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News Link • WAR: About that War



In the spring of 1945, Adolf Hitler's Third Reich was on the brink of col-lapse, ground between the Red Army, advancing westward towards Berlin, and the American, British, and Cana-dian armies, under the overall com- mand of General Dwight Eisenhower, moving eastward over the Rhine. Since the D-Day landings in Normandy the previous June, the western Allies had won back France and the Low Coun-tries, and some Wehrmacht comman- ders were already trying to negotiate local surrenders. Other units, though, continued to obey Hitler's orders to fight to the last man. Most systems, including transport, had broken down, and civilians in panic flight from the advancing Russians roamed at large. "Hungry and frightened, lying in grain fields within fifty feet of us, awaiting the appropriate time to jump up with their hands in the air": that's how Captain H. F. McCullough of the 2nd Anti-Tank Regiment of the 2nd Canadian Division described the chaos of the German surrender at the end of the Second World War. In a day and a half, according to Field Marshal Bernard Mont- gomery, 500,000 Germans surrendered to his 21st Army Group in northern Germany. Soon after V-E Day — May 8, 1945 — the British-Canadian catch totalled more than 2-million. Virtually nothing about their treatment survives in the archives in Ottawa or London, but some skimpy evidence from the International Com- mittee of the Red Cross, the armies concerned, and the prisoners themselves indicates that almost all continued in fair health. In any case, most were quickly released and sent home, or else transferred to the French to help in the postwar work of reconstruction. (The French army had itself taken fewer than 300,000 prisoners.)

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