Between September 1939 and May 1940, Nazi Germany vanquished country after country across Europe. By the summer of 1940, Hitler had conquered the continent and Britain stood alone.
Photo: Messerschmitt Me 110s fly over the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 1940. (akg-images)
A.J.P. Taylor on Hitler achieving what no man had previously been able to do.
The renowned historian A.J.P. Taylor discusses Hitler's conquering of Europe from the French Atlantic coast to the Russian frontier.
A.J.P. Taylor describes Hitler's most brilliant strategic decision.
The renowned historian A.J.P. Taylor describes how Hitler conquered France by skipping round the Maginot line and the Belgium border.
A.J.P. Taylor reveals why he thinks Hitler decided to invade Russia.
Why did Hitler insist on invading Russia? The renowned historian A.J.P. Taylor explains why he thinks the Fuhrer decided to attack his ally.
Churchill's unlikely path to power
Richard Holmes describes Churchill's unlikely path to power. Despite his cabinet post, Churchill felt powerless and his recommendation for an amphibious landing in Norway ended disastrously. But the blame fell on Chamberlain who then resigned and advised that Churchill be the new prime minister.
Mo Mowlam on how Churchill became prime minister
Mo Mowlam MP describes how Hitler's invasion of Belgium and the Netherlands led to Chamberlain resigning and Churchill becoming prime minister.
H.M. King George VI's speech from Buckingham Palace at the outbreak of World War II.
His Majesty King George VI delivers a speech at the outbreak of World War II. Speaking from Buckingham Palace, he addresses his people at home and overseas.
The lead-up to war
In the late 1930s, by using a combination of clever diplomacy and bullying, Germany re-occupied neighbouring territory which it believed had been taken from it unfairly at the end of World War One. Hitler's next step was the creation of a Nazi-dominated Europe.
In August 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Previously sworn enemies, now the two countries agreed not to attack each other, leaving each free to pursue their own military agendas. They also planned to carve up Poland between them.
Britain declares war on Germany
On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, devastating it with the full force of its ‘blitzkrieg’ (‘lightning war’) strategy. This was a highly mobile combination of tanks, infantry and artillery with air support. The Soviets, meanwhile, advanced from the east.
On 3 September, Britain and France declared war on Germany in support of their ally Poland. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) immediately began to move out to northern France to support the French army. However, France and Britain did not move to attack German troops and, on 13 September, France fell back behind the Maginot Line (a series of defensive fortifications on the French-German border). Poland held out until the 27 September, when Warsaw finally fell.
The 'Phoney War'
Now a period known as the 'Phoney War’ began, in which Western Europe remained relatively quiet. This was interrupted in April 1940 when Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. Denmark surrendered but Norway fought on, with British and French help, until June. It was a disastrous failure for the British and forced the Prime Minster, Neville Chamberlain, to resign. On 10 May he was replaced by Winston Churchill. On the same day, the Phoney War came to a very real end when Germany invaded Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, and stormed into France on the 12th. The German blitzkrieg again proved difficult to resist.
By the end of May the Low Countries had been conquered. French and British forces withdrew to the French northern coast as the country fell, city by city, to the Nazis.