German Surrender

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The possibility of large scale but piecemeal surrender had been growing since mid-April, but because the Russians were suspicious lest the Germans make peace with the Allies while continuing to fight the Soviet armies, the Allies rejected most overtures. As early as April 23, Heinrich Himmler, head of the Waif en-SS, an elite ancillary force of the German Army, offered to arrange a surrender on the entire western front, but the heads of Allied governments replied that unconditional surrender on all fronts, made in agreement with the Allies and the Soviet Union, was the only acceptable course.

Aware of the agreement between the Western Allies and the Soviets, Admiral Doenitz nevertheless hoped to save as many German troops as possible from falling into the hands of the Soviet Army. When the Allies on April 29 accepted the surrender of German forces in Italy to become effective on May 2, he began to explore the possibility of other piecemeal surrenders. This led on May 4 to the surrender of all forces in the north, including Denmark and the Netherlands, to Montgomery and the Twenty-first Army Group, though the terms stipulated that the capitulation would be superseded by any general instrument of surrender later to be signed. The next day, a similar surrender occurred in the south, where Army Group G capitulated to the Sixth Army Group.

A German representative authorized to open negotiations for all remaining forces in the west arrived at General Eisenhower’s headquarters in Reims on May 5. Recognizing that the German scheme was to gain time in which to bring troops facing the Russians into the western zone, Eisenhower informed Moscow that he had no intention of accepting surrender unless it included simultaneous surrender to the Soviets. The Russians in turn authorized Maj. Gen. Ivan Susloparov, already at Eisenhower’s headquarters, to act for them. The negotiations began in the late afternoon of May 5. When General Eisenhower made it known that unconditional simultaneous surrender on all fronts was the requirement, the head of the German delegation wired Doenitz for approval. The admiral and those around him were shocked. Doenitz hastily sent General Jodl, head of the OKW operations staff and a strong opponent of surrender in the east, to continue the negotiations at Reims.

When Jodl arrived, he found Eisenhower unyielding. Unless the Germans agreed quickly to surrender, Eisenhower said, he would break off all negotiations and seal the western front to prevent the further westward movement of German troops and civilians. Even Jodl, steadfast opponent of over-all surrender though he was, was impressed. He telegraphed Doenitz for permission to sign. The Germans signed at 2:41. A.M. on May 7. The next day, May 8, the Allied chiefs of staff designated as V-E (Victory in Europe) Day. A second surrender ceremony, with ranking Russians in attendance, took place in Berlin on May 9.

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