Today In History: V-E Day Is Celebrated
Today in 1945, the United States and Great Britain celebrated Victory in Europe day, signaling the end of hostilities and Allied victory in World War II. Cities and towns across Western Europe and America flew flags and held celebrations to commemorate their triumph over the Axis forces.
Over a million people took to the streets across the UK in celebration. In London, Trafalgar Square was packed with celebrants. As was the Mall at Buckingham Palace, where King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill presented themselves to a cheering crowd on the palace’s balcony. Princess Elizabeth, later to be coronated Queen Elizabeth II, wandered discretely through the crowd, along with her sister Princess Margaret.
V-E Day fell on American president Harry Truman’s 61st birthday. He dedicated the day to Franklin D. Roosevelt, his predecessor, who had died mere weeks before of a cerebral hemorrhage. Truman, who kept American flags at half-mast for a thirty-day mourning period, said that he wished “that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day.” He later remarked that the victory over the Axis powers had made his 61st the happiest birthday of his life.
Nazi troops laid down their weapons on May 8. After a long, bloody battle with the Soviets, the Germans surrendered in Prague. The Nazis also surrendered in Oslo and Copenhagen, at Karlshorst, in northern Latvia and on the Channel Island of Sark. Axis officers signed surrender documents on May 7 in Reims, France and on May 8 in Berlin.
Hitler committed suicide during the Battle of Berlin on April 30, 1945. His successor, Karl Dönitz, authorized the surrender. Döntz’s administration was known as the Flensburg Government.
As the fighting in Czechoslovakia tipped in the Soviets’ favor, German soldiers attempted to flee en masse to the West, to avoid being taken prisoner. The Soviets captured about two million German prisoners before and after the Axis surrender. At the same time, approximately 13,000 British POW’s were sent home.
While America and Great Britain were celebrating the end of the war, the USSR was still fighting it. Hostilities between German and Soviet troops would continue into May 9th. The Soviets lost an additional 600 lives in Silesia on May 9, before they finally triumphed over the Nazis.
V-E Day was celebrated in Moscow on the 9th. Joseph Stalin addressed the public over the radio. “The age-long struggle of the Slav nations… has ended in victory. Your courage has defeated the Nazis. The war is over.”