After years of fighting from the Atlantic to the Middle East, rumors spread in spring 1945 that the German army was about to surrender. As long as expected, this long-awaited event had been given a name before it became a reality: V-E Day for Victory in Europe.
The term first appeared in the New York Times on September 10, 1944, just over three months after the Allies conquered the beaches of Normandy and began their inland march. Nine days later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered government agencies to make plans to demobilize the approximately three million civilians who support the war effort. "The transition from war to peace should go ahead quickly," said Roosevelt. "This is the time for planning, even though the war – even in Europe – is not over yet."
Over the next six months, the Allied forces pushed the German army back to its pre-war borders on two fronts, and in spring the end of the war felt imminent. On May 7, 1945, the news of Germany's surrender quickly spread around the world.
The following photos show 13 countries that commemorate this fateful day: from the cheering on the streets in the USA and Great Britain as well as in Kenya and Burma; to the front, where the newspapers detailed the official signing of the service members; and to houses of worship full of people who say thank you prayers.
There was a firm belief that better days are ahead, although the bitter war in the Pacific is likely to continue until at least 1946, if not 1947. In America, VE Day was a commemoration of an important milestone – a victory against the Nazis. That was no certainty when the United States entered the war. And for those living in countries occupied or attacked by German forces, their war was finally over and the time to rebuild was near. – John Ismay
Deliveries of beer were already underway in London, and the parties started the evening before. In Paris, which the Allies liberated on August 25, 1944, Parisians and soldiers "let themselves go" with devotion to celebrate the advance news, which continued even when there was a lack of alcohol due to rationing, Harold Callender reported in The Times.
On the American continent, people danced in public places in Costa Rica when a 21-cannon greeting roared, confetti fell and fireworks rang out in the Brazilian capital Rio de Janeiro. In Colombia, the government declared a two-day holiday.
In Manhattan, the upcoming surrender led to widespread celebrations. People working in high-rise buildings threw homemade confetti out of the windows and disappointed the city's sanitation commissioner, who lamented the loss of more than 1,000 tons of the "vital warfare" that the Times had to clear from the streets for its crews.
On May 8, Times Square filled with hundreds of thousands of revelers – although the party was somewhat limited by the rain that started to fall around noon. (Bars and grills were “busy business all day.”) The brownout of night lights that continued during the war ended across America. The lights of Broadway glowed again and the Statue of Liberty was bathed in light after sunset.
On May 6, 17 U.S. Army reporters were invited to Reims, France, to witness Germany's official surrender, which was signed the next day at 2:41 a.m. Army officials informed them that the news of the surrender was put on hold for 36 hours. (Supreme Headquarters officials said the fortress was forced so that the Soviets could host a second surrender ceremony in Berlin.)
Like his colleagues, Edward Kennedy, an A.P. reporter, reluctantly agreed to abide by the embargo, but after returning to Paris later that day, he learned that Germany was sending Allied news of surrender. He picked up the phone and in the early afternoon sent a shipment from his hotel in Paris to A.P.'s London office, which forwarded it to A.P. headquarters in New York.
Germany's unconditional surrender quickly spread across the country and around the world. The next day it was Kennedy's story that was the front page of the Times.
While Kennedy gave the A.P. given a bullet of his life, the decision to bypass the censorship agreement also ruined his career. Some of his colleagues considered his actions to be unforgivable, and dozens signed a petition condemning his actions. The A.P. suspended him first and finally released him. It wasn't until 2012, decades after Kennedy died after being hit by a car, that the A.P. for dealing with the situation.
Third Army soldiers in Europe compiled the news from German radio broadcasts announcing surrender and a ceasefire order. A Times reporter there reported that some soldiers celebrated the news by making campfires, firing multi-colored torches and anti-aircraft guns with their red markers into the sky.
To inform Japan of the victory, the US forces fired a simultaneous volley of artillery and naval guns at targets in southern Okinawa in the early hours of May 8, before the official declaration of V-E Day.
London's St. Pauls Cathedral, which suffered some damage but survived Germany's brutal bombing raids, held 10 services in a single day. Thousands of people attended each of them to say thank you for peace and to honor those who were killed.
The V-E day came when the flags across America were still half full in honor of President Roosevelt, who died of bleeding on April 12.
Everyone was aware of the war that was yet to be won against Japan and the toll it was likely to bring.
Bentley Archive / Popperfoto via Getty Images / Getty Images (London); Associated Press (Paris); Courtesy of the National World War II Museum (London); Herbert Gehr / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images (New York); TASS via Getty Images (Moscow); British official photo (Netherlands); Eddie Worth / Associated Press (Copenhagen); African American Newspapers / Gado / Getty Images (Baltimore); Matteo Omied / Alamy (Toronto); Associated Press (Guyana); Courtesy of the National World War II Museum (Europe); National Archives (Myanmar); British official photo (Hamburg); Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images (German border); National Archives (Myanmar); Imperial War Museum (Kenya); US Army (Germany); Stock Image / Alamy (India); Sam Falk / The New York Times (New York); Imperial War Museum (Australia); Courtesy of the National World War II Museum (Hyde Park); Sam Falk / The New York Times (New York).