After German troops invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, one of their top cities to take control of was Leningrad (former St. Petersburg, then Petrograd). As the second largest city in the Soviet Union (and its capital under the Tsar’s), it held significant importance. In August 1941, German troops surrounded the city so nothing could get in or out. This also cut off the Leningrad-Moscow railway. The residents built anti-tank fortifications and defended the city with the resources they had. Hitler decided to wait them out in a siege hoping to break down the will of the residents. Some limited supplies were able to get in but not enough for all its residents. Starvation, disease, and injuries mounted up. They did manage to evacuate about a million elderly and young people out of the city but that left 2 million to deal with the dire situation.
Food was rationed and any open space was used to plant food. On 12 January 1943, Soviet troops punched a hole rupturing the German siege allowing supplies to come in one Lake Ledoga. A Soviet counteroffensive on 27 Jan 1944 brought the siege to a complete end after 872 days. The Russian army lost, captured or missing 1,017,881 and 2,418,185 wounded or sick. 642,000 civilians died during the siege and, 400,000 during evacuations.
By the winter of 1776, things looked bleak for the patriots fighting the British. They had suffered a string of defeats (New York and other places) that sapped the morale of many patriots. General George Washington’s leadership was being questioned by some leaders, and there was a general feeling that British were going to win unless things changed. The British by this time were of the opinion they were succeeding, though they found the Americans could put up a good fight. With winter upon them, the war paused as normally European armies did not fight during this time. Hessian troops, paid mercenaries hired by the British, were skilled professional soldiers raised nearly from birth to fight. A Hessian force was quartering in Trenton, New Jersey for the winter. General Washington decided to go on the offensive to win a battle and raise the morale of the troops who were suffering through the cold winter.
On the night of December 25, 1776, his army began moving across the Delaware River. The group led by Washington, 2,400 strong, made it to the other side but the other two divisions that made of 3,000 men did not get across at the right time. The Hessians had spent Christmas Day relaxing, eating, and drinking and did not believe the Americans were a threat. They had in fact dismissed warnings the Americans might attack. So, they were unprepared for what happened on December 26. At 8 am, Washington attacked with two columns. By 9:30 am, the German defenses had crumbled, and the town was surrounded. While many Hessians did escape, they did capture several hundred and only lost four lives in the process. Unfortunately, since most of his troops had failed to cross, Washington was without any additional men or artillery to hold Trenton. He was forced to withdraw.
It was a minor battle that had no real strategic impact. The news of the successful attack though raised American colonialists’ spirits. The initiative shown by Washington showed the Continental Army was capable of victory.
It was a day long anticipated for both Great Britain and the United States. After years of hard fighting on both land and sea, the war against Germany was at an end. 8 May 1945 all German troops in Europe laid down their arms and surrendered. In formerly occupied cities and throughout Britain and the United States, celebrations broke out. Flags and banners were hung, people gathered in the streets, many went to church to give thanks to God for this wonderful day to finally arrive. Nazi flags, banners, and reminders of their former occupiers were quickly taken down and destroyed. The hard work of rebuilding would begin soon and for many countries that had suffered under Nazi occupation, it would take time. Germany in many areas would have to be rebuilt from the bombardment that had destroyed many cities. American and German prisoners of war were released and sent back home.
German troops tried, if possible, to surrender to British or American forces. They believed they would be better treated and a better chance of living. The Soviets had a reputation for being particularly nasty to captured German officers and soldiers. In Salzburg, Austria the two oldest sons of Captain Georg von Trapp, later to be immortalized in The Sound of Music, found their home they left behind when the family fled Austria to Italy (their tale, to be recounted later, is a fascinating one). They learned their home had been occupied by none other than Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the hated SS and under whose leadership the Final Solution had been carried out. The Trapp family would later give their home to a religious order that lives there to this day.
The war would linger a day longer in the East. The Soviets continued to battle small pockets of resistance in Silesia until they surrendered. This marked the end of hostilities in Europe for the Russians, who consider 9 May 1945 their day to celebrate the defeat of Germany. Stalin announced the end on a radio broadcast: “Your courage has defeated the Nazis. The war is over.”