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War Stories
A Narrative History of World War 2
Timeline
1939


WAR NEWS
Joachim von Ribbentrop
 The Jewish Question (January)
"The spread of Jewish influence and its corruption of our political, economic, and cultural life has perhaps done more to undermine the German people's will to prevail than all the hostility shown us by the Allied powers since the Great War. This disease in the body of our people had first to be eradicated before the Great German Reich could assemble its forces in 1938 to overcome the will of the world."



On March 14 Slovakia declares itself independent of Czechoslovakia and under the protection of Germany. On March 15 German troops cross the Czech frontier and Hitler proclaims the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
On March 21 Germany renews it demands on Poland: (1) the restoration to Germany of Danzig; (2) agreement to the construction of a road and railway between Germany and East Prussia across the Polish Corridor; and (3) long-term guarantees of the new territorial borders. Poland reinforces its military units garrisoned in the Corridor.
The Spanish Civil War ends on March 28 when Madrid falls to Francisco Franco. By late June Germany and Italy have withdrawn their forces. Spain will remain neutral during the war. At least 400,000 Spaniards have perished during the civil war, many due to starvation, disease and execution.
On March 31 Britain and France jointly declare that they will guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of Poland against any aggressors.
On April 7 Italian forces occupy Albania.
On April 13 Britain and France guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of Greece and Rumania.
On April 20, Hitler's 50th birthday is celebrated by the most impressive military parade ever seen in Germany. Eight days later, in a speech at the Reichstag, Hitler denounces the ten-year non-aggression pact between Germany and Poland and demands the return of Danzig to Germany.
On May 13 the SS St. Louis leaves Hamburg with 937 Jewish refugees from Nazi oppression and is the last major shipload to leave before the war begins. The passenger list has been approved by Joseph Goebbels; all passengers hold seemingly valid Cuban visas, but they are refused admission at Havana. The United States refuses admittance to the passengers of the St. Louis, which heads back for Germany. Britain, France, Belgium, and Holland agree at the last moment to admit the refugees, most of whom will die in the next 6 years. President Roosevelt tries to organize facilities for Jewish emigration at an international conference held at Evian, but nothing is accomplished. The United Jewish Appeal is established in New York to raise funds for Jewish relief.
On May 17 a British White Paper repudiates the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Britain, which rules Palestine under a League of Nations mandate, limits admissions of Jews to 50,000 for the next 5 years. While the White Paper does authorize admission of 25,000 Jewish refugees, it envisions the establishment of an independent nation that will be predominantly Arab with Jewish immigration restricted.
On May 22 the German and Italian foreign ministers sign the so-called Pact of Steel, uniting the interests of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
On August 23, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union sign a mutual nonaggression pact. Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, signs the pact with Josef Stalin's commissar of foreign affairs, V.M. Molotov.
The German newspapers and radio, orchestrated with comsummate mastery by Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, spread false rumors about the persecution of Germans in Poland. On August 25 the German training ship Schleswig-Holstein drops anchor in the port of Danzig.
Learning of the German-Soviet nonaggression pact, Tokyo scraps the anti-Comintern pact of 1936. Japan and Russia have been in conflict since May over the borders of Manchuria and Mongolia.
On September 1 German troops and aircraft attack Poland.
On September 3 Britain and France declare war on Germany. A U-boat sinks the British ship Athenia off the Irish coast. Among the 112 lost are 28 Americans. HMS Courageous is sunk September 19. India, Australia and New Zealand also declare war on Germany.
On September 17 Soviet troops invade Poland from the east. Warsaw surrenders to the Germans on September 27, and Poland is partitioned by Germany and Russia on September 28.
The Jewish population of Europe is 9.5 million but will decline sharply in the next 6 years. Few will escape the Holocaust that begins now for Czechoslovakian and Polish Jews who suffer at the hands of the Nazis as German and Austrian Jews have suffered for the past year and more.
In the United States, former president Herbert Hoover leads the nonintervention movement with support from Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Sen. Harry F. Byrd (D-Va.), Sen. William Borah (R.-Idaho) and aviator Charles Lindbergh. In a radio address on September 17, Lindbergh argues that Stalin is as much a danger as Hitler.
Romanian premier Armand Calineseu is assassinated September 21 by members of the Fascist group, the Iron Guard.
A British expeditionary force of 158,000 arrives in France by late September.
On October 1, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill gives a radio address during which he says "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
Soviet troops invade Finland on November 30.
The German pocket battleship Graf Spee sinking in Montevideo harbor
In the Battle of the River Plate, December 13, the British cruiser HMS Exeter sustains heavy damage from the German pocket battleship Graf Spee. The Graf Spee is cornered in Montevideo Harbor by HMS Ajax and HMNZS Achilles, and is scuttled by her crew on December 17 by orders of Adolf Hitler.
RELATED NEWS
Albert Einstein
A letter to President Roosevelt
"[T]he element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the near future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. In the course of the last four months it has been made almost certain ... that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of radium-like elements would be generated .... This new phenomenon would lead also to the construction of bombs."
John Ray Dunning's cyclotron splits an atom for the first on January 25 at Columbia University's Pupin Physics Laboratory, suggesting the possibility of self-sustaining nuclear fission. Enrico Fermi, Hungarian-American physicist Leo Szilard, Dunning and others repeat the experiment March 3. The nuclear research at Columbia confirms European findings that the absorption of a neutron by a uranium nucleus sometimes causes the nucleus to split into approximately equal parts with the release of enormous amounts of energy.
After being informed that German physicists have split the uranium nucleus by assaulting it with neutrons, President Roosevelt establishes an Advisory Committee on Uranium.
The first turbojet aircraft is tested August 24 at Rostock-Marienehe and demonstrated in October for top Luftwaffe officials. British aircraft designers work on a jet plane that uses a turbojet engine designed in 1930 by Frank Whittle, whose Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 will be test flown for the first time in mid-May 1941.
American chemist Bradley Dewey opens a pilot plant for making synthetic rubber. It has conducted research on rubber-like elastomers and will complete one of the first U.S. synthetic rubber plants in 1942.
"This is London," says CBS correspondent Edward R. Murrow, who ends his broadcasts with the tagline "Goodnight and good luck." Morrow's will become the best known voice on U.S. radio in the next 7 years.
Britain imposes the rationing of meat, bacon, cheese, fats, sugar and preserves, allocating supplies equally and keeping prices at levels people can afford. Britain is the largest buyer of food on the world market.
OTHER NEWS
The Daughters of the American Revolution refuse to rent Constitution Hall (Washington, DC) for a concert by black contralto Marian Anderson. Eleanor Roosevelt is among the DAR members who resign in protest. An audience of 75,000 is on hand for Anderson's Easter Sunday performance at the Lincoln Memorial.
Even though the number of unemployed men and women in the U.S. has declined from 15 million in 1933 to 9.5 million, 17% of the American work force remains unemployed.
General Electric introduces flourescent lighting, which is more energy-efficient than incandescent.
The first commercial transatlantic passenger air service is launched June 28 when 22 passengers and 12 crewmembers take off from Port Washington, NY for Marseilles via the zores aboard the Pan American Airways Yankee Clipper, a Boeing aircraft powered by four 1,550-hp Wright Cyclone engines. The plane has separate passenger cabins, a dining salon, ladies' dressing room, recreation lounge, sleeping berths and a bridal suite. The flight takes 26.5 hours. The one-way fare: $375.
Howard Hughes buys the Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) from the Wall Street banking house Lehman Brothers.
The first American-made helicopter is flown by Igor Sikorsky, who has made the craft for United Aircraft at Bridgeport, Conn.
Nylon is introduced commercially by E.I. du Pont. The first nylon stockings hit the market in 1940.
A rabies epidemic begins in Poland among wild mammals as well as dogs and cows. It will spread to Germany by 1950, and the first case of a rabid dog in more than 50 years in Britain will be reported in 1969.
Some 27.5 million U.S. families have radios, up from 10 million in 1929, and 45 million sets are in use in the United States. FM radio receivers go on sale for the first time.
Batman is launched by DC Comics artist Bob Kane, 18, and will soon be syndicated in newspapers.
Grandma Moses becomes famous virtually overnight after art collector Louis Caldor sees her work in a drugstore window at Hoosick Falls, NY. Caldor buys all fifteen of the artist's paintings and exhibits them at the new Museum of Modern Art.
Pocket Books, Inc. brings the British-born paperback revolution to America with 25-cent reprints of major and minor literary classics.
Literature published in 1939: Finnegans Wake, James Joyce; On the Marble Cliffs, Ernst Junger; The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck; The Day of the Locust, Nathaniel West; Night Rider, Robert Penn Warren; How Green Was My Valley, Richard Lewellyn; Mrs. Miniver, Jan Struther; Tropic of Capricorn, Henry Miller; Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Katherine Anne Porter; The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler; "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," James Thurber, New Yorker.
On the Stage: The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman starring Tallulah Bankhead and Dan Duryea; The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry starring Katharine Hepburn and Joseph Cotton; The Man Who Came to Dinner by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart; The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan starring Gene Kelly and Celeste Holm; Key Largo by Maxwell Anderson starring Jose Ferrer and Paul Muni.
 
Films: Gone With the Wind starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable; Destry Rides Again starring James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich; Gunga Din starring Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington starring James Stewart; Of Mice and Men starring Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney, Jr.; Stagecoach starring John Wayne and Claire Trevor; Wuthering Heights starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon; Dark Victory starring Bette Davis; The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce; The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring Charles Laughton; The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland.
Popular songs: "There'll Always Be an England," Ross Parker and Hughie Clark; "I'll Never Smile Again," Ruth Lowe; "Moonlight Serenade," Glenn Miller; "In the Mood," Joe Garland and Andy Razaf; "All or Nothing at All," Arthur Altman and Jack Lawrence; "South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)," Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr; "Heaven Can Wait," Jimmy Van Heusen and Eddie De Lange; "We'll Meet Again," Hugh Charles.
New Jersey roadhouse singer Frank Sinatra joins a new band formed by Harry James.
Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees is stricken with a rare and fatal form of paralysis (amyotropic lateral schlerosis) and bids a tearful farewell to Yankee fans July 4, retiring with a lifetime batting average of .340. The Boston Red Sox bring up outfielder Ted Williams. The New York Yankees defeat the Cincinnati Reds to win the World Series four games to none. A Baseball Hall of Fame is established at Cooperstown, NY.
Gangster Al Capone, his mind destroyed by syphilis, is released from Alcatraz and retires to his Miami Beach estate.
General Foods introduces the first precooked frozen foods. Lays potato chips are introduced by Atlanta's H.W. Lay Co. National Presto Industries markets the pressure cooker.
Cup-sizing for brassieres is introduced by Warner Brothers of Bridgeport, Conn.


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