The Death Knell of the Third Reich and Dawn of the Cold War

On this day in 1945, Soviet and American troops meet at the Elbe River, near Torgau in Germany, marking the truest death knell of the Third Reich and presaging the Cold War to come. With this rendezvous, Germany became, for all intents and purposes, Allied territory.

The first contact between American and Soviet patrols occurred near Strehla, after 1st Lt. Albert Kotzebue, an American soldier, crossed the River Elbe in a boat with three men of an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon. On the east bank they met forward elements of a Soviet Guards rifle regiment of the First Ukrainian Front, under the command of Lt. Col. Alexander Gardiev.

The same day, another patrol under 2nd Lt. William Robertson with Frank Huff, James McDonnell and Paul Staub met a Soviet patrol commanded by Lt. Alexander Silvashko on the destroyed Elbe bridge of Torgau. Much celebrating, posing and PR ensued; in Moscow, news of the link-up between the two armies resulted in a 324-gun salute, while in New York, crowds burst into song and dance in the middle of Times Square.

The vast majority of the world’s countries, including all of the great powers, had been drawn into the WW2 crucible. As the most global war in history, it directly involved greater than 100 million people from over 30 countries, casting a political, economic and societal shadow that extends to this day.

In a state of total war, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the carnage, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War 2 was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It featured epic inhumanity, including massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease and the only use of nuclear weapons against people.

Ironically, as the purpose for the marriage of convenience between Uncle Sam and “Uncle Joe” Stalin faded away, so did the bonds of affection. Notwithstanding, due to vigilant and careful post-war architectures constructed by the victors, supported by the vanquished, and nurtured and understood by the thoughtful in and out of governments, a comparative state of peace prevailed between the Soviet-bloc and “free” nations, spanning nearly four generations of a Cold War punctuated by limited hot proxies as deadly as any combat from WW2.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

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