United States Enacts the Lend-Lease Bill: January 1941-June 1941

Nazi General Erwin Rommel -- "the Desert Fox" -- was widely respected both by his German troops and by his Allied opponents. See more pictures of WW II.

Several months into World War II, as Nazi Germany marched through France and eastern Europe, Adolf Hitler's thoughts turned increasingly to the prospect of the invasion of the Soviet Union. His fanatical anticommunism was certainly one reason. He was also attracted by the oil and raw-material resources of the Soviet area -- as well as the region's vast wheat lands, which had long been regarded in Nazi Germany as a potential area for colonization, or "living space."

­Strategic calculation also pushed Hitler toward war. On the one hand, defeat of the Soviet Union, he believed, would eliminate the last prospect that Britain had for creating an anti-German alliance, and thus would hasten British surrender. Defeat of the Soviet Union would also free Japan to move in the Pacific. Thus, there was not one cause but many for Hitler's directive to "crush Soviet Russia in a rapid campaign."


While Nazi Germany was fighting in the West, the Soviet Union took advantage of the situation. In June 1940, the three Baltic States were incorporated formally into the Soviet Union, just as eastern Poland had been. In addition, the Soviets forced Romania to hand over the territories of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. In all of these areas, social and political opponents of the Soviet Union were rounded up and deported or murdered. In the Katyn Forest and two other sites, thousands of captured Polish officers were liquidated, their bodies buried in huge mass graves, each with a bullet hole in the back of the neck.

Joseph Stalin's ambitions continued to expand. The Soviets pressured Bulgaria to concede Soviet bases, and they urged Turkey to concede rights over the straits that separated the Black Sea from the Mediterranean. In October 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini launched a war against Greece. On September 27, Germany, Italy, and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, dividing the world into spheres in which they could each establish a "new order."

In November 1940, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov was invited to Berlin to discuss prospects for a further German-Soviet agreement. Molotov laid down terms for Soviet influence in Bulgaria and Turkey. Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, agreed to nothing and urged the Soviet Union to turn toward India as a sphere of expansion. Three weeks later, Adolf Hitler approved the operational plans for invasion of the Soviet Union, and on December 18 he signed War Directive 21 for Operation Barbarossa.

The plan called for launching the attack in May 1941, but transportation and supply problems forced postponement into June. Using bases in Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania -- all states that had now come into the German orbit -- Adolf Hitler planned to rescue his Italian ally, whose troops were bogged down in the conflict with Greece. When Hitler demanded transit rights through Yugoslavia, anti-German elements launched a coup in Belgrade. German forces attacked Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941, and by April 30 the whole of the Balkan peninsula was in German hands.

Despite possessing capable combat aircraft, such as this Macchi C.200 fighter, the Italian air force was easily overtaken by the British on many occasions.

The Nazi Germans maintained utmost secrecy regarding their preparations, but intelligence sources alerted Moscow. Joseph Stalin, anxious that nothing should provoke war, refused to accept the warnings and made every effort to appease the Germans. Though some Soviet reserves were moved to the frontier in May and June, nothing could stop the massive assault by more than three million German, Romanian, Finnish, and other forces along the whole Soviet line in the West. In the early hours of June 22, 1941, they launched the largest invasion in world history.

On the next page is a detailed World War II timeline summarizing important events from early January 1941.

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World War II Timeline: January 1, 1941-January 10, 1941

The new year of 1941 dawned with a bleak outlook for the Allies. Below is a timeline of important World War II events from the first days of January 1941.

World War II Timeline: January 1-January 10

January 1: A portion of Bremen, Germany, burns out of control when nearly 100 British Royal Air Force (RAF) planes hit the city with firebombs.


January 2: In an early indication of the dark days to come, all Jews in the Netherlands are required to register with the authorities.

January 3: After two straight days of air assaults by the RAF, Australian ground forces capture Libya's Italian-occupied town of Bardia.

The Luftwaffe arrives in Albania to aid Italy's counteroffensive against Greek forces.

In an effort to encourage Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera to continue to resist Allied requests to use neutral Ireland's military bases, Germany bombs Northern Ireland three times over the course of 24 hours.

January 6: In a congressional speech that features his principle of four freedoms -- of speech, of religion, from want, and from fear -- President Franklin Roosevelt promotes his lend-lease plan to "act as an arsenal" and provide material support to European allies.

January 7: Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto puts on paper Operation Z, a scheme to attack U.S. and British military positions in Hawaii, the Philippines, Java, the central Pacific islands, and elsewhere.

January 8: In his annual budget request to Congress, President Roosevelt asks for an increase in defense spending to a total of $10.8 billion for 1942.

January 9: A prototype of the British-built Avro Lancaster long-range heavy bomber makes its maiden voyage.

January 10: Britain loses control of shipping in the central Mediterranean when the Luftwaffe cripples the carrier Illustrious, which had been escorting supply convoys to Malta. Shipping routes to North Africa are now laid open for the Germans.

World War II Headlines

Below are more images and highlights from World War II and the Axis and Allied campaigns of 1941.

Sheffield major target in German blitz: Sheffield was a key British armaments center that produced everything from bayonets to armor, including crucial components of the Spitfire aircraft. Inevitably, the "Steel City" became a target of German bombing, though not at the sustained level expected. The Sheffield blitz occurred on the nights of December 12 and 15, 1940, when more than 660 people were killed and nearly 80,000 buildings damaged. The bombs fell on the city center rather than the steelworks, which remained largely untouched. Though many civilians took cover in Anderson shelters, some were killed while sheltering in basements, most tragically in the Marples Hotel.

Nazi propaganda film spews anti-Semitism: This poster promotes the 1940 German film Der ewige Jude, known in English as The Eternal Jew. A viciously inaccurate anti-Semitic pseudo-documentary, the film purports to recount the history of the Jewish people. It claims that Jews had a pernicious influence on art, science, politics, finance, sexual morality, and many other aspects of contemporary life. Frequent images of rats symbolize the infestation of Jews throughout society. The film's climax features a speech by Adolf Hitler promising the annihilation of European Jewry. Actor Peter Lorre, though pictured on the poster's lower right, does not appear in Der ewige Jude.

Follow more World War II events from January 1941 on the next page.

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World War II Timeline: January 10, 1941-January 24, 1941

In January 1941 Italy found itself retreating in north Africa and Albania. This and other important World War II events are summarized on the timeline below.

World War II Timeline: January 10-January 24

January 10: The Soviets spend about $7.5 million worth of gold for a small area of southern Lithuania that had been promised to Germany but was occupied by the Red Army.


After advancing over the Albanian border in pursuit of the retreating Italian army, Greece captures the town of Klisura, near the Greek-Albanian frontier.

January 13: Adolf Hitler demands that King Boris of Bulgaria sign the Tripartite Pact, fight alongside the other members of the Axis, and allow the Germans to attack Greece from Bulgarian soil. The unstated yet obvious result of a Bulgarian denial is invasion.

January 14: Nazi Germany puts Romania on notice that the time has come for it to begin fighting alongside the other members of the Axis.

January 15: Emperor Haile Selassie returns to Ethiopia five years after he was sent into exile by an Italian occupation force.

January 19: Italy retreats in the face of a British attack on forces in Eritrea and Ethiopia on the same day that Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini discuss the ongoing difficulties on the North African and Albanian fronts. Hitler agrees to send German troop support to Libya.

January 19-21: Forces controlled by Romanian dictator Ion Antonescu brutally suppress a coup attempt by the leadership of the Iron Guard.

January 21: The United States suspends its "moral embargo" on exports destined for the Soviet Union.

January 22: The Allies occupy Tobruk, Libya, in a remarkably unbalanced battle that leaves the Italians short 25,000 soldiers at the expense of 400 Australian and British casualties.

January 24: The United States denies a Vichy French request to welcome German Jewish refugees to America.

World War II Headlines

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British Royal Air Force (RAF) Gladiator dated but effective: Although clearly dated, the Gladiator biplane was the RAF's principal fighter aircraft in 1938. However, its outstanding maneuverability and four machine guns could not compensate for its relatively slow maximum speed of about 250 mph. Spitfires and Hurricanes soon replaced the Gladiators in Europe, although the biplanes continued to operate in the Middle East, where they were particularly effective against the Italian air force. They also played a vital part in the defense of Malta in 1940-42.

The Lee-Enfield Britain's standard-issue rifle: Winston Churchill examines the .303-inch Lee-Enfield rifle, which was the standard issue rifle of the British and Commonwealth forces throughout the war. In many respects, it had changed little from its First World War predecessor. Robust, reliable, and extremely accurate -- even at ranges beyond 1,000 yards -- the magazine held 10 rounds of the same caliber as the British Army's Bren light machine gun and Vickers medium machine gun. Although the bolt had to be worked between shots, a trained soldier could fire 20 aimed shots per minute. The rifle's bayonet options included a traditional bladed type and a short spiked pattern.

The United States passed the Lend-Lease Bill in February 1941. Learn about this and other major World War II events on the next page.

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World War II Timeline: January 26, 1941-February 15, 1941

In February 1941, the Lend-Lease Bill, which allowed the United States to actively assist the Allies, was passed. This and other important World War II events are detailed in the timeline below.

World War II Timeline: January 26-February 15

January 26: Japan's imperialist plans are evident when Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka calls for a "new order" in Asia.


January 27: Joseph Grew, the American ambassador in Tokyo, passes on to Washington a rumor that Japan is planning a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

January 29: Representatives from the United States and Britain secretly meet in Washington to discuss joint military strategy if the U.S. is forced into war.

January 30: In an effort to cut the British supply chain, Nazi Germany threatens to torpedo any neutral ship carrying supplies to Allied troops.

January 31: The government of Turkey denies Winston Churchill's request to station 10 squadrons of British Royal Air Force (RAF) planes and pilots on Turkish soil.

February 1: Recognizing a need to protect merchant ships in the Atlantic, the U.S. Navy creates the Atlantic Fleet, with Rear Admiral Ernest J. King commanding.

February 8: The Lend-Lease Bill, designed to provide a framework through which the United States can assist the Allies while maintaining neutrality, passes the House of Representatives. It will pass the Senate on March 8.

February 14: President Franklin Roosevelt cautions Yugoslavia's Prince Paul against aligning with Nazi Germany on the same day that Adolf Hitler sends an ultimatum demanding cooperation.

February 15: The Nazi administration in Austria inaugurates its plan to deport Austrian Jews to Polish ghettos.

World War II Headlines

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RAF Commander Keith Park "wins" Battle of Britain: RAF Commander Keith Park led air protection and reconnaissance during the Dunkirk evacuation and during the Battle of Britain. In 1947 Lord Tedder, chief of the RAF, said of Park, "If any one man won the Battle of Britain, he did." Even though Park was rewarded for his service with the Order of Commander of the Bath, he was removed from command during rancorous debates about his conservative tactics. Beginning in July 1942, Sir Park saw action in Malta, Italy, and Sicily, and then as commander of Allied forces in the Middle East. Park is often referred to as the ­"Savior of Britain."

The Bismarck sinks the Hood: The German battleship Bismarck fires toward the British battle cruiser Hood on May 24, 1941. According to Lieutenant Esmond Knight, who witnessed the attack while on the British Prince of Wales, "a great spouting explosion issued from the centre of the Hood, enormous reaching tongues of pale-red flame shot into the air, while dense clouds of whitish-yellow smoke burst upwards, gigantic pieces of brightly burning debris being hurled hundreds of feet in the air... Hood had literally been blown to pieces." Of the Hood's crew of more than 1,400 men, only three survived.

British sink Nazi battleship Bismarck: After sinking the Hood on May 24, 1941, and seriously damaging the Prince of Wales, the German battleship Bismarck slipped away. British crews eagerly tried to catch the Bismarck, but with their ships running low on fuel, the British despaired of catching Nazi Germany's magnificent menace. Then, on May 26, a Royal Air Force flying boat spotted the Bismarck heading for the French coast. British torpedo planes slowed the German ship down, but then lost it again. At last the Bismarck -- damaged, unable to steer properly, and off course -- was relocated. On the 27th, it was encircled by Royal Navy battleships and cruisers. In the battle that followed, the Bismarck was sunk.

British trounce Italy in North Africa: Following their defeat at the hands of Britain's Western Desert Force in February 1941, 130,000 Italian troops were sent to POW camps. Although Italian General Berti's 10th Army was much larger than the British force when it set out to invade Egypt in September 1940, its divisions were ill-equipped and poorly trained for mobile armored warfare. Inevitably, a succession of telling defeats followed: Sidi Barrani in December, Bardia and Tobruk in January 1941, and Beda Fomm in February 1942. Only the arrival of German support presaged a change in Axis fortunes.

The next page contains a timeline detailing major World War II events from February 1941.

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World War II Timeline: February 19, 1941-March 2, 1941

February of 1941 saw intense naval battles in the Atlantic between the British and the Nazi navies. These and other World War II events are detailed in the timeline below.

World War II Timeline: February 19-March 2

February 19: Nomura Kichisaburo, the Japanese ambassador to the U.S., asserts that any war between Japan and the United States would occur only at America's discretion.


February 20: El Agheila, Libya, is the site of the first desert battle between the British and German armies.

February 22: Some 400 Jews a week perish of starvation in the Warsaw Ghetto, a grim figure that will not improve with the enforcement of the new daily bread ration of three ounces per adult.

February 24: Adolf Hitler reports great success in the Battle of the Atlantic, claiming that in the past 48 hours alone, Nazi Germany has sunk British cargo weighing more than 200,000 tons.

Despite British pleas, the United States will not be sending any ships to protect the territory of Singapore against Japanese aggression in the East.

February 25: Advocates for the Netherlands's Jews are silenced by the SS, which puts an end to public demonstrations objecting to Jewish persecution.

February 26: The Nazi occupation government in northern Holland declares martial law in the wake of a series of attacks on Germans -- attacks that the Nazis claim were perpetrated by Jews.

February-March: British troops take a heavy toll on Italian forces at Cyrenaica, Ethiopia, and elsewhere in Africa.

March 1: Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss is informed that he will receive 130,000 prisoners for his new camp, 10,000 of whom will be forced into slave labor at the IG Farben company's synthetic rubber plant.

March 2: One day after Bulgaria's King Boris III is coerced into accepting Adolf Hitler's terms and joins the Axis, the German army marches into Bulgaria.

Germans score victories in Libya: German general Rommel's preemptive strike into Cyrenaica, the eastern coastal region of Libya, in March 1941 was a strategic masterstroke. Although parts of his Afrika Korps were still forming, he had judged correctly that the British and Commonwealth forces were exhausted after their successful campaign against the Italians, and that they believed no German offensive was possible before May. Accordingly, within a week of arriving in North Africa in February, German troops (pictured) were reconnoitering their opponents' positions. The Libyan towns of El Agheila and Mersa Brega fell on March 24 and April 1, respectively, and Tobruk, Libya, was besieged. Meanwhile, Italian morale was restored and all the British successes of 1940-41 reversed.

Legendary U-boat commander Otto Kretschmer: German U-boat commander Otto Kretschmer perfected "silent running," slipping his submarine into the midst of a convoy before attacking. His refusal to radio his base annoyed his superiors, as did his reluctance to broadcast Nazi propaganda. In 1940 Kretschmer and his U-99 famously needed just one torpedo for each target. He sank 47 Allied merchant ships (more than 270,000 tons). Captured by the British in March 1941, Kretschmer spent seven years as a POW. After the war, he served as a commanding officer in the newly formed German navy and as a chief of staff of a NATO command.

British commandos raid Norwegian islands: On March 4, 1941, a British commando raid on the Norwegian Lofoten Islands left behind burning fish-oil factories and smoldering oil dumps, as seen here from the destroyer HMS Legion. Landing in intense cold, the invaders met little resistance to their surprise attack, known as Operation Claymore. The commandos took some 200 German prisoners, recruited more than 300 Norwegian volunteers, captured encryption equipment and codebooks, and destroyed several enemy ships -- and were ready to leave the island by midday. The success of this first major Special Forces operation raised the morale of the commandos and the British public alike.

Nazi propaganda depicts Jews as animals: Adolf Hitler predicted genetic catastrophe if Jews were allowed to marry non-Jews. The title of the children's book seen here, Der Pudelmopsdackelpinscher, describes the genetically absurd poodle-pug-daschsund-pinscher mutt that adorns the cover. The title can be usefully translated as The Mongrel. As written by Ernst Hiemer (No. 2 man to Der Stürmer publisher Julius Streicher) and illustrated by Willi Hofman, this collection of 11 fable-like vignettes about lazy, parasitic hyenas, serpents, locusts, tapeworms, and others links each creature, via supposedly scientific epilogues, to the innately pernicious Jews, who must be destroyed.

Learn about World War II events from March 1941, including the German invasion of Yugoslavia, on the World War II timeline on the next page.

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World War II Timeline: March 5, 1941-March 27, 1941

In March 1941 Yugoslavia, under intense pressure from Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, joined the Axis powers. This and other important World War II events from March 1941 are summarized in the World War II timeline below.

World War II Timeline: March 5-March 27

March 5: Britain breaks all diplomatic ties with Bulgaria.


March 6: In his Battle of the Atlantic Directive, Winston Churchill underscores the importance of neutralizing U-boats and aerial assaults on British shipping.

British shipping in the Mediterranean faces a new obstacle, as Nazi Germany begins to pepper the Suez Canal with aircraft-delivered acoustic magnetic mines.

March 12: Franklin Roosevelt asks Congress for $7 billion in military credits to Britain under the new Lend-Lease law.

March 13: Realizing that success in Greece is dependent on an ability to move troops through Yugoslavia, Adolf Hitler steps up pressure on the Yugoslav government to join the Axis.

Glasgow, Scotland, is hit by its first significant air raid of the war. More than 230 Luftwaffe planes hit the Scottish city with hundreds of tons of explosives and tens of thousands of incendiary devices.

March 20: U.S. Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles informs the Soviet ambassador of an intelligence report with the plan for the German attack on the Soviet Union.

March 23: German U-boats are dominating the Battle of the Atlantic, sinking more than 59,000 tons of British shipping in the past week alone.

March 25: In advance of any action in the Baltic States, some 60,000 ethnically German people from Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania have been resettled on German territory.

Facing German occupation, Yugoslavia formally joins the Axis and agrees to the provisions of the Tripartite Pact.

March 27: Yugoslavia throws a wrench into Adolf Hitler's plans when military officers, demanding a neutral Yugoslavia, overthrow the government that capitulated to the Axis, and place a teenaged King Peter II on the throne.

World War II Headlines

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Britain wins Battle of Cape Matapan: A Royal Navy Fairey Fulmar flies air cover over the British fleet at the Battle of Cape Matapan off Crete on March 27-29, 1941. The combined force of British Royal Navy and Australian Navy ships protecting convoys bound for Greece engaged an Italian naval force. The heaviest fighting occurred after dark on March 28. Aided by radar, which the Italian ships lacked, British warships sent three enemy heavy cruisers and two destroyers to the bottom with heavy loss of life. Britain lost only a single torpedo bomber. After the battle, the Italians temporarily conceded the eastern Mediterranean to the British, who could now concentrate more on the fighting in North Africa.

Clydebank, Scotland takes heavy hits from German bombers: Because Clydebank, Scotland, with its vast areas of dockland, lay so far north, its citizens dared to hope that they were safely beyond the range of German bombers. However, on the nights of March 13-14 and 14-15, they were disabused of any such hopes when 400 bombers dropped more than 500 tons of high-explosive bombs and 2,400 incendiaries on Clydebank. In addition to devastating the docks, only eight of 12,000 houses escaped damage. Approximately 35,000 people became homeless and more than 1,000 were killed. The resulting fires were visible 100 miles away.

Italy wins, loses Abyssinia: In 1936 Benito Mussolini's expansionist ambitions resulted in Italy's defeat of Abyssinia (pres­ent-day Ethiopia) and the exile of Emperor Haile Selassie. A repressive Italian regime ensued, prompting increasing civil unrest. Meanwhile, beginning in 1940, Abyssinia provided a strategic base for Italy's successful operations against Sudan, Kenya, and British Somaliland. Accordingly, although heavily outnumbered, British and Commonwealth forces launched their East African Campaign in November 1940, decisively defeating the Italian occupiers by April 1941. Abyssinian troops played an important part in the campaign.

Keep reading for a World War II timeline about major events of March 1941, including the British victory in the Battle of Cape Matapan.

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World War II Timeline: March 28, 1941-April 5, 1941

In April 1941 Adolf Hitler assured Japan he would fight the United States if Japan were to attack the U.S., setting the stage for Pearl Harbor eight months later. The World War II timeline below summarizes this and other important events of World War II.

World War II Timeline: March 28-April 5

March 28: The Italian fleet is decimated and nearly 2,500 sailors die when the British sink three of its cruisers and two destroyers at the Battle of Cape Matapan.


The Eagle Squadron, comprised of American pilots operating under the British flag, is ready for battle.

Plutonium-239, a uranium isotope that will prove critical in the development of nuclear weapons, is discovered by a team of American physicists.

March 29: The Royal Navy traps Italian warships in waters between Greece and Crete. Three Italian cruisers are sunk and an important Italian battleship, Vittorio Veneto, is badly damaged.

March 30: The U.S. Navy commandeers ships flying the flags of Axis nations stationed in ports across the United States.

April 2-3: Count Teleki, the prime minister of Hungary, takes his own life because Hungary is joining Germany in an invasion of Yugoslavia, with which he had signed a non-aggression treaty.

April 3: Stafford Cripps, the British ambassador to Moscow, delivers a warning to Joseph Stalin from Winston Churchill that an attack on the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany could happen any day.

April 4: Under pressure from the advancing Allies, the Italians abandon the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. South African troops will occupy the city for the Allies on the 6th.

Adolf Hitler assures Japanese leaders that Germany will fight the United States if Japan attacks the U.S. in the Pacific.

April 5: The Soviet air force test-flies its new MiG-3 fighter for the first time.

The gulf between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin grows when Yugoslavia signs a non-aggression treaty with the Soviet Union, drawing the ire of the Nazi Germans.

World War II Headlines

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British unwelcome in Iraq: Indian troops guard an Iraqi oil refinery in 1941. Iraq had been independent since 1932, but Britain retained privileges there. The British maintained air bases at Habbaniya and Basra, had the right to pass troops through Iraq, and held commercial interest in oil refineries. The wartime government was initially pro-British, but on April 3, 1941, pro-Axis Rashid Ali El-Ghailani became prime minister following a coup. Britain dispatched a brigade to Basra, but Rashid Ali refused entry to further brigades until it left. Iraqi troops surrounded Habbaniya, but British aircraft and the garrison defeated them by early May. British reinforcements arrived, and Rashid Ali fled to Germany.

On the following page is a World War II timeline summarizing more important World War II events from April 1941.

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World War II Timeline: April 5, 1941-April 12, 1941

The beginning of April 1941 saw Nazi Germany coming to Italy's rescue in north Africa and annihilating Yugoslavia. The World War II timeline below summarizes this and other important events from April 1941.

World War II Timeline: April 5-April 12

April 5: German General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps and Italian forces drive eastward against Libya, forcing a British retreat.


April 6: A four-front attack overwhelms Yugoslavia, as the German army storms the country from Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Austria. Belgrade, the capital, is destroyed and thousands are killed when the Germans initiate their invasion with a Sunday attack.

Nazi Germany attacks Greece by way of Bulgaria.

April 7: London severs all ties to Budapest, as Hungary is now wholly under the influence of Nazi Germany.

Britain's plans to help defend Greece are complicated when Luftwaffe bombers blow up a ship packed with explosives in the port of Piraeus, damaging critical port infrastructure in the process.

April 9: Concerned that Berlin has designs on bases in Greenland, the United States obtains the rights to provide military protection to the remote but strategically located island.

In Croatia, a pro-German region of Yugoslavia, Germany and Italy create a puppet state as German troops approach the Croatian capital of Zagreb.

April 9-10: Berlin is badly damaged and the State Opera House is gutted during a large British Royal Air Force (RAF) attack on the city.

April 10: Rommel begins a siege of Allied positions at Tobruk, Libya.

The USS Niblack, a destroyer on a rescue mission off the coast of Iceland, drops depth charges near a German submarine. The incident is the first case of American hostile fire directed at a German ship.

April 12: A German panzer corps takes the Serbian capital of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, while the Croatian people of Zagreb welcome the German army invasion.

World War II Headlines

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German troops storm Greece: Adolf Hitler had no desire to conquer Greece in 1941. However, after Benito Mussolini's imprudent invasion of the eastern Mediterranean nation failed early in 1941, the Führer had no choice but to come to his partner's rescue. On April 6, 1941, the Germans launched their invasion of Greece from Bulgaria, which had recently joined the Axis. Pictured here are German troops crossing the Pineios River in the Greek region of Thessaly, using boats and a makeshift bridge. By May 11, mainland Greece and all of its surrounding islands except Crete were fully under Axis occupation. Some 50,000 British troops were forced to hastily evacuate Greece.

In April 1941 Rommel's Afrika Korps rolled across north Africa. Read about this and other World War II events on the timeline, next.

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World War II Timeline: April 13, 1941-May 1, 1941

In late April 1941 Greece surrendered to the Axis. This and other important events from this period are detailed in the World War II timeline below.

World War II Timeline: April 13-May 1

April 13: Confident that there will be no German invasion, Joseph Stalin shores up his eastern frontier with the signing of a Japanese-Soviet neutrality pact.


April 14: With supply lines stretched to the limit, German General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps is forced to halt its stunning advance across Libya, just beyond Tobruk.

Egypt's King Farouk secretly tells Hitler that he would welcome a German invasion force and expulsion of the British.

April 16: Representatives of the United States and Japan meet in Washington to resolve their differences. President Franklin Roosevelt opens the talks by laying out what he sees as four critical points in international relations: territorial integrity, noninterference, equal opportunity for commerce, and stability in the Pacific.

April 20: Greece surrenders to the Axis the day after Prime Minister Alexander Korizis commits suicide in despair.

April 22: Germany's newly formed Afrika Korps, comprised of two army divisions, arrives in Tripoli, Libya, to aid the foundering Italian army in North Africa.

April 26: Rommel's Afrika Korps advances, forcing the British to back out of Libya and into Egypt.

April 30: The Nazi Party bans the display of the crucifix in schools across Bavaria, inciting anger through this deeply Catholic region of southern Germany. The crucifixes will be restored.

May 1941: SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler decrees that writing one's name, simple arithmetic, and obedience to Germans is all the education needed for the non-German, eastern population of the conquered territories.

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Nazi Deputy Rudolf Hess crashes in Scotland: On May 10, 1941, German official Rudolf Hess made an unauthorized visit to Britain. He was arrested after he broke his ankle in a parachute jump from his Messerschmitt, which crashed just south of Glasgow, Scotland. Hess, whose German title of deputy Führer put him in charge of the Nazi Party apparatus, was on a solo mission. He said he wanted to negotiate a peace in which Britain would be safe from attack if it gave Nazi Germany a free hand in Europe. Dismissed as insane by the British and Adolf Hitler, Hess remained in Allied imprisonment until his death in 1987.

German propaganda magazine woos Europeans: In March 1943, Life magazine declared, "The deadliest weapon in the vast Axis propaganda arsenal is Signal... a German twice-a-month picture magazine patterned after LIFE." Signal was a modern, attractive, oversized magazine that downplayed social and political differences among European nations, promoted their "common cause" against Bolshevism, and encouraged a new order referred to as Pax Germanica. Published from 1940 to 1945 in 25 languages, Signal reached a circulation of 2.5 million copies per issue -- making it the most popular propaganda publication in wartime Europe.

Britain takes control in Iraq: In May 1941, British forces rolled into Baghdad to bring about regime change. For the rest of the war, Iraqi officials cooperated with the British. However, many historians believe that the easy British victory heightened both Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism. Especially troubling to the British were the intrigues of Grand Mufti Muhammed Amin al-Husseini -- a man of deceptively gentle manners and soothing voice. The grand mufti was a favorite of Adolf Hitler, for whom he recruited Muslim soldiers.

In June 1941 Rudolf Hess made his famous flight to Scotland. This event and others are summarized on the World War II timeline on the next page.

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World War II Timeline: May 2, 1941-May 14, 1941

In May 1941 Rudolf Hess, one of Adolf Hitler's deputies, flew alone to Scotland in a bizarre attempt to broker a peace deal. The World War II timeline below details this and other events of May 1941.

World War II Timeline: May 2-May 14

May 2: The pro-Axis government of Iraq calls for German assistance as Britain occupies Basra and its surrounding oil fields.


May 5: Though apprised by Tokyo of the fact that Japan's secret Purple code is most likely compromised, the Japanese ambassador to the United States determines that is not the case, and makes no changes to the code.

May 7: Joseph Stalin is named Soviet premier by the Politburo.

The German vessel München is captured in the North Atlantic, with a complete cipher book on board. Two days later, Royal Navy divers will access a sunken German U-boat that includes an Enigma machine complete with rotor settings and another cipher book. These discoveries will lead the Allies to break the Enigma code and change the course of the Battle of the Atlantic for several months.

May 10: In a bizarre incident, third-ranking Nazi Rudolf Hess flies to Scotland solo and parachutes into British custody, claiming that he is there to negotiate peace with Britain. Adolf Hitler suggests that Hess has taken leave of his senses.

May 10-11: London is hit with its most intense Luftwaffe bombing raid of the war. Nearly 1,500 lives are lost, and landmarks such as the British Museum, House of Commons, and Westminster Abbey are badly damaged.

May 12: The British Army in North Africa, desperately short on material, is given a new lease on life when a British convoy reaches Alexandria, Egypt, with some 240 tanks and 40 Hurricanes.

May 14: Some 3,600 Jews are arrested and detained in Paris by the occupying Nazi Gestapo.

World War II Headlines

The headlines and images below detail more events of World War II and the battle between the Axis and the Allies.

Japanese air raids lead to panic in Chungking: Corpses litter the stairs to an air-raid shelter in Chungking, China. The deceased were victims of a mass panic during a Japanese air raid in June 1941; more than 4,000 died after ventilators in the shelter broke down. Despite this tragedy, the provisional capital of Chungking was better prepared than most Chinese cities to survive enemy air attacks. Civilians there could take refuge in a network of caves and tunnels. Most other cities offered no protection from air attack. With little opposition in the skies, the Japanese repeatedly bombed Chinese cities, killing tens of thousands of civilians and leaving untold numbers ­homeless.

The next section contains a timeline detailing major World War II events of mid-to late May 1941.

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World War II Timeline: May 15, 1941-May 27, 1941

May 1941 saw the spectacular naval battle between the British and the Germans, ending in the sinking of the British cruiser Hood. This battle and other World War II events are detailed in the World War II timeline below.

World War II Timeline: May 15-May 27

May 15: Sigmund Rascher, a doctor, Luftwaffe captain, and associate of Heinrich Himmler, requests permission to use Dachau prisoners as test subjects for his medical experiments. He will become known especially for his hypothermia experiments, which will take 300 lives.

President Franklin Roosevelt places 11 French ships in U.S. ports under U.S. jurisdiction due to Vichy France's compliance with the Nazis.

May 19: In gratitude, and as an incentive to continue its cooperation and collaboration, Nazi Germany releases 100,000 French prisoners and reduces the reparations payments it has demanded from the Vichy government.

May 20: In a spectacular but costly air assault on Crete, Germans drop nearly 23,000 paratroopers and glider soldiers onto its northwest coast. While succeeding in taking the island, the German death toll will be unacceptably high.

The Nazi central office of immigration forbids any future emigration of French Jews.

May 22: Fearing that Nazi Germany will attempt to seize the strategically critical Azores, President Roosevelt calls for U.S. military occupation of these Atlantic islands.

May 24: The British battleship Prince of Wales and the cruiser Hood encounter the German battleship Bismarck and cruiser Prinz Eugen in the Denmark Strait. A ferocious, 20-minute gun battle ensues, ending with the sinking of the Hood and the deaths of 1,416 crewmen.

May 27: President Roosevelt, noting that the struggle in Europe has become a "war for world domination," suggests that any German occupation of either the Cape Verde Islands or the Azores would threaten U.S. security and draw a commensurate response.

World War II Highlights

Below are more images and highlights detailing important World War II events.

U.S. sells arms to the British: Large quantities of U.S.-made Thompsons were purchased for the British Army in 1940-41, quickly filling the serious capability gap revealed during the Blitzkrieg of 1940. The Thompson M1 submachine gun -- with a 20-round box magazine and a rate of fire of 700 rounds per minute -- provided a useful short-range assault weapon for many combat and specialist troops. The M1 would be superseded by much lighter and cheaper submachine guns, including the American M3 "Grease Gun" and the British Sten Gun.

U.S. breaks Japan's Purple code: This machine, constructed in 1940 by U.S. cryptanalysts, was used to read "Purple," the Japanese diplomatic code (not, it should be noted, the Japanese naval code). Purple offered millions of cipher combinations. The Japanese considered the system unbreakable, but they made the mistake of phasing it in gradually while still employing the previous "Red" code, which U.S. intelligence had been reading for some time. The overlap helped U.S. cryptanalysts break the Purple code and reproduce the machine, which employed telephone stepping switches rather than the more traditional rotor system. The cryptanalysts were hailed as "magicians," and the intelligence derived from reading Purple was known as "Magic."

Colonel William F. Friedman top U.S. code-breaker: Colonel William F. Friedman was the U.S. War Department's chief cryptanalyst, heading the team that broke the Japanese diplomatic ("Purple") code. Friedman was born in Russia, but his father immigrated to the United States to escape growing anti-Semitism when Friedman was still a child. A graduate of Cornell University, Friedman went to work for a Chicago research laboratory, where he became interested in codes and ciphers. He entered the Army in 1918 and is credited with introducing mathematical and scientific methodology to cryptology. His wife, Elizabeth, was also a gifted code-breaker and is buried next to him at Arlington National Cemetery.

In June 1941 Britain evacuated Crete. Learn about this event and others on the World War II timeline on the next page.

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World War II Timeline: May 27, 1941-June 14, 1941

June 1941 found Adolf Hitler plotting to invade the Soviet Union. This and other events of June 1941 are discussed in the World War II timeline below.

World War II Timeline: May 27-June 14

May 27: The battleship Bismarck, pride of the Nazi fleet, is sunk by British warships with most of its 2,000-man crew aboard.

May 31: Britain once again assumes control of Iraq following the implosion of its pro-Axis government.

June 1941: A series of attacks by Croatians against their Serbian countrymen in the newly created pro-Axis state of Croatia leaves hundreds dead.

June 1: Britain completes the evacuation of Crete.

June 2: Perhaps reevaluating his alliance with the inept Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler declines to alert Mussolini of his plans to attack Russia when the two Fascist leaders meet at the Brenner Pass.

June 3: Hundreds of Jews are murdered, and their shops looted, in a series of riots in the streets of Baghdad.

June 6: Adolf Hitler issues his "Guidelines for the Conduct of the Troops in Russia." One provision, known as the Kommissarbefehl, calls for the execution of any captured Soviet commissars.

June 8-9: Free French and British forces drive deep into Syria.

June 11: President Franklin Roosevelt agrees to send U.S. troops to man a British garrison in Iceland. The move will free a British division to be reassigned to a more critical war zone, without exposing U.S. troops to a combat situation.

June 12: In an agreement designed to strengthen the alliance, 14 Allied nations make a pact in which they agree to neither make nor honor separate treaties with any of the Axis nations.

June 14: Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov shrugs off intelligence indicating that Germany has Russia in its crosshairs, famously claiming that "only a fool would attack Russia."

World War II Headlines

Below are more images and highlights from World War II detailing the Nazi German campaign of 1941.

German Wehrmacht overwhelms Red Army in Russia: When Operation Barbarossa began, three separate German army groups -- comprised of tanks, trucks, motorcycle troops, foot soldiers, and several hundred thousand horses -- raced into Russia, attacking in the north, south, and central areas. They surrounded and captured masses of Red Army soldiers. Wehrmacht general Blumentritt described "great clouds of yellow dust kicked up by the Russian columns attempting to retreat and by our infantry hastening in pursuit." However, the general also commented, "The infantry had a hard time keeping up." A march of 25 miles a day was not unusual, and when panzers encountered rough or wooded terrain and superior Russian tanks, they had to stop and wait for the infantry to catch up to help clear the route.

Next is a World War II timeline outlining the major events of June 1940.

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World War II Timeline: June 15, 1941-June 30, 1941

June 1941 saw the launch of Operation Barbarossa -- the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union -- which was the largest attack in world history. This and other major events are described in the World War II timeline below.

World War II Timeline: June 15-June 30

June 15: German high command instructs its warships to destroy submarines belonging to Russia. If caught, the Germans are told to claim to have mistaken the Soviets for Brits.

June 16: Rudolf Hess, still in British custody after his solo parachute trip to Scotland, breaks his leg attempting suicide on a flight of stairs.

The U.S. announces the expulsion of all Italian and German tourist and consular personnel, effective July 10.

June 17: Operation Battleaxe, a major Allied push to relieve besieged troops at Tobruk, Libya, fails.

June 19: Nazi Germany and Italy shutter U.S. consulates and expel diplomats.

June 22: German sentries murder their counterparts at the Russian border at Brest-Litovsk, touching off Operation Barbarossa, the largest army attack in world history. Three million German troops march into Russia along the entire 1,800-mile frontier. Though outnumbered by the Soviets, the Germans have the element of surprise.

June 23: The commander of the Russian bomber group takes his own life when the Soviets come out on the losing end of a wildly unbalanced dogfight, losing 500 planes while downing about 10 Luftwaffe aircraft. By the end of the week, the Soviet air force, the world's largest, will be down 2,000 planes and all but destroyed.

June 25: Franklin Roosevelt authorizes arms shipments to the Soviet eastern port of Vladivostok.

June 26-28: Finland, Hungary, Croatia, and Slovakia declare war on the Soviet Union.

June 30: After a series of catastrophic failures, Joseph Stalin orders the execution of the military leadership on the Soviet Union's western front.

Flamethrowers effective against tanks: All sides employed flame-throwing weapons, including those mounted on vehicles, such as the British Army's "Crocodile" Churchill tank. Other flame-throwing weapons were man-packed and operated by assault engineers or infantrymen, such as the Wehrmacht's Flammenwerfer Model 35. The weapon's principal elements included a pressurized fuel container, a tube projector and nozzle, and a system to ignite the jet of flammable fuel. Flamethrowers were particularly useful against strongly constructed bunkers, pillboxes, trench systems, and similar fortifications, where external access was often extremely limited -- sometimes only through a single weapon slit or window. At close range, flamethrowers were also effective against tanks.

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John S. D. Eisenhower, Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Richard Overy Ph.D., David J. A. Stone, Wim Coleman, Martin F. Graham, James H. Hallas, Mark Johnston Ph.D., Christy Nadalin M.A., Pat Perrin, Peter Stanley Ph.D.