Ken Beaton: 70 years ago today … Victory in Europe Day
The world’s worst nightmare began Sept. 1, 1939, the Fatherland’s finish troops and their newest ally, Mother Russia, invaded Poland. On Sept. 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany, the beginning of total war. Poland was annihilated in six weeks.
President Roosevelt explained the situation — “If Great Britain goes down, the Axis powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia, and the high seas — and they will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere.” He began referring to America in his speeches as the “arsenal for democracy.” Our country had the natural resources and the industrial might to completely arm 2,000 Allies’ divisions to defeat the Axis.
Russia’s general secretary, Joseph Stalin, received the surprise of his life on June 22, 1941. Germany invaded Russia. This began the Great Patriotic War, Russia’s name for World War II. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Russia joined Britain, France and later the US, to become the Allies.
For the first two and a half years, the Allies received defeat after defeat by the Axis powers. On April 18, 1942, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s 16 medium bombers took off from the carrier, USS Hornet, to bomb a greatly surprised Tokyo, Japan. This event gave the Allies a spiritual lift. Admiral Chester Nimitz’s three aircraft carriers won the battle of Midway, June 4–7, 1942 sinking four of the Japanese carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor. On Aug. 7, 1942 the USMC 1st Division invaded Guadalcanal. On Nov. 8, 1942 United States and British troops landed on the shores of Morocco and Algeria, Operation Torch. With General Montgomery’s 8th Army they defeated Germany’s Africa Corp in May 1943.
After five months of bitter winter fighting, the German sixth army surrendered at Stalingrad on Feb. 2, 1943, a turning point for the Red Army. Admiral Nimitz’s 1943 island hopping campaign gathered momentum in the Pacific as more of our fast fleet aircraft carriers joined the Pacific fleet. Sicily was liberated in July followed by the invasion of Italy in September 1943.
On June 6, 1944, the world’s largest invasion force landed on Normandy’s beaches. Two and a half months later, Aug. 15, 1944, Operation Dragoon was the invasion of Southern France. The Battle of the Bulge, the German army’s last offensive, began Dec. 16, 1944, and ended Jan. 31, 1945.
Traditionally, a desperate enemy will “draft” preteen boys and old men to slow down the enemy. Unfortunately, Hitler used young boys and girls with old men to die for the Fatherland in the closing months and days of the war.
Hitler married Eva Braun on April 30, 1945. Minutes later, they committed suicide. Hitler had appointed Admiral Donitz as his successor, Reichsprasident to negotiate with the Allies. The Red Army captured Berlin. The military surrender was signed on May 7, 1945, at SHAPE, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Power Europe in Reims, France. To appease Russia’s Joseph Stalin, Admiral Donitz signed the unconditional surrender document in Berlin on May 8, 1945, Victory Europe Day.
After five years and eight months, at least 85 million civilians lost their lives, with 30 million battle deaths and several continents in rubble. The German mark was replaced with cigarettes and soap as barter items. The average pack of cigarettes passed through seven people before the cigarettes were smoked.
Seventy years ago today, the Allies celebrated Germany’s surrender. VE Day was President Truman’s 61st birthday. All the United States’ flags were still at half-mast until May 12 mourning President Roosevelt’s passing. Thanks to the Greatest Generation, this was written in English not German or Japanese. Fly the stars and stripes and rejoice!
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.