This map is part of a series of 15 animated maps showing the history of The second World War, 1939-1945.
On 1 September 1939, without a prior declaration of war, Hitler sent his troops into Poland. The Polish army, though providing strong resistance to the invading forces, was quickly overrun by Germany’s armoured divisions.
Two weeks later, USSR troops also entered Poland and occupied territories designated for Soviet control according to secret clauses in the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty.
- Warsaw surrendered on 28 September.
- Germany annexed the western part of the country.
- The USSR took over eastern Poland and controlled the Baltic countries. It then attacked Finland towards the end of November. Although the Finns could not match the Soviet forces in number, it was many months before the Red Army finally overcame resistance. Finland was forced to hand over parts of its territory along its eastern border and in particular the Karelian Isthmus.
In the West, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany on the day after the Polish invasion, but both countries waited several months before engaging in war.
In April 1940, the Allies decided to send an expeditionary force to Narvik on the Norwegian coast in an attempt to cut the Reich’s access to iron ore supplies. This force had to be quickly evacuated by sea following Germany’s lightening strike against Denmark and Norway.
On 10 May 1940, Germany launched its great western offensive against Belgium and the Netherlands.
French and British forces were moved northwards to meet this invasion, but soon found their rear cut off by the German forces marching through the Ardennes.
The Dutch army surrendered on 15 May, followed by the Belgian army on 28 May, while British and French troops had to be evacuated from Dunkirk with great difficulty, having abandoned all their equipment.
On 5 June, a second phase began with German armoured divisions moving southwards into France. By 15 June, they had entered Paris. On 17 June, General de Gaulle left France for London, while Marshal Pétain, who had just been nominated Head of State, called for an armistice.
Once France had been conquered, Germany launched a huge bombing campaign against Great Britain in preparation for an invasion.
But the German Luftwaffe failed to neutralize its British rival and Hitler had to abandon his invasion plans. He then ordered a submarine war in the Atlantic to cut off supply lines to the United Kingdom.
In the autumn, Germany’s ally Italy extended the conflict into Britain’s spheres of influence in the Mediterranean with attacks on Egypt and Greece.
Defeats on both fronts forced Mussolini to call on Hitler for support.
In April 1941, the German army occupied Yugoslavia and Greece. Crete was invaded and conquered in May giving Germany a base for attacking shipping movements in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In Libya, General Rommel’s Afrika Korps recaptured the eastern region of Cyrenaica, but failed to take Tobruk, a deep harbour of strategic importance, from its Australian defenders.