Soviet soldiers escort two prisoners on the day of their liberation from Auschwitz
On the Eastern front, the Soviets have amassed more than 2.5 million troops along a line thinly defended by Germans, who are more attentive to the Western front. Churchill prevails on Stalin to attack in the east, in part to draw Germans away from the west and relieve some pressure there. The Soviets attack on several fronts, pushing German troops back. They fight through Poland, liberating Warsaw on January 17, and by the end of January, they are within 50 miles of Berlin.
At the Chelmno camp, the SS begins killing the group of Jewish prisoners they had forced to help dismantle the camp.
January 18: The Nazis begin removing prisoners from Auschwitz. As Allied troops approach, tens of thousands of prisoners from several concentration camps are forced to march on foot to other camps in Germany. Thousands who are too weak to march or who commit any infraction during the march are shot.
January 27: Soviet troops liberate Auschwitz. Only a few thousand prisoners remain.
January - August: In the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur directs an invasion to liberate the Philippines. The battle to take Manila is fierce: the Japanese burn parts of the city and massacre many citizens. The fierce Japanese resistance draws in American artillery, which further destroys the city and kills more civilians. In early March the Americans finally control the city, after more than 100,000 Filipinos have been killed. In the countryside, the Japanese commander fights a bitter drawn-out battle in the mountains. In fact, these battles do not cease until after the war ends, when the emperor orders the Japanese forces in the Philippines to surrender.
February 1: The U.S. State Department announces that perpetrators of crimes against Jews will be punished.
February 7-11: Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin meet at Yalta in the Crimea to discuss plans for postwar Germany, the entry of the Soviets in the war against Japan, and the formation of the United Nations.
February-March: British, Canadian, and U.S. troops launch a multipronged attack to reach the Rhine River, from which they would begin a final campaign. The Allies encounter moderate resistance as German troops largely retreat. By the end of March, the Allied troops reach the Rhine.
March-April: Allied troops launch an intense effort to cross the Rhine, led by British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Within a week, Montgomery has moved thousands of troops and tanks across the river. Rather than allowing Montgomery to move toward Berlin, however, U.S. General Dwight David Eisenhower orders him to northern Germany. Agreements made by political leaders at Yalta had given the Soviets the right to capture Berlin.
During their advance into Germany, Allied troops liberate Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, and other concentration camps.
March-August: The effectiveness of U.S. bombing of Japan improves over the course of the war as the Americans are able to establish airbases closer to the country. In early 1945 they begin to use napalm, and on March 9-10 U.S. bombers cause a firestorm in Tokyo that kills 84,000 people. U.S. bombing continues to destroy major cities, killing more than 100,000 additional civilians, but Japan does not surrender.
A soldier raising the Russian flag on the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany, April 30, 1945
The final Soviet offensive on Berlin begins on April 16. The Germans reinforce the Berlin area, and although outnumbered by Soviet troops, many Germans fight fanatically—many in fear of the Nazis among them or of the Soviet soldiers—and slow the Soviet advance. Within two weeks, however, the Soviets reach the city and take the Reichstag on April 30. The Soviets lose 100,000 men in the battle. The Germans lose thousands also, including Adolf Hitler, who commits suicide on April 30.
April-May: Allied troops move into both northern and southern Germany. By the end of April, U.S. troops have pushed far enough across Germany that they make contact with Soviet troops southwest of Berlin.
April 12: U.S. President Roosevelt dies. Vice President Harry Truman becomes president.
April 25: The United Nations meets in San Francisco.
April 27: Former Italian dictator Mussolini and his wife are captured by Italian opponents, who execute them and hang their bodies by their heels from lampposts in Milan. Later, the bodies are cut down and mutilated.
In early May Rudolf Höss meets with Heinrich Himmler, who tells Höss to flee capture by disappearing into the army.
May 2: German forces in Berlin and Italy surrender, followed soon after by Germans in Denmark, Holland, and northern Germany.
May 7: Germany surrenders unconditionally.
May 9: U.S. troops capture Hermann Göring.
May 23: Heinrich Himmler commits suicide.
June 26: Fifty nations sign the United Nations Charter.
July 17-August 2: Truman, Churchill, and Stalin meet at Potsdam, Germany, to discuss how postwar Germany will be governed. During the meeting, British elections remove Prime Minister Churchill from office and Clement Attlee is voted in as the new prime minister.
August 6: The United States drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing more than 80,000 people.
August 8: The Soviet Union declares war on Japan.
August 9: The United States drops an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing about 35,000 people.
September 2: Japan surrenders unconditionally.
September 20: The Jewish Agency for Palestine makes its first formal claim for reparations to Jewish victims of the Nazis.
November 20: The Nuremberg International Military Tribunal opens to conduct trials of Nazi war criminals.
December 20: The military governors of the four occupation zones of Germany agree that individual zones can establish courts to try Nazi war criminals.