by Ben Johnson
May 8th 1945, was the date the Allies celebrated the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler’s Reich, formally recognising the end of the Second World War in Europe.
The Allies had begun to overrun Germany from the west during April as Russian forces advanced from the east. On 25th April 1945, Allied and Soviet forces met at the Elbe River, the German Army was all but destroyed.
Five days later, Hitler killed his dog, his new wife Eva and then committed suicide in his Berlin bunker. His successor, Admiral Karl Doenitz, sent General Alfred Jodl to General Dwight Eisenhower’s Supreme Allied Headquarters in Rheims to seek terms for an end to the war. At 2:41 a.m. on 7th May, General Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of German forces, which was to take effect from 8th May at 11:01 p.m.
After six years and millions of lives lost, the Nazi scourge was crushed and the war in Europe was finally over.
V-E Day Celebrations on the Strand
( photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum Duxford)
It was on this date that great celebrations took place across Europe and North America: in London over a million people celebrated the end of the European war. Crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the Palace to cheering crowds.
Amongst those crowds Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II) and her sister, Princess Margaret blended anonymously, apparently enjoying the celebrations for themselves first hand.
In the United States, President Harry Truman, who celebrated his 61st birthday that same day, dedicated the victory to his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died less than a month earlier, on 12th April.
The Allies had originally agreed to mark 9th May 1945 as V-E day, but eager western journalists broke the news of Germany’s surrender prematurely, thus signalling the earlier celebration. The Soviet’s kept to the agreed date, and Russia still commemorates the end of the Second World War, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, as Victory Day on 9th May.
The Allied victory over Japan was known as V-J Day, did not take place until some months later on 15th August 1945.
Liberation Day Cavelcade, Guernsey © States of Guernsey Tourist Board
Parties have been organised throughout Europe and North America in May 2005 to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of VE Day. Of special significance perhaps, are those events planned to commemorate the liberation of the Channel Islands, which were the only part of Britain to fall under the domination of the Third Reich.