Victory and Beyond

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Battle of the Bulge

During the autumn of 1944 the Allies had penetrated Germany, but found that the enemy had one last surprise. In December the Germans attacked through the Ardennes Forest in Belgium against thinly held American lines. The so-called 'Battle of the Bulge', which followed, caused heavy losses (including another SS massacre at Malmedy), but the German forces were contained and pushed back before year's end. It was Hitler's last major effort as the vast armies of the Soviet Union were now deep into Germany, comparatively near Berlin. However, the Allies still had much fierce fighting ahead of them in Europe, including crossing the Rhine.

spacer By the early months of 1945, the lack of front line reinforcements was a severe problem. It was bad enough for British units, with few fresh young troops available through conscription or released from other theatres. For the Canadians it was even worse: they had no conscription for overseas service; they relied on volunteers for replenishment. Without enough reinforcements, their wounded men had to be repeatedly returned from hospital to active service.


Road to Victory

The Soviets were fighting in the streets of Berlin in April (where resistance was so fierce that there were over 400,000 casualties) and on the 30th of that month Adolph Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker. The advance into Germany was marked by the liberation of numerous concentration camps--Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz and a score of other infamous places. In these the Nazis had killed over six million people, particularly Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and political prisoners, in a programme of deliberate human extermination probably unequalled in history.

On 7th May 1945 Germany's surrender of all armed forces was signed. The German war was over, but it did leave the armies of the Soviet Union in possession of the capitals of middle Europe. Next day the free world celebrated 'VE Day'. For all that, there was still the war with Japan to be finished, though most of its conquered territory had been freed by then. In Burma, Mandalay and Rangoon were retaken by the British Fourteenth Army, led by General Sir William Slim. Soon after, the Australians landed in Borneo and cleared Papua New Guinea; US General Douglas MacArthur led the Americans to liberate the Philippines. Once Okinawa was taken, Tokyo was within easy striking distance and aerial bombardment of the Japanese home islands by American bombers caused widespread destruction.


Atomic Conquest

The Allies were well aware of the high cost in military and civilian casualties that would certainly be the result of an invasion of Japan. In July the Potsdam Declaration by the USA, Britain and China warned Japan of her 'utter destruction' should she refuse to surrender unconditionally. But Japan refused and warned darkly of the probable fate of the many thousands of Allied prisoners-of-war in captivity there should the land of Nippon be invaded.

On 6th August 1945 the first atom bomb to be used in 'anger' was dropped on Hiroshima from an American Superfortress. The mushroom cloud that arose that morning was the dreadful outcome of the conflict unleashed by Hitler six years before; mankind would ever after live in fear of nuclear war. This most destructive of all weapons had more explosive power than 20,000 tons of TNT and was over 2,000 times more powerful than the largest bomb so far used. It caused very heavy casualties yet Japan still made no move to surrender, even fighting a strong naval engagement. So a second atomic bomb was dropped at Nagasaki on 9th August, with even more dreadful effect. It forced the Japanese to discuss capitulation and a delegation met MacArthur on the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Japan signed the surrender documents, formally ending the 1939-1945 War on 2nd September 1945--six years and a day after it began.

spacer After the joyous celebrations of 'VJ Day' were over, the world applied itself to the grim task of clearing up and taking stock. The cost of the Second World War of the twentieth century was appalling in human terms: at least 15 million military deaths worldwide, plus double that in civilian fatalities. Over seven million Russian soldiers died; over three million German; over two million Chinese; and two million Japanese. The United States lost nearly 300,000 servicemen. And this time the British Commonwealth had sacrificed over 600,000 lives to freedom's cause. As before, they would be duly honoured in death and the unique organization founded by Sir Fabian Ware once more took up the task of keeping faith with the Commonwealth's war dead.

spacer The text on this page has been taken from Courage Remembered, by Kingsley Ward and Major Edwin Gibson.

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