V-E Day Marks the End of World War II in Europe Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Allied defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II marked not only the end of a brutal war in Europe but also the transfer of international power from the center of the European continent to two world powers at Europe’s flanks, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. The war in the Pacific would end with Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945.

Summary of Event

After repelling the German counterattack in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944, the commander in chief of Allied forces in Western Europe, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, prepared for the final offensive into the heart of Germany. He planned three crossings of the Rhine River in the spring of 1945—one on the north by Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery’s Twenty-first Army Group, consisting mainly of British and Canadian troops and the U.S. Ninth Army; another in the center by Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s Twelfth Army Group; and a third in the south by the U.S. Third and Seventh Armies. Adolf Hitler, the führer of Germany, had ordered his commanders to defend every inch of ground, and as a result of this directive, Eisenhower was able to destroy much of the German army in battles west of the Rhine in February, 1945. He also was able to capture the Ludendorff railroad bridge over the Rhine at Remagen on March 7, so that he had a bridgehead in the center; consequently, he abandoned plans to cross the river on his left and right flanks, and instead he rushed troops across the Rhine at Remagen. World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];European theater World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Allied victory V-E day[V E day] World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];German campaign Germany;World War II defeat[World War 02 defeat] [kw]V-E Day Marks the End of World War II in Europe (May 8, 1945)[V E Day Marks the End of World War II in Europe] [kw]Europe, V-E Day Marks the End of World War II in (May 8, 1945)[Europe, V E Day Marks the End of World War II in] [kw]End of World War II in Europe, V-E Day Marks the (May 8, 1945) [kw]World War II in Europe, V-E Day Marks the End of (May 8, 1945) [kw]War II in Europe, V-E Day Marks the End of World (May 8, 1945) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];European theater World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Allied victory V-E day[V E day] World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];German campaign Germany;World War II defeat[World War 02 defeat] [g]Europe;May 8, 1945: V-E Day Marks the End of World War II in Europe[01490] [g]France;May 8, 1945: V-E Day Marks the End of World War II in Europe[01490] [c]World War II;May 8, 1945: V-E Day Marks the End of World War II in Europe[01490] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May 8, 1945: V-E Day Marks the End of World War II in Europe[01490] [c]Geography;May 8, 1945: V-E Day Marks the End of World War II in Europe[01490] Bradley, Omar N. Churchill, Winston [p]Churchill, Winston;World War II military leadership[World War 02 military] Eisenhower, Dwight D. [p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;World War II Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;defeat Montgomery, Bernard Law Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;WorldWar II military leadership[World War 02 military] Stalin, Joseph [p]Stalin, Joseph;World War II military leadership[World War 02 military] Truman, Harry S. [p]Truman, Harry S.;World War II

By March 28, Bradley’s forces had passed through Remagen and reached Marburg, where they were ready to swing northward to link up with Montgomery’s Twenty-first Army Group. Bradley was promoted to general the following day. Montgomery’s army group also had crossed the Rhine and had cut off German Army Group B, assigned to defend Germany’s main industrial area, the Ruhr Valley. Eisenhower informed Montgomery that once the latter’s encirclement of German units had been completed, the U.S. Ninth Army (which had been fighting with Montgomery’s Twenty-first Army Group) would revert to General Bradley’s Twelfth Army Group for the final move into Germany. This administrative shift was a major change in Eisenhower’s overall strategy.

Before the capture of the railroad bridge at Remagen, Eisenhower had intended that Montgomery should spearhead the major military effort east of the Rhine, with Berlin as the primary target; now he was shifting the emphasis to Bradley’s Twelfth Army Group headed for Dresden. On March 28, Eisenhower informed Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin of his intentions, implying that he would leave capture of the German capital to the Soviet armies advancing from the east.

The prime minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, was furious. He considered Eisenhower’s shift in emphasis uncalled-for from the military point of view and held that Berlin Berlin;fall of should remain the prime objective for both the British and the U.S. forces. Eisenhower insisted that Berlin was no longer important, because no German armies or government agencies of any significance remained in the capital. The Supreme Allied Commander wanted to end the war as soon as possible; to do so he had to destroy the remaining German armed forces, which were concentrated in southern Germany. Churchill insisted that politically it was essential for the British and Americans to capture Berlin, for if the Soviets were allowed to capture the capital, they would gain an exaggerated opinion of their contribution to the common victory. Churchill also implied that if the Anglo-American forces took Berlin, they could hold the city for the purpose of making postwar deals with the Soviets.

The division of Germany into zones of occupation already had been decided, and Berlin was located within the territory allotted to the Soviet zone. Berlin itself was to be divided into sectors among the Allies. Eisenhower held that it would be foolish to waste U.S. and British lives in taking a city that would have to be handed over by prior agreement to the Soviets because it was to be allocated to their zone. At no time did Churchill advocate repudiating earlier agreements with the Soviets concerning the division of Germany, although he did want “to shake hands as far east as possible” with the Red Army.

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signs the terms of Germany’s surrender, ending the war in Europe.

(National Archives)

Churchill could not give orders to Eisenhower; that prerogative was reserved for the combined chiefs of staff of the United States and Great Britain, or the president of the United States. The chief of staff of the U.S. Army, General of the Army George C. Marshall Marshall, George C. [p]Marshall, George C.;World War II , saw to it that Eisenhower was given a free hand in field operations. Churchill appealed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Roosevelt’s foreign policy was to make every effort to attain good relations with Stalin, and he refused to order Eisenhower to race the Soviet army to Berlin. After Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945, the new president, Harry S. Truman, adopted the same policy. Eisenhower was free to do as he thought fit, and he sent his armies into central and southern Germany, avoiding Berlin. The Soviets captured the German capital in late April.

Eisenhower’s forces reached the Elbe River in central Germany between April 19 and May 2. On April 25, U.S. and Russian patrols met near Torgau and cut Germany in half. Hitler committed suicide on April 30; his successor, Admiral Karl Doenitz Doenitz, Karl , began negotiations for surrender on May 4. Doenitz wanted to hand over German forces to the Western Allies, hoping thereby to avoid punishment from the Soviets for German crimes in the east, but Eisenhower refused to comply. Doenitz, his country in ruin, agreed to the immediate unconditional surrender of all Germany’s armed forces. German and Allied representatives met at Eisenhower’s headquarters in Rheims, France, on May 7 and signed the necessary documents that made the surrender effective the following day. Truman declared that day, May 8, to be V-E day (victory in Europe day).

Significance

It soon became evident that the documents signed at Rheims were not the correct versions previously agreed upon by the Allies. Confusion reigned. The documents had not been approved formally by the Soviets, did not make provisions for authoritative Russian translations, and were signed by an obscure Soviet general without Stalin’s knowledge. Although the United States tried to downplay the mistake, the Soviets insisted upon a second surrender ceremony with the proper documents and different representatives in Berlin. That ceremony took place on May 9, a date that Soviets subsequently commemorated as the “true” V-E day. The Soviets had achieved a symbolic victory over the United States, as the second signing ceremony bolstered Moscow’s dark intimations that the Western allies sought to marginalize the Soviet Union in the postwar order. As much as marking the end of the war against Germany, V-E day also can be seen as the opening of the Cold War. In July, the British, the Soviets, and the Americans met at the Potsdam Conference to work out a peace agreement and to discuss the disposition of Germany, Eastern Europe, and the Japanese surrender. World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];European theater World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Allied victory V-E day[V E day] World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];German campaign Germany;World War II defeat[World War 02 defeat]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bahn, Karl. Berlin, 1945: The Last Battle, 16 April-2 May 1945. Barnsley, England: Pen and Sword Books, 2001. An authoritative account of the European theater’s final assault, which prompted Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s surrender.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Churchill, Winston S. Triumph and Tragedy. Vol. 6 in The Second World War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953. In this World War II history volume, Churchill examines and reflects upon the victory in Europe.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dear, Ian C. B. The Oxford Companion to World War II. New ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. A thorough encyclopedic work with more than seventeen hundred alphabetized entries on World War II.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gilbert, Martin. The Day the War Ended: May 8, 1945, Victory in Europe. New York: Henry Holt, 1995. One of the best works to come out at the fiftieth anniversary of V-E day. Includes photos and a bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lucas, Jones Sidney. Last Days of the Third Reich: The Collapse of Nazi Germany, May, 1945. New York: William Morrow, 1986. Examines the events leading up to V-E day, incorporating maps and diagrams. Divided into sections that focus on the different military fronts of the war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">

    The Second World War. 9 vols. Naples, Fla.: Trident Press International, 2000. Illustrated with more than twenty thousand photographs, this nine-volume chronicle is unsurpassed as a visual record of World War II in both major theaters.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Short, K. R. M., and Stephen Dolezel, eds. Hitler’s Fall: The Newsreel Witness. London: Croom Helm, 1988. Examines how the struggle with and victory over Germany was portrayed by contemporary media. Essays, drawn from several countries, focus on commercial and governmentally controlled newsreel films.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weinberg, Gerhard. “The Final Assault on Germany.” In A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. An engaging and authoritative chapter in a lengthy book by a prominent scholar. Includes notes.

World War II: European Theater

Germany and Italy Declare War on the United States

Invasion of Normandy Begins the Liberation of Europe

Allied Forces Break German Front in France

Operation Dragoon

Allied Forces Begin the Battle for Germany

Battle of the Bulge

Yalta Conference

Potsdam Conference

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