V-E Day marked end of long road for World War II troops

When President Harry S. Truman, British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin simultaneously announced that Nazi Germany had surrendered on May 8, 1945, the joy Americans felt was tempered by where they were.

The war that began with Germany invading Poland Sept. 1, 1939, ended with the total defeat of the Nazi menace and the unconditional surrender of the German military.

In New York, London and Moscow the eruption of joy was instantaneous. Men and women rushed to the streets to hug and kiss and dance. The war against Nazi Germany was over. The killing had stopped. A great evil ended.

The end of a long road
On the front lines deep in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, the celebration was more muted, with soldiers gradually realizing they were not going to be shot at anymore and were going to go home. 

Their joy was further tempered because, while Germany was defeated, Japan fought on. The soldiers realized their divisions, brigades and units would be part of the invasion of Japan.

Celebrated in both Great Britain and the U.S., Victory in Europe symbolizes the end of World War II in Europe May 8, 1945. Cities in both nations put out flags and banners, celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany. (Courtesy photograph)

In the Pacific, there was a brief acknowledgement that the European battle was over, but it didn’t really matter to the soldiers and Marines who were still attacking Japanese positions on Okinawa or to the sailors who were fending off kamikaze attacks on ships off the island.

V-E Day signified the end of a long road. Just between June 1944 and May 8, 1945, there were 552,117 U.S. casualties in the European theater of operations. Of those, 104,812 were killed in action.

In January 1945, many believed the war in Europe would last much longer.

In January, U.S. Army soldiers were still battling against German forces that had launched the Battle of the Bulge. That battle was the largest the U.S. Army ever fought and out of the 90,000 casualties around 19,000 soldiers were killed.

Events accelerated from there. 

WAC’s of Headquarters Command, Oise Intermediate Section, parade in Reims, France, during the V-E Day celebration May 9, 1945. (Army photograph)

The war moves into Germany
Bombing missions continued over Germany and every B-17 or B-24 lost over the Reich meant a loss of 10 Americans. On the ground, Allied troops mopped up German resistance on the west bank of the Rhine River.

On March 7, 1945, soldiers from the 9th Armored Division secured the Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine River in Remagen, Germany. The U.S. 1st Army vaulted the water barrier and struck deep into Germany. The 3rd Army also crossed the river and moved on. On March 22, U.S. and British forces launch a massive operation over the Rhine in Oppenheim.

On April 2, U.S. forces surrounded 600,000 Germans in the Ruhr Pocket. Throughout the month, American forces begin discovering the consequences of the Nazi ideology as they liberated death camps like Buchenwald, Ohrdruf and Dachau.

On April 12, Americans were shocked by the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harry S Truman was sworn in and vowed to continue Roosevelt’s policies.
On April 21, Soviet forces began their assault on the German capital of Berlin.

Soldiers pass in review before Allied officers at Supreme Headquarters during V-E Day celebration in Reims, France, May 9, 1945. (Army photograph)

With the Soviets closing in, Hitler committed suicide on April 30 and turned power over to Adm. Karl Donitz.

On May 2, German forces in Berlin surrendered to the Soviets.

On May 7, formal negotiations for Germany’s surrender began at the Supreme headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force headquarters in Rheims, France, and the Germans surrender unconditionally the next day.

At the conclusion of the surrender, the allied staff attempted to write a message for General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower to send to allied leaders. He opted for “The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, May 7th, 1945.” 

Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division enjoy some drinks on the patio of Berchtesgaden, Germany – Hitler’s former Alpine retreat, May 10, 1945. (Army photograph)

Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch Jr. (left), commanding general of the 7th Army, and Major Generals Haislip, O’Daniel and Frederick, inspect troops from the 45th Infantry Division, in Nuremberg, Germany, April 21, 1945. (Army photograph)

An American, Soviet and British solider share cigarettes after meeting up at Torgau, Germany, April 26, 1945. (Army photograph)

From left: Gen. Sonolowsky, Amb. Murphy, Field Marshal Montgomery, Marshal Zhukov, Gen. Eisenhower, Gen. Koenig, Amb. Semenov, in Berlin, April 22, 1945. (Army photograph)

Premier Stalin, President Truman and Prime Minister Churchill, plus interpreters, talk informally prior to the Potsdam Conference, July 17, 1945. (Army photograph)

Pvt. Albert Reynolds, Pfc. Johnny Spears and Sgt. Richard M. Robinson, U.S. Ninth Army, celebrate the news of Germany’s surrender, May 8, 1945. (Army photograph)

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, poses with 12th Army group officers at Bad Wildungen, Germany, May 11, 1945. (Army photograph)

Troops from the 77th Infantry Division on Okinawa listen to news of Germany’s surrender before returning to the battle May 10, 1945. (Army photograph)

General of the Army, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s end of war message. (Army photograph)

Special Communique No. 8 – announcing the complete surrender of German forces. (Army photograph)

Nazi Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, center, signs the instrument of surrender engine Nazi Germany’s involvement in World War II in Rheims, May 7, 1945. Jodl is flanked by Wilhelm Oxenius (left) of the Luftwaffe, and Hans-Georg Frideburg, representing Germany’s navy. (Courtesy photograph)

German commander Wilhelm Keitel signs the final unconditional surrender of Germany in the ruins of Berlin. (Courtesy photograph)

Celebrated in both Great Britain and the United States, Victory in Europe symbolizes the end of World War II in Europe May 8, 1945. Cities in both nations put out flags and banners, celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany. (Courtesy photograph)


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