Victory in Europe: Newsweek's Coverage of WWII Surrender, Celebrations

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General Gustav Jodl, Hitler’s military adviser, signs the document for the surrender of Germany’s armed forces at General Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters in Reims, France, on May 7, 1945. Keystone/Getty

Seven decades and one day ago, the Nazis surrendered unconditionally to the Allies at Eisenhower's war room in Reims, France. Newsweek's May 14, 1945, issue described the surrender negotiations, the official announcements by Harry Truman and Winston Churchill, the V-E Day celebrations and the United States's shifting focus to the war in the Pacific.

Excerpts from our coverage of the Allied victory in Europe:

End of Greatest War in History Shifts Knockout to the Pacific
Victory in Europe Complete; Allies Now Turn Efforts Toward Smashing Jap War Machine

A peace that passeth all understanding came to the world this week. It was anti-climactic, it was premature, it was confusing, it was the greatest news snafu of all time—but it was wonderful. On the 2,075th day of the biggest, costliest war in history, some 25,000,000 men ceased fighting. The hardest peace ever to fall on a nation in modern times was meted out to Germany by the 48 countries that had declared war on the Reich. Ahead lay the difficult problems of the peace and the hard struggle to bring to an end the other half of the global war, the war against Japan. But for a few days at least a great burden was lifted from much of mankind.

Tuesday, May 8, was the official V-E Day in the United States. At 9 a.m. President Harry S. Truman broadcast a short speech to the nation reminding all that the "fighting job" would not be done until "the last Japanese division has surrendered unconditionally." Then the president read his proclamation announcing that "the Allied armies, through sacrifice, devotion and with God's help, having wrung from Germany a final and unconditional surrender."

A few minutes after the President spoke, Prime Minister Churchill announced that hostilities would officially end throughout Europe at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, May 9, British time (fighting actually ceased at 11:01 p.m. Central European Time). He proclaimed both May 8 and 9 as Britain's official V-E Days and ended with a rousing "Advance Britannia! Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!"

Snafu Peace: That was the official news for which the world had been waiting for nearly two weeks. Throughout the United States, in London, Paris, Moscow, and dozens of other capitals, bells pealed, crowds shouted—or prayed—and in general rejoiced. But the official celebration was an anti-climax nearly everywhere except in Russia. In one of the greatest scoops in journalistic history, the Associated Press broke the news of the German capitulation 24 hours before the official release. The Germans themselves had earlier announced their surrender in a broadcast by Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk.

The capitulation was actually signed at 2:41 a.m. Monday at General of the Army Eisenhower's headquarters at Rheims in northern France. Both Churchill and President Truman stood ready to read their victory proclamations. But somehow it turned out to be hard for them to get in touch with Stalin to arrange a coordinated announcement, and impossible to arrange it for Monday. One story was that Stalin wanted to talk to the Soviet representative who signed the surrender before he committed himself. The result was the wild but officially premature celebration in New York, London, and Paris. Only the Russians had no victory hangover on Tuesday. They didn't know of the surrender until Stalin was ready to announce it.

An entire nation died at Rheims on Monday morning. For days the end had been obvious to all and it was equally obvious that the task of Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, who succeeded Hitler as Fuhrer, was to surrender what remained of the German armed forces.

Then finally, as in 1918, the Germans came to the Allies and asked for terms—any terms. However, it was not so simple as 1918, when the German representatives were escorted across the desert of no man's land and taken to the famous Wagon Lits restaurant car in the Compiegne Forest, where for almost two hours Marshal Ferdinand Foch loudly and slowly read out the terms of surrender. And it was in terrible contrast to the scene that took place in the same railway car in 1940 when a jubilant Hitler dictated a harsh peace to the French.

This time Grand Admiral Doenitz from his headquarters—presumably located in Norway—contacted Allied Supreme Headquarters. He then sent Gen. Admiral Hans Georg Von Friedeburg, the sad-faced, lachrymose officer who negotiated the surrender of the Germans in the north to Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery. Friedeburg arrived at Eisenhower's headquarters at Rheims on Saturday. After the negotiations began it turned out that Friedeburg didn't have the power to offer unconditional surrender. On Sunday Doenitz sent a man who did—a tall, ramrod-stiff Prussian, Col. Gen. Gustav Jodl, new Chief of Staff of the German Army.

Jodl pleaded and argued through Sunday night—to no avail. Early Monday morning the Germans gave in and agreed to the terms set by the Allies. Correspondents were summoned to the 30- by 30-foot, map-lined personal war room of General Eisenhower. Lights blazed fiercely and throughout the ceremony photographers scrambled madly about. Across a rickety wooden table Jodl and Friedeburg faced the Allied representatives—Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, looking weary after 33 hours of negotiating; Gen. Francois Sevez, the breathless French Assistant Staff Chief, and Gen. Ivan Susloparoff, the Russian representative, accompanied by a translator with a bald head and a baleful eye which he fixed on the Germans.

At exactly 2:41 the signing of the four copies of the documents—one each for Britain, the United States, Russia and France—was completed. Jodl asked permission to speak. He rose from the black-topped table. Every muscle in his pockmarked face was taut with emotion. In half-choked voice, he said: "With this signature, the German people and armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victors' hands. In this war, which has lasted more than five years, both have achieved and suffered more than perhaps any other people in the world."

Later on Tuesday the surrender was formalized between the Germans and Russians directly in Berlin with Marshal Gregory Zhukoff, commander of the First White Russian Army, signing for the Soviets and Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht, signing for the Germans.

The Reich had dropped to the lowest estate ever reached by a modern nation. Grand Admiral Doenitz himself broadcast the requiem: "Soldiers of the German Wehrmacht...are starting out on the bitter road to captivity.... The foundations on which the German Reich was erected have collapsed.... The [Nazi] party has left the scene of its activities. With the occupation of Germany, power has been transferred to the powers of occupation.

The issue continued with pages and pages of additional sections on the end of the war. A sidebar on the page opposite described the reactions to V-E Day in London, the Philippines's Manila, Paris and at the front:

V-E Day: The Biggest Holiday in the World

The news of victory brought joy to the hearts of men over most of the world.

London: "V-E Day was like Christmas," Mary Palmer of Newsweek cabled. "Union Jacks and Allied flags hung from almost every building. The war-weary people of Britain clogged the streets, the churches, and the pubs. Piccadilly seethed with celebrating crowds who spewed from the sidewalks into the streets. At one end of Shaftesbury Avenue I saw GI's doing an Indian dance in a circle of applauding admirers. Somebody got hold of some Roman candles and shot them into the night sky. Deep-throated boat whistles blended with nearer songfests of 'There'll Always Be an England,' 'Tipperary,' and anything else easy to harmonize.

"The London sky was reddened by the flames of victory bonfires. Up and down the streets in the center of town GI's, Tommies, women in long dresses, and bare-legged girls sang and shouted. Many of them wore pink paper caps and swung rattlers. London's pent-up emotions boiled over. It was the biggest holiday in the world."

Manila: From the Philippines capital, William Hipple, Newsweek war correspondent, wirelessed: "The first flash came at 10:41 p.m. just before the 11 o'clock curfew. The word spread rapidly from mouth to mouth and the local newspapers soon had extras rolling. Soldiers, hurrying to their quarters to escape the MP's, were obviously impressed and happy, but there was no hat throwing or back slapping. 'That ought to hurry things over here against those Jap bastards,' said one."

Paris: The French capital indulged in an emotional orgy. Hundreds of thousands jammed the streets while planes dropped flares and fireworks popped and fizzed in the sky. Police seized the first few extras because of the unauthorized story, but then desisted. On the official announcement, the air-raid sirens screamed for three minutes. The government issued extra rations of wine, potatoes, butter, salt, and canned foods. For the moment, all friction between the Allies vanished. Frenchmen once again treated the Americans and British as liberators.

The Front: The attitude of the men who won the war was summed up by a remark of an American soldier in Germany: "Well, where do we go from here?"

Several pages ahead, Newsweek described the reactions across the United States:

Prayer and Cheers: The instinct of many Americans led them to churches to pray. In New Orleans, the emotional conflict was tableaued a few seconds after the first news flash. A tiny, gray-haired woman knelt in front of the St. Charles Hotel and prayed. From the windows across the street a sudden flurry of ticker tape and shredded paper descended, floating down upon her back. Workers en route to their jobs seemed to hesitate, asking each other if it could be true—then went on to work. Except for a few spontaneous outbursts, New Orleans had no frenzied celebration.

From coast to coast it was the same. In Boston, crowds gathered around newsstands to buy the extras, but the edge was gone. Atlanta was somber, reflective. In Chicago, a heavy downpour of rain cut short a soggy shower of ticker tape. Dallas suspended liquor sales for 48 hours—it was as quiet as Arbor Day. Denver's 800 extra police stationed through the city had little to do.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Fletcher Bowron proclaimed: "This is not a holiday." He was taken at his word. In thousands of smaller communities a different pattern was noted. The calmness of routine small-town life was broken only by the pealing of churchbells summoning thankful people to prayer.

New York City provided the nation with a loud exception to the rule of sober relief. For the first hour, the city's skyscrapers from Central Park to the Battery produced the heaviest shower of badly needed paper since the Lindbergh reception in 1927. (Official estimate: 1,000 tons trampled beyond salvage.) The garment district went crazy: with phone books, newspapers, and wrapping paper already shredded and hurled into the streets, thousands of bolts of yard goods were unfurled and heaved out windows. A half-million dancing and singing people jammed into the Times Square area crying: "It's over! It's over!" Some servicemen took part; others disapproved.

"What are they hollerin' about—it ain't over," one said bitterly.

At 3 p.m. Mayor La Guardia put an end to the uproar with a chiding broadcast over loudspeakers demanding that the revelers return to work. Police quickly enforced his edict. By 3:30 the city was virtually back to normal, a five-hour tumult at an end. Whatever the emotional relief, the realization spread slowly that a long, hard road was still ahead.