V-E Day: 8 May 1945

Reflections on V-E Day Plus 57

Listen to a RealAudio clip of a live report from Edward R. Murrow of CBS News. He is reporting from Piccadilly Circus in London amidst a crowd of jubilant Britishers celebrating the end of the war.

What is V-E Day?
   On May 7, 1945, in Reims, France, at 2:41 a.m. local time, German general Alfred Johl signed the unconditional surrender of all German forces, ending the war in Europe. General Dwight Eisenhower accepted the surrender for the Allies. The surrender was official at 11:01 p.m. the next day, May 8, 1945, which became known as Victory in Europe (or V-E) Day.

"V-E 303" has been gouged in the ground at Molesworth Air Station. The view is from a 303rd Bomb
B-17 coming in for a landing on May 8, 1945.

While Londoners wave Union Jacks, "out of work" American bombers
return to their English base on May 8, 1945.

On Victory in Europe
(Ernie Pyle's last column)

ERNIE PYLE   And so it is over. The catastrophe on one side of the world has run its course. The day that it had so long seemed would never come has come at last. I suppose emotions here in the Pacific are the same as they were among the Allies all over the world. First a shouting of the good news with such joyous surprise that you would think the shouter himself had brought it about. And then an unspoken sense of gigantic relief — and then a hope that the collapse in Europe would hasten the end in the Pacific. It has been seven months since I heard my last shot in the European war. Now I am as far away from it as it is possible to get on this globe.

   This is written on a little ship laying off the coast of the Island of Okinawa, just south of Japan, on the other side of the world from Ardennes. But my heart is still in Europe, and that's why I am writing this column. It is to the boys who were my friends for so long. My one regret of the war is that I was not with them when it ended. For the companionship of two-and-a-half years of death and misery is a spouse that tolerates no divorce. Such companionship finally becomes a part of one's soul, and it cannot be obliterated. True, I am with American boys in the other war not yet ended, but I am old-fashioned and my sentiment runs to old things. To me the European war is old, and the Pacific war is new.

   Last summer I wrote that I hoped the end of the war could be a gigantic relief, but not an elation. In the joyousness of high spirits it is easy for us to forget the dead. Those who are gone would not wish themselves to be a millstone of gloom around our necks. But there are many of the living who have had burned into their brains forever the unnatural sight of cold dead men scattered over the hillsides and in the ditches along the high rows of hedge throughout the world. Dead men by mass production — in one country after another — month after month and year after year. Dead men in winter and dead men in summer. Dead men in such familiar promiscuity that they become monotonous. Dead men in such monstrous infinity that you come almost to hate them.

   These are the things that you at home need not even try to understand. To you at home they are columns of figures, or he is a near one who went away and just didn't come back. You didn't see him lying so grotesque and pasty beside the gravel road in France.

   We saw him, saw him by the multiple thousands. That's the difference ...

V-E Day Memories
(compiled from Soldiers Magazine)

LONDON DAILY MIRROR FRONT PAGE   A little French girl with straight black hair tightly held in ribbons was the first to see what was happening. She remembered the men in field-gray uniforms who the Allies had chased from her country.

   "The Germans have come and the war is over," she shouted in French to her neighbors along the village's main street.

   Her exclamation may have sounded contradictory, but the arrival of the German soldiers this time around meant the end of the war.

   The war in Europe ended after five years, eight months and six days, with German representatives surrendering in a schoolhouse at Reims, France, at 2:41 a.m. on May 7, 1945.

The victory came on the heels of a great Allied sweep after the liberation of France and the crossing of the Rhine River in Germany.

   Even when, on March 2, the U.S. Ninth Army reached the Rhine near Dusseldorf, Adolf Hitler still refused to sanction withdrawal of the German troops behind the Rhine. The unqualified success of the U.S. First and Ninth armies in crossing the Rhine River signaled the beginning of the Allies' victorious sweep through Germany.

   The First and Ninth armies caught the Germans' Fifth Panzer and 15th armies, along with part of the 1st Parachute Army, in the northern Ruhr industrial area on April 1. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied expeditionary forces in Europe, called this the "largest double envelopment in history." More than 325,000 Germans were captured.

   Since the Soviet forces stood 28 miles outside Berlin, Eisenhower decided against entering the city. Instead, his forces turned south to drive into central Germany.

   The Third Army drove southeastward into Bavaria, Czechoslovakia and Austria alongside the Seventh Army. After a hard fight at Heilbronn, the Seventh took Nurnberg after a three-day battle ending on April 20. The French swept through the Black Forest to take Stuttgart on April 22.

   U.S. and Soviet troops connected at the Elbe River on April 25. Munich fell on April 30; northwest of Munich in Moosberg, 110,000 Allied prisoners of war were liberated.

   Organized resistance by Germany approached an end, with the remnants of the German army scattered across Europe.

   Field Marshal Karl von Rundstedt, whom Eisenhower considered the most able German commander he had ever encountered, was captured 23 miles south of Munich in Bad Tolz. The capture was made by 2nd Lt. Joseph Burke, a tank commander of the 141st Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division, who was on his first battlefield assignment since receiving his commission three weeks earlier.

   May saw the end of German power. On May 2 the Soviet army occupied Berlin and Italy officially surrendered. On May 4 four events took place: Salzburg fell; Berchtesgaden, the site of Hitler's mountain retreat, fell; an American column pushed through Austria to the Brenner Pass; and German Grand Admiral Karl Donitz surrendered all forces in the north, including Denmark and the Netherlands.

   Donitz tried to surrender piecemeal to the Allies in the west, instead of surrendering to the Russians. But Eisenhower demanded a simultaneous unconditional surrender on both fronts.

   Donitz sent Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl to Reims to negotiate. The Allies remained firm and Jodl telegraphed Donitz for permission to sign.

Jodl signed for the Germans. Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower's chief of staff, signed for the Allies.

   "With this signature," Jodl said in a soft-spoken voice, "the German people and armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victor's hand."

   May 8 was declared the official Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day, by the Allies.

   Despite the signatures on the May 7 agreement, Russian victors did not celebrate until a final surrender ceremony in Berlin at 12:01 a.m. on May 9 with ranking Russians in attendance. Even then, Germans reopened fire on Prague at 1:40 a.m. in order to escape the Red Army.

   "Germany, dying, was trying to perpetuate another legend to be enshrined in the German memory along with the 'immortalization of Adolf Hitler,'" wrote historian Hanson W. Baldwin. "Surrender to the west, but resistance to the east, the Russians, would write the final page of German resistance in the Nazi manner."

   However, this vast Allied mopping-up operation did not come without a great tragedy in human lives.

   Since landing in Normandy in June of 1944, Allied forces in the west had suffered 186,000 dead, 545,700 wounded and 109,600 missing, most later to be declared dead. German losses totalled 263,000 dead, 49,000 permanently disabled and 8.1 million captured.

   The United States and Great Britain simultaneously broadcast the unconditional surrender of Germany at 9 a.m. on May 8. The Soviet people did not receive the news until May 9.

In his address, President Harry S Truman requested that the American people "refrain from celebrating and dedicate themselves instead to the solemn task which lies ahead," referring to the war still raging in the Pacific.

   Some areas ignored Truman's plea. More than 15,000 policemen were mobilized in New York City to ensure a safe V-E Day.

   The crowds that filled Times Square were comparable to those at the city's New Year celebration. The crowd awaited the broadcast, tooting horns, staging impromptu parades and filling the sky over Wall Street with confetti.

   Still, many who realized the extent of the grim struggle still ahead responded with quiet thanksgiving. In Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, prayer services were timed to coincide with the Central Park celebration.

   However, in Richmond borough, Joseph A. Palma said no official celebration was planned. "The war is far from being over," he explained. "And I do not think it appropriate to celebrate until the war in the Pacific is won."

   Washingtonians flocked to the White House and pressed their noses through the iron fence around the presidential lawn. White House police tactfully shooed them to the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.

   In London, Prime Minister Winston Churchill authorized a two-day celebration. Carpenters had even started building the media stand in front of Buckingham Palace almost a week before the official announcement.

   Allied service members celebrated in London's Piccadilly Circus. Others gathered outside Buckingham Palace to hear King George's speech.

   In Germany, Allied troops were slow to react to the news, but by nightfall they realized that even though their next stop might be the Pacific, there was peace on their small part of the earth.

   The U.S. 5th Infantry Division, which had captured Frankfurt, celebrated in Czechoslovakia. Artillery batteries shot red star shells skyward, and flares arced across the starry sky. On the ground, bonfires dotted the landscape, silhouetting the hills.

   Across the Pacific, a very different celebration commenced nine hours before the official V-E celebration began. Every shore and ship battery trained on a Japanese target fired one shell simultaneously at midnight.

   Just as the little French girl proclaimed the victory in Europe, children in New York reminded celebrants of the task at hand.

   A group of boys and girls marched in New York with signs proclaiming: "On to Tokyo," "On to Japan," and "Two Down, One to Go." Onlookers applauded and cheered them on.

U.S. war plans called for committing six million soldiers to the invasion of Japan and discharging 2 million after the fall of Germany.

   And even though Americans celebrated V-E Day in various ways, everyone agreed that the homecoming of all American service members would be the real victory.

   With the end of the war quickly approaching, news of the April 30 death of Adolf Hitler in his Berlin bunker sparked skepticism from almost everyone — from the Allied leaders to the American people at home.

   Before the fall of Berlin, the Nazi leader was pronounced dead by a Hamburg radio broadcast on May 1. Hitler's dictatorship, which began in March 1933, had finally ended.

   The British Foreign Office demanded production of Hitler's body after the end of hostilities. Headlines announcing his death in the New York Times brought the subway rush hour to a standstill on that evening.

   Leo Kaplan of Queens, New York, a soldier hit by machine-gun fire in the Philippines, hobbled across Times Square in a downpour. He said, "If it's true, it's the greatest thing I ever heard."

   While some were skeptical of reports about Hitler's death, Allied soldiers in Europe were overcome by the revelations of the horrors caused by the German dictator in life.

   Troops of the U.S. 45th Inf. Div. and 20th Armored Div. captured the Dachau extermination camp and freed its surviving 60,000 inmates. Other camps were also liberated during the Allied sweep.

   Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower expressed shock and revulsion after visiting one such camp. Lt. Col. George Stevens and a special film team documented the conditions at Dachau as a record for the rest of the world.


Photographs of New York City's Times Square on V-E Day, May 8, 1945. While the detail (top) of the photograph on the bottom is barely legible, it does show a different marquee layout. Sharp eyes may be able to discern that the theater was playing Mr. Lucky starring Cary Grant and Larraine Day and Lady Has Plans starring Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard.


At Piccadilly Circus in London, a U.S. soldier gives a hug to a motherly looking English woman celebrating Germany's unconditional surrender. (Photo courtesy U.S. National Archives.)


When at last the war in Europe was over, Britain went wild, and by noon on the day of the announcement thousands had taken to the capital's streets. Although Germany had surrendered unconditionally the day before, there was no official announcement until the afternoon of May 8, 1945 — the day Winston Churchill declared as Victory in Europe, or V-E, Day.


But word was already out and that morning the Daily Mirror's saucy cartoon nymphet Jane appeared naked, fulfilling a promise that she would when peace was declared. At 3:00 pm, as Big Ben chimed the hour, the crowds listened to the Prime Minister's Downing Street broadcast declaring that the war had officially ended. Church bells rang and tugboats on the Thames blasted out the "dot, dot, dot, dash" of the "V for Victory" sign.


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