Muerwik, near Flensburg, Northern Germany May 23, 1945

Twenty-three days after German dictator 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. Doenitz, 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 Mili­tary High Command, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, or OKW.

Doenitz & Co. had hoped the Allied coalition 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 Mili­tary 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.” On May 11 the Joint Chiefs of Staff Direc­tive Num­ber 1067 held nothing back when explaining how the vic­tors would treat their former foe: “Germany is not to be occupied for the purpose of liberation but as a defeated enemy nation.”

Karl Doenitz and Adolf Hitler, Berlin 1945Doenitz 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) and head of the Germany’s armed services. Con­trary to a 1941 decree that Reichs­marschall Her­mann Goering would succeed him, Hitler had turned hours earlier on Goering and Reichs­fuerher-SS Heinrich Himmler, the second most power­ful person in the country, for angling sep­a­rately to make peace with the Western Allies. Propa­gan­da Minis­ter Joseph Goeb­bels would have become German Chan­cellor (Reichs­kanzler) in the post-Hitler govern­ment 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—in the cus­tody of Brit­ish Royal Hus­sars during 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. The 20‑day farce at Flens­burg had come to its logi­cal end. Most offi­cers below the rank of colonel were released after a brief cap­tivity. Doenitz and his cabi­net were flown to England and impri­soned to await trial on war crimes charges. Tried by the four-power Inter­na­tional Mili­tary Tri­bu­nal in Nurem­berg (Novem­ber 20, 1945, to Octo­ber 1, 1946) Jodl was con­victed and exe­cuted as a war crim­i­nal; Doenitz (unrepen­tant) and Speer (repen­tant) received prison terms of 10 and 20 years, respectively.

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

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