Seventy-five years ago on 8th May 1945, the guns fell silent over Europe signalling the end of the Second World War in Europe. This day has since become known as Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day – the day that the Allied nations formally recognise and celebrate the defeat of the Nazi German war machine and the end of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.
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By April, the German army was attacked on two sides – from the east by the combined Allied forces and from the west by the advancing Russian army. On 25th April 1945, when both powers met at the Elbe River, the German Army was all but destroyed. No more than five days later, Hitler killed his wife Eva and then committed suicide in his Berlin bunker, all but ending the war in Europe. As a result, 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. On 7th May, General Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of German forces, which was to take effect from 8th May at 11:01pm. Despite this, there was still some pockets of German-Soviet confrontation that continued into the next day.
On 9th May, the Soviets would lose 600 more soldiers in Silesia before the Germans finally surrendered. Consequently, V-E Day was not celebrated until the ninth in Moscow, signalled by a radio broadcast salute from Stalin himself: “The age-long struggle of the Slav nations… has ended in victory. Your courage has defeated the Nazis. The war is over.”
In London alone over a million people celebrated as crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to cheering crowds. Amongst those crowds Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and her sister, Princess Margaret blended anonymously, apparently enjoying the celebrations for themselves.
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