Muerwik, near Flensburg, Northern Germany · May 23, 1945

On this date in 1945, twenty-three days after Adolf Hitler’s sui­cide under the rubble of the Reich capi­tal, Berlin, and six­teen days after emis­saries from Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz’s govern­ment agreed to the uncon­di­tional sur­render of all Ger­man mili­tary forces, a Brit­ish liai­son officer went to Doenitz’s head­quarters at the Muer­wik naval aca­demy in Flens­burg. He asked to speak with the admiral and mem­bers of his govern­ment. He then read an order from Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, Supreme Com­man­der Allied Expedi­tionary Force, ordering the dis­solu­tion of Doenitz’s civilian govern­ment and the arrest of all its cabi­net mem­bers. Doenitz & Co. had hoped the Allies would recog­nize their govern­ment as the pro­vi­sional govern­ment of post­war Ger­many, but the Soviets would have nothing to do with the “Fas­cist gang around Doenitz.” Inter­est­ingly, although the Ger­man armed forces had sur­rendered uncon­di­tionally in Reims, France, on May 7, 1945, and in Ber­lin the next day, the civilian govern­ment Hitler had in­voked into being in his poli­tical testa­ment (i.e., the Doenitz govern­ment) had not been in­cluded in the Ger­man Instru­ment of Sur­render. The “Act of Mili­tary Sur­ren­der,” the document that Chief of Operations Staff of the Wehr­macht Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl signed, stated only that “All forces under Ger­man con­trol [were] to cease active oper­a­tions at 23:01 hours Cen­tral Euro­pean Time on 8 May 1945.” The power vac­u­um that en­sued between the arrest of Doenitz and his cabi­net minis­ters and the dis­solu­tion of the Third Reich ended on June 5, 1945, when Allied repre­sen­ta­tives signed a four-power docu­ment, the Decla­ra­tion Regarding the Defeat of Ger­many, which formally abo­lished any Ger­man govern­ance over the van­quished nation. Although Ger­many con­tinued to exist, the coun­try was placed under the autho­rity of the Allied Mili­tary Occu­pa­tion Govern­ment, whose supreme author­ity was dis­charged by the Four Powers jointly for all four occu­pa­tion zones (U.S., Soviet, Brit­ish, and French) via the Allied Con­trol Coun­cil based in Ber­lin. The ACC ceased operations in March 1948, its func­tions in west­ern Ger­many turned over to the Allied High Com­mis­sion until the West German Federal Republic gained sover­eignty in 1949. The Soviet occu­pa­tion zone was admin­is­tered by a High Com­mis­sioner until the Ger­man Demo­cratic Republic gained sovereignty the same year.

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Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz’s Flensburg Government, May 2–23, 1945

Extent of Flensburg Government Control, May 1945

Above: Map showing extent of Flens­burg Govern­ment control (dark grey), May 2–23, 1945. Headed by Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, the Flens­burg Govern­ment had de jure but little if any de facto con­trol over the rem­nants of the Third Reich, and none over the areas shown in shades of green and grey. The short-lived Flens­burg Govern­ment, named after Doenitz’s head­quarters on the Schles­wig-Hol­stein coast, attempted to rule the coun­try following Hitler’s sui­cide (a “hero’s death,” Doenitz called it). The Flens­burg Govern­ment was dis­solved by order of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Karl Doenitz and Hitler, Berlin 1945Doenitz Government under arrest 1945

Left: Hitler receives Doenitz in his underground Berlin bunker in late December 1944 or early 1945. Shortly before the mili­tary and poli­tical col­lapse of Nazi Ger­many and his sui­cide on April 30, 1945, Hitler trans­ferred the leader­ship of the Ger­man state to the Admiral. Doenitz did not become Fuehrer (a post Hitler abo­lished in his poli­tical testa­ment), but rather Pre­si­dent (Reichs­praesi­dent). Propa­gan­da Minis­ter Joseph Goeb­bels would have become Chan­cellor (Reichs­kanzler) but for his own sui­cide hours after Hitler’s.

Right: Three members of the Flens­burg Govern­ment—Doenitz (dark coat), Reich Presi­dent and Minis­ter of War; trailing him Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, Doe­nitz’s dele­gate who signed for the Ober­kom­mando der Wehr­macht at Reims, France; and to Jodl’s left Albert Speer, Minis­ter for Eco­no­mics—following their arrest by Brit­ish Royal Hus­sars carrying out Oper­a­tion Black­out, May 23, 1945. Shortly after the men were taken into cus­tody, Flens­burg’s main street swarmed with Brit­ish tanks and troops rounding up the remaining mem­bers of Doenitz’s admin­is­tra­tion. Doenitz, Jodl, and Speer were tried by the four-power Inter­na­tional Mili­tary Tri­bu­nal in Nurem­berg (Novem­ber 20, 1945 to Octo­ber 1, 1946). Jodl was exe­cuted as a war crim­i­nal, and Doenitz and Speer served pri­son terms of 10 and 20 years, respectively.

Contemporary Newsreel Account of Arrest of Flensburg (Doenitz) Regime Members