Buildup to World War II: January 1931-August 1939

World War II Timeline: 1931-1933

Japan began its World War II offensive in 1931, attacking Manchuria in Northern China and then Chapei in Northern Shanghai in January of 1932. In 1932, Adolf Hitler's gained power as his Nazi party became the largest in Germany. The World War II timeline below summarizes important events that occurred from 1931 to 1933.

World War II Timeline: 1931-1933

1931: Japan invades Manchuria in northern China. It will establish a puppet state that it will rename Manchukuo.


1932: The stress of the Great Depression, combined with unwillingness to accept defeat in the Great War and reparation obligations for that war, has left Nazi Germany in economic ruins and susceptible to extreme nationalism. It is in this political climate that Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party becomes the largest in Nazi Germany.

January 9, 1932: Nazi Germany defaults on its Great War reparations payments, which were mandated by the Treaty of Versailles.

A failed assassination attempt by a Korean nationalist on Emperor Hirohito inflames anti-Chinese sentiment in Japan, especially after the official paper of the Chinese Kuomintang publicly laments Hirohito's survival.

January 29, 1932: Thousands die when Japanese bombers level Chapei, in northern Shanghai. This marks the first of Japan's so-called terror bombings of civilians that will become standard policy during World War II.

June 16, 1932: The Lausanne Conference opens in Lausanne, Switzerland, with representatives from Britain, Nazi Germany, and France in attendance. The three nations agree to end the Great War reparations payments established by Versailles in 1919.

November 8, 1932: Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt is resoundingly elected the 32nd U.S. president.

1933: Albert Einstein flees Nazi Germany for the United States. He vows never to return, asserting that he "shall live only in a country where civil liberty, tolerance, and equality...prevail."

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show the details of Japan's invasions of China, as well as Adolf Hitler's rise to power, in the early 1930s.

President Paul von Hindenburg appoints Adolf Hitler as chancellor: Weimar Republic president Paul von Hindenburg appoints Nazi leader Adolf Hitler to the position of chancellor on January 30, 1933. Paul von Hindenberg, elected in 1925, had been unable to relieve the nation's political turmoil and economic depression. By the 1930s, he was also battling senility. As the Nazi Party gained power, Adolf Hitler repeatedly demanded the position of chancellor in return for Nazi support of any government. Paul von Hindenburg resisted appointing "this Austrian corporal," but he gave in to advisers who believed that Adolf Hitler could be controlled since few Nazis held political positions at the time.

Japan takes Manchuria as a puppet state: Early in 1932, the Japanese Kwangtung Army occupied the Chinese area of Manchuria and changed its name to Manchukuo. Nazi Germany and Italy recognized Manchukuo, but the League of Nations condemned the Japanese occupation. Control of this puppet state provided Japan with a portion of the mineral and industrial resources it needed to support its Pacific war with the Allied nations.

Continue to the next page for a detailed timeline on the important World War II events that occurred from January 1933 to October 1933.

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