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1945 - Fall of Nazi Germany

The Fall of Nazi Germany - the Nazi war machine finally collapses and despite a last ditch defence of Berlin, the city falls to the advancing Red Army, Hitler commits suicide and the war in Europe comes to an end

By the beginning of 1945 the war which Germany had unleashed throughout the world had come back to consume it. In sharp contrast with what had occurred in 1918 in 1945 Germany fought, literally, to the bitter end. The Germans held out, although by early 1945 just about everyone knew that catastrophic defeat was the inevitable outcome. They did not give up even when Russian soldiers arrived in the garden of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. 

By March, Western Allied forces were crossing the Rhine River, capturing hundreds of thousands of troops from Germany’s Army Group B. The Red Army had meanwhile entered Austria, and both fronts quickly approached Berlin. Strategic bombing campaigns by Allied aircraft were pounding German territory, sometimes destroying entire cities in a night.


In the first several months of 1945, Germany put up a fierce defense, but rapidly lost territory, ran out of supplies, and exhausted its options. In April, Allied forces pushed through the German defensive line in Italy. East met West on the River Elbe on April 25, 1945, when Soviet and American troops met near Torgau, Germany.

On April 30th, as Russian troops entered the outskirts of Berlin.  The 90,000 German defenders - mainly old people or members of the Hitler Youth - stood little chance against more than a million Red Army troops. As the battle was drawing to a close, Adolf Hitler, together with his mistress Eva Braun, committed suicide. The leadership of Germany passed to Joseph Goebbels, but within 24 hours he too took his own life. Elsewhere, other Nazi leaders were either in Allied custody or running like fugitives. The German surrender came on May 7th, a week after Hitler’s death. Nazism, the proud and boastful movement of the 1930s, was drawing its final breaths.


The Nazis had promised the German people dignity, respect and prosperity – and for a time seemed to deliver on these promises. But their ultimate legacy was a war that had claimed the lives of more than 48 million people, a racial genocide unlike any other in history, and a Germany that was devastated, occupied and torn apart for more than 40 years.


Further Reading


Spiegel- Last Days of the Reich

National Interest - How Hitler Fell: The Battle of Berlin Was the End of Nazi Germany

Eyewitness to History The Battle of Berlin

Rare Historical Photos - Berlin at the End of the War

1945 - Defeat of Japan

Defeat  of Japan - following a string of defeats in the Pacific the Japanese military was weakened and in retreat, but nonetheless capable of stubborn resistance. The decision was made by the US to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagaskai, forcing Japan's unconditional surrender.

By the summer of 1945, the defeat of Japan was a foregone conclusion. The Japanese navy and air force were destroyed.  The Allied naval blockade of Japan and intensive bombing of Japanese cities had left the country and its economy devastated. The Imperial military suffered costly defeats in the Philippines and Iwo Jima, and by the end of June 1945, the Americans had captured Okinawa, from which the Allies could launch an invasion of the main Japanese home islands. U.S. General Douglas MacArthur was put in charge of the invasion, which was code-named “Operation Olympic” and set for November 1945.

The invasion of Japan promised to be the bloodiest seaborne attack of all time, conceivably 10 times as costly as the Normandy invasion in terms of Allied casualties. On July 16, a new option became available when the United States secretly detonated the world’s first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert. Ten days later, the Allies issued the Potsdam Declaration, demanding the “unconditional surrender of all the Japanese armed forces.”

Failure to comply would mean “the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitable the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.” On July 28, Japanese Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki responded by telling the press that his government was “paying no attention” to the Allied ultimatum. U.S. President Harry Truman ordered the devastation to proceed, and on August 6, the U.S. B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing an estimated 80,000 people and fatally wounding thousands more.

After the Hiroshima attack, a faction of Japan’s supreme war council favored acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration, but the majority resisted unconditional surrender. On August 8, Japan’s desperate situation took another turn for the worse when the USSR declared war against Japan. The next day, Soviet forces attacked in Manchuria, rapidly overwhelming Japanese positions there, and a second U.S. atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese coastal city of Nagasaki.

Just before midnight on August 9, Japanese Emperor Hirohito convened the supreme war council. After a long, emotional debate, it was declared that peace was preferable to destruction, and the Japanese government prepared to surrender. Despite a brief and unsuccessful coup attempt, Emperor Hirohito went on national radio for the first time to announce the Japanese surrender. In his unfamiliar court language, he told his subjects, “we have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.”


Further Reading


The Atlantic - The Fall of Imperial Japan

Japan Times -‘Why Did Japan Surrender?

Foreign Policy -The Bomb Didn’t Beat Japan … Stalin Did

Atomic Heritage Foundation - Debate over the Japanese Surrender

International Red Cross - Life after the atomic bomb: Testimonies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Survivors

Victory at Great Cost - while the Allies celebrated following their victory, the world had been turned upside-down, and each nation would have to come to terms with the aftermath of the war in their own way

At the end of World War II, huge swaths of Europe and Asia had been reduced to ruins. Borders were redrawn and homecomings, expulsions, and burials were under way. But the massive efforts to rebuild had just begun. When the war began in the late 1930s, the world's population was approximately 2 billion. In less than a decade, the war between the Axis the Allied powers had resulted in 80 million deaths -- killing off about 4 percent of the whole world.


Allied forces now became occupiers, taking control of Germany, Japan, and much of the territory they had formerly ruled. Efforts were made to permanently dismantle the war-making abilities of those nations, as factories were destroyed and former leadership was removed or prosecuted. War crimes trials took place in Europe and Asia, leading to many executions and prison sentences. Millions of Germans and Japanese were forcibly expelled from territories they called home.


Allied occupations and United Nations decisions led to many long-lasting problems in the future, including the tensions that created East and West Germany, and divergent plans on the Korean Peninsula that led to the creation of North and South Korea and -- the Korean War in 1950. The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine paved the way for Israel to declare its independence in 1948 and marked the start of the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict.


The growing tensions between Western powers and the Soviet Eastern Bloc developed into the Cold War, and the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons raised the very real specter of an unimaginable World War III if common ground could not be found. 


Further Reading


HistoryNet - V-J Day: The World Rejoices

The GuardianRebuilding the World After the Second World War

Facing History - "The End and the Beginning" (Wislawa Szymborska)

Center for European Studies - The End of WWII and the Division of Europe

1945 - Aftermath of War
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