Reims, France • May 7, 1945
Five days after the suicide of Adolf Hitler on April 30, 1945, Adm. Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, an emissary from Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, arrived in Reims, France, headquarters of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force. Friedeburg was tasked with opening surrender negotiations on behalf of Doenitz, head of the rump Nazi state centered on Flensburg, Northern Germany.
Friedeburg began, Eisenhower remarked later, “playing for time” so that the German armed forces could move as many men as possible behind Anglo-American lines and away from Soviet lines in Eastern Europe. Friedeburg was brought up short when Eisenhower’s representative, Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, made it plain that the Allies would only accept unconditional surrender on all fronts. Doenitz complied with the demand, empowering Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, or OKW), to sign on this date in 1945 in Reims formal papers of surrender of all German land, sea, and air forces in Europe. After affixing his signature, 54‑year-old Jodl addressed his audience, saying: “At this hour, we [he meant the German nation and German Armed Forces] can only hope that the victors will be generous.” Eisenhower coolly responded that “the German Supreme Commander will appear for the surrender to the Russians at the time and the place that the Russian High Command will designate.”
Following the signing ceremony Eisenhower informed the Allied War Office in London: “The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7, 1945.” The next day in Berlin, May 8, 1945, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, head of the entire OKW, along with representatives of the German Navy and Air Force, signed a second unconditional surrender document in Berlin-Karlshorst. Present were Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov, signing on behalf of the Supreme Command of the Red Army; Deputy Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force British Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, signing as Gen. Eisenhower’s representative; and French Gen. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, who signed as a witness. When Keitel saw the French delegation, he exclaimed, “What? The French too?”
The war in Europe was over after nearly 5‑1/2 years and the deaths of between 65 and 85 million combatants and noncombatants. (The higher figure represents the millions who died from war-related disease and famine.) The German Reich Adolf Hitler had vowed would endure a thousand years had lasted a pitiful and extremely painful dozen.
The German Instrument of Surrender, May 7, 1945
Left: At 2:41 a.m. on Monday, May 7, 1945, Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, along with two other German officers, gathered in the map room of the headquarters (a former school building) of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. The three German officers (backs to the camera) were flanked on three sides of the large table by U.S., British, French, and Soviet officers, who watched Jodl sign the German Instrument of Surrender, which ended World War II in Europe.
Right: Jodl, Chief of Staff in Reich President Adm. Karl Doenitz’s government (successor regime to Hitler’s), signs the document of unconditional surrender. On Jodl’s left is Adm. Hans-Georg von Friedeburg of the German Navy, and on the right is Jodl’s aide and translator, Maj. Wilhelm Oxenius. Friedeburg, who was in Berlin the next day to sign the second German Instrument of Surrender at Soviet military headquarters, committed suicide on May 23, 1945, when a British team arrived at Doenitz’s headquarters in Flensburg, Northern Germany, and arrested members of his Nazi government. Jodl was tried by the postwar International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, sentenced to death, and hanged as a war criminal on October 16, 1946.
Above: Jodl signed the “Act of Military Surrender,” the first of two surrender documents signed by the German military. At the same time Jodl signed Eisenhower’s copy of the surrender document, he signed three more, one each for Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France. Over Jodl’s signature are the words, “On behalf of the German High Command,” not (and this became significant later) as a representative of the legal head of state, Reich President Doenitz, and his civilian government (though he was that). Under Jodl’s signature in capital letters are the words, “IN THE PRESENCE OF.” Then appeared the signatures of Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, who signed on behalf of the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force; Ivan Sousloparov, who signed on behalf of the Soviet High Command; and François Sevez, a Major General in the French Army, who signed as witness.
Contemporary Newsreel Account of Repeat German Surrender Ceremony the Next Day in Berlin, May 8, 1945, VE Day