When and How Did World War II End?

Learn why World War II ended three times

The Second World War in Europe ended with the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945, but both May 8 and May 9 are celebrated as V-E (Victory in Europe) Day. This double celebration occurs because the Germans surrendered to the Western Allies (including Britain and the U.S.) on May 8th, but a separate surrender took place on May 9 in Russia.

In the East, the war ended when Japan surrendered unconditionally on August 14th, signing their surrender on September 2nd.

The Japanese surrender occurred after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 6th and 9th of August. The date of the Japanese surrender is known as Victory Over Japan Day or V-J Day.

World War II in Europe

There are several possible dates for the start of World War Two in the Pacific, but in Europe, the war is almost universally agreed to have begun with the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. Within two years Hitler had subjugated much of the continent, including a lightning conquest of France. He then,  however, sealed his fate with a poorly thought out invasion of the Soviet Union.

Stalin and the Soviet people did not concede, although they did have to overcome initial defeats. Soon, however, the overstretched Nazi forces were defeated at Stalingrad and the Soviets began to force them slowly back across Europe. It took a long time and millions of deaths, but the Soviets could outproduce the Germans and they pushed all the way back to Germany.

In 1944 a new front was reopened in the West, when Britain, France, the US, Canada, and allies landed in Normandy and began the process of grinding to Germany themselves. There were thus two titanic military forces approaching the Nazi base from east and west.

The western powers took a military rather than a political decision to allow the Soviets to damage themselves conquering Berlin.Soon Soviet forces were fighting and raping their way through the German capital, and Hitler, once charismatic ruler of an empire, was reduced to hiding in a bunker ordering around forces that only existed in his head.

Soon the Soviets were near the bunker, and on April 30th, 1945 Hitler killed himself.

Celebrating Victory in Europe: V-E Day

Command of the German forces now passed to Admiral Donitz, and he sent out peace feelers. He soon realized an unconditional surrender would be required, and he was ready to sign. But the Soviets and the Western allies did not see eye to eye, a fault line which would soon turn into the Cold War. While the Western Allies were able to agree to the surrender on May 8th, the Soviets insisted on their own surrender ceremony and process, which took place on May 9th. There thus appeared two end dates for the war, depending on whether you mean the Second World War in the West, or the Great Patriotic War in the East.

Commemorating Victory in Japan: V-J Day

The war in the Pacific started with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. After a series of battles and attempts at negotiating a treaty, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japanese cities. The Japanese surrendered on August 14th (V-J Day) and signed a surrender two weeks later, but there is great controversy about what caused this surrender: atomic bombs, or the entry of the Soviets into the conflict.


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Wilde, Robert. "When and How Did World War II End?" ThoughtCo, Jun. 21, 2017, thoughtco.com/when-did-world-war-2-end-3878473. Wilde, Robert. (2017, June 21). When and How Did World War II End? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/when-did-world-war-2-end-3878473 Wilde, Robert. "When and How Did World War II End?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/when-did-world-war-2-end-3878473 (accessed March 22, 2018).