Leading to the end
From the Battle of the Bulge to the surrender in Berlin, Stars and Stripes explores the events that led to the fall of the Third Reich in this interactive timeline.
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By the end of 1944, the tide of World War II was turning. In late October, U.S. forces captured Aachen, becoming the first German city to fall as Western and Soviet armies squeeze the Germans from both sides.
On Dec. 16, Hitler’s army launches a major offensive in the west to try to turn the tide. But U.S. forces held off or delayed the Germans at places like Bastogne, the Elsenborn Ridge and St. Vith.
By January, Hitler’s troops are again in full retreat. Germany would never launch another offensive so large.
The Soviets launch a new offensive, marching into Germany’s East Prussia, liberating Warsaw and Krakow in Poland, and capturing Budapest, Hungary, after a two-month siege.
In the following weeks and months, the Soviets would overtake the Germans in Slovakia, Bratislava and Vienna.
Soviet troops discover the concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland, 11 days after it was abandoned by the Germans.
Over the next few months, Russian and Allied troops would liberate more than 20 camps throughout Europe.
Tens of thousands of prisoners were freed, including more than 20,000 at the Buchenwald camp, liberated by U.S. forces on April 11, 1945.
Breaking through the German Siegfried line, U.S. troops push east toward the Rhine River.
Arriving in Remagen, troops discover the Ludendorff Bridge still intact.
For the next 10 days – despite repeated attempts by the Germans to destroy the bridge – thousands of troops from the 9th, 78th and 99th Infantry Divisions cross the Rhine.
With a barrage of artillery and air attacks, the Soviets break through the German defenses of Berlin at the Seelow Heights, opening the road to Hitler’s capital. Remnants of Germany’s once powerful army fall back to fight in the streets of Berlin.
After spending nearly three months in his underground bunker as his German forces take heavy losses throughout the Continent, German dictator Adolf Hitler commits suicide.
Three days later, Soviet troops raise their flag on the Reichstag.
Days after German forces surrender in Italy, Holland and Denmark, new German leader Adm. Karl Doenitz sends two representatives to Reims, France, to negotiate a surrender with the Allies, led by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. U.S. Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith signed the document for the Allies.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin insists that the Germans surrender in their capital, which his forces occupy. The Western Allies agree and a second signing ceremony takes place in Berlin.
German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signs the surrender terms for the German army at Russian headquarters in Berlin.