World War I & II:

  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated, marking the start of World War I (1914) – World War I began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip, who worked for the Black Hand. When German Kaiser Wilhelm II pledged his support for Austria-Hungary against the Russia-backed Serbia, the war began, with France and England also joining Serbia. Germany fought on two fronts according to the Schlieffen Plan, and France and England confronted it at the First Battle of the Marne. When a stalemate was reached, both sides dug into trenches, where the battles of Verdun and the Somme were fought in 1916. Russia pulled out of the conflict in 1917 following the Russian Revolution, but the United States joined after the German U-Boats sank passenger ship Lusitania and sent the Zimmerman Telegram to Mexico. The tide turned against Germany at the Second Battle of the Marne and German surrender was sealed with the Treaty of Versailles, while the League of Nations was also established. World War I’s biggest naval engagement was the Battle of Jutland, and troops also fought campaigns in Gallipoli and the Middle East. Machine guns, fighter aircraft, and tanks were all introduced during the war, which ended in 1918 and took 9 million lives.
  • Nicholas II and his family are executed by the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin (1918) – Brought to power by Vladimir Lenin, the Bolsheviks were the more radical rivals of the Mensheviks. Both were factions of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party that took control of Russia in the October Revolution and became the Communist Party. While the Mensheviks, known as “Those of the Minority”, favored democratic assimilation into socialism, the Bolsheviks, or “Those of the Majority”, wanted immediate revolution and implementation of socialism; ultimately, the Bolsheviks prevailed. Vladimir Lenin led the Bolsheviks. His brother Aleksandr, who was executed for attempting to murder the Tsar, shaped his ideologies: while a lawyer in 1889, Lenin became a Marxist and was consequently exiled to Siberia, and later Germany. Lenin returned to Russia on a train from Switzerland as the October Revolution began, seized leadership, and became head of the Soviet state. He signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in 1918, founded the Comintern, and implemented War Communism and the New Economic Policy until his 1924 death.
  • Treaty of Versailles ends World War I (1919) – Drafted at the Paris Peace Conference, the Treaty of Versailles ended World War I and stipulated Germany’s punishment for it. Dominated by the Big Four, David Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau, and Vittorio Orlando the Treaty demanded Germany pay war reparations, disarm itself, return Alsace and Lorraine to France, and give up its overseas colonies. The Treaty also included the Covenant of the League of Nations, though most of its points had been neutered by concessions to Germany by the time Adolf Hitler rose to power.
  • Joseph Stalin becomes leader of the Soviet Union (1927) – Georgian revolutionary Joseph Stalin was the dictator of the Soviet Union from 1927 until his death. He grew up secretly reading Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, was expelled from school, and worked as a political agitator under the name Koba. He joined the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin and became the Communist Party’s secretary general in 1922; when Lenin died, Stalin defeated his rival Leon Trotsky to become leader of the Party- he later had Trotsky assassinated with an icepick in Mexico. Stalin implemented five-year plans, collectivized farms and caused famines, sent dissenters to gulags, carried out the Great Purge as dictator, signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact with Hitler when World War II began, and began the Russo-Finnish War. Germany soon turned against him, but Stalin was able to repulse its invasion at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942. He entered postwar negotiations alongside the Allies and was able to establish a communist regime throughout eastern Europe where his executions, purges, and oppression continued. Stalin died in 1953 and was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev.
  • Nazi Germany invades Poland, starting World War II (1939) – World War II was sparked by Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland to conquer “lebensraum”, or living space, for its superior “Aryan” race. Fought between the Allied and Axis powers, the war lasted six years and took 40 million lives. With the tactic of “blitzkrieg”, Adolf Hitler’s army was able to rapidly defeat the disoriented Poles in a month. Any hope of Russian assistance was shattered by their signature of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Nonaggression Pact; in fact, Russia came to divide Polish territory with Germany.
  • General Charles de Gaulle forms a French government in exile (1940) – The founder of France’s Fifth Republic, Charles de Gaulle fought in World War I and World War II before beginning his career in politics. At the outbreak of World War II, de Gaulle served as a war minister under Paul Reynaud. When Marshal Petain’s government took over in 1940 and began negotiating an armistice with Germany, de Gaulle left to England to continue the war and was sentenced to death by the French in absentia. De Gaulle organized the Free French from abroad, moved his headquarters from London to Algiers, and finally returned to Paris in 1944, where his dissatisfaction with the Fourth Republic led him to resign. The Algerian War, which was fought by the FLN and the OAS, toppled the Fourth Republic in 1958, allowing de Gaulle to come out of retirement to lead the new Fifth Republic. As president, he withdrew France from NATO, began developing nuclear weapons, and granted independence to Algeria. He retired in 1969 and died in 1970.
  • Siege of Leningrad begins as German forces begins their assault on the Soviet Union (1941) – Codenamed Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of Russia began in 1941 in violation of the earlier Nonaggression Pact, with Germany and its Finnish allies encircling the Soviet city of Leningrad. The siege lasted 872 days; the city had survived on sparse supplies delivered on barge and sled on Lake Ladoga until a Soviet offensive in 1944 drove the Germans away.
  • Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, prompting an American declaration of war on Japan (1941) – The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was masterminded by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and crippled the American navy, sinking and damaging ships including the USS Arizona. Earlier radar warnings from the USS Ward and Army Private George Elliott prior to the attack had been disregarded. Pearl Harbor finally compelled the United States to join the conflict; its only involvement in the war was through various embargoes and supplying the Allies through agreements like the Lend-Lease Act.
  • Battle of Midway is fought (1942) – The Battle of Midway was a decisive American victory and a successful defense of the naval base on the island of Midway that also ended Japanese expansion in the Pacific. Shortly after his victory at the Battle of the Coral Sea, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto led four aircraft carriers, the Akagi, theKaga, the Hiryu, and the Sonyu to Midway. The US Navy had stationed the USS Enterprise, Yorktown, and Hornet at Midway in anticipation, and deployed U.S. Devastator torpedo bombers against the Japanese fleet. Japan lost 3,000 men and all four carriers in the battle, while the US Navy only lost around 300 men, the USS Yorktown, and the USS Hammann.
  • D-Day (Operation Overlord) (1944) – The Allies began their recapture of western Europe at Normandy, France, on D-Day. American general Dwight Eisenhower and British field marshal Bernard Montgomery served as commanders of the operation, and ordered assaults on beaches codenamed Juno, Gold, Sword, Utah, and Omaha. These beaches had been fortified by German commander Erwin Rommel, who soon was forced to commit suicide after the failure of the July Plot, which was a disaster for the German high command. Meanwhile, the Allied troops had already pushed into the Normandy countryside, fighting in bocage hedgerows, and were well entrenched in occupied France by July.
  • The Battle of the Bulge is fought (1944) – The last major German offensive of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge was fought in winter in Belgium’s Ardennes region. The Wehrmacht was commanded by Gerd von Rundstedt and Sepp Dietrich, while American forces were led by General George Patton. One Allied division was surrounded at the town of Bastogne and witnessed commander Anthony McAuliffe’s exclamation of “Nuts!” They were relieved by General Eisenhower’s Third Army on December 26 and began the counterattack that culminated in victory on January 16.
  • Franklin D Roosevelt passes away and Harry S Truman becomes president (1945) – Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd American president and the only president elected to office four times. He led the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. Though crippled by polio, Roosevelt w   on a landslide election victory to succeed Herbert Hoover as president in 1932, promising recovery from the Great Depression. During the first Hundred Days of his term, he declared a bank holiday, began holding “fireside chats” over the radio, and initiated the New Deal, a series of radical fiscal and government reforms. The New Deal implemented the Agricultural Adjustment Act, National Industrial Recovery Act, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, among other initiatives. Roosevelt brought the United States into World War II after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, negotiated as part of the “Big Three” world leaders at the Tehran and Yalta Conferences, and set the stage for the founding of the United Nations. He died in 1945 at the beginning of his fourth term.
  • The B-29 bomber Enola Gay drops the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima (1945) –  Carrying the “Little Boy” atomic bomb, Colonel Paul TibbetsB-29 took off at 2:45AM from the Marianan island of Tinian on August 6, 1945. Little Boy, a uranium-235 bomb, was the 2-billion-dollar product of the Manhattan Project, which involved scientists like Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi. Thomas Ferebee was the Enola Gay’s bombardier, and William ‘Deak’ Parsons was the weaponeer. At 7:15 A.M., they aimed at Aioi Bridge, armed the bomb, and dropped it on Hiroshima; Little Boy killed 70,000 on impact and 70,000 from its fallout. Three days later, Bockscar left Tinian and dropped “Fat Man” on Nagasaki, and Japan surrendered less than a month later.
  • Emperor Hirohito announces the surrender of Japan (1945) – Hirohito, also known as Emperor Showa, was Japan’s longest-reigning ruler. The grandson of the Meiji Emperor, he was appointed regent in 1921, and led through the signing of the Four-Power Treaty, the Great Kanto Earthquake, and the Toranomon Incident. Hirohito ascended to the throne in 1926, authorized the invasion of China, gave consent to the Pearl Harbor attack, and declared Japan’s surrender over an unheard-of appearance on the radio. Japan adopted a constitutional monarchy after the war, and while Hirohito retained the throne, he began publishing work as a marine biologist. He died in 1989.