SHAEF HQ, Reims, France · March 28, 1945

On this date in 1945 Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower tele­grammed Soviet leader Joseph Stalin that he pro­posed, after en­circling the Ger­many’s Ruhr dis­trict, to advance on an west-east axis through the cen­ter of Ger­many to the Upper Elbe River, 50 miles from Ber­lin, there to await the arrival of the Red Army. Eisen­hower’s strategy was to cut Ger­many in half, sep­a­rate the north­ern defenders from the south­ern, then focus his main forces on the sup­posed “National Re­doubt” in the Alps, the rumored hold­out for Adolf Hitler and his Nazi fana­tics until new Ger­man secret wea­pons or a split in the Allied coali­tion came to their res­cue. British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of nearly a third of the Allied army, believed Eisen­hower was making a mis­take. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was up­set that Eisen­hower was pre­pared to leave the capi­tal and epi­center of the Third Reich to the Soviets, and urged him to “shake hands” with the Soviets as far east as pos­sible. This fate­ful deci­sion was one of Eisen­hower’s most con­tro­ver­sial but it was in keeping with high-level agree­ments made months before. As early as January 1944, the Euro­pean Advi­sory Commis­sion (EAC), which was charged with allo­cating zones of occupa­tion to the three victo­ri­ous powers (U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union), en­dorsed a plan along lines sug­gested by the British: Berlin would fall within the Soviet occu­pa­tion zone. In Septem­ber 1944, at the Second Que­bec (Canada) Con­ference, the heads of the two West­ern powers, Presi­dent Franklin D. Roosevelt and Chur­chill, dis­cussed the plan. By the time FDR and Chur­chill were en route to the Big Three con­fer­ence at the Cri­mean resort of Yalta in the Soviet Union (Febru­ary 4–11, 1945), most of the details had been nailed down, including joint occupation of Berlin. Stalin accepted the EAC recommendations at Yalta, and the crea­tion of mili­tary zones of occu­pa­tion was an­nounced at the close of the con­fer­ence. Eisen­hower, schooled in a tradi­tion that mili­tary com­manders should leave poli­tics to civil autho­rities, was not dis­tracted by the criti­cism of his stop order, and made for the Elbe River, meeting ele­ments of the Red Army at Torgau on April 25, 1945.

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Famous “Handshake of Torgau” on the Elbe River, April 25–26, 1945, Symbolized Defeat of Nazi Germany

GIs link up with Soviets at Torgau, GermanyTwo U.S., two Soviet officers at Torgau

Left: This photo of GIs meeting Soviet soldiers on the Elbe is one of the two most famous photo­graphs of World War II; the other was the flag-raising on Iwo Jima in the Pacific. On April 26, 1945, after photo­graphing U.S. and Soviet generals and VIPs at the scene of the Torgau, Ger­many, his­toric link­up the day before, Inter­na­tional News war corres­pondent Allan Jack­son decided to take a picture of soldiers from the two sides shaking hands. He quickly gathered sight­seeing American and Soviet soldiers and posed them, taking several pic­tures that became well known and symbolic of the two great powers meeting at the Elbe River.

Right: Two U.S. officers from Gen. Courtney Hodges’ First U.S. Army and two Soviet officers from Maj. Gen. Vladimir Rusakov’s 58th Guards Rifle Division survey the scene at Torgau. The town on the east bank of the Elbe River lay 33 miles north­east of Leipzig.

U.S. 69th Division soldiers Robertson and Huff cross Torgau bridgeRobertson and Silvashko pose for camera, Torgau, Germany

Left: Second Lt. William Robertson and Pfc. Frank Huff of the 69th Infantry Division crawl across the skeleton of the blasted bridge over the Elbe River (the two seen here in the “V” of the bridge) to Torgau on the east bank to meet Soviets Lt. Alex­ander Silvashko and Sgt. Nikolai Andrejew, 58th Guards Rifle Division, on April 25, 1945.

Right: Robertson and Silvashko pose on April 26, 1945, in front of a sign that reads East Meets West, sym­bol­izing the his­toric link­up of Soviet and Amer­i­can armies near Torgau.

69th Infantry Division patrol meets Soviet cavalrymen near Torgau, GermanySoviet soldier with machine gun/GIs in jeep

Left: Maj. Fred Craig’s patrol, one of three patrols of the 69th Infantry Division, meets a Soviet cavalry unit south of Torgau on April 25, 1945.

Right: A Soviet soldier holding a machine gun converses with GIs milling around a jeep in Torgau.

Silent Film Showing Historic Linkup of Soviet and American Troops at Torgau, April 25–26, 1945