V-E Day: The Flags of Freedom Fly All Over Europe
On May 8, 1945, the din of rumbling tanks, zipping planes, bursting bombs, and the incessant rattling of machine gun fire quietly faded away across the European mainland for the first time in nearly six long years. One day earlier, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower had accepted the unconditional surrender of all remaining German forces. “The mad dog of Europe was put out of the way,” said a correspondent who observed the surrender ceremony, “the strange monstrosity that was Nazi Germany had been beaten into submission.” At 11:01 p.m. on May 8, the document of capitulation went into effect, marking the end of World War II in the European Theatre of Operations. As Eisenhower declared in his Victory Order of the Day, “The crusade on which we embarked in the early summer of 1944 has reached its glorious conclusion . . .”
“This is a solemn but glorious hour,” said President Harry Truman to a group of reporters in the Oval Office on May 8, which also happened to be his 61st birthday. Remembering the thousands of Americans who had given the last full measure of devotion to safeguard liberty and defeat the Nazi menace, the president added, “Our rejoicing is sobered and subdued by a supreme consciousness of the terrible price we have paid to rid the world of Hitler and his evil band.” Also paying tribute to his predecessor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died only weeks earlier, Truman expressed his earnest wish that Roosevelt “had lived to witness this day.” The war had cost so much to so many, but at last, President Truman was able to say that “the flags of freedom fly all over Europe."
On May 8, crowds of citizens rallied around their flags and cheered wildly in cities across the United States, Great Britain, and Western Europe to celebrate Victory in Europe Day or V-E Day. After making a national radio broadcast announcing the end of the fight against the Nazis, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered an electrifying impromptu speech from the balcony of the Ministry of Health building in central London. “This is your victory,” proclaimed Churchill to a sea of his rejoicing countrymen. “No – it’s yours!” shouted the crowd back to him. Praising the perseverance and spirit that his nation had exhibited throughout the war, Churchill declared, “I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we’ve done and they will say ‘do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straightforward and die if need be-unconquered.’”
Winston Churchill waving to crowds gathered around the Ministry of Health balcony in central London on V-E Day. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The combat between the Anglo-American Allies and the Germans during World War II was truly ferocious, but the level of hatred and unforgiveness that defined the fighting between Germany and the Soviet Union throughout the struggle was something straight out of the Devil’s playbook. After the Battle of Stalingrad, a desperate struggle in which the Germans and the Russians suffered nearly two million casualties combined, a Soviet officer pointed to the ruins of the city that bore the name of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and told a group of German prisoners, “That’s how Berlin is going to look!” That officer proved to be a wise prophesier.
The Russians did indeed battle their way to Berlin and exacted bloody revenge against the enemy that ultimately cost the Soviet Union an estimated 27 million dead soldiers and civilians during the war. Late on the night of May 8, 1945, the Russians forced the Germans to sign another surrender agreement in their now ruined capital city of Berlin. The following day, “Victory Day” was celebrated across the Soviet Union. “Your courage has defeated the Nazis,” said Stalin. “The war is over.”
Although the fight in Europe was finally at an end, President Truman and Prime Minister Churchill were quick to remind their citizens that the Second World War was not yet fully finished. The Japanese still remained. As President Truman told the American people, “If I could give you a single watchword for the coming months, that word is work, work, and more work. We must work to finish the war. Our victory is only half over.”
Christian Science Monitor: V-E Day - How President Truman Reacted on May 8, 1945.
History.com: What V-E Day Looked Like Around the World.
Imperial War Museum: 10 Photos of VE Day Celebrations.
Imperial War Museum: What You Need to Know About VE Day.
International Churchill Society: VE Day - 8 May 1945.
Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 by Antony Beevor.
The Good Fight: How World War II Was Won by Stephen E. Ambrose.
The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War by Andrew Roberts.