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War Stories
A Narrative History of World War 2
Day-by-Day

September 1-10, 1939


September 1, 1939
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September 2, 1939
Poland calls on France and Britain to begin military action against Germany as soon as possible.
Gibraltar -- The first British convoy of the war leaves for Cape Town.
Two Polish divisions are destroyed in an attempt to pull back through the [Polish] Corridor. A Polish cavalry brigade was shattered when mounted lancers attacked German tanks.
Italy proposes a conference of the five great powers to discuss the outbreak of war. Britain refuses further talks while German troops remain in Poland.
British bomber squadrons begin deploying in France.
Ireland proclaims its neutrality.
Germany promises to respect Norwegian neutrality.
September 3, 1939
France and Britain give Germany an ultimatum to withdraw from Poland. Hitler blames Britain for encouraging the Poles to pursue a policy of provocation, whereupon Britain, France, India, Australia and New Zealand declare war on Germany.
Some Polish units penetrate East Prussia, but their positions are untenable as German pincer movements cut them off from the south. The Polish air forces ceases to exist as an effective fighting element.
Britain announces a blockade of Germany. Winston Churchill is made First Lord of the Admiralty. (Word of Churchill's appointment is flashed to all Royal Navy ships and installations with the simple message: "Winston is back.")
British RAF aircraft drop 6,000,000 leaflets on cities in northern Germany and the Ruhr in the first of many propaganda raids.
The British passenger liner Athenia is torpedoed and sunk west of Scotland enroute to Canada. No warning is given by the attacking U-boat commander, contradicting specific orders from Hitler. (Berlin, after initially denying German responsibility, learned later in the month the captain of U-30 did attack Athenia, mistaking it for an armed merchant cruiser .... Of the 1,400 passengers, 118 were killed ,including 28 of the 316 Americans aboard.)
Belgium declares its neutrality.
September 4, 1939
In Japan, the new prime minister, Nobuyuki Abe, promises to keep out of the war in Europe.
Seven RAF aircraft are lost in near-disastrous raids on Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbuttel. Only eight of the 27 RAF bombers on the raid manage to locate German naval bases.
The Polish Army of Poznan is threatened with encirclement. Polish government officials are told to prepare to evacuate Warsaw.
Advance units of the British Expeditionary Force begin landing in France.
Spain declares its neutrality, but Franco secretly pedges support for the Axis.
September 5, 1939
In Poland, German troops enter Piotrkow and set fire to the Jewish district.
The Polish government evacuates Warsaw and heads for Lublin.
Units of the German Tenth and Fourteenth Armies cross the Vistula and occupy Krakow. Hitler visits the front. German losses thus far: 150 men killed and 700 wounded.
Polish rearguard units and armed civilians put up a stubborn resistance but finally yield to the German III Corps at Bydgoszcz. It is discovered that hundreds of German residents of the cities were massacred by the fleeing Poles -- an atrocity Hitler uses to justify the invasion.
In South Africa, the legislature defeats a proposal that the country (which contains many of Dutch descent who are sympathetic to Nazi Germany and its racial policies) declare its neutrality. General Jan Christian Smuts is named prime minister.
The United States declares its neutrality.
September 6, 1939
Polish soldiers and civilians are told to cross the Vistula and help establish a new line of defense in the east. German troops reach the Warsaw suburb of Ochota but are turned back.
Britain's first air raid warning turns out to be a false alarm. RAF planes end up shooting at one another, and two Hurricanes are shot down.
South African Prime Minister Jan Christian Smuts declares war on Germany.
September 7, 1939
As a result of the Athenia sinking, Hitler orders the German Navy not to torpedo passenger steamers or to attack French warships and merchant vessels, or lay mines off the French coast. He clearly hopes to maintain a peace with France and the United States, if not Britain, for the time being.
The Polish enclave of Westerplatte in Danzig surrenders to the Germans.
In Germany, the death penalty is decreed for "anyone endangering the defensive  power of the German people."
September 8, 1939
President Roosevelt declares a state of "limited national emergency," claiming that the war in Europe "imposes on the United States certain duties with respect to the proper observance, safeguarding and enforcement" of its neutrality. All military forces are authroized to increase enlistments and the president can recall reservists to active duty.
60,000 Polish soldiers are encircled west of Radom. The German 4th Panzer Division smashes its way into the outskirts of Warsaw. Polish units counterattack near Kutno, beginning a week of bitter fighting for the Polish capital.
Britain broadens its announced blockade of September 3, accusing Germany of unrestricted submarine warfare.
September 9, 1939
The last of the 13 RAF squadrons that began posting to France on the 4th arrive in support of the British Expeditionary Force.
Luftwaffe chief Goering threatens reprisals if the RAF bombs Germany, and boasts that Berlin will never suffer aerial attack.
French troops advance across the border and occupy three square miles of German territory in the Warndt Forest, a move made for propaganda rather than military reasons.
German panzers are turned back west of Warsaw. Soviet foreign minister Molotov prematurely congratulates Berlin on the capture of Warsaw.
September 10, 1939
Canada declares war on Germany. The delay allowed Canada to receive the accelerated delivery of American war goods which were prohibited by American neutrality laws once Canada became a belligerent.
Polish forces counterattack German troops along the River Bzura near Poznan.


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