April 25th in German History: Elbe Day, American and Soviet Forces meet

An arranged photo of an American and a Russian solider to commemorate the meeting of the two nations on April 25th. Image Credit: Wikipedia.

The Second World War was the single deadliest conflict in human history. Germany, or at least its leader, began the war believing that it could carve out a new Empire in Europe and secure Germany’s position as the greatest nation on the planet. That belief was kept alive even as German armies stalled in Russia and Africa and then began to suffer defeat after defeat. By the time the war entered its fourth year, the German people and much of the military leadership began to loose faith in victory, not least because German cities were reduced to rubble by Allied bombers. In this crisis of morale, the German leadership attempted to convince the people that they would win in the end. One of the ways they did this was by proposing the idea that the Eastern and Western Allies would turn on each other. Because the two halves of the Alliance were so ideologically opposed, their alliance would surely breakdown once they neared victory and that Germany could play the two sides off of each other. This theory was peddled more and more as the Soviet Union advanced from the East and the British and Americans from the West, the two sides coming closer and closer into contact with each other. However, attempts by conspirators to negotiate a separate peace with the West were rebuffed, and all of the Allied Powers remained committed to forcing Germany into an unconditional surrender. Nevertheless, as Germany collapsed some in the leadership still believed that the Alliance would break down. This fever dream was finally dispelled when on April 25th, 1945 the Soviet Union encircled Berlin and Soviet forces came into contact with American troops on the Western bank of the Elbe River and in Torgau. This bisection of Germany was not only another nail in the coffin for the Third Reich, but was a culmination of Allied diplomacy and cooperation far greater and far more effective than any cooperation between the Axis Powers. Celebrations were held in both New York and Moscow once news of the meeting was spread. In Moscow, 324 guns were fired in salute and in New York crowds celebrated in Times Square. The Battle of Berlin would still carry on for another week, but the remaining military actions would be essentially mop up operations against Hitler’s shattered armies.

While the cutting in half of Germany was certainly a strategically important accomplishment, that is not its main significance. At that point there was nothing the Germans could have done to win the war. German formations were almost entirely depleted, the German people were exhausted, and German industry was in either Allied hands, in ruins, or both. The meeting between Soviet and American forces is important because it showed once and for all the unity of the Allied Powers. This was in contrast to the competition between Axis Powers and also within Germany itself. While the Western Allies would very soon find themselves at odds with the Soviet Union, that was yet to come. The victory that resulted from their cooperation shows what nations can do when working together. Common goals can overcome even the most stark ideological differences and allow disparate nations to do great things.

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