world war ii: ve day

!! Darlings, today is VE DAY!

Today, 8 May 1945, the war against Germany was over, and the world collectively went fucking nuts.

The first surrender actually occurred in Reims, France, but nobody really pays attention to that. The 8th of May ushered in the unconditional surrender in Berlin, Germany, when the Allied powers made German officers sign that shit again, you know, with feeling this time.

Celebrations occurred worldwide - in fact, over one million people took to the streets in Great Britain alone.

Victory Day in the former Soviet Union is actually celebrated the day after, on 9 May. This is mostly due to the fact that time zones are weird and Russia is fucking huge.

After celebrations, the Allies would go about picking Germany apart and taking away its toys - like, for real this time - and the United States continued to fight in the Pacific against Japan for another three months.

In the photo above, Winston Churchill waves to crowds on VE Day.

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Portraits of Soviet veterans on the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The Soviet Union (made up of 15 republics) and its allies defeated Nazi Germany in May 1945 after a long, bitter conflict. More than 20 million Soviet citizens were killed in the war.

Reuters photographers took portraits of Soviet army veterans, mostly now in their 80s and 90s. They photographed one veteran in each of the 15 former Soviet republics, and they are presented in this gallery alongside archive pictures of them in uniform during the war.

“A seething mass of humanity jammed itself into Whitehall in central London on VE-Day (Victory in Europe Day), May 8, 1945, to hear the premier officially announce Germany’s unconditional surrender. More than one million people celebrated in the streets of London.”

(AP)

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The Last Great Offensive of World War II Europe — The Prague Offensive

On April 30th, 1945, Hitler shot himself as his infamous “One Thousand Year Reich” collapsed around him.  Everywhere German troops were surrendering as it became abundantly clear that the war was over.  On May 7th, German High Command ordered all German armed forces to cease-fire and surrender, and on May 8th the German government and military officially surrendered to Allied forces.  While the surrender of Germany on May 7th-8th signaled the end of the war, and most German forces throughout Europe laid down their arms, the fighting did not come to a complete end on that date.  In fact for the next month there would be sporadic fighting between remnants of the German Army, Allied forces, and various partisan groups.  It is interesting to note that the last great offensive of the war, the Prague Offensive, ended 4 days after the official surrender of Germany.  

When Hitler shot himself on April 30th, the last large pocket of German soldiers, what remained of Army Group Center, was located in what is now the Czech Republic.  Under the command of Field Marshal Ferdinand Schorner, Army Group Center was composed of 1 million men and around 1,900 tanks.  While a million man army may seem like a powerful force, by then Army Group Center was a paper tiger in reality.  The men were exhausted, lacking food and ammunition, the tanks were out of gas.  However Schorner doggedly fought on, continuing to resist a massive Soviet advance while pretty much all the other armies around him had surrendered. On May 1st, the Red Army began its last major offensive to obliterate Army Group Center.  Led by Marshal Ivan Konev, the Soviets attacked with a force of almost 2 million men. The offensive consisted of a double pronged attack, with simultaneous advances from the northeast and southeast. Under the furious Soviet assault, German forces were pushed back to Prague.

On May 5th, the Czechoslovak Army rebelled against the the German occupation force, an event known as the Prague Uprising.  The Germans quickly crushed the rebellion and continued the fight against Soviet forces. On May 7th, Schorner received news of the cease-fire and surrender.  However he refused to surrender to the Soviets, which would result in him and his men spending the rest of their lives chipping rocks in one of Stalin’s gulags.  Instead he ordered his men to conduct a fighting withdrawal to the west where they could surrender to the Americans.  The Americans treated German POWs well, so much of the final days of the war was a mad scramble by German soldiers to surrender to the British and Americans before being captured by the Soviets. So in other words, the German soldiers of Army Group Center were fighting not to win, but were fighting to lose.  

On May 8th, VE Day, Schorner abandoned his command and went into hiding in Vienna.  Without anyone in charge Army Group Center quickly became a chaotic mob. However the fighting continued. Over the next four days, Soviet forces continued their advance, facing staunch resistance in some areas, or panicked fleeing troops in others.  Despite the disorganization many German units continued their fighting retreat to the west, a retreat that would ultimately be doomed.  On May 11th the Soviets completely encircled Army Group Center.  By then most German soldiers threw down their weapons and accepted their fates. Soviet forces suffered around 50,000 dead, wounded, and missing.  Around 860,000 German soldiers surrendered and were captured. Many would never return home. 

Sporadic fighting continued on May 12th.  On that day the last battle of the offensive occurred, known as the Battle of Slivice.  6,000 retreating German soldiers were mere miles away from the Americans when they were blocked by Czech Partisans.  The Soviets attacked (as well as the American 4th Armored Division) and the men were quickly killed or captured.  After the Prague Offensive sporadic fighting continued in Europe.  On the 14th and 15th of May Yugoslav Partisans ambushed remnants of the German Army retreating east at the Battle of Poljana.  The last shots of the war were fired on May 20th, when a bloody battle between Georgian rebels and German soldiers on the Dutch island of Texel was ended by Allied Forces.

FRANCE, Paris : French President Francois Hollande pays his respects by the statue of former French General and President Charles de Gaulle in Paris on May 8, 2015, during a ceremony to mark 70 years since victory over Nazi Germany during World War II. Europe held sombre ceremonies to mark 70 years since victory over Nazi Germany on Friday as leaders warned of modern day threats such as the war in Ukraine and Islamic extremism.  AFP PHOTO /  LOIC VENANCE                        

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World War II battles after VE Day — The Battle of Poljana

On May 8th, 1945 Germany officially surrendered to the Allies, thus ending World War II in Europe.  Despite the fact that most German and Axis forces in Europe were surrendering en masse, not everyone was quite ready to give up, and their were a few more battles to be fought before World War II could come to a close. 

On May 14th, 1945, nearly a week after VE Day, a column of 30,000 Axis troops were on the march in modern day Slovenia, heading northwest for the Austrian border.  Some of the men were soldiers left over from the German Wehrmacht, however most were various collaborationist paramilitary forces from the Balkans, such as pro-Nazi Croatian NDH troops, Serbian Chetniks, Slovenian Home Guard, and Montenegrin volunteers. VE day had occurred nearly a weak ago and yet these men had yet to surrender.  The reason for this was quite clear; after the surrender of German forces in what was then Yugoslavia, Yugo Partisans were sweeping the nation, executing thousands of collaborators and anti-communist fighters.  So despite the surrender, these men had decided to continue on, hoping to find refuge among the British occupation forces in Austria.

When the Axis column neared the Austrian border on May 14th, they were stopped by Yugoslav Partisans who blocked their way. Gunfire erupted, and a fierce battle ensued as the Axis forces tried to batter their way past Yugoslav defenses, desperately trying to escape to Austria.  After several assaults, Axis forces retreated, where they were then pounded by Yugoslav artillery.  The Yugoslav Partisans then counterattacked, but could not break the desperate Axis army.  Fierce fighting continued throughout the night and into the morning of May 15th.  Finally, in the late morning a force of 20 British tanks and several infantry arrived on the scene, and to the sad disappointment of Axis forces, took the side of the Partisans.  Knowing that all was lost, the 30,000 Axis soldiers surrendered unconditionally.  During the battle 350 Axis solders were killed while the Yugoslav Partisans lost 100.

To the horror of the Axis soldiers, the British made it clear that they were not going to harbor collaborationists.  In addition they turned over tens of thousands of other collaborationists to the Yugoslavs.  Most were summarily executed and buried in mass graves.  Others were detained in forced labor camps until they died of disease, hunger, or exhaustion.  Few would ever return home again.