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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