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.
Hermann Gerdau was a gunner aboard the Nazi battleship Schleswig Holstein when it opened fire on a Polish base - 55 minutes before Hitler said the war started
The German gunner who fired the first shots of the Second World War claims the conflict began 55 minutes than Hitler claimed.
Hermann Gerdau, now 100 years old, was a gunner aboard the Nazi battleship Schleswig Holstein whose big guns opened up on Poland in the early hours of September 1 1939.
Speaking for the first time of his part in the conflict he said: 'Hitler told the world that the bombardment began at 5.45am, but this was untrue.
'It began at 4.50am. I know because I was there.'
It was the first of the many thousands of lies Hitler would tell the German people throughout the conflict.
Gerdau, now a resident of an OAP home near Hamburg, was 26 on the morning the world changed forever.
He said: 'We knew nothing of Hitler's war plans, but immediately before the invasion of Poland, strange things happened.
'At night we took 225 marine infantry, machine guns and ammunition on board a feeder ship and early the next morning came the order to open fire on the Westerplatte Polish naval base that was only 500 metres away from us.
'The call to battle stations came and I jumped out of the hammock and ran to my post. We fired the first shots of the war. We were so close it was impossible to miss.
'I was bound up in the euphoria of victory. We were all seized by the Nazi regime. But I was not enthusiastic about the war in general. And soon there was only horror.' He lost countless comrades in the battles to come. Some 800 men from the Schleswig-Holstein - which was sunk by British bombs in 1944 - were transferred in 1941 to the battleship Bismarck, which was sunk with the loss of nearly all hands in May that year.
Gerdau (left) was 26 on the morning the world changed forever. He says the first cannon's roar was at 4.50am, not 5.45am, as Hitler claimed
Fury: The Nazi battleship Schleswig Holstein fires its cannons
'I was lucky that I was not aboard,' said Gerdau. 'I had just completed a training course and missed the transfer.'
Instead he was transferred to U-Boats which suffered 80 percent fatality rates. He was awarded the Iron Cross First Class in 1943 for his actions against Allied convoys in the North Atlantic - but had grown totally disillusioned with the war by then.
He added: 'So many ships were sunk. The war was lost. But you couldn't discuss it; you never knew if the next person was a devil of the Nazis.
Mr Gerdau was awarded the Iron Cross First Class in 1943, although he had grown totally disillusioned with the war by then
Invasion: German soldiers tear down the barrier at the German-Polish border on Sept. 1, 1939
Herr Gerdauhe was transferred to U-Boats and was awarded the Iron Cross First Class in 1943 for his actions against Allied convoys in the North Atlantic (file picture)
These were the lost years when a whole generation were burned by the Nazis.....'
He was captured in 1945 and imprisoned, first in the UK and then in America. After returning to Germany he worked on coalers and a whaling ship before becoming a captain. His wife Alwina died in 2001, and he lost his son in 1986. Now the last survivor the Schleswig Holstein he had this advice for the younger generation: 'To avoid war, learn. Education is everything. Go to school. And don't forget to vote.'
Hitler's propaganda stressed the importance of keeping fit and abstaining from drink and tobacco to keep the Aryan race strong and pure.
But in reality his soldiers were taking addictive and damaging chemicals to make them fight longer and more fiercely.
A study of medicines used by the Third Reich exposes how Nazi doctors and officers issued recruits with pills to help them fight longer and without rest.
The German army's drug of choice as it overran Poland, Holland, Belgium and France was Pervitin - pills made from methamphetamine, commonly known today as crystal meth.
Drugged up: German army records show millions of Pervitin amphetamines were doled out to Nazi troops in WWII
Second World War speed: Nazi troops were given pervitin to boost their performance
By the time the invasion of the Soviet Union was launched in 1941, hundreds of thousands of soldiers were doped up on it. Records of the Wehrmacht, the German army, show that some 200 million Pervitin pills were doled out to the troops between 1939 and 1945. Research by the German Doctors' Association also showed the Nazis developed a cocaine-based stimulant for its front-line fighters that was tested on concentration camp inmates. 'It was Hitler's last secret weapon to win a war he had already lost long ago,' said criminologist Wolf Kemper, author of a German language book on the Third Reich's use of drugs called Nazis On Speed.
Cruelty: Inmates at the Dachau camp were victims of horrific Nazi experiments aimed at helping troops' injuries
Experiments: Inmates at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where 100,000 people died, suffered chemical burns as Nazi doctors tested the impact of phosphorous shells
The drug, codenamed D-IX, was tested at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin, where prisoners loaded with 45lb packs were reported to have marched 70 miles without rest.
From cola nuts Trench Cocktails
World armies are still using psychotropic drugs to make fearless machines of their soldiers.
It is an open secret that US servicemen took pills to combat fear rather than the enemy during military actions in Iraq.
The ephedrine-based medications reduce pain and stress reactions, although they also have a side effect – sudden attacks of anger and sadism.
And the results have been unpredictable. Two F-16 pilots bombed a column of Canadian military men by mistake in April 2002 in Kandahar. It was later determined that the two pilots were under the influence of amphetamine stimulants which they had taken prior to the task.
Germany was the first country to mix warfare and drugs, and by the time their soldiers and officers returned from the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-1871 they had developed a great addiction to morphine.
The French army used psychotropic drugs for its soldiers as well. It used cola nut extraction to make invigorating crackers for the military. As a result, a battalion of French soldiers could easily march 55 kilometres under the scorching African sun.
Later, the extraction was used in the production of chocolate – and is still used in the rations of practically all armies of the world.
Vodka and spirit have always been the major stimulant and stress reliever in the Russian army. It was widely used during WWII to overcome pain shocks and raise the soldiers’ morale.
Servicemen also mixed spirit with cocaine – the beverage was known as the trench cocktail which was also used in surgery as an anesthetic.
Great Britain purchased 24,000 capsules of provigil – a psychostimulant known for its contradictory reputation.
Britain believes the drug can be used to keep pilots and other servicemen of special units in a state of consciousness for long operations that last for more than 48 hours.
The plan was to give all soldiers in the crumbling Reich the wonder drug - but the invasion of Normandy in June 1944, coupled with crippling Allied bombing, scotched the scheme.
'The Blitzkrieg was fuelled by speed,' said a pharmacologist. 'The idea was to turn ordinary soldiers, sailors and airmen into automatons capable of superhuman performance.'
Medical authorities say the downside of the plan was that many soldiers became helplessly addicted to drugs and were of no use in any theatre of war.
Otto Ranke, a military doctor and director of the Institute for General and Defence Physiology at Berlin's Academy of Military Medicine, was behind the Pervitin scheme.
He found that the drug gave users heightened self-confidence and self-awareness.
On the eastern front, where the fighting was the most savage of the war, soldiers used it in massive quantities against an enemy that showed no mercy.
In January 1942, one group of 500 troops surrounded by the Red Army were attempting to escape in temperatures of minus 30 Degrees C.
'I decided to give them Pervitin as they began to lie down in the snow wanting to die,' wrote the medical officer for the unit.
'After half an hour the men began spontaneously reporting that they felt better.
'They began marching in orderly fashion again, their spirits improved, and they became more alert.'
Concentration camp prisoners were also the victims of terrible experiments overseen by German doctors aimed at making the war less risky for their own troops.
At Dachau hundreds died in vats of ice water as physicians sought to find a way to better insulate the flying suits of Luftwaffe pilots brought down in the sea.
And at Mauthausen in Austria inmates suffered horrific chemical burns as the doctors sought cures for phosphorous shell injuries.
Physician's group president Jörg-Dietrich Hoppe said: 'I will be the last president of this group who lived through this time.
'It is intolerable to think that so many physicians were silent or complicit in what was done in the name of medicine at this time.'
Newly declassified U.S. army documents reveal that two American POWs sent secret coded messages to Army intelligence after their 1943 visit to Katyn, pointing to Soviet guilt for the 1940 massacre. After witnessing rows of corpses in the Katyn forest, on the western edge of Russia, the American POWs told Washington they believed the Nazi claims that Soviets had carried out the killings of 22,000 Polish officers. Having seen the advanced state of decay of the bodies, the POWs concluded that the killings must have been carried out by the Soviets rather than the Nazis who had only recently invaded the area surrounding the Katyn forest.
The documents shed further light on decades of suppression of Soviet guilt within the U.S. government which began during WWII when the blame for the massacre was being pointed at Nazi Germany. The long-held suspicion is that President Franklin Roosevelt didn't want to anger Josef Stalin, an ally whom the Americans were counting on to defeat Germany and Japan.
Kaytn massacre: This 1952 photo, shows a view of a partially emptied mass grave in the Katyn forest where approximately 22,000 Polish men were killed. Newly declassified documents add proof that the U.S. government helped cover up the Soviets' responsibility
The testimony about the infamous massacre of Polish officers might have lessened the tragic fate that befell Poland under the Soviets, some scholars believe.
Documents released Monday lend weight to the belief that suppression within the highest levels of the U.S. government helped cover up Soviet guilt in the killing of some 22,000 Polish officers and other prisoners in the Katyn forest and other locations in 1940. The evidence is among about 1,000 pages of newly declassified documents that the United States National Archives is releasing Monday and putting online. The most dramatic revelation so far is the evidence of the secret codes sent by the two American POWs — something historians were unaware of and which adds to evidence that the Roosevelt administration knew of the Soviet atrocity relatively early on.
Cover up: Secret codes sent by the two American POWs about the massacre¿ something historians were unaware of - adds to evidence that the Roosevelt administration knew of the Soviet atrocity relatively early on
The declassified documents also show the United States maintaining that it couldn't conclusively determine guilt until a Russian admission in 1990 — a statement that looks improbable given the huge body of evidence of Soviet guilt that had already emerged decades earlier. Historians say the new material helps to flesh out the story of what the U.S. knew and when.
The Soviet secret police killed the 22,000 Poles with shots to the back of the head. Their aim was to eliminate a military and intellectual elite that would have put up stiff resistance to Soviet control. The men were among Poland's most accomplished — officers and reserve officers who in their civilian lives worked as doctors, lawyers, teachers, or as other professionals. Their loss has proven an enduring wound to the Polish nation.
In the early years after the war, outrage by some American officials over the concealment inspired the creation of a special U.S. Congressional committee to investigate Katyn.
In a final report released in 1952, the committee declared there was no doubt of Soviet guilt, and called the massacre 'one of the most barbarous international crimes in world history.'
Deceit: The long-held suspicion is that President Franklin Roosevelt, centre, didn't want to anger Josef Stalin, left, an ally whom the Americans were counting on to defeat Germany and Japan during World War II. In this 1943 file photo, Stalin, Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill meet for the first time to discuss Allied plans for the war against Germany and for postwar cooperation in the United Nations
It found that Roosevelt's administration suppressed public knowledge of the crime, but said it was out of military necessity. It also recommended the government bring charges against the Soviets at an international tribunal — something never acted upon.
Despite the committee's strong conclusions, the White House maintained its silence on Katyn for decades, showing an unwillingness to focus on an issue that would have added to political tensions with the Soviets during the Cold War.
It was May 1943 in the Katyn forest, a part of Russia the Germans had seized from the Soviets in 1941, when group of American and British POWs were taken against their will by their German captors to witness a horrifying scene at a clearing surrounded by pine trees: mass graves tightly packed with thousands of partly mummified corpses in well-tailored Polish officers uniforms.
The Americans — Capt. Donald B. Stewart and Lt. Col. John H. Van Vliet Jr. — hated the Nazis and didn't want to believe the Germans. They had seen German cruelty up close, and the Soviets, after all, were their ally. The Germans were hoping to use the POWs for propaganda, and to drive a wedge between the Soviet Union and its Western Allies.
But returning to their POW camps, the Americans carried a conviction that they had just witnessed overwhelming proof of Soviet guilt. The corpses' advanced state of decay told them the killings took place much earlier in the war, when the Soviets still controlled the area.
They also saw Polish letters, diaries, identification tags, news clippings and other objects — none dated later than spring of 1940 — pulled from the graves. The evidence that did the most to convince them was the good state of the men's boots and clothing: That told them the men had not lived long after being captured.
Fighting: Franciszek Herzog, 81, holds up a picture of his father who died in the massacre. Herzog has been hoping for more openness from the U.S. since Gorbachev's 1990 admission and previously made three attempts to obtain an apology from President George H.W. Bush
Stewart testified before the 1951 Congressional committee about what he saw, and Van Vliet wrote reports on Katyn in 1945 and 1950, the first of which mysteriously disappeared. But the newly declassified documents show that both sent secret encoded messages while still in captivity to army intelligence with their opinion of Soviet culpability.
It's an important revelation because it shows the Roosevelt administration was getting information early on from credible U.S. sources of Soviet guilt — yet still ignored it for the sake of the alliance with Stalin.
One shows a head of Army intelligence, Gen. Clayton Bissell, confirming that some months after the 1943 visit to Katyn by the U.S. officers, a coded request by MIS-X, a unit of military intelligence, was sent to Van Vliet requesting him 'to state his opinion of Katyn.' Bissell's note said that 'it is also understood Col. Van Vliet & Capt. Stewart replied.'
MIS-X was devoted to helping POWs held behind German lines escape; it also used the prisoners to gather intelligence.
A statement from Stewart dated 1950 confirms he received and sent coded messages to Washington during the war, including one on Katyn: 'Content of my report was aprx (approximately): German claims regarding Katyn substantially correct in opinion of Van Vliet and myself.'
The newly uncovered documents also show Stewart was ordered in 1950 — soon before the Congressional committee began its work — never to speak about a secret message on Katyn.
'Content of my report was aprx (approximately): German claims regarding Katyn substantially correct in opinion of Van Vliet and myself'
Code sent by U.S.Capt.Stewart
Krystyna Piorkowska, author of the recently published book 'English-Speaking Witnesses to Katyn: Recent Research,' discovered the documents related to the coded messages more than a week ago. She was one of several researchers who saw the material ahead of the public release.
She had already determined in her research that Van Vliet and Stewart were 'code users' who had gotten messages out about other matters. But this is the first discovery of them communicating about Katyn, she said.
Another Katyn expert aware of the documents, Allen Paul, author of 'Katyn: Stalin's Massacre and the Triumph of Truth,' said the find is 'potentially explosive.' He said the material does not appear in the record of the Congressional hearings in 1951-52, and appears to have also been suppressed.
He argues that the U.S. cover-up delayed a full understanding in the United States of the true nature of Stalinism — an understanding that came only later, after the Soviets exploded an atomic bomb in 1949 and after Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe were already behind the Iron Curtain.
'The Poles had known long before the war ended what Stalin's true intentions were,' Paul said. 'The West's refusal to hear them out on the Katyn issue was a crushing blow that made their fate worse.'
The historical record carries other evidence Roosevelt knew in 1943 of Soviet guilt. One of the most important messages that landed on FDR's desk was an extensive and detailed report British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent him. Written by the British ambassador to the Polish government-in-exile in London, Owen O'Malley, it pointed to Soviet guilt at Katyn.
Murdered: New evidence adds proof that the U.S. government helped cover up Soviet guilt in the killing of some 22,000 Polish officers. Franciszek Herzog, pictured here in 1938, died in the massacres
'There is now available a good deal of negative evidence,' O'Malley wrote, 'the cumulative effect of which is to throw serious doubt on Russian disclaimers of responsibility for the massacre.'
It wasn't until the waning days of Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe that reformist leader Mikhail Gorbachev publicly admitted to Soviet guilt at Katyn, a key step in Polish-Russian reconciliation.
The silence by the U.S. government has been a source of deep frustration for many Polish-Americans. One is Franciszek Herzog, 81, a Connecticut man whose father and uncle died in the massacre. After Gorbachev's 1990 admission, he was hoping for more openness from the U.S. as well and made three attempts to obtain an apology from President George H.W. Bush.
'It will not resurrect the men,' he wrote to Bush. 'But will give moral satisfaction to the widows and orphans of the victims.'
A reply he got in 1992, from the State Department, did not satisfy him. His correspondence with the government is also among the newly released documents and was obtained early by the AP from the George Bush Presidential Library.
The letter, dated Aug. 12, 1992, and signed by Thomas Gerth, then deputy director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs, shows the government stating that it lacked irrefutable evidence until Gorbachev's admission:
'The U.S. government never accepted the Soviet Government's claim that it was not responsible for the massacre. However, at the time of the Congressional hearings in 1951-1952, the U.S. did not possess the facts that could clearly refute the Soviets' allegations that these crimes were committed by the Third Reich. These facts, as you know, were not revealed until 1990, when the Russians officially apologized to Poland.'
Herzog expressed frustration at that reply.
'There's a big difference between not knowing and not wanting to know,' Herzog said. 'I believe the U.S. government didn't want to know because it was inconvenient to them.'
Decades of denial and deceit: How one of the most barbarous crimes in world history was covered up
September 1939: World War II begins with the German invasion of Poland from the west, quickly followed by the Soviet invasion from the east. The carving up of Poland results from a secret pact between Adolf Hitler's Germany and Josef Stalin's Soviet Union. The Soviets soon capture thousands of Polish officers and transport them to POW camps in Russia. They also deport hundreds of thousands of Polish civilians to Siberia. April-May 1940: Soviet secret police kill 22,000 Polish officers and other prisoners of war and dump their bodies in mass graves. The murders, carried out with shots to the back of the heads, take place in the Katyn forest in western Russia and other locations. At that time, letters from the officers to their families come to a sudden stop, bringing despair to relatives and creating an early Polish belief that the Soviets killed them. Questioned by Polish leaders on the fate of the officers, the Soviets begin decades of denying their guilt.
1941: Germany attacks Soviet Union, and in its eastward advance overruns the territory surrounding Katyn. The Soviets join the Allies in the war against Hitler.
April 1943: Nazi Germany's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels announces the German discovery of mass graves at Katyn. Goebbels hopes public knowledge of the Soviet crime would sow distrust between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies and weaken their alliance.
May 1943: As part of the Nazi propaganda effort, the Germans bring a group of American and British POWs to Katyn, as well as other groups, to see the remains of the Poles in the mass graves, in an advanced state of decomposition.
May 1945: World War II ends. Upon being freed Lt. Col John H. Van Vliet gives his first report to Army intelligence on what he witnessed at Katyn, one that disappeared and still has never been found.
1951: The U.S. Congress sets up a committee to investigate the Katyn crimes after questions about the whereabouts of the missing Van Vliet report from 1945. Even ahead of the formal establishment of the committee, Van Vliet in 1950 makes a second written report on his impressions from Katyn.
1952: The Congressional committee concludes there is no question that the Soviets bear blame for the massacre. It faults Roosevelt's administration for suppressing public knowledge of the truth. The report also says it suspects pro-Soviet sympathizers within government agencies buried knowledge about Katyn. It expresses anger at the disappearance of the first Van Vliet report and says: 'This committee believes that had the Van Vliet report been made immediately available to the Dept. of State and to the American public, the course of our governmental policy toward Soviet Russia might have been more realistic with more fortunate post-war results.'
1990: The reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev publicly admits that the Soviets bear guilt for Katyn.
In 1939, the Polish army still maintained many cavalry squadrons, which had served them well as recently as the Polish-Soviet War in 1921. A myth emerged about the Polish cavalry leading desperate charges against the tanks of the invading Nazis, pitting horsemen against armored vehicles. While cavalry units did encounter armored divisions on occasion, their targets were ground infantry, and their charges were often effective. Nazi and Soviet propaganda helped fuel the myth of the noble-yet-backward Polish cavalry. This photo is of a Polish cavalry squadron on maneuvers somewhere in Poland, on April 29, 1939. (AP Photo) #
Associated Press correspondent Alvin Steinkopf broadcasting from the Free City of Danzig -- at the time, a semi-autonomous city-state tied to Poland. Steinkopf was relating the tense situation in Danzig back to America, on July 11, 1939. Germany had been demanding the incorporation of Danzing into the Third Reich for months, and appeared to be preparing military action.(AP Photo) #
Soviet premier Josef Stalin (second from right), smiles while Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (seated), signs the non-aggression pact with German Reich Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (third from right), in Moscow, on August 23, 1939. The man at left is Soviet Deputy Defense Minister and Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Boris Shaposhnikov. The nonaggression pact included a secret protocol dividing eastern Europe into spheres of influence in the event of a conflict. The pact now guaranteed that Hitler's troops would face no resistance from the Soviets if they invaded Poland, bringing the war one step closer to reality.(AP Photo/File) #
Two days after Germany signed the non-aggression pact with the USSR, Great Britain entered into a military alliance with Poland, on August 25, 1939. This photo shows the scene one week later, on September 1, 1939, one of the first military operations of Germany's invasion of Poland, and the beginning of World War II. Here, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein is bombing a Polish military transit depot at Westerplatte in the Free City of Danzig. Simultaneously, the German Air Force (Luftwaffe), and ground troops (Heer) were attacking several other Polish targets. (AP Photo) #
German soldiers comb the Westerplatte after it was surrendered to German units from the Schleswig-Holstein landing crew, on September 7, 1939. Fewer than 200 Polish soldiers defended the small peninsula, holding off the Germans for seven days.(AP Photo) #
Aerial view of bombs exploding during a German bombing run over Poland in September of 1939 (LOC) #
Two tanks of the SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division cross the Bzura River during the German invasion of Poland in September of 1939. The Battle of Bzura, the largest of the entire campaign, lasted more than a week, ending with the German forces capturing most of western Poland. (LOC/Klaus Weill) #
Soldiers of the SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division, resting in a ditch alongside a road on the way to Pabianice, during the invasion of Poland in 1939. (LOC/Klaus Weill) #
A ten-year-old Polish girl named Kazimiera Mika mourns over her sister's body. She was killed by German machine-gun fire while picking potatoes in a field outside Warsaw, Poland, in September of 1939. (AP Photo/Julien Bryan) #
German advance guards and scouts are shown in a Polish town that has been under fire during the Nazi invasion of Poland, September 1939. (AP Photo) #
German infantry cautiously advance on the outskirts of Warsaw, Poland on September 16, 1939. (AP Photo) #
Several civilian prisoners of war, with arms raised, walk along a road during the German invasion of Poland in September of 1939.(LOC) #
Britain's King George VI broadcasts to the British nation on the first evening of the war, on September 3, 1939, in London.(AP Photo) #
A conflict which would end with the dropping of two nuclear bombs began with a proclamation read aloud by a town crier. Acting Town Crier and Saltbearer of the City of London, W.T. Boston, reads the war proclamation from the steps of the Royal Exchange, in London, on September 4, 1939. (AP Photo/Putnam) #
A crowd reads newspaper headlines, "Bombs Rain On Warsaw" as they stand outside the U.S. State Department building where diplomats held a conference on war conditions in Europe, on September 1, 1939. (AP Photo) #
On September 17, 1939, the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Courageous was hit by torpedoes from the German submarine U-29, and sank within 20 minutes. The Courageous, on an anti-submarine patrol off the coast of Ireland, was stalked for hours by U-29, which launched three torpedoes when it saw an opening. Two of the torpedoes struck the ship on the port side, sinking it with the loss of 518 of its 1,259 crew members. (AP Photo) #
The scene of devastation seen on Ordynacka Street in Warsaw, Poland on March 6, 1940. The carcass of a dead horse lies in the street among enormous piles of debris. While Warsaw was under nearly constant bombardment during the invasion, on one day alone, September 25, 1939, about 1,150 bombing sorties were flown by German aircraft against Warsaw, dropping over 550 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs on the city. (AP Photo) #
German troops marching into the city of Bromberg (the German name for the Polish city of Bydgoszcz) found several hundred German nationals dead from Polish sniper fire. The snipers were equipped with arms by the retreating Polish forces. Bodies are shown on a forest road, September 8, 1939. (AP Photo) #
A damaged Polish armored train carrying tanks captured by the 14th SS-Leibstandard Adolf Hitler Division, near Blonie, during the invasion of Poland in September of 1939. (LOC/Klaus Weill) #
German soldiers, taken prisoner by the Polish army during the Nazi invasion, are shown while they were held captive in Warsaw, on October 2, 1939. (AP Photo) #
A young Polish boy returns to what was his home and squats among the ruins during a pause in the German air raids on Warsaw, Poland, in September of 1939. German attacks lasted until Warsaw surrendered on September 28. One week later, the last of the Polish forces capitulated near Lublin, giving full control of Poland to Germany and the Soviet Union. (AP Photo/Julien Bryan) #
Adolf Hitler salutes parading troops of the German Wehrmacht in Warsaw, Poland, on October 5, 1939 after the German invasion. Behind Hitler are, from left to right: Colonel General Walther von Brauchitsch, Lieutenant General Friedrich von Cochenhausen, Colonel General Gerd von Rundstedt, and Colonel General Wilhelm Keitel. (AP Photo) #
Earlier in 1939, Imperial Japanese army and naval units continued to attack and push forward into China and Mongolia. Here Japanese soldiers advance inland over the beach after landing at Swatow (Shantou), one of the remaining South China coast ports still under Chinese control at that time, on July 10, 1939. After a short engagement with the Chinese defenders the Japanese entered the city without encountering much further opposition. (AP Photo) #
On the Mongolian border, Japanese tanks roll across the vast plains of the Mongolian-Manchurian steppe, near the Mongolian border, on July 21, 1939. Manchukuo troops were reinforced by the Japanese when the border warfare with Soviet forces flared up suddenly in this sector. (AP Photo) #
A Japanese machine gun unit cautiously moves forward, past two Soviet armored cars abandoned in fighting along the Mongolian frontier in July of 1939. (AP Photo) #
On November 30, 1939, after Soviet demands made to Finland went unmet -- they were asking the Finns to give them land concessions and to destroy fortifications along the border -- the USSR invaded Finland. Some 450,000 Soviet soldiers crossed the border, starting a brutal, frozen battle that would be called the Winter War. In this image, a member of a Finnish anti-aircraft detachment, wearing his white camouflage uniform, works with a range-finder on December 28, 1939, during a Russian aerial attack. (AP Photo) #
A house burns furiously after being hit by a Soviet bomb during a Russian air raid on Turku, a port city in the southwest of Finland, on December 27, 1939. (AP Photo) #
In a frozen, wooded battlefront "somewhere in Finland," Finnish troops scatter to take shelter as Soviet planes fly over on an air raid on January 19, 1940. (AP Photo) #
Finnish soldiers, members of one of the ski battalions that fought against invading Russian troops, march with their reindeer on March 28, 1940. (Editor's note: this photo shows evidence of being retouched by hand, likely in an effort to boost sharpness and contrast) (AP Photo) #
Spoils of war -- captured Soviet tanks and cars, along a road in a snow covered forest on January 17, 1940. Finnish troops had just overpowered an entire Soviet division. (LOC) #
A Swedish volunteer, "somewhere in Northern Finland," protects himself from the sub-zero arctic cold with a mask over his face on February 20, 1940, while on duty against the Russian Invaders. (AP Photo) #
The winter of 1939-1940 in Finland was exceptionally cold. In January, temperatures dropped below -40° in some places. Frostbite was a constant threat, and the corpses of soldiers killed in battle froze solid, often in eerie poses. This January 31, 1940 photo shows a frozen dead Russian soldier, his face, hands and clothing covered with a dusting of snow. After 105 days, the Finns and Russians signed a peace treaty, allowing Finland to retain sovereignty, while it ceded 11 percent of its territory to the Soviets.(LOC) #
The German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, in flames off Montevideo, Uruguay on December 19, 1939. The crew of the Admiral Graf Spee had just engaged in the Battle of the River Plate, after three Royal Navy cruisers hunted it down and attacked. The damage from the attack did not sink the German battleship, but sent it to a harbor in Montevideo for repairs. Unable to stay long enough for repairs, and unwilling to run a waiting blockade, the crew of the Admiral Graf Spee sailed a short distance out of port and scuttled the ship, seen here shortly before it sank. (AP Photo) #
Restaurant operator Fred Horak of Somerville, Massachusetts, put this sign on the window of his lunch room, shown March 18, 1939. Horak was a native of Prague, Czechoslovakia. (AP Photo) #
Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter aircraft being manufactured, likely in Buffalo, New York, ca 1939. (Editor's note, the AP caption for this photo was in error, previously stating these were Boeing bombers) (AP Photo) #
While German forces were concentrated on Poland, anxiety was rising on the Western Front, with French troops welcoming British soldiers as they deployed along the border with Germany. Here, French troops pose in a cantonment in France on December 18, 1939. (AP Photo) #
Vast masses of Parisians gathered at the Basilica Church of the sacred heart on the hill of Montmartre to attend a religious service and pray for peace. Part of the huge crowd gathered in front of the church in France on August 27, 1939. (AP Photo) #
Members of the French Army man an acoustic locator device on January 4, 1940. The device was one of many experimental designs, built to pick up the sound of distant aircraft engines and give their distance and location. The introduction and adoption of radar technology rendered these devices obsolete very quickly. (AP Photo) #
A party of newspaper men on the Western Front are shown atop one of the big forts somewhere in the Maginot Line, France, on October 19, 1939, with a French army guide pointing out to them the "no man's land" that separates the French and German troops. (AP Photo) #
British troops cheerfully board their train for the first stage of their trip to the western front, somewhere in England, om September 20, 1939. (AP Photo/Putnam) #
London's Westminster Bridge and the Houses of parliament, shrouded in darkness, after the great black-out began, on August 11, 1939. This blackout was the first trial conducted by the Home Office, in preparation for possible German air raids. (AP Photo) #
This was the scene at Holborn Town Hall, in London, England, as officials and mothers tested the reactions of babies to a respirator designed to protect them against poison gas on March 3, 1939. Several babies, all under the age of two, were fitted with the "baby helmets." (AP Photo) #
German Chancellor and dictator Adolf Hitler consults a geographical survey map with his general staff including Heinrich Himmler (left) and Martin Bormann (right) at an undisclosed location in 1939. (AFP/Getty Images) #
On Friday, Oct. 30, 2008, a man looks at a photograph of Johann Georg Elser, mounted on a monument in Freiburg, Germany. Elser, a German citizen, attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler with a self-made bomb in the "Buergerbraukeller" beer hall in Munich on November 8, 1939. Hitler finished his speech early, escaping the timed explosion by just thirteen minutes. Eight people died, 63 were injured, and Elser was caught and imprisoned. Shortly before the end of World War II, he was executed in the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau. (AP Photo/ Winfried Rothermel)