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The Last Days Of The Third Reich
Forty years ago, a tangle of chaotic events led to the death of Hitler, the surrender of the Nazis, and the end of World War II in Europe
April/may 1985 | Volume 36, Issue 3
Friedeburg protested that he lacked the authority to take such sweeping action. He asked if he might send a message to Doenitz requesting permission to accept the Allied terms. Smith agreed. Friedeburg drafted the message, handing it to the American with tears in his eyes.
Smith thereafter briefed an angry General Eisenhower on Friedeburg’s performance. Ike was convinced that the Germans were deliberately stalling.
It was late. Doenitz’s reply could not be expected for hours. The SHAEF staff glumly closed their offices. Peace would not come that night.
Actually, the surrender terms were not yet ready. John Counsel!, an Oxford graduate who had been an actor and theater manager, was trying to draft them. Until recently Counsell’s principal duty on the SHAEF staff had been to ghost Elsenhower’s dispatches. But lately he had also been assigned to work with an Allied board trying to write a surrender acceptable to America, Britain, Russia, and France. The moment of surrender had apparently arrived, and agreement on the terms had still not been reached. Colonel Counsel! was thus called into the office of Maj. Gen. Harold R. Bull, the SHAEF chief of operations, and told to come up with a suitable surrender instrument in ninety minutes.
Counsell had left, “tingling with the same kind of excitement” that he felt on a first night in the theater. Counsell also apparently suffered from stage fright in the role. After several failed attempts, he suddenly remembered reading the text of the German surrender in Italy the day before in the U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes . Counsel! sent for a copy and cribbed the terms of Germany’s unconditional surrender in longhand from the GI newspaper, had it translated into German, and met his deadline. He entitled the document “Act of Military Surrender.”
As Americans conceived a proper Junker , Gen. Alfred Jodl was right out of central casting. He lacked only a monocle to fulfill the stereotype.
Friedeburg’s message from Reims shocked Admiral Doenitz. Like Himmler, Doenitz clung to a belief that despite their official belligerency, the Americans, British, and Germans were brothers under the skin in their common hatred of the Soviet Union. Friedeburg, Doenitz concluded, had evidently not been forceful or clever enough to make that point clear to Elsenhower. Doenitz decided to send a tougher, shrewder advocate to Reims.
If Admiral Friedeburg had failed to satisfy the SHAEF staff’s idea of a proper Junker , Gen. Alfred Josef Ferdinand Jodl was right out of central casting. Erect in bearing, stern of demeanor, gruff in speech, the operations chief of the German High Command lacked only a monocle to fulfill the stereotype. Albert Speer described Jodl as “typical of the general staff officers who were so fascinated by Hitler that they largely cast aside the moral traditions of their class.” Jodl, like Doenitz, fiercely opposed unconditional surrender. This was the man the admiral now dispatched to Reims.
On the same Sunday that he sent Alfred Jodl to SHAEF, Doenitz finally found the nerve to kill off Heinrich Himmler’s lingering ambitions. He summoned the SS chief to his office and handed him a letter that read: “I now regard all of your offices as abolished.” Doenitz could not, however, resist a last kindness to the Nazi butcher. His letter concluded, “I thank you for the services which you have given to the Reich.” Himmler, now rankless, still continued to skulk around Flensburg, haunting government offices.
Sunday afternoon, May 6, a Royal Air Force plane took off from Field Marshal Montgomery’s headquarters carrying General Jodl to Reims. Escorting him was Monty’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Francis de Guingand. During the flight, Guingand found himself staring in fascination at his charge. After nearly six years of fighting a faceless enemy, he found it unreal “to be in the same aircraft with the man who had for so long worked in the closest association with Hitler.”
Jodl and his party arrived at SHAEF a little after 5:00 P.M. The general stepped from the car, his uniform crisp, his collar and cuffs spotless, his boots gleaming, his stride purposeful, his stance arrosant. Jodl’s manner proclaimed that he came not as the agent of a despised and defeated regime, but as a respectable adversary, a brother officer with the Americans and British in the honorable profession of arms. But save for a couple of casually tossed salutes by junior officers, Jodl, too, was greeted with stony silence and lack of ceremony.
Friedeburg had led the Allies to believe that Jodl was coming merely to sign an immediate surrender. Instead Jodl also began to implement Doenitz’s delaying tactics. He would surrender only to the West, he said, and not to the Russians. After two hours of fruitless wrangling, General Smith informed Eisenhower of the German’s intransigence.