Following the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, it seemed as if the Nazi war machine would be nearly unstoppable for almost four years. In battle after battle, Hitler’s soldiers vanquished every foe in front of them in every direction. Early in 1943, the Soviets began to roll the Germans back along the Eastern Front after the Battle of Stalingrad, benefitting from superior manpower and shorter supply lines, not to mention the foolishness of Hitler’s battle plans. By mid-April 1945, the situation was bleak for the Nazis: the Soviets had pushed to within a few dozen miles of Berlin and the Allies were moving rapidly through western Germany.
On April 30th, as the Red Army pelted the German capital, Hitler committed suicide in his personal bunker, leaving Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz to make the decision of when to begin negotiating peace. Seven days later, soldiers of the Third Reich were ordered to put down their weapons and surrender to Allied forces at Reims. On Monday May 7th at 02.41, German General Jodl signed the unconditional surrender document at Reims, France; that formally ended war in Europe. At 19.40 the UK Ministry of Information made a short announcement: “In accordance with arrangements between the three great powers, tomorrow, Tuesday, will be treated as Victory in Europe Day and will be regarded as a holiday.”
After nearly six years at war, Europe was finally able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Millions of people gathered in cities all over the world to celebrate the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. With more than 16 million soldiers and at least 23 million citizens killed in Europe alone — approximately 1 of every 10 people — World War II had taken a tremendous toll. While Europe was awash with street parties and bonfires to celebrate VE Day, thousands of miles away, British and Commonwealth Armed Forces were still fighting in Burma, Singapore and Thailand. Japan finally surrendered on 15 August 1945 – VJ (Victory over Japan) Day.