Germany invades Low Countries. Using speed and deception, German armies overrun Holland in five days, take out Belgium’s vaunted Fort Eban Emael and race through the Ardennes to the French coast.
Churchill becomes British prime minister. Lacking popular support, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain steps down to allow Winston Churchill to form new coalition government as German onslaught begins.
German army reaches English Channel. After advancing along a 50-mile front, German tanks, supported by dive-bombers, reach the seacoast, cutting off the British Expeditionary Force and French in Belgium.
British Expeditionary Force begins evacuation from Dunkirk. More than 200,000 BEF troops, together with some 112,000 French and Belgian soldiers, board close to 900 vessels of every description to escape annihilation.
Dunkirk E.vacuation ends. After hundreds of thousands of British, Belgian and French troops retreat to the French seaport in late May, the British Navy launches Operation Dynamo to extract more than 300,000 soldiers in a week’s time. Two thirds of the survivors—members of the British Expeditionary Force—are shuttled across the English Channel to Dover, England. Inexplicably, Hitler halts Gen. Hans Guderian’s Panzers 12 miles from Dunkirk’s packed beach.
Norway surrenders. Overwhelmed by the swiftness of the German invasion in April, the Norwegians still manage to get members of the Royal Family to safety, but are powerless to prevent their country’s conquest. Oslo, the capital, falls with scarcely a shot being fired as German troops swarm into Norwegian ports and go on to capture the main airfield, preventing the insertion of Allied reinforcements in sufficient numbers to stem the tide.
Italy declares war on Britain and France. Fascist leader Benito Mussolini leads Italy into World War II. Viewing Great Britain and France as weak allies, he hopes to achieve spectacular victories like the Germans. An unwitting pawn of Adolf Hitler, the egotistical Mussolini dubs his country’s relationship with Germany the “Rome-Berlin Axis. In September, a three-power pact that includes Japan is concluded, with each partner pledging 10 years of mutual aid.
The Battle of France. Badly outmanned (50 divisions to 120), the French Army valiantly tries to defend more than 200 miles of front. It is no match, however, against German armor advancing in three directions. Paris falls on June 14, after which the French sue for peace. Eight days later, they are made to capitulate in the same railway car where surrender terms were dictated to the Germans in 1917.
Battle of Britain begins. Hitler prepares to invade England in Operation Sea Lion by attempting to lure the RAF into dogfights with his numerically superior and more experienced Luftwaffe fighter force. Attacks on naval bases and merchant ships produce the desired response as clashes between British Spitfires and German Messerschmitts over the English Channel cost the RAF 50 fighters in the first 10 days. Its pilots, though, change tactics and manage to regroup.
Italy invades British Somaliland.
Italy invades Egypt.
Battle of Britain hits turning point as London withstands German blitz.
Japan joins the Axis alliance.
Italy invades Greece. Disregarding Hitler’s intent to transform the Balkan peninsula into a satellite through diplomacy, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini sends eight army divisions into the region through Albania. The Greek army, however, surprises the invaders with a highly organized defense. Then, supported by the Royal Air Force, it launches a furious counterattack that drives the Italians back into Albania by mid-December. The success proves temporary as German forces eventually invade Greece, forcing it to surrender in late April 1941.
British smash Italian fleet at Taranto. Hoping to gain passage through the Mediterranean, the British Navy launches an air attack that sinks or badly damages seven Italian ships tucked inside Italy’s ‘arch’ at Taranto. As the only decisive victory in initial British-Italian naval clashes, the blow forces the remainder of the Italian fleet to withdraw. Although extremely one-sided, the operation does not prove to be a complete British victory, as the Italians continue to disrupt Mediterranean travel using aircraft stationed on Sicily, Sardinia and the African Coast.
German blitz targets Coventry. At risk of losing the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe intensifies its night raids all over England. Dropping more than 450 tons of explosives on Coventry city, 500 German bombers all but demolish the medieval cathedral city, which is home to the largest concentration of armaments factories in the country. Before the nationwide blitz ends in May 1941, London, Bristol, Cardiff, Portsmouth and Plymouth are struck hard, and more than 43,000 British civilians are killed.