The German Instrument of Surrender was the legal document which effected the extinction of Nazi Germany and ended World War II in Europe. The definitive text was signed in Karlshorst, Berlin, on the night of 8 May 1945 by representatives of the three armed services of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) and the Allied Expeditionary Force together with the Supreme High Command of the Soviet Red Army, with further French and US representatives signing as witnesses. The signing took place 9 May 1945 at 00:16 local time.
An earlier version of the text had been signed in a ceremony in Reims in the early hours of 7 May 1945. In most of Europe, 8 May is celebrated as Victory in Europe Day; 9 May is celebrated as Victory Day in Russia, Belarus, Serbia and Israel.
There were three language versions of the surrender document – Russian, English and German – with the Russian and English versions proclaimed, in the text itself, as the only authoritative ones.
Representatives of the then three Allied Powers; the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, working through the European Advisory Commission (EAC) throughout 1944; sought to prepare an agreed surrender text to be used in the potential circumstances of Nazi power being overthrown within Germany either by military or civil authorities; and a post-Nazi government then seeking an armistice. By 3 January 1944, the Working Security Committee in the EAC proposed:
that the capitulation of Germany should be recorded in a single document of unconditional surrender.
The committee further suggested that the instrument of surrender be signed by representatives of the German High Command. The considerations behind this recommendation were to prevent the repetition of the stab-in-the-back legend, created in Germany following defeat in the First World War; since the act of surrender in November 1918 had been signed only by representatives of the civilian German government; militarist circles would subsequently claim that the High Command of the Army carried no responsibility for the instrument of defeat or for the defeat itself.
Not everyone agreed with the Working Security Committee's predictions regarding the war's ending. Ambassador William Strang, British representative at the EAC, claimed as follows:
It is impossible at present to foresee in what circumstances hostilities with Germany may in the end be suspended. We cannot tell, therefore, what mode of procedure would be most suitable; whether, for example, it will be found best to have a full and detailed armistice; or a shorter armistice conferring general powers; or possibly no armistice at all, but a series of local capitulations by enemy commanders.
The surrender terms for Germany were first discussed at the first EAC meeting on 14 January 1944. A definitive text was agreed on 28 July 1944, and was then adopted by the three Allied Powers.
The agreed text was in three parts. The first part consisted of a brief preamble "The German Government and German High Command, recognising and acknowledging the complete defeat of the German armed forces on land, at sea and in the air, hereby announce Germany's unconditional surrender".
The instrument of surrender itself followed in fourteen articles. The second part, articles 1-5, related to the military surrender by the German High Command of all forces on land, at sea and in the air, to the surrender of their weapons, to their evacuation from any territory outside German boundaries as they stood on 31 December 1937, and to their liability to captivity as prisoners of war. The third part, articles 6 to 12, related to the surrender by the German Government to Allied Representatives of almost all its powers and authority, the release and repatriation of prisoners and forced labourers, the cessation of radio broadcasts, the provision of intelligence and information, the non-destruction of weapons and infrastructure, the yielding-up of Nazi leaders for war-crime trials, and the power of Allied Representatives to issue proclamations, orders, ordinances and instructions covering "additional political, administrative, economic, financial, military and other requirements arising from the complete defeat of Germany". The key article in the third section was article 12, providing that the German Government and German High Command would comply fully with any proclamations, orders, ordinances and instructions of the accredited Allied Representatives; as this was understood by the Allies as allowing unlimited scope to impose arrangements for the restitution and reparation of war-damages. Articles 13 and 14 specified the date of surrender and the languages of the definitive texts.
The Yalta Conference in February 1945 led to a further development of the terms of surrender, as it was agreed that administration of post-war Germany would be split into four occupation zones for Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union respectively. In addition, but separately, it was agreed at Yalta that an additional clause 12a would be added to the July 1944 surrender text; that the Allied Representatives "will take such steps, including the complete disarmament, demilitarisation and dismemberment of Germany as they deem requisite for future peace and security." France, however, was not party to the Yalta agreement and refused to recognise it, which created a diplomatic problem as formal inclusion of the additional clause in the EAC text would inevitably create a French demand for equal representation in any dismemberment decisions. While this was unresolved, there were in effect two versions of the EAC text; with and without the "dismemberment clause".
Moreover, by the end of March 1945, the British government had come to doubt whether, once Germany had been completely overpowered (as was the precondition for the agreed text for surrender), there would be any post-Nazi German civil authority capable of signing the instrument of surrender, or of putting its provisions into effect. They therefore proposed that the EAC text should be redrafted as a unilateral declaration of German defeat by the Allied Powers, and of their assumption of supreme authority following the total dissolution of the former German state. It was in this form that the text agreed by the EAC was finally effected as the Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany.
In the meanwhile, the Combined Chiefs of Staff of the Western Allies had, in August 1944, agreed general guidelines for the terms of local military surrenders to be concluded with any capitulating German forces; capitulation had to be unconditional and restricted to the purely military aspects of a local surrender, no commitments were to be given to the enemy, and surrender was to be without prejudice to any subsequent general instrument of surrender which might replace any document of partial surrender and which would be jointly imposed on Germany by the three Great Powers. These guidelines formed the basis for the series of partial capitulations of German forces to the Western Allies in April and May 1945.
In the event of the German signings of Instruments of Surrender at Reims and Berlin, the EAC text was not used; but a simplified, military-only version, based largely on the wording of the partial surrender instrument of German forces in Italy signed at Caserta, was applied instead. The reasons for the change are disputed but may have reflected awareness of the reservations being expressed as to the capability of the German signatories to agree the provisions of the full text or the continued uncertainty over communicating the "dismemberment clause" to the French.
On 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler killed himself in his Führerbunker, under the Reich Chancellery, having drawn up a testament in which Admiral Karl Dönitz succeeded him as Head of State, with the title of Reich President. But with the fall of Berlin two days later, and American and Soviet forces having linked up at Torgau on the Elbe, the area of Germany still under German military control had been split in two. Moreover, the rapidity of the final Allied advances of March 1945 – together with Hitler's insistent orders to stand and fight to the last – had left the bulk of surviving German forces in isolated pockets and occupied territories, mostly outside the boundaries of pre-Nazi Germany. Dönitz attempted to form a government at Flensburg on the Danish border, and was joined there on 2 May 1945 by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) (English: "German High Command") under Wilhelm Keitel, which had previously relocated, first to Krampnitz near Potsdam, and then to Rheinsberg, during the Battle of Berlin. But, although Dönitz sought to present his government as 'unpolitical', there was no repudiation of Nazism, the Nazi party was not banned, leading Nazis were not detained, and the symbols of Hitlerism remained in place. Both the Soviets and the Americans remained adamant in not recognising Dönitz or the Flensburg Government as capable of representing the German state.
At Hitler's death German armies remained in the Atlantic pockets of La Rochelle, St Nazaire, Lorient, Dunkirk and the Channel Islands; the Greek Islands of Crete, Rhodes and the Dodecanese; southern Norway; Denmark; western Holland; northern Croatia; northern Italy; Austria; Bohemia and Moravia; the Courland peninsula in Latvia; the Hela peninsula in Poland and in Germany towards Hamburg, facing British and Canadian forces; in Mecklenburg, Pomerania and the besieged city of Breslau, facing Soviet forces; and in southern Bavaria towards Berchtesgaden, facing American and French forces.
German military commanders in Italy had been conducting secret negotiations for a partial surrender; which was signed at Caserta on 29 April 1945, to come into effect on 2 May. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, with overall military command for OKW-South, initially denounced the capitulation; but once Hitler's death had been confirmed, acceded to it.
On 4 May 1945, German forces acting under instruction from the Dönitz Government and facing the British and Canadian 21st Army Group, signed an act of surrender at Lüneburg Heath to come into effect on 5 May.
The impetus for the Caserta capitulation had arisen from within the local German military command; but from 2 May 1945, the Dönitz government assumed control of the process, pursuing a deliberate policy of successive partial capitulations in the west to play for time in order to bring as many as possible of the eastern military formations westwards so as to save them from Soviet or Yugoslav captivity, and surrender them intact to the British and Americans. In addition, Dönitz hoped to continue to evacuate soldiers and civilians by sea from the Hela peninsula and the surrounding Baltic coastal areas. Dönitz and Keitel were resolved against issuing any orders to surrender to Soviet forces, both from undiminished anti-Bolshevism; but also because they could not be confident they would be obeyed, and might consequently place troops continuing to fight in the position of refusing a direct order, thereby stripping them of any legal protection as prisoners of war.
Following these partial capitulations, the major remaining German forces in the field (other than those bottled-up on islands and fortress-ports) consisted of Army Group Ostmark facing Soviet forces in eastern Austria and western Bohemia; Army Group E facing Yugoslav forces in Croatia; the remains of Army Group Vistula facing Soviet forces in Mecklenburg; and Army Group Centre facing Soviet forces in eastern Bohemia and Moravia. From 5 May, Army Group Centre was also engaged in the brutal suppression of the Prague uprising. An occupying army of around 400,000 well-equipped German troops remained in Norway, under the command of General Franz Böhme, who was contacted by the German Minister in Sweden early on 6 May, to determine whether a further partial capitulation might be arranged for his forces with neutral Sweden acting as an intermediary, but he was unwilling to comply with anything other than a general surrender order from the German High Command. The surrenders in the west had succeeded in ceasing hostilities between the Western allies and German forces on almost all fronts. At the same time however, the broadcast orders of the Dönitz government continued to oppose any acts of German surrender to Soviet forces in Courland, Bohemia and Mecklenburg; indeed attempting to countermand ongoing surrender negotiations both in Berlin and Breslau. German forces in the east were ordered instead to fight their way westwards. Conscious that, if this were to continue, the Soviet Command would suspect that the Western allies were intending a separate peace (as indeed was exactly Dönitz's intention), Eisenhower determined that no further partial surrenders would be agreed in the West; but instead instructed the Dönitz government to send representatives to Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) headquarters in Reims, to agree terms for a general surrender of all German forces simultaneously to all the Allied powers, including the Soviets.
Dönitz's representative, Admiral Friedeburg, informed him on 6 May that Eisenhower was now insisting on "immediate, simultaneous and unconditional surrender on all fronts." General Jodl was sent to Reims to attempt to persuade Eisenhower otherwise, but Eisenhower shortcircuited any discussion by announcing at 9.00 p.m. on the 6th that, in the absence of a complete capitulation, he would close British and American lines to surrendering German forces at midnight on 8 May and resume the bombing offensive against remaining German-held positions and towns. Jodl telegraphed this message to Dönitz, who responded, authorising him to sign the instrument of unconditional surrender, but subject to negotiating a 48-hour delay, ostensibly to enable the surrender order to be communicated to outlying German military units.
Consequently, the first Instrument of Surrender was signed in Reims at 02:41 Central European Time (CET) on 7 May 1945. The signing took place in a red brick schoolhouse, the Collège Moderne et Technique de Reims , that served as the SHAEF headquarters. It was to take effect at 23:01 CET (one minute after 11:00 pm, British Double Summer Time) on 8 May, the 48 hour grace period having been back-dated to the start of final negotiations.
The unconditional surrender of the German armed forces was signed by Jodl, on behalf of the OKW. Walter Bedell Smith signed on behalf of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force and General Ivan Susloparov on behalf of the Soviet High Command. French Major-General François Sevez signed as the official witness.
Eisenhower had proceeded throughout in consultation with General Antonov of the Soviet High Command; and at his request, General Susloparov had been seconded to the SHAEF Headquarters to represent the Soviet High Command in the surrender negotiations. The text of the act of surrender had been telegraphed to General Antonov in the early hours of 7 May, but no confirmation of Soviet approval had been received by the time of the surrender ceremony, nor was there confirmation that General Susloparov was empowered to sign as representing the Soviet High Command. Accordingly, Eisenhower agreed with Susloparov that a separate text should be signed by the German emissaries; undertaking that fully empowered representatives of each of the German armed services would attend a formal ratification of the act of surrender at a time and place designated by the Allied High Commands.
UNDERTAKING GIVEN BY CERTAIN GERMAN EMISSARIES TO THE ALLIED HIGH COMMANDS
It is agreed by the German emissaries undersigned that the following German officers will arrive at a place and time designated by the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, and the Soviet High Command prepared, with plenary powers, to execute a formal ratification on behalf of the German High Command of this act of Unconditional Surrender of the German armed forces.
Chief of the High Command; Commander-in-Chief of the Army; Commander-in-Chief of the Navy; Commander-in-Chief of the Air Forces.
Representing the German High Command. DATED 0241 7 May 1945 Rheims, France
Some six hours after the Reims signing, a response was received from the Soviet High Command stating that the Act of Surrender was unacceptable, both because the text differed from that agreed by the EAC, and because Susloparov had not been empowered to sign. These objections were however, pretexts; the substantive Soviet objection was that the act of surrender ought to be a unique, singular, historical event fully reflecting the leading contribution of the Soviet people to the final victory. They maintained that it should not be held on liberated territory that had been victimized by German aggression, but at the seat of government from where that German aggression sprang: Berlin. Furthermore, the Soviets pointed out that, although the terms of the surrender signed in Reims required German forces to cease all military activities and remain in their current positions; they were not explicitly required to lay down their arms and give themselves up, "what has to happen here is the surrender of German troops, giving themselves up as prisoners". Eisenhower immediately agreed, acknowledging that the act of surrender signed in Reims should be considered "a brief instrument of unconditional military surrender", and undertook to attend with correctly accredited representatives of the German High Command for a "more formal signing" of a suitably amended text presided over by Marshal Georgy Zhukov in Berlin on 8 May. Furthermore, he issued a clarificatory statement that any German forces continuing to fight against the Soviets after the stated deadline would "no longer have the status of soldiers"; and hence, if they were to surrender to the Americans or British, would then be handed back into Soviet captivity.
The effect of the Reims signing was limited to a consolidation of the effective ceasefire between German forces and the Western Allies. Fighting continued unabated in the east however, especially as German forces now intensified their air and ground assault against the Prague uprising, while the seaborne evacuation of German troops across the Baltic continued. Dönitz issued new commands that resistance to Soviet forces should be maintained, taking advantage of the 48-hour grace period to order redoubled efforts to save German military units from Soviet captivity; and it soon became clear that he had authorised the signing of a general surrender at Reims in bad faith, and that consequently neither the Soviet Command nor the German forces would accept the Reims surrender as effecting an end to hostilities between them. General Ferdinand Schörner commanding Army Group Centre, broadcast a message to his troops on 8 May 1945 denouncing "false rumours" that the OKW had surrendered to the Soviet Command as well as the Western Allies; "The struggle in the west however is over. But there can be no question of surrender to the Bolsheviks."
Consequently, Eisenhower arranged for the commanders in chief of each of the three German armed services in person to be flown from Flensburg to Berlin early on 8 May; where they were kept waiting through the day until 10:00 p.m. when the Allied delegation arrived, at which point the amended surrender text was provided to them. The definitive Act of Military Surrender was dated as being signed before midnight on 8 May at the seat of the Soviet Military Administration in Berlin-Karlshorst, now the location of the German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst. Since Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander for Western Europe technically outranked Zhukov, the act of signing on behalf of the Western Allies passed to his deputy, Air Chief Marshal Tedder. The proposed Soviet amendments to the Reims surrender text were accepted without difficulty by the Western Allies; but the identification and designation of the Allied signatories proved more problematic. French forces operated under SHAEF command, but General de Gaulle was demanding that General de Tassigny sign separately for the French High Command; but in that case it would be politically unacceptable for there to be no American signature on the definitive surrender document, while the Soviets would not agree to there being more than three Allied signatories in total – one of whom would have to be Zhukov. After repeated redrafts, all of which needed translating and retyping, it was finally agreed that both French and American signatures would be as witnesses. But the consequence was that the final versions were not ready for signing until after midnight. Consequently, the physical signing was delayed until nearly 1.00 a.m. on 9 May, Central European Time; and then back-dated to 8 May to be consistent with the Reims agreement and the public announcements of the surrender already made by Western leaders.
The definitive Act of Military Surrender differed from the Reims signing principally in respect of requiring three German signatories, who could fully represent all three armed services together with the German High Command. Otherwise the amended text set out an expanded article 2, now requiring German forces to disarm and hand over their weapons to local allied commanders. This clause had the effect of ensuring that German military forces would not only cease military operations against regular allied forces; but would also disarm themselves, disband, and be taken into captivity. Field Marshal Keitel initially balked at the amended text, proposing that an additional grace period of 12 hours be granted to surrendering German forces, before they might be exposed to punitive action for non-compliance under article 5. In the event, he had to be satisfied with a verbal assurance from Zhukov.
ACT OF MILITARY SURRENDER
- We the undersigned, acting by authority of the German High Command, hereby surrender unconditionally to the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and simultaneously to the Supreme High Command of the Red Army all forces on land, at sea, and in the air who are at this date under German control.
- The German High Command will at once issue orders to all German military, naval and air authorities and to all forces under German control to cease active operations at 23.01 hours Central European time on 8 May 1945, to remain in all positions occupied at that time and to disarm completely, handing over their weapons and equipment to the local allied commanders or officers designated by Representatives of the Allied Supreme Commands. No ship, vessel, or aircraft is to be scuttled, or any damage done to their hull, machinery or equipment, and also to machines of all kinds, armament, apparatus, and all the technical means of prosecution of war in general.
- The German High Command will at once issue to the appropriate commanders, and ensure the carrying out of any further orders issued by the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and by the Supreme Command of the Red Army.
- This act of military surrender is without prejudice to, and will be superseded by any general instrument of surrender imposed by, or on behalf of the United Nations and applicable to GERMANY and the German armed forces as a whole.
- In the event of the German High Command or any of the forces under their control failing to act in accordance with this Act of Surrender, the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and the Supreme High Command of the Red Army will take such punitive or other action as they deem appropriate.
- This Act is drawn up in the English, Russian and German languages. The English and Russian are the only authentic texts.
- Soviet Union: Marshal Georgy Zhukov: on behalf of the Supreme High Command of the Red Army
- United Kingdom: Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur William Tedder, as Deputy Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force
- United States: General Carl Spaatz, Commanding United States Strategic Air Forces, as witness
- France: General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, Commanding First French Army, as witness
- Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel as the Chief of the General Staff of the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) and as representative of the German Army
- General-Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg as Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy
- Colonel-General Hans-Jürgen Stumpff as the representative of the German Air Force
Admiral Friedeburg was the only representative of the German forces to be present at the signing of the German instruments of surrender at Luneburg Heath on 4 May 1945, in Reims on 7 May and in Berlin on 8 May 1945. Generaladmiral von Friedeburg committed suicide shortly afterwards, on 23 May 1945, upon the dissolution of the Flensburg Government.
For the most part, the Berlin signing did the job required of it; with German forces in Courland and the Atlantic outposts all surrendering on 9 May within the informal 12-hour grace period. Surrender to the Soviets in Bohemia and Moravia took rather longer to achieve, with some German forces in Bohemia continuing to attempt to fight their way towards the American lines. Nevertheless, the principle of a common surrender broadly held; and units seeking to defy it were denied passage west, perforce having to surrender to the Soviets. The exception was Army Group E in Croatia, which fought on for several days attempting to force an escape from the partisan forces of Marshal Tito, such that many soldiers from these units did succeed in surrendering to General Alexander in Italy. These included considerable numbers of Ustase collaboration troops, who were subsequently returned to Yugoslavia; and who were all promptly executed without trial.
The Reims signing ceremony had been attended by considerable numbers of reporters, all of whom were bound by a 36-hour embargo against reporting the capitulation. As it became clear that there would need to be a definitive second signing before the Act of Surrender could become operative, Eisenhower agreed that the news blackout should remain; so that all Allied powers could celebrate Victory in Europe together on 9 May 1945. However, Edward Kennedy of the Associated Press news agency in Paris broke the embargo on 7 May, with the consequence that the German surrender was headline news in the western media on 8 May. Realising that it had become politically impossible to keep to the original timetable, it was eventually agreed that the Western Allies would celebrate Victory in Europe Day on 8 May, but that western leaders would not make their formal proclamations of Victory until that evening (when the Berlin signing ceremony should be imminent). The Soviet government made no public acknowledgement of the Reims signing, which they did not recognise; and so, maintaining the original dates, celebrated Victory Day on 9 May 1945.
The signing in Berlin took place 9 May 1945 at 00:16 local time. The capitulation was effective backwards, from 8 May 1945 at 23:01 Central European Time. That means time of both signing and capitulation was on 9 May according to Moscow Time.
Although the German military signatories of the May 1945 German Instruments of Surrender had been acting under instructions from Admiral Dönitz, none of the Allied Governments recognised the acting Flensburg Government as validly exercising civil power, and consequently the Allies had insisted that the German signatories should explicitly represent the German High Command alone. On 23 May 1945, the purported German government in Flensburg was abolished, and its members taken into captivity as prisoners of war.
During 1944 and 1945 formerly neutral countries, and former German allies, had been joining the Allied powers and declaring war on Germany. The German embassies to these countries had been closed down, with their property and archives held in trust by a nominated protecting power (usually Switzerland or Sweden) under the terms of the Geneva Conventions; with counterpart arrangements for the former embassies of Allied countries in Berlin. The United States State Department had prepared for the diplomatic consequences of the war's ending on the assumption that there would have been an explicit statement of unconditional surrender of the German state in accordance with the agreed EAC surrender text. In the final days of April 1945, the State Department had notified the protecting powers, and all other remaining neutral governments (such as Ireland), that following the forthcoming German surrender, the continued identity of the German state would rest solely in the four Allied Powers, who would immediately recall all German diplomatic staff, take ownership of all German state property, extinguish all protecting power functions, and require the transfer of all archives and records to one or another of the embassies of the western Allies. On 8 May 1945, these arrangements were put into effect in full, notwithstanding that the only German parties to the signed surrender document had been the German High Command; the western Allies maintaining that a functioning German state had already ceased to exist, and consequently that the surrender of the German military had effected the complete termination of Nazi Germany. As the protecting powers complied fully with the Allied demands, the German state ceased as a diplomatic entity on 8 May 1945 (Imperial Japan, the only remaining Axis belligerent, having already denounced the German surrender and unilaterally seized the German embassy in Tokyo).
Nevertheless, as the surrender instrument of 8 May 1945 had been signed only by German military representatives, the full civil provisions for the unconditional surrender of Germany remained without explicit formal basis. Consequently, the EAC text for Unconditional Surrender of Germany, redrafted as a declaration and with an extended explanatory preamble, was adopted unilaterally by the now four Allied Powers as the Declaration regarding the defeat of Germany on 5 June 1945. This spelled out the Allied position that as a result of its complete defeat Germany had no government or central authority, and that the vacated civil authority in Germany had consequently been assumed solely by the four Allied Representative Powers (the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom and the French Republic) on behalf of the Allied Governments overall, an authority subsequently constituted into the Allied Control Council. Stalin had, however, already backtracked on his previous support for the principle of German dismemberment, publicly renouncing any such policy in his victory proclamation to the Soviet people of 8 May 1945. Consequently, there was no "dismemberment clause" in the Berlin declaration text.
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