Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Even before Berlin, Germany had fallen to Soviet troops, the newly appointed German President Karl Dönitz sent General Alfred Jodl to negotiate a peace agreement with Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower. Dönitz, who wished to continue the war against the Soviets, attempted to establish an armistice with the western Allies so that he could focus on the Soviet front. Eisenhower refused such an arrangement. Weeks before Eisenhower already received words that various German commanders had already attempted to surrender, though conditionally. One came through Switzerland by an unknown individual codenamed "Wolff"; all it was known was that "Wolff" was a representative from the SS. On 26 Apr, Heinrich Himmler, through Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, attempted to contact Winston Churchill to negotiate surrender terms, again attempting to surrender the western front only while allowing Germany to keep fighting the Soviets. In all incidences, Eisenhower adamantly refused to negotiate unless an unconditional surrender on all fronts was achieved. Later on, Himmler tried to write a letter directly to Eisenhower, offering to surrender Germany to the western Allies on the condition that he would not be turned over to the Soviets, but the letter was intercepted by German authorities; Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel quoted this action by Himmler showed Himmler's "little insight... into the political situation", and Himmler was a "burden" to Germany.
While the political leaders in Berlin made their negotiation attempts, the German troops began to surrender en masse. The first great surrender occurred in Italy, where the local German commander approached General Harold Alexander on 29 Apr; all fighting ceased in Italy on 2 May. On the same day, commander of the German Army Group G north of Italy began communicating with Major General Jacob Devers, and their surrender was effective beginning on 6 May. Further to the north, Field Marshal Busch and General Lindemann started to speak to Eisenhower's headquarters regarding the surrender of their troops in Hamburg area and Denmark, though they feared the reaction of the fanatical SS units that were still present in their region; these troops surrendered on 4 May after Admiral Hans-Georg Friedeburg, representing President Dönitz's office, surrendered the entire northwestern region of the country to General Bernard Montgomery. In Berlin, Joseph Goebbels attempted to offer a cease-fire or conditional surrender to Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov; similarly the offer was refused by Zhukov under direct orders of Joseph Stalin not to accept anything less than an unconditional surrender. At the Berlin Zoo, a flak tower was one of the few remaining strongholds in Berlin. Several officers arranged for a meeting for cease-fire negotiations, but as they walked out under the banner of truce of a white flag, several German soldiers ambushed the talks and killed the German officers while wounding one of the Soviet officers.
After a day of failed negotiations, Lieutenant General Helmuth Weidling crossed the front lines and officially surrendered the German capital of Berlin to the Soviets.
On 5 May, all German submarines were ordered by Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg to return to port.
The German troops in the Netherlands held on with more resilience. Holding the strategically important dams, the German garrison formed a fortification that would be difficult to conquer, but they knew the end was near. Eisenhower feared that a major advance into the Netherlands would lead to a brutal retribution on the Dutch people by the German troops there, and any further defensive flooding would ruin more of the farmlands that the Dutch people desperately need to avoid starvation. On 30 Apr, German High Commissioner of the Netherlands Arthur Seyss-Inquart contacted the Allied commanders to negotiate a truce. Although the German garrison at the Netherlands did not surrender until Germany as a country formally surrendered, Seyss-Inquart allowed Allied relief to enter their territory to aid the Dutch people. In return, Eisenhower gave them word that they would be cordially treated as prisoners of war when Berlin would capitulate.
After much delay, Dönitz finally agreed to an unconditional surrender of Germany on all fronts. At 0241 on 7 May 1945, Alfred Jodl signed the instrument of surrender on behalf of Dönitz in the French city of Reims. Eisenhower told his German counterpart:
Jodl saluted Eisenhower upon the end of that statement, and left Reims, France. The cessation of fighting took place at 2301 the next day.
Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, was unhappy to see the surrender ceremony taken place outside of the area conquered by Soviet forces, thus demanded, and got, a separate surrender ceremony in Berlin. This took place on the following day, 9 May, with British Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder representing the western Allies. Zhukov was very much the star of this separate ceremony, and made every effort to behave as a proud conqueror. When Keitel signed the document, removed his monocle, and began to make a formal speech marking the occasion, Zhukov interrupted Keitel, announcing that all Soviet representatives at the ceremony were free to go as the document had already been made official.
Eisenhower sent the following message to his troops upon the German surrender:
The route you have traveled through hundreds of miles is marked by the graves of former comrades. Each of the fallen died as a member of the team to which you belong, bound together by a common love of liberty and a refusal to submit to enslavement. Our common problems of the immediate and distant future can be best solved in the same conceptions of co-operation and devotion to the cause of human freedom as have made this Expeditionary Force such a mighty engine of righteous destruction.
Let us have no part in the profitless quarrels in which other men will inevitably engage as to what country, what service, won the European war. Every man, every woman, of every nation here represented has served to the outcome. This we shall remember-and in doing so we shall be revering each honored grave, and be sending comfort to the loved ones of comrades who could not live to see this day.
At the conclusion of the war in Europe 40 million people died, half of which were civilians. As Europe celebrated the end of the brutal war, people continue to die in Asia, where the war would waged on for months more. The 3,000,000 Americans in Europe under the command of Eisenhower were entered into an elaborate point system based on length of service, length of time on foreign soil, decorations, parenthood, and age; those with enough points would be sent home, while others either remained in Europe as part of the Allied occupation forces or sent to the Pacific War. Carl Spaatz and Courtney Hodges were among the generals who were transferred to the Japanese front; some were transferred even before the conclusion of the action in Europe.
Vadim Birstein, SMERSH
Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe
Wilhelm Keitel, In the Service of the Reich
Anthony Read and David Fisher, The Fall of Berlin
Germany's Surrender Timeline
|27 Apr 1945||The western Allies refused to consider Himmler's attempts at negotiation for peace.|
|4 May 1945||German forces in Denmark, the Netherlands, and northwestern Germany surrendered to British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, to be in effect at 0800 hours on the next day. Meanwhile, in Germany, US Ninth Army accepted surrender of German Ninth and Twelfth Armies and US Third Army accepted the surrender by Feldmarschall Paul von Kleist.|
|5 May 1945||German General Blaskowitz surrendered all German forces in the Netherlands at the Hotel de Wereld in Wageningen to Canadian General Charles Foulkes. In Denmark, the German occupation forces surrendered. In Italy, German Armeegruppe C surrendered.|
|7 May 1945||General Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of all German forces to the Allies, to take effect on the following day, at Eisenhower's headquarters near Rheims, France; the Soviets witnessed the surrender at Rheims, but did not recognise the surrender until another document was signed in the Soviet-conquered territory. On the same day, German occupation forces in Norway surrendered.|
|8 May 1945||Britain marked VE (Victory in Europe) Day with scenes of great public celebration and services of thanksgiving. In France, the German garrisons in coastal strongholds finally surrendered. In Berlin, Germany, Marshal Zhukov accepted the German surrender, which was to take effect on 11 May. Also on this date, German troops in Czechoslovakia surrendered.|
|9 May 1945||Armeegruppe Kurland surrendered in Latvia.|
|9 May 1945||The 20,000-strong German garrison in the Greek islands surrendered.|
|9 May 1945||The German garrisons at Dunkerque (12,000 men), La Rochelle, Lorient, and Saint-Nazaire surrendered.|
|9 May 1945||The German garrisons in the Channel Islands surrendered.|
|9 May 1945||Victory was celebrated in Moscow, Russia where two million people watched a parade and firework display.|
|10 May 1945||The German surrender officially took effect at 0001 hours.|
|11 May 1945||Various German units in Czechoslovakia, Dunkirk in France, and the Aegean Sea islands surrendered.|
|12 May 1945||German troops on Crete, Greece surrendered.|
|15 May 1945||Croatian troops that surrendered to British forces in Austria were handed over to Yugoslavian partisans, resulting in the murder of over 110,000, including women and children.|
|23 May 1945||The Allies dissolved Karl Dönitz's government.|
|1 Jun 1945||Knowing the fate that would await them at the hands of the Soviets, a pitched battle broke out between British troops and the 28,000 strong Cossack Corps (White Russians who had always opposed the Communists and had been fighting for the Germans), when it was announced that they were to be repatriated to the Russian zone of Austria. Some 700 Cossacks and their families were killed by the British, trampled to death or commit suicide. Almost all the Cossacks who were sent back disappeared without trace.|
|10 Jul 1945||United Kingdom, United States, and the Soviet Union agreed to include France in the administration of Berlin, Germany.|
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» Bernadotte, Folke
» Dönitz, Karl
» Eisenhower, Dwight
» Jodl, Alfred
» Keitel, Wilhelm
» Seyß-Inquart, Arthur
» Smith, Walter
» Spaatz, Carl
» Tedder, Arthur
» Weidling, Helmuth
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945