World History 2 231 - 13.4.1 Victory in Europe and Plans for Peace

For more than five years after they met in Newfoundland and produced the Atlantic Charter’s plan for the end of the conflict, Roosevelt and Churchill exchanged more than 1,700 letters and messages and held many high-level meetings to closely coordinate their efforts at every level. At a specialized conference held at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944, representatives of forty-four Allied countries together hammered out the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Monetary Fund, both intended to secure economic security and stability after the war.

As Allied troops marched toward the German border, however, their coalition began to fray. On a visit to Stalin late in 1944, Churchill signed the Percentages Agreement in which the two decided to divide up eastern Europe into spheres of influence, with Britain getting a 90 percent share of Greece, the USSR getting 90 percent of Romania, and both holding 50 percent of the political power in Hungary and Yugoslavia. Churchill thought Stalin should burn the document afterward because “it might be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner.”

Finally, several months after the Soviet victory at Kursk, General Eisenhower prepared to open a second front in the European theater of the war. By May 1944, the German military was facing a dilemma. The Soviet Red Army was relentlessly rolling back German positions in the east, and it seemed obvious that the British and U.S. troops were preparing for an invasion of the continent. Given the brutality of the battles on the eastern front, the Germans chose to retain 228 divisions to counter the Soviets and assigned the defense of Europe to fifty-eight divisions, only fifteen of which were in the vicinity of Normandy, France.

Normandy, however, was the secret site of the coming invasion. After months of assembling and training troops, the Allies began their invasion of France at 2 a.m. on June 6, 1944—D-Day. Having assumed responsibility for nearly every detail but not convinced he had done enough, Eisenhower wrote a letter of resignation the night before in case things did not go well. But they did. By the second day of the operation, approximately 160,000 Allied troops with considerable armor were linking up in a continuous line through Europe and punching holes in German defenses. Paris was liberated just two months later.

A race to capture Berlin then began, with Allied generals vying for the honor of getting there first. As British and U.S. troops approached from the west, the Soviets closed in on the city from the east. While clearing out German forces west of the Rhine River, Eisenhower decided to pause for resupply and prepare for the final push to Berlin.

Hitler believed there might still be hope for a German victory if he could divide the Allied armies from each other. Four days later. he committed 200,000 troops, one thousand tanks, and large numbers of aircraft to the Battle of the Bulge in a forested region of the western front. Eisenhower later admitted the Germans had indeed achieved a tactical surprise in this offensive by penetrating Allied defenses by some fifty miles. Despite the German successes, however, he felt that by capitalizing on their fatigue, he could stem the tide of the war. Germany had in fact suffered major losses in what proved to be their final European offensive and another turning point in the war.

With the conflict nearing its end, the Big Three met again to plan the peace at the Yalta Conference in the Soviet Crimea from February 4 to 11, 1945 (Figure 13.17). Roosevelt’s agenda asked for Soviet support in the U.S. Pacific War against Japan, specifically in invading Japan. He also hoped for support for the creation of a new institution—the United Nations—that would be modeled on the premise of collective security but would be a stronger body than the League of Nations had been. Churchill pressed for free elections and democratic governments in eastern and central Europe (specifically Poland), while Stalin demanded a Soviet sphere of political influence in eastern and central Europe.

In this black and white photograph, three men sit in chairs next to each other. The man on the far left, is wearing a long winter coat and looking to his left. The man in the middle has a cape draped on his shoulders. He looks forward and smiles. The man on the right sits straight up and wears a military coat, tall boots, and a military hat. He looks forward and smiles. Behind the three men are eight white men in various military uniforms, facing different ways, and chatting with each other. They appear to be outside a building with arches. There are various ornate rugs placed on the floor under the chairs.
Figure 13.17 The Allies were represented at the Yalta Conference in 1945 by (left to right) Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain, U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt, and the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. (credit: “‘Big Three’ met at Yalta” by National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Stalin promised free elections in Poland, despite having recently installed a government in Polish territories occupied by the Red Army. His preconditions for the Soviet Union’s declaring war against Japan were U.S. recognition of Mongolian independence from China and of Soviet interests in the Manchurian railways and Port Arthur. These were agreed upon without Chinese representation or consent, and Stalin promised that the Soviet Union would enter the Pacific War three months after the defeat of Germany. Roosevelt met Stalin’s price in the hope that the USSR could be dealt with after the war via the United Nations, which the Soviets had agreed to join.

In the Declaration on Liberated Europe, the three leaders agreed that all original governments would be restored in the invaded countries (except France, Romania, and Bulgaria and the Polish government-in-exile in London), and that all displaced civilians would be repatriated. Other key points of the meeting were reaffirmation of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, and of the division of Germany and Berlin into three occupied zones (later expanded to four).

Germany was to undergo demilitarization and denazification and make reparations, partly in the form of forced labor by German prisoners of war and others who would work in agricultural and industrial roles in both Eastern and Western Europe after the war. At the same time, Nazi war criminals were to be hunted down and brought to justice. Stalin insisted that given the pain and destruction the Germans had visited upon the Soviet Union, reparations ought to go to the nation that had suffered the most. Resolution of this issue was postponed to a future conference. After Yalta, Eisenhower conferred with Moscow and laid out a plan, adhering to the Yalta Agreement, for the exact placement of the postwar occupation zones in Berlin. Eisenhower knew the German leaders were preparing to move to another city, making Berlin of only psychlogical significance.

On April 30, 1945, Hitler and his wife of one day, Eva Braun, committed suicide. Various German commanders then began surrendering to Soviet or Allied forces. Hermann Göring surrendered on May 6, and the next day the chief of staff of German forces, General Alfred Jodl, unconditionally surrendered all German forces. Victory in Europe had been achieved.

Advancing Soviet armies had begun the process of liberating the death camps in July 1944, and in January 1945, they freed those held in Auschwitz. In April, U.S. and British units liberated Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, and Dachau. Eisenhower and his staff went into the camps on a number of occasions. To make sure the world became aware of German inhumanity, Eisenhower arranged for American and British reporters to tour the camps as well.

Link to Learning

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has preserved recorded testimony of Holocaust survivors recounting the end of their imprisonment and their life after liberation.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax