15. EASTERN EUROPE & RUSSIAN FRONT, 1939-45
1919 - Treaty of Versailles - Under its provisions, Germany is to be disarmed, the Rhineland occupied and reparations paid. At this time Poland is recreated from parts of Germany and Russia, as are other Central European states out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
1926 - The German Weimar Republic joins the league of Nations.
1933 - Following earlier Nazi Party election successes, Adolph Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany in January. He takes the country out of the League of Nations later in the year.
1934 - Russia joins the League of Nations. Meanwhile Hitler consolidates his power and in August proclaims himself Fuehrer.
1935 - Hitler introduces military conscription.
1936 March - German troops are sent to reoccupy the Rhineland
1938 March - German troops march into and annex Austria.
1939 March - Germany
completes its occupation of Czechoslovakia and takes back
Memel on the Baltic coast from Lithuania. Now Britain and
France guarantee Poland's independence. The Spanish Civil
War comes to an end.
Poland - After Germany invades Poland on the 1st, Britain and France demand the withdrawal of German forces. The ultimatum expires on the 3rd, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcasts to announce that Britain is at war with Germany.
Polish Campaign - As the Germans advance into Poland, Russia invades from the east on the 17th September. Warsaw surrenders to the German Army on the 28th and next day the country is partitioned in accordance with the Soviet-German Pact
Polish Campaign - With Poland partitioned between Germany and Russia, the last of the Polish Army surrenders on 5th October. Poland enters its long dark years of brutality and oppression.
Russo-Finnish War - Negotiations on border changes and control of islands in the Gulf of Finland break down and Russia invades on the 30th. Fiercely resisted by the small Finnish army, the war drags on to March 1940
Russo-Finnish War - Britain and France plan to send aid to Finland. This will allow them to occupy Narvik in northern Norway and cut back Swedish iron ore supplies to Germany.
Russo-Finnish War - A peace treaty on the 13th brings the war to a close, with Finland ceding the disputed territory to the Soviet Union.
Norway - Germany invades Norway on the 9th and within a few week totally subjugates the entire country including the Arctic North with its proximity to Finland and Soviet Russia
Norway - The surviving Norwegian troops surrender to the German Army on the 9th and the Norwegian Campaign is over. The Norwegian people will not be liberated until after the German surrender in May 1945. During that time, large German forces are maintained there at Hitlers command in case the Allies should invade.
France - France capitulates and the Franco-German surrender document is signed on the 22nd. Its provisions include German occupation of the Channel and Biscay coasts and demilitarisation of the French fleet under Axis control
Eastern Europe - Soviet Russia occupies the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. In July they are formally incorporated into the USSR. Russia also takes over parts of Rumania.
Russo-German Cooperation - Only 11 months before German attacks Russia, German raider Komet sails for the Pacific through the North East Passage across the top of Siberia with the aid of Russian icebreakers. She operates in the Pacific and Indian Oceans until returning to Germany in November 1941.
Eastern Europe - The Germans start planning the invasion of Russia.
Axis Powers - Germany, Italy and Japan sign the Tripartite Pact in Berlin on the 27th. They agree to jointly oppose any country joining the Allies at war - by which they mean the United States.
Eastern Europe - German troops occupy the Rumanian oilfields.
Balkans - On the 28th, the Italians invade Greece from points in Albania, but are soon driven back. Fighting continues on Albanian soil until April 1941.
Eastern Europe - Hungary and Rumania join the Axis Tripartite Pact on the 20th and 23rd. Only Yugoslavia and Bulgaria hold out against German pressure to become members; the only countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans not completely dominated by the Axis or Russia.
Eastern Europe - Hitler orders detailed planning for Operation 'Barbarossa' - the invasion of Russia.
Eastern Europe and Balkans - Bulgaria joins the Tripartite Pact on the 1st March and German troops march in. As of now, only Yugoslavia in the Balkans retains national independence
Yugoslavia - On the 25th Yugoslavia joins the Tripartite Pact, but two days later an anti-Nazi coup topples the Government.
Yugoslavia and Greece - Germany invades both countries on the 6th. By the 12th they enter Belgrade and within another five days the Yugoslav Army has surrendered. Greek forces in Albania and Greece suffer the same fate. Starting on the 24th over a period of five days, 50,000 British, Australian and New Zealand troops are evacuated to Crete and Egypt in Operation 'Demon'. The Germans occupy Athens on the 27th.
Far East - Five Year Neutrality Pact between Japan and Russia benefits both powers. Russia can free troops for Europe and Japan concentrate on expansion southwards.
Britain - Heavy raids on Belfast in Northern Ireland, the Scottish Clyde, Liverpool and especially London on the night of the 10th/11th mark the virtual end of the Blitz. The bulk of the Luftwaffe is now transferring east for the attack on Russia. RAF raids on Germany continue, and will grow as a major plank in British and Allied strategy for the defeat of Germany.
Malta - The transfer of many German aircraft from Sicily for the attack on Russia brings some relief to Malta.
Eastern Front - On the 22nd the German attack on Russia - Operation 'Barbarossa' - starts with the eventual aim of destroying the Russian Armies and occupying the whole of the country west of the line Archangel in the Arctic to the Caspian Sea. Germany and its Axis partners invade from the Baltic to the Black Sea:
Italy and Rumania declare war on Russia on the 22nd. Finland follows on the 26th and Hungary on the 27th.
The invasion of Russia soon leads to the introduction of the Russian or Arctic convoys with their dreadful conditions and after some months have elapsed, high losses in men and ships. However, the Royal Navy's presence in the Arctic is first made known in August when submarines start operating, with some success against German shipping supporting the Axis attack from Norway towards Murmansk. The port is never captured.
Conditions with these convoys are at the very least difficult. Both summer and winter routes are close to good German bases in Norway from which U-boats, aircraft and surface ships can operate. In the long winter months there is terrible weather and intense cold, and in summer, continual daylight. Many consider that no ships will get through. The first convoy sails in August and, by the end of the year, over 100 merchantmen have set out in both directions. Only one is lost to a U-boat. In 1942 the picture changes considerably.
Eastern Front - German forces advance in all sectors, and in the centre capture Minsk, capital of Byelorussia and surround Smolensk on the road to Moscow. Russian losses in men and material are immense.
On the 12th, an Anglo-Soviet Mutual Assistance Pact is signed in Moscow. Both countries agree not to seek separate peace negotiations with the Axis powers.
United States - Winston Churchill crosses the Atlantic to meet President Roosevelt off Argentia, Newfoundland between the 9th and 12th. Together they draft the Atlantic Charter setting out their aims for war and peace. This is signed by Britain, the United States and 13 Allied governments in September.
Eastern Front - The attack north on Leningrad continues. In the centre Smolensk is taken, but the drive on Moscow is halted. Instead German forces are directed south to help capture Kiev in the Ukraine.
Middle East - The possibility of a pro-Axis coup d'etat leads to Anglo-Soviet forces going into Persia on the 25th from points in Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Russia. A cease-fire is announced within four days, but later violations lead to Teheran being occupied in the middle of September.
Eastern Front - In the north the siege of Leningrad is about to start, and will not be lifted completely until early 1944. Kiev in the south is captured and Centre Army Group released to continue the Moscow offensive. Further south still, the Crimea is cut off and German forces drive on towards Rostov-on-Don.
Eastern Front - As German forces in the centre approach Moscow a state of siege is declared, but the offensive is temporarily halted at the end of the month. In the south Kharkov, east of Kiev in the Ukraine, falls.
Eastern Front - The German centre advance on Moscow is restarted and troops are soon on the capital's outskirts. In the south they have driven right into the Crimea. Only Sevastopol holds out and the siege lasts until June 1942. Further east Rostov-on-Don is captured, but the Russians re-take the city.
Declarations of War - In a series of diplomatic moves, numerous declarations of war are made:
5th-6th December - Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa declare war on Finland, Hungary and Rumania.
11th-13th December - Germany, Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary against the United States.
28th December-14th January - Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa against Bulgaria
Eastern Front - As the Germans halt outside Moscow, the Russians launch a major Counter-Offensive starting from near Leningrad in the north down to the Ukrainian city of Kharkov in the south. By April 1942 Russian forces have regained much lost territory, but few major cities. The siege of Leningrad continues.