Established histories place the foundations of World War Two firmly in the events of 1918-1919, when the German nation is systematically humiliated by the victors of the so-called “War to End All Wars”. Their poor treatment, both real and perceived, sets the scene for everything that comes after. Bearing this in mind, we have included select events from the period before war is declared on September 3rd, 1939. This timeline concentrates on the events of the Western Front, but a few dates from other theaters of war are included for perspective’s sake.

Events within each year are arranged chronologically and, where possible, on a month-by-month basis.


Germany signs the armistice which ends World War One.


The Treaty of Versailles is signed by Germany.


The BBC transmits its first radio broadcast from London.


Germany signs the Locarno Treaties. It promises, amongst other things, never to invade France or Belgium again.


The Kellogg-Briand Pact is signed. The signatories, including Germany, France, Britain, and the United States, promise not to use war as a means of solving disputes.

The Reverend Montague Summers publishes the first English translation of the Malleus Maleficarum.


The Wall Street Crash: the fall of the American stock market leads to the Great Depression, affecting not only the United States, but also the rest of the world.


Britain’s Frank Whittle submits his first patent for the turbo-jet engine. He has the first prototype running by 1937.

André Maginot, French Minister of War, initiates the construction of a static line of defense, including concrete bunkers and machine gun posts, along France’s borders with Germany and Italy (the Maginot and Alpine Lines, respectively).

Adhesive tape is introduced by 3M in America under the name “Scotch Tape”.


Japan’s Kwantung army invades Manchuria in China, renaming it Manchukuo. In 1932 the army installs the last of the Manchu emperors, Puyi, the Xuantong Emperor, as a puppet leader.

The British Empire formally becomes the British Commonwealth with the signing of the Statute of Westminster. This enables many former colonial territories to establish self-rule whilst retaining British sovereignty.


Oswald Mosley founds the British Union of Fascists (BUF), also known as the Blackshirts.


Britain’s “National” Grid for electricity supply is established as the Central Electricity Board. However, the supply is patchy and does not cover the whole country.

Franklin D. Roosevelt becomes President of the United States; as part of his mandate, Roosevelt introduces the New Deal during his legendary “First Hundred Days”.

The Great Plains turn into the Dust Bowl.

Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany.

The first of Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” is broadcast, during which the President explains his policies using a mixture of anecdotes and carefully chosen, easily understood language.


Hitler takes absolute control of Germany after the death of President von Hindenburg.


The first canned beer becomes available in Richmond, Virginia, courtesy of the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company of Newark, New Jersey; the Felingfoel Brewery in Llanelli, Wales, introduces their own version to the UK much later in the year.

Robert Watson-Watt carries out a proof of concept test of Range and Direction Finding (RDF). The US Navy introduces the alternative term “RADAR” in 1940.

The Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance is signed, with a view to encircling Germany and keeping its power in check.

The first Neutrality Act is passed as part of America’s ongoing isolationist policy, enabling the President to prevent the shipment of arms to belligerent nations.


Charles Lindbergh makes the first of many trips to Germany, to report on the state of German aviation and the Luftwaffe; he is hood-winked by Hermann Göring into thinking that German aerial strength and development is far greater than it actually is. The German-American League is formed from the remnants of the American Nazi Party, with its own military arm and version of the Hitler Youth. Ordered in 1938 to refrain from using official Nazi symbols by the actual Nazi Party (NSDAP), the group is disbanded in 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Britain begins building the Chain Home Range and Direction Finding (RDF) station network, starting in the southeast and eventually covering the whole of the east coast. The network is rolled out to cover the west coast and Northern Ireland after the Fall of France in 1940.

The Rhineland Crisis: the re-militarization of the Rhineland by Germany in response to France and the Soviet Union’s mutual assistance agreement of 1935. Although this is in direct contravention of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties, Britain and France do nothing to oppose it.

The Spanish Civil War begins between the Republicans and Francisco Franco’s (Fascist) Nationalists. The war ends with Franco’s victory in April 1939.

Unemployed British workers march from Jarrow to London to highlight the plight of the northeast labor force after the town’s industry collapses as a result of the Great Depression.

BBC Television begins regular broadcasting from Alexandra Palace, London, expanding a limited service which began in 1932. Broadcasting is suspended at the outbreak of war in 1939.

The debonair and highly popular King Edward VIII abdicates the British throne having ruled for only 11 months, after Parliament refuses to sanction his marriage to American divorcée Wallis Simpson. His brother reluctantly becomes King George VI.


Amelia Earhart disappears somewhere over the Pacific as she attempts to complete her solo round-the-world flight.

Spam, a processed meat product, is introduced by the Hormel Food Company; it will not officially reach Britain until 1941, where it becomes a wartime staple.

British Air Raid Precautions (ARP) wardens are activated as a volunteer force. “Sellotape” is released in Britain, its name becoming synonymous over time with adhesive tape in general.

Germany begins to practice its aerial warfare tactics with the bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica, carried out by the _Luftwaffe_’s Condor Legion.

The third Neutrality Act is passed, covering the same terms as its predecessors, but also including a cash-and-carry policy for trading with selected belligerents.

The airship Hindenburg crashes as it attempts to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey; Herbert Morrison’s eye-witness radio broadcast rapidly becomes legendary.

Japan invades China after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, seeking to take control of the country’s material resources.


Theodore Obrig and John Mullen develop the first all-plastic contact lenses.

Sir John Anderson reveals the eponymous air raid shelter; given free to families earning under a certain annual income, production ceases in 1941 due to metal shortages.

Harry Price revives the Ghost Club as a dinner society for discussing supernatural encounters.

Austria is annexed by Germany in an event called the Anschluss.

Section D is established by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) to carry out sabotage and propaganda activities. It is housed in the Metropole Hotel, London.

The Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) is founded by Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading.

The Munich Agreement: Germany successfully acquires the Sudetenland, a German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia, after the French and British, desperate to avoid another war, accede to Hitler’s demands.

The Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) is formed. The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) is asked to set up the ATS’ Motor Drivers Company.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain delivers his “Peace for Our Time” speech on his return from Germany after the Munich Crisis.

The first edition of the weekly British photo-magazine_ Picture Post_ is published by Hulton Press.

Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds causes widespread panic in some parts of the United States.


Alan Turing designs the Bombe, based on an earlier Polish deciphering machine, to speed up the cracking of Enigma- encoded messages. British income tax rises several times to raise funds for the war effort.

Germany invades the rest of Czechoslovakia. Britain and France still do nothing.

Limited conscription is introduced for British men aged between twenty and twenty-two.

The Pact of Steel is signed between Germany and Italy, promising cooperation and support between the two nations.

The Radio Society of Great Britain and the Radio Security Service (RSS or MI8c) set up the Voluntary Interceptors (VI), a group of amateur radio enthusiasts charged with intercepting enemy transmissions in support of the official Y-station network.

In Britain, the unofficial evacuation of pregnant women, children, their mothers, and teachers from towns and cities begins.

British men aged twenty to twenty-one years of age are asked to register for the armed forces. Civil Defence exercises begin. The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) is formed, as is the Women’s Land Army (WLA).

The US Coast Guard Auxiliary is formed, and is initially known as the Reserve.

The Women’s Royal Naval Service (colloquially known as the Wrens) is reformed, having been disbanded at the end of World War One.

The German-Soviet (Molotov-Ribbentrop) Pact is signed, much to everyone’s surprise, given the well-documented Nazi hatred of communism.

Station X is established at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire. The Mass Observation project asks British people to record their daily lives in diary format. The Observer Corps is mobilized.


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