Lueneburg Heath, Northern Germany May 4, 1945

Lueneburg (German, Lüneburg), a district in Lower Saxony, Northern Germany, had been captured by ele­ments of Field Marshal Ber­nard Law Mont­go­mery’s 21st Army Group on April 18, 1945. Mont­go­mery made his head­quarters at Moellering Villa in the village of Haecklingen just south of Luene­burg. At mid­day, May 3, a car­load of dele­gates from the German Wehr­macht (armed forces), headed by the supreme com­mander of the Kriegs­marine, Adm. Hans-George von Friede­burg, arrived at the Field Marshal’s tacti­cal head­quarters, a small tent on the Timel­oberg hill, having been sent there by Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz. The grand admiral was Adolf Hitler’s succes­sor (as Reich Presi­dent and Supreme Com­mander of the German armed forces) after the Nazi leader had com­mitted sui­cide on April 30 in his Fuehrer­bunker deep under the Soviet-besieged Reich capi­tal, Berlin. Doenitz was aware of the Allied occupa­tion zones intended for Germany at the war’s con­clu­sion. His plan was to draw out par­tial and local sur­ren­der nego­ti­ations in order to buy time for German troops, war and merchant ships, and refugees in the East (the Baltic States, Poland, East Prussia, and Eastern Germany) to escape the clutches of the advancing Soviet Army while trying to main­tain a sanctuary on the west bank of the River Elbe, now Germany’s ever-shrinking eastern front.

Warned of the imminent arrival of the German emissaries—they had stopped briefly in British-occupied Hamburg—Mont­gomery in khaki trousers and a black beret, accom­panied by three staff officers, gruffly wel­comed the arrivals smartly dressed in great­coats: the short, slightly built Friede­burg; 6 ft, 5 in-tall Gen. Eber­hard Kinzel; and Rear Admiral Ger­hard Wagner. “Never heard of you,” Monty snapped at Friede­burg, who had intro­duced him­self and mem­bers of his party. Mont­gomery quizzed his guests as to the rea­sons for their coming, the Germans riposting with their own ques­tions regarding the scope of a German sur­ren­der should it be agreed to. Mont­gomery curtly shut down the back-and-forth and packed the Germans off to the visitors’ mess while he super­vised prepa­rations for the sur­ren­der table. He set a single chair at the head of two trestle tables pushed together and covered with army blankets—he wasn’t sharing the honored posi­tion with any­one. A pair of visitor chairs extended down both sides of the table; atop sat two microphones.

Montgomery wasted no time when the after­noon session began. All Wehr­macht units in North­western Europe must sur­render uncon­di­tionally, he demanded, including those in Holland, mostly by­passed by Mont­gom­ery’s forces; Schleswig-Holstein, where Doenitz made his seat of govern­ment; and German-occupied Den­mark. Units engaging the Soviet armed forces to the east were excluded from discus­sion. If they refused the terms, Mont­gom­ery threatened to press on with air and ground attacks against mili­tary and civil­ian targets in his war­path. Friede­burg was given 24 hours to convey Mont­gom­ery’s condi­tions to the Doenitz admin­is­tra­tion in Flens­burg near the Danish border, which he did shortly before mid­night. Doenitz and his mili­tary and civili­an ad­visors agreed that more blood­shed was use­less. The next morning, on this date, May 4, 1945, Friede­burg received full author­ity to accept Mont­gom­ery’s con­di­tions. He and his three com­panions arrived back at Montgomery’s tent at 5 p.m. in pouring rain.

Klieg lights, photographers, war correspondents, and several of Mont­gom­ery’s staff wel­comed the rain-soaked Germans into the tent. Mont­gom­ery read aloud the surrender terms in English (his visitors had a German copy) and said with­out a shred of niceties: “You will now sign.” A cease­fire came into effect at 8 o’clock the next morning, the same day Friede­burg left for Reims, France, on his second of three his­toric missions—attending another signing cere­mony of uncon­di­tional surrender of Wehr­macht forces, this one at the head­quarters of the Supreme Com­mander of Allied Forces in the West, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Montgomery’s military superior.

German Military Surrender to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group, Lueneburg Heath, May 4, 1945

German unconditional surrender: Doenitz’s delegation at Lueneburg Heath, May 3, 1945German unconditional surrender: Montgomery reading the text of surrender document to Germans, May 4, 1945

Left: Reich President and Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz’s plen­i­po­ten­ti­aries under a flag of truce to Field Marshal Bernard Law Mont­gom­ery’s tac­ti­cal head­quarters at Luene­burg Heath, May 3, 1945. Facing Mont­gom­ery are Adm. Hans-Georg von Friede­burg (from left), next in naval sen­ior­ity to Doenitz pre­senting his party’s cre­de­ntials; Gen. Eber­hard Kinzel, Chief of Staff to Field Marshal Ernst Busch, head of Army Group North­west, which garri­soned German-occupied Nether­lands; and Rear Adm. Gerhard Wagner, a member of Doenitz’s Flens­burg staff. A TIME maga­zine jour­nalist reported Mont­gomery’s surly recep­tion of “his visitors.” But not 18 days ear­lier and an hour’s drive south of Monty’s head­quarters, his sol­diers had come across 73,000 corpses and half-dead figures sprawled across the grounds and in the bar­racks of Bergen-Belsen con­cen­tra­tion camp. Perhaps Monty viewed Friede­burg and his fellow petitioners as sent from the devil himself.

Right: With the return of Doenitz’s delegates to Mont­gom­ery’s cramped 20‑sq‑ft HQ tent on May 4, 1945 (Kinzel had stayed over­night), the British field marshal, in full uni­form showing his rank and dec­o­ra­tions, read the mili­tary surren­der docu­ment out loud and into the micro­phones on the table. The English, not the German, ver­sion was the official surrender docu­ment. Admirals Wagner and Friede­burg face the camera on Mont­gomery’s right. Gen. Kinzel is to Montgomery’s left, back to camera.

German unconditional surrender: Major Friedel and Admirals Wagner and Friedeburg, May 4, 1945German unconditional surrender: Adm. Friedeburg signing Instrument of Surrender, May 4, 1945

Left: The picture of anguish and glum, a tear­ful Adm. Friede­burg (right) stares into the camera. On the far left is 28-year-old Maj. Hans Jochen Friedel, staff officer to Gen. Kinzel. Between the two is Rear Adm. Ger­hard Wagner. Both Wagner and Friede­burg com­mitted suicide on May 23, 1945, when British forces arrested mem­bers of Doenitz’s cabi­net along with some 5,000 officers and other ranks of the Wehr­macht in Flensburg, Doenitz’s headquarters near the Danish border.
Right: Adm. Friedeburg signing the Instru­ment of Sur­ren­der of All German Armed Forces in Holland, North­west Germany, and Den­mark, Luene­burg Heath, May 4, 1945. Friede­burg was the only repre­sen­ta­tive of the German High Com­mand to be present at the signing of the German instru­ments of sur­ren­der in Lueneburg Heath on May 4, in Reims on May 7, and in Berlin on May 8, 1945. On the day he was taken prisoner on the orders of Gen. Eisen­hower, along with other mem­bers of the Doenitz admin­is­tra­tion, Friede­burg told the Grand Admiral, “I don’t think I can stand the circus that is about to begin” (quoted in Turner, Karl Doenitz and the Last Days of the Third Reich, 247). Locking himself in a bathroom, Friedeburg killed himself.

Contemporary Newsreel Footage of the German Capitulation to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group, Lueneburg Heath, May 4, 1945