Victory in Europe Day, generally known as VE Day, was the public holiday celebrated on 8 May 1945 to mark the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces.
The war might have been over, the rebuilding of shattered lives, buildings and infrastructure could only now commence. Finally, it was a time of retribution for the vile deeds of the Axis countries both in Europe and in the East.
This blog is a pictorial representation of the issues that had to be addressed in this brave new world.
Main picture: A Japanese man amid the scorched wreckage and rubble that was once his home in Yokohama, Japan
Large scale destruction
Whereas the British might have bemoaned that fact that 40,000 civilians had been killed in bombing raids by the Luftwaffe on England, millions of Axis civilians were killed in Allied bombing raids on Germany & Japan.
Both Germany and Japan reaped the whirlwind in the Allies’ Strategic bombing campaigns.
The first such attack employing the firebombing principle was a weeklong attack of Hamburg, Germany during the last week of July 1943. By using incendiary bombs instead of explosives, Operation Gomorrah created one of the largest firestorms of the war. The vortex of rising heat generated windstorms as air was sucked into the conflagration killing 42,600 civilians and injuring 37,000 as well as virtually destroying most of the city.
Aerial view of Hiroshima, Japan, one year after the atomic bomb blast shows some small amount of reconstruction amid much ruin on July 20, 1946. The slow pace of rebuilding is attributed to a shortage of building equipment and materials.
Disabled buses that have littered the streets of Tokyo are used to help relieve the acute housing shortage in the Japanese capital on October 2, 1946. Homeless Japanese who hauled the buses into a vacant lot are converting them into homes for their families.
This is an aerial view of the city of London around St. Paul ‘s Cathedral showing bomb-damaged areas in April of 1945.
On a personal level, many of my wife’s family were killed during that raid on Hamburg and the area in which they stayed was no more than a pile of ruins. When my father-in-law, who was fighting in Russia was given military leave, all that he found in the ruins was a German Shepherd puppy which he adopted and called Wolf.
General Charles de Gaulle (centre) shaking hands with children, two months after the German capitulation in Lorient, France , in July of 1945. Lorient was the location of a German U-boat (submarine) base during World War II. Between January 14 and February 17, 1943, as many as 500 high-explosive aerial bombs and more than 60,000 incendiary bombs were dropped on Lorient . The city was almost completely destroyed, with nearly 90% of the city flattened.
The first Japanese city to be subjected to a firebombing raid was Tokyo.
On the 9th March 1945, the efficacy of this method of city destruction would be tested on Tokyo. The incendiary bombing of the downtown Tokyo suburb of Shitamachi had been approved only a few hours earlier. Shitamachi was composed of roughly 750,000 people living in cramped quarters in wooden-frame buildings. Setting ablaze this “paper city” was a kind of experiment in the effects of firebombing; it would also destroy the light industries, called “shadow factories,” that produced prefabricated war materials destined for Japanese aircraft factories.
On this day, U.S. warplanes launch a new bombing offensive against Japan, dropping 2,000 tons of incendiary bombs on Tokyo over the course of the next 48 hours. Almost 16 square miles in and around the Japanese capital was incinerated, and between 80,000 and 130,000 Japanese civilians were killed in the worst single firestorm in recorded history.
A survivor of the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare, Jinpe Teravama retains scars after the healing of burns from the bomb explosion, in Hiroshima, in June of 1947.
Universal condemnation of the morally repugnant behaviour of both Germany & Japan followed their defeat. The full extent of the Nazi’s untermenschen policy became evident as the Allies liberated the Concentration Camps. In the East, the abominable treatment of Allied POWs was exposed when Japan capitulated. To this day, the enlisting Korean women as so-called “comfort women” or slave prostitutes still raises hackles amongst the Koreans.
The interior of the courtroom of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials in 1946 during the Trial of the Major War Criminals, prosecuting 24 government and civilian leaders of Nazi Germany. Visible here is Hermann Goering, former leader of the Luftwaffe, seated in the box at center right, wearing a gray jacket, headphones, and dark glasses. Next to him sits Rudolf Hess, former Deputy Fuhrer of Germany, then Joachim von Ribbentrop, former Nazi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilhelm Keitel, former leader of Germany’s Supreme Command (blurry face), and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the highest ranking surviving SS-leader. Goering, von Ribbentrop, Keitel, and Kaltenbrunner were sentenced to death by hanging along with 8 others — Goering committed suicide the night before the execution. Hess was sentenced to life imprisonment, which he served at Spandau Prison, Berlin, where he died in 1987.
In Europe , some churches have been completely ruined, but others still stand amid utter devastation. Munchengladbach Cathedral stands here in the rubble, though still in need of repairs, seen in Germany , on November 20, 1945.
On May 21, Colonel Bird, Commandant of Belsen Camp, gave the order for the last hut at Belsen Concentration Camp to be burned. A rifle salute was fired in honor of the dead, the British flag was run up at the same moment as a flame-thrower set fire to the last hut. A German flag and portrait of Hitler went up in flames inside the hut in June of 1945.
The Russians suggestion was to murder all German officers like they had done to all Polish officers at Katyn Wood, was firmly rebuffed by Churchill at the Tehran Conference.
A general view of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East meeting in Tokyo in April, 1947. On May 3, 1946, the Allies began the trial of 28 Japanese civilian and military leaders for war crimes. Seven were hanged and others were sentenced to prison terms.
Hermann Goering, once the leader of the formidable Luftwaffe and second in command of the German Reich under Hitler, appears in a mugshot on file with the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects in Paris, France, on November 5, 1945. Goering surrendered to U.S. soldiers in Bavaria , on May 9, 1945, and was eventually taken to Nuremburg to face trial for War Crimes.
War trials would shortly commence in both Germany and Japan to hold the main culprits to account. Nonetheless, their minions would be held to account over the following decades with possibly the last conviction being obtained last year .
German Wehrmacht General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in a stockade in Aversa , Italy , on December 1, 1945. The General, Commander of the 75th Army Corps, was sentenced to death by an United States Military Commission in Rome for having ordered the shooting of 15 unarmed American prisoners of war, in La Spezia, Italy, on March 26, 1944.
Celebrations – a study in opposites
Gigantic celebrations were held in London on VE Day with America’s principal celebration being in Times Square on VJ Day or victory against Japan in August 1945.
Whereas these celebrations focused on celebrating the human spirit, the Soviet celebration in Red Square concentrated on the military.
Soviet soldiers with lowered standards of the defeated Nazi forces during the Victory Day parade in Moscow , on June 24, 1945.
Release of the POWs
Oddly enough, for released Russian prisoners this would not be a joyous occasion. Having been starved and ill-treated by their German captives culminating in millions dying in captivity, in Stalin’s paranoia, these unfortunate individuals were subjected to more torture, but this time by their Russian liberators as German spies.
Gaunt and emaciated, but happy at their release from Japanese captivity, two Allied prisoners pack their meager belongings, after being freed near Yokohama, Japan, on September 11, 1945, by men of an American mercy squadron of the U.S. Navy.
The return of victorious Soviet soldiers at a railway station in Moscow in 1945.
The level of destruction during this war was unprecedented.
Red Army photographer Yevgeny Khaldei (centre) in Berlin with Soviet forces, near the Brandenburg Gate in May of 1945.
A P-47 Thunderbolt of the U.S. Army 12th Air Force flies low over the crumbled ruins of what once was Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden, Germany, on May 26, 1945. Small and large bomb craters dot the grounds around the wreckage.
It is acknowledged that technology advances fastest during war and WW2 was no different. Most of the running in this war was done by the Germans with their world beating tanks, planes and rockets.
Many of Germany ‘s captured new and experimental aircraft were displayed in an exhibition as part of London ‘s Thanksgiving week on September 14, 1945. Among the aircraft are a number of jet and rocket propelled planes. Here, a side view of the Heinkel He-162 “Volksjaeger”, propelled by a turbo-jet unit mounted above the fuselage, in Hyde park, in London .
Life goes on
It was also a time of remembering the dead. Cenotaphs were erected throughout the world to honour the fallen. On the battlefields of Europe and the East formal cemeteries were constructed.
One year after the D-Day landings in Normandy , German prisoners landscape the first U.S. cemetery at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer , France , near ” Omaha ” Beach, on May 28, 1945.
The borders of Europe were again adjusted with Poland relinquishing its eastern regions to the Russians but gaining a new western border. Korea was also to be split into two countries at the 38th parallel.
Sudeten Germans make their way to the railway station in Liberec, in former Czechoslovakia, to be transferred to Germany in this July, 1946 photo. After the end of the war, millions of German nationals and ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled from both territory Germany had annexed, and formerly German lands that were transferred to Poland and the Soviet Union . The estimated numbers of Germans involved ranges from 12 to 14 million, with a further estimate of between 500,000 and 2 million dying during the expulsion.
An American G.I. places his arm around a Japanese girl as they view the surroundings of HibiyaPark, near the Tokyo palace of the emperor, on January 21, 1946.
The super transport ship, General W.P. Richardson, docked in New York, with veterans of the European war cheering on June 7, 1945. Many soldiers were veterans of the African campaign, Salerno , Anzio , Cassino and the winter warfare in Italy ‘s mountains.
This aerial file photo shows a portion of Levittown , New York , in 1948 shortly after the mass-produced suburb was completed on Long Island farmland in New York . This prototypical suburban community was the first of many mass-produced housing developments that went up for soldiers coming home from World War II. It also became a symbol of postwar suburbia in the U.S.
This television set, retailing for $100, is reportedly the first moderately priced receiver manufactured in quantity. Rose Clare Leonard watches the screen, which reproduces a 5×7 image, as she tunes in at the first public post-war showing at a New York department store, on August 24, 1945. Although television was invented prior to World War II, the war prevented mass production. Soon after the war, sales and production picked up, and by 1948, regular commercial network programming had begun.
A U.S. soldier examines a solid gold statue, part of Hermann Goering’s private loot, found by the 7th U.S. Army in a mountainside cave near Schonau am Konigssee, Germany, on May 25, 1945 The secret cave, the second found to date, also contained stolen priceless paintings from all over Europe.
German mothers walk their children to school through the streets of Aachen, Germany, on June 6, 1945, for registration at the first public school to be opened by the U.S. military government after the war.
Soviet soldiers on the march in northern Korea in October of 1945. Japan had ruled the Korean peninsula for 35 years, until the end of World War II. At that time, Allied leaders decided to temporarily occupy the country until elections could be held and a government established. Soviet forces occupied the north, while U.S. . forces occupied the south. The planned elections did not take place, as the Soviet Union established a communist state in North Korea, and the U.S. set up a pro-western state in South Korea – each state claiming to be sovereign over the entire peninsula This standoff led to the Korean War in 1950, which ended in 1953 with the signing of an armistice — but, to this day, the two countries are still technically at war with each other.
Soldiers of the Chinese communist Eighth Route Army on the drill field at Yanan, capital of a huge area in North China which is governed by the Chinese Communist Party, seen on March 26, 1946. These soldiers are members of the “Night Tiger” battalion. The Chinese Communist Party (CPC) had waged war against the ruling Kuomintang (KMT or Chinese Nationalist Party) since 1927, vying for control of China . Japanese invasions during World War II forced the two sides to put most of their struggles aside to fight a common foreign foe — though they did still fight each other from time to time. After World War II ended, and the Soviet Union pulled out of Manchuria, full scale civil war erupted in China in June of 1946. The KMT eventually was defeated, with millions retreating to Taiwan , as CPC leader Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
This 1946 photograph shows ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), the first general purpose electronic computer – a 30-ton machine housed at the University of Pennsylvania . Developed in secret starting in 1943, ENIAC was designed to calculate artillery firing tables for the United States Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory. The completed machine was announced to the public on February 14, 1946. The inventors of ENIAC promoted the spread of the new technologies through a series of influential lectures on the construction of electronic digital computers at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946, known as the Moore School Lectures.