Victory in Europe Day, 1945

Worldwide celebrations were held yesterday to celebrate the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, May 8, 1945, the day that Nazi Germany officially surrendered to the Allies and ended WWII in Europe. But while V-E Day is recognized as the official surrender date, important German armies had already surrendered.

On the Eastern Front, the Soviets had launched their attack on Berlin on April 16, and by the 25th they had completely encircled the city. German dictator Adolf Hitler had moved into his Führerbunker in Berlin on January 16. On April 30, after he was told that German forces defending the city couldn’t hold out any longer, he committed suicide. In a will he’d written on April 29, Hitler had designated Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, who was also in the bunker, to succeed him as the new Chancellor of Germany.

On May 1 Goebbels sent General Hans Krebs to meet with General Vasily Chuikov, who commanded the Soviet troops in central Berlin, to negotiate terms of surrender. Chuikov rejected the offer and demanded that the Germans unconditionally surrender. After Krebs returned to the bunker and informed Goebbels of Chuikov’s reply, Goebbels committed suicide too. General Helmuth Weidling, the commander of the surviving German troops in Berlin, unconditionally surrendered on May 2.

On the Italian front, the western Allies had launched a massive attack against the Germans and their Italian fascist allies in northern Italy on April 6. The Allies succeeded in smashing through the Axis forces and on April 27 Italian resistance fighters captured Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and executed him the next day. General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, the commander of German forces in Italy, surrendered on May 2.

In his will, Hitler had also  designated that German Admiral Karl Dönitz should become the new President of Germany and supreme commander of the armed forces. Dönitz set up his government at a German naval academy in Flensburg, in northern Germany near the Danish border. On May 4 the German troops he commanded in the Netherlands, Denmark and northwestern Germany surrendered to the opposing British forces. (Significant organized German resistance on the Western front had already ended on April 21, when the last of the German troops trapped in the Ruhr Pocket surrendered.)

Dönitz sent General Alfred Jodl to Reims, France, on May 6 with an offer to surrender all German forces fighting the Western Allies. But the Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, threatened to break off all negotiations unless the Germans agreed to an unconditional surrender of all German troops, including those still fighting the Soviets on the Eastern Front. Dönitz had no choice but to accept Eisenhower’s terms and authorized Jodl to sign surrender documents the next day, May 7.

German surrender, May 8, 1945
German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signs the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in Berlin, May 8, 1945 (Wikipedia)

But Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin wasn’t happy about the German surrender in Reims. His Soviet armies, after all, had done the bulk of the fighting in the war and had suffered millions of casualties. He claimed the Soviet representative at Reims had lacked the authority to sign a surrender document and demanded that the Germans also surrender directly to the Soviet forces in occupied Berlin. So on 8 May Dönitz sent General Wilhelm Keitel to Berlin to sign the “official” unconditional surrender with Soviet General Georgy  Zhukov and other Allied representatives. Because it was signed late at night, and it was already May 9 in Moscow, Russia celebrates May 9 as Victory Day.

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