On This Day

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V-E Day, Times Square

On This Day: V-E Day Ends World War II in Europe

May 08, 2012 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On May 8, 1945, Germany officially ceased military operations, ending the European conflict of World War II and prompting massive celebrations in Allied countries.

Surrender Brings Celebrations, Mourning

By 1945, Germany was on the retreat and Allied forces were closing in on Berlin from the east and west. German capitulation was imminent. On April 30, Hitler committed suicide, leaving Karl Doenitz in power. Doenitz immediately sought to negotiate a conditional surrender with the western Allied forces, but the Allies would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender to all Allied countries, including the Soviet Union.

After a week of unsuccessful negotiation and troop surrenders, Doenitz authorized Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl to surrender unconditionally. In the early morning of May 7, at Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters in Reims, France, Jodl, Maj. Wilhelm Oxenius and Adm. Hans-Georg von Friedeburg signed the instrument of surrender.

Late the following day, a second unconditional surrender was signed at a formal ceremony in Berlin by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. Under the terms of the surrender, all German military operations were to cease at 11:01 p.m. on May 8.

On May 8, known as Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day, spontaneous celebrations erupted all over the Allied countries, including now-famous victory parties in New York’s Times Square and London’s Trafalgar Square.

In London, “American sailors and laughing girls formed a conga line down the middle of Piccadilly and cockneys linked arms in the Lambeth Walk,” wrote New Yorker columnist Mollie Panter-Downes. “It was a day and night of no fixed plan and no organized merriment. Each group danced its own dance, sang its own song, and went its own way as the spirit moved it.”

Canada's celebrations included an alcohol-fueled riot in Halifax, while the West Coast remained cautious of the Japanese threat still present.

But for many, V-E Day elicited as much mourning as celebration. The BBC writes that the feelings of one British sailor were typical: “On hearing the news he felt immediate exhilaration and marked the occasion with some ‘liberated’ champagne. But then ‘reaction set in’ as he thought of his friends who had been killed, and he no longer felt like celebrating.”

Background: The Fall of Berlin and Hitler’s Death

The Battle for Berlin was the decisive battle of the War in Europe, ending with the fall of the Third Reich. Stalin, hoping to seize Berlin before the Western Allies could, launched a massive artillery attack on the city starting April 15.

On April 30, with his bunker under heavy fire and his capital city in ruins, Hitler committed suicide. On the night of May 2, German troops surrendered to the Soviets.

Key Player: Karl Doenitz

Karl Doenitz served as a submarine officer in the first World War, and then he oversaw the secret and illegal construction of the German submarine fleet under Hitler. In April 1945, Hitler, having lost faith in Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, decided to name Doenitz his successor as president of the Third Reich. Doenitz served as president for just over a week before authorizing the surrender; two weeks later, he was arrested by British forces.

Doenitz was put on trial at Nuremberg and sentenced to 10 years for war crimes, though he was not charged with crimes against humanity. It was “possibly the most controversial verdict the court handed down,” writes the BBC. “Many in the Allied military regarded him as an honourable officer who did not deserve to be lumped together with people like Goering.”

Historical Context: World War II

The findingDulcinea Web Guide to World War II links to the most comprehensive and reliable sources on the war.

Related Topic: Victory Over Japan Day

The war in the Pacific continued for another three months. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in August, forcing the Japanese to surrender.

News of the surrender sparked celebrations in the United States on Aug. 15, most remembered by a famous photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse in New York’s Times Square.

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