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The German instrument of surrender signed at Reims May 7, 1945.

The final battles of the European Theatre of World War II as well as the German surrender took place in late April and early May 1945.

Notice sent home to families of GIs at the end of hostilities.

Contents

Timeline of surrenders and deaths

Mussolini's death: On April 27, 1945, as Allied forces closed in on Milan, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was captured by Italian Partisans. He was trying to flee Italy to Switzerland and was traveling with a German anti-aircraft battalion. On April 28, Mussolini was executed in Giulino (a civil parish of Mezzegra); the other Fascists captured with him were taken to Dongo and executed. The bodies were then taken to Milan and hung for public display in one of the main squares of the city. On April 29, Rodolfo Graziani surrendered all Fascist Italian armed forces at Caserta. This included Army Group Liguria. Graziani was the Minister of Defense for Mussolini's Italian Social Republic puppet state.

Hitler's death: On April 30, as the Battle of Berlin raged above him, realizing that all was lost and not wishing to suffer Mussolini's fate, German dictator Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker along with Eva Braun, his long-term mistress whom he had married just hours before their joint suicide. In his will Hitler appointed his successors; Karl Dönitz as the new Reichspräsident ("President of Germany") and Joseph Goebbels as the new Reichskanzler (Chancellor of Germany). However, Goebbels committed suicide on May 1, 1945, leaving Dönitz as sole leader of Germany.

German forces in Italy surrender: On May 1, SS General Karl Wolff and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army Group C, General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, after prolonged unauthorised secret negotiations with the Western Allies named Operation Sunrise, which were viewed as trying to reach a separate peace by the Soviet Union, ordered all German armed forces in Italy to cease hostilities and signed a surrender document which stipulated that all German forces in Italy were to surrender unconditionally to the Allies on May 2.

German forces in Berlin surrender: The Battle of Berlin ended on May 2. On this date, General of the Artillery Helmuth Weidling, the commander of the Berlin Defense Area, unconditionally surrendered the city to General Vasily Chuikov of the Soviet army.[1] On the same day the officers commanding the two armies of Army Group Vistula north of Berlin, (General Kurt von Tippelskirch commander of the German Twenty-First Army and General Hasso von Manteuffel commander of Third Panzer Army) surrendered to the Western Allies.[2]

German forces in North West Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands surrender: On May 4, 1945, the British Field Marshal Montgomery took the unconditional military surrender from General Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, and General Hans Kinzel, of all German forces "in Holland, in northwest Germany including the Frisian Islands and Heligoland and all other islands, in Schleswig-Holstein, and in Denmark… includ[ing] all naval ships in these areas."[3] on Lüneburg Heath; an area between the cities of Hamburg, Hanover and Bremen. On May 5, Dönitz ordered all U-boats to cease offensive operations and return to their bases. At 16:00, General Johannes Blaskowitz, the German commander-in-chief in the Netherlands, surrendered to Canadian General Charles Foulkes in the small Dutch town of Wageningen in the presence of Prince Bernhard (acting as commander-in-chief of the Dutch Interior Forces).[4][5]

German forces in Bavaria surrender:At 14:30 on May 4,1945, General Hermann Foertsch surrendered all forces between the Bohemian mountains and the Upper Inn river to the American General Jacob L. Devers, commander of the American 6th Army Group.

Central Europe: On May 4, 1945, the Prague uprising started by the Czech resistance. The following day the Soviets launch the Prague Offensive. In Dresden, Gauleiter Martin Mutschmann let it be known that a large-scale German offensive on the Eastern Front was about to be launched. Within two days, Mutschmann abandoned the city and was captured by Soviet troops while trying to escape.[6]

Deposition of captured 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler standards by Soviet soldiers near the Kremlin Wall during the Victory Parade, June 24, 1945.

German forces in Breslau surrender: On May 6 at 18:00, General Hermann Niehoff the commandant of Breslau, a fortress city surrounded and besieged for months, surrendered to the Soviets.[5]

German forces on the Channel Islands surrender: On May 8 at 10:00, the islanders were informed by the German authorities that the war was over. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a radio broadcast at 15:00 during which he announced: "Hostilities will end officially at one minute after midnight tonight, but in the interests of saving lives the 'Cease fire' began yesterday to be sounded all along the front, and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today." [7]

Map showing the Allied zones of occupation in post-war Germany
The Allied zones of occupation in post-war Germany, highlighting the Soviet zone (red), the inner German border (heavy black line) and the zone from which British and American troops withdrew in July 1945 (purple). The provincial boundaries are those of pre-Nazi Weimar Germany, before the present Länder were established.

Jodl and Keitel surrender all German armed forces unconditionally: One half hour after the fall of "Fortress Breslau" (Festung Breslau), General Alfred Jodl arrived in Reims and, following Dönitz's instructions, offered to surrender all forces fighting the Western Allies. This was exactly the same negotiating position that von Friedeburg had initially made to Montgomery, and like Montgomery the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, threatened to break off all negotiations unless the Germans agreed to a complete unconditional surrender.[8] Eisenhower explicitly told Jodl that he would order western lines closed to German soldiers, thus forcing them to surrender to the Soviets.[8] Jodl sent a signal to Dönitz, who was in Flensburg, informing him of Eisenhower's position. Shortly after midnight Dönitz, accepting the inevitable, sent a signal to Jodl authorizing the complete and total surrender of all German forces.[5][8]

At 02:41 on the morning of, May 7, 1945, at the SHAEF headquarters in Reims, France, the Chief-of-Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, General Alfred Jodl, signed the unconditional surrender documents for all German forces to the Allies. General Franz Böhme announced the unconditional surrender of German troops in Norway on May 7, the same day as Jodl signed the unconditional surrender document. It included the phrase "All forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European Time on May 8, 1945."[3][9] The next day, General Wilhelm Keitel and other German OKW representatives traveled to Berlin, and shortly before midnight signed a similar document, explicitly surrendering to Soviet forces, in the presence of General Georgi Zhukov.[10] The signing ceremony took place in a former German Army Engineering School in the Berlin district (not suburb) of Karlshorst which now houses the German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst [1].

Wilhelm Keitel (center) surrendering to the Allies in Berlin

Victory in Europe: News of the surrender broke in the West on May 8, and celebrations erupted throughout Europe. In the United States, Americans awoke to the news and declared May 8 V-E Day. As the Soviet Union was to the east of Germany it was May 9 Moscow Time when German military surrender became effective, which is why Russia and many other European countries east of Germany commemorate Victory Day on May 9.

Axis-held territory at the end of the war in Europe shown in blue.
The Oder-Neisse Line (click to enlarge).

German units cease fire: Although the military commanders of most German forces obeyed the order to surrender issued by the German Armed Forces High Command (German acronym OKW), not all commanders did so. The largest contingent not to do so were Army Group Centre under the command of Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner who had been promoted to Commander-in-Chief of the Army on April 30 in Hitler's last will and testament. On May 8, Schörner deserted his command and flew to Austria, and the Soviet Army sent overwhelming force against Army Group Centre in the Prague Offensive, forcing German units in Army Group Centre to capitulate by May 11 (the last did on 12 May). The other forces which did not surrender on May 8 surrendered piecemeal:

  • The Second Army, under the command of General von Saucken, on the Heiligenbeil and Danzig beachheads, on the Hel Peninsula in Vistula delta surrendered on May 9, as did the forces on the Greek islands; and the garrisons of St. Nazaire, La Rochelle (after the Allied siege of La Rochelle) and Lorient.
  • On May 13, the Red Army halted all offensives in Europe. Isolated resistance pockets in Czechoslovakia were mopped up by this date.
  • The garrison on Alderney, one of the Channel Islands occupied by the Germans, surrendered on May 16 one week after the garrisons on the other Channel Islands which surrendered on May 9.
  • The Georgian Uprising of Texel (April 5, 1945–May 20, 1945) was Europe's last battlefield in World War II. It was fought between Soviet Georgian POWs on Texel against the German occupiers of that Dutch island.
  • Another military engagement took place in Slovenia, on May 15, 1945 known as the Battle of Poljana.

Dönitz government ordered dissolved by Eisenhower: Karl Dönitz continued to act as the German head of state, but his Flensburg government (so-called because it was based at Flensburg and controlled only a small area around the town) was given no regard after the surrender on May 8. On May 23, 1945 a British liaison officer was sent to Flensburg and read to the Flensburg government Eisenhower's order dissolving the government and ordering the arrest of its members. The Allies had a problem, because they realized that although the German armed forces had surrendered unconditionally, SHAEF had failed to use the document created by the "European Advisory Commission" (EAC) and so the civilian German government had not. This was considered a very important issue, because just as the civilian, but not military, surrender in 1918 had been used by Hitler to create the "stab in the back" argument, the Allies did not want to give a future hostile German regime a legal argument to resurrect an old quarrel.

Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany and the Assumption of Supreme Authority by Allied Powers was signed by the four Allies on June 5, 1945. It included the following:

The Governments of the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom and the Provisional Government of the French Republic, hereby assume supreme authority with respect to Germany, including all the powers possessed by the German Government, the High Command and any state, municipal, or local government or authority. The assumption, for the purposes stated above, of the said authority and powers does not effect[11] the annexation of Germany.
—US Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series, No. 1520.[12]

It is disputed whether this assumption of power constituted debellation or not.[13][14][15]

The Potsdam Agreement was signed on August 2, 1945, in connection to this the Allied leaders planned the new post-war German government, resettled war territory boundaries, de facto annexed a quarter of pre-war Germany situated east of the Oder-Neisse line, mandated and organized the expulsion of the millions of Germans remaining in the annexed territories and elsewhere in the east, ordered German demilitarization, denazification, industrial disarmament and settlements of war reparations.

The Allied Control Council was created to effect the Allies assumed supreme authority over Germany, specifically to implement their assumed joint authority over Germany. On August 30, 1945 the Control Council constituted itself and issued its first proclamation, which informed the German people of the Council's existence and asserted that the commands and directives issued by the Commanders-in-Chief in their respective zones were not affected by the establishment of the Council.

Cessation of hostilities between the United States and Germany was proclaimed on 13 December 1946 by United States President Truman.[16]

Peace treaties were signed on February 10, 1947 between the U.S. and Italy, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, and Romania.

The Federal Republic of Germany had its first government formed on 20 September 1949 while the German Democratic Republic was formed on 7 October 1949.

End of state of war with Germany was granted by the U.S. Congress on 19 October 1951, after a request by president Truman on 9 July. In the Petersberg Agreement of November 22, 1949 it was noted that the West German government wanted an end to the state of war, but the request could not be granted. The U.S. state of war with Germany was being maintained for legal reasons, and though it was softened somewhat it was not suspended since "the U.S. wants to retain a legal basis for keeping a U.S. force in Western Germany".[17] At a meeting for the Foreign Ministers of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States in New York from September 12 to December 19 1950 it was stated that among other measures to strengthen West Germany's position in the Cold War that the western allies would "end by legislation the state of war with Germany".[18] During 1951 many former Western Allies did end their state of war with Germany: Australia (9 July), Canada, Italy, New Zealand, The Netherlands (26 July), South Africa, and the United Kingdom (9 July)[19][20][21][22][23][24] The state of war between Germany and the Soviet Union was ended in early 1955.[25]

Sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany was granted on May 5, 1955 by the formal end of the military occupation of its territory. Special rights were however maintained, e.g. vis-à-vis West Berlin.

Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany: Under the terms of this peace treaty, the Four Powers renounced all rights they formerly held in Germany, including Berlin. As a result, Germany became fully sovereign on March 15, 1991. Germany remains however without the normal protection of the UN charter due to articles 53 and 107 in the charter which has not been amended since the end of the war.

Concentration camps and refugees

American soldiers view the bodies of prisoners that lie strewn along the road in the newly liberated Ohrdruf concentration camp

In the last months of the war and immediately afterwards, Allied soldiers discovered a number of concentration camps and other locations that had been used by the Nazis to imprison and exterminate an estimated 11 million people. The largest single group represented in this number were European Jews (roughly half the total according to the Nuremberg Trials), but Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and various minorities and disabled persons, as well as political enemies of the Nazi regime (particularly communists) formed the remainder.

The best-known of these camps is the death camp Auschwitz in which about 1.1–1.6 million prisoners were killed. Although the Nazi genocide or Holocaust was largely unknown to Allied soldiers fighting the war, it has become an inseparable part of the story of World War II.

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ Dollinger, Hans. The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047. p. 239
  2. ^ Ziemke, Earl F. Battle For Berlin: End Of The Third Reich, NY:Ballantine Books, London:Macdomald & Co, 1969. p. 128
  3. ^ a b The German Surrender Documents - WWII
  4. ^ World War II Timeline:western Europe: 1945
  5. ^ a b c Ron Goldstein Field Marshal Keitel's surrender BBC additional comment by Peter - WW2 Site Helper
  6. ^ [Page 228, "The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan", Hans Dollinger, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047]
  7. ^ The Churchill Centre: The End of the War in Europe
  8. ^ a b c Ziemke, Earl F. Battle For Berlin: End Of The Third Reich, NY:Ballantine Books, London:Macdomald & Co, 1969. p.130
  9. ^ During the summers of World War II, Britain was on British Double Summer Time which meant that the country was ahead of CET time by one hour. This means that the surrender time in the UK was "effective from 0001 hours on 9 May". RAF Site Diary 7/8 May
  10. ^ Ziemke Further reading CHAPTER XV:The Victory Sealed Page 258 last paragraph
  11. ^ Facsimile of the original text, the transcription used in the Avalon source for the paragraph is erroneous. In this case, "effect" is correct; the implication is that annexation of Germany will not occur, that is, annexation will not be effected.
  12. ^ Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany, The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, Retrieved 14 September 2008
  13. ^ United Nations War Crimes Commission, Law reports of trials of war criminals: United Nations War Crimes Commission, Wm. S. Hein, 1997, ISBN 1575884038. p.13
  14. ^ Yearbook of the International Law Commission 1993 Volume II Part Two Page 54, paragraph 295 (last paragraph on the page)
  15. ^ Although the Allied powers considered this a debellatio (The human rights dimensions of population (Page 2, paragraph 138) UNHCR web site) other authorities have argued that the vestiges of the German state continued to exist even though the Allied Control Council governed the territory; and that eventually a fully sovereign German government resumed over a state that never ceased to exist (Detlef Junker et al. (2004). The United States and Germany in the Era of the Cold War, 1945-1990: A Handbook (Vol 2), Cambridge University Press and (Vol. 2) co-published with German Historical Institute, Washington D.C., ISBN 052179112X p. 104.)
  16. ^ Werner v. United States (188 F.2d 266), United States Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit, April 4, 1951. Website of Public.Resource.Org
  17. ^ A Step Forward Time Magazine Monday, Nov. 28, 1949
  18. ^ Staff. Full text of "Britannica Book Of The Year 1951" Open-Access Text Archive. Retrieved 11 August 2008
  19. ^ War's End Time Magazine, July 16, 1951
  20. ^ Elihu Lauterpacht, C. J. Greenwood. International law reports. Volume 52, Cambridge University Press, 1979 ISBN 0521463971. p. 505
  21. ^ James H. Marsh. World War II:Making the Peace, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Retrieved 11 August 2008
  22. ^ 1951 in History BrainyMedia.com. Retrieved 11 August 2008
  23. ^ H. Lauterpacht (editor), International law reports Volume 23. Cambridge University Press ISBN 0949009377. p. 773
  24. ^ US Code--Title 50 Appendix--War and National Defense, U.S. Government Printing Office.
  25. ^ Spreading Hesitation Time Magazine Monday, Feb. 07, 1955

References

Further reading

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