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§South Africa

September 6 – World War II: South Africa declares war on Germany.



June 14 – Tientsin Incident: The Japanese blockade the British concession in Tianjin, China, beginning a crisis which almost causes an Anglo-Japanese war in the summer of 1939.

August 20 – Armored forces under the command of Soviet General Georgi Zhukov deliver a decisive defeat to Japanese Imperial Army forces in the Japanese-Soviet border war in Inner Mongolia.


March 1 - A Japanese Imperial Army ammunition dump explosion on the outskirts of Osaka kills 94.


September 3 – World War II: The United Kingdom, France, New Zealand and Australia declare war on Germany.


April 7 - Italy invades Albania; King Zog flees.

Victor Emmanuel assumed the crown of the King of Albania. Italian forces invaded the nearly defenseless monarchy across the Adriatic Sea and caused King Zog I to flee. The Italian invasion of Albania was generally seen as the act of a stronger nation taking unfair advantage of a weaker neighbour.


December 26 – Miners strike in Borinage, Belgium.


November 17 – To punish protests against the Nazi occupation of the Czech homeland, the Nazis murder 9 Czech graduate students, send over 1200 to concentration camps, and close all Czech universities.


October 12 – Jüri Uluots becomes prime minister of Estonia.


While most of the German army was fighting against Poland, a much smaller German force manned the fortified defensive lines along the French border (Westwall). At the Maginot Line on the other side of the border, British and French troops stood facing them, but there were only some local skirmishes.

January 26 - In Paris, French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet, in response to rumours (which are true) that he is seeking to end the French alliance system in Eastern Europe, gives a speech highlighting his government's commitment to the cordon sanitaire.

April 14 - At a meeting in Paris, French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet meets with Soviet Ambassador Jakob Suritz, and suggests that a “peace front” comprising France, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, Poland and Romania would deter Germany from war.

June 17 – In the last public guillotining in France, murderer Eugen Weidmann is decapitated by the guillotine.


January 27 - Adolf Hitler orders Plan Z, a 5-year naval expansion programme intended to provide for a huge German fleet capable of crushing the Royal Navy by 1944. The Kriegsmarine is given the first priority on the allotment of German economic resources. (the first and only time the Kriegsmarine is given first priority in the history of the Third Reich).

January 30 - Hitler gives a speech before the Reichstag calling for an "export battle" to increase German foreign exchange holdings. The same speech also sees Hitler's “prophecy” where he warns that if "Jewish financers" start a war against Germany, the "...result will be the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe".

February 6 - In a response to Georges Bonnet's speech of January 26th, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, referring to Bonnet’s alleged statement of December 6, 1938 accepting Eastern Europe as being in Germany’s exclusive sphere of influence, protests that all French security commitments in that region are “now off limits”. On September 3, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany, followed quickly by Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The French mobilized slowly and then mounted only a token offensive in the Saar, which they soon abandoned, while the British could not take any direct action in support of the Poles in the time available (see Western betrayal).

March 13 - Hitler advises Jozef Tiso to declare Slovakia's independence in order to prevent its partition by Hungary and Poland.

April 3 - Adolf Hitler orders the German military to start planning for Fall Weiss, the codename for the invasion of Poland.

April 28 - In a speech before the Reichstag, Adolf Hitler renounces the Anglo-German Naval Agreement and the German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact.

July 4 – The Neuengamme concentration camp becomes autonomous.

July 6 – The last remaining Jewish enterprises in Germany are closed by the Nazis.

August 25 – Adolf Hitler postpones Fall Weiss for 5 days, due to a message from Benito Mussolini that he will not honor the Pact of Steel if Germany attacks Poland in 1939, and to the failure of Chamberlain's government to fall because of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.

August 26 – The Kriegsmarine orders all German-flagged merchant ships to head to German ports immediately in anticipation of the invasion of Poland.

November 8 – In Munich, Adolf Hitler narrowly escapes an assassination attempt by Georg Elser while celebrating the 16th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch.

§Great Britain

January 23 – “Dutch War Scare”: Admiral Wilhelm Canaris of the Abwehr leaks misinformation to the effect that Germany plans to invade the Netherlands in February, with the aim of using Dutch air-fields to launch a strategic bombing offensive against Britain. The “Dutch War Scare” leads to a major change in British policies towards Europe.

February 6 - British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain states in the House of Commons that any German attack on France will be automatically considered an attack on Britain.

March 17 - British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gives a speech in Birmingham, stating that Britain will oppose any effort at world domination on the part of Germany.

April 13 - Britain offers a "guarantee" to Romania and Greece.

May 6 - Carl Friedrich Goerdeler tells the British government that the German and Soviet governments are secretly beginning a rapprochement with the aim of dividing Eastern Europe between them. Goerdeler also informs the British of German economic problems which he states threaten the survival of the Nazi regime, and advises that if a firm stand is made for Poland, then Hitler will be deterred from war.

The British government issues the White Paper of 1939, sharply restricting Jewish immigration to the Palestine Mandate.


February 2 - Hungary joins the Anti-Comintern Pact.

April 11 - Hungary leaves the League of Nations.


September 2 - Ireland declares its neutrality.


November 8 – Venlo Incident: Two British agents of SIS are captured by the Germans.

British agents had met supposed German officers who said that they were plotting against Hitler in the Dutch town of Venlo, eight kilometres from the border of Germany. German agents who adopted the guise of refugees in the Netherlands, but who actually worked for the SD and Gestapo, arranged the meeting. One of them was named Walter Schellenberg. Their inte

§Papal States

March 2 - Pope Pius XII (Cardinal Pacelli) succeeds Pope Pius XI as the 260th pope.


On September 1, Germany invaded Poland using the false pretext of a faked "Polish attack" on a German border post.

On September 8, the Germans reached Warsaw, having slashed through the Polish defenses.

On September 17, the Soviet Union, pursuant to its secret agreement with Germany, invaded Poland from the east, throwing Polish defences into chaos by opening the second front. A day later, both the Polish president and commander-in-chief fled to Romania. On October 1, hostile forces, after a one-month siege of Warsaw, entered the city. The last Polish units surrendered on October 6. Poland, however, never officially surrendered to the Germans. Some Polish troops evacuated to neighboring countries. In the aftermath of the September Campaign, occupied Poland managed to create a powerful resistance movement and contributed significant military forces to the Allies for the duration of World War II.

This first attack was followed by The Phony War, or in Winston Churchill's words the "Twilight War", which was a phase in early World War II marked by few military operations in Continental Europe, in the months following the German invasion of Poland and preceding the Fall of France. Although the great powers of Europe had declared war on one another, neither side had yet committed to launching a significant attack, thus there was relatively little fighting on the ground. The term has equivalents in many other languages, notably the German Sitzkrieg ("sitting war," a pun on Blitzkrieg), the French drôle de guerre ("funny war" or "strange war," drôle having two meanings) and the Polish dziwna wojna ("strange war"). In Britain the period was even referred to as the "Bore War" (a pun on "Boer War").

The British Royal Air Force dropped propaganda leaflets on Germany and the first Canadian troops stepped ashore in Britain, while western Europe was in a strange calm for seven months. Meanwhile, the opposing nations clashed in the Norwegian Campaign. In their hurry to re-arm, Britain and France had both begun buying weapons from manufacturers in the USA at the outbreak of hostilities, supplementing their own productions. The United States, technically neutral in the war effort, contributed to the Western Allies by discounted sales, and, later, lend-lease, of military equipment and supplies. It should be noted that in the 1930s, private companies in Britain and the US were also supplying Germany, without government sanction. Engines of a few German fighters were made in Britain and raw materials were being sold in America to Germany. German efforts to interdict the Allies' trans-Atlantic trade at sea ignited the Second Battle of the Atlantic.

August 30 – Poland begins a mobilization against Nazi Germany.

September 1 – World War II: Nazi Germany invades Poland, beginning World War II in Europe. The German navy fires on Danzig.

September 2 - Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) is annexed to Nazi Germany.

September 17 – World War II: The Soviet Union invades Poland and then occupies eastern Polish territories.

September 22 – World War II: Joint victory parade of Wehrmacht and Red Army in Brest-Litovsk at the end of the Invasion of Poland.

September 28 – World War II: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agree on a division of Poland after their invasion.

September 28 – World War II: Warsaw surrenders to Germany; Modlin surrenders a day later; the last Polish large operational unit surrenders near Kock 8 days later.

October 8 – World War II: Germany annexes Western Poland.

November 6 – World War II – Sonderaktion Krakau: Germans take action against scientists from the University of Kraków and other Kraków universities at the beginning of World War II.


October 14 – The German U-Boat U-47 sinks the British battleship HMS Royal Oak.

December 12 – World War II HMS Duchess sinks after a collision with HMS Barham off the coast of Scotland with the loss of 124 men.


March 14 - The Slovak provincial assembly proclaims independence; priest Jozef Tiso becomes the president of the independent Slovak government.

March 15 - German troops occupy the remaining part of Bohemia and Moravia; Czechoslovakia ceases to exist. The Ruthenian region of Czechoslovakia declares independence as Carpatho-Ukraine.

April 4 - The Slovak-Hungarian War ends with Slovakia ceding eastern territories to Hungary.


January 26 - Spanish Civil War: Spanish Nationalist troops, aided by Italy, take Barcelona.

February 10 - Spanish Nationalists complete their offensive in Catalonia.

February 27 - The United Kingdom and France recognize Franco's government.

March 28 - Dictator Francisco Franco assumes power in Madrid.

April 1 - The Spanish Civil War comes to an end when the last of the Republican forces surrender.

May 7 - Spain leaves the League of Nations.

September 2 - Impoverished by its own civil war, Spain declares its neutrality.


December 27 – The 1939 Erzincan earthquake in Eastern Anatolia, Turkey, kills 30,000.


In Bombay, Mohandas Gandhi begins to fast in protest of the autocratic rule in India.

May 3 - The All India Forward Bloc is formed by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

July 23 – Mahatma Gandhi the spiritual leader from India writes a personal letter to Adolf Hitler addressing him "My friend", requesting to prevent any possible war.

§Middle East


April 4 - Faisal II becomes King of Iraq.


March - The 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine ends.

§North America


May 17 - King George VI and Queen Elizabeth arrive in Quebec City to begin the first-ever tour of Canada by Canada's monarch.

September 10 – World War II: Canada declares war on Germany.

§United States

January 5 - Amelia Earhart is officially declared dead after her disappearance.

February 21 - The Golden Gate International Exposition opens in San Francisco, California.

April 30 - The 1939 New York World's Fair opens.

The Great Depression, started in 1929 continues in the United States.

May 2 – Batman, created by Bob Kane (and, unofficially, Bill Finger) makes his first appearance in a comic book.

Major League Baseball's Lou Gehrig, the legendary Yankee first baseman known as "The Iron Horse", ends his 2,130 consecutive games played streak after contracting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The record stands for 56 years before Cal Ripken, Jr. plays 2,131 consecutive games.

June 4 – The S.S. St. Louis, a ship carrying a cargo of 907 Jewish refugees, is denied permission to land in Florida after already having been turned away from Cuba. Forced to return to Europe, most of its passengers later die in Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.

August 2 – Albert Einstein writes President Franklin Roosevelt about developing the atomic bomb using uranium. This leads to the creation of the Manhattan Project.

August 15 – MGM's classic musical film The Wizard of Oz, based on L. Frank Baum's famous novel, and starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, premieres at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

The Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer story was created by copyrighter Robert L. May. May moved to Chicago and took a job as a low-paid in-house advertising copywriter for Montgomery Ward. In early 1939, May’s boss at Montgomery Ward asked him to write a “cheery” Christmas book for shoppers and suggested that an animal be the star of the book. Montgomery Ward had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money and be a nice good-will gesture.

May’s (Jewish) wife, Evelyn, had contracted cancer in 1937 and was quite ill as he started on the book in early 1939. May "drew on memories of his own painfully shy childhood when creating his Rudolph stories." He decided on making a deer the central character of the book because his then 4-year-old daughter, Barbara, loved the deer in the Chicago zoo. He ran verses and chapters of the Rudolph poem by Barbara to make sure they entertained children. The final version of the poem was first read to Barbara and his wife’s parents.

Evelyn May died in July, 1939. His boss offered to take him off the book assignment in light of his wife’s death. May refused and completed the poem in August, 1939. The Rudolph poem booklet was first distributed during the 1939 holiday season. Shoppers loved the poem and 2.4 million copies were distributed. War time restrictions on paper use prevented a re-issue until 1946. In that year, another 3.6 million copies were distributed to Montgomery Ward shoppers.

September 5 – World War II: The United States declares its neutrality in the war.

December 15 – The film Gone with the Wind, starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard, premieres at Loew's Grand Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. It is based on Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel. It is the longest American film made up to that time (nearly four hours).

§U.S. Industry

September - After more than a decade long legal battle, RCA finally conceded to a multi-year licensing agreement concerning Philo Farnsworth's 1927 patent for Television totaling $1 million. RCA was then free, after showcasing electronic television at The New York World's Fair on April 20, 1939, to sell electronic television cameras to the public.

§U.S. Law

February 27 - Sit-down strikes are outlawed by the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Hatch Act of 1939 is a United States federal law whose main provision is to prohibit federal employees (civil servants) from engaging in partisan political activity. Named after Senator Carl Hatch of New Mexico, the law was officially known as An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities.

The act precluded federal employees from membership in "any political organization which advocates the overthrow of our constitutional form of government." During the Second Red Scare, this designation was interpreted to include communist and labor organizations.

November 4 – World War II: U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt orders the United States Customs Service to implement the Neutrality Act of 1939, allowing cash-and-carry purchases of weapons to non-belligerent nations.

November 15 – In Washington, D.C., U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt lays the cornerstone of the Jefferson Memorial.

November 16 – Al Capone is released from Alcatraz.

§U.S. Religion

After a separation of 109 years, the Methodist Episcopal Church in the U.S. was reunited. The Methodist Protestant Church had broken away in 1830 and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South had broken away in 1844. A majority of the Methodist Protestants were reunited with their fellow Methodists this year, and for that reason, the historic Methodist Protestant Church is regarded as one of the predecessors of the present-day United Methodist Church.

The Mississippi MPC delegation to the 1939 Uniting Conference withdrew from the proceedings, and the Conference was reorganized to continue as the Methodist Protestant Church in name, doctrine and practice.


§Soviet Union

April 18 - The Soviet Union proposes a "peace front" to resist aggression.

May 3 - Vyacheslav Molotov succeeds Maxim Litvinov as Soviet Foreign Commissar.

June 3 – The Soviet government offers its definition of what constitutes "aggression", upon which the projected Anglo-Soviet-French alliance will come into effect. The French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet accepts the Soviet definition of aggression at once. The British reject the Soviet definition, especially the concept of "indirect aggression", which they feel is too loose a definition and phrased in such a manner as to imply the Soviet right of inference in the internal affairs of nations of Eastern Europe.

August 23 – Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: Hitler and Stalin agree to divide Europe between themselves (Finland, Estonia, Latvia and eastern Poland to the USSR; Lithuania and western Poland to Germany).

September 16 – A ceasefire ends the undeclared Border War between The Soviet Union (and Mongolian allies) and Japan.

December 14 – The League of Nations expels the USSR for attacking Finland.


September 1 – World War II: Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland declare their neutrality.


November 30 – Winter War: Soviet forces attack Finland and reach the Mannerheim Line, starting the war.

The Soviet Union assaulted Finland on November 30th. Public opinion, particularly in France and Britain, found it easy to side emotionally with democratic Finland, and demanded from their governments effective actions in support of "the brave Finns" against the incomparably larger aggressor, the Soviet Union, particularly since the Finns' defence seemed so much more successful than that of the Poles during the September Campaign. As a consequence, the Soviet Union was excluded from the League of Nations, and a proposed Franco-British expedition to northern Scandinavia was much debated. British forces that began to be assembled to send to Finland's aid were not dispatched before the Winter War ended, and were sent to Norway's aid in the Battle of Norway, instead.


November 30 – Sweden declares non-belligerency in the Winter War.

§South America


January 24 - An earthquake kills 30,000 in Chile, and razes about 50,000 sq mi.

§Southeast Asia


The population of Phnom Penh City was 108,000 people, and the population of Cambodia was around 3,000,000 people.

§South Atlantic

The Battle of the River Plate (December 13, 1939) was the first major naval battle in World War II. The German pocket battleship (heavy cruiser) Admiral Graf Spee had been commerce raiding since the start of the war in September. It was found and engaged off the estuary of the River Plate off the coast of Argentina and Uruguay in South America by one of the hunting groups set up by the British Admiralty to search for the Graf Spee, comprising three smaller Royal Navy (RN) cruisers: HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles,[1] which was part of the RN's New Zealand Division. HMS Cumberland was also part of the hunting group, but she was refitting in the Falklands.

In the ensuing battle, Exeter was severely damaged and forced to retire, while all other ships received moderate damage. Ajax and Achilles then shadowed the Graf Spee which entered the neutral Uruguayan capital Montevideo. After Hans Langsdorff, the captain of the Graf Spee, was told that the limit of his stay could not be extended beyond 72 hours he scuttled his damaged ship - rather than face the overwhelmingly superior force that the British led him to believe had been assembled.

Although the actual engagement between the German and Allied forces could be regarded as a German victory in terms of losses, the following actions resulted in the overall battle being an Allied victory.


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