In this timeline, you’ll find important events that happened in 1940 relating to World War Two, such as Dunkirk, The Blitz and the establishment of Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

If you’re interested in seeing how the events were reported at the time, an original 1940 newspaper will provide an interesting window into this terrifying and eventful year in history.

1940 Timeline

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January 5: The first transmission of FM radio is heard with clear, static-free signal.

January 5: The Finnish start an offensive at Suomussalmi against Russia.

January 6: Germans carry out a mass execution of Poles in Poznan, Warthegau.

January 7: In what was known as the Winter War, the Finnish 9th Division defeat the Soviets on the Raate-Suomussalmi road – despite being significantly outnumbered.

January 8: Britain starts rationing for the first time during World War Two. Bacon, butter and sugar were the first foods to be rationed.

January 9: Two German officers have to make an emergency landing in Belgium. This landing forces Hitler to push the invasion of Western Europe back.

January 12: Soviets bombs several cities in England. 

January 19: The Three Stooges film You Nazty Spy! is released with the disclaimer “Any resemblance between the characters in this picture and any persons, living or dead, is a miracle.”

January 25: The Nazis allow the establishment of a Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland.

January 26: The Nazis pass a law that forbids Polish Jews to travel on trains.

January 27: -27 °C is recorded at the CCC Camp F-16 in Georgia – a new state record.

January 30: Cor Jongert wins the 6th Dutch 11 Cities skating race.

The Three Stooges
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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February 1:The Soviet Union begins a new offensive against Finland.

February 1: In Indianapolis, Frank Sinatra debuts his singing in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.

February 7: Pinocchio is released, marking Walt Disney’s second feature length film.

February 8: Lodz, the first large ghetto in Poland, is established by the Nazis.

February 10: Tom & Jerry, created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, premieres on MGM.

February 14: A British merchant vessel fleet becomes armed.

February 16: A British search plane, Cossack, finds a German supply ship, called Altmark. It is used to accommodate allied sailors from sunken vessels by the Graf Spee, near Norway.

February 17: Known as the Altmark Incident, crew of the British Cossack board German ship Altmark, releasing 299 prisoners after hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets. This fight was the last recorded time that the Royal Navy used the cutlass as a weapon.

February 25: The Rangers vs Canadians hockey game is the first ever to be televised.

February 28: The US population is measured at 131,669,275. African-Americans make up 9.8% of the population.

February 29: Hattie McDaniel becomes the first African-American woman to win an Oscar for her role in Gone with the Wind. Gone with the Wind also wins 7 more Academy Awards.

February 29: After the Winter War, Finland initiates peace negotiations.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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March 2: The Soviet army conquers Tuppura Island, Finland.

March 6: The first telecast from an airplane takes place in New York City.

March 12: Finland signs the Moscow Peace Treaty. By signing the treaty, they surrendered to Russia, and gave Russia 11% of their pre-WWII territory – therefore ending the Winter War.

March 15: Hermann Goering, military leader of the Nazis, says that 100 to 200 church bells is enough for Germany, and that Germans should melt the remainder.

March 16: German starts an air raid on British Fleet base, Scapa Flow.

March 18: Benito Mussolini, Italian dictator, and Italy join Hitler in Germany’s war against Britain and France.

March 19: The British start an air raid on a German base at Sylt; it fails.

March 21: Rebecca, directed by Alfred Hitchcock premieres in Miami, Florida. It will go on to win the Best Picture Academy Award in 1941.

March 27: Peter Fraser becomes the Prime Minister of New Zealand. His predecessor, Michael Joseph Savage, died from cancer.

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April 1: President of the Philippines, Manuel L. Quezon authorises the printing and publication of grammar and the dictionary, prepared by the Institute of the National Language.

April 7: The US Post Office issues the first postage stamp featuring an African-American man. Booker T. Washington was an education pioneer.

April 8: German battlecruisers sink Glorius, a British aircraft carrier.

April 9: 1000 die after a German cruiser is torpedoed and capsizes in Oslofjord.

April 9: Germany invades Denmark and Norway. After a six hour battle, Denmark surrenders.

April 12: Italy annexes Albania.

April 14-15: Allied and British troops land in Norway.

April 19: De Geer, Dutch Prime Minister, announces a state of siege.

April 23: A dance hall fire in Natchez, Mississippi kills 198.

April 27: Heinrich Himmler, Leader of the SS, orders the establishment of Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

April 28: Rudolf Hoss becomes commander of Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

April 29: King Haakon of Norway and the Norwegian government flee to Britain.

The Auschwitz gate
Wikimedia Commons

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May 1: The Summer Olympics, to be held in Helsinki, are cancelled by Finland because of World War Two.

May 4: 21 Nazis and communists that were “not neutral” are arrested in the Netherlands.

May 5: The Norwegian government-in-exile forms in London.

May 6: A rare moment of joy in the 1940 timeline, John Steinbeck is awarded the Pulitzer prize for The Grapes of Wrath.

May 10: The British Local Defence Volunteers forms. It would later be renamed to the Home Guard.

May 10: The Dutch governor, Van Starkenborch, proclaims the end to the state of siege.

May 10: In Aruba, French Marines are stationed.

May 10: French troops arrive in Zealand, Netherlands.

May 10: Nazi armies attack the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

May 10: Winston Churchill becomes the British Prime Minister, succeeding Neville Chamberlain.

May 10: Germans bomb Chilham and Petham in Kent, England. These are the first German bombs to fall in World War Two.

May 11: New York World’s Fair reopens.

May 13: As his first speech to the House of Commons as Prime Minister, Winston Churchill says “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.

May 13: Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands flees to England.

May 14: Lord Beaverbrook is appointed at the Minister of Aircraft Production for Britain.

May 14: The Nazis bomb Rotterdam, killing around 600-900 people. As a response, the Netherlands surrenders to Germany.

May 15: The German armoured division moves to Northern France.

May 15: Nazi trooops occupy Amsterdam and General Winkelman surrenders.

May 15: Richard and Maurice McDonald open the first McDonald’s restaurant in San Bernardino, California.

May 16: The Nazis forbid non-professional auto workers.

May 16: Winston Churchill returns to London from Paris.

May 17: Germany occupies Brussels and begins the invasion of France.

May 18: German troops conquer Brussels, Belgium.

May 19: Amsterdam time becomes MET – Middle European Time.

May 20: Germany’s General Guedrian’s tanks reach the English Channel.

May 21: AVRO Chairman, Willem Vogt fires all Jewish employees.

May 22: Churchill flies to Paris to help General Maxime Weygand create a strategy to save the city from conquer.

May 26: 26th May marks the first successful helicopter flight in the United States. The successful helicopter model was the Vought-Sikorsky US-300 which was designed by igor Sikorsky.

May 27: The British and Allied forces begin Operation Dynamo – the evacuation of Dunkirk.

May 27: In what is known as the Le Paradis massacre, 97 soldiers from the Royal Norfolk Regiment are shot after surrendering to German Troops.

May 28: Belgium surrenders to Germany, which results in King Leopold III giving himself up.

May 28: British and French troops capture Narvik, Norway.

May 29: Adolf Kiefer breaks the world record for 100 years backstroke. He completed it in 58.8 seconds.

May 31: Major General Bernard Montgomery leaves Dunkirk.

May 31: Churchill flies to Paris to meet with French Marshal Philippe Petain, to discuss his announcement that he is willing to make a separate peace treaty with Germany.

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June 1: In the Netherlands, coffee and tea are rationed.

June 1: Bernard Montgomery returns to London.

June 1: Nazis remove the Jews from the Dutch Air Guard.

June 2: Germans bomb Dunkirk beach heavily.

June 3: The final British and French troops are evacuated from Dunkirk.

June 4: The British complete the “Miracle of Dunkirk”. This involved evacuating 338,226 allied troops from France via over 800 vessels including Royal Navy destroyers, merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure crafts and lifeboats.

June 4: Winston Churchill says his famous speech: “We shall fight on the seas and oceans.

June 5: The Battle of France begins.

June 5: General Charles de Gaulle becomes the Junior Minister of Defence for France.

June 5: The Netherlands rations petrol.

June 7: British and French troops evacuate Narvik, Norway.

June 8: The discovery of element 93, named Neptunium is announced.

June 10: The French government moves in Bordeaux.

June 10: Canada declares war on Italy.

June 11: Italy declares war on Allies.

June 11: Churchill flies to Orleans, France.

June 11: British forces bomb both Genoa and Turin in Italy.

June 11: The Italian Air Force attacks for the first time – targets Malta.

June 13: Paris is evacuated before the German’s advance.

June 14: German forces enter Paris.

June 14: Auschwitz Concentration Camp opens in Poland. Around 3 million Jews would die here.

June 15: In the Netherlands, bread and flour are rationed.

June 15: France surrenders to Nazi Germany, meaning German troops could occupy Paris.

June 15: The Soviet Union occupies Lithuania.

June 16: In Lithuania, a communist government is installed.

June 18: On the BBC, Charles de Gaulle tells the French to defy the Nazi occupiers.

June 18: Nazi occupiers slaughter cattle, pigs and chickens in France.

June 18: Churchill urges perseverance with his “this was their finest hour” speech in the House of Commons.

June 19: Goering orders the seizure of horses, cars, buses and ships in the Netherlands.

June 22: France officially surrenders to Nazi Germany. Northern France is occupied and the South is established at the Nazi client state, Vichy France.

June 22: Approximately 10,000 Afrikaner women march in protest of South Africa’s involvement in World War Two.

June 23: Hitler visits Paris and views the Eiffel Tower and the grave of Napoleon.

June 24: France and Italy sign an armistice.

June 27: The USSR returns to the Gregorian calendar.

Winston Churchill
Wikimedia Commons

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July 2: Churchill meets Bernard Montgomery.

June 3: The Royal Navy damages the French fleet in Algeria, which prevents Germany seizing it.

July 3: German forbid the Dutch from using royal names.

July 5: Britain and Vichy government break diplomatic relations.

July 12: Frederick McKinley Jones receives a patent for air conditioning unit for trucks. This helped to change the transportation of food and blood.

July 14: Spalding advertises batting helmets with earflaps due to beanball wars in Baseball.

July 16: Hitler orders the preparation of Operation Sealion – the invasion of Britain.

July 18: Franklin D. Roosevelt is nominated by Democratic Convention for a 3rd term.

July 19: Hitler orders Britain to surrender.

July 19: The Nazis ban anti-Nazi films in the Netherlands.

July 20: Billboard publishes its first singles record chart. The first number one is I’ll Never Smile Again by Tommy Dorsey.

July 25: John Sigmund begins swimming the Mississippi River. He swims for 89 hours and 46 minutes.

July 27: Billboard magazine starts publishing the bestseller charts.

July 27: Bugs Bunny first debuts in Wild Hare.

July 28: In London, Radio Orange begins broadcasting.

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August 2: Clermont-Ferrand sentences Charles de Gaulle to death.

August 3: German occupiers forbid ritual slaughters, as well as French and British films.

August 3: Italian troops invade British Somalia.

August 7: Churchill recognises de Gaulle’s French government in exile.

August 7: 7th August 1940 marks the largest amount paid for a stamp. It was bought for $45,000 for one 1856 British Guiana stamp.

August 8: 31 German aircrafts are shot down over England.

August 11: 38 German aircrafts are show over England.

August 11: Germany begins an air raid on British ports Portland and Weymouth.

August 12: The Netherlands starts the rationing of textiles.

August 15: 75 German aircraft are damaged after heavy dogfights over England.

August 17: Hitler orders a total blockage of Britain.

August 18: An air battle known as The Hardest Day takes place. Luftwaffe lose 69 aircraft and the RAF lose 68 in one of the largest air battles ever.

August 20: Churchill says of the Royal Air Force: “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

August 23: The Luftwaffe begin night bombing on London.

August 25: The first night of British bombing on Berlin.

August 31: The first edition of Free Netherlands, an illegal opposition newspaper, is published.

August 31: In the Netherlands, soap rationing begins.

August 31: The US National Guard is assembled.

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September 3: Hitler orders an invasion of Britain on September 21.

September 3: The United States gives Britain 50 destroyers, in return for Newfoundland base lease.

September 4: In the US, CBS begins broadcasting TV as W2XAB.

September 6: Prince Michael succeeds Carol II as King of Romania.

September 7: One of the major events in 1940 was the beginning of the Blitz. The German Luftwaffe bomb London for the first of 57 consecutive nights as the Nazis prepare to invade.

September 7: Luftwaffe loses 41 bombers over England.

September 9: 28 aircrafts are shot down above England.

September 10: Buckingham Palace is hit by a German bomb. This continues for three nights.

September 12: In New Jersey, the Hercules Powder Co plant explodes, killing 49 and injuring 200.

September 12: Italian troops enter Egypt.

September 14: German bombs hit a shelter in Chelsea, killing hundreds.

September 15: Winston Churchill visits the Royal Air Force 11th Fighter Group – this would be the fiercest day of the Battle of Britain.

September 16: Leo Durocher, baseball player, is suspended from Ebbetts Field for inciting a riot.

September 16: Luftwaffe attacks central London.

September 17: The Nazis deprive Jewish people of possessions.

September 17: Hitler indefinitely suspends Operation Sealion.

September 18: 19 German aircraft are shot down over England.

September 19: Nazis create a decree forbidding non-Jewish women to work in Jewish homes.

September 19: Witold Pilecki, a Polish cavalry officer, is voluntarily captured and sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp in order to smuggle information out and to start a resistance.

September 23: Piet Mondrian, a Dutch artist, leaves Europes to go to New York, where he would live for the rest of his life.

September 24: The Luftwaffe bomb a Spitfire factory in Southampton.

September 26: 30 people are killed after Luftwaffe bombs the Spitfire factory for a second time.

September 26: Troops from Japan attack French Indo-China.

September 27: Germany, Italy and Japan sign a 10 year formal alliance called the Axis.

A ruined house after a night of the Blitz
Image: History Extra

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October 2: A British liner, Empress, full of refugees for Canada, sinks. 

October 4: Hitler and Mussolini talk at Brenner Pass in the Alps.

October 6: The Zoological Gardens open in San Francisco.

October 7: The McCollum memo suggests bringing the United States into the war by provoking Japan to attack the US.

October 14: Balham tube station is bombed, killing approximately 66 people.

October 15-16: Heavy air raid on London by Germany, killing 400.

October 15: The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin is released.

October 16:Hans Frank forms the Warsaw Ghetto.

October 17: German occupiers issue identity cards.

October 20: In the Netherlands, cheese is rationed.

October 24: Japan removes US words from baseball – examples are “strike” and “play ball”.

October 28: Greece successfully resists Italy’s attack.

October 31: 31st October 1940 marks the deadline for Jews in Warsaw to move into the Warsaw Ghetto.

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November 5: Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected as the President of the United States in an unprecedented third term. 

November 5: Walter Johnson, who won 416 games for the Washington Senators, loses the Maryland congressional race.

November 10: Walt Disney begins his job as an informer for the LA office of the FBI. He was to report back information on Hollywood subversives.

November 11: At the Grave of the Unknown Soldier, thousands of Parisian students lay a wreath.

November 11: A blizzard hits the midwest of America, killing over 100.

November 11: The British Fleet Air Arm destroy half of Italy’s fleet in Taranto.

November 11: The General Purpose vehicle is revealed by Willys – it would be later known as the Jeep.

November 13: Fantasia is released by Walt Disney.

November 14: During the Blitz, German planes destroy most of Coventry.

November 16: In response to the amount of bombing that destroyed Coventry, the Royal Air Force bombs Hamburg, resulting in a mass fire that kills tens of thousands of civilians.

November 17: The Green Bay Packers become the first NFL team to travel by plane.

November 19: King Leopold III visits Hitler.

November 19: On this day, the first German air raid takes place on Birmingham – around 450 bombers kill 450 people.

November 20: Hungary, Romania and Slovakia join the Axis.

November 21: Nazi occupiers forbid the building of schools in the Netherlands.

November 22: In Delft, the Netherlands, 500 students protest against the Nazis.

November 24: In the continuing Blitz, Luftwaffe bombs Bristol city centre, killing 200 people.

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December 9: Illegal Jewish immigrants are deported to Mauritius.

December 9: In the first major Allied offensive in North Africa, the British start their assault on Benghazi, Libya.

December 12: British troops conquer Sidi el-Barrani, Egypt.

December 16: Joe Louis wins against Al McCoy for heavyweight boxing title in Chicago.

December 20: Connie Mack, a baseball legend, buys controlling interest in Athletics for $42,000.

December 29: In one of the last 1940 events, over 10,000 bombs are dropped on London, including the first incendiary bombs, in the worst German air raid.

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The Blitz

The Blitz was a German bombing campaign against Great Britain in 1940 and 1941, during World War Two. “Blitz” is the German word for lightning, and the term was first used by the British press. Towards the end of the Battle of Britain in 1940, the Germans carried out mass air attacks against industrial targets, towns and cities – mainly beginning with raids on London.

After battling for daylight air superiority between the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe, the Germans failed and therefore on the 6th September 1940, a new German policy was introduced. For the next 56 days out of 57, London was bombed by the Luftwaffe. The most notable attack was a daylight attack on London on 15th September.

More than 40,000 civilians were killed by the Luftwaffe bombs during the war, and almost half of these casualties were in London – where more than a million homes were destroyed or damaged. To find out more about the Blitz and other key events that happened during the war, our World War 2 Timeline will give you a new insight.

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The Dunkirk evacuation or Operation Dynamo was the evacuation of Allied troops during World War Two from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, in the north of France between 26th May and 4th June 1940. The evacuation commenced after large numbers of British, Belgian and French troops were cut off and surrounded by German soldiers during the six week Battle of France. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that it was “a colossal military disaster” saying “the whole root and core and brain of the British Army” had been stranded and were about to perish or be captured. In his famous “we shall fight on the beaches” speech on 4th June 1940, he hailed the rescue as a “miracle of deliverance”.

Boats including lifeboats, fishing boats and other small vessels were called into service to aid in the Dunkirk evacuation. The most useful of the boats called were motor lifeboats, as they had good capacity and speed.

The operation successfully evacuated 338,226 soldiers.

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Auschwitz Concentration Camp

The Auschwitz Concentration Camp was a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps operated by Nazi Germany in Poland during the Second World War and the Holocaust.

The first inmates to arrive were German criminals brought to the camp in May 1940 as functionaries, which established the camp’s reputation for sadism. The first gassing of Soviet and Polish prisoners took place in block 11 of Auschwitz in around August 1941. Freight trains delivered Jews from all over the German occupied Europe to its gas chambers. Of 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, 1.1 million were killed. The death toll includes 960,000 Jews, of which 865,000 were gassed on arrival, 74,000 non-Jewish Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and up to 15,000 other Europeans. Those who did not die through the gas chambers died of starvation, exhaustion, disease, individual executions or beatings. Others were killed during medical experiments.

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