Berlin-Karlshorst, Germany May 8, 1945

Five days after the suicide of Adolf Hitler in Berlin on April 30, 1945, Adm. Hans-Georg von Friede­burg, an emis­sary from Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, arrived in the French cathe­dral town of Reims, head­quarters of Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, Supreme Com­mander Allied Exped­i­tionary Force. For the second time in less than a week Friede­burg was tasked with opening sur­render nego­ti­ations on behalf of Adm. Doenitz, Reich Presi­dent of the rump Nazi govern­ment that had taken refuge in Flensburg, close to the Danish border in Northern Germany.

Friedeburg began, Eisenhower remarked later, “playing for time” so that the German armed forces could move as many men and pieces of equip­ment as pos­sible behind Anglo-Amer­i­can lines and away from Soviet lines in East­ern Europe. Indeed, as many as 210,000 German troops had streamed into British and Amer­i­can lines in the last couple of days. Friede­burg was brought up short when Eisen­hower’s repre­sen­ta­tive and chief of staff, Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, made it plain that the Allies would only accept uncon­di­tional sur­render on all fronts—and that included the Eastern Front. Doenitz com­plied with the demand, empowering Friede­burg’s superior, Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Opera­tions Staff of the Armed Forces High Com­mand (Ober­kom­mando der Wehr­macht, or OKW), to sign on May 7, 1945, in Reims formal papers of surrender of all German land, sea, and air forces everywhere in Europe.

In Soviet eyes, however, the Reims sur­ren­der was seriously flawed, and Eisen­hower was in agree­ment. The Allied powers had agreed in 1943 that all three powers had to con­sent to the terms of the German sur­ren­der; from the view­point of Soviet dic­ta­tor Joseph Stalin that had not happened and there­fore his country was tech­ni­cally still at war with Germany. Perhaps most signif­i­cantly, the terms of sur­ren­der signed in Reims required German armed forces to cease all mili­tary activ­i­ties and remain in their current posi­tions, but they were not explicitly required to lay down their arms or give them­selves up to the Allies as prisoners of war. Other Soviet objec­tions were a pre­text for requiring the defin­i­tive signing cere­mony to take place in the former Nazi capital of Berlin, captured by the Red Army at great cost. Con­ceding that the Reims act of sur­ren­der should be inter­preted as “a brief instru­ment of uncon­di­tional mili­tary surren­der,” Eisen­hower joined the Soviets in pushing for a “more formal signing” between correctly accredited repre­sen­ta­tives of the German High Com­mand drawn from all three service branches, not just the army, and properly accredited representatives of the victor nations.

Thus, on this date, May 8, 1945, twenty-four hours after the German surren­der in Reims, Army Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, head of the entire OKW, along with repre­sen­ta­tives of the German Navy (Friede­burg) and Air Force (Col. Gen. Hans-Juergen Stumpff), signed a second uncon­di­tional sur­render docu­ment in the Berlin suburb of Karls­horst. Present for the Allies 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 and U.S. Strategic Air Forces general Carl Spaatz, who signed as witnesses.

Because Doenitz’s, Jodl’s, and Keitel’s communi­ca­tion links with and even author­ity over German troops in the field were chal­lenging, even dubious, at this junc­ture, some fighting con­tin­ued. Certain tank regi­ments, fanat­ical Waffen-SS units (which had the most to lose from the victors), and Hitler Youth simply refused orders to lay down their arms. But the fact remained, the war in Europe was officially over after nearly 5‑1/2 years of unspeak­able blood­shed 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 Hitler had vowed would endure a thousand years had lasted a pitiful and extremely painful dozen.

The Definitive German Surrender in Berlin, May 8, 1945

German unconditional surrender, Berlin, May 8, 1945. German representatives arriveGerman unconditional surrender, Berlin, May 8, 1945. L–R: Stumpff, Keitel, Friedeburg

Left: Flown to Berlin in a British transport plane from Doenitz’s head­quarters in Flens­burg on the German-Danish border on May 8, the German sur­ren­der party was kept waiting from 1 p.m. to a little past mid­night, May 9. By then Allied dele­gates had approved all redrafted and retyped changes to the defini­tive surren­der text. Ushered into the former mess hall of a German mili­tary engi­neering school, now seat of the Soviet Mili­tary Admin­is­tra­tion in Berlin-Karlshorst, were Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel (seen here in center), Chief of the General Staff of the German Armed Forces (Ober­kom­mando der Wehr­macht) and as repre­sen­ta­tive of the army; Col. Gen. Hans-Juergen Stumpff as the repre­sen­ta­tive of the air force (to Keitel’s right); and Adm. Hans-Georg von Friede­burg, as Com­mander-in-Chief of the navy (par­tially hidden behind Keitel). Keitel’s baton salute to the Allied officers was cut short when it was not returned.

Right: Stumpff (left), Keitel, and Friedeburg, in strict accor­dance with Eisen­hower’s instruc­tions in Reims the previous day that “German com­man­ders [were] to appear in Berlin at the moment set by the Russian High Com­mand to accom­plish a formal sur­ren­der to that Govern­ment,” were seated at a small table at right angles to the main table, their staff assembled behind them. From there they faced a mili­tary and civil­ian panel from the U.S., Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France under bright Klieg lights for the benefit of news reporters, photographers, and cameramen.

German unconditional surrender, Berlin, May 8, 1945. Zhukov reads capitulation actGerman unconditional surrender, Berlin, May 8, 1945. Keitel signs act of surrender

Left: Soviet host and First Belorussian Front commander Marshal Georgy Zhukov reads the terms of surren­der to the German dele­gation. The text expanded on the Reims terms in that German forces would not only cease mili­tary opera­tions against all Allied forces, but they would dis­arm them­selves, dis­band, and be taken into cap­tiv­ity. Listening on Zhukov’s right is British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, Deputy Supreme Com­man­der of the Allied Expe­di­tionary Force. Because Eisen­hower, a five-star general, tech­ni­cally out­ranked Marshal Zhukov, the act of signing the German surren­der docu­ment on behalf the Western Allies passed to Eisenhower’s second-in-command, Tedder.

Right: Zhukov asked the three German officers if they were prepared to sign the surren­der docu­ment, which Tedder held up in his hands. Keitel replied “Ja. In Ord­nung,” as he fixed his mon­o­cle over his left eye and removed his right glove. The Germans each took turns at signing the docu­ment, whose May 8, 1945, date (cele­brated today as V-E, Vic­tory in Europe, Day) had not been corrected to reflect the change of date, May 9. Then Zhukov and Tedder added their signa­tures as prin­ci­pals for the Allies, followed by de Tassigny and Spaatz as wit­nesses, momen­tar­ily at a loss for a pen. Zhukov declared the capit­u­lation cere­mony ended. Keitel rose, saluted again with his field marshal’s baton, and led the Germans out of the mess hall. An all-night victors ban­quet, followed by a car cara­van tour of the vanquished Nazi capital, capped the proceedings.

Re-Enactment of Definitive German Military Surrender Ceremony in Berlin, May 8, 1945. To view, click on the link Watch on YouTube.