Fascinating Pictures: How Allied Troops Were Welcomed as They Liberated Europe’s Capitals

 
 
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In 1944, the Allies began making significant advances against the Nazi German regime and its Axis supporters in Europe. From the fall of Rome in June 1944 through to the German surrender nearly a year later, they liberated a string of capital cities across Europe.

The response of citizens within these cities varied with their experiences of the war.

Rome

The liberation of Rome emerged from the rogue actions of American General, Mark Clark, who rushed for the Italian capital rather than follow his orders to pursue the retreating Germans. This act of dissent earned him a warm welcome from the Italians, who were saved from the worst horrors of urban warfare by an orderly German withdrawal.

Allied Forces in Rome, June 1944. View of the Vittoria Emmanuel memorial and the Piazza Venezia in Rome.

With their city largely intact, the Romans shut up their shops and flooded the streets to welcome the Americans. They cheered, waved, and threw flowers to the soldiers.

Even the Pope joined in the celebrations. Appearing on his balcony, he praised both sides for saving the city from destruction.

Pope Pius XII addressing the crowd in St Peter’s Square, Rome, from the balcony of St Peter’s Cathedral.
British trucks entering the Piazza del Popolo through the Porta del Popolo (formerly Porta Flaminia) in Rome.
An American truck passing the Porta del Popolo in Rome.

 

Two American soldiers talking to a British soldier beside one of the fountains in St Peter’s Square. In the background is the Cathedral.

 

View of the Vittoria Emmanuel memorial and the Piazza Venezia in Rome, with leave party trucks parked in the foreground. In the background is the Unknown Warrior’s Tomb.

 

Three British soldiers walk across St Peter’s Square after attending a service in the church.

 

June 5, 1944: Allied troops walking up the steps of St Peter’s in Rome.

 

June 5, 1944: Civilians and Allied troops and vehicles outside St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.

 

Entry of Allied Troops Into Rome, June 5, 1944: Allied troops by the Vittoria Emmanuel Memorial.

Paris

The liberation of Paris was a carefully orchestrated affair, designed to bolster the prestige of General de Gaulle’s Free French government.

Free French forces were given the lead in the approach to the city, supported by the Americans rather than the British, with whom the French had an awkward relationship.

An uprising in the city preceded this army’s arrival by several days, but it was the Allied advance that forced the Germans to surrender.

An AFPU photographer kisses a small child before cheering crowds in Paris, August 26, 1944

Arriving in the city, soldiers were greeted with singing, cheering, laughter, and even tears of joy. They were handed bottles of wine, offered the services of brothels, and lifted high on the shoulders of the jubilant crowds.

The U.S. 28th Infantry Division on the Champs Élysées in the “Victory Day” parade on August 29, 1944.

The day after the German surrender, the Free French army held a parade through Paris, watched by large celebrating crowds. Three days later, the Americans got their own parade, once again cheered by the Parisians.

Crowds of French patriots line the Champs Elysees to view Free French tanks and half tracks of General Leclerc’s 2nd Armored Division passes through the Arc du Triomphe, after Paris was liberated on August 26, 1944. Among the crowd can be seen banners in support of Charles de Gaulle.

 

General de Gaulle and his entourage proudly stroll down the Champs Élysées to Notre Dame Cathedral for a Te Deum ceremony following the city’s liberation on August 25, 1944.

 

Parisians line the Champs-Elysees to cheer the massed infantry units of the American army as they march in review towards the Arc de Triomphe, celebrating the liberation of the capital of France from Nazi occupation.

Brussels

Having seen the prestige and presents handed out to the Americans, the British wanted their turn. To get it, they advanced at full speed across Belgium, towards the capital city of Brussels.

The Belgians had been preparing for liberation. People had crafted banners welcoming their liberators while printers secretly produced thousands of Belgian and Allied flags under the noses of the occupying Germans.

British tanks arrive in Brussels on September 4, 1944, ending the German occupation.

While the Germans were still withdrawing from the east of the city, crowds cheered the arriving troops.

Amid the cheering and the waving of flags, soldiers were hugged by locals or taken into the hospitality of their homes, where weary and travel-stained infantrymen experienced the luxury of a proper bath and shave.

Civilians ride on Cromwell tanks as the British enter Brussels, September 4, 1944.

 

The crew of a Cromwell Mk IV tank of 2nd Welsh Guards on the drive into Brussels, September 3, 1944.

 

Scenes of jubilation as British troops liberate Brussels, September 4, 1944. A carrier crewed by Free Belgian troops is welcomed by cheering civilians.

 

Scenes of jubilation as British troops liberate Brussels, September 4, 1944. Civilians ride on a Sexton self-propelled gun.

 

Scenes of jubilation as British troops liberate Brussels, September 4, 1944.

 

Civilians celebrate as British vehicles enter Brussels, September 4, 1944.

 

Scenes of jubilation as British troops liberate Brussels, September 4, 1944. Civilians ride on a Sherman tank.

 

Crossing the Seine and the advance to the Siegfried Line 24 August – December 1944. The inhabitants of Brussels greet British and Belgian troops after the liberation of the city.

Luxembourg

The smallest country to be liberated was Luxembourg. Here, General Patton’s army took the capital without firing a shot, to the relief of its citizens.

The Flag of Luxembourg flying from the Hospital in Wiltz shortly after its liberation by the American 4th Armoured Division, December 25, 1944.

The liberation of the city triggered armed uprisings elsewhere in the country, as Luxembourg’s resistance rose up against the Germans.

Meanwhile, an American officer named Colonel Codman had the strange experience of escorting the nation’s ruler, Prince Felix, back to his capital. The Prince was disappointed to discover that the Germans had not properly looted his palace, leaving behind furniture that he hated but his wife loved.

Prince Felix of Luxembourg and his son Jean, the future Grand Duke, at the liberation of Luxembourg City.Photo: Fotothéik vun der Stad Lëtzebuerg CC BY-SA 3.0

Amsterdam

The capital of the Netherlands didn’t experience the same moment of late war liberation as its neighbors. After the failure of Operation Market Garden, the Germans clung on in the Netherlands until their surrender in May 1945.

Canadian troops played a particularly important part in this campaign, but by the time their work was done, the world was moving on. There would be no great cathartic welcome for them.

The arrival of the British on the Dam, Amsterdam, May 7, 1945. Photo:
IISG CC BY-SA 2.0

When Amsterdammers did celebrate their liberation on the 7th of May, the moment was marred by violence. German marines fired on civilians celebrating in Dam Square. 22 people died.

The arrival of the British on the Dam, Amsterdam, May 7, 1945. Photo: IISG CC BY-SA 2.0

 

The arrival of the British on the Dam, Amsterdam, May 7, 1945. Photo: IISG CC BY-SA 2.0

 

A B17 during the arrival of the British on the Dam, Amsterdam, May 7, 1945

Warsaw

By the time the Polish capital of Warsaw was liberated, its inhabitants had been through too much horror to feel like celebrating.

In August 1944, the Soviet army was advancing on Warsaw. Resistance fighters within the city rose up against the Germans, expecting that they would soon have outside help.

Warsaw Old Town in flames during Warsaw Uprising.

But the Soviet advance stalled short of the city. Rather than helping the rebels, the Soviets refused to even send in supplies. The rebellion was brutally crushed, most of the city was demolished, its citizens killed or deported.

By the time the Soviets arrived in early 1945, the Poles felt weary and betrayed. There would be no warm welcome for their supposed liberators, really conquerors from a different dictatorship.

Captured German Panther tank by resistance fighters from “Zośka” Battalion under the command of Wacław Micuta, August 2, 1944.

 

Home Army soldier armed with Błyskawica submachine gun defending a barricade in Powiśle District of Warsaw during the Uprising, August 1944.

 

Home Army soldiers from Kolegium “A” of Kedyw formation on Stawki Street in the Wola District of Warsaw, September 1944.

 

Home Army soldiers Henryk Ożarek “Henio” (left) holding a Vis pistol and Tadeusz Przybyszewski “Roma” (right) firing a Błyskawica submachine gun, from “Anna” Company of the “Gustaw” Battalion fighting on Kredytowa-Królewska Street, October 3, 1944.

 

One of the German POW’s captured during the fighting at the PAST building located on Zielna Street,  August 20, 1944

 

Resistance fighter armed with a flamethrower, August 22, 1944

 

Resistance fighters from “Chrobry I” Battalion in front of German police station “Nordwache” at the junction of Chłodna and Żelazna Streets, August 3, 1944

 

Soldier from “Pięść” Battalion led by Stanisław Jankowski “Agaton,” pictured on a rooftop of a house near the Evangelic Cemetery in Wola District of Warsaw, August 2, 1944.

 

Soldier from the “Kiliński” Battalion pictured aiming his rifle at the German-occupied PAST building, August 20, 1944.

 

Tadeusz Rajszczak “Maszynka” (left) and two other young soldiers from “Miotła” Battalion, September 2, 1944.

Prague

Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia, remained in German hands until the very last days of the war. Then, in May 1945, the local resistance network triggered an uprising against the Germans. Five days of bitter fighting ensued. While some Germans evacuated, others fought for their lives and territory.

Military equipment on public display during the celebration of 70th Anniversary of liberation of Prague, Czech Republic.Photo: Aktron CC BY 4.0

 

Military equipment on public display during the celebration of 70th Anniversary of liberation of Prague, Czech Republic.Photo: Aktron CC BY 4.0

By the time the Russians reached the city, the Germans had largely been driven out thanks to the successful uprising.

There was no sense of betrayal as in Warsaw, and because the Russians didn’t need to fight much, they didn’t bring destruction with them. They were greeted by welcoming crowds, who cheered and waved as Marshal Konev drove into the city.

Prague liberated by Red Army in may 1945 – Marshall Konev. Photo: Karel Hájek CC BY-SA 3.0

Berlin

For some German citizens, the arrival of the Allies meant liberation from a brutal regime. But for many more, it represented conquest by foreign powers. Worse still for the citizens of Berlin, that conquest was by the Soviets, renowned for their brutality and their dreaded Communist regime.

Read another story from us: Operation Bagration – The Soviet Liberation of Belarus 

Some Berliners fought tooth and nail to stop the Soviet capture of their city. Many more simply struggled to survive as their city was devastated by fierce fighting.

For some cities, the war ended with wine and flowers. For others, it was bullets and bombs.