William Vandivert was the first Western photographer on the scene after the battle for Berlin ended. The 33-year-old’s photos speak of death and destruction. During the course of the war, American, British, and Soviet forces launched more than 350 air strikes on Germany’s capital. Thousands of civilian men, women and children were killed, and the city’s famous landmarks were indistinguishable from the rubble.
Vandivert “found almost every famous building (in Berlin) a shambles. In the center of town GIs could walk for blocks and see no living thing, hear nothing but the stillness of death, smell nothing but the stench of death,” LIFE reported.
Underneath the Reich Chancellery, the seat of the German government, Vandivert and other journalists found Hitler’s Fuhrerbunker, or “shelter for the leader.” They used candles to illuminate the dark, sordid room, searching for clues about Hitler’s last moments.
They found desks, newspapers and dust. It was evident that the Russian combat engineers who first burned through Hitler’s door had looted his hiding place.
Vandivert wrote to his editors in New York, describing the grisly scene.