World War II: The Invasion of Poland and the Winter War


In August of 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty. One week later, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. The first attack of the war took place on September 1, 1939, as German aircraft bombarded the Polish town of Wielun, killing nearly 1,200. Five minutes later, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on a transit depot at Westerplatte in the Free City of Danzig. Within days, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany and began mobilizing their armies and preparing their civilians. On September 17, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. Polish forces surrendered in early October after losing some 65,000 troops and many thousands of civilians. In November, Soviet forces invaded Finland and began a months-long battle dubbed the Winter War. By the beginning of 1940, Germany was finalizing plans for the invasions of Denmark and Norway. Collected here are images of these tumultuous first months and of Allied forces preparing for the arduous battles to come. (This entry is Part 2 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II)
Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty

    Photos of the Week: Transport Mishaps, Epiphany Blessings, Sheep Riding

    The pope’s visit to South America, big surf in Portugal, bull wrestling in India, a false alarm in Hawaii, a massive oil spill in the East China Sea, and much more.

  • Franck Fife / AFP / Getty

    Photos From the 2018 Dakar Rally

    Leaving Lima, Peru, on January 6, 335 competitors started the 40th annual Dakar Rally, which arrives in Córdoba, Argentina, on January 20.

  • Carl Court / Getty, Francisco Seco / AP

    A Pair of Fiery Festivals

    In the past couple of days, festivals were held in two villages separated by language, culture, religion, and great distance, but both centered on the use of fire as a method of purification and blessing.

  • NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran

    Gorgeous Images of the Planet Jupiter

    In its 10th orbit around Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft is returning amazing images of the gas giant that are being made even more incredible by citizen scientists here on Earth.

Join the Discussion