Less than 18 hours after Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, plunging nearly 300,000,000 persons of nations around the globe into war, Hitler's forces apparently had struck the first blow by torpedoing the British liner Athenia 200 miles off the northwest coast of Scotland with 1,400 persons-246 Americans-aboard.
Meager reports indicated that the Athenia, a vessel of 13,465 tons, was sinking rapidly after it was struck. She was bound from Liverpool and Glasgow to Montreal.
The declaration of Sunday morning threw the might and manhood of three nations against defiant and rearmed Nazi Germany, risen under Adolf Hitler from the shambles of the last war.
Within a few days, maybe hours, other nations may be drawn into the catastrophe that has hung over them ever since Nov. 11, 1918.
Great Britain declared war on Germany at 11 a.m. London time Sunday and the British people marched to the stirring statement of King George VI that it was a war against "the primitive principle that might makes right."
France, with the most highly trained army in the world, followed Britain six hours later in declaring war against their former common enemy.
The assertion of Premier Daladier that "ours is the cause of peace and it will be victorious," 6,500,000 Frenchmen in sky blue and khaki entered the struggle.
Australia, Britain's dominion "down under," leaped into the war, followed by New Zealand.
Canada, with her famous "Princess Pats" and crack fighting units, prepared to join the motherland.
Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced in Ottawa that "Canada already had answered the call of His Majesty, the King" and that Parliament will make the big decision because Canada is a free nation.
Under the Statute of Westminster, passed since the last great war, the British dominions are free to make their own choice of peace or war.
For Hitler, obscure corporal of 1914-1918, the war has been under way for three days.
His armies and bombing planes have been shattering Polish cities, towns and villages.
Thus far, his brother-in-arms at the other end of the Rome-Berlin axis has refrained from pitching into the struggle against the western Allies ready to send their battle fleets into the Mediterranean and try to blast the Italian boot to bits.
Premier Benito Mussolini, striving for peace to the last moment, made every preparation for war but kept silent.
The general European war was on in earnest today, but it was impossible to exact information as to just what was happening.
British troops-part of an expeditionary force of 32 divisions-undoubtedly were on French soil ready to smash against Hitler's new Siegfried Line of fortifications along the Rhine.
Perhaps fleets of British and French bombers, shuttling back and forth to Polish airdromes, already were bombing vital German bases.
London and Paris were hidden by "black-outs," their civilian populations evacuated to the open countryside and lights extinguished by against black-tipped German bombers expected at any moment.
Berlin likewise was dark.
In contrast to the grimness of the western capitals, the Polish capital of Warsaw rang with jubilant shouts at the news that Great Britain and France had come into the conflict.
Poland, with probably 3,000,000 men at arms, fought to drive the green-gray German troops from her soil, to prevent Hitler from seizing Danzig, the Polish Corridor and Silesia, which were stripped from Germany after the last war.
For Britain and France the issue was a far greater one than Hitler's invasion of Poland.
It was a showdown in a crisis brewing ever since Hitler became the master of the German Reich six years ago.
Now that the die has been cast, Britain and France are determined not to give up until Hitler's Nazi regime has been crushed completely.
Rumania under King Carol II is striving to remain out of the war as long as possible, although she is the Anglo-French bloc and Warsaw reports said that the Polish-Rumanian pact of mutual assistance was to be strengthened.
Turkey, on Germany's side in the last war, has pledged the fortified Dardanelles to the Allies.
Soviet Russia, pouring thousands of troops into positions along Poland's eastern border, held aloof but watched her chances.
A new Soviet Ambassador and a military mission arrived in Berlin and the Nazis proclaimed loudly that the German-Soviet pact of nonaggression soon would be extended into a military agreement confronting Poland with the menace of an attack on the east by the Red Army.
When Hitler left Berlin at 8:45 p.m. Sunday night to lead his armies-after picking Field Marshal Hermann W. Goering as his successor if he is killed-Britain had not only declared war but had started war against Germany.
The Admiralty announced that the British fleet dwarfing Hitler's in everything except submarines, had strung a blockade of Germany.
Warships of the home and reserve fleets were strung out across the North Sea and into the Skaggerak that dominates the entrance to the Baltic and the big German naval bases.
High French quarters in Paris reported that British warships had captured the German liner Bremen, scurrying home from New York where she had been detained for inspection, but the British Admiralty refused to confirm the report.
In Washington, President Roosevelt summoned his Cabinet into emergency consultation and then, spoke to the nation by radio, pledging his every effort to keep the United States out of war.
Mr. Roosevelt said he hoped and believed there would be no "black-out" of peace in the United States.
On Tuesday, it was believed, a proclamation will be issued proclaiming the Neutrality Act in full force and thereby prohibiting the sale of arms to any nation at war.
It was significant that the President's speech was translated and rebroadcast in French, Italian, German, Spanish and Portuguese.
Twenty miles outside Warsaw, United States Ambassador Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, his wife and daughter and a group of other Americans had a narrow escape from death or injury Sunday when German planes bombed the place in what the United States Embassy said appeared to have been a "deliberate attack."
In Warsaw, after the Biddles had fled there, crowds gathered outside the United States Embassy, cheering the Ambassador and President Roosevelt apparently in the belief that the United States, like Britain and France, had gone to war against Germany.
As Prime Minister Chamberlain told the House of Commons in a momentous session Sunday:
"I trust I may see the day when Hitlerism has been destroyed."
Hitler, having defied the might of Britain and France, left Berlin Sunday night as "the first soldier of Germany" to lead his armies in their assault on Poland.
Before he sped eastward out of Berlin, bodyguards crouched on the running board of his car, he issued two proclamations:
In one he blamed "our Jewish democratic world enemies" for plunging Europe into war. In the other he assured his troops that Germany's "west wall" along the Rhine would shelter the Reich while they mopped up Poland.
Opposite this "west wall," held by 500,000 Nazi troops, are 2,000,000 or more French troops in the famous Maginot Line of sunken forts.
Britain and France are not counting on smashing through Hitler's "west wall" to reach his Nazi armies.
Their bombing planes will sweep by the hundreds over Germany, according to prearranged plan, while at the same time they attempt to get aid to Poland through the Dardanelles, the Black Sea and Rumania.
In London, where the people greeted the announcement of war with stoic calm because they had felt for months that it was inevitable, Chamberlain set up a nine-member "war cabinet" with the outspoken foe of the dictators, Winston Churchill, back as first Lord of the Admiralty, his post when Britain went to war against Germany before.
Anthony Eden, who resigned as Foreign Secretary in February, 1938 because of his opposition to Chamberlain's now discarded policy of appeasement, became Secretary of Dominions. Eden does not sit with the limited "war cabinet," however.
There were atrocity stories from both the Polish and German governments, all of them unconfirmed by any neutral witnesses.
The Polish Foreign Office announced that German planes were dropping hyperite searing gas on civilian populations and "brutally bombing and machine-gunning" crowds of women and children refugees fleeing burning towns.
The Germans countered with allegations that Polish artillery was shelling towns on the German side of the Silesian frontier, killing women and children.
On the Polish fighting fronts the troops of Marshal Edward Smigly-Rydz, cheered by news that Britain and France were coming to their defense, were reported to have smashed across the northern border into German East Prussia. German forces were said to have been driven from several Polish towns in bitter fighting.
The German high command, of course, ridiculed every report of Polish victories and said Hitler's highly mobilized forces were plunging forward on three fronts and "achieving all objectives."
One force tried to drive southward from East Prussia upon Warsaw. Another attempt was made through Upper Silesia by two columns operating from Breslau and to the west of Gleiwitz and from the Nazi protectorate of Slovakia with the vital Polish city of Krakow as its objective across the Carpathian Mountains. A third drive was under way eastward from Pomerania in an attempt to cut off the upper part of the corridor.
The drive on Krakow is designed to give the German army control of Poland's main artery and railroad from Krakow to Lemberg (Lwow) and eventually cut off communications between Poland and Rumania.
In the territory menaced by the advance from Slovakia is Poland's new "security triangle," in which the Polish armies plan to make their biggest stand in defense of the nation's war and heavy industries concentrated there. The "security triangle" lies directly south of Warsaw between the capital and the Carpathian Mountains, an equal distance from Germany on the west and Russia on the east.
Poland's only fortified line surrounds that triangle and the best of her troops are concentrated in the area, which is bisected by the Vistula River.
The number of allies which Hitler can rally to his side remained in doubt, although in a full showdown Mussolini undoubtedly would be compelled to throw in his lot with the Fuehrer.
Spain and Hungary, aligned with Hitler in the anti-Communist pact that became little more than a scrap of paper with the signing of the German-Soviet pact of nonaggression, proclaimed their neutrality.
Generalissimo Francisco Franco announced Spain's neutrality in a radio broadcast Sunday night and it was reported from Budapest that Hungary, Rumania, Jugoslavia, and Bulgaria were discussing the formation of a "neutrality bloc."
The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries, traditional "neutrals" of Europe, insisted upon respect for neutrality, but mobilized, nevertheless, and prepared to fight for the inviolability of their frontiers if necessary.
The Egyptian army was massed by an order of general mobilization and the country was placed under martial law, French reports said, as young King Farouk rushed troops into positions facing the frontier of Italian Libya and along the Suez Canal.