On 8th of May 1945, Germany officially ceased military operations, ending the European conflict of World War II and prompting massive celebrations in Allied countries. By 1945, Germany was on the retreat and Allied forces were closing in on Berlin from the east and west. German capitulation was imminent. On April 30, Adolf Hitler committed suicide, leaving Karl Doenitz in power.
Doenitz immediately sought to negotiate a conditional surrender with the western Allied forces, but the Allies would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender to all Allied countries, including the Soviet Union.
On 7th of May 1945, the German High Command, in the person of General Alfred Jodl, signs the unconditional surrender of all German forces, East and West, at Reims, in northwestern France.
At first, General Jodl hoped to limit the terms of German surrender to only those forces still fighting the Western Allies. But General Dwight Eisenhower demanded complete surrender of all German forces, those fighting in the East as well as in the West. If this demand was not met, Eisenhower was prepared to seal off the Western front, preventing Germans from fleeing to the West in order to surrender, thereby leaving them in the hands of the enveloping Soviet forces. Jodl radioed Grand Admiral Karl Donitz, Hitler’s successor, with the terms. Donitz ordered him to sign. So with Russian General Ivan Susloparov and French General Francois Sevez signing as witnesses, and General Walter Bedell Smith, Ike’s chief of staff, signing for the Allied Expeditionary Force, Germany was-at least on paper-defeated. Fighting would still go on in the East for almost another day. But the war in the West was over.
Since General Susloparov did not have explicit permission from Soviet Premier Stalin to sign the surrender papers, even as a witness, he was quickly hustled back East-into the hands of the Soviet secret police, never to be heard from again. Alfred Jodl, who was wounded in the assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944, would be found guilty of war crimes (which included the shooting of hostages) at Nuremberg and hanged on October 16, 1946-then granted a pardon, posthumously, in 1953, after a German appeals court found Jodl not guilty of breaking international law.
Late the following day, a second unconditional surrender was signed at a formal ceremony in Berlin by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. Under the terms of the surrender, all German military operations were to cease at 11:01 p.m. on May 8.
On April 30, with his bunker under heavy fire and his capital city in ruins, Hitler committed suicide. On the night of May 2, German troops surrendered to the Soviets.
On May 8, known as Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day, spontaneous celebrations erupted all over the Allied countries, including now-famous victory parties in New York’s Times Square and London’s Trafalgar Square.
In London, “American sailors and laughing girls formed a conga line down the middle of Piccadilly and cockneys linked arms in the Lambeth Walk,” wrote New Yorker columnist Mollie Panter-Downes. “It was a day and night of no fixed plan and no organized merriment. Each group danced its own dance, sang its own song, and went its own way as the spirit moved it.”
Canada’s celebrations included an alcohol-fueled riot in Halifax, while the West Coast remained cautious of the Japanese threat still present.
But for many, V-E Day elicited as much mourning as celebration. The BBC writes that the feelings of one British sailor were typical: “On hearing the news he felt immediate exhilaration and marked the occasion with some ‘liberated’ champagne. But then ‘reaction set in’ as he thought of his friends who had been killed, and he no longer felt like celebrating.”