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War in Europe Begins

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German troops march through Warsaw, September 1939 (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

72nd Anniversary of The Invasion of Poland — 1 September 1939

War in Europe began with the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, followed by the Soviet invasion on 17 September. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had attempted to avoid war with Germany through the policy of appeasement. He believed that in giving Hitler certain—and one might add very generous—concessions regarding German expansion and annexation, particularly regarding the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, that he would stop where he was.

Following the so-called Munich Agreement (September 1938), Chamberlain assured the unconvinced Polish government that they were safe from Hitler’s grasp, and that in the event of a German invasion British support would be provided. In the early hours of 1 September 1939, Hitler’s troops marched into Poland with aerial support from Me 109’s and the infamous wailing Stuka dive bombers. Although Britain kept its word by declaring war on the German aggressors, in reality no military support was given and Poland was quickly overrun but not without a valiant fight. Unknown to many at the time and denied by the Soviet Union for decades, the Molotov-Ribbontrop Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939) included secret protocols which outlined the partition of Poland between the two powers following the foregone success of the invasion.

Molotov signing the Non-aggression Pact. Ribbentrop and Stalin stand behind him. Moscow, 23 August 1939. (Photo courtesy of The National Archives) 

This post by National World War II Museum Curator Meg Roussel.

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