History of V-E Day: End of WWII in Europe 75 Years Ago

Seventy-five years ago today, World War II ended in Europe with the acceptance by the Allies of unconditional surrender from Germany on V-E Day.

Or did it?

May 7, 1945

SHAEF, Reims

Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in his Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945, as I describe in my article here. A week later, at 2:41 AM on May 7, the Allied General Dwight Eisenhower received the unconditional surrender of German General Alfred Jodi at Reims, France in a red brick building at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). It stipulated that hostilities were to cease at 11:01 PM the next day on May 8, 1945.

Reims Cathedral

Reims is an old city with a history stretching back over 2 millennia and was an important eastern France city during the Roman Empire. Its Cathedral is renowned as the traditional site of the coronation of French kings going back to 496. Today, it is the gateway to the Champagne region. Along with nearby Épernay, it features many of the largest champagne houses. Years ago, I took a high-speed train ride from Paris 80 miles away to tour the Roman-built champaign caves of Reims.

Seventy-five years ago, however, the Soviets did not recognize this as the official surrender because their representative in Reims lacked the authority to sign the document. So May 7 was only recognized at the time by the British Commonwealth, the rest of the Allies recognized it as a preliminary “military” surrender.

Or did they?

May 8, 1945

The ceremony was repeated in Berlin, Germany where the surrender was signed by the Supreme German military commander Wilhelm Keitel and the Allied representatives. So the Allies celebrated V-E Day, or “Victory in Europe” officially at 11:01 PM on May 8 (CET.)

Except one.

May 9, 1945

At 12:01 AM, May 9, a new day was beginning in Russia when the surrender became official in a different time zone farther west in Berlin. So, Russia and its satellites recognize V-E Day on May 9.

That is why seventy-five years ago, Victory in Europe occurred across three days in May… depending on where you lived.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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Writer and technologist. Author of fascinating articles about history, tech trends, and pop culture. billpetro.com @billpetro