Today's News, Tomorrow's Lesson – VE Day: the end of the Second World War in Europe
VE Day, or Victory in Europe Day, was first celebrated on 8 May 1945 to mark the end of the Second World War in Europe.
How did the Second World War in Europe end?
In April 1945, Allied forces had surrounded Berlin, Germany’s capital city. British and American forces had advanced towards Berlin’s westerly Elbe River, while the Soviet Union’s Red Army arrived from the east and quickly sealed off the city from the rest of the country.
The Battle of Berlin ensued, raging for nine days between the Red Army and desperate German defenders. On 3 May, German commanders in Berlin surrendered. Their city, once the political and cultural heart of the German Empire, was in ruins. Their leader, Adolf Hitler, was dead and the country now lay at the mercy of ‘The Big Three’: Britain, America and the Soviet Union.
In order to save Germany’s remaining troops, Alfred Jodl, chief of the operations staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, signed Nazi Germany’s official instrument of unconditional surrender to the Allies on 7 May 1945. It confirmed that at 23:01 Central Europe time – one minute past midnight on 8 May in Britain – all German land, sea and air forces would no longer be engaged in a state of war.
What happened on VE Day?
On 7 May, at 3pm in the afternoon, British prime minister Winston Churchill prematurely announced that the war in Europe was over. His speech was broadcast on national radio and delivered through loudspeakers for thousands of people on London’s streets.
“My dear friends, this is your hour,” he said. “This is not victory of a party or of any class. It's a victory of the great British nation as a whole.”
As soon as his speech had ended, celebrations erupted across Britain. In London, people danced in the streets, while a 19-year-old Queen Elizabeth II wandered, smiling, through the crowd. Around the world, from Amsterdam to Los Angeles, millions celebrated the end of Europe’s most violent and destructive war.
What happened after VE Day?
Despite Germany’s unconditional surrender on 7 May, pockets of German resistance still defied defeat. In Alderney, one of the Channel Islands that had been occupied during the war, the German garrison refused to surrender until 16 May. Over 1,500 miles away on Bear Island in Norway, a small group of German soldiers fought on until September. They had lost radio contact with their commanding officers in May and eventually surrendered to a band of Norwegian seal hunters.
What did this mean for Britain?
The Second World War was extremely costly for Britain, claiming over 400,000 military and civilian lives. Across Europe, thousands of civilian deaths had been caused by bombing campaigns on cities of industrial and cultural value. The bombing of Britain was known as ‘The Blitz’, short for the German word ‘Blitzkrieg’, meaning ‘lightning war’.
As the end of the Second World War in Europe signalled an end to the war on Britain’s doorstep, the grim reality was that fighting still continued in the Pacific. British forces, such as the British Pacific Fleet, waged war against Japan until the formal Japanese declaration of surrender was signed on 2 September 1945. V-J Day, or Victory against Japan Day, marks the total end of WW2 and is celebrated in Britain each year on 15 August.
Questions for debate and discussion
- What happened on 8 May 1945?
- What did VE Day signify to people in Britain and around the world?
- Do you think it is important to remember significant days in history? Why?
- How do you think your life would have been different had you been a child living in 1945?
Second World War display cards
Display these timeline cards in your classroom to help pupils understand the chronology of events leading up to VE Day.
KS2 Second World War overview
Stimulate discussion in class with this PowerPoint presentation; containing facts, dates and profiles of significant individuals. Consolidate learning with the accompanying worksheets.
Learning grid for Second World War topic
Use this learning grid to gauge pupils’ understanding of events and key figures associated with the Second World War.
Victory in Europe Day
Introduce VE Day with this presentation, which provides a summary of the events that took place on 8 May 1945 and describes why we commemorate this date each year.
Find more Second World War lesson plans, activities and worksheets at TES Resources.