Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

THE FIRST WEEK OF MAY 1945

leave a comment »

Berlin, Brandenburger Tor und Pariser Platz

The first week of May, 1945, is big in the history books. A lot because it saw the end of World War Two in Europe. Easily the biggest and most destructive war in history, tens of millions of people died, entire countries were laid waste. And then there’s the Holocaust, the first and hopefully last industrial scale genocide in history. America played a big role in the war, though  not as big as many Americans imagine.

Leading into the week, on 28 April 1945 Benito Mussolini was murdered, alongside his mistress. Two days later, April 30 1945, Hitler and his mistress, Eva Braun, killed themselves in the Führerbunker in Berlin. They had been married the previous day. Hitler had avoided getting married for political reasons, he thought being single broadened his appeal to German women. Hitler was always worried about his popularity with the German people, sometimes to a length where it actually hurt the war effort. In any case, two of the main architects of World War Two didn’t live to see the end of the nightmare they had created.

May 1st 1945, a Tuesday. Radio Hamburg announced the death of Adolf Hitler, claiming he had died fighting in Berlin. Admiral Doenitz was named by Hitler as his successor, much to Doenitz’s surprise. I doubt he had any illusions about how hopeless the situation was, but he ruled what was left of Hitler’s Third Reich for a week. On the same day the American Seventh Army reached Braunau am Inn, the town of Hitler’s birth in Austria. And on this day Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s famous propaganda minister, committed suicide with his wife in the  Führerbunker. They also murdered their six children, though some in the bunker tried to prevent that. Things frankly got pretty crazy in the bunker near the end.

May 2nd 1945. On this day the German forces defending Berlin surrendered to the Soviets, ending the two week Battle of Berlin. The Germans were outnumbered by at least three to one, with critical shortages of fuel and ammunition as well. The outcome was never in any doubt, Hitler’s fantasies notwithstanding. The Allied spring offensive in Italy ended with the formal surrender of German forces there. On this day Martin Bormann, a Nazi who rose to tremendous power and influence as Hitler’s private secretary, died trying to escape Berlin. His fate was a mystery until 1972 when his remains were discovered. Glass fragments in his mouth indicated he had died from biting a cyanide capsule, almost certainly to avoid imminent capture by the Soviets.

May 3rd 1945. Sadly on this day the British sunk the SS Cap Arcona, a German liner loaded with prisoners and slave laborers. About 5,000 died. And in an odd two historical footnotes the Irish Prime minister offered his condolences to the German ambassador for the death of Adolf Hitler. And the government of Portugal had official flags flown at half mast in mourning for same! The true extent of the holocaust had yet to be revealed I guess.

May 4th 1945, a Friday. German forces in northwestern Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark surrendered to the Allies.

May 5th 1945. German forces in Norway surrendered to the Allies. This was also the day the Battle for Castle Itter was fought. It has been called the strangest battle of World War Two, French POWs, American soldiers, and German soldiers(!) successfully defended the castle against an attacking German force. A tennis star was among the fighters! I may have to blog about this one. Sadly this day a Japanese balloon bomb, one of hundreds launched from Japan against the US west coast, had their only success of the war, killing five children and a pregnant woman near Bly, Oregon.

May 6th 1945. Patton was ordered to stop advancing eastward because of the occupation agreement between the Americans and the Soviets, much to his disgust. And two U-boats, U-853 and U-881, were sunk in the North Atlantic. Some of the very last naval actions in the war with Nazi Germany.

May 7th 1945. The Halifax riot. Due to series of unfortunate circumstances, sailors trying to celebrate VE day rioted. I don’t think anyone was seriously hurt, but stores were looted and a lot of hard feelings created. And in Germany, German generals signed unconditional surrender documents in Eisenhower’s headquarters, ending the War in Europe. Sometimes good things do happen on Mondays.

OK, this post was not as American centric as I had originally planned. So just a couple quick notes on America in World War Two. A lot of Americans wildly overestimate America’s role in World War Two. Not surprising given how Hollywood portrays the war. In the D-Day movie “Saving Private Ryan,” there is exactly one reference to the British, and it’s unflattering. And no mention of Canada, leaving the impression that D-Day was an American affair. In truth only 40% of the troops that went ashore on D-day were American, the rest were British and Canadian. And while D-Day was important, it wasn’t a “turning point” in the war. By June 1944 the war was effectively over, it was just a matter of who would get to Berlin first.

Hitler’s armies were primarily destroyed by Soviet armies in Hitler’s disastrous attempt to conquer Russia. The Allies provided the Soviets with a lot of their trucks, but when it came to weapons and soldiers, the Russians pretty much supplied themselves. Westerners also love to make a big deal about their bombing campaigns. Post war studies showed they were not nearly as effective as was thought at the time. They also raise the morale of people being bombed.

And in a final bit of unpleasantness, stumbled on this little gem during my research. D-Day GIs ‘raped and killed their French allies while US army generals turned a blind eye’ Oops, they didn’t mention that in “Saving Private Ryan.” The sad truth is that rape and war crimes are simply a part of war. All armies have these horrors. Put people in a situation that utterly dehumanizes people and normalises violence, and some of them will do bad things. By my way of thinking, another good reason war is something to avoid, not embrace.

World War Two is fading into history now. The youngest veterans are pretty much in their nineties now. I hope people are collecting their stories. God rest all who died, let’s try not to have a World War Three, shall we?

(Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, 1945. This Image file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.)

Written by unitedcats

May 1, 2019 at 11:02 am

Posted in History, Peace, War, World

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: