Victory in Europe

Posted on Wednesday 2nd May 2012



VE Day: a day to remember
By Craig Cabell and Allan Richards
Extracted from VE Day: A Day to Remember and reproduced by permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.
VE Day was officially 8 May 1945. Britain and the USA both found themselves in the grip of mass celebration. The cities across Western Europe, cities that had once been held captive by a hostile and murderous force, relived the celebrations they had experienced as each had been liberated. But, due in part to the total confusion and breakdown of communication in many areas of central Europe, there was still a great deal to achieve. Even as victory was being celebrated, there were several divisions of German soldiers still engaged in conflict with either the Allied Expeditionary Force, or more commonly, the Russian Army. In addition, of course, there was still fierce fighting going on in the struggle to bring down the other merciless enemy in the Far East.
General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, played host in name only to the most historic event of the entire European element of the Second World War. He did not attend the actual signing of the surrender document. Instead, he chose to wait in his office for news that the deed had been done and that Germany had finally surrendered unconditionally to the armed forces under his control. The date was 7 May 1945 and the location was his Headquarters at Reims in France.
He had allocated his war room for the signing. Across the walls were maps of battle plans, supply routes, communication links and known German positions. It was vital information for which the German officers would have done almost anything to have had access to. In the centre of the room was a table. It was made of wood, plain and rickety and with the top painted black. It was an unremarkable table, except for what was about to happen around it. There were fourteen chairs, twelve on one side, and two on the other, the latter as if facing an unrelenting panel. The room was well lit.
The Allies entered the room first, where a selected band of reporters and photographers waited for the historic moment. All the officers were making a wonderful attempt at appearing relaxed but all were clearly anxious. When the Germans entered, General Jodl appeared very tense. His facial muscles were taut. Admiral Friedeberg, who had already surrendered Holland, Denmark and north-west Germany, seemed a little more relaxed but was clearly not having a good day. The Allied observers were Lieutenant General Sir F. E. Morgan, Major General François Sevez, Admiral H. M. Burrough, Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith, Lieutenant General Ivan Chermiaev, General Ivan Susloparov and General C. A. Spaatz.
Admiral Friedeberg tried the familiar ruse about only surrendering to the western Allies and not to the Russians. This was again refused.
During the proceedings, General Jodl dispatched a message to Admiral Dönitz. It concerned authorizations about the signing o the surrender. It seemed Jodl did not feel confident about being i a position to sign, or perhaps he was stalling. While the reply wa awaited the Germans waited in a nearby house that had been allocate to them. The British and Americans took a quick nap to while away the time. The French returned to their quarters. The Russians held a cocktail party.
When it resumed, the Russians were grinning. All the officers sat down at a word from General Smith and the reporters started their frenzied bounding about. It was clear the German generals were growing frustrated with all the activity. General Strong, who was handing out the surrender documents, found the eager reporters were frequently in his way.
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Grand Admiral Karl Donitz escorted by British officers during the surrender.

At 2.41 on the morning of 7 May 1945, General Jodl signed the surrender and passed it for signature first to General Smith, signing on behalf of the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force, then to General Susloparov, signing for the Soviet High Command, then to Major General Sevez, representing France but signing as the official witness. This process was repeated four times. By 2.45, all the documents had been appropriately signed.
The document read:
'We the undersigned, acting by authority of the German High Command, hereby surrender unconditionally to the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command all forces on land, at sea, and in the air who are at this date under German control. The German High Command will at once issue orders to all German military, naval and air authorities and to all forces under German control to cease active operations at 23.01 hours Central European Time on 8 May 1945, to remain in positions occupied at that time. No ship, vessel or aircraft is to be scuttled, or any damage done to their hull, machinery or equipment. The German High Command will at once issue to the appropriate commanders, and ensure the carrying out of any further orders issued by the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force and by the Soviet High Command. This Act of military surrender is without prejudice to, and will be superseded by any general instrument of surrender imposed by, or on behalf of the United Nations and applicable to Germany and the German armed forces as a whole. In the event of the German High Command or any of the forces under their control failing to act in accordance with the Act of Surrender, the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force and the Soviet High Command will take such punitive or other action as they deem appropriate.'
It had taken just four minutes for the might of the Third Reich to finally accept its defeat. The reporters and photographers were leaping over each other. One wanted a picture of the Russian interpreter, a tall bald man. The photographer leaned over the Germans, pushing a disgruntled General Jodl out of the way. All Jodl could do was sit there, stiff and unblinking, taking every humiliation. How the mighty had fallen.
Once the excitement had diminished, General Jodl rose and sought permission to speak. He said:
Herr General, with this signature the German people and the German armed forces are, for better or worse, delivered into the victor’s hands. In this war, which lasted more than five years, both have achieved and suffered more than perhaps anyone else in the world. In this hour, I can only express the hope that the victor will treat them with generosity.
General Jodl and Admiral Friedeberg were then escorted to the office of General Eisenhower. There, they met with Eisenhower himself and his deputy, Air Chief Marshall Tedder. General Eisenhower asked the Germans if they fully understood the surrender terms. The Germans confirmed that they did. They were marched away.
A message was then released; the most important message of the entire European part of the Second World War; a message millions had fought and struggled for so long to hear:
'The Mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 02.41, local time, May 7 1945.'
It was all over.
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Soldiers, sailors and civilians spill out onto the streets in celebration of the end of the war.

8 May 1945 – the ratification of berlin
The Russians, who had suffered perhaps more than most under the oppression of the past few years, were not satisfied with th surrender at Reims. As far as they were concerned, it had only been a partial surrender. In fact, they referred to the event as merely ‘A preliminary protocol of capitulation’. They wanted more than just one person signing for all three armed services. They wanted it not at the headquarters of the western Allied forces but in Berlin itself. The city represented the last stand of Hitler and of German military power.
So, it became necessary to repeat the process, with a few important changes. There were some textual alterations to the surrender document. It was signed by Field Marshall Keitel, Admiral von Friedeburg and General Stumpff. They were signing for the German High Command. Each represented the Army, Navy and Luftwaffe. They signed in the presence of Air Chief Marshal Tedder for the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force and Marshall Zhukov on behalf of the Supreme High Command of the Red Army. The process was witnessed by General Lattre- Tassigny, representing the French Army and General Spaatz, representing the United States Strategic Air Force.
This surrender document, signed on 8 May 1945, read as follows:
We the undersigned, acting by authority of the German High Command, hereby surrender unconditionally to the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and simultaneously to the Supreme High Command of the Red Army all forces on land, at sea, and in the air who are at this date under German control. The German High Command will at once issue orders to all German military, naval and air authorities and to all forces under German control to cease active operations at 23.01 hours Central European Time on 8 May 1945, to remain in positions occupied at that time and to disarm completely, handing over their weapons and equipment to the local Allie commanders or officers designated by representatives of the Allied Supreme Commands. No ship, vessel or aircraft is to be scuttled, or any damage done to their hull, machinery or equipment and also to machines of all kinds, armament, apparatus and all the technical means of prosecution of war in general. The German High Command will at once issue to the appropriate commanders, and ensure the carrying out of any further orders issued by the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force and by the Supreme High Command of the Red Army.
General Eisenhower, who had been in the building the previous day in Reims but not in the same room, was not even, it seems, in the same city this time. He saw no reason to attend the signing of this document. He had already taken the surrender the previous day.
The mood of the nation
Many people in Britain saw no need to wait for the official announcement that Germany had surrendered. News had already been filtering through and the other surrenders had made the final act more than a possibility.
There were other clues. On 7 May, the Board of Trade had allowed the purchase of cotton bunting without coupons in the colours of red, white and blue. Also on that day, the British Army announced the beginnings of Operation Eclipse. This was the name for the Allied military occupation of Germany. Suddenly, the country that had occupied so many others in Europe was now to be occupied itself.
Although the general population of Britain later discovered that the signing in Reims had already taken place, 7 May 1945 was to become known as VE Eve. On the night of 7 May, much of Britain was in the grip of a storm. It was very reminiscent of the night before the war started. Then, the rain had been dripping into untested and make-shift shelters. This time, it was unlikely many people cared about the condition of their shelters. They knew what was happening across the Channel. They were ready for a celebration and no weather could dampen the spirits.
Many people awoke to the sound of hammering. It was the sound of jovial people erecting banners and flags. Soon, the Union Jack would be joined by the US and Russian flags. Dustbin lids quickly became a type of musical instrument as people devised ways of making as much noise as they possibly could.
It had stopped raining and the rest of the day would be bathed in clear weather, just right for the party atmosphere that was to follow. There were celebrations right across the country and they varied tremendously in their intensity. Some people went to pubs which were rapidly drunk dry. Others toured streets, being invited into houses for a drink and a chat. Doors remained open for much of the day. Still others hosted street parties. These were hastily organized and made use of whatever limited resources were available at the time.
Thousands more, those with the ability and the desire, chose to converge on Central London. There, the police were massively outnumbered but there were few reported cases of trouble. Most people were heading in similar directions – towards Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament and Piccadilly. There were children perched on lamp posts and soldiers wearing paper hats. A truck would stop at a junction and become swamped in a mass of people who neither knew nor cared where it was heading. A ride pretty much anywhere would be fine. Everything was good natured. Ambulances were standing by but did very little business. Cinemas were shut and barricaded in case joyful crowds decided to go on the rampage. But there were no problems.
There were members of the military from all the nations that had made VE Day possible. Among them were people with coats and umbrellas. Obviously there was more faith in the peace in Europe lasting than the good old British weather. Women were wearing flags in their hats and some were draped in flags. There was singing – one particular song being repeated was Roll Out The Barrel. Spontaneously, someone would shout for no apparent reason and the shout would be taken up and passed through the crowd until it became a roaring crescendo. Some were less jovial. Perhaps they had lost someone or perhaps they themselves had been injured. There was evidence of injuries, with some people staggering along on crutches. Many had little to say to one another, deep in their own thoughts.
Winston Churchill, who had laboured to lead the nation through its darkest period, was expected. On his way to Buckingham Palace, he stopped to purchase a cigar. It was essential, he claimed. The public had seen him with cigars throughout the war; they would have been disappointed if he didn’t have one when he appeared before them on the day of triumph.
When his car arrived at the Palace, the crowd surrounding it was dense. About 20,000 people had converged on the area. The Royal Family – the King, the Queen and the two Princesses, appeared on the balcony. The family could all have left at the start of the war for the relative safety of Canada. There was an escape plan, but they had refused. Their place had been with their people and that was a determination that would give the Monarchy tremendous popularity for years to come.
Almost as soon as they had appeared, to rapturous applause, the call went through the crowd, ‘We want Winnie. We want Winnie.’ To more applause, he appeared just before six that evening, joining the Royal Family on the balcony, from where he gave another speech, giving all the credit for the victory to the people.
'This is your victory. It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the deep resolve of the British nation. God bless you all.'
The Princesses – Elizabeth and Margaret – slipped out of the palace later in the evening to mingle with the crowd. They remained out there, with their escorts, for much of the evening. People were in London to have a wonderful time. There was a huge party atmosphere with thousands of people rejoicing in the new found state of peace and freedom. A feeling of euphoria radiated through the gathered masses.
The first weather forecast since the start of the war was transmitted that day, as well as a cheerful news broadcast. At nine that evening, the BBC gave an insight into some of the parties across Britain. It was also announced that the Admiralty had issued surrender terms to the German Navy, that British tanks were rolling triumphantly across Denmark, that the Allied Commanders were arriving in Oslo to receive the surrender of German forces in Norway, that the RAF was carrying 350 tons of food to Holland and then flying home the first 4,500 prisoners of war
Because of the fine weather and British double-summertime, introduced during the war, it did not start to grow dark until around 10.30 that evening. That time, which had for so long been referred to as blackout time, now became light up time. By then, most of the pubs were dry but there were very few instances of drunkenness.
As midnight approached those who were close enough listened for the sound of Big Ben. After the final stroke of twelve, time passed into 9 May and into the era of peace in Europe. It was VE 1.
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Thousands of civilians mingle with servicemen around Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square to participate in the Victory Parade on 8 May. The posters read 'Victory over Germany 1945 – Give thanks by saving'; a reference to War Bonds, a Government savings scheme designed to boost the war effort.

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General Eisenhower.

'It had taken just four minutes for the might of the Third Reich to finally accept its defeat. The reporters and photographers were leaping all over each other. One wanted a picture of the Russian interpreter, a tall, bald man. The photographer leaned over the Germans, pushing a disgruntled General Jodl out of the way. All Jodl could do was sit there, stiff and unblinking, taking every humiliation. How the mighty had fallen.'

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On 8 May 1945, news that the war in Europe had come to an end spread around the world. Outside Paris Opera House, soldiers and civilians climb above the gathering crowds to celebrate.

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The flags are out at the War Office. VE Day celebrations in Whitehall.

A was was released; the most important message of the entire European part of the Second World War; a message millions had fought and struggled for so long to hear:

'The Mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 02.41, local time, May 7 1945.'

It was all over.

VE Day footage, 8 May 1945.

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VE Day celebrations.

'This is your victory. It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the deep resolve of the British nation. God bless you all'
Winston Churchill

Further Reading


VE Day - A Day to Remember
(Hardback - 256 pages)
ISBN: 9781844151844

by Craig Cabell
Only £10.00 RRP £19.99

The authors have compiled a collection of memories and anecdotes from celebrities and members of the public covering their experiences of the Second World War and the day that Victory over the Nazis was declared. We hear from not only those in the Armed Forces but civilians. The book catches the mood of jubilation and exhilaration yet also the great sadness of the huge waste of human life and resources. Hard times still lay ahead.
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

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