World War II (1939–1945)

by: History SparkNotes

The Fall of Germany

The End of Nazi Germany

Just days after Roosevelt’s death, on April 16, 1945, the Soviets began their final offensive against the Third Reich. Over the coming days, more than 3,000 tanks crossed the Neisse River, assaulting Berlin’s outer defenses while Allied aircraft bombed the city from above. On April 20, Hitler spent his birthday in an underground bunker and soon resigned to kill himself when the city fell. Although imminent defeat was obvious, Hitler not only refused to allow his troops to surrender but also insisted that the conscripted civilian army was to defend Berlin to the last man.

On April 25, the Allied armies advancing from east and west met for the first time, when a small group of American and Soviet soldiers met at the German village of Stehla. The hugely symbolic meeting was marked by celebrations in both Moscow and New York. On April 28, the former dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini, under arrest since his ouster nearly two years before, was executed by Italian partisans and hung upside down in the center of Milan. Two days later, on April 30, Adolf Hitler killed himself in the bunker in which he had been living since the beginning of the month. Later that evening, the Red Army hung a Soviet flag from the top of the Reichstag, the German parliament building in Berlin.

Over the following days, there was a great deal of confusion throughout Germany. Some German forces surrendered, while others continued to fight. Among the remaining leaders, some went into hiding or sought escape abroad. Others followed Hitler’s example and committed suicide.

The Formal Surrender

Early on the morning of May 7, 1945, General Alfred Jodl signed the official surrender on behalf of all German forces, which went into effect the next day. Some sporadic fighting continued in the interim, particularly in Czechoslovakia. During the course of May 8, nearly all remaining German forces surrendered, and that night, additional members of the German high command signed a formal surrender. The Western Allies thus celebrated May 8, 1945, as V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day). Because some fighting between Soviet and German forces continued into the next day, May 9 became the official Victory Day in the USSR.

The Seeds of the Cold War

As it turned out, the dividing line between the Red Army’s position and the Western Allied armies’ position at the end of the war in Europe would solidify into roughly the same line as the Iron Curtain, the line dividing Western Europe from Eastern Europe in the Cold War. Berlin itself would remain divided into Soviet and Western zones—which became East and West Berlin, respectively—for decades. (For more information, see the History SparkNote The Cold War.)

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