Muerwik, near Flensburg, Northern Germany May 23, 1945

Twenty-three days after Adolf Hitler had com­mitted sui­cide under the rubble of his Reich capi­tal, and six­teen days after mili­tary emis­saries from Reich Presi­dent Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz’s govern­ment agreed to the uncon­di­tional sur­render of all German armed forces, a tele­phone call reached the admiral’s head­quarters at the Muer­wik naval aca­demy in the Baltic Sea port of Flens­burg. Doernitz, Admiral Hans-Georg von Friede­burg, and Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl were requested to report to the Allied Control Com­mis­sion precisely at 9:45 a.m. the next day. On this date, May 23, 1945, the three Germans faced an Amer­i­can general, a British general, and a Soviet general. From them they heard the order from Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, Supreme Com­man­der Allied Expedi­tionary Force, dis­solving Doenitz’s Nazi govern­ment and the arrest of all its cabi­net mem­bers. Dissolved also was the German High Command, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, or OKW.

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.” For that matter, the Western Allies never con­sidered the Doenitz regime in Flens­burg to be any­thing other than the rem­nant of the German High Com­mand. 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 April 29, 1945, poli­tical testa­ment (i.e., the ves­tig­ial Nazi govern­ment under Adm. Doenitz), 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 (and Jodl’s was the sole German signa­ture on the surren­der docu­ment), stated only that “All forces under German con­trol [were] to cease active oper­a­tions at 23:01 hours Central Euro­pean Time on 8 May 1945.” Given the Allies’ sus­pi­cions that the hard­boiled Nazi admiral had sur­rounded him­self with other dangerous Nazis and war crimi­nals in Flensburg (OKW chief Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel had been taken into custody on May 13), it is pro­bably point­less to spec­u­late what impli­ca­tions there may have been later on had the sig­na­ture of a civil­ian repre­sen­ta­tive from the rump Nazi govern­ment of Doenitz, such as Chan­cellor Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, been included on the surrender document.

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 formally abo­lished any German govern­ance over the van­quished nation and gave the victors legal cover for assuming polit­i­cal con­trol of Germany. Although the country con­tinued to exist, it 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 (ACC) based in Berlin.

The ACC—pretty much a toothless body because all decisions were made by con­sen­sus, of which there was prac­ti­cally none—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 (Eastern Germany) was admin­is­tered by a High Com­mis­sioner until the German Democratic Republic gained sovereignty the same year.

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 gray), 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 Hitler’s Third Reich, and none over the areas shown in shades of green. One Amer­i­can news­paper called the Flens­burg Govern­ment (some­times referred to as the Northern Govern­ment) a “fake govern­ment.” Named after Doenitz’s head­quarters on the Schles­wig-Hol­stein coast, the fledgling Flens­burg Govern­ment attempted to rule the coun­try following Hitler’s sui­cide (a “hero’s death,” Doenitz called it). The Doenitz “admin­is­tra­tion” (the label Win­ston Chur­chill chose to use)—unwilling to make a clean break from its Nazi past—was dis­solved by order of Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower. The prescient Nazi Arma­ments Minis­ter Albert Speer, as soon as he learned that Jodl had signed the German Instru­ment of Surrender in Reims, France, on May 7, prophesied correctly when he told Doenitz that “the sovereign rights of the German people have ceased to exist,” and that “the fate of the German people will be decided exclusively by the enemy.”

Karl Doenitz and Adolf Hitler, Berlin 1945 Doenitz Government under arrest, Flensburg, Northern Germany, May 23, 1945

Left: Hitler receives Doenitz 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 Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel’s replace­ment as head of the Ober­kom­mando der Wehr­macht Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, Doenitz’s dele­gate who signed the “Act of Mili­tary Sur­ren­der” for the OKW on May 7, 1945, at the head­quarters of SHAEF (Supreme Head­quarters of the Allied Expedi­tionary Force) in Reims, France; and to Jodl’s left (in civilian attire) 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 and staff. In all, between 5,000 and 6,000 Germans, including hundreds of high-ranking military officers, were taken into custody. 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