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 3 – EFE, a news agency, based in Madrid, Spain, officially founded.
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)
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".
February 2 – Hungary joins the Anti-Comintern Pact.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain states in the House of Commons that any German attack on France will be automatically considered an attack on Britain.
In a response to Georges Bonnet's speech of January 26, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, referring to Bonnet's alleged statement of December 6, 1938, accepting Eastern Europe as being in Germany's exclusive sphere of influence, protests that all French security commitments in that region are "now off limits".
Spanish Nationalists complete their offensive in Catalonia.
Pope Pius XI dies of a heart attack in Rome.
February 15 – Stagecoach premieres in New York City and Los Angeles.
February 18 – The Golden Gate International Exposition opens in San Francisco.
The United Kingdom and France recognize Franco's government.
Borley Rectory in England is destroyed by fire.
Sit-down strikes are outlawed by the Supreme Court of the United States.
March – The 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine ends.
March 1 – An 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.
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.
Adolf Hitler advises Jozef Tiso to declare Slovakia's independence in order to prevent its partition by Hungary and Poland.
Irish writer Flann O'Brien's comic metafiction At Swim-Two-Birds is published in London but attracts little attention at this time.
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.
Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt marries Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran.
Hungary invades Carpatho-Ukraine; final resistance ends on March 18.
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.
The nationalist governments of Spain and Portugal sign the Iberian Pact in Lisbon, pledging mutual defence of the Iberian Peninsula and neutrality in the event of a general European war.
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.
After an ultimatum of March 20, Nazi Germany takes Memelland from Lithuania.
In the U.S., undefeated LIU tops undefeated Loyola of Chicago in the championship game of the second annual National Invitation Tournament, 44–32. LIU's 24–0 final record is the first perfect season of college basketball's postseason tournament era.
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.
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. In 1945, some wreckage identified as a rudder and believed to belong to the junk, washed ashore in San Diego, California.
March 31 – Neville Chamberlain gives a speech in the House of Commons offering the British "guarantee" of the independence of Poland.
The Spanish Civil War comes to an end when the last of the Republican forces surrender.
The rumor that Hitler is dead sweeps the United States as millions of CBS radio listeners hear the Führer cut off in mid-speech during a shortwave relay of his address at the Christening of the Tirpitz in Wilhelmshaven. (The story is recounted by William L. Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.)
Adolf Hitler orders the German military to start planning for Fall Weiß, the codename for the invasion of Poland.
Refik Saydam forms the new government in Turkey. (12 th government; Refik Saydam had served twice as a prime minister )
Faisal II becomes King of Iraq.
The Slovak–Hungarian War ends with Slovakia ceding eastern territories to Hungary.
Polish Foreign Minister Colonel Józef Beck, in London, signs a treaty designed to bilateralize Neville Chamberlain's "Polish Guarantee" of March 31.
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.
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 – The Hòa Hảo religious sect is established by Huỳnh Phú Sổ.
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.
Vyacheslav Molotov succeeds Maxim Litvinov as Soviet Foreign Commissar.
The All India Forward Bloc is formed by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
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.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth arrive in Quebec City to begin the first-ever tour of Canada by Canada's monarch.
The British government issues the White Paper of 1939, sharply restricting Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine.
Sweden, Norway, and Finland refuse Germany's offer of non-aggression pacts.
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.
The 1st World Science Fiction Convention opens in New York City.
Theodore Roosevelt's head is dedicated at Mount Rushmore.
Lou Gehrig gives his last public speech, following a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In it, he says, "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
The Neuengamme concentration camp becomes autonomous.
July 6 – The last remaining Jewish enterprises in Germany are closed by the Nazis.
July 8 – The Pan American Airways Boeing 314 flying boat Yankee Clipper inaugurates the world's first heavier-than-air North Atlantic air passenger service between the United States (Port Washington, New York) and Britain.
July 23 – Mahatma Gandhi the spiritual leader from India writes a personal letter to Adolf Hitler addressing him "My friend", requesting to prevent any possible war.
July 27 – The first recorded snowfall in Auckland, New Zealand since records began in 1853.
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.
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.
The first televised Major League Baseball games were shown on experimental station W2XBS: a double-header between the Cincinnati Reds and the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field.
Division of Grazing renamed United States Grazing Service.
The Kriegsmarine orders all German-flagged merchant ships to head to German ports immediately in anticipation of the invasion of Poland.
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 Harbor where she will be interned on 3 September and cut up for scrap beginning in 1946.
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 (including the Gleiwitz incident) giving a pretext for the invasion of Poland.
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 northeastern mouth of the port of the internationalized Free City of Danzig. Five minutes previously the bombing of Wieluń in the western part of Poland had begun. Shock-troops of the German Wehrmacht begin crossing the border into Poland. Bombing of Wieluń (two air-raids) follows.
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:
Following the invasion of Poland, the Free City of Danzig (modern-day Gdańsk, Poland) is annexed to Nazi Germany.
Spain and the Irish Free State declare their neutrality.
September 3 – WWII:
The United Kingdom, France, New Zealand, Australia and India (by its Viceroy) declare war on Nazi Germany. Prime Minister of Canada Mackenzie King, in English, and Justice Minister Ernest Lapointe, in French, give an international radio address stating the Dominion's intention to declare war also.
United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt advocates neutrality in a nationwide radio address.
Ocean liner SS Athenia becomes the first British civilian casualty of the war when she is torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-30 in the eastern Atlantic. Of the 1,418 aboard, 98 passengers and 19 crew are killed.
September 4 – WWII:
First bombing of Wilhelmshaven in World War II by the British Royal Air Force.
Nepal declares war on Germany.
September 5 – WWII: The United States declares its neutrality in the war.
September 6 – WWII: South Africa declares war on Germany.
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, the only declaration of war by Canada.
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:
The Soviet Union invades Poland and then occupies eastern Polish territories.
Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Courageous is torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-29 in the Western Approaches with the loss of 519 crew, the first British warship loss of the War.
September 18 – WWII: Orzeł incident: 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.
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:
Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agree on a division of Poland after their invasion.
Warsaw surrenders to Germany; Modlin surrenders a day later; the last Polish large operational unit surrenders near Kock 8 days later.
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.
October 6 – WWII: Poland Battle of Kock ends the Polish Campaign. Polish resistance moves underground.
WWII: Germany annexes Western Poland.
The Holocaust: Piotrków Trybunalski Ghetto, the first Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Europe, is proclaimed in German-occupied Poland.
October 11 – The Einstein–Szilárd letter is delivered to President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt advising of the potential use of uranium to construct an atomic bomb, leading to the Manhattan Project.
October 14 – The German submarine U-47 sinks the British battleship HMS Royal Oak at anchor in Scapa Flow (Scotland) with the loss of 833 crew.
October 15 – The New York Municipal Airport (later renamed LaGuardia Airport) is dedicated.
October 17 – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington premieres in Washington, D.C.
October 21 – First meeting of the U.S. Advisory Committee on Uranium under Lyman James Briggs, authorized by President Roosevelt to oversee neutron experiments, a precursor of the Manhattan Project.
October 24 – Nylon stockings go on sale for the first time anywhere in Wilmington, Delaware.
October 25 – The Time of Your Life, a drama by William Saroyan, debuts in New York City.
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.
Hedda Hopper's Hollywood debuts on radio with gossip columnist Hedda Hopper as host (the show runs until 1951, making Hopper a powerful figure in the Hollywood elite).
WWII: Sonderaktion Krakau: Germans take action against scientists from the University of Kraków and other Kraków universities.
WWII: In Munich, an attempt to kill Adolf Hitler is made by Georg Elser while Hitler is celebrating the 16th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch.
CBS television station W2XAB resumes test transmission with an all-electronic system broadcast from the top of the Chrysler Building in New York City.
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 23 – WWII: British armed merchantman HMS Rawalpindi is sunk in the GIUK gap in an action against the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
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:
Winter War: Soviet forces attack Finland and reach the Mannerheim Line, starting the war.
Sweden declares itself a non-belligerent in the Winter War.
December 2 – LaGuardia Airport opens for business in New York City.
December 4 – WWII:
British battleship HMS Nelson strikes a mine (laid by U-31) off the coast of Scotland and is laid up for repairs until August 1940.
German submarine U-36 is torpedoed and sunk by British submarine HMS Salmon off Stavanger, the first enemy submarine lost to a British one during the War.
WWII: First soldier of the British Expeditionary Force killed: Corporal Thomas Priday triggers a French land mine.
Hugh Harman's animated short Christmas film Peace on Earth is released by MGM in the United States.
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 7.8 Mw Erzincan earthquake shakes eastern Turkey with a maximum Mercalli intensity of XII (Extreme), causing $20 million in damage, and leaving 32,700–32,968 dead.
Kirlian photography is invented by Semyon Kirlian.
A logging crew sets off a second forest fire in the Tillamook Burn of Oregon, which destroys 190,000 acres (770 km2).
Sandia View Academy, a private Adventist school, is founded in Corrales, New Mexico,
General Motors introduces the Hydra-Matic drive, the first mass-produced, fully automatic transmission, as an option in 1940 model year Oldsmobile automobiles.
Bobby Hull, Canadian hockey player
Ruben Reyes, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines
Gene Summers, American rock 'n roll singer (member of Rockabilly Hall of Fame)
Arik Einstein, Israeli singer (d. 2013)
Valeriy Lobanovskyi, Ukrainian footballer and manager (d. 2002)
Murray Rose, Australian swimmer (d. 2012)
Jimmy Boyd, American singer, musician and actor (d. 2009)
Rik Kemp, Australian cartoonist
Tadahiro Matsushita, Japanese politician (d. 2012)
Susannah York, British actress (d. 2011)
Sal Mineo, American actor (d. 1976)
Bill Toomey, American athlete
January 11 – Anne Heggtveit, Canadian skier
January 12 – William Lee Golden, American country and gospel singer, member of the Oak Ridge Boys
Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens (d. 2008)
Maury Povich, American talk show host
January 18 – Bo Gritz, U.S. Presidential candidate
January 19 – Phil Everly, American rock 'n' roll musician (member of Rockabilly Hall of Fame) (d. 2014)
January 20 – Chandra Wickramasinghe, British astronomer and poet
Alfredo Palacio, 42nd President of Ecuador
Ray Stevens, American musician
Tony Green, British sportscaster
Germaine Greer, Australian feminist writer
Paul Gillmor, American politician (d. 2007)
Ekaterina Maximova, Russian ballerina (d. 2009)
February 2 – Karl-Ake Asph, Swedish Olympic cross-country skiier
February 3 – Michael Cimino, American film director (d. 2016)
February 6 – Mike Farrell, American actor
February 8 – Egon Zimmermann, Austrian Olympic alpine skiier
Adrienne Clarkson, 26th Governor General of Canada
Peter Purves, British actor and television presenter
Roberta Flack, American soul singer
Yael Dayan, Israeli writer and politician
Ray Manzarek, American keyboardist (The Doors) (d. 2013)
February 13 – Beate Klarsfeld, German-born Nazi hunter
February 16 – Adolfo Azcuna, Filipino Supreme Court jurist
February 20 – Frank Arundel, English footballer (d. 1994)
February 21 – Gert Neuhaus, German artist
February 23 – Rachel Elkind-Tourre, American record producer
Daniel C. Tsui, Chinese-born physicist, Nobel Prize laureate
Tommy Tune, American dancer, choreographer, and actor
March 1 – Leo Brouwer, Cuban composer and guitarist
March 3 – Bill Frindall, English cricket scorer and statistician (d. 2009)
Jack Fisher, former American Major League baseball pitcher
Carlos Vereza, Brazilian actor
March 5 – Benyamin Sueb, Indonesian actor, comedian and singer (d. 1995)
Lidiya Skoblikova, Russian speed-skater
Robert Tear, Welsh tenor (d. 2011)
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
Jim Gary, American sculptor (d. 2006)
Giovanni Trapattoni, Italian football player and manager
March 18 – Peter Kraus, German singer
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 28 – Vic Vargas, Filipino actor (d. 2003)
March 29 – Terence Hill, Italian actor
Zviad Gamsakhurdia, President of Georgia (d. 1993)
Volker Schlöndorff, German film director
Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, German footballer
Ali MacGraw, American model and actress
Spider Martin, American photographer (d. 2003)
Phil Niekro, American baseball player
April 2 – Marvin Gaye, American singer (d. 1984)
April 4 – Hugh Masekela, South African musician
Francis Ford Coppola, American film director
Sir David Frost, English television personality (d. 2013)
April 8 – Elizabeth Clare Prophet, American writer (d. 2009)
April 10 – Claudio Magris, Italian author
April 12 – Alan Ayckbourn, dramatist
Seamus Heaney, Irish writer, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2013)
Paul Sorvino, American actor
April 16 – Dusty Springfield, English singer (d. 1999)
April 20 – Elspeth Ballantyne, Australian actress
Mark Jones, English actor (d. 2010)
Jason Miller, American playwright and actor (d. 2001)
Ann Mitchell, English actress
April 23 – Lee Majors, American actor
April 25 – Ted Kooser, United States Poet Laureate
Erik Pevernagie, Belgian painter
João Bernardo Vieira, President of Guinea-Bissau (d. 2009)
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)
Sidney Altman, Canadian-born chemist, Nobel Prize laureate
Ruud Lubbers, Dutch politician, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, 1982–94
May 8 – Paul Drayton, American Olympic athlete (d. 2010)
Ralph Boston, American athlete
Pierre Desproges, French humorist (d. 1988)
Milt Pappas, American baseball player (d. 2016)
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
Livio Berruti, Italian athlete
Sonny Fortune, American jazz musician
Jams Fox, English actor
Nancy Kwan, American actress
Dick Scobee, American astronaut (d. 1986)
May 21 – Heinz Holliger, Swiss oboist and composer
May 22 – Paul Winfield, American actor (d. 2004)
May 23 – Reinhard Hauff, German film director
Dixie Carter, American actress (d. 2010)
Sir Ian McKellen, English actor
May 26 – Brent Musburger, American sports announcer
May 29 – Al Unser, American race car driver
May 30 – Michael J. Pollard, American actor
June 1 – Cleavon Little, American actor (d. 1992)
Ron Baensch, Australian racing cyclist
Joe Clark, 16th Prime Minister of Canada
Margaret Drabble, English novelist
Louis Andriessen, Dutch composer
Lawrence Stephen, Nauruan politician
Ileana Cotrubaș, Romanian soprano
Dick Vitale, American basketball broadcaster
June 11 – Jackie Stewart, Scottish race car driver
June 14 – Steny Hoyer, American Democrat U.S. Representative for Maryland's 5th congressional district
June 15 – Brian Jacques, British writer (d. 2011)
Lou Brock, American baseball player
Jack Herer, American cannabis activist (d. 2010)
June 22 – Ada E. Yonath, Israeli crystallographer
June 23 – Syed Shahid Hakim, Indian former Olympic football
June 24 – Michael Gothard, British actor (d. 1992)
June 25 – David Ramage, Australian rower
June 26 – Osvaldo Hurtado, 34th President of Ecuador
Sante Gaiardoni, Italian cyclist
John Abel, Australian politician
June 30 – Tony Hatch, English composer for musical theatre and television
July 2 – Ferdinand Mount, British journalist and novelist
July 3 – Andreas Neocleous, Greek lawyer
July 4 – Thea Stabell, Norwegian actress
July 5 – Booker Edgerson, American football player
July 6 – Jet Harris, British bassist, singer and songwriter (The Shadows) (d. 2011)
July 7 – Elena Obraztsova, Russian opera singer (d. 2015)
Karel Gott, Czech Schlager singer
Sid Haig, American actor
George E. Slusser, American scholar and writer
Abdulhussain Abdulredha, Kuwaiti actor
Reg Pridmore, English former professional motorcycle road racing national champion
Aníbal Cavaco Silva, 113th Prime Minister of Portugal and 19th President of Portugal
July 16 – Corin Redgrave, British actor and political activist (d. 2010)
Spencer Davis, Welsh musician and multi-instrumentalist,
Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran
Milva, Italian actress and singer
July 18 – Dion DiMucci, American singer-songwriter
July 21 – John Negroponte, U.S. Director of National Intelligence
July 23 – Raine Karp, Estonian architect
John Howard, 25th Prime Minister of Australia
Bob Lilly, American football player
William Eggleston, American photographer
Michael Longley, Northern Irish poet
Susan Flannery, American soap opera actress
France Nuyen, French actress
Terry Kiser, American actor
Robert James Waller, American novelist
John W. Snow, 73rd United States Secretary of the Treasury
Wes Craven, American film director and writer (d. 2015)
August 5 – Princess Irene of the Netherlands
August 8 – Jana Andrsová, Czech actress and ballerina
Bulle Ogier, French actress
Romano Prodi, Italian politician and economist, 52nd Prime Minister of Italy
Skip Caray, American baseball broadcaster (d. 2008)
George Hamilton, American actor
David Jacobs, American producer and writer
August 16 – Carole Shelley, English actress
August 19 – Ginger Baker, English drummer
August 20 – Fernando Poe, Jr., Filipino actor (d. 2004)
August 21 – Clarence Williams III, American actor
Valerie Harper, American actress
Carl Yastrzemski, American baseball player
August 29 – Joel Schumacher, American film producer and director
John Peel, English disc jockey (d. 2004)
Elizabeth Ashley, American actress
September 1 – Lily Tomlin, American actress
George Lazenby, Australian actor
Clay Regazzoni, Swiss Formula One driver (d. 2006)
Brigid Berlin, American actress and artist
Susumu Tonegawa, Japanese biologist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
September 8 – Carsten Keller, German field hockey player
September 9 – Ron McDole, American football player
Cynthia Lennon 1st. wife of English musician John Lennon (d. 2015)
Richard Kiel, American actor (d. 2014)
Guntis Ulmanis, 5th President of Latvia
September 15 – Ron Walker, former Lord Mayor of Melbourne and Australian businessman
September 16 – Breyten Breytenbach, South African writer and painter
September 17 – David Souter, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
September 18 – Jorge Sampaio, 17th President of Portugal
September 20 – Michu Meszaros, Hungarian-born American actor (ALF) (d. 2016)
September 23 – Janusz Gajos, Polish actor
Mark Elliott, voice-over artist for the Walt Disney Company
Patrick Kearney, American serial killers
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 media arts presenter, critic and novelist
John Hopcroft, American computer scientist
Clive James, Australian-born writer, humorist and television personality
Harold Kroto, English organic chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2016)
Bill Snyder, American football coach
October 8 – Paul Hogan, Australian film actor
October 9 – John Pilger, Australian-born journalist
October 11 – Austin Currie, Irish politician
October 13 – T. J. Cloutier, American poker player
October 14 – Ralph Lauren, American fashion designer
Flavio Cotti, Swiss Federal Councilor
Lee Harvey Oswald, American assassin of President John F. Kennedy (d. 1963)
Joaquim Chissano, President of Mozambique
George Cohen, English footballer
October 23 – C. V. Vigneswaran, Sri Lankan Tamil lawyer, judge and politician
October 24 – F. Murray Abraham, American screen actor
John Cleese, English comic actor
Suzy Covey, American scholar of popular culture (d. 2007)
October 28 – Jane Alexander, American actress
October 29 – Malay Roy Choudhury, Bengali poet and novelist, creator of the Indian Hungry generation literary and cultural movement
Leland H. Hartwell, American scientist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Grace Slick, American rock singer
October 31 – Ron Rifkin, American actor
November 1 – Barbara Bosson, American actress
November 2 – Richard Serra, American sculptor
Athanasios Angelopoulos, Greek academic
Carlos Emilio Morales, Cuban jazz guitarist
Leonardo Quisumbing, Filipino Supreme Court jurist
Elizabeth Dawn, British actress
Laila Kinnunen, Finnish singer (d. 2000)
Meg Wynn Owen, English actress
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)
Margaret Atwood, Canadian novelist
Amanda Lear, French model and singer
Ian McCulloch, Anglo-Scottish actor
Brenda Vaccaro, American actress
November 19 – Emil Constantinescu, President of Romania
Budd Dwyer, American politician (d. 1987)
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)
Tina Turner, American singer
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, 5th Prime Minister of Malaysia
Laurent-Désiré Kabila, 3rd President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (d. 2001)
Ulla Strömstedt, Swedish actress (d. 1986)
November 30 – Chandra Bahadur Dangi, Nepalese dwarf, world's shortest man (d. 2015)
December 2 – Harry Reid, American politician and U.S. Senate Majority Leader
December 5 – Minita Chico-Nazario, Filipino Supreme Court jurist
December 8 – James Galway, Irish flautist
December 11 – Thomas McGuane, American writer
December 14 – Ernie Davis, American football player (d. 1963)
December 17 – Eddie Kendricks, American singer (The Temptations) (d. 1992)
Alex Bennett, American radio personality
Robert T. Bennett, American politician
Michael Moorcock, English science fiction writer
Harold E. Varmus, American scientist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
December 22 – Alfred J. Ferrara, American baseball player
December 27 – John Amos, American actor
December 28 – Michelle Urry, American editor of Playboy
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 13 – Arthur Barker, American criminal, son of Ma Barker (b. 1899)
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)
February 10 – Pope Pius XI (b. 1857)
February 11 – Franz Schmidt, Austrian composer (b. 1874)
February 12 – S. P. L. Sørensen, Danish chemist (b. 1868)
February 13 – Alexander Hamilton-Gordon, British general (b. 1859)
February 15 – Henri Jaspar, former Prime Minister of Belgium (b. 1870)
February 18 – Okamoto Kanoko, tanka poet (b. 1899)
February 22 – Antonio Machado, Spanish poet (b. 1875)
February 27 – Nadezhda Krupskaya, Russian Marxist revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin's widow (b. 1869)
March 2 – Howard Carter, British archaeologist (b. 1874)
March 5 – Herbert Mundin, British actor (b. 1898)
March 13 – Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, French sociologist and anthropologist (b. 1857)
March 19 – Lloyd L. Gaines, American civil rights activist
March 21 – Evald Aav, Estonian composer (b. 1900)
March 27 – Ferdinand von Quast, German general (b. 1850)
Francis Matthew John Baker, Australian politician (b. 1903)
Mario Lertora, Italian artistic gymnast in the 1924 Summer Olympics (b. 1897)
March 31 – Ioannis Tsangaridis, Greek general (b. 1887)
Ghazi of Iraq, King of Iraq (b. 1912)
Joaquín García Morato, Spanish fighter ace (b. 1904)
April 6 – Bennie Dickson, American bank robber (b. unknown)
April 7 – Joseph Lyons, 10th Prime Minister of Australia (b. 1879)
John Foulds, British classical music composer (b. 1880)
Georges Ricard-Cordingley, French painter (b. 1873)
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 aviator (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 25 – Frank Watson Dyson, English astronomer (b. 1868)
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)
June 4 – Tommy Ladnier, American jazz trumpeter (b. 1900)
June 6 – George Fawcett, American actor (b. 1860)
June 9 – Owen Moore, American actor (b. 1886)
June 16 – Chick Webb, American musician (b. 1905)
June 17 – Eugen Weidmann, German serial killer, last person publicly executed in France (b. 1908)
June 19 – Grace Abbott, American social worker and activist (b. 1878)
June 22 – Benjamin Tucker, American anarchist (b. 1854)
June 26 – Ford Madox Ford, English writer (b. 1873)
June 28 – Bobby Vernon, American actor (b. 1898)
July 5 – Malietoa Tanumafili I, King of Samoa (b. 1879)
July 7 – Deacon White, American baseball player and MLB Hall of Famer (b. 1847)
July 8 – Havelock Ellis, English sexologist (b. 1859)
July 11 – Stiliyan Kovachev, Bulgarian general (b. 1860)
July 14 – Alphonse Mucha, Czech painter and decorative artist (b. 1860)
July 16 – Bartholomeus Roodenburch, Dutch swimmer (b. 1866)
July 28 – Beryl Mercer, Spanish actress (b. 1882)
August 2 – Harvey Spencer Lewis, American mystic (b. 1883)
August 10 – Carlo Galimberti, Italian Olympic weightlifter (b. 1894)
August 11 – Jean Bugatti, German automobile designer (b. 1909)
Sidney Howard, American writer (b. 1891)
Germán Busch, 41st and 43rd President of Bolivia (suicide) (b. 1904)
August 30 – Wilhelm Bölsche, German journalist and science writer (b. 1861)
September 6 – Arthur Rackham, British artist (b. 1867)
September 10 – Wilhelm Fritz von Roettig, German Waffen SS general, first general killed in action during World War II (b. 1888)
September 12 – Eliodoro Villazón, 2nd President of Bolivia (b. 1848)
September 16 – Józef Kustroń, Polish general (killed in action) (b. 1892)
September 18 – Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Polish writer and painter (b. 1885)
September 22 – Werner von Fritsch, German general (killed in action) (b. 1880)
September 23 – Sigmund Freud, Austrian psychiatrist (b. 1856)
James P. Boyle, American politician (b. 1885)
Carl Laemmle, German film producer (b. 1867)
October 3 – Fay Templeton, American musical comedy star (b. 1865)
October 6 – Giulio Gavotti, Italian aviator (b. 1882)
October 7 – Harvey Cushing, American neurosurgeon (b. 1869)
October 13 – Ford Sterling, American actor (b. 1882)
October 23 – Zane Grey, American writer (b. 1872)
October 28 – Alice Brady, American actress (b. 1892)
October 29 – Dwight B. Waldo, American educator and historian (b. 1864)
October 31 – Albrecht, Duke of Württemberg, German field marshal (b. 1865)
November 12 – Norman Bethune, Canadian humanitarian (b. 1890)
November 13 – Lois Weber, American actress (b. 1881)
November 24 – John Harron, American actor (b. 1903)
November 28 – James Naismith, Canadian inventor of basketball (b. 1861)
November 29 – Philipp Scheidemann, Chancellor of Germany (b. 1865)
December 3 – Princess Louise of the United Kingdom, second youngest daughter of Queen Victoria (b. 1848)
December 12 – Douglas Fairbanks, American actor and the father of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (b. 1883)
December 16 – Juan Demóstenes Arosemena, 18th President of Panama (b. 1879)
December 19 – Reginald F. Nicholson, United States Navy admiral (b. 1852)
December 20 – Hans Langsdorff, German naval officer (suicide) (b. 1894)
December 22 – Ma Rainey, American blues singer (b. 1886)
December 23 – Anthony Fokker, Dutch-American aircraft manufacturer (b. 1890)
Rinaldo Cuneo, American artist ("the painter of San Francisco) (b. 1877)
Napoléon Turcot, Canadian politician (b. 1867)
Keeleri Kunhikannan, father of the Kerala Circus
Percy Douglas, chairman of the British Graham Land Expedition (BGLE) Advisory Committee
Physics – Ernest Lawrence
Chemistry – Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt, Leopold Ružička
Physiology or Medicine – Gerhard Domagk
Literature – Frans Eemil Sillanpää
Peace – not awarded