World War II Timeline of Important Events

Battle of the Atlantic (September 1939 - May 1945)

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous battle that Canada's military was engaged in during the Second World War. Canada played a key role in the Allied struggle to gain control of the North Atlantic, battling German submarines whose goal was to cripple the convoys sending crucial supplies to Europe. The most effective way for Germany to defeat the United Kingdom was to starve it out, using their U-boat fleets and surface ships to attack, and initially, there was not much the British could do to deal with this threat. This battle was the closest Great Britain came to losing the war, and had it not been for the new technological and tactical advancements (much of which came from Canada), as well as America's well-timed intervention, the British may not have been able to pursue the war past 1942. Without the supplies to keep the countries overseas going, most of the battles that occurred on land that turned the tide of the war may never have taken place, likely resulting in German victory.

Battle of Britain (July 10th - October 31st, 1940)

The Battle of Britain was the first battle of World War II to be fought primarily in the air. During the beginning of the battle, the Luftwaffe focused its attacks on the shipments being made through the English Channel, especially on coastal ports and other points that were a potential threat to invasion. Later, after much discussion, Hitler launched Operation Sea Lion, which was the planned invasion of England. The Royal Air Force did their best to intercept the German attackers, and these engagements often involved hundreds of aircraft. Ultimately, the Allied aircrews saved England from invasion, preventing Germany from gaining control of such an important power. Had Germany succeeded in the capture of England, the war would have likely resulted better in their favor.

Operation Barbarossa (launched on June 22nd, 1941) and the Battle of Stalingrad (July 17th, 1942 - February 2nd, 1943)

Operation Barbarossa, originally called Operation Fritz, was the code name for the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Hitler planned for the Red Army to be defeated in a mere two or three months, and that by the end of October, Germany would have conquered the entirety of European Western Russia and Ukraine. Hitler's invasion force was the largest and most powerful in human history, however fatal miscalculations eventually resulted in defeat. The Soviets' scorched-earth policy left the German army devoid of a steady access to supplies, and the German's were woefully unprepared for the cold winters. The German's inability to damage the U.S.S.R. allowed the Soviets to continue on their path of destruction to their eventual victory. The Battle of Stalingrad was the successful defense of the city of Stalingrad by the Soviets. Russians consider it to be the greatest battle of their Great Patriotic War, and it is considered by most historians as the greatest battle of the entire Second World War. It ceased German advancement in the Soviet Union and marked the turning point in the direction of the war in favor of the Allies. The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the bloodiest battles in history, with combined casualties of nearly 2 million. It was a crucial engagement in the war, especially on the Eastern Front.

Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7th, 1941)

A peaceful Sunday morning turned into one of terror and devastation on Oahu Island, Hawaii when the Japanese surprised the United States with a flight of planes equipped with bombs. Within the first 30 minutes of battle, most of the damage to U.S. battleships had already occurred. Many American vessels were destroyed, as well as over 180 aircraft. There was a total of more than 3,400 U.S. casualties, including more than 2,300 killed. Compared to the less than 100 men that the Japanese, this was quite a loss. U.S. President Roosevelt, used this event to unify the public and removed any previous support for staying neutral in the war. The next day, Congress declared war on Japan after an almost unanimous vote. If the Japanese had not attack, the U.S. may have remained neutral for the duration of the war, preventing them from offering the crucial aide they did to England later on.

The Holocaust Death Camps (1941-1945)

The Germans began mass transport of Jewish people to concentration camps in late 1941. First they took those who were deemed the least useful, such as the sick, the old, and the very young, but as the war went on they became less picky about which Jewish people they took. On March 17th, 1942, the first mass gassing began, leading to the building of five more mass killing centres; this included the most noteworthy: Auschwitz-Birkenau. At Auschwitz alone, more than 2 million people were murdered, and as many as 12,000 Jews were killed every day. A total of approximately 6 million European Jews fell at the hands of the German Nazi regime during the Second World War, leaving a lasting wound that did not easily heal. This was a horrific chapter in world history that devastated most European Jewish communities and eliminated hundreds of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe entirely.

The Battle of Midway (June 3rd - June 6th, 1942)

The Battle of Midway was a naval battle fought almost entirely with aircraft. During this battle, the United States was able to destroy Japan's first-line carrier strength and most of its best trained naval pilots. The Battle of Midway helped to end the threat of further Japanese invasion in the Pacific. It marked a turning point in the military struggle between Japan and the United States and began paving the way towards American victory.

Dieppe Raid (August 19th, 1942)

The Dieppe Raid was a pivotal moment in World War II, and one of the most devastating and bloody moments in Canadian military history. Continental Europe was primarily under German occupation, making the discovery of a method to create an Allied foothold on the continent crucial. Thus, Operation Jubilee, with attacks on five different points of the French coast, was carried out. The Eastern Flank resulted in a heavy toll suffered by the Canadian battalion, and its failure to clear the eastern headland allowed the Germans to defend the Dieppe beaches and nullify the main frontal attack. The Western Flank, however, was a greater success as the operation was able to maintain some element of surprise. Although, it did still result in significant losses and an eventual surrender. The main attack was made along the pebble beach in front of Dieppe and was timed to take place thirty minutes later than the flank assaults. The Germans were well prepared for the Canadian troops and all attempts to breach the seawall were met with machine-gun fire. Overall, the attack resulted in tremendous Allied loss, despite providing useful information to be studied carefully for the planning of later attacks. The Raid on Dieppe provided invaluable lessons that led to the success of the D-Day invasion in 1944, and saved the lives of many.

D-Day (June 6th, 1944)

D-Day marked the beginning of the Battle of Normandy, which lasted until August 1944. Approximately 156,000 Canadian, British, and American forces landed on five beaches on the coast of France's Normandy region. This invasion was one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history, and was made possible by a large deception designed to mislead Germans about the intended target. By late August 1944, all of Northern France had been liberated. This battle eventually resulted in the liberation of all of Western Europe from Nazi Germany's control, leading some to consider the landings at Normandy the beginning of the end of the war in Europe.

Battle of the Philippine Sea (July 19th - July 20th, 1944)

The Battle of the Philippine Sea was a major naval battle of World War II that resulted in the severe crippling of the Imperial Japanese Navy's ability to conduct large-scale carrier actions. This was a very fast-paced battle with significantly greater losses for Japan than the United States of America. The Japanese lost nearly 500 aircraft, and their naval aviation never recovered from this blow. All that remained was a few surviving carriers that could only be used as a decoy force. It was not known at first just what the impact of this battle was, however it weakened Japan terribly and allowed for easier American victory later on.

Battle of the Bulge (December 16th, 1944 - January 16th, 1945)

The Battle of the Bulge was the largest battle fought on the Western Front in Europe during the Second World War, as well as the largest battle ever fought by the United States Army. The Germans were attempting to drive a wedge between the American and the British armies in France and recapture the port of Antwerp in the Netherlands to deny the Allies use of the port facilities. They managed to create a bulge in the American lines that was 50 miles wide and 70 miles deep and had planned the timing of the attack in hopes that the weather would slow down the opposition, which it did, however not to the extent they originally thought. The bad weather conditions ended up slowing down the Germans as well, which messed with their timetable. This, in addition to their shortage of fuel and the relief of the besieged town of Bastogne, proved fatal to Hitler's plans. This was the last Nazi offensive and even though it almost pushed the Allies out of Europe, it encouraged the Allies to strengthen their defenses, resulting in German defeat.

The Captures of Iwo Jima and Okinawa (February 19th - June 21st, 1945)

By February 1945, the United States had gained much from the battles of the Pacific, however two small islands remained that were crucial to an invasion of Japan: Iwo Jima and Okinawa. They were only 750 miles from major military and political targets, and their capture would bring the city of Tokyo within the range of American B-29 bombs. On February 19th, the US marines advanced on the island of Iwo Jima and had placed the American flag on the top of Mount Suribachi after four days, however it took them until the end of March to fully secure the island. Only 200 of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers deployed survived to be taken prisoner, as their incredible honor drove them to committing suicide (seppuku). On April 1st, following the victory of Iwo Jima, American units landed along the western coast of the island of Okinawa. By late June, the US forces were able to overrun the Japanese opposition, securing the second critical island they needed to be in a position of power over Japan. The result of these battles, and the tactics used by the Japanese during the battles, left little doubt that the end of the war was near.

Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6th, 1945 and August 9th, 1945)

On the morning of August 6th, 1945, an American B-29 bomber dropped the world's first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The resulting explosion killed 80,000 people on the spot and destroyed 90 percent of the city. The radiation exposure later killed tens of thousands more. Despite the complete and utter devastation, Japan refused to surrender, thus the second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki on August 9th (Nagasaki was the secondary target, but due to a lack of visibility over Kokura, the destination of the bomb was changed). Between 40,000 and 75,000 people died immediately and nearly half the city was destroyed. The outcome of these bombs was the surrender of Japan, as the bombs were a new cruel and weapon that had the power for mass destruction, and even the immense honor of the Japanese could not match it.

Operation Paperclip (formally approved by President Truman on September 3rd, 1946)

Operation Paperclip was the the secret intelligence program that brought Nazi scientists to America after the war ended. Henry Wallace, former vice president, believed the scientists' ideas could kick-start new industries and create jobs. Indeed, the German scientists developed synthetic rubber (used in tires for automobiles), hosiery that did not run, an ear thermometer, electromagnetic tape, miniaturized electrical components, and many more useful inventions. The most noteworthy result of bringing the Nazi scientists to the United States, however, was their contribution to the American space exploration efforts. Wernher Von Braun is credited with the invention of the Saturn V, a spacecraft built to send people to the moon. In addition, Hubertus Strughold developed space suits and other life support systems that eventually allowed for the relatively safe travel of humans into space. The advancements made with the help of these scientists were revolutionary and raised America's global standing.


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