany and without fighter protection, were destroyed with the loss of around 650 men. Such loses were unsustainable in the long term, and daylight bombing operations over Germany were temporarily suspended.
Holocaust | 14th October 1943
At half past three in the afternoon, the Jewish Sonderkommando prisoners at Sobibor death camp rose up against their captors, killing many of the SS in charge of the camp in a series of carefully coordinated attacks. Led by Alexander Pechersky, a Soviet Jew, they then pushed over the barbed wire at the back of the camp, and tried to run through a minefield to the forest. Most of the 300 who escaped did not survive the war.
Pacific Front | 25th October 1943
'Death' railway complete
The first train ran on the infamous ‘death’ railway - made famous by the grossly historically inaccurate film ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ - built by Allied prisoners of war and Asian labourers. The railway ran for nearly 250 miles, north west through Thailand and Burma. Around 16,000 Allied POWs died in the railway’s construction and five times as many Asian forced labourers.
Western Front | October 1943
How did the Americans overcome the problems of daylight bombing?
After the ‘Black Thursday’ operation against Schweinfurt the Americans needed to rethink their strategy of daylight bombing. Just what innovative solution did they find?
Western Front | October 1943
Married to an American serviceman 15 years older than her, she discovered that life in America was not the dream she had hoped.
Holocaust | October 1943
As a teenager, Toivi Blatt found himself in the hell of Sobibor death camp, forced to work as a Jewish Sonderkommando prisoner. Here, with great insight, he describes his experience.
Pacific Front | 1st November 1943
Americans attack the Solomons
The Solomon Islands, lying in a chain nearly 600 miles long north east of Australia, were a key strategic objective for the Americans. US Marines landed on Bougainville in the Solomons on 1 November. The Japanese mounted a fierce defence. One 75mm artillery weapon blew up four American landing craft. And in the battle that followed two US Marines would each win a posthumous Medal of Honor.
Holocaust | 3rd November 1943
Start of 'Harvest Festival' killings
In the wake of the uprisings at Treblinka and Sobibor, the SS killed around 18,000 Jews near Majdanek camp in the Lublin region, south east Poland. About forty per cent of the Jews killed were prisoners from Majdanek, the rest were Jews from Lublin. This was the largest number of Jews killed in a single day in the course of the Holocaust - and they were killed by shooting and not by gas.
Eastern Front | 6th November 1943
Kiev retaken by Soviets
Soviet forces, part of the Voronezh Front, retook Kiev, capital of Ukraine. For many this was a ‘liberation’ but for others it was a harsh reckoning as large numbers of Ukranians had welcomed the Germans in the summer of 1941 and then, when disillusioned with Nazi rule, taken to the forest to fight with Nationalist partisans – a fierce internal struggle that would still rage for years inside the Soviet Union.
Holocaust | 17th November 1943
During October the Nazis had begun dismantling Treblinka death camp and this process was complete by early November. Then what remained of the camp was ploughed into the ground and trees planted. Around 800,000 to 900,000 Jews were murdered at Treblinka, the largest of the Operation Reinhard camps, which made this place second only to Auschwitz as the most deadly killing facility.
Western Front | 28th November 1943
The most important Allied conference of the war was held in Tehran, Iran between 28 November and 1 December. Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met together for the very first time.
Pacific Front | November 1943
Why was it so hard to retake islands held by the Japanese?
Ever since the fierce battle for Guadalcanal it had been clear that the Japanese would not give up the islands they held lightly. So how difficult was this campaign for the Americans?
Holocaust | November 1943
Italian Jews sent to Auschwitz
Mussolini's fascist government, though allied to the Nazis, had not cooperated in the round-up and deportation of Italian Jews. But now that Mussolini had been deposed the Nazis moved to deport as many Italian Jews as possible. On 16 October the Jews of Rome had been targeted and on 18 October more than 1,000 were sent to Auschwitz. Over the next few weeks, Jews in other large cities in the north of Italy like Milan and Genoa were rounded up.
Pacific Front | November 1943
Michael Witowich was a US Marine who fought on the island of Tarawa and then on Saipan. He describes in graphic terms the appalling brutality of the fighting.
Western Front | 26th December 1943
Battle of the North Cape
Royal Navy ships caught and sank the German battleship, Scharnhorst, off North Cape in Norway. The Scharnhorst was badly outnumbered by the pursuing Royal Navy ships and once her radar was damaged the German vessel was hugely hampered in her defence. The Scharnhorst finally sank just before 8 o’clock that night. Less than 40 of her crew of nearly 2,000 survived.
Western Front | 1st January 1944
President Roosevelt held a series of meetings with Stalin and Churchill to try and decide what shape post-war Europe should be. Just how did he go about this task?
Pacific Front | 2nd January 1944
USA invades New Guinea
In a further attempt to support Allied troops in the brutal battle for New Guinea, the American 32nd Division made an amphibious landing at Saidor, in Madang Province on the north east coast of Papua New Guinea. But they were unable to achieve their objective - cutting off a Japanese tactical retreat. In fact, the Japanese would continue resisting on New Guinea until the very end of the war.
Western Front | 22nd January 1944
Allies land at Anzio
At 2am Allied Task Force 81 delivered US VI Corps onto the beaches at Anzio, 30 miles south of Rome, in an attempt to outflank the Germans, who were holding the defensive Gustav Line to the south. The failure of the Americans, under Major General John Lucas, to advance swiftly on arrival infuriated Churchill, who said he had hoped ‘we were hurling a wild cat on the shore, but all we got was a beached whale.’
Eastern Front | 27th January 1944
Siege of Leningrad ends
The siege of Leningrad – famously 900 days long – was finally lifted by Soviet forces. The defending Germans, hugely outnumbered by the advancing Red Army, had been told to hold their positions by Hitler, and the final fighting was as fierce and brutal as anything on the Eastern Front. Around one million Soviet citizens died as a result of the German blockade of Leningrad, making this - arguably - the most deadly siege in all history.
Pacific Front | 4th February 1944
Japanese offensive Burma
In January the Japanese leadership had authorized a huge advance through Burma, aimed at the eastern part of India. This operation, called ‘U Go’, was to be formally launched in early March. But before that, the Japanese attacked the British and Empire forces in the Arakan coastal region of western Burma. The Imperial Army was held by the Allies here, but the main attack would soon come, just north of them.
Western Front | 15th February 1944
Monte Cassino bombed
The monastery of Monte Cassino, founded in the sixth century by St Benedict, stood on a peak high above the town of Cassino, south of Rome. In one of the most controversial actions of the Italian campaign, the Allies bombed it on 15 February. The range of mountains around Cassino formed a crucial part of the Gustav Line, the German defence line on the road to Rome.
Western Front | 20th February 1944
'Big Week' bombing
Operation Argument (known as ‘Big Week’) was a massive attack by the Americans, supported by the RAF, against German aircraft factories and Luftwaffe bases, in an attempt to damage the German capability to mount effective airborne defence. The campaign achieved some success but at considerable Allied loss – over 250 bombers were destroyed and 2,500 aircrew were lost.
Pacific Front | 7th March 1944
Operation U Go
The Japanese launched one of their last big offensives of the war, an attack on British and Empire forces on the eastern border of India. Their plan was to defeat the Allies at Kohima and Imphal and then move on to capture the supplies held at Dimapur. Then India would be open to them. Imphal was the first objective to be attacked by the Japanese and within weeks the town was under siege.
Eastern Front | 19th March 1944
German troops occupy Hungary
The Hungarian leadership had recently been holding secret talks with the Allies about changing sides once the Red Army neared and the Germans, naturally enough, objected. So Hitler ordered the invasion of Hungary in order to control his wavering ally. This action would also have disastrous consequences for the 760,000 Hungarian Jews (5% of the Hungarian population) who were now directly in the Nazis’ power.
Holocaust | March 1944
How did Auschwitz develop - 1944?
1944 was to be the year in which Auschwitz overtook all the other killing facilities in the Third Reich and became the site of the largest mass murder in the history of the world.
Eastern Front | 2nd April 1944
Red Army enters Romania
The Romanian leadership, allies of the Nazis, had been trying to make peace with the Allies for many months. One sticking point had been the territory of Bessarabia and Bucovina which the Romanians had gained at the expense of the Soviets. Now that the Red Army entered Romanian territory, it was clear they would take this land back. And this was one reason that it was not to be until September 1944 that the Romanians managed to sign an armistice.
Pacific Front | 5th April 1944
Siege of Kohima begins
At the village of Kohima, high in the mountains of the border land between Burma and India, a few hundred British and Empire troops held out against 6,000 Japanese. It was one of the greatest acts of resistance in the war. British forces did not manage to lift the siege until 20 April, by which time around 300 of the defenders had died. Defeat for the Japanese here and at Imphal marked the end of their attempt to invade India.
Holocaust | 29th April 1944
Hungarian Jews sent to Auschwitz
The first transport of Hungarian Jews left Budapest, arriving in Auschwitz on 2 May. These 1,800 Jews were the first of more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews who would be sent to Auschwitz – and the vast majority would die there.
Pacific Front | April 1944
A British officer serving in a battalion of Gurkha soldiers, Jimmy Evans fought at the famous battle of Imphal.
Pacific Front | April 1944
The Japanese launched one of their last big offensives of the war, an attack on British and Empire forces on the eastern border of India. Their plan was to defeat the Allies at Kohima and Imphal and then move on to capture the supplies held at Dimapur.
Pacific Front | April 1944
Mahinder Singh Pujji
An Indian who volunteered to serve with the RAF during the war, Mahinder Singh Pujji’s most dangerous assignment was as commander of a reconnaissance squadron in Burma.
Western Front | 18th May 1944
Allies capture Monte Cassino
Only on the fourth attempt did the Allies manage to capture Monte Cassino – the first was launched three months before. It was a series of actions that showed just how near perfect this Italian terrain was for the German defenders. In the end it took an heroic advance by Polish troops serving in the British Army, plus the decision of the Germans to pull back, for the ruins of the monastery to fall into Allied hands.
Pacific Front | 31st May 1944
Victory at Kohima/Imphal
The Japanese finally pulled back from the village of Kohima; and though they still carried on attacking Imphal until early July it was clear by now that their ambitious Operation U Go was a disaster. Allied air superiority meant that Imphal could be supplied even when under siege, and the Japanese struggled to maintain their lines of communication. More than 60,000 Japanese died in this one operation.
Holocaust | May 1944
Alice Lok Cahana
Together with her sister, Edith, and the rest of her family, Alice Lok Cahana, aged 15, was transported to Auschwitz as part of the massive deportation of Hungarian Jews. She movingly describes her experience.
Western Front | May 1944
He fought at Monte Cassino in Italy, one of the most iconic battles of the war.
Western Front | May 1944
Should the Allies have fought in Italy?
The mountainous terrain of Italy proved tough going for the Allies- did the success justify the sacrifice?
Western Front | 5th June 1944
Allies capture Rome
The American 34th and 35th divisions captured Rome, in an action that has remained controversial since it weakened the Allied attempt to encircle the German Tenth Army thirty miles away, to the south east of the Italian capital. But American General Mark Clark was adamant that his forces deserved the honour of being the first to enter Rome – a city the Germans had already vacated.
Western Front | 6th June 1944
How successful was D-Day?
Nothing like it had ever been tried in modern times – so how successful was D-Day for the Allies?
Western Front | 6th June 1944
On 6 June, more than 130,000 Allied troops landed on five designated invasion beaches in Normandy. It was the largest opposed amphibious landing attempted in modern times.
Pacific Front | 18th June 1944
Battle of the Philippine Sea
This massive carrier battle, fought off the Mariana Islands, demonstrated once again the extent to which the Japanese were trying to continue this war with inadequate military technology. A further three Japanese aircraft carriers were damaged or destroyed by the American 5th fleet and several hundred aircraft lost in an action that was nicknamed by the Americans ‘The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot’.
Eastern Front | 22nd June 1944
The Soviets launched this gigantic offensive against German Army Group Centre on the third anniversary of the invasion of the Soviet Union. In scale it dwarfed the Battle for Normandy which was taking place at the same time in the west.
Holocaust | 26th June 1944
John McCloy, American Assistant Secretary of War, rejected a request received via the War Refugee Board that the railway lines to Auschwitz should be bombed.
Eastern Front | 3rd July 1944
Red Army take Minsk
Symbolizing the success of Operation Bagration, the Red Army recaptured Minsk, capital of Belorussia. In a reversal of the original German strategy of 1941 which had called for swift, mobile warfare, Hitler had insisted that Army Group Centre create feste Plätze – fortified places – in which the Germans had to fight a static war. It proved a disastrous policy.
Pacific Front | 15th July 1944
Americans land on Saipan
US Marines of the 5th Amphibious Corps landed on Saipan, in the Mariana Islands. Though technically a Japanese mandate, many in the Japanese leadership considered this the first ‘home’ territory the Allies had attacked. It was the scene of a mass suicide charge by soldiers of the Imperial Army, as well as the suicide of many civilians.
Pacific Front | 21st July 1944
Americans attack Guam
The US Marines attacked Guam, strategically the most important island in the Marianas, after an intense assault from bombers and battleships which destroyed much of the initial Japanese resistance. However, the Imperial Army recovered and the island was not in American hands until a full three weeks later.
Western Front | 25th July 1944
Operation Cobra in Normandy
The Allies finally freed themselves of fighting in the ‘bocage’ countryside of Normandy, where the hedges and woods favoured the German defenders, and managed to break out south and east towards central France. The main thrust of Operation Cobra was in the west where General Patton’s Third Army, in particular, made swift progress.
Western Front | July 1944
How hard was the fight from D-Day to Paris?
After the relative euphoria of the success of D-Day itself, the Allies had to endure tough fighting in Normandy, prior to the breakout to Paris.
Eastern Front | July 1944
As a soldier with German Army Group Centre, he fought against the Red Army in the Summer of 1944.
Western Front | July 1944
V1 attacks on London continue
The first attacks by V1 (Vergeltungswaffe 1 – Vengeance Weapon 1) rockets on London had begun on 13 June and continued until the end of March 1945. These pilotless bombs (in looks not unlike today’s cruise missiles) periodically terrorized London and the south east of Britain with around 13,000 launched in total.
Pacific Front | 1st August 1944
Americans take Tinian
The Americans landed on Tinian, a few miles south west of Saipan, on 24 July, and by now had taken control of this important strategic island in the Marianas. Tinian was to become a vital United States Army Air Force base, and it was from here that many of the B-29 Superfortress bombing raids on the home islands of Japan were eventually launched.
Western Front | 1st August 1944
At 5pm on 1 August the commander of the Polish Home Army of resistance ordered an uprising to take place in Warsaw. The fight would be horrific, with the Germans committing many atrocities.
Holocaust | 2nd August 1944
Gypsies at Auschwitz 'liquidated'
The SS killed all the remaining Gypsies held at Auschwitz. Around 21,000 of the 23,000 Gypsies sent to the camp from February 1943 died. Indeed, the Gypsies – considered racially dangerous and ‘asocial’ by the Nazis – suffered more than any other group in the Third Reich apart from the Jews. Between a quarter and half a million Gypsies perished because of Nazi hatred and prejudice.
Holocaust | 2nd August 1944
Lodz ghetto 'liquidated'
An announcement was posted in the Lodz ghetto that deportations of the remaining 68,000 Jews would begin the next day. Many Jews tried to hide, deeply suspicious of what their fate would be if they were removed. But by 28 August the ghetto had been forcibly cleared with all of the remaining Jews – apart from a handful involved in dismantling the place – sent to Auschwitz/Birkenau.
Western Front | 15th August 1944
Allies land in southern France
In Operation Dragoon the Allies landed in the south of France along the French Riviera. General Patch’s American Seventh Army put ashore nearly 100,000 men on the initial day of the invasion. The Germans, distracted by Operation Cobra – the breakout from Normandy – did not manage heavy resistance on the beaches and by 28 August French forces had captured Marseilles in the east and the Americans were near Grenoble in the north.
Western Front | 25th August 1944
Allies liberate Paris
General Leclerc’s 2nd French Armoured Division entered Paris late on 24 August, with the German General von Choltitz, in charge of the occupation of Paris, surrendering the following day. Choltitz, who had previously overseen the ruin of Sevastopol, ignored Hitler’s order to destroy the city. And the ‘saving’ of Paris was in stark contrast to the annihilation of Warsaw which was taking place at the same time.
Western Front | August 1944
William Perry served with the American 92nd Infantry Division - the famous ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ - the only black American infantry division to fight in Europe.
Eastern Front | 8th September 1944
Konstantin Muraviev, Prime Minister of Bulgaria, turned on Germany – previously Bulgaria’s ally – and under Soviet pressure declared war on the Nazis. The Red Army was just about to enter Bulgarian territory. Though most Bulgarian Jews had survived the alliance with the Nazis, Bulgarian authorities had previously been responsible for deporting 11,000 Thracian and Macedonian Jews – the majority to Treblinka death camp.
Western Front | 8th September 1944
First V2 hits London
The first V2 rocket landed in Britain, in Chiswick, West London. This fearsome weapon – a supersonic rocket carrying a ton of high explosives – could break through any defence. It was one of the most remarkable technological developments of the war – built by slave workers who toiled under appalling conditions. Altogether more than 2,000 V2 rockets would kill around 5,000 Britons before the end of March 1945.
Western Front | 17th September 1944
Operation Market Garden
In one of the most imaginative – and ultimately catastrophic – military operations of the war, the Allies launched a twin offensive to capture key bridges across the Rhine. Operation Market was the dropping of 20,000 airborne troops behind German lines, charged with holding the bridges and awaiting the arrival of the armoured thrust (Operation Garden) sent to relieve them.
Western Front | 2nd October 1944
Warsaw uprising is crushed
General Tadeusz Bor, commander of the Polish Home Army of resistance in Warsaw, signed an instrument of surrender with the German General von dem Bach-Zelewski. The Warsaw uprising was over at a terrible cost. Around 220,000 Poles died (200,000 of them civilians).
Holocaust | 7th October 1944
At around 1.30pm the Sonderkommando prisoners in Crematorium 4 at Auschwitz/Birkenau fought back against the SS. These prisoners, who worked in the crematorium, were fearful that they were about to be sent to their own deaths. The Sonderkommando in Crematorium 2 also rose up and shoved one of their guards into a lit oven. Three SS men and around 250 Sonderkommando died during this failed escape attempt.
Eastern Front | 9th October 1944
Churchill met Stalin in the Kremlin for wide ranging discussions that would encompass the future shape and governance of Poland.
Western Front | 14th October 1944
Rommel commits suicide
In the wake of Nazi investigations into the 20 July bomb plot, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was visited at his home in Germany by two generals. They told him that he had a choice – either face the ‘People’s Court’ or commit suicide and be treated as a military hero. Rommel chose suicide. He had been implicated in the attempt by German resisters to remove Hitler from power.
Western Front | 18th October 1944
New Prime Minister in Greece
George Papandreou, the Greek politician backed by the British, returned to Greece as Prime Minister following the fall of Athens to the Allies four days earlier. There was considerable friction between the various resistance forces in Greece, with the Communist partisans the more powerful. But almost certainly as a result of Churchill’s ‘percentage’ agreement with Stalin, the Communists did not take power.
Eastern Front | 20th October 1944
Belgrade is captured
After pleas from the Communist partisan leader, Marshal Tito, Stalin ordered the Red Army to aid the Yugoslavian Communists, finally taking Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia. The other - more popular - partisan force, the Cetniks led by General Mihailovic, had by now ceased to command the support of the British, and the way lay open for the Communist domination of Yugoslavia.
Pacific Front | 23rd October 1944
Battle of Leyte Gulf
The largest sea battle of the Second World War, fought near the Filipino island of Leyte. The Japanese Imperial Navy attempted to prevent American troops landing on Leyte and also to destroy large portions of the American fleet. Thanks to a change in their naval code the Japanese entered this battle without the Americans knowing their plans, but to little avail, as once more the Americans were too strong for them.
Holocaust | 8th November 1944
Hungarian death march
After the Fascist Arrow Cross overthrew Admiral Horthy’s regime in Hungary on 15 October, Adolf Eichmann planned the deportation of the remaining Jews of Budapest. Since railway transportation was unavailable he now made tens of thousands of Jews march towards Austria. Shortly afterwards Himmler ordered this deportation to stop.
Western Front | 12th November 1944
The story of the Tirpitz is the perfect example of the decline of the power of the great battleships in World War Two. So frightened was Hitler that this 40,000 ton warship would be sunk - probably by aircraft - that the Tirpiz only seldom went to sea. Most of the war she spent anchored in Norway and it was here at the port of Tromso that she was sunk by British bombers – 1,200 German sailors died with her.
Holocaust | 26th November 1944
Destruction at Auschwitz ordered
An order was issued calling for the crematoria at Auschwitz/Birkenau (which also contained the gas chambers) to be destroyed. It is therefore clear that the SS wanted to destroy the obvious evidence of mechanized extermination at the camp before the Red Army arrived. The original commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess, had left with his family earlier in the month.
Western Front | 16th December 1944
Battle of the Bulge begins
The last major German offensive of the war began with this thrust through the Ardennes forest. And, initially, this attack achieved the element of surprise, though Hilter’s aim of capturing Antwerp was always wildly over optimistic. Bad weather meant that Allied air power was largely ineffective and the Germans advanced successfully. But the arrival of General Patton’s 3rd Army and other Allied reinforcements soon began to stem the German attack.
Eastern Front | 26th December 1944
Siege of Budapest
Budapest, capital of Hungary, was now surrounded by the Red Army and one of the bloodiest city battles of the war was in full swing. Around 80,000 Axis troops - a combination of Germans and Hungarians - defended the city fiercely, eventually attempting to hold out in Buda, the mountainous section of the capital.
Western Front | 3rd January 1945
Ardennes offensive fails
The lifting of the bad weather in late December, which allowed the Allies to resume air attacks on the Germans, plus the success of the Allied counter attack on land, meant that the German ‘Autumn Mist’ offensive (known today as the Battle of the Bulge) had failed. The Germans lost around 100,000 dead in what turned out to be a futile attempt to capture Antwerp.
Eastern Front | 12th January 1945
This gigantic Soviet offensive, aimed at a massive thrust through Poland, was a major success. Around two million Red Army soldiers, split between Zhukov’s First Belorussian Front and Konev’s First Ukrainian Front, pushed forward after an intense artillery barrage, eventually advancing up to 300 miles within three weeks, capturing many of Poland’s major cities in the process.
Eastern Front | 17th January 1945
Warsaw falls to Soviets
Red Army soldiers finally entered Warsaw, the Polish capital. The city was devastated, the Germans having systematically destroyed most of the buildings in the wake of the failed uprising in the summer and autumn. Little more than ten per cent of Warsaw’s pre-war population remained in the city.
Pacific Front | 27th January 1945
Burma road open
British and Empire forces, under the command of General Sir William Slim, advanced through Burma having crossed the Irrawaddy river on 23 January, and successfully re-opened the Burma road, the supply route north to China.
Holocaust | 27th January 1945
Soviet soldiers from the First Ukrainian Front arrived at Auschwitz. They found around 600 prisoners alive in the Monowitz slave labour camp, 1,000 at Auschwitz main camp and just under 6,000 at Birkenau.
Holocaust | 27th January 1945
How did Auschwitz end - 1945?
The Soviet soldiers who discovered Auschwitz on 27 January were appalled at what they had found. But just how did the Nazis try and conceal what had happened here?
Eastern Front | 31st January 1945
Red Army enters Germany
Units of Zhukov’s First Belorussian Front crossed the river Oder and were on German soil near Frankfurt an der Oder in the south and Kuestrin in the north. Berlin was little more than forty miles away. But the Red Army would now wait and recuperate before the assault on the German capital in April.
Pacific Front | 3rd February 1945
Americans firebomb Kobe
Over 100 giant B-29 Superfortress bombers attacked the Japanese city of Kobe. This was the first major raid ordered by General Curtis LeMay, who had been appointed to command the USAAF’s 21st bomber command just two weeks before and would prove to be a controversial figure.
Eastern Front | 4th February 1945
Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt met together for the last time. Little of new substance was discussed here, though the conference is infamous for Stalin’s ‘promise’ to hold ‘free elections’ in Poland.
Eastern Front | 4th February 1945
Did the West 'sell out' Eastern Europe at Yalta?
To what extent at the Yalta Conference did Roosevelt and Churchill betray the very ideals many believed they had been fighting the war for?
Western Front | 8th February 1945
Western Allies' Rhine offensive
An offensive, codenamed Operation Veritable, designed to push German forces back from the west bank of the Rhine around Wesel. Canadian and British units of Montgomery’s 21st Army group took part, and the operation was launched after one of the biggest artillery barrages seen on the Western Front. By early March the objectives of the operation had been achieved.
Western Front | 13th February 1945
Bombing of Dresden
In one of the most controversial operations of the war, the RAF bombed the city of Dresden in east Germany in two separate raids on the night of the 13th February, with the Americans bombing the following day. Around 35,000 people died in the firestorm that engulfed the city. Dresden, unlike the cities of the Ruhr, was not a key industrial centre and it was claimed by journalists at the time that this was evidence of 'terror bombing'.
Eastern Front | 13th February 1945
Red Army captures Budapest
Worn out by the fighting around the fortress of Buda, the Germans attempted a breakout shortly before the city surrendered. Then, in the aftermath of the siege, Soviet forces committed a number of atrocities – contemporary reports talk of few women being spared rape in Hungary. And in addition to that human suffering, the Soviets looted many priceless art works from Hungarian museums.
Western Front | 13th February 1945
Why was the bombing of Dresden so controversial?
The morality of the Allied bombing campaign during the Second World War is still hotly debated. What should we feel about the decision to attack Dresden?
Pacific Front | 19th February 1945
Americans land on Iwo Jima
The small volcanic island of Iwo Jima was the scene of some of the fiercest and subsequently most iconic fighting of the war. US Marines landed on the island on 19 February and did not finally capture Iwo Jima until 26 March. Nearly 6,000 US Marines died in the fight, and over 20,000 Japanese. Iwo Jima, with its runways, now became a vital part of the bombing effort against mainland Japan.
Eastern Front | February 1945
As a schoolgirl in Budapest she witnessed the arrival of the Red Army, and was subsequently the victim of a series of horrendous attacks.
Pacific Front | 10th March 1945
Americans bomb Tokyo
In this attack on Tokyo more people died – around 100,000 – than perished in the immediate aftermath of either of the nuclear bombs dropped in August 1945. More than 300 B-29 bombers attacked the Japanese capital using LeMay’s new tactics of bombing from low altitude at night. Firestorms were created in the city below, with the wooden and paper houses of the Japanese making a perfect target.
Pacific Front | 20th March 1945
British retake Mandalay
The 19th Indian Division captured Mandalay as part of the extremely skilful recapture of Burma orchestrated by Lt General Sir William Slim. His ‘Forgotten Army’ often had to rely on outdated equipment and supply lines that stretched back through jungles and mountains to India.
Eastern Front | 30th March 1945
Soviets take Danzig
Marshal Rokossovsky’s soldiers took the important port of Danzig after fighting their way through East Prussia. The numerous atrocities committed by Soviet forces as they moved through East Prussia between January and March have become infamous. There is no accurate number of the women raped, but it is certainly in the tens of thousands if not more than a hundred thousand.
Pacific Front | March 1945
Why did the Americans use precision bombing in Europe and yet firebomb Japan?
In Europe the Americans consistently said they would bomb with ‘precision’, yet in the Pacific theatre they destroyed whole civilian communities. Why?
Pacific Front | March 1945
As a member of the crew of a B29 super fortress, he took part in the firebombing of Japan.
Pacific Front | 1st April 1945
In the biggest single amphibious operation in the Pacific War the Americans landed men from the 10th US Army on Okinawa, an island around sixty miles long. At sea was an Allied fleet of more than 1,000 warships that was under Japanese Kamikaze attack.
Pacific Front | 12th April 1945
President Roosevelt dies
Franklin Roosevelt succumbed to a cerebral haemorrhage and died at the Little White House at Warm Springs in Georgia. He was 63 years old. Perhaps fittingly for a politician who never completely confided in anyone else, his wife Eleanor was unaware that his last hours were shared with his former mistress, Lucy Mercer.
Holocaust | 15th April 1945
Western Allies liberate Belsen
The British arrived at the concentration camp of Bergen Belsen in Lower Saxony in Germany. It was a horrific sight. Around 60,000 prisoners were crammed into the camp. Under Josef Kramer, its last commandant, Bergen Belsen had been the destination of tens of thousands of prisoners sent from other camps further east, and it ended the war as one of the worst places of incarceration in the Reich.
Eastern Front | 16th April 1945
Soviets attack Berlin
The Soviets launched the assault on Berlin. Stalin, careful not to allow one military leader all the glory, and to speed the attack, essentially created a competition between Marshal Zhukov’s First Belorussian Front and Marshal Konev’s First Ukrainian Front as to who would take the German capital first. Only on 28 April did Stalin finally issue a directive which said Zhukov’s men had the honour of taking the Reichstag.
Western Front | 18th April 1945
Allies win Ruhr battle
The Western Allies had crossed the river Rhine in late March and then subsequently managed to encircle around 300,000 German soldiers in the area of the Ruhr. Though a great success, it highlighted the fact that the Western Allies had not pushed forward to Berlin – General Eisenhower having written to Stalin saying that he did not consider the German capital an immediate military objective for the West.
Western Front | 25th April 1945
American and Soviet forces meet
Soldiers from an American reconnaissance unit encountered Soviet forces from the 69th Infantry Division near the river Elbe in the first meeting of Western and Eastern Fronts. The encounter was then re-staged for newsreel cameras at Torgau the next day.
Holocaust | 29th April 1945
Western Allies liberate Dachau
Units of the 7th US Army arrived to liberate the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, just outside Munich in Bavaria. This camp was the first formal concentration camp in the Third Reich, opening just weeks after Hitler was made German Chancellor on 30 January 1933. Around 60,000 prisoners were liberated by the Americans.
Western Front | 30th April 1945
At around 3.30pm on 30 April, Adolf Hitler killed himself in the underground bunker of the Reich Chancellery. Only with his death was the hold he exercised over many of his followers extinguished.
Pacific Front | April 1945
He volunteered to become a Kamikaze - yet managed to survive.
Pacific Front | April 1945
What motivated the Kamikazes?
What motivated these pilots to kill themselves?
Eastern Front | 1st May 1945
Suicide of Goebbels' family
Dr Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist and close comrade of Adolf Hitler, and his wife Magda decided to murder their six children and then kill themselves. The children, aged between four and twelve, were first sedated and then poisoned. Goebbels and his wife then went up to the garden of the Reich Chancellery, killed themselves, and their bodies were burnt.
Holocaust | 5th May 1945
Allies liberate Mauthausen
American troops arrived to liberate the Nazi concentration camp of Mauthausen in Upper Austria. Around 200,000 prisoners were incarcerated in the camp during the seven years of its existence and about 120,000 died – the majority political prisoners and others thought ‘asocial’. Mauthausen was infamous for its quarry and the steep steps prisoners working there had to climb.
Western Front | 7th May 1945
Early in the morning of 7 May, General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Staff of the German High Command, signed a document of unconditional surrender. The Second World War in Europe would shortly be over. And though many countries had suffered appallingly, the Soviet Union had incurred the greatest loss with the death of 27 million Soviet citizens.
Western Front | 22nd May 1945
Dismayed by Stalin’s breaking of promises made at Yalta, Churchill had asked his military planners to consider a worst case military option against the Soviet Union. Aptly called ‘Operation Unthinkable’ this report was completed on 22 May and was distinctly cool on the idea of a possible military confrontation with Stalin. That such a military action was even contemplated shows how far the relationship with Stalin had deteriorated.
Western Front | 23rd May 1945
Himmler commits suicide
After the German surrender Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, had attempted to disguise himself as a German sergeant. But British soldiers were suspicious of him and arrested him on 22 May. The next day Himmler committed suicide by taking a poison pill.
Eastern Front | May 1945
Who really defeated Germany?
The surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945 was an occasion for great celebration for the Allies. But which of them had been most responsible for Germany's defeat?
Pacific Front | May 1945
Kamikaze attacks continue
British ships were coming under increasing Kamiakze attack off Okinawa. Early in May the British aircraft carrier HMS Formidable was hit, but because of her steel flight deck (the American carriers had wooden flight decks) she did not sink, though eight crewmen were killed. These Kamikaze attacks continued sporadically throughout the month of May.
Western Front | May 1945
Having lost her husband on the last day of the war, she helped found the War Widow's Association.
Pacific Front | 22nd June 1945
Battle for Okinawa ends
Naha, the capital of Okinawa, had fallen to the Americans in the last week of May, and on 22 June the Japanese commander of the Imperial Army garrison on Okinawa, Lt General Ushijima Mitsuru, committed suicide and the battle was over. The majority of the Japanese troops on the island had died in the struggle – either in battle or by suicide.
Eastern Front | 1st July 1945
Stalin's dealings with the West were often tense and fractured. And his problematic relationship with the British and the Americans would cast a long shadow.
Pacific Front | 16th July 1945
First nuclear bomb tested
The first atomic bomb was successfully tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The results of the test – codenamed ‘Trinity’ – were swiftly passed on to President Harry Truman who was at the Potsdam Conference in Germany. On 24 July, Truman told Stalin that the USA had ‘recently tested a new weapon of unusual destructive force’. But Stalin, as a result of Soviet spies, knew of the bomb’s existence already.
Western Front | 17th July 1945
Potsdam Conference begins
The final wartime conference between Britain, America and the Soviet Union was held at the Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam. Harry Truman attended as the new American President, and during the conference the results of the British election arrived. Winston Churchill had been voted out of office, replaced by Labour’s Clement Attlee. Overall the conference served to highlight the growing suspicions between the Soviets and the West.
Eastern Front | July 1945
What was Stalin’s role in causing the Cold War?
Was the Cold War – the conflict between the West and the Soviets that came to dominate much of the second half of the 20th century – born out of the Second World War and out of Stalin’s decision making?
Pacific Front | July 1945
Why did the Allies decide to drop nuclear bombs on Japan?
The decision to drop two nuclear bombs on Japan in August 1945 remains controversial. Why was it taken?
Pacific Front | 6th August 1945
An American B-29 Superfortress, flown by Paul Tibbets and nicknamed ‘Enola Gay’ after his mother, dropped an atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima about 500 miles south west of Tokyo.
Pacific Front | 9th August 1945
Nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki
A second atomic bomb was dropped by an American B-29 Superfortress, this time above the city of Nagasaki, in the far south west of the Japanese home islands. The destruction was less in proportionate terms than that at Hiroshima, in part because of the mountainous terrain around Nagasaki, but over 70,000 people still died from the effects of this one bomb.
Pacific Front | 9th August 1945
Soviets declare war on Japan
The Soviets broke their treaty of non-aggression with Japan, signed in the spring of 1941, and declared war. In Operation August Storm, under the command of Marshal Vasilevsky, around a million and a half Red Army troops crossed the border into Japanese-held Manchuria. Stalin had previously promised that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan 90 days after the surrender of Germany.
Pacific Front | 14th August 1945
Japanese surrender. WW2 ends
The Japanese finally surrendered. Emperor Hirohito, in a broadcast the next day on 15 August, famously stated that the war had not gone to Japan’s ‘advantage’. A group of Japanese army officers, who wanted to carry on fighting, had attempted to prevent Hirohito broadcasting to the Japanese people.
Pacific Front | 2nd September 1945
Japan signs surrender
The formal surrender of the Japanese was signed on board the American warship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. General Douglas MacArthur, one of the representatives of the Allies present at the ceremony, was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Powers in Japan and in that capacity agreed that Emperor Hirohito could remain on the Imperial throne. A decision which remains controversial.