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15 October 2014
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Early signs of VE Day

by thelilypotter

Contributed by 
thelilypotter
Location of story: 
Cardington, Bedford
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A2899920
Contributed on: 
07 August 2004

It was towards the end of April 1945. For many months I had been instructing radar mechanics in the servicing, repair and upkeep of the Oboe guidance system for bombers. Obviously the war in Europe was coming towards its close, but there still remained the problem of the Japanese war. The numbers of trainees had dwindled. It was at this point that I was sent on a toughening up course to Cardington in Bedfordshire, which had in the 1930s been the home of the R100 and R101 airships along with their great hangers.

It was May 6th, and in the early afternoon we were on the hand grenade throwing range, which was away from the camp. I have never been a great thrower, but I had managed to lob one over the edge of our dugout, and get down before it exploded, but wasn’t exactly looking forward to having to repeat the operation.

At that point an airman came dashing up to inform the N.C.O. in charge of our group that he had to abandon the exercise, and take us all at the double back to the camp and there go into one of the hangers, which had become a garrison theatre cum church cum any other use for a large gathering. All we knew was that something of great importance was happening, and we were required there immediately.

As soon as we were in place, along with as many other airmen as could be gathered together at very short notice, we were informed that Winston Churchill was ready to speak to the nation on radio at 2 p.m. to announce the end of the war in Europe. As soon as he was finished, it was the intention of the B.B.C. (who had, I believe, some of its operations in Bedford) to broadcast a short service of thanksgiving, and we were to provide it. There was no time for rehearsal - one of the great organists of the time was seated at the organ, and everything was ready with only minutes to spare before the great broadcast came. With only a minute to go, there was great apprehension, the red light would indicate that the broadcast was ready whether we were or not. The seconds ticked by, and then, at 2 o’clock, nothing!

Perhaps the BBC engineers were the most worried. Had something gone wrong with the links between us and the transmitter? We had to wait until further information was received to find out what had happened. Eventually a message was received. We were a day too early! Rumour had it that Stalin wouldn’t agree to May 6th to cease hostilities with Germany, as a further day would bring more Russian troops into Berlin.

No more work was done that day, nor on the morning of May 7th,, but once again we were ready in our places, along with Army units, and this time Winston Churchill did broadcast to the nation, and as soon as he had finished, the service of thanksgiving was broadcast.

I’m afraid the rest of the course became a non-event from then until we returned to our own units.

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Message 1 - Re: Early sigs of VE Day

Posted on: 07 August 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

I very much enjoyed reading your account of VE Day. However, you say that "We were a day too early! Rumour had it that Stalin wouldn’t agree to May 6th to cease hostilities with Germany, as a further day would bring more Russian troops into Berlin." That is, I'm afraid, only a rumour without foundation. Stalin was quite free to bring as many troops as he wished into the Russian sector of Berlin, and the end of the war in Europe was not delayed on that account.

The sequel of events of those last dramatic days was as follows:

On 29 April 1945, Colonel Schweinitz and his adjutant, Wentur, representing General Vietinghoff, Commander of Army Group 'C' in Italy, signed the document, in Caserta, of unconditional surrender of all German troops in Italy with effect from 1.00 PM GMT (2.00 PM Italian time) on Wednesday 2 May. Besides Allied representatives, General Kislenko of the Red Army was also present at the signing. In Berlin the battle was still raging with the Red Army, and the Allies were still fighting in Germany.

On 1 May German radio announced the death of Hitler, fallen heroically fighting in Berlin at the head of his troops (in fact he had committed suicide in the Reich Chancellery bunker at 3.30 PM local time on 30 April). On 1 May in Berlin General Krebs was sent by Göbbels and received by General Zhukov and asked for a truce. This was refused, the Russians demanding unconditional surrender. General Weidling, the German commander, having returned to the bunker, decided on surrender and Göbbels committed suicide - but there were still a number of fanatical groups fighting within the city.

On Thursday 3 May, just outside the village of Wendisch Even, the Germans, represented by Grand Admiral Hans Georg von Frieberg, Chief of the Naval Staff, and General Hans Kinzel, Chief of Staff to the German North West Army, arrived from Flensburg made tentative approaches to the Allies, but Field Marshal Montgomery refused to accept the surrender of the German forces in the north, including those on the Eastern front fighting the Russians. Montgomery rejected their offer on the spot, informing them that surrender of troops facing or fighting the Russians must be made to the Russians. If they did not agree, Montgomery told them, "I shall go on with the war, and will be delighted to do so, and am ready".

On 4 May at at 5.30 PM German representatives returned to Montgomery's HQ and at 6.30 PM signed the document of unconditional surrender of the armed forces of the Reich in Holland, north-west Germany, and Denmark. However, on 5 and 6 May fighting on the Eastern Front continued in Czechoslovakia, near Olmütz, in East Prussia, on the Frische Nehrung, and in Croatia against Tito's troops. On 5 may there was an uprising in Prague. Fighting also continued around and in Trieste, Abbazia, and Fiume.

On 5 May several more German surrenders were signed, the one at Wageningen in the Netherlands led to the surrender of all German forces in Holland. At 2.30 PM, at Baldham in southern Germany, the surrender was signed of all German forces between the Bohemian mountains and the Upper Inn River.

On 6 May at 6.00 PM, the commander of all German forces beseiged in Breslau, General Nickhoff, accepted the terms of the Russians and unconditionally surrendered. At 6.30 PM General Jodl flew from Flensburg to Rheims, and after some procrastination, at 1.41 AM on 7 May signed the capitulation of all German forces on all fronts, witnessed by the Western Allies and Russian representatives, the surrender to be effective from fifty-nine minutes to midnight on 8 May 1945 on all fronts, but on the Western Front to stop immediately. Throughout 7 May fighting continued unabated in Prague, then at four minutes past five on the morning of 8 May, the German forces in the city surrendered unconditionally.

On 8 May at Karlshorst, near Berlin, the Germans signed their unconditional surrender to the Russians. President Truman and Churchill declared 8 May to be 'VE Day', the day of victory in Europe. In Berlin half an hour before midnight, a further signing took place of the Rheims surrender. The signatories for the German High Command were Grand Admiral von Freiburg (signing his 3rd instrument of surrender in four days); General Hans-Jurgen Strümpf, Head of the German Airforce, and Field marshal Keital. It was finally over.

Kindest regards,

Peter

Message 1 - Early Sigs of V.E.Day

Posted on: 08 August 2004 by Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper

Dear 'thelillypotter',
Thank you for your story. I enjoyed reading it. Sorry you had to wait another day for that special celebration.
Regards,
Audrey Lewis

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