Victory In Europe – VE Day
On September 3, 1939 the British and France declared war on Germany after the Nazi’s invaded Poland. On December 11, 1941, after the United States was attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, Germany declared war on the US.
Six years of global battle for the Brits and four years for America had taken their toll when finally Germany fell to the combined forces of the Allies.
On May 7th, 1945 the first unconditional surrender of Germany ending WWII was signed. Due to some needed rewriting of the legal document, the definitive Act of Military Surrender, was signed by all parties and recorded as midnight on May 8th.
Those at the table included the Allied Expeditionary Force, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), the Supreme High Command of the Soviet Red Army, along with other French and US representatives signing as witnesses. Thus, May 8th is the day most celebrate the end of the Second World War.
The press had already been leaked the information so some headlines around the globe reflect the first signing at Reims on May 7th as the end of the war in Europe.
The events leading up to this glorious day were hard fought and deadly.
Troops under General’s Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Patton had just fought through one of the coldest winters in history on the Western Front, the Battle of the Bulge, considered the bloodiest and largest single battle fought in Europe by the US during WWII.
By April of 1945 the German Army, many of them untrained young teenagers, were spread in small pockets across Europe fighting a losing battle.
By the end of March, the combined forces of the Allies had reached the eastern shores of the Rhine River. On April 25th, Americans and Russian troops meet for the first time at the Elbe River. The East and West united against the Nazi’s.
Since mid-February the United States Air Force, along with the British RAF, had been dropping thousands of bombs demolishing Dresden. The bombing of larger German towns continued.
Allied victory was imminent.
Top-Right: Berlin. Bottom Row: Dresden, Dresden, Cologne, Nuremburg .
After May 2nd, when the Soviets took Berlin, the Associated Press claimed:
Thousands of German soldiers surrender, with towns showing little resistance, as the Allies claimed the remaining territory held by the Nazis.
The first exchange toward surrender between the Germans and Allies happened in western Holland on April 28th, the same day Mussolini’s fascist state collapsed and the Russians furthered their attacks in Berlin. The Nazi world was crumbling. In two days’ time, Hitler would take his own life.
It is said that the Germans preferred to surrender to the Allies rather than to the Red Army as they did not believe the Russians would honor the terms of surrender for the German civilians.
World War Two Rages On
With the war in Europe over, pressure mounted to end the continuing battle with Japan, a country whose troops would rather commit suicide, than surrender. For many of the young American soldiers who had just finished battling in Europe yet did not have the required amount of time in the service to be released, their biggest fear was being sent to the Pacific Theater.
Professor Bob Harmon who taught for decades at Seattle University, and is featured in the attached video filmed in 2017, remembers the surrender of Weimar, Germany very well. It was April 12th, the day he turned 20, when his squad accepted the Germans surrender. He also told me he didn’t think he would survive if sent to Japan. He felt he had used up all of his ‘good luck’ surviving the Battle of the Bulge through to the end of the war. He was thrilled to be assigned guarding the salt mines at Altaussee, Austria, where all the valuable artwork, gold and other prizes sized by Hitlers men had been stored. Then later in life, meeting George Clooney as he made the movie, Monuments Men. (That story to follow.)
We are forever grateful to the likes of Harmon and all who fought across Europe to bring us Victory in Europe Day – V E Day. And to those who continued to fight for our freedom across the Pacific against Japan.