Friday, 27 June 2008

WRONG: Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 7 1945

On 5 May 1945, a delegation of German military bigwigs flew to Brussels, had a spot of lunch, then continued by car to an old red schoolhouse in Rheims, France, that served as General Eisenhower’s headquarters. The intention was to surrender to the Allies.

Unfortunately, the officers, led by Admiral von Friedeburg, had not been given authority to sign by their superiors, so surrender was delayed while they sent a message – via British Army messengers – to the remains of the German government to get further instructions. (German High Command wanted to avoid having to surrender to the Soviets as well as the Western Allies, but Eisenhower demanded unconditional surrender.) General Gustav Jodl arrived the following day, but forced more delays until finally signing at 2.41am on 7 May. The ceasefire became effective at 11.01pm the following day.

And that would seem to be that – unless you want to be pedantic, which we do. First, there had been earlier surrenders. Himmler had proposed a conditional surrender in April, but Eisenhower replied that he wasn’t interested. Von Friedeburg had also signed a conditional surrender on behalf of the government on 4 May in front of Field-Marshal Montgomery, though it was later superseded by the unconditional one.

Then there were the Soviets to consider – Germany didn’t officially surrender to them until 9 May.

Yet all of this overlooks a point of order. While Admiral Doenitz, the German President (Hitler appointed him before his suicide, believing the Navy was the only branch of the military not to have betrayed him) had given his assent, it was only the military who had surrendered. Doenitz’s government, based in Flensburg, had not. So while the armed forces had surrendered, civilian Germany was still, in a sense, at war.

The Allies got around this by simply ignoring the Flensburg government. One term of the 7 May surrender was that “This act of military surrender,” (note the “military”) “…will be superseded by any general instrument of surrender imposed by, or on behalf of the United Nations and applicable to Germany and the German armed forces as a whole.” The Allies arrested the Flensburg government on 23 May, thereby dissolving the immediate problem, and subsequently created a new Allied Control Council, the power-sharing agreement between the Soviet Union, France, the UK and the USA. The Council’s Declaration Regarding The Defeat Of Germany And The Assumption Of Supreme Authority By Allied Powers signed on June 5 effectively eliminated the German government and cemented the surrender in law.

1 comment:

Levi Bookin said...

Alfed Jodl, not Gustav.