75 years ago: Victory in Europe

Thursday, May 7, 2020 - Wednesday, September 30, 2020
12:00 am - 11:59 pm

On the 8th May 1945, millions of people rejoiced in the news that Germany had surrendered. It meant an end to six years of war that had cost over 20 million European lives and brought huge suffering to so many people.

As the name suggests, V.E. Day was not the end of the Second World War. The war in Asia continued to be hard fought for several months. V.E. Day did however signal the end of the fighting in the European theatre of war on both Eastern and Western Fronts.

This special online exhibition marks the 75th anniversary of V.E. Day. Over the coming month we will continue to add more photographs, film and personnel recollections from our archive.

The Road to V.E. Day

1939

With the seemingly unstoppable success of the Nazi Blitzkrieg at the start of the war (best highlighted by the surrender of Denmark after just six hours of fighting) the outlook was bleak for the forces of the British Empire arrayed against the Axis Powers.

1940

Vital breathing space was gained by the bravery, persistence, and skill of the RAF during the Battle of Britain. However, the alliance with the Soviet Russia and the United States eventually enabled the tide of the war to turn.

1943

The most significant turning point came in the East – at the Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. The war on the Eastern Front prevented Nazi Germany from concentrating the bulk of their troops in Western Europe, a move which would have made success almost impossible when the U.S.A and the U.K launched their invasions of Europe – through first Italy and then via the beaches of Normandy. From Stalingrad the Nazis started a two-year retreat, which did not stop until they reached Berlin and final surrender.

1944

The British had already seen success in 1942 at El Alamein in North Africa, but the crucial event on the road to V.E. Day for Britain was the invasion of France on 6th June 1944. The only Victoria Cross to be awarded on that day went to Company Sergeant Major Stan Hollis. His medal is now on display at the museum.

1945

Berlin finally fell to Soviet forces on 2nd May 1945. The total number of military deaths alone were huge – the war had cost Britain 383,700 lives, the USA 407,300, and the Soviets a staggering 8,668,000.

The final unconditional surrender of the German armed forces came on 8th May– though the document was signed on the 9th and then back-dated. Street parties ensued across Britain with the joy of the Victory in Europe. For those in the Pacific and Burma it was one more day on the long road to eventual success on 2nd September 1945.

 

The Green Howards from D-Day to V.E. Day

The Allies advance across France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and then into Germany met with stiff Nazi resistance. The attritional warfare was often similar in intensity to that of the First World War.

Two Green Howard Battalions, the 6th and 7th took part in D-day and then fought through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

In 1943 the Green Howards 12th Battalion changed its name and its role becoming the 161st Reconnaissance Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps (Green Howards). In July 1944, this Reconnaissance Regiment landed in Normandy. They were in action from the 4th August 1944 and took part in the advance through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and eventually into Germany.

Green Howards who joined the 161st Reconnaissance Regiment were allowed to to wear the Green Howards cap badge on black berets

The Green Howards 10th Battalion was selected for conversion to a Parachute Battalion in May 1943 and became know as the 12th Battalion (Yorkshire) Parachute Regiment. They parachuted into France early on D-day before the beach landings. After three months of fighting in France only 55 of the 550 men who had landed on D-Day were still fighting. A largely new Battalion of men returned to France in December 1944 to support the Americans at the Battle of the Bulge. Their final actions of the war began with a daylight airborne offensive in support of the crossing of the Rhine in March 1945.

12th (Yorkshire) Battalion, Parachute Regiment, Green Howards Trust

The 1st Battalion advanced into Germany in the last days of the war and witnessed the capitulation of German Divisions and victory in Europe.

1st Battalion Officers, 1944, Green Howards Trust

France and Belgium

The Green Howards 6th and 7th Battalions landed on D-Day and felt the first tantalising hope of victory. However, they quickly found themselves pinned down in the Normandy Bocage. For two months they fought a concealed enemy in the deep valleys, small fields and near impenetrable hedges of Normandy.

Bocage Country

When the shattered remnant of the German army fled towards the Seine, the Green Howards were amongst the units who took up the pursuit. For three weeks they drove through France and into Belgium. Sometimes they were met by delirious crowds cheering and waving flags – sometimes by the bullets and bombs of the enemy. Always the weather was against them, with rain, thunder, and lightning meaning troops were constantly soaked to the skin.

A warm welcome in France

Netherlands

During the summer of 1944, General Montgomery had developed an ambitious scheme, codenamed ‘Market Garden’ to seize key bridges in the Netherlands. If successful, the Netherlands would be liberated, and the Allies would be able to advance into northern Germany.

Map of the south-east Netherlands, 1944, National Army Museum

The Green Howards were not drawn into the battle until eight days after the airborne divisions had landed.  As Montgomery’s plan stalled, they were called upon to tenaciously hold positions against a determined enemy throughout the autumn and bitter winter of 1944.

In December, the 6th and 7th Battalions of the Green Howards were withdrawn from the front line. Months of fighting had left the battalions with insufficient manpower and with increasing shortages of reinforcements it was decided to send the battalions back to England to provide infantry training. It was a bitter disappointment but, along with the Durham Light Infantry and the East Yorkshire Regiment, they had been engaged in more fighting than any other British infantry unit in the Second World War.

Advance into Germany

While the 6th and 7th Battalions had been advancing through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands the 1st Battalion had been involved in the invasion of Italy.

1st Battalion at Anzio, prior to the attack on the Moletta River, 1944

In February 1945, the battalion sailed for Marseilles and then travelled through France by cattle truck, arriving in Belgium in March 1945.

They began to prepare for the final push into Germany which was expected to take several months. In fact, the battalion only saw 48 hours of actual fighting before the German surrender. In this short period, they were involved in two full-scale battles, as they fought to gain a bridgehead across the River Elbe and then advance towards the important rail, road, and canal junction at Buchen.

River Elbe, National Army Museum

The Green Howards war in Europe ended at Buchen as the German Divisions in this sector of the front capitulated in a matter of days. On the 8th May the 1st Battalion took part in a ceremonial parade in Lubeck, at which the Union Jack was raised. It was the end of six years of fighting.

Lubeck, 1945, Green Howards Trust

 

From the museum archive, Field Marshall Montgomery’s address to the troops, Germany, May 1945

“Without doubt, great problems lie ahead: the world will not recover quickly from the upheaval that has taken place; there is much work for each one of us.”

 

Thanks for visiting our online exhibition.  Why not test your knowledge Britain’s Allies during the Second World War by having a go at our VE Day Quiz – Flags of the Allied Nations

If you enjoyed finding out about the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the part the Green Howards played in this victory, please consider making a donation.  It will help us when we reopen, and is much appreciated.   DONATE NOW.

 

 

 

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