The End of World War II in Europe
REIMS, France — World War II ended in a French schoolhouse 75 years ago when German commanders signed their surrender to Allied forces. Unlike the massive celebrations greeting the momentous news in 1945, today’s surviving veterans quietly marked V-E Day with private memories, confined by a global pandemic, and without usual fanfare of public honor. Regardless, the world’s undying gratitude for their service and sacrifice remains eternal.
Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Western Allies and the Soviet Union at 2:41 a.m. French time. It took place in the headquarters of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and was signed for Germany by Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, new Chief of Staff of the German Army. The surrender was signed for the Supreme Allied Command by Lt. Gen. Walter Beddel Smith, Chief of Staff for Gen. Eisenhower. Also participants in the signings were Gen. Ivan Susloparov of the Soviet Union and Gen. Francois Sevez for France.
Gen. Eisenhower was not present at the signing, but immediately afterward Gen. Jodl and his fellow delegate Gen. Adm. Hans Georg Friedeburg were received by the supreme commander. Asked sternly if they understood the surrender terms imposed upon Germany, and whether they intended to carry them out, their response was confirmed. Elation at the news was tempered by the realization that the war against Japan remained unresolved.
The end of the European warfare, the greatest, bloodiest, and costliest war in human history — claiming at least 40 million casualties on both sides of killed, wounded and captured — resulted after five years, eight months and six days of conflict which circled the globe.
Germany, beginning the war with a ruthless attack upon Poland on September 1, 1939 and following with successive aggression and brutality in concentration camps, later surrendered with an appeal to the victors for mercy toward the German people and armed forces.
After having signed the full surrender, Gen. Jodl requested leave to speak and received leave to do so. “With this signature,” he said in soft-spoken German, “The German people and armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victors’ hands. “In this war of more than five years, both countries have achieved and suffered more than perhaps any other people in the world.”
The great bells of St. Peter’s Basilica rang out over Rome soon after the Associated Press reported peace had come to Europe, while several Allied capitals proclaimed VE holidays, and Tokyo announced continuation of “The Sacred War.”
Many of the world’s cities went wild at the news, and even neutral capitals were bedecked and filled with celebrating crowds. Masses of people gathered in front of loudspeakers and newspaper offices, which were frantically answering inquiries and rolling out extras.
War-scarred London burst into jubilant celebration at the end of the war in Europe, its millions of citizens unable to wait for the government’s V-E Day proclamation. Millions surged into the streets, from Buckingham Palace to the sedate East End. The Picadilly Circus, Whitehall and Westminster areas filled with a laughing, shouting throng. Some old-timers said the scene eclipsed those of the 1918 Armistice. Pubs were jammed, Champagne was brought up from deep cellars and long-hoarded whisky and gin came out from hiding. The great bells of Big Ben tolled the hours of the historic day.
In Paris, which lived through four years of German occupation to become a base for Supreme Allied Headquarters, the French government announced a two-day holiday. France had special cause for satisfaction in having staged a comeback and won the right to share in accepting Germany’s surrender.
In Washington, crowds gathered in Lafayette Square across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House in anticipation of an announcement by President Truman to proclaim Allied V-E Day.
Historic photos capture the joy that erupted throughout Allied countries after Nazi Germany surrendered in the spring of 1945, ending the horror of World War II in Europe.
Only in the unnatural calm of the European fronts was the news reported to have been taken soberly, by soldiers who had seen the fighting taper off in one sector after another for the past two weeks.
In this May 8, 1945 file photo a vast crowd assembles in front of Buckingham Palace, London to cheer Britain’s Royal family as they come out on the balcony, centre, minutes after the official announcement of Germany’s unconditional surrender in World War II. They are from left: Princess Elizabeth; Queen Elizabeth; King George VI; and Princess Margaret. Nazi commanders signed their surrender to Allied forces in a French schoolhouse 75 years ago this week, ending World War II in Europe and the Holocaust.
“Never in the field of human conflict
was so much owed by so many to so few.”