World War II Day by Day World War II was the single most devastating and horrific event in the history of the world, causing the death of some 70 million people, reshaping the political map of the twentieth century and ushering in a new era of world history. Every day The Daily Chronicles brings you a new story from the annals of World War II with a vision to preserve the memory of those who suffered in the greatest military conflict the world has ever seen.


Forward German HQ in Poland September 24, 1939

On this date in 1939 in Poland, Luftwaffe chief Her­mann Goering pre­pared to send hun­dreds of air­craft to blitz Warsaw in the largest air raid ever up to that time, while German armored forces pre­pared for a ground assault on the Polish capital. At 8 a.m. the next day, Septem­ber 25, known as “Black Monday” in Poland, German air­planes, including some that were obso­lete, con­ducted 1,150 sorties over the city, drop­ping 560 tons of high-explo­sive bombs and 72 tons of incen­di­ary bombs. In doing so, Germany shifted the terror bombing of civil­ian popu­la­tions into over­drive following Axis exper­i­ments on Guer­nica (1937) and Barcelona (1938) during the Spanish Civil War.

Lt. Col. Wolfram von Richthofen, who was in charge of the Guer­nica air raid, declared the bombing and strafing of that Spanish town, which may have killed over 1,500 peo­ple out of a popu­la­tion of 7,000, to have been “a com­plete techni­cal success” and broke the sur­vivors’ morale. Richt­hofen employed the same bombing tech­niques in Poland with greater intensity and to much greater effect. The “Black Monday” bombing ruptured Warsaw’s water pipes and pre­vented the in­fer­no from being quenched, elating Richt­hofen who wanted to burn the capital to the ground and turn it into a mere “cus­toms station” in the future. Between aerial and artil­lery bom­bard­ments, 40 per­cent of the city’s buildings were damaged and 10 per­cent destroyed. Over 75,000 civil­ians became casu­al­ties before the Polish capi­tal of 1.1 mil­lion people (1931 popu­lation) sur­rendered on Septem­ber 27, 1939. The Germans took over 100,000 prisoners.

The Luftwaffe next firebombed Rotter­dam in the Nether­lands, this on May 14, 1940, killing 1,000 resi­dents and leaving 78,000 home­less, even though the Dutch city had already capit­u­lated. Quickening the tempo, Germany carried out incen­diary raids on an ever larger scale with night­time attacks on the Mid­lands city of Coventry and the British capital, London, in 1940–1941 (Blitz).

Incendiary bombing of heavily populated Euro­pean cities was ratcheted up again when the Allies (chiefly in the form of the Royal Air Force) virtually destroyed the North German city of Hamburg in mid-1943 air raids that killed about 50,000 peo­ple out of a popu­lation of 1.2 mil­lion. The Hamburg “area bombing,” or carpet bombing, of Germany’s second-largest city was a delib­er­ate attack on civil­ian morale and did little to damage the Nazis’ war machine in con­trast to Amer­ica’s “pre­ci­sion bombing” of German mili­tary and indus­trial tar­gets such as air­craft, ship­building, synthe­tic oil refin­eries, and trans­por­tation system, which inflicted major dis­rup­tions on the German military and economy reputedly with fewer civilian casual­ties. (Post­war critics of the Anglo-American bombing cam­paign against Nazi Germany main­tain that the difference between an RAF area bombing raid and a U.S. “precision bombing” raid was often minimal.)

Three months before Germany’s sur­render in May 1945, 1,300 U.S. and British heavy bombers unleashed 4,000 tons of bombs on Dresden, destroying 15 square miles of that his­toric city in a con­fla­gra­tion that killed some 25,000 peo­ple. Half a world away, Japan’s capi­tal, Tokyo, was the worst-ravaged of any fire­bombed city when on March 9–10, 1945, 90,000 civil­ians were killed out­right and 40,000 later died when U.S. napalm-filled “block burners” spread a fire typhoon through the city. Para­dox­i­cally, fewer Japa­nese died in each of the atomic blasts over Hiro­shima and Naga­saki later that August than in Tokyo on March 9–10, 1945.

Terror Bombing Warsaw: The Luftwaffe’s Aerial Bombardment Campaign of 1939

Warsaw blitz: Warsaw burning, September 1939Warsaw blitz: German forces entered Warsaw under aerial cover

Left: Burning Warsaw, September 1939. The Luftwaffe opened the German attack on Poland’s capi­tal on Septem­ber 1, 1939. As German armored units approached Warsaw on Septem­ber 8 and 10, Junkers Ju‑87 Stukas and bombers attacked the city, the slow-speed Stukas strafing civilians as they flew over the city. On the 13th, Luftwaffe bombers caused wide­spread fires. On Septem­ber 25 Luft­waffe bombers, in coor­di­na­tion with heavy artil­lery shelling, dropped 632 high-explo­sive and incen­di­ary bombs that badly damaged Warsaw’s city center.

Right: Under aerial cover German forces entered Warsaw on Septem­ber 27, 1939, after three key forts in the city defenses were cap­tured and the Polish gar­ri­son sur­rendered. After the capitu­la­tion approx­i­mately 5,000 offi­cers and 97,000 sol­diers and NCOs were taken into captivity, many never to be seen again.

Warsaw blitz: Warsaw child survivor, September 1939Warsaw blitz: Warsaw street, September or October 1939

Left: From the first hours of the war, Warsaw was the target of an unre­stricted aerial bom­bard­ment cam­paign, and the Luft­waffe used all avail­able air­craft in its inven­tory. Apart from the mili­tary facili­ties such as infan­try bar­racks, the air­port, and an air­craft fac­tory, German pilots also tar­geted civil­ian facili­ties such as water works, hos­pitals, mar­ket places, and schools in an effort to ter­rorize the city’s defenders into sur­rendering. Amid the waste and destruc­tion of violent bom­bard­ment and artil­lery shelling, the nine-year-old boy in this photo takes time out from a search for food for his family. His father, later taken away by the Nazis, never returned.

Right: Between air and ground assaults in Septem­ber 1939, Warsaw suf­fered 25,800 civil­ian deaths, while approxi­mately 50,000 were wounded. Forty per­cent of the city’s buildings were damaged and 10 per­cent destroyed. The terror bombing of the Polish capi­tal played a key role in the country’s defeat. The Polish Army lost approxi­mately 6,000 killed in action and 16,000 wounded in what Poles call the Polish Defen­sive War of 1939. As cour­ageously as they fought, the Poles were simply out­matched by the more modern Wehr­macht (German armed forces). German casu­al­ties are esti­mated at 1,500 dead and 5,000 wounded. In the course of the nearly six-year-long conflict in Poland close to 85 per­cent of Warsaw was destroyed, in part due to mass aerial bombings and heavy artil­lery fire by opposing German and Soviet forces in 1944–1945, and the demoli­tion cam­paign by venge­ful Germans against the capital’s inhabi­tants who had staged an unsuc­cess­ful uprising between August and the first three days of October 1944.

U.S. War Department Film Documenting September 1939 Invasion of Poland