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1939 (MCMXXXIX) was a common year starting on Sunday (dominical letter A) of the Gregorian calendar, the 1939th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 939th year of the 2nd millennium, the 39th year of the 20th century, and the 10th and last year of the 1930s decade. This year also marks the start of the Second World War, the deadliest conflict in human history.
Below, events of World War II have the WWII prefix.
- January 1 – Hewlett-Packard is founded as an electronics company in Palo Alto, California.
- January 5 – Amelia Earhart is officially declared dead after her disappearance.
- January 6 – Naturwissenschaften publishes evidence that nuclear fission has been achieved by Otto Hahn.
- January 13 – Black Friday: 71 people die across Victoria in one of Australia's worst ever bushfires.
- January 23 – "Dutch War Scare": Admiral Wilhelm Canaris of the Abwehr leaks misinformation to the effect that Germany plans to invade the Netherlands in February, with the aim of using Dutch air-fields to launch a strategic bombing offensive against Britain. The "Dutch War Scare" leads to a major change in British policies towards Europe.
- January 24 – An earthquake kills 30,000 in Chile, and razes about 50,000 sq mi (130,000 km2).
- January 25 – Refik Saydam forms the new government of Turkey. (11th government)
- January 26
- Spanish Civil War: Spanish Nationalist troops, aided by Italy, take Barcelona.
- In Paris, French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet, in response to rumours (which are true) that he is seeking to end the French alliance system in Eastern Europe, gives a speech highlighting his government's commitment to the cordon sanitaire.
- January 27 – Adolf Hitler orders Plan Z, a 5-year naval expansion programme intended to provide for a huge German fleet capable of crushing the Royal Navy by 1944. The Kriegsmarine is given the first priority on the allotment of German economic resources.
- January 30 – Hitler gives a speech before the Reichstag calling for an "export battle" to increase German foreign exchange holdings. The same speech also sees Hitler's "prophecy" where he warns that if "Jewish financers" start a war against Germany, the...result will be the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe".
- March – The 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine ends.
- March 1 – A Imperial Japanese Army ammunition dump explosion on the outskirts of Osaka kills 94.
- March 2 – Pope Pius XII (Cardinal Pacelli) succeeds Pope Pius XI as the 260th pope.
- March 3
- In Bombay, Mohandas Gandhi begins a fast protesting against British rule in India.
- Students at Harvard University demonstrate the new tradition of swallowing goldfish to reporters.
- In Durban, South Africa the Timeless Test begins between England and South Africa, the longest game of cricket ever played. It is abandoned twelve days later when the English team has to catch the last ferry home.
- March 13
- March 14 – The Slovak provincial assembly proclaims independence; priest Jozef Tiso becomes the president of the independent Slovak government.
- March 15 – German troops occupy the remaining part of Bohemia and Moravia; Czechoslovakia ceases to exist. The Ruthenian region of Czechoslovakia declares independence as Carpatho-Ukraine.
- March 16
- March 17 – British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gives a speech in Birmingham, stating that Britain will oppose any effort at world domination on the part of Germany.
- March 18 – "Romanian War Scare": Virgil Tilea, the Romanian Minister in London, spreads false rumours that Romania is on the verge of a German attack.
- March 19 – Hitler sends a registered letter to the government of Lithuania stating that Germany intends to annex the port of Memel.
- March 20 – At an emergency meeting in London to deal with the Romanian crisis, French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet suggests to Lord Halifax that the ideal state for saving Romania from a German attack is Poland.
- March 21 – In London: the Ordo Templi Orientis publish Aleister Crowley's Eight Lectures on Yoga.
- March 22
- March 23 – The Slovak–Hungarian War begins.
- March 24 – Marks the seventh successive year of the worldwide boycott of all German exports initiated by front page declarations in Britain and the U.S. 'Judea declares war on Germany'
- March 27 – The University of Oregon defeats Ohio State University 46–33 in Evanston, Illinois, to win the championship of the first NCAA men's basketball tournament.
- March 28
- Dictator Francisco Franco assumes power in Madrid, remaining in power until 1975.
- American adventurer Richard Halliburton delivers a last message from a Chinese junk, before he disappears on a voyage across the Pacific Ocean.
- March 31 – Neville Chamberlain gives a speech in the House of Commons offering the British "guarantee" of the independence of Poland.
- April 1
- April 3 – Adolf Hitler orders the German military to start planning for Fall Weiss, the codename for the invasion of Poland.
- April 3 – Refik Saydam forms the new government in Turkey. (12 th government; Refik Saydam had served twice as a prime minister )
- April 4
- April 7 – Italy invades Albania; King Zog flees.
- April 9 – African-American singer Marian Anderson performs before 75,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., after having been denied the use both of Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and of a public high school by the federally controlled District of Columbia. First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt resigns from the DAR because of their decision.
- April 11 – Hungary leaves the League of Nations.
- April 13 – Britain offers a "guarantee" to Romania and Greece.
- April 14
- John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath is first published.
- At a meeting in Paris, French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet meets with Soviet Ambassador Jakob Suritz, and suggests that a "peace front" comprising France, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, Poland and Romania would deter Germany from war.
- April 18 – The Soviet Union proposes a "peace front" to resist aggression.
- April 20 – Billie Holiday records "Strange Fruit", the first anti-lynching song.
- April 25 – The Federal Security Agency (FSA) is founded in the USA, along with the Civilian Conservation Corps and Public Health Service.
- April 27 – Ely Racecourse in Cardiff closes.
- April 28 – In a speech before the Reichstag, Adolf Hitler renounces the Anglo-German Naval Agreement and the German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact.
- April 30 – The 1939 New York World's Fair opens.
- May 1 – Batman, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger makes his first appearance in Detective comics no. 27 .
- May 2 – Major League Baseball's Lou Gehrig, the legendary Yankee first baseman known as "The Iron Horse", ends his 2,130 consecutive games played streak after contracting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The record stands for 56 years before Cal Ripken, Jr. plays 2,131 consecutive games.
- May 3
- May 6 – Carl Friedrich Goerdeler tells the British government that the German and Soviet governments are secretly beginning a rapprochement with the aim of dividing Eastern Europe between them. Goerdeler also informs the British of German economic problems which he states threaten the survival of the Nazi regime, and advises that if a firm stand is made for Poland, then Hitler will be deterred from war.
- May 9 – Spain leaves the League of Nations.
- May 14 – Lina Medina, a 5-year-old Peruvian girl, gives birth to a baby boy, becoming the youngest confirmed mother in medical history.
- May 17
- May 20 – Pan American Airways begins transatlantic mail service with the inaugural flight of its Boeing 314 flying boat Yankee Clipper from Port Washington, New York to Marseille.
- May 22 – Germany and Italy sign the Pact of Steel.
- May 24 – First issue of Fashizmi is published in Tirana.
- May 29 – Albanian fascist leader Tefik Mborja is appointed as member of the Italian Chamber of Fasces and Corporations.
- June 3 – The Soviet government offers its definition of what constitutes "aggression", upon which the projected Anglo-Soviet-French alliance will come into effect. The French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet accepts the Soviet definition of aggression at once. The British reject the Soviet definition, especially the concept of "indirect aggression", which they feel is too loose a definition and phrased in such a manner as to imply the Soviet right of inference in the internal affairs of nations of Eastern Europe.
- June 4 – The St. Louis, a ship carrying a cargo of 907 Jewish refugees, is denied permission to land in Florida after already having been turned away from Cuba. Forced to return to Europe, many of its passengers later die in Nazi death camps during The Holocaust.
- June 6 The first Little League Baseball game is played in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
- June 12 – The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is officially dedicated in Cooperstown, New York.
- June 14 – Tientsin Incident: The Japanese blockade the British concession in Tianjin, China, beginning a crisis which almost causes an Anglo-Japanese war in the summer of 1939.
- June 17 – In the last public guillotining in France, murderer Eugen Weidmann is decapitated by the guillotine.
- June 21 – New York Yankees announce Lou Gehrig's retirement after doctors reveal he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
- June 23 – Talks are completed in Ankara between French Ambassador René Massigli and Turkish Foreign Minister Şükrü Saracoğlu, resolving the Hatay dispute in Turkey's favor. Turkey annexes Hatay.
- June 24 – The government of Siam changes its name to Thailand, which means 'Free Land'.
- June 29 – Ford 9N tractor with Ferguson hydraulic three-point hitch first demonstrated at Dearborn, Michigan.
- August 2 – The Einstein–Szilárd letter is signed, advising President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt of the potential use of uranium to construct an atomic bomb.
- August 4 – Neville Chamberlain dismisses Parliament until October 3.
- August 15 – MGM's classic musical film The Wizard of Oz, based on L. Frank Baum's famous novel, and starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, premieres at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
- August 19 – Adolf Hitler, after evaluating the pace of the non-aggression negotiations with the Soviet Union, orders the Kriegsmarine to begin the opening operations for Fall Weiss, the invasion of Poland. The German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, along with the German pocket battleship Deutschland, as well as dozens of u-boats, cast off for their advance positions. According to William L. Shirer, Hitler spends the next few days worrying that the Russians will not come to terms in time for the rest of the invasion plans to unfold as scheduled.
- August 20 – Armored forces under the command of Soviet General Georgy Zhukov deliver a decisive defeat to Imperial Japanese Army forces in the Japanese-Soviet border war in Inner Mongolia.
- August 23 – Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed between Germany and the Soviet Union, a neutrality treaty that also agreed to division of spheres of influence (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, eastern Poland and Bessarabia (today Moldova), north-east province of Romania to the Soviet Union; Lithuania and western Poland to Germany). Its annex reassigns Lithuania to the Soviet Union.
- August 24 – As details of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact become public, Neville Chamberlain recalls the Parliament of the United Kingdom several weeks early. In a burst of legislation, a War Powers Act is approved; and HMG order the Royal Navy to be put on a war footing, all leaves to be cancelled, and the Naval and coast defense reserves to be called up, especially radar and anti-aircraft units. In addition, the last British and French private citizens in Germany are ordered home by their respective Governments.
- August 25
- The German Foreign Ministry cuts off all telegraph and telephone communication with the outside world in accordance with the plan for Fall Weiss. At approximately 1830 Central European time, Adolf Hitler postpones Fall Weiss for 5 days, after receiving a message from Benito Mussolini that he will not honor the Pact of Steel if Germany attacks Poland, and because Chamberlain's government has not fallen as a result of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. Some units already in their forward positions (the attack is scheduled for 0430 the next day) do not get the word in time and attack various targets along the border. That same day, Neville Chamberlain gives Edward Rydz-Śmigły his "ironclad guarantee" of assistance if Poland is attacked by Germany.
- An Irish Republican Army bomb explodes in the centre of Coventry, England, killing 5 people.
- MGM's classic musical film The Wizard of Oz, based on L. Frank Baum's famous novel, and starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, is released in theaters everywhere.
- August 26
- August 27 – A Heinkel He 178, the first turbojet-powered aircraft, flies for the first time with Captain Erich Warsitz in command.
- August 28 – The SS Normandie heads into New York after her Final Voyage and will stay in New York until 1946, After her 1942 Fire in Pier 88 in New York
- August 30 – Poland begins a mobilization against Nazi Germany.
- August 31 – Operation Himmler: Nazi German troops posing as Poles stage a series of false flag operations on the border giving a pretext for the invasion of Poland.
Common parade of Wehrmacht and Red Army in Brest at the end of the Invasion of Poland. At the center Major General Heinz Guderian
and Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein
- September 1 – Beginning of WWII:
- Opening shots of World War II and Invasion of Poland: At 4:45am Central European Time, under cover of darkness, the German WW1-era battleship Schleswig-Holstein quietly slips her moorings at her wharf in Danzig harbor, drifts into the center of the channel, and commences firing on the fortress Westerplatte, a Polish army installation at the mouth of the port of Danzig, Poland. Five minutes previously the bombing of Wieluń in Poland had begun. Shock-troops of the German Wehrmacht begin crossing the border into Poland.
- The Reichstag passes a statement stating that Adolf Hitler's second-in-command Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring should be appointed as Hitler's successor as Führer should Hitler die during the War. Rudolf Hess is to be appointed in Göring's place should anything befall Göring.
- Norway, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland declare their neutrality.
- September 2 – WWII:
- September 3 – WWII:
- September 4 – WWII:
- September 5 – WWII: The United States declares its neutrality in the war.
- September 6 – WWII: South Africa declares war on Germany.
- September 8
- Little Sisters of Jesus founded in Algeria by Little Sister Magdeleine.
- WWII: Forward elements of General Hoeppner's XVI Panzerkorps take up positions outside Warsaw. The world is stunned by the rapidity of the German advance and the Polish High Command is effectively isolated, but lack of infantry support and effective civilian resistance cause Hoeppner to halt outside the city itself.
- WWII: Polish troops on the Westerplatte are forced, due to lack of food and ammunition, to surrender. The garrison of about two hundred had held out against thousands of German forces (many of them Naval officer cadets from the Schleswig-Holstein,) for seven days.
- September 9 – WWII: Troops of the Polish Poznań Army under the command of General Kutrzeba open the Battle of the Bzura, the largest and best organized counter-attack mounted by the Polish forces in the campaign of 1939. For the first few days all goes well and the Germans are forced to retreat; but quick reaction by mechanized units and the Luftwaffe soon take their toll and the operation bogs down.
- September 10 – WWII: Canada declares war on Germany.
- September 15 – WWII: Diverse elements of the German Wehrmacht surround Warsaw and demand its surrender. The Poles refuse and the siege begins in earnest.
- September 16 – A ceasefire ends the undeclared Border War between the Soviet Union (and Mongolian allies) and Japan.
- September 17 – WWII:
- September 18 – WWII: The Polish submarine ORP Orzeł escapes internment from Tallinn harbour, Estonia, leading both the Soviet Union and Germany to question Estonia's neutrality.
- September 19 – WWII: The Poznan pocket collapses, and the Germans capture, according to many sources, over 150,000 men. Many elements of General Tadeusz Kutrzeba's forces work their way into Warsaw under extreme difficulty.
- September 21
- Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Security Police, sends a directive, the Schnellbrief, explaining that Jews living in towns and villages in the Polish occupation zones are to be transferred to ghettos, and Jewish councils, Judenräte, will be established to carry out the German authorities’ orders.
- Radio station WJSV in Washington, D.C. records an entire broadcast day for preservation in the National Archives.
- September 22 – WWII: Joint victory parade of Wehrmacht and Red Army in Brest-Litovsk at the end of the Invasion of Poland.
- September 24 – WWII: The Soviet Union issues an ultimatum to Estonia to allow Soviet military bases on its territory, which Estonia accepts on September 28. Similar ultimatums are issued to Latvia on October 5 and to Lithuania on October 10, who are forced to accept them as well.
- September 28 – WWII:
- September 29 – Gerald J. Cox, speaking at an American Water Works Association meeting, becomes the first person to publicly propose the fluoridation of public water supplies in the United States.
- September 30 – General Władysław Sikorski becomes Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile.
- November 1–2 – WWII: Physicist Hans Ferdinand Mayer writes the Oslo Report on German weapons systems and passes it to the British Secret Intelligence Service.
- November 4 – WWII: U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt orders the United States Customs Service to implement the Neutrality Act of 1939, allowing cash-and-carry purchases of weapons to non-belligerent nations.
- November 4 – Stewart Menzies is appointed head of the British Secret Intelligence Service.
- November 6
- November 8
- November 9 – WWII: Venlo Incident: Two British agents of SIS are captured by the Germans.
- November 15 – In Washington, D.C., U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt lays the cornerstone of the Jefferson Memorial.
- November 16 – Al Capone is released from Alcatraz, due to deteriorating health caused by syphilis.
- November 17 – WWII: To punish protests against the Nazi occupation of the Czech homeland, the Nazis storm the University of Prague and murder nine Czech graduate students, send over 1,200 to concentration camps, and close all Czech universities, an event which will be commemorated as International Students' Day.
- November 26 – Shelling of Mainila: The Soviet Union's Red Army shells the Russian village of Mainila, then claims that the fire originated from Finland, giving a casus belli for the Winter War.
- November 30 – WWII:
- December 2 – LaGuardia Airport opens for business in New York City.
- December 4 – WWII: HMS Nelson is struck by a mine (laid by U-31) off the coast of Scotland and is laid up for repairs until August 1940.
- December 9 – Hugh Harman's animated short Christmas film Peace on Earth is released by MGM
- December 12 – WWII: HMS Duchess sinks after a collision with HMS Barham off the coast of Scotland with the loss of 124 men.
- December 13 – WWII – Battle of the River Plate: The German heavy cruiser Admiral Graf Spee is trapped by cruisers HMS Ajax, HMNZS Achilles, and HMS Exeter after a running battle off the coast of Uruguay. The Graf Spee is scuttled by its crew off Montevideo harbor on December 17.
- December 14 – WWII – Winter War: The League of Nations expels the USSR for attacking Finland.
- December 15 – The epic historical romance film Gone with the Wind, starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard, premieres at Loew's Grand Theatre in Atlanta. Based on Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel of 1936, it is the longest American film made up to this date (at nearly four hours) and rapidly becomes the highest-grossing film up to this time.
- December 18 – WWII – Battle of the Heligoland Bight: RAF Bomber Command, on a daylight mission to attack Kriegsmarine ships in the Heligoland Bight, is repulsed by Luftwaffe fighter aircraft.
- December 22 – the second cel-animated feature film and the first produced by an American studio other than Walt Disney Productions, Gulliver's Travels by Fleischer Studios and very loosely based upon the book by Jonathan Swift is released.
- December 26 – Miners strike in Borinage, Belgium.
- December 27 – The Erzincan earthquake in eastern Anatolia, Turkey, kills 30,000.
- March 1 – Leo Brouwer, Cuban composer and guitarist
- March 3 – Bill Frindall, English cricket scorer and statistician (d. 2009)
- March 4
- March 5 – Benyamin Sueb, Indonesian actor, comedian and singer (d. 1995)
- March 8
- March 9 – Malcolm Bricklin, American automotive pioneer
- March 12 – Johnny Callison, American baseball player (d. 2006)
- March 13 – Neil Sedaka, American singer-songwriter
- March 15 – Alicia Freilich, Venezuelan writer and novelist
- March 16 – Carlos Bilardo, Argentine football player and manager
- March 17
- March 20 – Brian Mulroney, 18th Prime Minister of Canada
- March 25 – Toni Cade Bambara, African-American writer (d. 1995)
- March 27 – Leila Kasra, Iranian poet and lyricist (d. 1989)
- March 29 – Terence Hill, Italian actor
- March 31
- May 1 – Judy Collins, American singer and songwriter
- May 2 – Taomati Iuta, Vice President of Kiribati (1991–94)
- May 4 – Paul Gleason, American actor (d. 2006)
- May 7
- May 9
- May 11 – Dante Tiñga, Filipino Supreme Court jurist
- May 12 – Ron Ziegler, White House Press Secretary (d. 2003)
- May 13 – Harvey Keitel, American actor
- May 14 – Veruschka von Lehndorff, German model, actress and artist
- May 19
- May 21 – Heinz Holliger, Swiss oboist and composer
- May 22 – Paul Winfield, American actor (d. 2004)
- May 23 – Reinhard Hauff, German film director
- May 25
- May 26 – Brent Musburger, American sports announcer
- May 29 – Al Unser, American race car driver
- May 30 – Michael J. Pollard, American actor
- September 1 – Lily Tomlin, American actress
- September 5
- September 6
- September 8 – Carsten Keller, German field hockey player
- September 9 – Ron McDole, American football player
- September 10
- September 13
- September 15 – Ron Walker, former Lord Mayor of Melbourne and Australian businessman
- September 16 – Breyten Breytenbach, South African writer and painter
- September 18 – Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal
- September 23 – Janusz Gajos, Polish actor
- September 24 – Jacques Vallée, French ufologist
- September 25 – Leon Brittan, British politician (d. 2015)
- September 26 – Ricky Tomlinson, British actor
- September 28 - Rudolph Walker, Trinidadian actor
- September 29 – Larry Linville, American actor (d. 2000)
- September 30 – Jean-Marie Lehn, French chemist, Nobel Prize laureate
- October 1 – George Archer, American golfer (d. 2005)
- October 4 – Ivan Mauger, New Zealand Speedway Rider 6 times World Speedway Champion
- October 5 – Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Filipino Supreme Court jurist
- October 6 – Melvyn Bragg, English novelist, critic and television presenter
- October 7
- October 8 – Paul Hogan, Australian actor
- October 9 – John Pilger, journalist
- October 11 – Austin Currie, Irish politician
- October 13 – T. J. Cloutier, American poker player
- October 14 – Ralph Lauren, American fashion designer
- October 18
- October 22
- October 23 – C. V. Vigneswaran, Sri Lankan Tamil lawyer, judge and politician
- October 24 – F. Murray Abraham, American actor
- October 27
- October 28 – Jane Alexander, American actress
- October 29 – Malay Roy Choudhury, Bengali poet and novelist who created the Indian Hungry generation literary and cultural movement.
- October 30
- October 31 – Ron Rifkin, American actor
- November 1 – Barbara Bosson, American actress
- November 2 – Richard Serra, American sculptor
- November 6
- November 8
- November 9 – Paul Cameron, American psychologist
- November 10 – Russell Means, Native American activist (d. 2012)
- November 14 – Wendy Carlos, American electronic composer
- November 16 – Michael Billington, British drama critic
- November 17 – Auberon Waugh, English journalist (d. 2001)
- November 18
- November 19 – Emil Constantinescu, President of Romania
- November 21 – Mulayam Singh Yadav, Indian politician
- November 22 – Stefan Dimitrov, Bulgarian opera basso singer
- November 23 – Bill Bissett, Canadian poet
- November 25 – Shelagh Delaney, English dramatist (d. 2011)
- November 26 – Tina Turner, American singer
- November 27
- January 2 – Roman Dmowski, Polish politician (b. 1864)
- January 8 – Charles Eastman, Native American author, physician, reformer, helped found the Boy Scouts of America (b. 1858)
- January 18 – Ivan Mosjoukine, Russian actor (b. 1889)
- January 23 – Matthias Sindelar, Austrian footballer (b. 1903)
- January 24 – Maximilian Bircher-Benner, Swiss physician and nutritionist (b. 1867)
- January 25 – Helen Ware, American stage and screen actress (b. 1877)
- January 28 – W. B. Yeats, Irish writer, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1865)
- May 1 – Bautista Saavedra, 29th President of Bolivia (b. 1870)
- May 2 – Phillips Smalley, American actor and director (b. 1875)
- May 3 – Wilhelm Groener, German general (b. 1867)
- May 9 – Mary, Lady Heath, Irish aviatrix (b. 1896)
- May 10 – James Parrott, American actor (b. 1898)
- May 20 – Joseph Carr, 2nd president of the National Football League (b. 1880)
- May 22 – Ernst Toller, German playwright and Communist politician (b. 1893)
- May 23 – Witmer Stone, American ornithologist and botanist (b. 1866)
- May 27 – Alfred A. Cunningham, American aviator, the first United States Marine Corps aviator (b. 1882)
- May 30 – Floyd Roberts, American race car driver (b. 1900)