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WW2 Liberation Countries: Where are forces commemorated?

Our guide to WW2 liberation countries explores the history of the war’s end and the places of commemoration tied to the liberation of Europe. 

How many countries were involved in World War Two?

Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin at the Yalta Conference.

Image: Britain's Winston Churchill, US' Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Soviet Union's Josef Stalin: leaders of the main powers of the Allied war effort (IWM (TR 2828))

As we mark the 80th anniversary of World War Two, it’s worth remembering this was a truly global war.

Almost every nation on earth was involved in some capacity during the Second World War. Only a handful of countries remained fully neutral until the war’s end.

The Second World War saw conflict and campaigning in Europe, Africa, Asia and across the world’s oceans.

The main Allied powers of World War Two were the British Empire, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China.

Opposing them were the Axis powers of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Fascist Italy.

In some ways, the Second World War was the world’s last clash of empires, so the countries under different Empires would have been obliged to fight.

For instance, the British Empire called upon forces from the United Kingdom, but people from the dominions of Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa were obliged to serve.

Those nations occupied by Axis powers often had to supply men to fight, resulting in thousands of young men being press-ganged into service, although many volunteered willingly.

The liberation of Europe from Fascist occupation was one of the toughest tests for the Western Allies. With the continent in the grasp of fascism, an enormous military force was put together to liberate the continent.

The Liberation of Europe in WW2

French WW2 Liberation

How was France liberated in WW2?

Crowds of French Civilians line the streets as armoured vehicles parade victoriously up from the Arc de Triomphe.

Image: The French 2nd Armoured Division enters Paris following the city's liberation in August 1944 (Public Domain)

The Fall of France in May 1940 was one of the Second World War’s devastating early events.

One of the world’s largest armies had been decisively defeated in little over six weeks following the German blitzkrieg assault.

For British and Commonwealth forces in France, the early period culminated in the retreat at Dunkirk. 

Although smaller forces were sent back to France in the weeks and months after Dunkirk, it would be four long years until the Allies returned.

And return they did. On June 6 1944, the Allies stormed onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, one of the pivotal events in the liberation of Europe. 

When was France Liberated in WW2?

D-Day was launched on June 6, 1944, but France would not be considered liberated until the end of the Normandy Campaign in August.

Paris was captured by the Allies on August 25, 1944, after two German armies had been encircled and decisively defeated in the closing of the Falaise Gap.

Other operations were launched in the south of France, such as the US-led Operation Dragoon which freed the region from Vichy and Axis influence. 

However, some small pockets of German resistance, mainly around ports, remained until the Axis surrender of May 1945.

Who liberated France in WW2?

A multinational force was assembled to liberate France during Operation Overlord.

12 countries were present on the D-Day landing, including personnel from Free France, Poland, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Greece, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, and Denmark.

However, the bulk of the liberation of France was undertaken by British, Canadian, and American troops under the command of Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery and Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Commemorating French casualties of World War II

A view of rows of headstones at Bayeux War Cemetery framed by the leaves of two trees.

Image: Bayeux War Cemetery, one of the key locations for the commemoration of WW2 liberation casualties

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission does include some French casualties in our care, but it is not our main remit.

French war graves are cared for by Le Ministère des Pensions, which also maintains France’s own military cemeteries and war memorials.

CWGC maintains war graves and commemorations at over 1,500 locations across France. 

These range from purpose-built war cemeteries and D-Day memorials to individual WW2 war graves kept in scattered churchyards and locations around France.

CWGC’s sites in Normandy are most closely related to the liberation of France. 

Of these, Bayeux War Cemetery is the largest. In fact, Bayeux War Cemetery is the largest CWGC WW2 cemetery in France.

Over 4,500 war graves can be found in Bayeux War Cemetery. D-Day war graves total around 500 of the Commonwealth burials here. 

Within Bayeux War Cemetery stands the Bayeux Memorial, commemorating fallen officers and enlisted men with no known war grave. 1,800 servicemen are commemorated by name on the memorial.

Canada's D-Day casualties are commemorated at Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery. 

The Liberation of Italy WW2

When was Italy liberated?

British soldier holding a machine gun wades ashore on Sicily

Image: British soldiers leave their landing craft as the invasion of Sicily begins (© IWM)

The Liberation of Italy began before than the efforts to free France, Belgium, or the Netherlands.

In 1943, after the crushing victory in North Africa, the Allies were split on how best to proceed. The US favoured an amphibious assault on France as soon as possible but, with pressure mounting from the Soviet Union to open a second front, Italy was chosen instead.

Sicily was invaded and captured in June 1943 under Operation Husky, but thoughts of a repeat rapid liberation campaign were quickly expunged by the Allied High Command once they hit mainland Italy.

Far from being the “soft underbelly” described by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Italy devolved into possibly the toughest European theatre of the war for the Western Allies.

On 9 September 1943, Operation Avalanche was launched. Fierce counterattacks at Salerno nearly drove the Allies back into the sea, but soon a beachhead was established and exploited.

The Allies were also helped by a ceasefire brokered with the Italian Government at the same time of the invasion. Italian Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini had been deposed when Sicily was invaded.

Still, Italy’s geography coupled with a determined Wehrmacht defence punished the Allies for every step forward. At actions like the Battle of Monte Cassino, one of the largest pre-D-Day battles in Europe, German forces made the Allies pay dearly for each inch.

The liberation of Italy in World War Two was completed in April 1945, following a major Allied spring offensive and an uprising by non-Fascist Italian partisans.

Because Normandy and D-Day factor so highly in the WW2 Liberation story, Italy tends to get overlooked.

Indeed, those British troops who served there were known by their sardonic nickname “The D-Day Dodgers”.

Who liberated Italy?

Liberating Italy in World War Two was a truly multinational affair.

Barring Australia, all the major Commonwealth nations of the war sent troops to Italy, including New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, and India, although the Royal Australian Air Force did fly missions in Italy.

Some 16 nations were represented amongst the soldiers in Italy.

As well as those countries mentioned above and the United States, combatants from Poland, Free France, Morocco, Greece, Nepal, Belgium and even Brazil fought to liberate Italy.

Commemorating Italian Casualties of World War Two

A row of headstones at Cassino War Cemetery with Monte Cassino visible in the background.

Image: Cassino War Cemetery

Commemoration of the Commonwealth war dead of the Italian Campaign falls to the CWGC.

Reflecting the carnage of Italy, Commonwealth War Graves commemorate over 45,500 Second World War servicemen.

The cemeteries and war memorials in Italy are some of the most beautiful in the world. Compared with other locations, such as France, Italy only holds 54 CWGC sites.

Belgium's liberation in WW2

When was Belgium liberated?

British Sherman Tank mobbed by grateful civilians in Brussels following the city's liberation in September 1944.

Image: A British Sherman tank is mobbed by revellers as Brussels is liberated from Nazi Occupation ((Image IWM (BU 508))

Belgium was among the first European countries to fall under the Nazi Yoke during World War Two.

A stunning series of glider-borne airborne assaults captured Belgium’s Ében-Émael forts in May 1940 as the Nazi war machine rolled into France and the Low Countries.

Belgium endured four years of occupation during in World War Two. However, the liberation of Belgium would be rapid as the Allied advance swept across north-western Europe.

The 21st Army Group entered Belgium on September 2, 1944. The following day, tanks of the Guards Armoured Division were in Brussels. 

Antwerp was captured virtually intact on the 4th but the waterways around the port, including the Scheldt Estuary were not cleared until November in a bloody battle reminiscent of the First World War.

The Battle of the Bulge hit the Ardennes in December 1944, but this was primarily a battle between German and American forces and resulted in a major defeat for the Wehrmacht.

Who Liberated Belgium?

A mixture of British and Canadian armies liberated Belgium in World War Two.

The advance into Belgium after the Battle of Normandy was led by the Allied 21st Army Group, spearheaded by the British Second Army and Canadian First Army.

Over 600,000 US troops were deployed in the Battle of the Bulge on the French-Belgian border. 

But with the capital city Brussels and major port Antwerp in Allied hands by early September, the Battle of the Bulge is less an event in Belgium’s liberation and more a major event in the overall defeat of the Wehrmacht in Western Europe.

Commemorating WW2 casualties in Belgium

Adamgem Canadian War Cemetery

Image: An autumnal view of Adegem Canadian Cemetery

Over 10,000 Second World War Commonwealth service people are commemorated in Belgium. 

Around 4,000 of these were casualties suffered between September 1944 and May 1945.

Over 320 Commonwealth War Graves sites commemorate the Commonwealth’s fallen of the Liberation of Belgium. 

Amongst these is Adegem Canadian War Cemetery, which holds some 1,200 Canadian burials, many of which were men killed during the Battle of the Scheldt.

The Netherlands’ Liberation WW2

When was the Netherlands liberated?

Polish paratroopers checking their equipment in front of a line of C-47 Aircraft prior to  heading for Arnhem.

Image: Polish paratroopers check their equipment before heading for Arnhem (© IWM)

Much like Belgium, The Netherlands fell under Nazi Sway early in World War Two.

The port city of Rotterdam was flattened during the German invasion of the Netherlands, and so the Dutch military surrendered. Better to lay down your guns that condemn other Dutch cities to Rotterdam’s fate.

As the years went by, German occupation, which was originally relatively hands-off, intensified. Food and fuel shortages began while reprisals against civilians and holocaust victims rose.

Following the Allied victory in Normandy, Dutch civilians and politicians believed their liberation was just around the corner.

One of the first major offensives post-Normandy for the Western Allies was Operation Market Garden: a combined airborne and ground attack aimed at capturing important Rhine River crossings in the Southern Netherlands.

As Allied tanks of XXX Corps advanced up Holland, citizens drove out in huge numbers, waving Dutch flags and wearing Dutch national orange on their clothes. The reception the Allies received in Eindhoven was as if the war was finally over.

Dutch celebrations proved premature. 

Market Garden failed to achieve the breakthrough the Allies craved and the liberation the Dutch desperately desired. 

For example, Arnhem, one of the targets for Market Garden, would not be fully liberated until April 1945.

The winter of 1944-45 was particularly harsh. Food supplies were heavily restricted in the Western Netherlands. Over 18,000 people starved to death in an event known as The Hunger Winter.

Fighting continued until the end of 1944 and into 1945 as British, Canadian, Polish, Free French, and American forces gradually ground down the Wehrmacht in the Netherlands.

Finally, the German surrender of the Netherlands was signed on 5 May 1945, just three days before the end of the war. 

Who liberated The Netherlands?

The WW2 liberation of the Netherlands was a multinational affair.

British, Canadian, and American forces were the main combatants during the various battles to liberate the Netherlands.

They were joined in some operations by Polish and Free French troops.

Commemorating WW2 casualties in the Netherlands

Headstones at Arnhem Oosterbeek Cemetery

Image: Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery

Nearly 19,500 Second World War casualties are commemorated by Commonwealth War Graves in The Netherlands.

Around 7,000 of these date from the start of Operation Market Garden (September 17, 1944) to the German surrender of the Netherlands on May 5, 1945.

Several CWGC war cemeteries are linked to the different stages of the Netherlands’ WW2 liberation

For example, Arnhem Oosterbeek Cemetery contains burials from Operation Market Garden and the Battle of Arnhem.

Bergen-op-Zoom War and Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemeteries, on the other hand, hold war graves of those killed in the Battle of Scheldt and the capture of Walcheren Island.

Liberating Bergen-Belsen and the death camps

A British soldier looks at a sign erected outside Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp

Image: A sign erected outside Bergen-Belsen Concentration camp by the British Army after its liberation. The camp would be destroyed in May 1945 (IWM (BU 6956))

One of the most harrowing experiences for Allied troops during World War Two was the liberation of Nazi death and concentration camps.

As the Allies advanced from the east and west into Germany, they discovered more and more concentration camps full of sick and starving prisoners.

These were victims of the Holocaust: the Nazi genocide.

Jews were the main targets, but many other minority groups, including Slavs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the mentally and physically disabled, and homosexuals were murdered in their millions by the Nazis.

The first major camp to be discovered was Lublin, Poland. It was found by Soviet soldiers in July 1944.

Bergen-Belsen was one of the death camps liberated by the British. 

British forces found the camp on April 15, 1945. By that time, Bergen-Belsen had become swollen with more prisoners moved there on forced death marches by their Nazi captors before the German guards made their escape.

Thousands of unburied bodies, almost skeletal, lay about the camp. Some 60,000 victims were still alive, ravaged by disease and hunger.

Those still alive were evacuated but their recovery was not easy. The psychological trauma was beyond imagination. Some were so malnourished that even eating could have been deadly as they were too weak to digest full meals.

In May 1945, the British Army burned Bergen-Belsen to the ground. 

The discovery of these camps was possibly the darkest chapter in the Second World War liberation of Europe.

Many soldiers came away with what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from their experiences discovering and liberating Nazi concentration camps.

More World War Two Liberation facts

Which countries did the UK liberate in WWII?

In World War Two, UK forces helped liberate:

Which country did Canada liberate in WW2?

Starting in Italy, the Canadian military was present in the major Second World War theatres of European Liberation.

Canadian forces were there at D-Day and continued to be in the vanguard of the Allied advance across the continent.

The Canadians were involved in the liberation of:

When was Liberation Day WW2?

Soldiers and civilians wave flags while riding a bus at the VE Day celebrations in London on May 8 1945

Image: Revellers at the VE Day celebrations in London, 8 May 1945 (public domain)

Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) is celebrated as the day of liberation across Europe.

It is generally marked each year on 8 May in countries like the UK, France, and Belgium. 

In Italy, Liberation Day is celebrated on 25 April, marking the rise of Italian partisan groups against the Fascist puppet state claiming to rule Italy at the stage of the war.

The Netherlands celebrates Liberation Day on 5 March. March 5 is the date when German forces in the Netherlands surrendered to the Canadians in 1945.

What was the first town liberated on D-Day?

The first town to be liberated by Allied forces on D-Day was St. Mere Eglise, which was captured by American paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne.

The first major city to be liberated on D-Day was Bayeux. 

Thought it was spared much of the fighting, Bayeux became a medical hub in the Battle of Normandy.

The largest CWGC cemetery in Normandy, Bayeux War Cemetery, is situated there. Over 4,400 Commonwealth Normandy casualties of WW2 are buried at Bayeux War Cemetery.

A further 1,800 with no known war grave, are commemorated by the Bayeux Memorial.

Lighting their legacy

Lighting their Legacy

Across the UK, May & June

Discover our national programme of events and inspire the next generation.

The Great Vigil

The Great Vigil

Normandy, 5 June

Join the culmination of our D-Day events as we illuminate every CWGC grave in Normandy.


Bayeux Cathedral


We're holding a number of events across the UK and in Normandy in the build up to the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Find out more about what we're planning and discover how you can get involved.

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Tags D-Day Legacy of Liberation