Today, 68 years ago in Europe, was a great day. Depending which side of international dateline one lived on, The Big War, aka WW II, ended.
Today, 68 years ago in Europe, was a great day. Depending which side of international dateline one lived on, The Big War, aka WW II, ended. The surrender was signed on May 7, 1945, but May 8 became the official V-E Day, for Victory in Europe. All shooting stopped, POW camps began to be liberated, and the world gave a huge sigh of relief for a while.
There was still part of the war going on in the far-flung Pacific, against WW I ally Japan, but it had only four months to go. Plans were already in effect for units to be moved from Europe to the Pacific Theater.
Allied forces in Europe on V-E Day totaled 4 ½ million men, 28,000 combat aircraft, some 14,800 vehicles, and 18 million tons of supplies. The German army had been defeated and only a few combat units remained in Norway, Czechoslovakia, and the Balkans. All would soon capitulate.
What was left of the German navy was in ships left helplessly in a few captured northern posts, and the once-feared Luftwaffe was too depleted and demoralized for even a last-ditch suicidal effort.
The Germans had developed some last-minute terror weapons, including a flying bomb, jet aircraft, and a supersonic missile, but they came too late to make an impact. Experts credited the war being won to motor vehicles, the airplane, machine gun, indirect artillery fire, and the tank.
Also credited was excellent radio communication and mobility superior to that in any previous war, which allowed rapid exploitation of breaches.
As official histories of the war were written in later years, they credited the battlefield genius of American field commanders such as Bradley, Devers, Clark, Hodges, Patton, Simpson, Patch, and too many corps and division commanders to mention. All the above except Simpson and Patch are in the Fort Leavenworth Hall of Fame.
Alexander Patch and William Simpson were classmates in the CGSC class of 1925, and thus are eligible for the prestigious hall.
Speaking of CGSC, it was greatly affected by the war. Instead of a few hundred graduates a year, as occurred previously, during the war years more than 19,000 U.S. and allied officers graduated from the school.
I met the retired chief of the WW II Nationalist Chinese air force who was a 1942 CGSC graduate, and one of the many Chinese generals in the International Officer Hall of Fame. He was delighted to return to his roots, and we even found the house he had lived in.
There were some 12 million Americans in uniform during The Big War, and a hundred or so were in Leavenworth when my family arrived on the scene in 1978. Alas, time marches on, and I know of only a dozen or so WW II veterans in the area today. One is a former German female sailor who moved to Lansing a few years ago.
The Army's official history book, American Military History, mentions how surprise was used by both sides, by the Germans in Tunisia and the Ardennes Forest late in the war, and by the Allies at the Normandy landings and crossing the Rhine River at Remagen to become the first invading force in history to pierce the Rhine River barrier.
Alas, there are not many veterans left today to regale us history buffs with their exploits so long ago. The oldest volunteer at the National WW I Museum was 90 and an Army Air Corps pilot during the war, but age caught up with him and he and his wife retired last year.
The ranks are thinning rapidly, but many memories are still there for those remaining. I just wish there were more of them in the area. To the few WW II European vets out there, heartiest congratulations on winning your war, 68 years ago today.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.