Suicides and Surrender: Victory in Europe, 1945
Today is #VE75 where we remember the 75th anniversary of the signing of the definitive Act of Unconditional Surrender in Berlin by Germany and the Allies. Here is my take on the run up to that ultimate surrender and the signing of a document that signaled the end of the Second World War in Europe.
In Italy the fighting was going exactly the same way as in Germany. The US Fifth Army, along with the British Eighth Army, launched a new initiative on 9 April to kick the Axis out of Italy for good. The Americans were to attack Bologna and then swing out to the west, while the British would move up the east coast towards Treviso and round to Trieste.
Waves of bombers smashed seven bells out of the German positions in preparation for the infantry advances and although the men were slightly delayed due to bad weather, they didn’t hang about once they got going. The US Fifth Army reached the outskirts of Bologna by 20 April and was in control of Verona just six days later; a segment then swung west towards Milan. Meanwhile the British Eighth Army also moved rapidly north, facing very little serious opposition, and liberated Venice on 29 April before moving on to Trieste. By now garrisons were surrendering left right and centre – it was just a matter of time before the complete collapse of the Italian Front.
Meanwhile Mussolini, still nominal head of the Italian Social Republic, and his mistress Clara Petacci were trying to escape to Switzerland, but they were spotted, captured and executed. Their bodies were taken to Milan and hung upside down in the Piazzale Loreto for the world to see. Back in Berlin, Hitler was holed up in his underground bunker contemplating how it had all gone so spectacularly wrong. In six years his Nazi regime had gone from the undisputed champions of Europe to total disaster resulting in the destruction of his adopted Fatherland. Ironically it was the ‘inferior Russians’ that were delivering the final blow to his Aryan dream and he was adamant that he would not be taken alive by those barbarians. Especially after what happened to Mussolini recently. No, for the Führer, there would be only one way out of this mess.
On 30 April 1945, having tested an arsenic pill on his dog, Blondi the day before, Hitler and his new wife Eva Braun retired to a small room in his underground bunker. Braun took her own life with poison while Hitler shot himself in the head. Their bodies were taken out to the garden of the Chancellery and burned before the Russians could get their hands on them. Many others who had spent the last few weeks of the war with Hitler chose a similar fate. On 1 May, Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda poisoned their six young children before committing suicide themselves.
Before he pulled the trigger Hitler wrote his political testament in which he named Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz as his successor and Reich President. Based up in Flensburg the first thing Doenitz did was to organise the surrender of the Axis forces. The first surrender came in Italy where a ceasefire negotiated on 29 April came into effect on 2 May. On 4 May, German forces in northern Germany and the Netherlands surrendered to Field Marshal Montgomery and on 4 May German forces in Bavaria also waved the white flag. That same day Doenitz ordered Hitler’s wartime Chief of Operations, General Alfred Jodl, to travel to the French city of Rheims and surrender to the Western Allies.
At 02:40hrs in the early morning of 7 May 1945 a short ceremony took place in a schoolhouse in Rheims. Under the watchful gaze of assorted Allied officers and seventeen invited journalists, Jodl signed the act of surrender. After he had signed, Jodl addressed the room:
I want to say a word. With this signature the German people and the German armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victor’s hands. In this war, which has lasted more than five years, they both have achieved and suffered more than perhaps any other people in the world. In this hour I can only express the hope that the victor will treat them with generosity.
After this, the German delegation left in silence and a message was sent to the War Office in London:
The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 02.41, local time, May 7th, 1945.
Those Allied officers that had witnessed the signing celebrated by drinking champagne out of mess tins.
Stalin, however, wasn’t in the mood for champagne. He refused to accept the Rheims documents and accused the Americans and British of putting together a ‘shady deal’ with Germany. He didn’t think the wording of the Rheims surrender was unequivocal enough, he also wanted the surrender to take place at the seat of German government with more Russian involvement. Eisenhower agreed and an updated, definitive Act of Military Surrender document was prepared in Moscow.
The document was quickly approved by all Allied parties and formally signed in Berlin on 8 May 1945 at 21:20 local time. On behalf of Germany the document was signed by Field Marshal Keitel (Heer), General Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg (Kriegsmarine), and Colonel-General Hans-Jürgen Stumpff (Luftwaffe). For the Allies, the document was signed by Marshal Zhukov for the Soviet Union, Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder for the British Empire, General Carl Spaatz for the USA and General de Lattre de Tassigny for France.
The war in Europe was finally over.
This text was take from WW2: A Layman’s Guide. Currently available worldwide on Amazon Kindle as part of a 3-book Layman’s Guide boxset (WW2 / D-Day / The Third Reich) which is priced at just 99p / 99c for the duration of the Covid-19 Lockdown. That’s three books for just 99p / 99c.