Pearl Harbor Attack: What Led to It and What Was the Aftermath?

Pearl Harbor Bombing
A view of the USS Shaw exploding at the U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after the Japanese bombing. Lawrence Thornton/Getty Images

On July 3, 1941, a little more than a week after the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II, Joseph Stalin spoke for the first time to the Soviet people about the progress of the war. He called the citizens of his nation "brothers and sisters," a term he had never used before.

­It was an intimacy born of the terrible crisis they shared. Stalin admitted that the enemy had succeeded in breaking through, and he urged his compatriots to annihilate the intruders with every means possible.


Many Soviet memoirs attest to the power of his words, which reached out to millions of citizens clustered around primitive radios or streetside loudspeakers. The Soviet people were urged to rouse themselves for what was to become the largest military contest of all time.

The Axis assault on June 22, 1941, had caught Soviet forces almost entirely unprepared. Finnish armies in the north, Romanian armies in the south, and a 3-million strong Nazi German force between them drove forward at a relentless pace, encircling whole Soviet armies.

On June 28, 1941, Nazi German forces reached the Belorussian capital of Minsk. Riga was captured three days later, and by the first week of July Nazi German armies were approaching the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

­­­By late July, Nazi German bombers came within range of Moscow. By August 19, Leningrad — the Soviet Union's second largest city — was cut off by Nazi German and Finnish forces, though it could not be captured outright.­­

Soviet officers pushed their soldiers to make suicidal attacks on Nazi German positions, as Stalin insisted that death was better than surrender. Nonetheless, by September, Axis troops had rounded up more than 2 million Soviet prisoners and destroyed much of the Red Army's tank and aircraft strength.

By October 3, when Adolf Hitler flew back to Berlin to address the German people, he was confident that the Soviet dragon was killed "and would never rise again." Nazi German production plans for weapons were changed: Large numbers of aircraft and additional naval power were added for the coming confrontation with Britain and the United States. New models of tanks had, however, been ordered, as the Nazi Germans discovered that Soviet tanks were superior to their own.

Hitler's changing strategic vision was a reaction to the increasing collaboration between the two Anglo-Saxon powers. Though U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was constrained by a public opinion that was not yet prepared for full-scale belligerency, the United States had begun to give the British Empire extensive assistance.

In December 1940, Roosevelt had introduced a program of aid for Britain. It was called Lend-Lease to give the impression that something eventually would be given back. In March 1941, the plan passed through Congress. So relieved was U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill that he described Lend-Lease as "tantamount to a declaration of war."

At the same time, the U.S. Navy entered the great naval conflict in the Atlantic, where Nazi German submarines threatened the vital trade lifeline from North America to Britain. This conflict cost the Allies 5.6 million tons of shipping from September 1939 to March 1941.

In April 1941, the U.S. Navy began to cover part of the western Atlantic Ocean, and in July­ 1941, it began anti-submarine air patrols from Newfoundland. Consequently, convoy shipping across the Atlantic became more successful.

The Anglo-American relationship was sealed in August 1941 when Churchill and FDR met aboard the American cruiser Augusta at Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland. There, Churchill sketched out a document, which would become known as the Atlantic Charter, for the two statesmen to sign.

It was not an alliance, as Roosevelt neither wanted nor could make a formal commitment to American belligerency. Instead, it was a statement of common political intent made in the name of liberal democracy for the restoration of a world based on political freedoms, open trade, and the self-determination of peoples.

In private, the two men also agreed to give all possible help to the Soviet Union, to warn Japan against further encroachments in the Far East, and to involve American forces more fully in the Atlantic battle.

The summer of 1941 marked the beginning of the mass murder of Europe's Jews. Between the outbreak of war and June 1941, Jewish populations under Nazi German control in Eastern Europe had been herded into ghettos, their valuables seized and their livelihoods destroyed.

In occupied Western Europe, Jews were compelled to wear the distinctive yellow star, and their property was seized or handed over on unfavorable terms.

But only with the invasion of the Soviet Union were Jews systematically murdered. Pre-1941 instructions to Nazi German security units, the Einsatzgruppen — and to units of the regular police — made it clear that they should kill all Jews.

On the assumption that most partisan activity was Jewish-inspired, whole villages were destroyed and their inhabitants murdered by the Nazi German army as well as by the police and security units.

From June 1941, Nazi security forces in Russia did not spare Jewish women and children. At Babi Yar outside Kiev, more than 34,000 Jews were slaughtered. In Serbia and in western Poland, Jews were killed systematically.

Hitler at last approved deportation for German Jews as well, and the first trainloads arrived in the East in October 1941. At some point, a decision was made to augment the continuing murder by police and security men with mass murder at extermination camps in occupied Poland.

The precise moment of this decision is unclear, but the camps were under construction beginning in autumn 1941 and the first gassing began at Chelmno in January 1942. In December 1941, Hitler told an assembly of party leaders in a closed session that global war signaled a final war to the death against the Jewish enemy.

The mass killing that began in 1941 ended in 1945 with the estimated death of approximately 6 million European Jews. They were killed not only by Nazi German security forces, but by the Wehrmacht, locally recruited anti-Semitic militia, and the troops of Nazi Germany's allies.

Only some of this race war was evident to the West in 1941. The United States was much more concerned with the threat to security posed in East Asia and the west Pacific by the continued belligerence of Japan. This was a crisis brought on by the German victories in Europe.

Japan had used the opportunity presented by the defeat of France and the Netherlands, and the Nazi German threat to Britain, to pressure western colonial possessions in Southeast Asia. Japan coveted this area because it contained large reserves of vital raw materials — oil, rubber, and tin in particular — which were essential for the Japanese war effort.

The American reaction to continued Japanese aggression in China had been to impose a partial trade embargo in September 1940, but that only heightened Japanese determination to seize further economic resources. Japanese leaders began to argue that war with the United States was almost inevitable.

The driving force behind Japan's strategy of southward expansion was its huge navy, which relied heavily on oil. To secure the northern perimeter of the Japanese empire, Japan signed a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union in April 1941.

In July, Japanese forces moved into southern Indochina. When the United States responded to this threat by tightening the embargo, the Japanese army and navy agreed that unless diplomatic pressure could undo the economic stranglehold that Tokyo had anticipated, they would attack the United States, the Dutch, and the British Empire.

The Japanese war was not inevitable. However, once Nazi Germany had invaded the Soviet Union and apparently removed the threat from Japan's northern frontier, the southward advance became an attractive option for the Japanese leadership.

During all of 1941, the Germans viewed the idea that Japan would occupy the United States in the Pacific as a strategic bonus. The Germans, in fact, urged Japan to do so, promising the Japanese that they would join in war against the United States.

In September 1941, the Japanese armed forces presented Emperor Hirohito with a plan for war if the United States did not end the embargo through diplomatic agreement. The emperor favored a solution short of war, and for two more months negotiations continued between Japanese and American officials to find a formula for peace.

American intelligence could read the Japanese diplomatic (but not naval) codes and knew that war was a very strong possibility. When General Tojo Hideki became Japan's prime minister in October, he set a deadline of November 30 for negotiations. This deadline was intercepted and decoded by the Americans.

Meanwhile, the Japanese navy developed detailed operational plans to secure a Pacific perimeter to protect seizure of Malaya, the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies.

On November 26, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull sent a set of proposals to the Japanese negotiators that included the withdrawal of all Japanese forces from China and Indochina. Subsequently, it was suggested that if the Japanese would withdraw from southern French Indochina, they could buy all the oil they needed, but Japan insisted on war.

A task force of six fleet aircraft carriers and accompanying warships approached the Hawaiian Islands. Undetected on the early morning of December 7, 1942, Japanese planes attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed in Pearl Harbor, destroying or damaging more than 300 planes and eight battleships and killing more than 2,000 men. President Roosevelt summoned Congress, which voted to declare war that same day.

The opening of a second major theater of war meant that even more of the world was engulfed in the conflict. Japan fought to achieve an Asian and Pacific new order, as Nazi Germany and Italy fought for domination in Europe and the Mediterranean.

On December 11, Hitler declared war on the United States. Having planned for war with the U.S. since the 1920s, but not yet having built the warships for that conflict, he now had a navy on his side.

War meant that German submarines could attack U.S. shipping without restriction. It also meant that Germany — now aided by a powerfully armed Japan — could begin the contest for a world in which, in Hitler's warped mind, only Nazi German or Jew would triumph.

Hitler's ongoing war with the Soviet Union, however, was no sure thing. In December, Red Army divisions began a major offensive around Moscow to force back Nazi German armies that had been prevented from capturing the capital.

Against German soldiers who were at the end of tired supply lines in cold weather — for which the Germans had not prepared — the Soviets made substantial progress. The German army had already been driven back at the southern end of the front in late November. Soon after the German defeat before Moscow, they also suffered a defeat at the northern part of the front.

This news thrilled Churchill, as did America's entry into the war. After Pearl Harbor, he telephoned Franklin Roosevelt, who told Churchill that Britain and America were "in the same boat now."

His words were hauntingly ironic. A few days later, the British battleship Prince of Wales — which had transported Churchill to negotiate the Atlantic Charter — was sunk by Japanese naval bombers in the South China Sea.

The next page highlights the major events of World War II during the early part of July 1941.


World War II Timeline: July 1, 1941-July 9, 1941

Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in July 1941. Learn about what went on during those first several days in the timeline below.

World War II Timeline: July 1-July 9

July 1: Riga, the capital of Latvia, is overwhelmed by a Nazi German occupation force.


July 2: The first member of the British Royal Air Force's (RAF) American Eagle Squadron to be killed in action dies in a midair collision over France.

The Japanese military bolsters its strength with a million-man draft.

July 2-3: Nazi German Einsatzgruppen (Special Action Groups), charged with the execution of Adolf Hitler's plan to exterminate Jews, murder 7,000 Jews in the Polish city of Lvov.

July 3: Joseph Stalin calls for a "scorched earth" defense, in which both the Red Army and ordinary Russian citizens would lay waste to the land as they retreat from the advancing Germans, leaving nothing to support the enemy troops.

July 5: Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia's Communist Party leader, calls for armed resistance against the Nazi German occupation.

July 6: Winston Churchill sends a message to Joseph Stalin expressing the hope that the great powers can join forces to fight the German menace.

The occupying Nazis order the murder of 2,500 Jews in Kovno, Lithuania.

July 7: In relief of British troops, U.S. forces arrive in Iceland to defend the strategically located island.

July 7-8: More than 100 RAF Vickers Wellington bombers attack Cologne, Germany, causing widespread damage.

July 8: The RAF raids the Nazi German naval base of Wilhelmshaven.

The occupying Nazis decree that all Baltic Jews must wear identifying yellow Stars of David.

July 9: George Johnson Armstrong, a British naval engineer who offered his services as a spy to the Nazis while stationed in the United States, is executed for treason.

World War II Headlines

Read on for more information about the early days of the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union.

Massacres in Lvov, Poland: Before the Nazi Germans reached Lvov, Poland, on June 30, 1941, the NKVD (Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del; Soviet Secret Police) murdered 5,000 Ukrainian and Polish nationalists, Jews, and political prisoners in the city's jails. Subsequently, the Germans capitalized on the atrocity by blaming it on Lvov's Jews.

A three-day killing spree resulted that was conducted by Nazi German troops and an SS Einsatzgruppe, together with local Ukrainians and Poles. Some 4,000 Jews were killed, and an additional 7,000 Jews and captured NKVD men were executed by the SS before the end of the year. By November 1943, virtually all 150,000 of Lvov's Jews would be dead.

Operation Barbarossa: At dawn on June 22, 1941, more than four million Axis soldiers (of whom at least three million were German), 3,360 tanks, and 7,000 artillery pieces -- supported by 2,000 aircraft -- stormed across the German-Soviet border. What Russia called the Great Patriotic War had begun.

Initially, three Nazi German army groups -- comprised of some 120 divisions -- swiftly overwhelmed the Red Army's front-line defenses and struck deep into Soviet territory. However, despite the Wehrmacht's early successes, Operation Barbarossa eventually proved to be Adolf Hitler's greatest strategic mistake, for he had badly underestimated the Soviet Union's military-industrial capability, its geography, and its environment.

Slavery, starvation, and death for Soviet POWs: The Belorussian city of Minsk fell to the encircling advances of the Second and Third Panzer Groups on June 28, 1941, just six days after the start of Operation Barbarossa. During that week, panzer units captured more than 200,000 Soviets.

Large numbers of those prisoners were transported in railway coal trucks from Minsk to Poland, where they would be interned or possibly moved on to camps further west. Thereafter, they probably would be used as slave labor while routinely experiencing deliberate maltreatment and appalling living conditions. Two-thirds of all Soviet POWs would be worked, starved, or shot to death.

Nazi Germans fight in the Ukraine: In the Ukraine during the summer of 1941, Field Marshal Rundstedt's Army Group South had more difficulties than in the middle and north. The panzer groups fought their way across the sun-baked and seemingly endless Russian steppe. Soviet resistance held up the Nazi German advance. The Nazis then struck behind the Red Army defending Kiev and surrounded them, capturing huge numbers of prisoners and equipment.

Close-quarter fighting was typically carried out by the Nazi German infantry divisions. Assault engineer units that followed some days behind dealt with the many pockets of resistance that had been bypassed by the armored forces. Nazi German soldiers used flamethrowers (including this Flammenwerfer 35) extensively, particularly on bunkers and trench systems.

The Soviet T-34 is the war's top tank: Arguably, the Soviet T-34 was the best tank produced by any side during the war. T-34s first appeared on the battlefield in early July 1941, when their excellent cross-country performance, 33-mph top speed, and powerful 76.2mm guns completely outclassed the Nazi German panzers. Their well-sloped armor also proved impervious to anti-tank fire.

T-34s were simple to operate and easily mass-produced (1,000 by 1941, with about 40,000 made during the war). Usually working closely with the infantry, who often rode into battle on the rear decks of the tanks, the T-34s were a highly important contributor to the eventual Soviet victory.

The timeline of the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 continues on the next page.


World War II Timeline: July 10, 1941-August 2, 1941

In July 1941, Hermann Göring called for the complete annihilation for Europe's Jewish population. Read about this and the other major events during this period in the World War II timeline below.

­­The Nazi government sent millions of 'undesirables' to thousands of slave-labor camps by convincing people they would be resettled, rather than murdered. Learn more about the Nazi party, concentration camps, and World War II in this video from United Streaming.


World War II Timeline: July 10-August 2

July 10: In a shadowy case of "ethnic self-cleansing," some 1,600 Jewish villagers are tortured and murdered in Jedwabne, Poland. (The atrocity was blamed on the Nazis, but recent research indicates that Polish gentiles are to blame.)

Joseph Stalin demotes Marshal Timoshenko, the Red Army commander-in-chief, and assumes the position himself.

July 12: Representatives from Britain and the Soviet Union meet in Moscow to sign a mutual aid treaty.

July 16: About 600,000 Russians are trapped when the Nazi German army encircles the Soviet city of Smolensk.

July 21: The Luftwaffe suffers heavy losses in a bombing raid on Moscow.

July 22: With their supply lines stretched to the breaking point, Nazi German troops are forced to stop their progress through Russia for the first time in the campaign.

July 24: Nearly 4,500 Jews are murdered by Nazi Einsatzgruppen in the town of Lachowicze, Poland.

The Vichy French government hands southern Indochina over to the Japanese.

July 26: The British and American governments freeze hundreds of millions of dollars in Japanese assets in their respective nations. The Japanese will employ the same tactic in two days.

General Douglas MacArthur is called out of retirement by President Franklin Roosevelt to assume command of United States forces in the Far East.

July 31: In a memo to SS chief Reinhard Heydrich, Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring authorizes the "Final Solution" (complete annihilation) for Europe's Jews.

August 2: President Franklin Roosevelt extends the Lend-Lease Act to allow for aid to the Soviet Union.

World War II Headlines

The following headlines detail some of the other major events of World War II during 1941.

U.S. deprives Japan of oil: Oil barrels remain piled on the dock after President Franklin Roosevelt's declaration of an oil embargo on Japan in July 1941. The embargo, which followed similar restrictions on sales of iron and steel, was intended to persuade the Japanese to withdraw from Indochina, disavow the Tripartite Pact, and abandon the war in China. Instead, it only pushed energy-poor Japan, which depended on the United States for at least 65 percent of its petroleum products, closer to war with the West.

Unwilling to abandon its ambitions in China and the Pacific, and with only 18 months of reserve stocks for the military, the Japanese armed services worked on their plans to seize the oil fields in the Dutch East Indies, even though that action risked war with the United States.

Philip Joubert takes charge of Coastal Command: British air marshal Sir Philip Joubert de la Ferté was one of the war's most influential airmen. As assistant chief of air staff in September 1939, he contributed significantly to the application of radar in the British Royal Air Force (RAF).

In June 1941, he became commander-in-chief of Coastal Command, which had lacked resources and had destroyed just two U-boats. It sank a further 27 during the following 20 months. Joubert centralized Coastal Command and narrowed the dangerous Atlantic Gap. He was appointed inspector-general of the RAF in 1943, and later that year joined Lord Mountbatten's South East Asia Command.

Long-distance relationships between British parents and children: "And here in Ottawa we have little Polly and Geoffrey Carton, aged 8 and 5. Now. . . come in Mrs. Carton and say hello. . . ." "Hello, Polly." "Hello, Mummy." "This is the nicest thing that's happened to me since you went away." This exchange took place on July 27, 1941, between the Cartons in Britain and their two children in Canada using a radio link-up similar to this.

In summer 1940, it was expected that the Germans would soon invade England, so many parents sent their children oversees to family and friends in Canada, the United States, or any other safe haven. About 13,000 children were shipped to safety.

Wrens (Women's Royal Naval Service) aid the Royal Navy: "Wrens," members of the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS), move a torpedo for loading into a submarine at Portsmouth, England. Reactivated in 1939, the WRNS took over shore-based jobs, thereby freeing men for service at sea.

Working at most naval shore establishments in Britain, the Wrens grew to number 74,620 in 1944. Many served on overseas bases in the Middle East and Far East. The Wrens did not serve on ships, but they crewed harbor launches and worked on tasks as diverse as signaling, driving, and welding.

British put POWs to work for England: Many Axis prisoners of war at this time are almost certainly Italians, as very few Germans had been captured in 1940-1941. It was not until July 1941 that POWs were used to support the Ministry of Agriculture's food-growing programs, when about 2,000 Italian POWs were transferred from North Africa specifically for that purpose. Despite some early hostility, the Italians often enjoyed remarkably amicable relations with the local British communities.

Learn about the major World War II events that occurred during August 1941 on the next page.


World War II Timeline: August 5, 1941-August 24, 1941

The Atlantic Charter between the United States and England was drafted on August 12, 1941. The World War II timeline below summarizes this and some other important events that occurred during the month of August 1941.

World War II Timeline: August 5-August 24

August 5: Nazi German forces destroy Russia's 16th and 20th armies in the "Smolensk pocket." Germans capture more than 300,000 soldiers.


Romania kicks off the 73-day Siege of Odessa, which will end in October with the Romanian occupation of the Ukrainian city.­

August 8: The Soviets suffer a crushing defeat at Roslavl, near Smolensk, as the Nazi Germans capture some 38,000 Russian prisoners of war.

August 10: Both Britain and the Soviet Union promise military aid to Turkey in the event that Germany pursues a policy of aggression against the Eurasian nation.

August 12: President Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill announce the Atlantic Charter.

The Nazi occupation force in Romania requires all Jews to make themselves available for forced labor assignments.

August 13: Chungking, China, is largely in ruins after a week of bombing at the hands of the Japanese air force.

August 14: Josef Jakobs, a German spy, becomes the last person executed in Britain's legendary Tower of London.

August 16: Joseph Stalin accepts a joint proposal by the United States and Britain to meet in Moscow and develop a comprehensive plan on the aid that Britain and the U.S. will try to deliver to the Soviet Union.

August 17: Syracuse, Sicily, suffers an RAF bombing raid.

August 18: Adolf Hitler orders the remaining 76,000 Berlin Jews (out of an original 110,000) deported to Poland's ghettos.

August 24: In the Ukraine, Soviet forces mount an intense defense against German invaders.

World War II Headlines

Below are detailed images and headlines outlining some of the other major World War II events that took place during 1941.

America's Atlantic defense includes Coast Guard and more: President Franklin Roosevelt considered Germany's naval threat to Atlantic shipping so serious that on May 27, 1941, he declared an Unlimited National Emergency. Responsibility for East Coast defense fell to a growing number of authorities, including the Coast Guard, Inshore Patrol, Ship Lane Patrol, and Coastal Picket Patrol.

Nazi Germans encircle Smolensk, Soviet Union: On July 15, 1941, a double breakthrough by Army Group Center's panzers cut off thousands of Soviet troops to the west of Smolensk and enabled the city's encirclement. Smolensk fell to an attack on July 16. Strong Soviet resistance continued in the pocket until August 5, by which time the Germans had captured some 310,000 prisoners, 3,205 tanks, and 3,120 guns.

The fighting had been particularly intense, as evidenced in this photo by the weariness of the Waffen-SS "Totenkopf"(Death's Head) troops. Following their victory, the Germans paused for two weeks for reinforcement, regrouping, and maintenance.

The Atlantic Charter emphasizes collective security: President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill meet aboard the ill-fated HMS Prince of Wales in Placentia Bay, off Newfoundland. Roosevelt had invited Churchill to the meeting, which lasted from August 10 to 15, 1941. Among many issues discussed were Japanese aggression, assistance for the Soviet Union, and strategy (even though the U.S. was still officially neutral).

At Roosevelt's suggestion, Churchill drafted a communiqué stating their common aims. In the eight points of this Atlantic Charter, the leaders emphasized that they made no territorial claims and favored self-determination, reduced restrictions on trade, collective security, and renunciation of force. The charter was endorsed by signatories of the Declaration of the United Nations on January 1, 1942.

Wehrmacht loses its momentum: By August 1941, the Wehrmacht's startling advance into Soviet territory had finally slowed. Overextended supply lines and the army's high dependence on mobility -- involving fuel, ammunition, food, vehicle spares, and railway access -- necessitated a period of regrouping and replenishment. But this pause also provided an opportunity for the badly battered Soviets to regroup.

Now, some 30 Soviet Far Eastern divisions -- men accustomed to the rigors of winter warfare -- began to be deployed west from Siberia. The Red high command planned a major offensive, in the Moscow area, for early December.

Moscow spared from heavy bombing: At the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Moscow was one of the more important Nazi German strategic objectives. Not only was it the nation's capital, but it was the center of the western Soviet Union's rail network and home to much of its industry.

However, the Luftwaffe's highest priority was to destroy the Soviet ground forces. Consequently, relatively few bombing raids (such as this one) struck the capital. Although probably exaggerated, a Soviet report stated that only 229 German aircraft appeared over Moscow from June to December 1941.

For a look at what happened during the rest of August 1941, see the next section.


World War II Timeline: August 24, 1941-September 1941

On August 30, 1941, Nazi German troops blocked the last rail supply route to Leningrad. The World War II timeline below summarizes this and other important World War II events that occurred during the end of August 1941.

World War II Timeline: August 24-September 1941

August 24: In response to domestic discontent, Adolf Hitler orders a stop to his policy of exterminating the mentally ill. Since the beginning of the war, more than 70,000 such people have died at the hands of ­the Nazis. The policy will be continued in a decentralized manner, with another 100,000 dying by May 1945. Thousands also will be killed in Nazi German-occupied areas.


August 25: Spitsbergen, a remote Norwegian island best known as a historical whaling center, becomes a strategic war base with the arrival of British commandos.

The Allies occupy Iran on two fronts, with the British marching in from the south and the Red Army from the north.

August 26: In a stunning execution of the "scorched earth" war strategy, the Soviets will blow up their Dnieper Dam, the largest in the world.

The U.S. unveils plans to send a delegation to meet with Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Chinese government to determine what assistance they need to battle Japanese imperialism.

August 27: Nazi German submarine U-570 is improbably captured by an RAF Hudson plane that drops four depth charges, which prompt the submarine's crew to surrender.

August 28: Vichy France's antiterrorist laws lead to the execution by guillotine of three members of the French Resistance.

The Japanese government sends a memo to President Franklin Roosevelt offering disingenuous assurances that Japan has no imperialist designs on any foreign nation.

August 30: The last rail supply route to Leningrad is blocked when Nazi German troops occupy Mga, Russia.

September: "Potato Pete," a British food ministry creation, launches a campaign that urges citizens to eat plenty of unrationed potatoes.

World War II Headlines

France is divided and Nazi Germans seize Kiev -- these are just two of the important events that took place at the end of August 1941. Read the following headlines for other major events of World War II.

The divisions of France: After France capitulated to the Nazi Germans on June 22, 1940, France was divided. The elderly Marshal Philippe Pétain headed an authoritarian, nationalistic, anti-Semitic, and non-Republican Vichy regime that over time collaborated extensively with the Germans. The remaining French armed forces were divided between Vichy and Charles de Gaulle's Free French, with the latter exiled and commanded from England. Eventually, on November 11, 1942, the Nazi Germans and Italians violated the terms of the 1940 armistice by occupying the whole of France.

Lethal gas vans kill thousands: In September 1941, SS Brigadeführer Artur Nebe, commander of Einsatzgruppe B (a mobile killing squad), experimented with alternatives to shooting prisoners. He thought of a gas van, which could include a hermetically sealed cabin in which victims would be killed by carbon monoxide exhaust fumes.

Reinhard Heydrich took up the idea, and by mid-1942 about 30 custom-built vans were made available. They were used from December 1941, especially by Einsatzgruppen and at the Chelmno death camp. Dozens of victims could be gassed at once. Altogether, many thousands of people were killed in the vans.

Walther von Brauchitsch gets replaced: Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch was commander-in-chief of the German army during its Blitzkrieg campaigns in Poland, the Low Countries, France, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union from 1939 to 1941. Increasingly, he fell under the Führer's thrall, agreeing to Adolf Hitler's strategies and policies. Meanwhile, Brauchitsch resisted many attempts to involve himself in the military conspiracy against Adolf Hitler. In December 1941, Adolf Hitler himself became commander of the German army, replacing Brauchitsch.

Arno Breker, Adolf Hitler's favorite sculptor: Arno Breker was a talented German sculptor who trained in Düsseldorf, Paris, and (in 1933) Rome. Although originally an abstract sculptor, his 1930s designs and output were particularly influenced by a deep appreciation of Roman "heroic sculpture." This formative influence coincided with the rise of Nazism, with its ideological and propaganda emphasis upon similar imagery to promote an idealized Germanic, Aryan, and Teutonic heritage. Consequently, Breker soon became Hitler's favorite sculptor. He received numerous state commissions, and was provided with vast studios and POW labor to assist him.

The Jew and France, an anti-Semitic exhibition: In September 1941, at the Palais Berlitz in Paris, French collaborationists staged a viciously anti-Semitic exhibition called Le Juif et la France (The Jew and France). Its advertising poster showed a monstrous Jewish man coiled around a globe, his sinister claws reaching toward France.

Artworks displayed massive images of stereotypical Jewish features. The exhibition pamphlet assured viewers that they would be "enlightened" concerning the Jews' "penetration into our country and the harm they have done here; you will therefore understand why so many Frenchmen are dead." About 200,000 French people paid to attend the exhibition.

Poet Ezra Pound trumpets fascism: In the 1930s, expatriate American poet Ezra Pound became increasingly interested in sociopolitical issues. Disillusioned with Britain, he become enamored with Mussolini's ideals. During the war, Pound made hundreds of anti-American radio broadcasts. He openly criticized the U.S. war effort and espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Arrested by American troops in 1945, he was imprisoned in Italy and, on return to the U.S., was pronounced mentally unfit to stand trial for treason.

Nazi German forces seize Kiev, Russia: Prepared to defend Kiev on a street-by-street basis, the Soviets constructed an extensive system of trenches, bunkers, and roadblocks. However, when the panzers of Army Group South reached Kiev on July 11, they bypassed it to the south to avoid becoming embroiled in street fighting.

On September 16, they joined with the southern arm of Army Group Center 120 miles east of Kiev -- thereby encircling the city and Soviet general Mikhail Kirponos's armies. Joseph Stalin forbade Kirponos to break out, so his 665,000 men and much equipment fell into Nazi German hands. Meanwhile, Kiev's defenses were dismantled.

William Shirer reports from Berlin, Germany: From 1925 to 1932, William Shirer was the European correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. While chief of the Universal News Service's Berlin bureau from 1934, he worked for CBS radio and wrote a journal that would become a book, Berlin Diary (1941). Shirer's most famous CBS broadcast described the surrender of France to Adolf Hitler at Compiègne on June 21, 1940.

Although eventually forced to leave Germany, Shirer later returned to Europe on various reporting assignments, including the Nuremberg Trials. He is best known for his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960).

Sabotage and reprisals in Kiev, Russia: After bombarding Kiev's defenses for six weeks, units of Army Group South entered the city on September 19. Five days later, massive explosions destroyed the Nazi German headquarters in the Hotel Continental, together with many other Nazi German-occupied buildings. Extensive fires were started and a large number of soldiers killed.

The Nazi German military command blamed the Jewish population for this act of sabotage, and about 34,000 of Kiev's Jews were summarily executed in a reprisal action that became known as the Babi Yar massacre. In fact, the original explosions had almost certainly been caused by the Red Army's detonation of some 50 land mines.

Cordell Hull's important roles during the war: Cordell Hull, President Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of state from 1933 to 1944, played a major role in pushing Roosevelt's policy of lowering tariff barriers. When war began in Europe, he was instrumental in securing the neutrality of the Americas, and he also advanced FDR's interventionist policies regarding the Allies.

Cordell Hull played a big part in Roosevelt's effort to keep the Japanese talking until they could see for themselves that the Axis might well lose the war. In 1945 Hull was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in creating the United Nations.

The Nazi German-occupied Channel Islands: The only part of the United Kingdom occupied by the Germans during the war was the Channel Islands -- Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark -- some 20 miles west of the Cherbourg Peninsula. Many of the islands' administrators collaborated with the Germans and resistance was officially discouraged, although some ignored this directive.

Meanwhile, life was harsh for the 60,000 ordinary people who had not been evacuated. Reprisals, internments, deportations, and heavy fines characterized the occupation, while near-starvation was pervasive. Informing, collaboration, and the black market flourished, and many women willingly consorted with German troops.

Learn about the major World War II events of early September 1941 on the next page.


World War II Timeline: September 1, 1941-September 9, 1941

In early September 1941, Berlin faced the biggest air raid to date thanks to 200 British Royal Air Force (RAF) planes. Learn about this and other significant World War II events in the timeline below.

World War II Timeline: September 1-September 9

September 1: The U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet assumes convoy protection in the North Atlantic from Iceland to Newfoundland.


Tokyo spars with Moscow over the inadvertent mining of a Japanese fishing boat off the coast of Vladivostok. The Japanese are enraged when Russia refuses to pay for the boat, insisting it would not have happened had the boat not been unacceptably close to Russia's shore.

September 3: Russian prisoners of war and Jews become the first victims of the poison gas Zyklon B, the newly preferred Nazi execution method, at Auschwitz.

September 5: The Soviet Union evacuates all children under age 12 from the capital of Moscow as Nazi German troops move toward the city.

September 7: French Resistance fighter Pierre Roche is executed by the Nazi occupation force.

September 7-8: Some 200 RAF planes mount the biggest air raid to date on Germany's capital of Berlin. The British will bomb the city for four solid hours overnight.

September 8: The Nazi German army places Leningrad in a state of siege. A desperate Joseph Stalin will ask Winston Churchill for immediate military aid. The siege will last for 900 days.

Concerned that Russia may be harboring a homegrown population of Nazi sympathizers, Joseph Stalin exiles 600,000 Volga-area ethnic Germans to Siberia.

September 9: Iran surrenders to the Allies, agreeing, among other things, to deport Axis spies posing as diplomatic and tourist staff. Iran will order the "diplomats" and others out on the 13th.

World War II Headlines

Read on for details and images that outline some of the key World War II events that occurred during 1941.

Enigma machines used in Nazi German headquarters: Regarded by the Nazi Germans as being entirely secure, the Enigma encoding and decoding machines were used in the major headquarters of all three services of the Wehrmacht, as well as by the SS, the Abwehr, and the Reichsbahn (the German state railways).

Robust, portable, and relatively simple to operate even on the battlefield, these machines were also found in many operational headquarters and forward-command centers -- including in the command vehicles of the panzer groups. In the photo above, General Heinz Guderian, in his armored command vehicle, stands beside an early three-rotor Enigma machine.

Soviet partisans make main impact through raids and sabotage: Soviet partisan groups were initially offshoots of the many Red Army units cut off by the Nazi German advance in 1941. However, being untrained in guerrilla warfare, they were very vulnerable. Moreover, their relentless suppression -- often led by special SS counter-partisan units -- was invariably brutal, usually culminating in collective reprisals and summary executions. However, such excesses actually boosted partisan recruitment.

Beginning in 1942, the Soviet high command exerted better-coordinated political and military control over the partisans, whose operational significance increased from 1943. Although totaling as many as 700,000 and causing some 35,000 Axis casualties, their main impact was in the rear areas, where they disrupted communications, carried out raids and sabotage, gathered intelligence, and told the local population that the Soviet regime was coming back.

Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov leads Soviet offensives: In 1941 Joseph Stalin appointed Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov chief of the general staff. In September, Zhukov assumed command of the Leningrad Front -- just as the Nazi German advance halted. Then, as commander of the Western Front defending Moscow, he won a less ambiguous victory against Army Group Center, forcing a Nazi German withdrawal. He continued his offensive through the winter.

Later, as deputy supreme commander to Stalin, Zhukov helped to oversee the Soviet battle for Stalingrad (1942-1943), seized the strategic initiative at Kursk (1943), and directed part of the 1944-1945 offensives into Poland and Germany -- including the hard-fought capture of Berlin.

Adolf Hitler insists on autumn offensive: On September 30, 1941, Field Marshal Rundstedt's Army Group South advanced to seize Kharkov, cross the lower Don, and reach the Caucasus oil fields. In agreement with army chief of staff general Franz Halder, Adolf Hitler ordered Army Group Center and Army Group North to launch coordinated thrusts against Moscow and Leningrad.

Although the German offensive in the South initially made some progress, it was driven back at the end of November. In December, due to a disagreement with Hitler about the retreat in the South, Rundstedt was relieved of command.

See the next section for a timeline and the major headlines of mid-September 1941.


World War II Timeline: September 11, 1941-September 22, 1941

Kiev finally succumbed to Nazi German pressure on September 16, 1941. See the timeline below for details on this and the other major events during mid-September 1941.

World War II Timeline: September 11-September 22

September 11: A shoot-on-sight order is handed down to U.S. Navy ships running convoy protection operations on the seas.


Aviator and isolationist Charles Lindbergh delivers a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, in which he blames the deepening U.S. involvement in the European war on Britain, Franklin Roosevelt, and Jews.

September 16: The Soviet Union front at Kiev collapses in the face of intense Nazi German pressure, and some 500,000 Soviets surrender. Kiev will officially fall to the Nazi Germans in two days.

Mohammed Reza Pahlevi takes the Shah's throne of British-occupied Iran when his father, Reza Khan, abdicates.

In an effort to quell partisan violence in the Soviet Union, Nazi German field marshal Wilhelm Keitel orders his troops to randomly execute 100 Russian civilians every time a civilian kills a Nazi German soldier.

September 17: At least one day too late, the Red Army high command orders its men to retreat from the city of Kiev.

September 18: Already suffering high casualties, the captured Soviet troops in the surrounded region of Kiev begin to be summarily executed by the Germans. The Soviet death toll in defense of Kiev will top 350,000.

Japanese military leaders are instructed to prepare their troops for operations in the Pacific.

September 20: The Soviet Union receives advance notice of a Nazi German attack on Moscow, thanks to Britain's success in capturing and decoding Enigma encryptions.

September 22: A Ukrainian militia squad does the Nazis' dirty work, murdering 28,000 Soviet Jews near the town of Vinnitsa.

World War II Headlines

Learn about some of the other major World War II events that took place during 1941 in the headlines below.

U-boat torpedoes the USS Kearny in the North Atlantic: On October 17, 1941, a U-boat torpedoed this destroyer, the USS Kearny, in the North Atlantic. The Kearny had gone to aid a slow convoy under wolf pack attack, but it became a target itself when it was silhouetted at night by the light of a torpedoed merchant ship and halted by passing traffic. The torpedo that hit its starboard side caused many casualties, including 11 deaths.

A Navy Catalina (flying boat) dropped plasma to the ship by parachute. The Kearny returned to Iceland under its own steam, escorted by the USS Greer. The latter's inconclusive battle with U-652 on September 4, 1941, had led to President Franklin Roosevelt's "shoot on sight" policy against vessels interfering with American shipping.

British aircrafts and warships dominate in Mediterranean: Upon becoming Britain's prime minister in 1940, Winston Churchill defied his admirals and wielded his considerable naval expertise against the Axis powers in the eastern Mediterranean. Under his leadership, British aircraft destroyed Axis U-boats as they surfaced to recharge their batteries. British warships, such as the tiny corvette HMS Daisy, were also remarkably successful at destroying submarines. Commissioned in October 1941, the Daisy's service was distinguished but short. The ship foundered on January 2, 1942, while en route from Alexandra to Tobruk.

Americans relieve British forces in Iceland: American soldiers stationed in Iceland needed heavy protective clothing against the freezing weather. In July 1941 -- months before the U.S. would officially enter the war -- President Franklin Roosevelt sent troops to relieve British forces in Iceland. Soon after the Nazi occupation of Denmark in 1940, the British had moved into Iceland in order to keep northern sea lanes open. When British forces were badly needed elsewhere, U.S. troops took over the defense of the small country.

U.S. loses its first naval vessel, the USS Reuben James: The USS Reuben James, a Clemson Class destroyer, was the first American naval vessel lost in World War II. It was one of five destroyers escorting a fast convoy when, about 600 miles west of Ireland on October 31, 1941, a torpedo from U-552 struck it. The forepart of the ship was blown off as far back as the fourth of its characteristic four stacks. Only 45 of its crew of about 160 survived. Among the dead were all of the ship's officers, including the commanding officer, LCDR H. L. Edwards. This disaster prompted further amendments to the Neutrality Act.

The many uses of the American M3 tank: The M3 was the most important American light tank of the war, with more than 13,000 produced. First built in March 1941, it underwent numerous improvements. For example, the first model was riveted and the final was entirely welded. A gyrostabilizer was incorporated in 1941 to enable it to fire accurately while moving.

The M3 was fast and mechanically reliable but lightly armored and armed. Allied armies employed it -- thanks to Lend-Lease -- in conditions ranging from the North African desert to Soviet snow and Pacific jungles. The tank was called the M3 or, unofficially, the Honey. Mine-exploder and flame-thrower versions were also made.

Allied troops are the "Rats of Tobruk": In 1941, during the longest siege in British history, predominantly Australian troops defended the strategic Libyan seaport of Tobruk from forces led by German commander Erwin Rommel. William ("Lord Haw-Haw") Joyce, the British radio announcer who broadcast Nazi propaganda from Berlin, derisively described Tobruk's defenders as rats. Desperate but valiant Allied troops embraced the name, calling themselves the "Rats of Tobruk" as they tunneled to escape Axis bombing, launched daring and ruthless raids, and commandeered enemy weaponry.

The major World War II events of late September and early October are detailed on the next page.


World War II Timeline: September 23, 1941-October 3, 1941

On October 3, 1941, Adolf Hitler claimed that the Soviet Union is "broken and will never rise again." Learn about this and other major World War II events in the timeline below.

World War II Timeline: September 23-October 3

September 23: Nazis murder the residents of the village of Krasnaya Gora in retaliation for the killing of three Nazi German soldiers by Soviet resistance fighters.


September 24: Nazi German U-boats enter the Mediterranean for the first time, via the Strait of Gibraltar.

September 27: The United States launches the Patrick Henry, the first of more than 2,700 so-called Liberty ships. These are relatively inexpensive, quickly constructed merchant ships used to ferry war material from the United States to Europe.

About 100,000 Japanese troops are trapped when 11 Chinese divisions cut their escape route, turning the tide in the battle for Changsha, China.

September 28-30: In the largest Nazi German mass murder of the war, 34,000 Russian Jews are ordered to the outskirts of Kiev by a resettlement order, corralled, marched to the edge of the Babi Yar ravine, and shot.

September 29: Adolf Hitler issues a directive ordering Leningrad razed to the ground. He claims that the welfare of the city's three million residents is a problem that cannot be solved.

October 1: More than 3,000 Jewish residents of Vilna, Lithuania, are murdered by Nazi occupation forces.

October 2: Adolf Hitler launches Operation Typhoon, a plan to send the Wehrmacht into the Soviet capital of Moscow.

With most of the Jews of Paris either dead or deported, the Nazi Gestapo turns its eye toward the destruction of synagogues.

October 3: In a brash and, it will soon become apparent, premature speech delivered at the Berlin Sportpalast, Adolf Hitler claims that the Soviet Union is "broken and will never rise again."

World War II Headlines

The headlines below provide details of some of other major events of World War II that took place in 1941.

Ernst Udet blamed for Luftwaffe's failings: Ernst Udet was a gifted pilot, talented aircraft designer, and World War I flying ace for Germany (rated second only to Baron Manfred von Richthofen). In 1936 he became chief of the Technical Office of the Air Ministry and inspector-general of aircraft design, production, and inspection.

However, his preoccupation with developing fighters, dive-bombers, and light bombers reduced the Luftwaffe's effective heavy bomber capability. Both Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring blamed Udet for the Luftwaffe's defeat in the Battle of Britain, and its later inability to combine effective defense against RAF bombers with full support for the Nazi German forces on the Eastern Front and in North Africa. Consequently, in a fit of depression, Udet committed suicide in November 1941.

Soviet citizens and industry relocate into the hinterland: Operation Barbarossa gave the Nazi Germans control of 60 percent of the existing Soviet armaments industry and up to 74 percent of its strategic resources and energy output. The Soviets needed to relocate much of their population and industry into the hinterland. More than 10 million people were evacuated or fled as refugees. In addition, 2,000-plus industrial plants were eventually reestablished in the Urals, Siberia, Kazakhstan, and other portions of Central Asia. By late 1944, Soviet armaments production had more than doubled.

Nazi Hans Frank's rule of terror in Poland: A Nazi Party member from the outset -- he took part in the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch as a Stormtrooper -- Hans Frank rose to become leader of the NSDAP legal division. He later became Bavarian minister of justice and also held other important ministerial posts.

As governor-general of occupied Poland from 1939 to 1945, he sought to destroy that country's national identity while using its natural resources, agriculture, industry, and manpower for the exclusive benefit of Germany. Frank's rule of Poland was characterized by terror, coercion, and the extermination of Poland's Jews. He was tried and hanged at Nuremberg in 1946.

Misery and death in Poland's Warsaw Ghetto: In Poland's Warsaw Ghetto, starving children were often reduced to begging and sometimes abandoned to die on the streets. The Nazis allowed very meager food rations and no medical supplies to the Jews whom they imprisoned inside the ghetto walls. In some cases, small, emaciated children squeezed through drainage gutters at night to scrounge in nearby neighborhoods for food and medicines. At the risk of their own lives, some non-Jewish Poles helped supply them. By July 1942, more than 100,000 Warsaw Ghetto Jews had died from hunger and epidemic diseases.

Standby of Nazi German infantry: In 1939 the Mauser 7.92mm Kar98K was the standard rifle of the Nazi German armed forces. Robust, accurate, and reliable, it was used extensively throughout the war. In 1941 the updated Mauser Gewehr 98/40 (pictured above with a sniper scope) entered service, and remained the German infantryman's standard weapon until the end of the war. A shorter, folding-stock carbine version, the Gewehr 33/40, was produced for parachute troops.

All of the Type 98s were bolt-operated and had a five-round box magazine. A bayonet or grenade launcher could be fitted when required. Maximum effective range of the Gewehr, for most practical purposes, was 600 to 800 yards.

Soviet civilians seen as subhuman race: Nazi German soldiers had been indoctrinated by the Nazi ideologues to believe that the Soviets were an ethnically subhuman race, whose Bolshevik/Communist ideology presented a potentially cataclysmic danger to the civilized Western world -- and to Nazi Germany in particular. Therefore, Soviets were of absolutely no significance. Accordingly, they were mistreated, used as forced labor, or killed.

The next section details the major events of the war during early to mid-October 1941.


World War II Timeline: October 3, 1941-October 16, 1941

On October 16, the prime minister of Japan resigned, to be replaced by General Tojo Hideki the following day. Learn about this and the other major events that took place in October 1941 below.

World War II Timeline: October 3-October 16

October 3: Indian spiritual leader Mohandas Gandhi suggests that Indians should employ his passive resistance techniques to stymie the British war effort.


October 4: The United States and Great Britain agree to a regular monthly shipment of tanks and planes to the Soviet Union.

October 7: Some 17,000 Polish Jews from the town of Rovno are tortured and executed at the hands of the Nazi SS.

October 9: Claiming that adherence to the Neutrality Act is not possible when faced with the "unscrupulous ambitions of madmen," Franklin Roosevelt asks for congressional permission to arm the U.S. merchant fleet.

October 10: The vast majority of voters in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg boycott a referendum calling for Germany's annexation of their small nation.

In a remarkable effort to maintain production during wartime, the Soviets continue a mass relocation of Moscow-area factories to locations in the East.

October 12-13: Nuremberg, Germany, withstands a large-scale, overnight assault by the British Royal Air Force (RAF).

October 16: While Joseph Stalin remains, most Soviet officials flee Moscow, taking the body of a dead but well-preserved Lenin with them. The government relocates to the eastern city of Kuibyshev.

A massive defense perimeter, including more than 5,000 miles of trenches, is constructed around Moscow by a half-million Muscovites -- mostly women, children, and old men.

Prince Konoe, prime minister of Japan, resigns. General Tojo Hideki will succeed him the following day.

World War II Headlines

Read on for details on other major World War II events that took place in 1941.

Nazi Germans murder Jews and Bolsheviks: The German Sixth Army, commanded by General Walter von Reichenau (a steadfast supporter of Adolf Hitler's war plans), captured Kharkov, Ukraine, on October 25, 1941. Thereafter, he ordered extreme punitive action taken against "hostile elements," such as Jews and Bolsheviks. Saboteurs were to be publicly hanged, such as these six men who allegedly had destroyed an explosives store. Soon, executions and hostage-takings numbered in the hundreds.

However, such atrocities were of little consequence to Joseph Stalin -- himself the leader of an equally repressive regime -- other than for their propaganda value. Meanwhile, the opposition of those who might otherwise have welcomed the Nazi Germans was strengthened by such excesses.

Children fight for the Soviet Union: Although surprised by Nazi Germany's invasion in June 1941, the Soviet Union speedily mobilized to fight what was generally recognized to be a war of survival -- the "Great Patriotic War." Men, women, and children were soon fully committed to the war effort.

In Moscow, children conducted street patrols and enforced air raid precautions. In the occupied areas, they gathered intelligence, carried messages, and fought alongside the partisans. Their actions prompted a Nazi German order that any child found on a railway line was to be shot.

The craft of sniping: Sniping represented the ultimate professional challenge for an infantryman, as it required marksmanship and field-craft skills as well as initiative, judgment, and intelligence awareness. A single sniper -- who targeted officers, other commanders, radio operators, and weapons specialists -- could have a significantly detrimental impact upon an enemy's morale and operations. The Red Army also used female snipers. Although sniping was carried out by all sides, snipers risked being shot if caught, as the nature of their task often provoked exceptional anger among their opponents.

Grand Mufti Muhammed Amin al-Husseini meets Adolf Hitler: Grand Mufti Muhammed Amin al-Husseini -- an Islamic scholar, religious leader, and member of a powerful Palestinian clan -- fought against Jewish immigration and the establishment of a Jewish state in the British Mandate of Palestine. In 1941 al-Husseini fled to Germany. Meeting with Hitler on November 28 and other Nazi leaders, al-Husseini pushed to extend Nazi Germany's Jewish extermination program. Hitler promised him that all Jews in Palestine and elsewhere in the Middle East would be killed. Since Hitler intended to turn the area over to Mussolini, he would not announce support for Arab independence.

Check out the next section for a timeline of late October 1941.


World War II Timeline: October 17, 1941-November 1941

On October 17, 1941, the first U.S. soldiers died in the war. Learn about this and the other major events of mid- to late October 1941 in the timeline below.

World War II Timeline: October 17-November 1941

October 17: The United States suffers its first military casualties when 11 sailors die aboard the torpedoed destroyer Kearny.


October 21: The Nazis retaliate for a series of attacks against Reich soldiers by Serbian partisans by massacring thousands of residents of Kragujevac.

October 23: Charles de Gaulle warns French partisans to stop attacking Nazi Germans, hoping that German reprisals will stop.

October 26-27: Some 115 bombers with the RAF attack Hamburg, Germany, during the overnight hours.

October 27: The Nazis test-drive a van designed to dispatch its occupants with engine exhaust. They will kill nearly 300 Polish Jews from Kalisz with this technique.

Nazi German Einsatzkommandos murder some 9,000 Lithuanian Jews, nearly half of whom are children.

October 30: Franklin Roosevelt extends a $1 billion loan to the Soviets under the provisions of the Lend-Lease Act.

After a month in which it rained incessantly, the Nazi Germans are forced to postpone their Moscow campaign while the ground dries out.

October 31: The Nazi SS commander in Estonia reports the successful extermination of essentially all Estonian Jews.

In a series of 45 strikes, the Luftwaffe "softens" the defenses of Moscow prior to a ground attack.

The United States loses its first ship in combat when the destroyer Reuben James sinks off the Icelandic coast, claiming the lives of 115 sailors.

November: Over the next month, some 11,000 Soviet civilians will starve to death during the Siege of Leningrad.

World War II Headlines

Read on to learn about some of the other major events of World War II, including Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

Rostov, Russia recaptured by Soviet troops: Despite the onset of October's mud and November's snow, panzers of Nazi Germany's Army Group South reached Russia's Don River on November 21, when Rostov fell. However, on November 30, Soviet Marshal Timoshenko's newly constituted Southwest Front counterattacked. Rostov was recaptured by Soviet troops, and the Nazi Germans were pushed back about 60 miles.

Although not a catastrophic reversal, this was nevertheless Nazi Germany's first such enforced large withdrawal. It accompanied mounting Nazi German casualties, increasing logistic and maintenance problems, escalating partisan activity, and the full onset of Russia's winter. The Nazi Germans had not prepared for winter weather because they had assumed victory would be theirs within a few months.

Warrior horsemen of Russian Steppes (Cossacks) fight on both sides: Cossacks, the warrior horsemen of the Russian Steppes, fought on both sides from 1941. Despite persecutions by the Soviet Communists in the 1920s and 1930s, some 100,000 served loyally within the Red Army. But many Cossacks, after being captured by the Nazi Germans, formed units within the German forces. In 1944 these units were combined to create a Waffen-SS cavalry corps.

The Cossacks' legendary skills in irregular, counter-partisan, and guerrilla-style warfare enabled them to wreak havoc across the German and Soviet rear areas. In 1945, following their enforced repatriation to the Soviet Union by the Allies, Joseph Stalin inflicted savage retribution upon the thousands of Cossacks who had fought for the Nazi Germans.

"Inferior subhumans" include criminals, Jews, Gypsies, and more: The Nazis described homosexuals, prostitutes, criminals, beggars, the mentally or physically disabled, and anyone holding certain religious or political views as Untermenschen, meaning biologically inferior subhumans. They also considered all Jews, Slavs, Turks, Mongols, Gypsies, and those of African descent as Untermenschen.

Pictured above is the cover of Der Untermensch, a 52-page 1942 magazine edited by Heinrich Himmler that contrasts carefully selected images said to be of depraved Untermenschen with those of beautiful "Aryans." Warning that the Untermenschen would overrun civilized Europe, the Nazis claimed justification for military aggression, enslavement, and genocide.

Japanese negotiators unaware of Pearl Harbor attack: Japanese ambassador Nomura Kichisaburo appeared on the cover of Time on September 22, 1941. He was nicknamed the "Honorable Fire Extinguisher" due to his efforts to negotiate a peace agreement between Japan and the United States. Nomura and Special Envoy Kurusu Saburo met for diplomatic talks days before the Pearl Harbor assault. They were unaware an attack had been planned when, in the afternoon on December 7, they presented Secretary of State Cordell Hull with what amounted to a declaration of war. Hull coldly informed them that the attack had already begun.

Yamamoto Isokoru spearheads Pearl Harbor attack: Wounded in the Russo-Japanese War, Yamamoto Isokoru of Japan later spent considerable time in the United States. He studied at Harvard and the Naval War College and served as a naval attaché in Washington. As commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Yamamoto opposed war with the U.S., saying, "I shall run wild for the first six months . . . but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third year."

When war was decided in Tokyo, he insisted on replacing the Japanese plan for war with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Later, he saw his fears borne out at Midway and Guadalcanal. He was killed on April 18, 1943, when U.S. fighters ambushed his plane over Bougainville.

Japanese prepare for Pearl Harbor: "As boys," one Zero fighter pilot later recalled, "we were told we should join the military when we grew up because that was the best way to bring honor to Japan." The plan to open war with the U.S. by attacking Pearl had been approved in mid-October. To train for the attack, mock-ups of U.S. warships were used by air squadrons to simulate level and dive-bombing on moving and fixed targets. All was ready by mid-November 1941.

Japanese strike Ewa station first: U.S. Marines armed with Springfield 03 rifles look skyward for Japanese planes at Ewa Marine Corps Air Station southwest of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Ewa came under air attack about two minutes before the main enemy raid struck Pearl Harbor. Eighteen to 24 enemy fighters descended to within 25 feet of the ground to strafe the base. They destroyed 33 out of 49 U.S. aircraft on the ground and damaged the remainder.

See the next section for a timeline of November 1941 as well as other World War II headlines.


World War II Timeline: November 3, 1941-November 17, 1941

On November 17, 1941, Japan signed off on the plan to attack Pearl Harbor. Learn about this and the other major events that occurred in November 1941 below.

World War II Timeline: November 3-November 17

November 3: As tensions mount between the U.S. and Japan, American women and children leave Guam, Wake, and Midway Islands.

November 6: The U.S. National Academy of Sciences reviews the technology behind the invention of fissile nuclear weaponry and calls for the immediate development of the atomic bomb.

Japan's military command prepares for planned attacks throughout the East Indies and South Asia, including Thailand and the Philippines.

November 7: Joseph Stalin rallies his war-weary subjects with his inspirational "Mother Russia" speech, recalling the heroics of great Soviets from years past.

November 9: Working off intercepted intelligence information, the Royal Navy destroys two Italian shipping convoys.

November 10: Underscoring his commitment to Britain's partnership with the United States, Winston Churchill insists he will declare war "within the hour" if Japan and the United States engage forces.

November 14: The British aircraft carrier Ark Royal sinks two days after being torpedoed in a Nazi German U-boat attack. The crippled ship is making its way back to England from its post off the coast of Gibraltar when it finally goes down.

The beleaguered city of Leningrad gets a lifeline with the first airlift of supplies.

November 17: Congress allows for the arming of merchant ships with its repeal of key sections of the Neutrality Act, a move that Franklin Roosevelt lobbied hard to achieve.

The Japanese high command signs off on Admiral Yamamoto's plan to bomb Pearl Harbor.

World War II Headlines

Read on for details and images that outline one of the major events of World War II, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Attack on Pearl Harbor: At 8 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, the first wave of 353 carrier-based Japanese bombers and other combat aircraft struck the U.S. Pacific Fleet's base in Hawaii. The U.S. naval and military garrison was almost completely surprised, and the devastation was extensive. Japan's dramatic entry into the Second World War was a remarkable strategic accomplishment, notwithstanding its political repercussions, the adverse propaganda, and the absence of the U.S. aircraft carriers from Hawaii that day.

Japanese bombers assault U.S. battleships at Pearl Harbor: The U.S. battleships West Virginia and Tennessee (both pictured above) were heavily damaged during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Seven torpedoes and two bombs struck the West Virginia, and two bombs hit the Tennessee. (Both ships were repaired and saw action before the end of the war.)

Although the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was a tactical victory for the Japanese, it was a long-term strategic defeat. In reflecting on the outcome of the attack, its primary planner, Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, is said to have declared, "I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

Japanese fury against America: The men piloting the aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor had been trained in a culture in which loyalty unto death in the service of their emperor was a sacred principle. They were taught that America threatened the existence of Japan itself.

1,177 die in USS Arizona bombing at Pearl Harbor: The USS Arizona was commissioned by the Navy in October 1916. It was docked on "Battleship Row" in Pearl Harbor on December 7. Minutes after the attack began, the Arizona was hit by a 1,760-pound armor-piercing bomb. The explosive penetrated the deck and ignited more than a million pounds of gunpowder, tearing the ship apart and killing 1,177 of the crew. A sailor on another ship saw the Arizona "jump at least 15 or 20 feet . . . upwards in the water and sort of break in two."

Civilian volunteers at Pearl Harbor come to the rescue: On the morning of December 7, an alarm sounded across Oahu directing all civilian shipyard workers to report to Pearl Harbor, even as the battleships were still under attack. One group of civilians under the direction of Julio DeCastro, on board the USS Oklahoma, was credited with saving the lives of 32 crewmen trapped in the ship's hull. Many other civilians, both men and women, worked for hours fighting fires on the ships and docks. One civilian, George Walters, was cited for risking his life by running a crane up and down its tracks, shielding three battleships from enemy fire.

The timeline on the next page recounts the events of late November 1941.

World War II Timeline: November 17, 1941-November 25, 1941

Tensions continued to heighten between the United States and Japan toward late autumn 1941. Learn about this and the other major World War II events that occurred during the end of November 1941 in the timeline below.

World War II Timeline: November 17-November 25

November 17: Lewis Clark Grew, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, sends a message to U.S. secretary of state Cordell Hull. He emphasizes the need "for guarding against sudden military or naval actions by Japan in areas not at present involved in the China conflict."

November 18: Operation Crusader, the first British counteroffensive launched on the North African front, pits seven British divisions against 10 divisions of Axis soldiers.

November 19: In the biggest battle of the West African desert to date, British commandos raid Erwin Rommel's headquarters but fail to kill him as planned.

November 20: Japan issues an ultimatum to the United States, demanding American noninterference in Japanese relations in Indochina and China. Franklin Roosevelt will submit an equally unlikely program for peace in the Pacific.

November 24: Erwin Rommel makes one last unsuccessful attempt to outflank the British, while the Allies capture the key supply depot of Gambut, Libya.

Congress approves an expansion of the Lend-Lease Act to include French who are not living under Nazi rule.

November 25: The Axis renews the Anti-Comintern Pact for five years. Signatories include Italy, Japan, Spain, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Denmark, Finland, Manchukuo, and Japan's puppet government in Nanking.

Nearly 860 sailors die when the British battleship Barham sinks off the coast of Crete after being torpedoed by a Nazi German U-boat.

World War II Headlines

Read on for details on some of the other significant events of World War II, including the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.

American B-17s caught in line of fire at Pearl Harbor: On the morning of December 7, 12 unarmed B-17s were on a mission to the Philippines as part of the American effort to build up that area's defenses in the hope of deterring a Japanese attack. The planes' crew members planned to stop in Hawaii for refueling and the mounting of their guns. Chillingly, they did not realize that they were on a collision course with the Japanese attack force.

The B-17s arrived at Oahu during the attack and had to dodge enemy and American antiaircraft fire. Miraculously, even though they were strafed by gunfire that wounded crew members, all of the B-17s landed intact except for one. Although it split in half, its crew survived the landing.

Civilian casualties at Pearl Harbor: Joe McCabe and three other family members, all shipyard riggers, raced in McCabe's car to the harbor as Japanese attack planes flew overhead. An explosion suddenly riddled his car with shrapnel, killing three of the men and mortally wounding the fourth.

By the end of the attack, 68 civilians had been killed and 35 wounded. Initial reports stated that the McCabe group had been killed by a Japanese bomb. It was later revealed, however, that the deaths were caused by an American antiaircraft shell. Further investigations showed that most of the civilian deaths and wounded were at the hands of Americans, not Japanese.

Mess attendant Doris Miller's heroism: Admiral Chester Nimitz personally awarded Doris "Dorie" Miller with the Navy Cross on May 27, 1942, for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Miller was a mess attendant on the USS West Virginia the morning of the attack when he carried his mortally wounded captain to a safer spot on the ship. Although untrained, he proceeded to man a .50 caliber antiaircraft machine gun until ordered to abandon ship. He died in action almost two years after Pearl Harbor.

Americans turn to President Franklin D. Roosevelt after attack: Crowds began to form in front of the White House as soon as word of the attack on Pearl Harbor was announced. The men and women were not there to picket or demonstrate. They sought reassurance from President Franklin Roosevelt that the country was safe in his hands.

Those who had supported isolationism now realized that America could not sit this war out. United States soil had been attacked and American men and women killed. They stood in front of the White House seeking both comfort and revenge.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs declaration of war: On December 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt made an impassioned speech to Congress calling for a declaration of war. His opening -- "Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy . . . " -- helped to stoke the American fever for revenge. FDR signed the declaration in the Oval Office while surrounded by legislators and Cabinet members.

Revisionist historians have claimed that Roosevelt had known about the attack and purposely withheld the information to provoke America's entry into the war. However, no evidence exists to support this assertion.

American men sign up for service: Hundreds of thousands of Americans enlisted in the armed forces in the weeks after the United States declared war on Japan. This number included sports figures and movie stars. "Rapid" Robert Feller, star pitcher of the Cleveland Indians, enlisted in the Navy two days after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

The next section takes us into the events of early December 1941.

World War II Timeline: November 26, 1941-December 6, 1941

On December 6, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt approved funding for atomic bomb research. Learn about this and the other major events of late November and early December 1941 in the timeline that follows.

World War II Timeline: November 26-December 6

November 26: The Japanese Hawaii task force leaves the Kurile Islands, bound for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Later in the day, in a note to the Japanese ambassador, U.S. secretary of state Cordell Hull demands the complete withdrawal of all Japanese troops from China. Japanese prime minister Hideki Tojo will refer to this as "an ultimatum."

November 27: With the fall of Gondar, Ethiopia, the 350,000-man Italian army has been routed by about 20,000 Allied troops, marking the final stand of Italy in East Africa.

Believing that Japan is likely to attack within a matter of days, the United States military is placed on high alert.

December 1: In a unanimous vote, Japanese leaders officially endorse plans to enter the war against the United States.

December 4: Britain calls for unmarried women, ages 20 to 30, to serve in public service jobs, primarily on the home front.

December 5: At the end of a massive Soviet campaign that has seen the elimination by death or injury of more than 750,000 Axis soldiers, Adolf Hitler calls for a temporary halt in the offensive.

In the interest of protecting wartime intelligence, U.S. naval facilities throughout Asia are ordered to destroy almost all documents and communications codes.

December 6: General Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov launches a successful counterattack around Moscow, pushing back the cold and starving Nazi German troops. It is the Wehrmacht's first major defeat.

Franklin Roosevelt promises more than adequate funding for an atomic bomb research project.

World War II Headlines

Read on for details on some of the other significant events of World War II, including more attacks by Japanese forces.

Husband Kimmel, Walter Short responsible for Pearl Harbor attack: One week after Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband Kimmel, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was on the cover of Time magazine due to the investigation into who was at fault for the Navy and Army's lack of vigilance. Kimmel and Army Lieutenant General Walter Short were eventually found responsible for dereliction of duty. Both resigned, their careers ruined. Kimmel went to work for a private-sector military contractor, and Short accepted a position with the Ford Motor Co.

Japan bombs naval yard in Philippines: Flames rise from the Cavite Naval Yard in Luzon, Philippines, following a Japanese bombing raid on December 10, 1941. Japanese air superiority had been assured two days earlier when their planes caught much of the U.S. Far East Air Force, including a number of valuable B-17 bombers, on the ground at Clark Field. The Japanese followed with multiple landings on Luzon and later Mindanao.

Deprived of his airpower and facing multiple enemy advances, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur abandoned plans to defend all of Luzon. On December 23, he ordered his forces to withdraw to the Bataan Peninsula for what would turn out to be their final stand.

Japanese sink British ships off Singapore: The battleship HMS Prince of Wales sinks on December 10, 1941, after coming under attack by Japanese dive-bomber and torpedo planes off Singapore. Caught without air cover, the battleship was easy prey after a torpedo disabled the rudder. Among the 327 killed was Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, the Far East Fleet commander.

The obsolete battle cruiser Repulse was also sunk in the attack. Despite fears that design problems contributed to the disaster, the battleship's stronger hull actually allowed much of the crew to be rescued -- in contrast to HMS Repulse, which took 513 men to the bottom.

The timeline on the next page addresses the attack on Pearl Harbor and some of the other significant events of early December 1941.

World War II Timeline: December 6, 1941-December 13, 1941

More than 2,300 American sailors and soldiers were killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Learn about this and the other major events of December 1941 in the timeline that follows.

World War II Timeline: December 6-December 13

December 6: British sailor John Capes makes a miraculous escape from the submarine Perseus, which had been sunk by a mine. Despite injuries, he ascends from a depth of 170 feet and swims to the Greek coastline.

Britain declares war on Finland, at the request of the Soviet Union.

Citing his doubt that Japa­nese troops in Indochina are there for defensive purposes, Franklin Roosevelt asks Emperor Hirohito to withdraw his forces.

December 7: Adolf Hitler issues the "Night and Fog" decree, calling for the convenient disappearance of anyone who threatens the security of Nazi Germany.

Japanese planes attack American ships and planes at the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. More than 2,300 American sailors and soldiers are killed.

December 8: Adolf Hitler acknowledges that the Soviet campaign will be neither quick nor easy.

Calling December 7 a "day that will live in infamy," Franklin Roosevelt calls for a congressional declaration of war on Japan.

Japanese troops occupy Shanghai, China, and capture a small U.S. garrison.

December 10: Britain's naval force is dealt a heavy blow when the Japanese sink the battleship Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser Repulse.

Guam quickly capitulates when overwhelmed by 6,000 Japanese troops.

December 11: Nazi Germany and Italy declare war on the United States. Congress responds by declaring war on those two nations.

December 13: The American policy of preventive internment is launched with the confinement of nearly 600 Japanese and 200 Germans.

World War II Headlines

Read on to learn about some of the other major events of World War II, including the siege of Leningrad.

Soviet-British alliance: The Soviet Union began the war as a virtual ally of Germany, due to the Soviet-German nonaggression pact. But Operation Barbarossa changed this situation completely. The Kremlin rarely promoted publicly the contribution of its Anglo-U.S. allies to the defeat of Nazi Germany, as it directed most of its propaganda to self-promotion and to motivating the Russian people. Nevertheless, a 1941 poster recognized Britain's involvement in the war. It was produced when the Soviet Union was particularly dependent upon receiving large quantities of Anglo-U.S. war materiel to fight the "Great ­Patriotic War."

The siege of Leningrad, Soviet Union: The name "Leningrad" was of particular ideological significance to Adolf Hitler, and he ordered the obliteration of Leningrad and its people through bombing, shelling, starvation, and disease. He also forbade the acceptance of any surrender offer, if made.

Field Marshal Leeb's Army Group North reached Leningrad on September 8, 1941, and began an 872-day Nazi German siege, during which close to a million of the city's citizens died. Meanwhile, the survivors suffered almost unimaginable hardships, especially during the winters. Bitter and often large-scale fighting raged about the city intermittently until January 27, 1944, when the much-weakened Wehrmacht was finally forced to withdraw in the face of a major Red Army offensive.

Leningrad's Lake Ladoga provides lifeline: Although Leningrad was besieged by the Nazi Germans, Lake Ladoga to the northeast of Leningrad nevertheless provided a lifeline for the starving population and military resources for the city's defenders. In summer, boats could traverse the lake, while in winter it froze hard, enabling supply trucks to drive across it. Understandably, such hazardous activities were usually conducted by night, as they took place within range of Nazi German artillery and of the Luftwaffe's bombers. The returning trucks carried evacuees -- hundreds of thousands in 1942 -- although many died in the unheated vehicles.

In the final section, we'll cover the events of late December 1941.

World War II Timeline: December 16, 1941-December 30, 1941

On December 19, 1941, Adolf Hitler became commander-in-chief of the Nazi German army, replacing Walther von Brauchitsch. Learn about this and the other significant events of late December 1941 in the timeline below.

World War II Timeline: December 16-December 30

December 16: Japanese troops land on Borneo in Southeast Asia.

December 17: Admiral Chester Nimitz is appointed commander of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet.

December 19: Adolf Hitler himself becomes commander-in-chief of the Nazi German army, replacing Walther von Brauchitsch.

Amending the Selective Service Act, the U.S. Congress requires all men ages 18 to 64 to register. Those 20 to 44 are eligible for military service.

December 20: The soon-to-be legendary pilots of the U.S. Air Force Flying Tigers engage in their first combat mission, dominating their Japanese counterparts in the skies over Kunming, China.

December 22: The 23-day Arcadia Conference begins in Washington, D.C. The United States and Britain agree that defeat of Nazi Germany is their No. 1 objective. They also agree to combine military resources under one command.

December 23: With the United States officially among the world war belligerents, American military leaders hold their first joint war council with the British. They create the Combined Chiefs of Staff to craft Allied strategy.

The last American base in the Pacific between Hawaii and the Philippines is lost with the Japanese conquest of Wake Island.

American and Filipino officials evacuate Manila.

The Japanese take Jolo Island, the capital of the Philippines' Sulu province.

December 25: India's Congress Party offers its support to Britain, causing Mohandas Gandhi to resign his leadership post in protest.

Britain surrenders Hong Kong to Japan.

December 30: Most of Borneo falls to the Japanese.

World War II Headlines

Read on for details on some of the other major events of World War II that occurred near the end of 1941.

Japan takes Hong Kong: Japanese infantrymen engage in the fight for Hong Kong in December 1941. Though British strategists originally considered Hong Kong too isolated to defend, they hoped that a show of force in 1941 would deter Japanese aggression and preserve British control of the colony. This effort to save face proved to be a miscalculation.

Elements of the Japanese 38th Division attacked on December 8. With the advantage of air and artillery superiority, veteran Japanese troops quickly overwhelmed the British defenders. Governor Sir Mark Young surrendered the colony on Christmas Day, 1941. Many Japanese atrocities followed.

Marshal Zhukov's winter counteroffensive safeguards Moscow: In late November, the leading troops of Army Group Center's Second Panzer Division -- many of them frostbitten, without proper winter clothing, short of fuel, and weakened by earlier fighting -- halted within sight of the Kremlin's spires. Elsewhere, Army Groups South and North were already stalled.

Then, on December 5, Marshal Zhukov launched his major counteroffensive, striking Army Group Center with the 17 armies of his Western Front. They pushed the Nazi Germans back 60 miles, thereby safeguarding Moscow.

U.S. Marines defend Wake Island: The 1942 film Wake Island commemorated America's defense of the tiny Pacific atoll in December 1941. Initially, just 450 U.S. Marines and a squadron of obsolete Wildcat fighters garrisoned Wake's valuable air base. The Japanese attacked Wake with heavy air raids followed by an amphibious assault on December 11. Wake's coastal guns repulsed the fleet, and two Japanese destroyers were sunk. Sustained Japanese bombing followed.

A U.S. relief force moved too slowly to reach Wake before the second Japanese attack on December 23. About 2,000 Japanese landed, supported by carrier-based aircraft and naval guns. The defenders resisted effectively, even counterattacking against immense odds, but were doomed when the relief force was recalled to Hawaii. Surrender followed.

Japan's Zero-sen aircraft outclasses Allied fighters in 1941: When the Japanese naval air force became engaged in the conflict, first against China in 1937 and then in December 1941 against the Western allies, its opponents were shocked by the superior quality of its aircraft. Typical of these was the Mitsubishi Zero-sen (Zeke), which entered service in 1940.

A light, highly maneuverable, and well-armed fighter, the Zero outclassed Allied fighters in the Pacific Theater in 1941. It maintained its technological edge into 1942, when design weaknesses such as its light armor protection and non-self-sealing fuel tanks made it increasingly vulnerable to the new types of Allied fighters.

Nazi Germans unprepared for winter on the Eastern Front: As autumn 1941 drew to a close on the Eastern Front, mud froze solid -- as did most lubricating oils. Many vehicles, weapons, and equipment became useless. For Nazi Germans soldiers, winter clothing was not generally available, as the high command had confidently planned for Barbarossa to conclude within four months.

Soldiers began to suffer respiratory diseases, and sentries literally froze to death. Frostbite and cold-burn injuries escalated in -40ºF temperatures. Meanwhile, increasingly erratic deliveries of food, fuel, and ammunition via overextended supply lines affected operations and morale alike, while the campaign became ever more bitterly contested and brutal. Subsequently, the Russians launched their November-December offensives. For those German prisoners of war, unimaginable privations lay ahead.

Canadian escorts contribute to the Battle of the Atlantic: From September 1939, convoys left Nova Scotia for Great Britain every eight days. The escorts were usually comprised of a large British warship and two Canadian destroyers. At about longitude 20ºW, the escort group handed the convoy to escorts from Britain, then usually took a westbound convoy to Halifax.

Though the Royal Canadian Navy began the war with just six destroyers and five minesweepers, it expanded to more than 40 times its original size and contributed immensely to the Battle of the Atlantic.

Learn more about the significant events and players of World War II in these informative articles:

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS: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.