Europe remained convulsed by change two months after the end of hostilities. The occupying armies of America, Britain, France and the Soviet Union were struggling to come to terms with their responsibilities – and the carve up of Germany into different zones of responsibility was only just under way.
The British entered their sector of Berlin on the 4th July – the beginning of an uneasy relationship with the Soviet forces who had completely occupied the ruined capital until then.
British Army General Sir Brian Horrocks describes the situation elsewhere in Germany:
During those first few days after the German capitulation we all felt as though an immense weight had been lifted from our shoulders; but this wonderful, carefree atmosphere did not last for long. We were faced by the many intricate problems involved in the resuscitation of a stricken Germany.
Having spent the last six years doing our best to destroy the German Reich, almost overnight we had to go into reverse gear and start building her up again. This required a considerable mental switch.
The British zone of occupation, containing some twenty million Germans, was divided up among the corps for administrative purposes, and I found myself responsible for the Hanover Corps District.
There is something terribly depressing about a country defeated in war, even though that country has been your enemy, and the utter destruction of Germany was almost awesome.
It didn’t seem possible that towns like Hanover and Bremen could ever rise again from the shambles in which the bulk of the hollow-eyed and shabby population eked out a troglodyte existence underneath the ruins of their houses.
Things were better in the country districts, but what struck me most was the complete absence of able-bodied men or even of youths – there were just a few old men, some cripples, and that was all. The farms were almost entirely run by women.
How appalling were the casualties suffered by the Germans was brought home to me forcibly when I first attended morning service in the small village church of Eystrop where I lived. The Germans commemorate their war dead by means of evergreen wreaths; and the whole wall was covered with wreaths — dozens and dozens of them. In a similar church in the United Kingdom I would not expect to see more than eight to ten names on the local war memorial.
The Germans certainly started the last war, but only those who saw the conditions during the first few months immediately after the war ended can know how much they suflfered.