Before Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, he appointed Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz his successor as National Socialist Germany’s head of state. On 2 May, Dönitz sent Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg to Field Marshal Montgomery’s headquarters to negotiate the surrender of the three German armies still fighting the Soviets in northern Germany. Montgomery, unwilling to offend the Russians, said the Germans had to surrender to the Soviets. The only other option was if all German forces in Northern Germany and Denmark surrendered to him. If that happened, the capitulation would look like a tactical surrender to Monty’s 21st Army, which shouldn’t upset the Soviets. Friedeburg said he didn’t have the authority to surrender everyone Monty demanded, but he’d ask. He returned the next day and acquiesced. 1,000,000 German troops surrendered to Monty. After the details were worked out, Friedeburg asked for passage to negotiate directly with Eisenhower for the surrender of all German forces facing the Western Allies.
Bad weather kept Freideburg from flying directly to SHAEF headquarters at Reims, France, but he eventually arrived on 5 May. Eisenhower told Friedeburg to pound sand. There would be no conditions on the German surrender. There would be no partial surrenders, either he negotiates the surrender of all German forces, including those facing the Soviets to the Soviets, or none at all. Eisenhower’s chief of staff LtGen Bedell “Beetle” Smith showed Friedeburg the situation maps confirming Germany’s hopeless position, including a fake one with arrows continuing the Allied drive east, deep into Czechoslovakia and the Balkans. With tears in his eyes, Friedeburg again professed that he didn’t have the authority. He cabled Dönitz for additional instructions.
The next day, the SHAEF staff wrestled with itself trying to create the surrender documents. There were several competing versions. The first was by the European Advisory Commission, signed in the summer of 1944 and approved by all of the Allies and the Soviets. But there was also a Yalta Conference version that wasn’t officially approved by all parties, specifically France. And everyone knew how touchy DeGaulle was. He could ruin the whole thing, maybe even restart the war just out of pride. Smith compromised – he created a new one.
The Stars and Stripes newspaper recently published the Italian surrender document in its entirety. Smith used the wording of the Italian document, which the French had approved, and inserted “Germany” where “Italy” had been. One of his staff officers updated it. At the hysterical urging of the US Embassy in London, he inserted an “enabling” clause at the last second, stating that the Allies can add conditions in the future as needed. The final version was still being translated when a new German negotiator finally arrived that evening.
General Alfred Jodl was the OKW operations chief, and only departed for Reims after his own awards ceremony in which Dönitz awarded him a Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. After Friedeberg’s message, Dönitz felt that Jodl, a member of Wehrmacht, might convince Eisenhower to accept the surrender of just the German forces facing the Western Allies. Or maybe even convince Eisenhower to join the Germans in fighting the Soviets, for the sake of the German population. The Soviets were raping and looting their way across Germany, and “You’ll have to fight them eventually”, as Jodl stated matter-of-factly.
Eisenhower angrily reiterated unconditional surrender. Jodl, now fully aware that it was all or nothing, began to stall. Eisenhower told him he had 48 hours to sign the freshly produced surrender documents, or he was going to close his lines to any Germans, military or civilian, and force them to surrender to the Soviets. Jodl, aghast, said he didn’t have the authority. Eisenhower just looked at him and said the clock was ticking. Jodl quickly cabled Dönitz, and just after midnight, received permission to sign the documents.
At 2:40 am on 7 May 1945, General Alfred Jodl signed the capitulation of Nazi Germany. The surrender ceremony took just ten minutes. No one said a word, and Eisenhower didn’t even attend. When Jodl finished signing, he asked that the victors treat Germany with generosity. Smith took Jodl to Eisenhower’s office. Ike asked if he understood what he did and that he was personally responsible. Jodl nodded, saluted, and left.
Ike and Smith broke out a bottle of champagne. Ike told the staff to quickly compose a suitable message to send to London, Paris, Moscow, and Washington DC informing them of Germany’s surrender. Every staff officer in the building wanted a piece of the message, and each version was longer and more grandiose than the last. Ike took out a piece a paper, wrote a single line and told Smith to have it sent. It said,
“The mission of this Allied force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7, 1945, Eisenhower.”