End of World War II in Europe

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The German instrument of surrender signed at Reims, 7 May 1945

The final battles of the European Theatre of World War II as well as the German surrender to the Western Allies and the Soviet Union took place in late April and early May 1945.

Timeline of surrenders and deaths[edit]

Allied forces begin to take large numbers of Axis prisoners. The total number of prisoners taken on the Western Front in April by the Western Allies was 1,500,000.[1] April also witnessed the capture of at least 120,000 German troops by the Western Allies in the last campaign of the war in Italy.[2] In the three or four months up to the end of April, over 800,000 German soldiers surrendered on the Eastern Front.[2] In early April, the first Allied-governed Rheinwiesenlagers were established in western Germany to hold hundreds of thousands of captured or surrendered Axis Forces personnel. Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) reclassified all prisoners as Disarmed Enemy Forces, not POWs (prisoners of war). The legal fiction circumvented provisions under the Geneva Convention of 1929 on the treatment of former combatants.[3] By October, thousands had died in the camps from starvation, exposure and disease.[4]

Germans leave Finland: On 25 April 1945, the last Germans were expelled by the Finnish Army from Finland and retreated into Norway.

Mussolini's death: On 27 April 1945, as Allied forces closed in on Milan, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was captured by Italian partisans. It is disputed that he was trying to flee from Italy to Switzerland (he was on the wrong road) and was traveling with a German anti-aircraft battalion. On 28 April, Mussolini was executed in Giulino (a civil parish of Mezzegra); the other Fascists captured with him were taken to Dongo and executed there. The bodies were then taken to Milan and hung up on the Piazzale Loreto of the city. On 29 April, Rodolfo Graziani surrendered all Fascist Italian armed forces at Caserta. This included Army Group Liguria. Graziani was the Minister of Defence for Mussolini's Italian Social Republic puppet state.

Hitler's death: On 30 April, as the Battle of Berlin raged above him, realizing that all was lost and not wishing to suffer Mussolini's fate, German dictator Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his Führerbunker along with Eva Braun, his long-term partner whom he had married less than 40 hours before their joint suicide.[5] In his will, Hitler dismissed Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, his second-in-command and Interior minister Heinrich Himmler after each of them separately tried to seize control of the crumbling Third Reich. Hitler appointed his successors as follows; Großadmiral Karl Dönitz as the new Reichspräsident ("President of Germany") and Joseph Goebbels as the new Reichskanzler (Chancellor of Germany). However, Goebbels committed suicide the following day, leaving Dönitz as the sole leader of Germany.

German forces in Italy surrender: On 29 April, the day before Hitler died, SS General Karl Wolff signed a surrender document at Caserta[6] on behalf of General von Vietinghoff,[7] after prolonged unauthorised secret negotiations with the Western Allies, which were viewed with great suspicion by the Soviet Union as trying to reach a separate peace. In the document, Wolff agreed to a ceasefire and surrender of all the forces under the command of Vietinghoff at 2pm on 2 May. Accordingly, after some bitter wrangling between Wolff and Albert Kesselring in the early hours of 2 May, nearly 1,000,000 men in Italy and Austria surrendered unconditionally to British General Harold Alexander at 2pm on 2 May.[8]

German forces in Berlin surrender: The Battle of Berlin ended on 2 May. On that date, General der Artillerie Helmuth Weidling, the commander of the Berlin Defense Area, unconditionally surrendered the city to General Vasily Chuikov of the Soviet army.[9] On the same day the officers commanding the two armies of Army Group Vistula north of Berlin, (General Kurt von Tippelskirch, commander of the German 21st Army and General Hasso von Manteuffel, commander of Third Panzer Army), surrendered to the Western Allies.[10] 2 May is also believed to have been the day when Hitler's deputy Martin Bormann died, from the account of Artur Axmann who witnessed Bormann's death in Berlin near its Lehrter Bahnhof railway station after encountering a Soviet Red Army patrol.[11] Lehrter Bahnhof is close to where the remains of Bormann, confirmed as his by a DNA test in 1998,[12] were unearthed on 7 December 1972.

German forces in North West Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands surrender: On 4 May 1945, the British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery took the unconditional military surrender from Generaladmiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, and General Eberhard Kinzel, of all German forces "in Holland [sic], in northwest Germany including the Frisian Islands and Heligoland and all other islands, in Schleswig-Holstein, and in Denmark… includ[ing] all naval ships in these areas",[13][14] at the Timeloberg on Lüneburg Heath; an area between the cities of Hamburg, Hanover and Bremen. The number of German land, sea and air forces involved in this surrender amounted to 1,000,000 men.[15] On 5 May, Großadmiral Dönitz ordered all U-boats to cease offensive operations and return to their bases.
At 16:00, General Johannes Blaskowitz, the German commander-in-chief in the Netherlands, surrendered to Canadian General Charles Foulkes in the Dutch town of Wageningen in the presence of Prince Bernhard (acting as commander-in-chief of the Dutch Interior Forces).[16][17]

German forces in Bavaria surrender: At 14:30 on 4 May 1945, General Hermann Foertsch surrendered all forces between the Bohemian mountains and the Upper Inn river to the American General Jacob L. Devers, commander of the American 6th Army Group.

The front page of The Montreal Daily Star announcing the German surrender.
Final positions of the Allied armies, May 1945

Central Europe: On 5 May 1945, the Czech resistance started the Prague uprising. The following day, the Soviets launched the Prague Offensive. In Dresden, Gauleiter Martin Mutschmann let it be known that a large-scale German offensive on the Eastern Front was about to be launched. Within two days, Mutschmann abandoned the city, but was captured by Soviet troops while trying to escape.[18]

Hermann Göring's surrender: On 6 May, Nazi leader and Hitler's second-in-command, Hermann Göring, surrendered to Carl Andrew Spaatz who was the commander of the operational United States Air Forces in Europe, along with his wife and daughter at the Germany-Austria border. He was by this time the most powerful Nazi official still alive.

German forces in Breslau surrender: At 18:00 on 6 May, General Hermann Niehoff, the commandant of Breslau, a 'fortress' city surrounded and besieged for months, surrendered to the Soviets.[17]

German forces on the Channel Islands surrender: At 10:00 on 8 May, the islanders were informed by the German authorities that the war was over. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a radio broadcast at 15:00 during which he announced: "Hostilities will end officially at one minute after midnight tonight, but in the interests of saving lives the 'Cease fire' began yesterday to be sounded all along the front, and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today."[19][20]

Axis-held territory at the end of the war in Europe shown in grey
Wilhelm Keitel (center) surrendering to the Allies in Berlin
Keitel signs surrender terms, 7 May 1945 in Berlin

Jodl and Keitel surrender all German armed forces unconditionally: Thirty minutes after the fall of "Festung Breslau" (Fortress Breslau), General Alfred Jodl arrived in Reims and, following Dönitz's instructions, offered to surrender all forces fighting the Western Allies. This was exactly the same negotiating position that von Friedeburg 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.[21] Eisenhower explicitly told Jodl that he would order western lines closed to German soldiers, thus forcing them to surrender to the Soviets.[21] Jodl sent a signal to Dönitz, who was in Flensburg, informing him of Eisenhower's declaration. Shortly after midnight, Dönitz, accepting the inevitable, sent a signal to Jodl authorizing the complete and total surrender of all German forces.[17][21]

At 02:41 on the morning of 7 May, at SHAEF headquarters in Reims, 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. General Franz Böhme announced the unconditional surrender of German troops in Norway on 7 May, the same day as Jodl signed the unconditional surrender document. It included the phrase "All forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European Time on May 8, 1945." [13][20] The next day, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and other German OKW representatives traveled to Berlin, and shortly before midnight signed a similar document, explicitly surrendering to Soviet forces, in the presence of General Georgi Zhukov.[22] The signing ceremony took place in a former German Army Engineering School in the Berlin district of Karlshorst; it now houses the German-Russian Museum Berlin-Karlshorst.

Victory in Europe: News of the imminent surrender broke in the West on 8 May, and celebrations erupted throughout Europe. In the US, Americans awoke to the news and declared 8 May V-E Day. As the Soviet Union was to the east of Germany it was 9 May Moscow Time when the German military surrender became effective, which is why Russia and many other European countries east of Germany commemorate Victory Day on 9 May.

German units cease fire: Although the military commanders of most German forces obeyed the order to surrender issued by the (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW)—the German Armed Forces High Command), not all commanders did so. The largest contingent were Army Group Centre under the command of Generalfeldmarschall Ferdinand Schörner who had been promoted to Commander-in-Chief of the Army on 30 April in Hitler's last will and testament. On 8 May, Schörner deserted his command and flew to Austria; the Soviet Army sent overwhelming force against Army Group Centre in the Prague Offensive, forcing German units in Army Group Centre to capitulate by 11 May (the last did on 12 May). The other forces which did not surrender on 8 May surrendered piecemeal:

Notice sent home to families of GIs at the end of hostilities

Dönitz government ordered dissolved by Eisenhower: Karl Dönitz continued to act as if he were the German head of state, but his Flensburg government (so-called because it was based at Flensburg in northern Germany and controlled only a small area around the town), was not recognized by the Allies. On 12 May an Allied liaison team arrived in Flensburg and took quarters aboard the passenger ship Patria. The liaison officers and the Supreme Allied Headquarters soon realized that they had no need to act through the Flensburg government and that its members should be arrested. On 23 May, acting on SHAEF's orders and with the approval of the Soviets, American Major General Rooks summoned Dönitz aboard the Patria and communicated to him that he and all the members of his Government were under arrest, and that their Government was dissolved. The Allies had a problem, because they realized that although the German armed forces had surrendered unconditionally, SHAEF had failed to use the document created by the "European Advisory Commission" (EAC) and so there had been no formal surrender by the civilian German government. This was considered a very important issue, because just as the civilian, but not military, surrender in 1918 had been used by Hitler to create the "stab in the back" argument, the Allies did not want to give any future hostile German regime a legal argument to resurrect an old quarrel.

Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany and the Assumption of Supreme Authority by Allied Powers was signed by the four Allies on 5 June. It included the following:

The Governments of the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom and the Provisional Government of the French Republic, hereby assume supreme authority with respect to Germany, including all the powers possessed by the German Government, the High Command and any state, municipal, or local government or authority. The assumption, for the purposes stated above, of the said authority and powers does not effect [a] the annexation of Germany.

—US Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series, No. 1520.[24]
The Oder-Neisse Line

It is disputed whether this assumption of power constituted debellation—the end of a war caused by the complete destruction of a hostile state.[25][26][b]

The Potsdam Agreement was signed on 2 August 1945; in connection to this, the Allied leaders planned the new post-war German government, resettled war territory boundaries, de facto annexed a quarter of pre-war Germany situated east of the Oder-Neisse line, mandated and organized the expulsion of the millions of Germans who remained in the annexed territories and elsewhere in the east. They also ordered German demilitarization, denazification, industrial disarmament and settlements of war reparations.

Map showing the Allied zones of occupation in post-war Germany
The Allied zones of occupation in post-war Germany, highlighting the Soviet zone (red), the inner German border (heavy black line) and the zone from which British and American troops withdrew in July 1945 (purple). The provincial boundaries are those of pre-Nazi Weimar Germany, before the present Länder were established.

The Allied Control Council was created to effect the Allies assumed supreme authority over Germany, specifically to implement their assumed joint authority over Germany. On 30 August, the Control Council constituted itself and issued its first proclamation, which informed the German people of the Council's existence and asserted that the commands and directives issued by the Commanders-in-Chief in their respective zones were not affected by the establishment of the Council. Cessation of hostilities between the United States and Germany was proclaimed on 13 December 1946 by US President Truman.[27]

Paris Peace Conference ended on 10 February 1947 with the signing of peace treaties by the wartime Allies with the minor European Axis powers (Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Finland).

The Federal Republic of Germany, that had been founded on 23 May 1949 (when its Basic Law was promulgated) had its first government formed on 20 September 1949 while the German Democratic Republic was formed on 7 October.

End of state of war with Germany was declared by many former Western Allies in 1950. In the Petersberg Agreement of 22 November 1949, it was noted that the West German government wanted an end to the state of war, but the request could not be granted. The US state of war with Germany was being maintained for legal reasons, and though it was softened somewhat it was not suspended since "the U.S. wants to retain a legal basis for keeping a U.S. force in Western Germany".[28] At a meeting for the Foreign Ministers of France, the UK, and the US in New York from 12 September – 19 December 1950, it was stated that among other measures to strengthen West Germany's position in the Cold War that the western allies would "end by legislation the state of war with Germany".[29] In 1951, many former Western Allies did end their state of war with Germany: Australia (9 July), Canada, Italy, New Zealand, the Netherlands (26 July), South Africa, the United Kingdom (9 July), and the United States (19 October).[30][31][32][33][34][35] The state of war between Germany and the Soviet Union was ended in early 1955.[36]

"The full authority of a sovereign state" was granted to the Federal Republic of Germany on 5 May 1955 under the terms of the Bonn–Paris conventions. The treaty ended the military occupation of West German territory, but the three occupying powers retained some special rights, e.g. vis-à-vis West Berlin.

Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany: Under the terms of this peace treaty, the Four Powers renounced all rights they formerly held in Germany, including Berlin. As a result, Germany became fully sovereign on 15 March 1991. Under the terms of the Treaty, the Allies were allowed to keep troops in Berlin until the end of 1994 (articles 4 and 5). In accordance with the Treaty, occupying troops were withdrawn by that deadline. Germany remains however without the normal protection of the UN charter due to articles 53 and 107 in the charter which has not been amended since the end of the war.[citation needed]

American soldiers view the corpses of prisoners which lie strewn along the road in the newly liberated Ohrdruf concentration camp

Concentration camps and refugees[edit]

In the last months of the war and immediately afterwards, Allied soldiers discovered a number of concentration camps that had been used by the Nazis to imprison and exterminate an estimated 11 million people, six million of whom were Jews. Romanis, Slavs, homosexuals, and various minorities and disabled persons, as well as political enemies of the Nazi regime (particularly communists) formed the remaining five million. The best-known of these camps is the death camp at Auschwitz in which about 1.1–1.6 million Jews and political prisoners were killed.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Facsimile of the original text, the transcription used in the Avalon source for the paragraph is erroneous. In this case, "effect" is correct.[23] The implication is that annexation of Germany did not occur with the assumption of all the powers of the German state by the four Allied powers. However the next paragraph explicitly stated that the "[four Allied powers] will hereafter determine the boundaries of Germany or any part thereof and the status of Germany or of any area at present being part of German territory".[23]
  2. ^ Although the Allied powers considered this a debellatio (The human rights dimensions of population, UNHCR web site, p. 2 § 138 ) other authorities have argued that the vestiges of the German state continued to exist even though the Allied Control Council governed the territory; and that eventually a fully sovereign German government resumed over a state that never ceased to exist (Junker, Detlef; et al (2004), The United States and Germany in the Era of the Cold War, 1945–1990: A Handbook 2, Cambridge University Press, co-published with German Historical Institute, Washington D.C., p. 104, ISBN 0-521-79112-X  .)
  1. ^ The Daily Telegraph Story of the War, (January 1st to September 9th, 1945) page 153
  2. ^ a b the Times, 1 May 1945, page 4
  3. ^ (Biddiscombe 1998, p. 253)
  4. ^ Davidson, Eugene (1999). The Death and Life of Germany. University of Missouri Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN 0-8262-1249-2. 
  5. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 342.
  6. ^ Max Hastings 'All Hell let loose' page 630
  7. ^ G.A.Shepperd Italian Campaign 1943-1945 published by Arthur Barker 1968 page 368
  8. ^ Daily Telegraph Story of the War fifth volume page 153
  9. ^ Dollinger, Hans. The Decline and the Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047. p. 239
  10. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 128.
  11. ^ Beevor, Anthony (2002). Berlin: The Downfall 1945. Viking-Penguin Books. 
  12. ^ Karacs, Imre (4 May 1998). "DNA test closes book on mystery of Martin Bormann". Independent (London). Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  13. ^ a b The German Surrender Documents – WWII
  14. ^ "Monty Speech & German Surrender 1945". British Pathé. Retrieved December 2013. 
  15. ^ the Times, 5 May 1945, page 4
  16. ^ World War II Timeline:western Europe: 1945
  17. ^ a b c Ron Goldstein Field Marshal Keitel's surrender BBC additional comment by Peter – WW2 Site Helper
  18. ^ [Page 228, "The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan", Hans Dollinger, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047]
  19. ^ The Churchill Centre: The End of the War in Europe
  20. ^ a b During the summers of World War II, Britain was on British Double Summer Time which meant that the country was ahead of CET time by one hour. This means that the surrender time in the UK was "effective from 0001 hours on May 9". RAF Site Diary 7/8 May
  21. ^ a b c Ziemke 1969, p. 130.
  22. ^ Ziemke 1990, p. 258 last paragraph.
  23. ^ a b Plenipotentiaries 1945, p. 1 (3 PDF).
  24. ^ Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany, The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, Retrieved 14 September 2008
  25. ^ United Nations War Crimes Commission (1997), Law reports of trials of war criminals: United Nations War Crimes Commission, Wm. S. Hein, p. 13, ISBN 1-57588-403-8 
  26. ^ Yearbook of the International Law Commission, II Part Two] page=54, paragraph 295 (last paragraph on the page), 1993 
  27. ^ Werner v. United States (188 F.2d 266), United States Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit, 4 April 1951. Website of Public.Resource.Org
  28. ^ A Step Forward Time Magazine Monday, 28 Nov. 1949
  29. ^ Staff. Full text of "Britannica Book Of The Year 1951" Open-Access Text Archive. Retrieved 11 August 2008
  30. ^ War's End Time Magazine, 16 July 1951
  31. ^ Elihu Lauterpacht, C. J. Greenwood. International law reports. Volume 52, Cambridge University Press, 1979 ISBN 0-521-46397-1. p. 505
  32. ^ James H. Marsh. World War II:Making the Peace, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Retrieved 11 August 2008
  33. ^ 1951 in History BrainyMedia.com. Retrieved 11 August 2008
  34. ^ H. Lauterpacht (editor), International law reports Volume 23. Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-949009-37-7. p. 773
  35. ^ US Code—Title 50 Appendix—War and National Defense, U.S. Government Printing Office.
  36. ^ Spreading Hesitation Time Magazine Monday, 7 Feb. 1955

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]