V-E Day plus-60: A Stripes reporter's account of the surrender
The following account is from the original 1945 report by Charles Kiley, a Stars and Stripes reporter given exclusive access by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to the negotiations that went on before the signing of the peace accord.
REIMS, May 8 — The Third Reich surrendered unconditionally to the Allies at Gen. Eisenhower’s Forward HQ here at 02:45 hours on Monday.
The terms of surrender, calling for the cessation of hostilities on all fronts at one minute past midnight (Double British Summer Time) Wednesday May 9, were signed on behalf of the German Government by Col. Gen. Gustav Jödl, Chief of the Wermacht and Chief of Staff to Führer Karl Dönitz.
Under Jödl’s signature were those of Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, chief of staff to the Supreme Allied Commander; General Ivan Suslaparov, head of the Russian mission to France who was authorized by Moscow to sign on behalf of Soviet forces; and General Francois Sevez of France.
The surrender was signed in five minutes in the war room at Supreme Headquarters here, 55 miles east of Compiegne Forest where Germany surrendered to the Allies in the last war, November 11, 1918, and the scene of the capitulation of France to the Third Reich in this war June 21, 1940.
The terms were signed in less than ten hours after the arrival of Jödl by plane from Germany, and 34 hours after final negotiations had first begun with the arrival Saturday of Gen. Adm. Hans- George Friedeburg, Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, who on Thursday had headed the Nazi delegation which surrendered to the 21st Army Group all German armed forces in Denmark, Holland and northwestern Germany.
Eisenhower did not take part in the actual surrender. He remained in his office with his Deputy Supreme Commander, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, during the ceremonies.
Flanking Jödl at the surrender table were Friedeburg and Major Gen. G.S. Wilhelm Oxenius, Jödl’s aide.
There were no dramatics during the surrender. It was conducted on a business-like basis. Correspondents, cameramen and photographers already were in the war room when the first group of high-ranking Allied officers entered at 02:29 hours. In that group were three Russian officers, General Carl A. Spaatz and Lt. Gen. F.E. Morgan, Adm. Sir Harold Burrough and Air Marshal Sir J. M. Robb. One minute later Maj. Gen. H.R. Bull, Assistant Chief of Staff, entered the room.
At 02:34 Smith entered, walked to his chair and talked with Morgan and Burrough. Sevez and Col. Pedron arrived at 02:35 and went to their seats. Two minutes later Strong, who had taken part in all preliminary discussions with the Germans as interpreter for Smith as well as in his official capacity as G2, SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force], arrived and informed Smith the German delegation was ready.
Smith answered curtly: “Bring them in.”
The Germans were escorted by Brig. E.J. Ford, SHAEF chief of operational intelligence. Friedeburg came first, followed by Jödl, erect and expressionless, his uniform neat, his boots highly polished, walked straight to the center of the huge wooden table, and faced Smith. Friedeburg and Ovenius fell in on both sides of Jödl. The Germans and Allied officers took their seats, Gen. Strong standing behind Jödl to interpret.
The formality of the surrender got under way as a copy of the surrender terms was handed by Smith to Suslaparov, who listened while his interpreter read it to him in Russian.
At 02:40 hours Suslaparov handed the copy back to Smith, nodding his head in agreement with the terms.
Smith then handed Jödl four copies and told him to sign all four. The copies went from Jödl to Smith to Suslaparov to Sevez for signatures.
Cameramen darted all over the room, climbed ladders and stood on chairs. Flashbulbs went off every second. Motion pictures hummed to record the historic event.
Jödl’s face was impassive as he affixed his signatures. Only Friedeburg appeared disturbed by the commotion caused by the photographers.
At 02:46, Smith stood and spoke a few words to Jödl, which could not be heard.
Jödl stood, faced Smith. “General,” Jödl began. “With this signature the German people and the German armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victors’ hands.
“In this war, which has lasted more than five years, both have achieved and suffered more than perhaps any other people in the world. In this hour I can only express the hope that the victor will treat them with generosity.”
Jödl broke halfway through his address, and appeared on the verge of tears. He regained his composure, however, and finished with a strong voice. His hands were trembling when he finished.
Smith simply nodded his head and the three German delegates left the room to be taken to Eisenhower in the Supreme Commander’s office.
Eisenhower and his Deputy Supreme Commander, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, were waiting for the Germans.
There was no exchange of salutes. Jödl, Friedeburg and Oxenius stood at attention before Eisenhower as he sternly asked them:
“Do you understand the terms of this unconditional surrender and are you ready to comply with them?” Jödl, in the center of the German trio, clicked his heels and bowed his head in the affirmative after Strong interpreted the Supreme Commander’s question.
The Germans left the general at 02:57, after a two-minute audience.
Suslaparov led the Russian officers into the Supreme Commander’s office and firmly grasped Eisenhower’s hand. The Supreme Commander beamed and said, “This is a great moment for all of us.”
Suslaparov spoke and when his words were interpreted Eisenhower replied: “You said it.”
Congratulations were exchanged among all the officers present. Eisenhower putting his arm around Tedder’s shoulder, grasping his hand and saying, “Thank you very much, Arthur.”
The Supreme Commander, enjoying his greatest moments since he was given command of Allied Forces, refused to pose for pictures until his “gang,” including the officers present at the surrender, his naval aide and close friend, Capt. Harry C. Butcher, and his personal secretary, 2nd Lt. Kathleen Summersby, were gathered around him.
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