Fall of the Reich. How Germany surrendered to the Red Army

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signs the Act of Unconditional Surrender of Germany. Berlin, May 8, 1945 10:43 PM CET (May 9 at 12:43 AM Moscow time)

75 years ago, on May 9, 1945, Germany surrendered. The act of unconditional surrender of the Third Reich was signed in Berlin on May 8 at 22:43 CET, on May 9 at 0:43 Moscow time.

Reich surrender at Reims

After the fall of Berlin, the destruction of the Berlin group of the Wehrmacht by the troops of Zhukov, Konev and Rokossovsky, the German military-political elite was still trying to maneuver. Hitler’s successor, Grand Admiral Dönitz, entered into negotiations with the command of the British and American troops for a unilateral surrender in the West, and sought to withdraw as many German divisions there as possible.

This idea had a chance of success. The fact is that the allies, led by W. Churchill, were working out a plan for the beginning of the third world war: England, the USA and a number of other powers against Russia (Operation Unthinkable). London wanted to “drive out” the Russians from Eastern Europe, including Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland. Therefore, the remaining German divisions and the military-industrial potential of the Reich could be useful to the Anglo-American high command. The Germans would become the spearhead of the West against the Russians, while the British and Americans would remain in the second echelon.

Before the general surrender of Germany, a series of partial surrenders of large Wehrmacht formations took place. In March-April 1945, the British and Americans negotiated with the Germans in Switzerland about the surrender of German troops in Northern Italy. On April 29, 1945, the act of surrender of Army Group C was signed in Caserta by its commander, Colonel-General G. Fitingof-Scheel. Previously, Hitler subordinated all the armed forces of the Reich in southern Europe to Kesselring. Kesselring refused to surrender, dismissed Fittinghof and his chief of staff, General Röttiger, from office. However, the commanders of the armies in Group C, the commander of the Luftwaffe von Pohl and the commander of the SS forces in Italy, Wolf, ordered their troops to cease hostilities and surrender. Kesselring ordered the arrest of the generals. The commander-in-chief himself doubted, so the matter did not come to hostilities between the Germans. When the news of Hitler’s suicide came, Kesselring ended his resistance. On May 2, German troops in Italy surrendered.

On May 2, 1945, the remnants of the German garrison, led by General Weidling, surrendered. On the same day in Flensburg, Admiral Dönitz held a meeting of the new German government. The meeting participants decided to focus their efforts on rescuing as many German forces as possible and withdrawing them to the Western Front in order to capitulate to the British and Americans. It was difficult to achieve a general surrender in the West due to the agreement of the allies with the USSR, so it was decided to pursue a policy of private surrenders. At the same time, resistance against the Soviets continued.

On May 4, 1945, the new commander-in-chief of the German fleet, Admiral Hans-Georg Friedeburg, signed the act of surrender of all German armed forces in the northwest (Holland, Denmark, Schleswig-Holstein and North-West Germany) in front of Field Marshal B’s 21st Army Group Montgomery. The agreement extended to ships and vessels of the military and merchant fleet operating against England and leaving ports and bases. On May 5, the surrender took effect. On May 5, General Friedrich Schultz, commander of Army Group G, operating in southwestern Germany, capitulated to the Americans. As a result, only four large groups of the Wehrmacht remained, which did not lay down their arms. Army Group Center Scherner, Army Group South Rendulich, troops in the South-East (Balkans), Army Group E A. Ler and Army Group Kurland Hilpert. All of them continued to resist the Russian troops. There were also separate garrisons and enemy groups on the Baltic Spit, in the Danzig area, in Norway, on the islands in the Mediterranean Sea (Crete, etc.), etc.

The commander of the 56th corps, General Helmut Weidling (left), who surrendered to the Soviet troops on May 2, together with the officers of his headquarters, was the last commander of the Berlin defense appointed by Hitler himself

Commander of the German Navy, Admiral-General Hans-Georg von Friedeburg signs the act of surrender of German troops in northwestern Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands at the headquarters of the commander of the 21st Allied Army Group, Field Marshal B. Montgomery

Admiral Friedeburg, on behalf of Dönitz, arrived in Reims, at the Eisenhower’s headquarters on May 5, to resolve the issue of the Wehrmacht’s surrender on the Western Front. On May 6, representatives of the allied commands were summoned to the headquarters of the High Command of the Allied Forces: members of the Soviet mission, General Susloparov and Colonel Zenkovich, and also the representative of France, General Sevez. Friedeburg offered Eisenhower’s representative, General Smith, to surrender the remaining German forces on the Western Front. Eisenhower conveyed to the German side that only a general surrender was possible, including formations on the Eastern Front. At the same time, the troops in the West and East had to remain in their positions. Dönitz decided that this was unacceptable and sent Jodl, the chief of the operational headquarters, for further negotiations. However, he could not achieve concessions either.

Under the threat of complete annihilation, the Germans agreed to a general surrender. They signed the surrender on May 7 and on the 8th they had to end the resistance. The act of unconditional surrender was signed on May 7 at 02:41 CET. From the German side it was signed by A. Jodl, from the Anglo-American command – the chief of the General Staff of the Allied Expeditionary Forces W. Smith, from the USSR – the representative of the General Headquarters with the allies, Major General I. Susloparov, from France – F. Sevez. After the signing of the document, the Soviet representative received instructions from Moscow banning the signing of the surrender.

Colonel General Alfred Jodl (center) signs the German surrender at the Allied headquarters in Reims at 02:41 local time on May 7, 1945. Sitting next to Jodl is Grand Admiral Hans Georg von Friedeburg (right) Jodl’s adjutant Major Wilhelm Oxenius

Allied Chief of Staff in Europe, US Lieutenant General Bedell Smith signs the German surrender in Reims on May 7, 1945. In the photo on the left – the chief of staff of the British fleet, Admiral Sir Harold Burro, on the right – the head of the USSR military mission in France, Major General Ivan Susloparov

The head of the USSR military mission in France, Major General Ivan Alekseevich Susloparov, signs the act of Germany’s surrender in Reims on May 7, 1945. In the photo, the far right is American General Karl Spaatz. To the left of I.A. Susloparova – his adjutant, senior lieutenant Ivan Chernyaev

Surrender at Karlshorst

Dönitz and Keitel instructed the formations of Kesselring, Scherner, Rendulich and Lehr to withdraw as many divisions as possible to the West, if necessary, break through the Russian positions, stop hostilities against the Anglo-American troops and surrender to them. On May 7, via radio from Flensburg, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Reich government, Count Schwerin von Krosig, informed the German people of the surrender.

At Moscow’s request, the Anglo-American command postponed the public announcement of the surrender of the Third Reich. It was decided to consider the surrender in Reims “preliminary”. Stalin demanded that the surrender be signed in Berlin taken by the Red Army. The document was to be signed by the high command of the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition. It was fair. England and the United States did not oppose. Eisenhower informed the Germans about this, they had no choice but to give their consent.

On May 8, 1945, the head of Britain, W. Churchill, and the US President, H. Truman, issued radio messages announcing the surrender of Germany and the Victory. Churchill noted:

“… There is no reason forbidding us to celebrate today and tomorrow as the days of Victory in Europe. Today, perhaps, we will think more about ourselves. And tomorrow we must pay tribute to our Russian comrades, whose courage on the battlefields has become one of the most important components of our common victory. “

On the night of May 8-9, 1945, in the Berlin suburb of Karlshorst, in the building of the officers’ club of the former military engineering school, the Final Act of Germany’s unconditional surrender was signed. On the part of the Reich, the document was signed by the Chief of Staff of the Wehrmacht High Command, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the Luftwaffe representative, Colonel General Stumpf, the Navy representative Admiral von Friedeburg. On the part of the Soviet Union, the document was signed by Marshal Zhukov, on behalf of the Allies – by the Deputy Commander of the Allied Forces, Marshal Tedder.

Representatives of Germany at the table during the signing of the Act of Unconditional Surrender. Sitting from left to right in the photo: Colonel General Stumpf from the Air Force, Field Marshal General Keitel from the Army and Admiral General von Friedeburg from the Navy

Representative of the Supreme High Command of the Red Army, Commander of the 1st Belorussian Front Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov during the signing of the act of unconditional surrender of the German armed forces in Berlin’s Karlshorst district. On the right sits American General Spaats

On May 9, 1945, at 2:10 am Moscow time, the Soviet Information Bureau announced the surrender of Germany. Announcer Yuri Levitan read the Act of military surrender of Nazi Germany and the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR declaring May 9 the Victory Day. The message was broadcast all day. On the evening of May 9, Joseph Stalin addressed the people. Then Levitan read out the order of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief on the complete victory over Nazi Germany and on the artillery salute on May 9 at 22 o’clock with thirty volleys from a thousand guns. This is how the Great Patriotic War ended.

The remaining units, units and garrisons of the Wehrmacht, in accordance with the act of surrender, laid down their arms and surrendered. On May 9-10, Army Group Kurland, blockaded in Latvia, surrendered. Separate groups that tried to resist and break through to the west, to Prussia, were destroyed. Here about 190 thousand enemy soldiers and officers surrendered to the Soviet troops. At the mouth of the Vistula (east of Danzig), and on the Frische-Nerung spit, about 75 thousand Nazis laid down their arms. On May 9, the Soviet landing captured 12 thousand. garrison of the island of Bornholm. In the north of Norway, the Narvik group laid down their arms.

Also, the Red Army completed the defeat and capture of the enemy on the territory of Czechoslovakia and Austria. From 9 to 13 May, more than 780 thousand Germans laid down their arms in the southern sector of the former Soviet-German front. On the territory of the Czech Republic and Austria, some groups of Germans still resisted, tried to break through to the West, but in the end they were finished off by May 19-20. As a result, from 9 to 17 May, our troops captured about 1.4 million German soldiers.

Thus, the German armed forces and the Third Reich ceased to exist. On the initiative and insistence of Moscow, on May 24, 1945, the German government of Dönitz was dissolved, its members were arrested. The Reich High Command was also arrested. All of them were considered war criminals and had to be brought before a tribunal. All power in Germany passed to the authorities of the four victorious powers: the USSR, the USA, England and France. It is worth noting that the occupation zone was allocated to the French only at the initiative of the Soviet government. The occupation was legally formalized in the Declaration of the Defeat of Germany on June 5, 1945. Subsequently, this issue was resolved at the Potsdam Conference of the Great Powers (July – August 1945).

Red Army soldiers celebrate victory in the “Court of Honor” of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin

Fireworks in honor of the Victory on the roof of the Reichstag at the sculptural group “Germany”

Soviet soldiers with an orchestra celebrate victory on a Vienna street

Women give flowers to Soviet aviators on Victory Day on Sverdlov Square in Moscow

Fireworks in honor of the Victory on Pushkin Square in Leningrad

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