The outbreak of war and its impact

Initial reaction to the outbreak of war

World War Two began on 3 September 1939, when Britain and France reacted to the German invasion of Poland two days earlier by declaring war on the Nazi state. Most Germans believed the attack on Poland was a reaction to Polish aggression and was designed to reclaim territory lost in the Treaty of Versailles, particularly the city of Danzig on the Baltic.

A little over a month later, with Poland defeated and occupied, Hitler publicly offered to make peace with the western allies, while secretly ordering his generals to prepare for an invasion of France that winter. Britain and France refused to trust Hitler this time and the war continued.

The German people reacted to the outbreak of war with resignation. In 1914, at the outbreak of World War One, there had been much enthusiasm but not this time. Germans in 1939 could still remember the pain of 1918, their surrender and the subsequent punishment at Versailles. However, the vast majority of Germans reluctantly supported the war and signed up to play their part in the war effort.

The changing fortunes of Germany in the war

A time line of the German Army majors victories and defeats between 1939 and 1943

Despite being defeated at the Battle of Britain and Stalingrad, the successes of the German army left Germany occupying or in control of most of Europe, from France in the West to the western regions of Russia in the East.