1945: For millions of people the war is not yet over

Some of the first Russian displaced persons and former prisoners of war to leave transit camps near Hamburg for the Russian zone of occupation from where they will be repatriated to the Soviet Union. Trains ran direct from Hamburg to Crivitz, 31 May 1945.
Some of the first Russian displaced persons and former prisoners of war to leave transit camps near Hamburg for the Russian zone of occupation from where they will be repatriated to the Soviet Union. Trains ran direct from Hamburg to Crivitz, 31 May 1945.
The Displaced Persons and Refugees in Rees, Germany. One of the forced labourers, a Pole, sits with his belonging waiting to be repatriated.
The Displaced Persons and Refugees in Rees, Germany. One of the forced labourers, a Pole, sits with his belonging waiting to be repatriated.

For millions of men, women and children across Europe the official end of the war was merely a technicality, something that they barely noticed. The Allies struggled to cope with the huge numbers of ‘Displaced Persons’, former concentration camp inmates, slave workers, forced labourers, prisoners of war and refugees, most of them stranded hundreds of miles from their home countries.

Ingoushka Petrov, later to become better known as the film actress Ingrid Pitt, was an eight year old living in the forests of Poland with her mother. Months earlier they had escaped from one of the death marches from a concentration camp:

I missed the end of the war.

It was three weeks or so before the news filtered through the forest that the Allies had crushed the Germans and it was safe to go home. Home! What did that mean to an eight year old with only memories of overcrowded camps, rank fear of anything out of the ordinary and living in a forest, frequently ill, usually freezing cold and constantly starving?

There had been a lot of talk about going home for the last month or so. The sound of distant battles had stopped. Opinion on the cause of the cessation was divided. Some said that it was because the Germans had been defeated; others that they had won. It didn’t mean a thing to me at the time.

Another interesting factor to be stirred into the argument was the sudden absence of refugees — farmers and residents of the surrounding countryside fleeing their homes before the advance of the Russian Army or deserting soldiers on the run.

They were either allowed to stay, threatened with violence if they didn’t move on or, if times were particularly bad, led off into the woods, never to be seen again.

We, my mother and I, had been lucky. When the threat of the advancing Russians compelled the Germans to pull out we had been marched off with the other inmates of the camp. Constant strafing by Allied planes had soon convinced the Nazi guards that being in close proximity to a column of prisoners, which from the air probably looked like troops movements, was not good for their health. After one strafing my mother managed to haul me off into the woods without being noticed by the few remaining guards.

It was winter and all we had on were the rags we had managed to scavenge before leaving the camp. On top of that, I had a streaming cold, which reduced my face to a mask of thick mucus. I think I whined a lot. My mother encouraged me with, ‘Not much farther,’ but I soon began to disbelieve her.

We trudged on through the wood. My mother was displaying confidence she could not possibly have felt. At last even she began to fail. We huddled down in a thicket. By this time I felt too ill to even cry.

Then the miracle happened. Two indistinct figures passed close by. My mother called to them. She didn’t care who they were. If we stayed where we were we were doomed anyway. They were two ‘partisans’, locals who had found it safer to live in the woods rather than be sitting ducks for marauding soldiers from whichever army might be in ascendance at the time. They weren’t keen to take us but my mother suggested they either shot us or took us with them. Luckily, they decided on the latter course.

So we joined the ill-assorted group living in the forest in ramshackle huts and waited out the war. The news of its end came with the Russian soldiers. They fed us and took us out of the forest.

It was the start of two years wandering around Europe looking for my father. At last we found him. That was the real end of the war for us.

One of many recollections of the end of the war to be found in VE Day – A Day to Remember

Ingrid Pitt in a publicity shot for the 1968 film Where Eagles Dare.
Ingrid Pitt in a publicity shot for the 1968 film Where Eagles Dare.

1945: U.S. Ex-POW Kurt Vonnegut writes home

An overview of the widespread destruction in the centre of Dresden.
An overview of the widespread destruction in the centre of Dresden.
Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Officer James Rorimer supervises U.S. soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany during World War II, April-May, 1945.
Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Officer James Rorimer supervises U.S. soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany during World War II, April-May, 1945.

In May 1945 22 year old Kurt Vonnegut was just one of millions of U.S. servicemen who had one thing uppermost in their minds – getting home. All of them had stories to tell, although few would write about them in the same way as Vonnegut later did. His experiences during and after the bombing of Dresden, when he and fellow prisoners was detained in a meat store – Schlachthof 5 -were to form the basis of one of the great U.S. novels of the 20th century – Slaughterhouse-Five.

Vonnegut while in the army, early 1940s
Vonnegut while in the army, early 1940s

Trying to make sense of the experiences they had gone through would be a challenge for many men now returning home. For the moment Kurt Vonnegut kept things factual

I’ve been a prisoner of war since December 19th, 1944, when our division was cut to ribbons by Hitler’s last desperate thrust through Luxemburg and Belgium. Seven Fanatical Panzer Divisions hit us and cut us off from the rest of Hodges’ First Army. The other American Divisions on our flanks managed to pull out: We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren’t much good against tanks: Our ammunition, food and medical supplies gave out and our casualties out-numbered those who could still fight – so we gave up. The 106th got a Presidential Citation and some British Decoration from Montgomery for it, I’m told, but I’ll be damned if it was worth it. I was one of the few who weren’t wounded. For that much thank God.

Well, the supermen marched us, without food, water or sleep to Limberg, a distance of about sixty miles, I think, where we were loaded and locked up, sixty men to each small, unventilated, unheated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations — the floors were covered with fresh cow dung. There wasn’t room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood. We spent several days, including Christmas, on that Limberg siding. On Christmas eve the Royal Air Force bombed and strafed our unmarked train. They killed about one-hundred-and-fifty of us. We got a little water Christmas Day and moved slowly across Germany to a large P.O.W. Camp in Muhlburg, South of Berlin. We were released from the box cars on New Year’s Day. The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. But I didn’t.

Under the Geneva Convention, Officers and Non-commissioned Officers are not obliged to work when taken prisoner. I am, as you know, a Private. One-hundred-and-fifty such minor beings were shipped to a Dresden work camp on January 10th. I was their leader by virtue of the little German I spoke. It was our misfortune to have sadistic and fanatical guards. We were refused medical attention and clothing: We were given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time: — one boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. their combined labors killed 250,000 people [this was the figure given by the Germans at the time] in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden — possibly the world’s most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

When General Patton took Leipzig we were evacuated on foot to (‘the Saxony-Czechoslovakian border’?). There we remained until the war ended. Our guards deserted us. On that happy day the Russians were intent on mopping up isolated outlaw resistance in our sector. Their planes (P-39′s) strafed and bombed us, killing fourteen, but not me.

Eight of us stole a team and wagon. We traveled and looted our way through Sudetenland and Saxony for eight days, living like kings. The Russians are crazy about Americans. The Russians picked us up in Dresden. We rode from there to the American lines at Halle in Lend-Lease Ford trucks. We’ve since been flown to Le Havre.

I’m writing from a Red Cross Club in the Le Havre P.O.W. Repatriation Camp. I’m being wonderfully well fed and entertained. The state-bound ships are jammed, naturally, so I’ll have to be patient. I hope to be home in a month. Once home I’ll be given twenty-one days recuperation at Atterbury, about $600 back pay and — get this — sixty (60) days furlough.

I’ve too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait, I can’t receive mail here so don’t write.

See Kurt Vonnegut: Letters

Fascist politician and Nazi propaganda broadcaster William Joyce, known as Lord Haw Haw, lies in an ambulance after his arrest by British officers at Flensburg, Germany, on 29 May 1945. He was shot during the arrest.
Fascist politician and Nazi propaganda broadcaster William Joyce, known as Lord Haw Haw, lies in an ambulance after his arrest by British officers at Flensburg, Germany, on 29 May 1945. He was shot during the arrest.
A sign erected by British Forces at the entrance to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Germany, 29 May 1945. The remains of the camp itself were about to be burnt to the ground by the British occupation forces. A similar sign in German was also erected.
A sign erected by British Forces at the entrance to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Germany, 29 May 1945. The remains of the camp itself were about to be burnt to the ground by the British occupation forces. A similar sign in German was also erected.

Okinawa – Medal of Honor for Conscientious Objector

GIs from the 77th Infantry Division man a machine gun nest on the island of Shima, May 3, 1945. The M1919 machine gun was the standard issue for the US Army.
GIs from the 77th Infantry Division man a machine gun nest on the island of Shima, May 3, 1945. The M1919 machine gun was the standard issue for the US Army.

The intense fighting on Okinawa saw many acts of heroism. Conditions were so fierce and so sustained that it must have taken great courage just to stay on the battlefield and remain in combat. In amongst the mayhem some individual acts stood out and were subsequently recognised, there were a total of 24 Medal of Honor recipients during the three months of battle.

Desmond Doss, Medal of Honor recipient
Desmond Doss, Medal of Honor recipient

One award was unusual because it went to a non combatant. Sergeant Desmond Doss was a Seventh-Day Adventist who served with the Medical Detachment, 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division. His citation gives a series of examples of his heroism each illustrating the nature of conditions on Okinawa:

He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet (120 m) high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.

On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards (180 m) forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards (7.3 m) of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety.

On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet (7.6 m) from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards (91 m) to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire.

On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover.

The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm.

With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards (270 m) over rough terrain to the aid station.

Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.

 

6th Div Marines Okinawa
Marines move through and over “CEMETERY RIDGE.” They are shown pinned down behind gravestones by enemy sniper fire.

Okinawa: the bloody occupation of Ishimmi Ridge

Marines pass through a small village where Japanese soldiers lay dead. Okinawa, April 1945.
Marines pass through a small village where Japanese soldiers lay dead. Okinawa, April 1945.
A demolition crew from the 6th Marine Division watch dynamite charges explode and destroy a Japanese cave. Okinawa, May 1945.
A demolition crew from the 6th Marine Division watch dynamite charges explode and destroy a Japanese cave. Okinawa, May 1945.

The grinding battle for Okinawa continued unabated. The Japanese were making full use of their huge network of underground tunnels and caves from which they conducted a suicidal defence. U.S. casualties had been heavy. Company E, 307th Infantry, 77th Division, were in reserve in the five days before the 17th. They received many replacements during this time, bringing them up to strength – although most of these men had no combat experience at all, and there was little opportunity fro these men to become properly integrated.

Then Company E were selected to lead an audacious assault deep into the main Japanese defence line, an attempt to disrupt the line and turn the battle.

Lieutenant Robert F. Meiser, a platoon commander with Company E, described the action in his duty report submitted shortly after they were withdrawn on the 20th May. To begin the night assault they had to move up over 450 yards of ground pockmarked with shell-holes, and then penetrate through Japanese lines for a further 800 yards, moving almost all of the way in single file. To maintain the element of surprise they would only use bayonets if they encountered the enemy. At 0415 on the 17th they left their Line of Departure with their objective, Ishimmi Ridge just visible where ‘three or four limbless trees’ were lit by flares:

Dawn began to break as we came upon our objective. About 50 yards from it, the 3rd platoon echeloned to the left of the 2nd and nearly on line, forming the left front and flank. The 2nd continued straight forward to occupy the center ar1d foremost position, while the platoon from Company C held the right front and flank. Our rear was protected by a well formed semi-circle of the 1st platoon.

We now found that the 125 yard part of the objective we were able to occupy was a very prominent, table top ridge. It was quite flat and made up of rock and coral where digging was very difficult, and in some places impossible.

The top center of Ishimmi Ridge was very narrow, being only about seven or eight yards wide, and then fanning out to either flank in a leaf-like pattern. Directly to the rear of the narrow section of the ridge was a pocket, 20 yards in diameter, in which the company Command Post was located, and this, ultimately, was the location of the company’s final stand.

To our right rear, 250 yards distant, were two grassy mounds of earth, each about 30 feet high and affording perfect observation into our positions. Likewise, to the center rear was a finger ridge extension which afforded the enemy an excellent OP as well as machine gun positions.

At 0505 we were on our objective, and as daylight was coming we hastened to dig in. The enemy on the ridge was completely surprised and was not aware of our presence for nearly 20 minutes. While initially caught napping, they soon made up for lost time and all hell broke loose at 0530. Mortar shells, heavy and light, began falling on our area in such fury and volume that one would believe the place had been zeroed in for just such an eventuality. Machine gun and rifle fire began pouring in from all directions and within a short time even enemy artillery began shelling us.

As daylight came, we finally realized that we were in a spot and that the enemy controlled the position from every direction, including the rear. The [3rd] Platoon on the left was receiving murderous fire, especially from both flanks and the high Shuri Ridge across the valley to our front.

Foxholes were only partly completed and to raise one’s head meant death on that fire-swept plateau. Mortar shells very often dropped directly in the foxhole, usually taking at least one man’s life or badly wounding several. The same action was taking place [with the Company C platoon] on the right flank as that area was almost identical to the one on the left.

In the rear, the 1st Platoon was faring no better and was taking a terrific pounding from all types of fire. However, they maintained continuous and effective fire on the enemy, especially to the right and left rear, greatly reducing his advantages there. Our light mortars were in this area and though only partially dug in, the mortar crews fired as long as the mortars were serviceable.

By 1000 the first day, enemy action had knocked out all but one of the mortars and killed or wounded nearly all the crewmen.

The 2nd Platoon had gone over the center of the ridge and dropped into a long Jap communication trench which was about six feet deep. Small dug-outs in this trench contained about 10 or 12 sleeping enemy who were quickly disposed of by bayonet or rifle fire. However, tunnels from inside the ridge led into either end of the trench and the enemy soon attempted to force their way upward. At first, surprise was so complete that a japanese officer and his aide, laughing and talking, came toward us in the trench, walked completely past one of our men and were killed without realizing what hit them.

By making use of the tunnels the Nips were soon able to set up knee mortars about 100 yards to either flank and fire systematically from one end of the trench to the other. Each position had two mortars which were firing simultaneously, doing great damage to the earthworks of our line as well as producing heavy casualties in our ranks. Riflemen were blown to bits by these mortars and many were struck in the head by machine gun fire. The blood from the wounded was everywhere; on the weapons, on the living, and splattered all around. The dead lay where they fell, in pools of their own blood. Though the platoon medic was wounded early in the morning, he took care of the injured as fast as possible, but was unable to keep up and soon his supplies were exhausted.

By 0700 both of our light machine guns had been knocked out, one being completely buried. The few remaining crewmen became riflemen and stayed right there throughout the day. During the morning a few Japanese had managed to crawl up from the deep ravine to a line just slightly beneath our position and began hurling grenades upwards at us. Grenades were tossed back and soon the infiltrators were killed or driven backward, but we had suffered too.

The battle continued furiously all morning and by noon the 2nd Platoon had suffered heavily, about 50 percent being killed or wounded. The number of Japs killed had mounted steadily, but they were still able to reinforce almost at will and attempted numerous frontal and flanking counterattacks.

Meanwhile the 3rd Platoon [on the left] had had a steady grenade battle and had repulsed three fixed bayonet attacks by the enemy coming from their left flank. However, the men of this platoon had very little cover and were being whittled down man by man until more than half of them were out of action, including their platoon leader. Dead men were pushed hurriedly from the all too small holes in order to make more room for the living. In some cases the firing was so heavy as to even prevent this, and the living and bloody, mangled dead were as one in their foxholes. By 1800 the first day there were only a handful of men left alive in this platoon and they were clinging tenaciously to the few remaining positions of their own right flank.

See Wayne C. MacGregor: Through These Portals: A Pacific War Saga

A U.S. Marine from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines on Wana Ridge provides covering fire with his Thompson submachine gun, 18 May 1945.
A U.S. Marine from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines on Wana Ridge provides covering fire with his Thompson submachine gun, 18 May 1945.

Berliners learn to accommodate the Red Army

View of ruined buildings in Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin, taken from the second floor of the Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium).
View of ruined buildings in Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin, taken from the second floor of the Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium).
An aerial (oblique) photograph taken from a De Havilland Mosquito of the RAF Film and Photographic Unit showing badly damaged buildings in the area between Friedrich Hain and Lichtenberg, Berlin.
An aerial (oblique) photograph taken from a De Havilland Mosquito of the RAF Film and Photographic Unit showing badly damaged buildings in the area between Friedrich Hain and Lichtenberg, Berlin.

The reality of the Soviet occupation of Germany now became all too apparent. In days and weeks of lawlessness following their victory the Red Army was to indulge in an epic of rape and pillage, much of it officially sanctioned. The Soviet authorities moved swiftly to dismantle and remove whole factories to the East.

Any man who had served in the military, and many who were merely suspected of having done so, were marched off to Russia where they would spend many years labouring to rebuild what had been destroyed. Many would not survive the hardships.

Werner Harz had narrowly avoided being marched off to the east on more than one occasion when his Volkssturm unit disbanded. He escaped and made his way back to his home in Berlin. For him and many others the ordeal of the Soviet occupation was only just beginning:

The atmosphere during the next few days was incredibly complicated and perplexing. We could scarcely realise our joy that the war was over because we had perpetually to be on the watch.The Russians were celebrating everywhere: in our house, in the streets, in the gardens, their victory celebrations lasting night and day for weeks. Unluckily a huge store of wine and spirits had been found just down the road, and an unending stream of keen-eyed soldiers flowed up the street, while on the other side a rolling flood of paralytic conquerors staggered back.

They were mostly from Eastern Russia, with Mongolian faces, Chinese-looking beards and earrings.There were little undersized men from Turkestan and sturdy- looking Siberians.

But one thing they all had in common — an absorbing and childish fascination in domestic gadgets and machinery. My electric radiogram really intrigued them. But having no electric current I found it rather difiicult to explain and as the machine obviously wouldn’t work they showed me their displeasure in no uncertain terms – by smashing it.

They were also fascinated by the water-closet which again, in spite of my rather undignified pantomime, they completely failed to understand. They searched steadily through my library looking for pictures.They sought continually after watches although we had already paid off our share of the reparations with every watch and clock in the place.They played with two cameras and broke them immediately. With deathly calm they took a lovely antique grandfather clock to pieces, and no one has since been able to reassemble it.

The street in front of our house looked like a fairground. Dirt, rubbish, pieces of cars and tanks were strewn everywhere and amidst everything dozens of Russians were riding bicycles — obviously trying this new type of transport for the first time in their lives. They fell to left and right but clambered back again like armless little apes. Some, just able to stay on, began immediately to try acrobatics; others stared proudly at their rows of watches, usually extending up both forearms.Then, when they were tired of it, they let the machines lie where they fell and walked away.

We had to watch like lynxes to prevent our inquiring visitors taking too much away that interested them. And my room was full ofinterest. I found it a matter of some delicacy to persuade a chummy Uzbeker not to demonstrate his prowess with the pistol by shooting the Iphigenia of Tauris illustration out of my Goethe first edition.

One national trait puzzled us. This was the habit of nearly every Russian who came to visit us of relieving nature in various, and to us strange and unusual places. We discovered these faecal visiting cards in every corner, on tables, beds, carpets and one, strangest and most ambitious of all, on the top of a particularly high stove. My own theory that this was the remains of an old superstition which implied than an object be possessed if the owner had stooled on it, did not obtain any general currency. But I still think it a possibility in the absence if any more valid theory.

It was all incredibly tiring. One had to be on one’s toes the minute a soldier came near, and dozens of them came near all the time. Each one had to be conducted through the whole house and couldn’t be trusted alone for a moment. As long as one watched them, kept talking, and treated them as guests, they could be dissuaded from taking away what they wanted, and breaking up what they didn’t. But they were always inspired with awe when they saw my row of books and the pictures on the walls.

The demand for women continued unabated and the unfortunate girls had to stay hidden under the roof for a whole week.We had nothing but admiration for the physical endurance which made the Russians capable of this exercise at all hours of the day or night. Fortunately I had a pornographic book in my library with which I managed to divert them from their more practical excursions in this sphere.

Since the exercise of hospitality took up the major part of our day it was a continual worry to find things to eat and drink. During the early days it was quite simple. Dozens of dead horses were lying in the streets and all one needed was a bucket and a sharp knife. Or it was merely a question of following the looters and joining in the free-for—all fights that were always in progress in the many grocer’s shops and food depots.

This account appears in Louis Hagen (ed): Ein Volk, Ein Reich: Nine Lives Under the Nazis.

British and Russian troops in the garden of the former Reichs Chancellery. The entrance to Hitler's bunker is immediately behind them.
British and Russian troops in the garden of the former Reichs Chancellery. The entrance to Hitler’s bunker is immediately behind them.

In the Far East the battle against Japan goes on

A few yards behind the front lines on Okinawa, fighting men of the US Armys 77th Infantry division listen to radio reports of Germanys surrender on May 8, 1945. Their battle hardened faces indicate the impassiveness with which they received the news of the victory on a far distant front. One minute after this photo was taken, they returned to their combat post, officially however, American forces on Okinawa celebrated the end of the war in Europe by training every ship and shore battery on a Japanese target and firing one shell simultaneously and precisely at midnight.
A few yards behind the front lines on Okinawa, fighting men of the US Armys 77th Infantry division listen to radio reports of Germanys surrender on May 8, 1945. Their battle hardened faces indicate the impassiveness with which they received the news of the victory on a far distant front. One minute after this photo was taken, they returned to their combat post, officially however, American forces on Okinawa celebrated the end of the war in Europe by training every ship and shore battery on a Japanese target and firing one shell simultaneously and precisely at midnight.

The war against Japan now seemed inevitably to have the same outcome as the war against Germany. An equally unrelenting grind towards the end also seemed to be in prospect – which looked very likely to be even more bloody than the end in Germany.

Even as the guns fell silent in Europe the military planners were looking closely at which units could soon be shipped out to the Pacific and prepare for the invasion of mainland Japan. Only a tiny group of very senior figures in Britain and America had any inkling that a new weapon might just provide an alternative route to end the war.

Two main battlegrounds dominated the remaining fighting. For the Americans it was Okinawa:

On 8 May Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally. We were told this momentous news, but considering our own peril and misery, no one cared much. “So what” was typical of the remarks I heard around me. We were resigned only to the fact the Japanese would fight to total extinction on Okinawa, as they had elsewhere, and that Japan would have to be invaded with the same gruesome prospects. Nazi Germany might as well have been on the moon.

The main thing that impressed us about V-E Day was a terrific, thundering artillery and naval gunfire barrage that went swishing, roaring, and rumbling towards the Japanese. I thought it was in preparation for the next day’s attack. Years later I read that the barrage had been fired on enemy targets at noon for its destructive effect on them but also as a salute to V-E Day.

See E.B. Sledge: With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

“VE” PLUS TWO – Two days after the victory in Europe was celebrated the Marines of the First Division, fighting the do-or-die Japs hill by hill in their drive for Naha, capital city of Okinawa, wait on the crest of one slope while a barrage of phosphorous shells explodes among the Japanese positions on the farther incline. After the bombardment, the Leatherneck infantry will commence their push across the intervening valley to attack the enemy.
“VE” PLUS TWO – Two days after the victory in Europe was celebrated the Marines of the First Division, fighting the do-or-die Japs hill by hill in their drive for Naha, capital city of Okinawa, wait on the crest of one slope while a barrage of phosphorous shells explodes among the Japanese positions on the farther incline. After the bombardment, the Leatherneck infantry will commence their push across the intervening valley to attack the enemy.

For the British the campaign in Burma had finally turned the corner. The 14th Army had been racing down south to take the major port of Rangoon before the Monsoon came – and everything seized up. On the 2nd May Gurkha paratroopers had surprised the Japanese with an airborne attack and the city had fallen soon afterwards. With the port in their hands it was very much easier for the Allies to consolidate their position.

Infantry and Sherman tanks under fire near a village during the advance south from Meiktila to Rangoon, 3 May 1945.
Infantry and Sherman tanks under fire near a village during the advance south from Meiktila to Rangoon, 3 May 1945.
The Advance on Rangoon March - May 1945: Priest self-propelled guns in action on the road to Rangoon.
The Advance on Rangoon March – May 1945: Priest self-propelled guns in action on the road to Rangoon.
A Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIII of No. 155 Squadron RAF, creates a cloud of dust as the pilot opens up his throttle prior to take of at Tabingaung, Burma.
A Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIII of No. 155 Squadron RAF, creates a cloud of dust as the pilot opens up his throttle prior to take of at Tabingaung, Burma.
Burmese villagers help extricate a jeep from a river near Rangoon, 10 May 1945.
Burmese villagers help extricate a jeep from a river near Rangoon, 10 May 1945.

‘Consolidating the position’ fell to the infantry. The Border Regiment, from the far north of England, were out in front. George MacDonald Fraser remembered events in his distinctive way:

[Y]ou did feel the isolation, the sense of back of beyond. Perhaps that came, in part, from being called “the Forgotten Army” – a colourful newspaper phrase which we bandied about with derision; we were not forgotten by those who mattered, our families and our county. But we knew only too well that we were a distant side-show, that our war was small in the public mind beside the great events of France and Germany.

Oh, God, I’ll never forget the morning when we were sent out to lay ambushes, which entailed first an attack on a village believed to be Jap-held. We were lined up for a company advance, and were waiting in the sunlight, dumping our small packs and fixing bayonets, and Hutton and Long John were moving among us reminding us quietly to see that our magazines were charged and that everyone was right and ready, and Nixon was no doubt observing that we’d all get killed, and someone, I know, was mut- tering the old nonsense “Sister Anna will carry the banner, Sister Kate will carry the plate, Sister Maria right marker, Salvation Army, by the left — charge!” when a solitary Spitfire came roaring out of nowhere and Victory-rolled above us.

We didn’t get it; on the rare occasions when we had air support the Victory roll came after the fight, not before. While we were wondering, an officer – he must have been a new arrival, and a right clown — ran out in front of the company and shouted, with enthusiasm: “Men! The war in Europe is over!”.

There was a long silence, while we digested this, and looked through the heat haze to the village where Jap might be waiting,and I’m not sure that the officer wasn’t waving his hat and shouting hip, hooray.

The silence continued, and then someone laughed, and it ran down the extended line in a great torrent of mirth, punctuated by cries of “Git the boogers oot ’ere!” and “Ev ye told Tojo, like?” and “Hey, son, is it awreet if we a’ gan yam?” [Cumbrian dialect – “go home”] Well, he must have been new, and yet to get his priorities right, but it was an interesting pointer.

But if we resented, and took perverse pleasure in moaning (as only Cumbrians can) about our relative unimportance, there was a hidden satisfaction in it, too. Set a man apart and he will start to feel special. We did; we knew we were different, and that there were no soldiers quite like us anywhere.

Partly it sprang from the nature of our war. How can I put it? We were freer, and our own masters in a way which is commonly denied to infantry; we were a long way from the world of battle-dress serge and tin hats and the huge mechanised war juggernauts and the waves of bombers and artillery.

When Slim stood under the trees at Meiktila and told us: “Rangoon is where the big boats sail from”, the idea that we might one day get on one of those boats and sail halfway round the world to home might seem unreal, but it was a reminder that we were unique (and I don’t give a dam who knows it). We were Fourteenth Army, the final echo of Kipling’s world, the very last British soldiers in the old imperial tradition.

I don’t say we were happy to be in Burma, because we weren’t, but we knew that Slim was right when he said: “Some day, you’ll be proud to say, ‘I was there’.”

Mind you, as Grandarse remarked, we’d have to get out of the bloody place first.

See George MacDonald Fraser: Quartered Safe Out Here: A Harrowing Tale of World War II

A group of sick and emaciated British POWs in Rangoon prison after liberation, 3 May 1945.
A group of sick and emaciated British POWs in Rangoon prison after liberation, 3 May 1945.
Liberated POWs at Rangoon jail, 3 May 1945. Major McLeod, a Canadian doctor who served with the Indian Medical Service, inspects one of his patients, Corporal J Usher, whose leg he had to amputate during their captivity.
Liberated POWs at Rangoon jail, 3 May 1945. Major McLeod, a Canadian doctor who served with the Indian Medical Service, inspects one of his patients, Corporal J Usher, whose leg he had to amputate during their captivity.
Off-duty soldiers enjoying the sights of Rangoon's pagodas, 13 May 1945.
Off-duty soldiers enjoying the sights of Rangoon’s pagodas, 13 May 1945.

End of the War in Europe – ‘VE Day’

Women and children attending a VE-Day street party in front of an air raid shelter in Kilton Street, Battersea, London SW11. Sitting at the piano, wearing the union flag apron, is the organiser, Mrs Maynard: (for identification of other individuals featured, see correspondence).
Women and children attending a VE-Day street party in front of an air raid shelter in Kilton Street, Battersea, London SW11 .
Happy crowds of soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians in front of the American Red Cross Rainbow Corner after the announcement of the surrender.
Happy crowds of soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians in front of the American Red Cross Rainbow Corner after the announcement of the surrender.

The partying had begun in London and across Britain on the evening of the 7th. More organised celebrations were to follow on the two Public Holidays of the 8th and 9th. Yet there were many families who did not feel like celebrating, Vi Bottomley was a twenty four year old war widow in Liverpool:

When I heard they’d surrendered I just started to cry and I couldn’t stop. I don’t know what was the matter with me. I should have been happy, but I was crying my eyes out. I kept thinking of Jack [her husband]. He was killed on D Day. I never knew quite what happened to him, only that he was dead. And I kept thinking, what a waste, what a waste. He was such a lovely man, always laughing and joking. He worked in the docks and needn’t have gone in the Army at all, but no, he had to go and do his bit. And for what? He’d never even seen the baby, his baby, sleeping upstairs.

This account appear in Barry Turner: Countdown to Victory: The Final European Campaigns of World War II.

The nation united for the two live radio broadcasts of the day, Winston Churchill speaking in the afternoon and the King speaking in the evening. The two men were the focus of attention for the crowds in London throughout the day.

Harold Nicholson, MP, listened to Churchill’s address over loudspeakers outside Parliament:

As Big Ben struck three, there was an extraordinary hush over the assembled multitude, and then came Winston’s voice. He was short and effective, merely announcing that unconditional surrender had been signed, and naming the signatories. (When it came to Jodl, he said “Jodel”) ‘The evil-doers’, he intoned, ‘now lie prostrate before us.’ The crowd gasped at this phrase. ‘Advance Britannia!’ he shouted at the end, and there followed the Last Post and God Save the King which we all sang very loud indeed. And then cheer upon cheer.

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill at a BBC microphone about to broadcast to the nation on the afternoon of VE Day.
The Prime Minister Winston Churchill at a BBC microphone about to broadcast to the nation on the afternoon of VE Day.

Churchill then went to Parliament where after a short address he proposed that:

this House do now attend at the Church of St Margaret’s, Westminster, to give humble and reverend thanks to Almighty God for our deliverance from the threat of German domination

Harold Nicholson was amongst those who followed him there:

The service itself was very short and simple, and beautifully sung. Then the Chaplain to the Speaker read in a loud voice the names of those who had laid down their lives: ‘Ronald Cartland; Hubert Duggan; Victor Cazalet; John Macnamara; Robert Bernays’ – only the names of my particular friends registered on my consciousness. I was moved. The tears came into my eyes. Furtively I wiped them away. ‘Men are so emotional’, sniffed Nancy Astor, who was sitting next to me. Damn her.

See The Harold Nicolson Diaries 1907-1964.

Molly Panter Downes reported for the New Yorker:

Thousands of King George’s subjects wedged themselves in front of the Palace throughout the day, chanting ceaselessly ‘We want the King’ and cheering themselves hoarse when he and the Queen and their daughters appeared, but when the crowd saw Churchill, there was a deep, full-throated, almost reverent roar. He was at the head of the procession of Members of Parliament, walking back to the House of Commons from the traditional St Margaret’s Thanksgiving Service. Instantly, he was surrounded by people — people running, standing on tiptoe, holding up babies so that they could be told later that they had seen him.

See Molly Panter Downes: London War Notes.

HM King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day.
HM King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day.

Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, appeared on the balcony during the early appearances of the King, but later decided they wanted to see more:

… my sister and I realised we couldn’t see what the crowds were enjoying… so we asked my parents if we could go out and see for ourselves… After crossing Green Park we stood outside and shouted, ‘We want the King’, and were successful in seeing my parents on the balcony, having cheated slightly because we sent a message into the house to say we were waiting outside. I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

H.M. Queen Elizabeth speaking in 1985, see Royal British Legion

Two British sailors and their girlfriends wading in the fountains in Trafalgar Square on VE Day.
Two British sailors and their girlfriends wading in the fountains in Trafalgar Square on VE Day.
Women and children at a VE-Day street party in Stanhope Street, London NW1.
Women and children at a VE-Day street party in Stanhope Street, London NW1.

In the suburbs outside London Walter Musto had raised the Union Jack outside his house at 7am and put out bunting, although his family’s celebrations were relatively modest :

I look around my little house standing in its pleasant garden and in a mood of chastened contemplation regard the much that has been spared to me through the war years. In a surge of gratitude for this great dawning of peace over the earth I offer my thanks to God.

For this is VE Day announcing as complete the formal surrender of the enemy on all European fronts. The day for which so many like my splendid nephew Clifford and many more died, and without whom London itself might have joined Carthage.

It is a miraculous culmination to D Day for the success of which we then put our trust in Providence and the valiant efforts of our crusading legions.

I have the impression from a newsreel picture that our Prime Minister looks very tired. It is no small wonder. At 70 years of age to be still carrying with vigour the masterly direction of the Nation’s affairs in the greatest and most terrific events of its long history is nothing short of superhuman. As the managing director of the biggest firm in the world his services are beyond price. God bless and preserve him for a few quiet years of repose when at last his task is done. In the annals of the human race, no man so richly deserved immortality.

It is late evening. The King has spoken and, after a last stand to in reverent toast of my neighbour guests, I sit quietly to reflect on the day’s happenings. And so we slip with the ease of well conditioned gearing into normal running and the daily routines, secure from enemy disturbance and at night safe in our beds. Our private lives are once more our own. Yes, tomorrow I shall be glad to get back to the chores.

See The War and Uncle Walter.

For the modern German perspective on the end of the war Spiegel Online has a comprehensive media story, with much graphic footage.

Big Ben floodlit on VE Day.
Big Ben floodlit on VE Day.

The world waits for an ‘official announcement’

Eager soldiers pulling copies of "Stars and Stripes" from the press of the London Times at 9 pm on 7 May 1945, when an extra edition was put out to announce the news of Germany's surrender. The headline reads "Germany Quits".
Eager soldiers pulling copies of “Stars and Stripes” from the press of the London Times at 9 pm on 7 May 1945, when an extra edition was put out to announce the news of Germany’s surrender. The headline reads “Germany Quits”.
3.7-inch guns of 60th (City of London) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment fire a salvo to celebrate the Allied victory in Europe, 6 May 1945.
3.7-inch guns of 60th (City of London) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment fire a salvo to celebrate the Allied victory in Europe, May 1945.

Monday the seventh of May was a day of confusion across the time zones of the world, as word crept out that the Germans had surrendered in the early hours of the morning in France. Eisenhower had at first attempted to delay the official public announcement by putting an embargo on the eight news correspondents who attended the signing ceremony. The intention was that there would be simultaneous official announcements in Moscow, London and Washington.

‘Hard nosed wire service reporter’ Edward Kennedy of the Associated Press decided to risk the wrath of the military and telephoned his report to New York via London. The Associated Press report was soon being quoted widely on the radio. At first the Americans tried to deny it, with President Truman arguing that they should wait for ‘Uncle Joe’ – Stalin. However the word was out. Merchant Seaman Les Owen was in New York:

The local radio stations were agog with the news from Europe. Hourly bulletins told of the final stages of the great drama now being played out in Germany. The atmosphere of excitement was stoked up continually by reports from ‘men on the spot over there’. I leaned on the rail that evening, watching the towering dominoes of the New York skyline lit by a million lights. So the war was drawing to a close — at least in Europe.

The Mayor of New York Fiorello H. La Guardia did his best to put a lid on it:

I want all the people of the City of New York who have thoughtlessly left their jobs, to go home . . . Maybe there’s still some fighting going on. You don’t know and I don’t know . . . Let’s be patient for just a few more hours.

Winston Churchill was on soon the hotline to Washington arguing that:

What is the use of me and the President looking to be the only two people in the world who don’t know what is going on . . . It is an idiotic position.

An attempt was made to telegram Moscow but an hour later there had been no reply – and Churchill was back on the telephone to say he could delay no longer. The British would later put out the announcement:

British Ministry of Information announced that to-morrow, Tuesday, May 8, will be V.E. Day, and a holiday throughout England. The Prime Minister will make a statement at 3 p.m. The King will broadcast at 9 p.m., and Wednesday, May 9 will also be a holiday in England.

The west was now significantly out of step with the Soviets. In Moscow military aide and interpreter with British Military Mission, Hugh Lunghi later recalled:

On Monday May 7 we received the news that Eisenhower at his Reims headquarters had in the early hours of that morning accepted General Jodl’s total capitulation of all German armed forces with a cease-fire at midnight on May 8. A General Susloparov had signed the surrender document on behalf of the Soviet Command.

Again the Soviet media ignored the historic event.

Instead of congratulations, we received a curt communication addressed to the then Head of our Military Mission, Admiral Archer, copied to the United States Head of Mission General Deane, from the Soviet Chief of Staff, General Antonov. He demanded that what he called the ‘temporary protocol’ signed in Reims should be replaced by ‘an act of general unconditional surrender’ which would be drawn up and signed in Marshal Zhukov’s headquarters in Berlin on the following day, May 8.

Stalin, it was obvious, intended that the only ‘real’ surrender should be to a Soviet commander. Years later we learned from Soviet generals’ memoirs that Stalin had been furious that a Soviet representative had added his signature to the Reims surrender: ‘Who the hell is Susloparov? He is to be punished severely for daring to sign such a document without the Soviet government’s . . , permission.

These accounts appear in Barry Turner: Countdown to Victory: The Final European Campaigns of World War II.

A further surrender ceremony was now arranged in Berlin and the Soviet ‘VE Day’ was officially set for 9th May

Civilians ride on a Daimler armoured car of the 1st Royal Dragoons as it enters the town of Hadersleben in Denmark, 7 May 1945.
Civilians ride on a Daimler armoured car of the 1st Royal Dragoons as it enters the town of Hadersleben in Denmark, 7 May 1945.
Churchill with the Chiefs of Staff at a luncheon at 10 Downing Street, 7 May 1945. Seated are Sir Charles Portal; Sir Alan Brooke; Sir Andrew Cunningham. Standing are Major General L C Hollis (Secretary to the Chiefs of Staff Committee) and General Sir Hastings Ismay (Chief of Staff to the Minister of Defence)
Churchill with the Chiefs of Staff at a luncheon at 10 Downing Street, 7 May 1945. Seated are Sir Charles Portal; Sir Alan Brooke; Sir Andrew Cunningham. Standing are Major General L C Hollis (Secretary to the Chiefs of Staff Committee) and General Sir Hastings Ismay (Chief of Staff to the Minister of Defence)

Eisenhower refuses to allow any more German delays

Australian, British and New Zealand former POWs waiting to board No 463 Squadron Lancasters at Juvincourt near Rheims, as part of the massive operation to fly POWs home, 6 May 1945.
Australian, British and New Zealand former POWs waiting to board No 463 Squadron Lancasters at Juvincourt near Rheims, as part of the massive operation to fly POWs home, 6 May 1945.

The war was not yet over even if a series of armistices had been arranged between the Allied forces in the west and their German counterparts. The overall surrender of Germany still awaited the outcome of negotiations at Eisenhower’s HQ at Rheims in France.

There were millions of displaced persons across Europe and their needs could not wait. A first priority for both the US 8th Air Force and RAF Bomber Command was the repatriation of Prisoners of War back to reception centres in England. The heavy bombers now flew out to Germany one more time.

Ron Smith was a veteran of 65 bombing operations as a rear gunner in a Lancaster, the majority of them with the Pathfinders, who were always first over the target. Now he flew out on a very different operation:

That sinister feeling as we crossed the Dutch coast was revived even though the war was over. ‘Hope all the Jerries know about the bloody armistice,’ a voice remarked, as we skimmed the roof-tops of a large town, where the population were waving excitedly.

Across Germany, we stared aghast at the total destruction in town and city alike. In most cases it was difficult to find a building in any way complete, just skeletons in fields of rubble.

Low-level view of the centre of Magdeburg from over the River Elbe, showing the severe bomb damage to buildings and warehouses in the vicinity of the wharves.
Low-level view of the centre of Magdeburg from over the River Elbe, showing the severe bomb damage to buildings and warehouses in the vicinity of the wharves.
A large devastated industrial plant on the north east outskirts of Hanover.
A large devastated industrial plant on the north east outskirts of Hanover.

So this was what the thousands of tons of bombs had done, all those awful nights, when I had watched the terrible upheavals below. To see it all in broad daylight from only a few feet above, as the macabre scene unfolded behind me, was like viewing the end of the world.

As we circled the airfield at Lubeck, I could see scores of aircraft parked row upon row below, including a number of American Flying Fortress bombers. We came in for a perfect landing, and the Wing Commander laughingly remarked: ‘Must put on a good show with an audience like this.’ After taxying to our position, we were instructed to stay with our aircraft, and on no account to leave the airfield. The ex- prisoners of war were on their way by convoy.

The thumbs-up signal again, and I locked myself in as, at last, we turned for take-off. This our skipper accomplished with practised ease, flying at low level across the German countryside, which looked not unlike our own. It was all over for the people down there, too. I mused upon their feelings as they saw the fleet of aircraft, which they must have heard so often high in the darkened heavens, now speeding low over their homes.

Over the sea, sparkling in the early evening sun, the skipper gave me the clearance to leave the turret and, after checking to ensure the lock was engaged, I eased along backwards until I could join our passengers. I sympathised with those who had been air-sick, and handed out more paper bags.

One or two of the more adventurous were persuaded to climb into the mid-upper turret, and it was with some difficulty that each in turn was induced to come down and give his friends the opportunity to enjoy the novelty. Our pilot even allowed visits up front, and I had a busy time conducting our now eager passengers back and forth past the cramped positions of the wireless operator and the navigator.

As the English coast appeared below, a corporal, whom I had just positioned up forward, leaned over eagerly, his face aglow with excitement. It was all too much: at the sight of his beloved homeland tears ran down his cheeks. I put my arm around his shoulders as he sobbed.

After we had landed, at an airfield where the hangars had been converted into a reception area, I opened the door and lowered the ladder into place. A large crowd of cheering WAAFs and nurses were waiting. I gave a mock bow, perfectly well aware who they were anxious to greet. The soldiers climbed down, bewildered, to be ushered across the tarmac with an attentive female on each arm.

See Ron Smith: Rear Gunner Pathfinders

Also flying into Rheims that day was General Jodl, sent by Doenitz to attempt one more delay before they signed the formal surrender terms. Eisenhower was not persuaded to start negotiating any more than he had been the day before :

Jodl arrived in Rheims on 6 May. In his cold, impersonal manner he repeated the arguments von Friedeburg had offered. General Eisenhower’s terms, he pointed out, provided explicitly that all troops were to remain in the positions they occupied at the moment of surrender. But the German High Command simply could not guarantee that the German forces facing Soviet troops would abide by this condition.

This fact created a dilemma in which the German Government had in the end no choice but to abandon the thought of surrender, and to let things drift as they would – and that meant chaos. He, Jodl, had come to Rheims mainly to state this dilemma and to ask the Americans for their help in solving it.

‘You have played for very high stakes,’ Smith said when Jodl had finished. ‘When we crossed the Rhine you had lost the war. Yet you continued to hope for discord among the Allies. That discord has not come. I am in no position to help you out of the difficulties that have grown of this policy of yours. I have to maintain the existing agreements among the Allies. As a soldier I am bound by orders.’ He looked at Jodl and concluded, ‘I do not understand why you do not want to surrender to our Russian allies. It would be the best thing to do for all concerned.’

‘I shall send a radio message to Marshal Keitel,’ he said in a strained voice. ‘It is to read: “We sign, or general chaos.”’

The reply arrived at half-past one o’clock in the morning of 7 May: ‘Admiral Doenitz authorizes signature of surrender under conditions stated.— Keitel.’

At Rheims on 7 May 1945, General Bedell Smith for General Eisenhower, General Souzloparov and General Jodl signed the document which ended Germany’s second attempt to dominate the world.

The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 3 a.m., local time, 7 May 1945. Eisenhower.

Telegram to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, 7 May

The final signing did not take place until the early hours of the morning of the 7th.
Time Magazine has an original picture story of the signature ceremony at Rheims.

Contemporary newsreel:

The Displaced Persons camp
The Displaced Persons camp within the grounds of Hamburg Zoo was build by the Blohm & Voss company during WWII to house the forced labourers that worked in their factory. The camp was taken over by the British on 5 May 1945 and quickly given over as an arrivals centre for displaced persons. On arrival displaced persons were organised into groups of 50 for processing through the reception centre. They were dusted with anti-louse powder and given a registration card (D.P.3) bearing such details as their name, nationality and place of residence. All were then allotted a bed in one of the accommodation huts. In times of overflow a large former air raid shelter was used as overspill night accommodation. After a few days at the camp and when transport was available displaced persons were sent to the appropriate ‘National Camp’ ready for repatriation to their country of origin. On 4 May 1945, the German authorities estimated there were 45,000 displaced persons in Hamburg. This figure was later increased to 120,000 by 521 Detachment, Military Government, the British formation responsible for all displaced persons in the city.
Polish nationals waiting for the arrival of army lorries to take them from No.17 Displaced Persons Assembly Centre in Hamburg Zoological Gardens to a Polish national camp for repatriation.
Two Polish children, Leon and Janina Waszczuk, are given soup soon after their arrival at No.17 Displaced Persons Assembly Centre located in Hamburg Zoological Gardens. Their mother Władysława is behind them.
Two Polish children, Leon and Janina Waszczuk, are given soup soon after their arrival at No.17 Displaced Persons Assembly Centre located in Hamburg Zoological Gardens. Their mother Władysława is behind them.
German workers assist with the movement of typhus cases from Sandbostel Concentration Camp to 10 Casualty Clearing Station, which is located close to the camp.
German workers assist with the movement of typhus cases from Sandbostel Concentration Camp to 10 Casualty Clearing Station, which is located close to the camp.

US 71st Division still in combat as it pushes east

These men are scouting out the enemy for the 13th Armored Division, Third U.S. Army. 2 May 1945
These men are scouting out the enemy for the 13th Armored Division, Third U.S. Army. 2 May 1945
US Army 2nd Infantry "Indian" Division enter Domazlice, Western Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, May 5th, 1945
US Army 2nd Infantry “Indian” Division enter
Domazlice, Western Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, May 5th, 1945

Sergeant Dean P. Joy was with 5th Infantry Regiment, 71st Infantry Division, the American unit that penetrated furthest east in the European theatre. On the 5th May his battalion were driven in a column of trucks through Austria. They expected the war was nearly over and they passed many cheering civilians, some of whom threw flowers, and who acted “just like if they had been waiting to be liberated for years”, like the French the previous year.

They passed a column of over 2,000 German troops passing the other way, still fully armed. “No shooting unless shot at and an officer gives the order”. Then it was their job to move forward to meet the Russians:

I was a bit nervous when I heard Wooten say that our 2nd Battalion would go on across the river, knowing that we would probably meet the Russians over there. But other than that, I was elated, like all the rest of my buddies, to think that our war was surely over and done with at last. But it was not quite over.

It was probably about noon when our convoy crossed the bridge to the east, once again following the regimental jeeps. On a long stretch of highway, with hills rising to our left and right, a battery of dreaded 88s opened fire. I heard a screech-whoosh-blam as the first of several shells whizzed by our truck and exploded somewhere to the rear. Then those gunners got the range, and we heard the next two or three shells slam into, or very close to, the jeeps up ahead.

Our trucks instantly braked to a jarring stop, and an officer – it may have been Colonel Wooten himself — ran back along the convoy, pointing and shouting, “Second Battalion off the trucks! Everybody off! George Company, off the road to the left!”

Under Captain Neal’s direction, our entire company piled off of our eight or nine trucks as fast as we could and took cover in the culvert on the left side of the road. Bailey’s squad and my squad were told to leave our mortars on the truck, and were sent up the ditch to the front of the stalled convoy. We were accompanied by one of the company’s machine-gun squads.

A gruesome, never-to-be-forgotten sight sickened me as we ran past the jeep that had been in the lead. It had received a direct hit from an 88, and slumped behind its steering wheel was what was left of the driver — just his bloody, headless torso.

On the other side of the road we saw two or three officers, including our battalion executive officer, Maj. Irving Heymont, hunkered down behind a machine gun that was firing short bursts at a line of trees on a hill to the right. As we were to learn later, they were firing at two 88s that were partially hidden up on that hill.

Sergeant Joy and his section narrowly missed being hit by an artillery round as they went forward to take out the 88s in a flanking movement.

See Dean P. Joy: Sixty Days in Combat: An Infantryman’s Memoir of World War II in Europe

Meanwhile back in France Supreme Allied Commander had received a German delegation trying to negotiate. They were were not authorised to surrender and were sent back to Flensburg, the temporary German capital where Doenitz was based. Eisenhower’s Naval aide, Harry C Butcher describes the circumstances:

At dinner Ike said the reason the Germans were stalling for time was to let Germans escape from Czechoslovakia, where they are being overrun by the Russians. It seems German high officials had sent their wives and children to Czechoslovakia to avoid our heavy bombings of German cities. Now that area, once regarded safe, is one in which there is great fear.

Ike also detects a scheme of the Germans to get the Western Allies to accept a surrender and thus create a schism with the Russians. In the German mind, he thought, there is the desperate hope that we might yet succumb to Goebbels’ old propaganda about the Bolsheviks.

Once the Supreme Commander has the proper German representatives with suitable authority to act, he does not propose to let them dilly-dally. Furthermore, he wants the Gennan Army to know this time that it has been completely and decisively beaten in the field, so there will not be the cry that was heard after World War I that it was the German home front that caved in and not the Army.

General Ike wants to seal the Allied victory so completely that no one in Germany, civilian, soldier, airman, or sailor, will fail to appreciate the fact that the “superrace” has had the hell beaten out of it. He doesn’t want our kids to be left an inheritance of World War III.

See My Three Years With Eisenhower: The Personal Diary of Captain Harry C. Butcher, USNR, Naval Aide to General Eisenhower, 1942 to 1945

The 2nd Division are welcomed as they enter what the Germans called Bohemia but soon reverted back to Czechoslovakia. The German population was largely evicted after the war ended.
The 2nd Division are welcomed as they enter what the Germans called Bohemia but soon reverted back to Czechoslovakia. The German population was largely evicted after the war ended.
The progress of the 2nd Division was slowed by booby traps and lone snipers.
The progress of the 2nd Division was slowed by booby traps and lone snipers.