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Second World War - End In Europe

The Allies demanded unconditional surrender of the Germans.

On 26th April 1945, Soviet and American troops linked up near Torgau, on the River Elbe, cutting Germany in two.

On 27th April, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was captured by Italian Partisans as he tried to flee to Switzerland. The next day he and some others captured with him were executed and the bodies taken to Milan and unceremoniously strung up.

On 30th April, as the Battle of Berlin raged above him and realizing that all was lost, German dictator Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker along with Eva Braun, his long-term mistress and wife. Braun had married Hitler just hours before their joint suicide. In his will Hitler appointed his successors as Karl Dönitz as the new Reichspräsident (President of Germany), and Joseph Goebbels as the new Reichskanzler (Chancellor of Germany). However, Goebbels committed suicide on 1st May, leaving Dönitz to orchestrate negotiations of surrender. Dönitz appointed Ludwig von Krosigk as Reichskanzler.

On 1st May, SS General Karl Wolff and the Commander-in-Chief of the German Tenth Army, General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, after prolonged unauthorised secret negotiations, signed a surrender document which stipulated that all German forces in Italy were to surrender unconditionally to the Allies the next day.

The Battle of Berlin ended on 2nd May when General of the Artillery, Helmuth Weidling, the commander of the Berlin Defence Area, unconditionally surrendered the city to the Soviet Army.

On 4th May, at Lüneburg Heath (an area between the cities of Hamburg, Hanover and Bremen) Field Marshal Montgomery took the unconditional military surrender from General Admiral Hans Georg von Friedburg, and General Hans Kinzel, of all German forces in Holland, in northwest Germany including the Frisian Islands and Heligoland and all other islands, in Schleswig-Holstein, and in Denmark … including all naval ships in these areas. As the operational commander of some of these forces was Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, the new Reichspräsident, this signalled that the European war was over.

Previously, the Allies had considered the possibility that Germany might try to agree a partial or conditional surrender to one or other groupings of the Allies so that they could then concentrate their forces on the other grouping. To counter this, the Allies had agreed that no separate or incomplete surrenders would be accepted. Initially, at Lüneburg Heath, von Friedburg had offered such a partial surrender to the Western Allies, the implication being that the Germans wished to continue and concentrate on fighting the Soviet Army. The Western Allies had threatened to break off all negotiations unless the Germans agreed to a complete unconditional surrender. Von Friedburg agreed to unconditional surrender, but only of those forces under his command that were not, in any case, fighting the Soviets.

On 5th May, Dönitz ordered all U-boats to cease offensive operations and return to their bases. At 2:30pm General Hermann Foertsch surrendered all forces between the Bohemian mountains and the Upper Inn. At 4:00pm General Johannes Blaskowitz, the German commander-in-chief in the Netherlands, surrendered to Canadian General Charles Foulkes in the presence of Prince Bernhard (acting as commander-in-chief of the Dutch Interior Forces).

Interestingly, also on 5th May, in Dresden, Gauleiter Martin Mutschmann let it be known that a large-scale German offensive on the Eastern Front was about to be launched. However, two days later, Mutschmann was captured by Soviet troops while trying to escape.

At 6pm on 6th May, General Hermann Niehoff, the commandant of Breslau, a fortress city surrounded and besieged for months, surrendered to the Soviets.

At 6.30pm on 6th May General Alfred Jodl arrived in Rheims and, following Dönitz's instructions, offered to surrender all forces fighting the Western Allies, specifically excluding those fighting the Soviet Army. This was exactly the same negotiating position that von Friedburg had initially made to Montgomery, and, like Montgomery, the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, threatened to break off all negotiations unless the Germans agreed to a complete unconditional surrender. Jodl sent a signal to Dönitz, who was in Flensburg, informing him of Eisenhower's position. Shortly after midnight Dönitz, accepting the inevitable, sent a signal to Jodl authorizing the complete and total surrender of all German forces.

At 2:41am on the morning of 7th May 1945, at the SHAEF headquarters in Rheims, France, the Chief-of-Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, General Alfred Jodl, signed the unconditional surrender documents for all German forces to the Allies. It included the phrase, “All forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European Time on May 8 1945.”

On 8th May, shortly before midnight, German officials in Berlin signed a similar document, explicitly surrendering to Soviet forces, in the presence of General Georgi Zhukov.

News of the surrender broke in the West on 8th May, and celebrations erupted throughout Europe. The Western Allies consider 8th May as VE Day (Victory in Europe Day). As the Soviet Union was to the east of Germany it was May 9th Moscow Time when German military surrender became effective, which is why Russia and many other European countries east of Germany commemorate Victory Day on 9th May.

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