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A brief guide to the Second World War 1945

Updated on January 31, 2013
Starsand Stripes published in Paris by the Allies
Starsand Stripes published in Paris by the Allies | Source

After six long years the Second World war was coming to an end; with Victory in Europe in May 1945 and Victory in Japan in August 1945.

This article gives a brief account of the events leading up to these victories and world peace.

Soviet offensive of 1945

The Russian offensive began on 12th January 1945. The Russian troops were superior in numbers and supplies and the air was thick with falling snow. The Russians moved forward quickly, taking Warsaw on 17th January and the in the south took part of Silesia which was Germanys second greatest industrial zone, previously untouched by bombing and therefore supplying much of the German army needs.

On 11th February the Russians took Budapest and during March they cleared Slovakia and then on 13th April took Vienna.

Meeting at Yalta- 1945

The last meeting of the three leaders was at Yalta between 4th and 11th February. At this conference plans were made for the establishment of the United Nations after the war was over. The main agreement was in fact for the war against Japan which was viewed as being a long term issues. Stalin agreed that Russia would enter the war three months after the end of the war in Europe.

The Bombing of Dresden; casualties piled in the streets
The Bombing of Dresden; casualties piled in the streets | Source

Bombing of Dresden

It was believed that operation Thunderclap the bombing of Dresden would cause German morale to collapse. The city was attacked on 13th and 14th February 1945 by a force of over 1000 allied bombers. The city was crowded with refugees and it is estimated that approximately 25,000 people were killed in the short time span.

Allies cross the Rhine

The Americans crossed the Rhine on the 7th March following the discovery of a working bridge at Remagen; the British were across by the 23rd March 1945 and Germany lay before them.

Death of President Roosevelt

President Roosevelt had been ill for some time but died suddenly on 12th April 1945 being replaced by Truman a man who was much less willing to cooperate with the Russians. It is believed that Hitler saw Roosevelt’s death as a miracle and that now the Americans would sue for peace- no compromise suggestion came.

The end of Nazi Government

On 20th April 1945 Hitler celebrated his birthday and two days later he dismissed his followers; believing at last that the war was lost. Only Goebbels and his family remained with Hitler in the Munich bunker. On 29th April when small arms fire could be heard in the distance, Hitler married his mistress Eva Braun and appointed his successor as Admiral Doenitz. He wrote his last testament- this extract shows his hatred of the Jews

“Above all I charge the leaders of the nation and those under them to scrupulous observance of the laws of race and to merciless opposition to the universal poisoner of all peoples, international Jewry”.

On 30th April Eva Braun took poison whilst Hitler shot himself. After this their bodies were taken outside and after being soaked in petrol were set alight. The fate of their ashes is not known.

Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun in happier times
Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun in happier times | Source

The surrender starts.

In Italy the SS General Wolff had been negotiating with the Allies for some time for surrender terms and when the Allies advanced in Mid April they met with little resistance. Italian cities were taken by Allied troops as well as Italian partisans. Mussolini tried to enter into negotiations with the partisans in Milan but taking fright he joined a German convoy which was stopped at Lake Como and he and his mistress were captured by Partisan troops. The next day both he and his mistress were shot and then their bodies were taken to Milan and hanged upside down outside a garage.

The German forces in Italy capitulated on 29th April 1945 and the surrender came into force on 2nd May 1945. The Italian partisans calmly handed in their weapons and disappeared back into the communities that they had come from, war was over in Italy at last.

Surrender in Germany

On 18th April some 300,000 German soldiers surrendered in the Ruhr which was encircled and blockaded by Allied troops. From then on the Allies moved swiftly through Europe in a victory parade- the British marched through Hamburg and the Baltic coast thus securing Denmark from the Russians. In the south the French forces took Stuttgart and another penetrated into the Tyrol with the Americans crossing Czechoslovakia in the hope of liberating Prague.

The last few days of the Nazi German Reich

On 1ST May the German General Krebs in the Russian sector tried to negotiate a partial surrender which was rejected; Goebbels shot his family and then himself and on 2nd May the garrison at Berlin surrendered to the Russian army; however there was little organisation and the Nazi German last stand is said to have been held at an air raid shelter in the zoo.

In the west Hitler’s successor Admiral Doenitz tried to secure a surrender whilst hoping the east would continue against the Russians. Eisenhower refused this treaty of surrender. There were piecemeal surrenders with the German forces in the North surrendering to the British on 4th May and on 7th May an unconditional surrender was signed at Rheims and repeated at the Russian headquarters in Berlin.

In Norway the 35,000 German troops who had never been engaged in war surrendered on 8th May and the garrison on the Channel Islands held out until the 9th May though there were odd pockets that did not hear the news and held out for two more days.

The Flak tower at the Zoo believed to be the Nazi's last stand in Germany
The Flak tower at the Zoo believed to be the Nazi's last stand in Germany | Source

The Last action in Europe

The last action of the Second World War in Europe took place in Prague; a city which had seen very little action previously. Sensing the end of the war the Czech Resistance rose up against the Germans on the 5th May and there were heavy casualties as the Allies did not come to their aid. Prague was saved by an odd bunch of soviet renegades the Vlasov army who had been formed to fight on the side of the Germans. They turned against their masters and barred the war into Prague stopping a German armoured division from entering the city and wreaking further damage and loss of life. – However this late change did Vlasov little good; he and part of his army were hanged by the Soviets when they entered Prague a week later.

Thus ended the Second World War in Europe

Amphibious tractors (LVT) head for landing beaches on Iwo Jima, circa 19 February 1945.
Amphibious tractors (LVT) head for landing beaches on Iwo Jima, circa 19 February 1945. | Source

The war still continues in the Far East.

Whist Europe was ablaze with victory the forces were still fighting in the East and by 2nd May the British had fought their way into Burma and taken Rangoon.

In February the Americans had captured the Island of Iwo Jima which had cost 5,500 American lives. The next island to be invaded was Okinawa and this battle lasted for three months at the cost of 12,500 dead- a long and bloody war was expected.

Japan was facing collapse with industry halted owing to shortages of raw materials; food rationing was below that needed to maintain a healthy life and American air craft were attacking Japan almost without opposition.

Baron Suzuki becomes Prime Minister of Japan

In April Baron Suzuki became Prime Minister of Japan and despite being a war hero he was a man of peace. Japanese leaders feared surrender that it would be humiliating and would lead to the loss of the Imperial dynasty- they also feared that it would not be accepted by Japanese troops.

The Potsdam Conference

At the July conference the three Allied leaders issued a warning to Japan that they were ready to fight on and that they should surrender. No surrender was received from the Japanese and the war went on, but not for long.

Ariel view of Hirsohima after the bomb
Ariel view of Hirsohima after the bomb | Source

The Nuclear solution

The Americans had been developing the atomic bomb with help from British scientists, and by August 1945 three bombs were ready. It was known that there would be devastating results but it was hoped that these would force the Japanese government into surrender.

The first of the three bombs was tested in New Mexico on 16th July and the second was dropped on Hiroshima on 6th August 1945- 71,000 people were killed instantaneously and many many others died from wounds,, burns or leukaemia. Still the Japanese did not surrender believing that an honourable resistance might secure better terms for the country. On the 9TH August the third bomb was dropped on Nagasaki where 80,000 people were killed. The Japanese ministers were in deadlock at the meeting of the council of ministers with some still wishing to fight on. (They did not know that this was the last atom bomb that America currently had). The Emperor Hirohito took the first independent action of his life and announced

“The unendurable must be endured”

On 14th August 1945 the Japanese agreed to an unconditional surrender which did actually guarantee the preservation of the Emperor’s position. MacArthur was sent to Japan and on the 2nd September he received the formal surrender of Japan on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Mountbatten received the surrender of the Japanese forces in Southeast Asia in Singapore on 12th September.

The cost of the Second World War

At one time or another approximately 70 million men were engaged in the war. Approximately 17 million men were killed in the war- death rates depended on which country you fought for. One out of every 22 Russians, of 25 Germans, of 46 Japanese, of 150 Italians, of 150 British, of 200 Frenchmen and of500 Americans were killed.

Some countries suffered more than others:

  • · Poland lost 300,000 soldiers killed and 5.8 million civilians were murdered by the Germans with a total loss of 15 % of the population.
  • · Soviet Russia lost 10 % of her population with 6 million soldiers killed and 14 million soldiers and civilians murdered by the Germans.
  • · Yugoslavia had 1.5 million deaths only 500,000 of which were of combatants.
  • · Germany suffered losses of 4 ½ million troops – most of whom were killed on the Russian front and 593,000 German civilians were killed in air raids
  • · In Japan the army loses were over one million and 600,000 civilians in air raids- including the two atom bombs.
  • · France lost 200,00 soldiers and 400,000 others including resistance fighters and those in German deportation camps
  • · Italy saw 300,000 deaths either as regular army soldiers fighting on behalf of the Germans or Italian partisans fighting against the Germans.
  • · Great Britain lost 300,000 combatants and 62,000 civilians- there was also the death toll within the merchant navy which amounted to 35,000
  • · The United States of America had 300,000 servicemen dead with no civilian deaths.
  • · The Jewish race- Out of an estimated European Jewish population of 9 million an estimated 6 million were murdered by the Germans mainly by gas chambers and death camps.
  • · The Gypsies of Eastern Europe were virtually exterminated by gas chambers

Front Row: Goering, Hess, Von Ribbentrop and Keitel  Behind them;Donitz, Raeder, Von Shirach and Suckel
Front Row: Goering, Hess, Von Ribbentrop and Keitel Behind them;Donitz, Raeder, Von Shirach and Suckel | Source

Nuremberg Tribunals

There was an International Tribunal set up to punish the war criminals. Twenty one of the leading Nazi Germans were captured and were tried for war crimes. Of these, 11 were sentenced to death, Goering beat the hangman by taking poison an hour before he was due to die whilst the other ten were hung. These men were:

Julius Streicher- Editor in chief of the vicious anti Semitic newspaper Der Sturmer

Joachim von Ribbentrop, foreign minister

Arthur Seyss-Inquart, former Gauleiter of Holland and Austria.

Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel;

Ernst Kaltenbrunner, once head of the Nazis' security police

Alfred Rosenberg – Culture Minister

Hans Frank; Gauleiter of Poland;

Wilhem Frank, Nazi minister of the interior

Fritz Sauckel, Head of slave labour

Colonel General Alfred Jodl

In Japan 7 war criminals including the ex Premier Hideki Tojo were hung for their part in atrocities in the Far East.

The Second World War was over- may it never be repeated.


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    • Just History profile image

      Just History 5 years ago from England

      phdast7- Thanks for your visit and your kind comments- I tried to include as much as I could and hopefully stimulate the reader to go off and read more!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      What a wonderful and well-written survey of World War II. I especially like the sections on the losses of the war and the Nuremberg trials. Those are often overlooked. Thank you. Sharing.

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 5 years ago from England

      Pavlo Badovskyy- Thank you for your visit- I dont know about those conspiracy theories- maybe he did or maybe he didn't- the world was a little smaller then and people could hide

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      An interesting hub with lots of material. As to the death of Hitler my personal view is that it was one of his clones. I believe in a version that he left to Argentina at the end of the war. Probably we will never know it for sure...

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 5 years ago from England

      JC Kenny- thanks for your visit you are quite right- the wrong Roosevelt- I might keep him there for a little while and see if anyone else notices

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Another great article, and a great way to wrap up one of the most violent conflicts in history. It amazes me that even to this day, the only country to have used nuclear weapons in anger is the USA, and they did it twice.

      I hope you don't mind me saying, but I think you've got the wrong Roosevelt. Theodore or 'Teddy' was the president in the early 20th Century, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who sadly died in 1945.

      By the way, have you ever seen a film called 'Downfall' it's the only film I can think that has Hitler as a main character. It deals with his final days, in the Berlin Bunker.

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 5 years ago from England

      That must have been a really bleak time- in all that heat as well- starvation and brutality- In approx 1969 my dad had to hire a Japanese car as our english car had a repair- we were actually spat at in the streets ( they couldnt do it now as they get fined)

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      I can imagine the resentment, one of my uncles-in-law was actually taken prisoner at the fall of Singapore, he was a prisoner of the Japanese for three years!

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 5 years ago from England

      joanveronica- Thanks for your visit- it has really helped me to put events into context, especially the fall of Singapore where I lived as a child in the 1960's where there was still a lot of resentment against the Japanese

    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 5 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      I think this as a wonderful overview of a complex period! Well written, and I will be checking it again to try and relate some important events in my personal life to these events, as the ending of the war in Europe brought about my family's move from Santiago to Concepcion. Voted up and several more!