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End of World War II in Europe

From Academic Kids

This article chronicles the end of the European Theatre of World War II.

On April 25, 1945 United States and Soviet troops linked up, cutting Germany in two (see Elbe Day). The first units to make contact were from the U.S. 69th Infantry Division of the U.S. First Army and the Soviet 58th Guards Division of the 5th Guards Army near Torgau, on the river Elbe.

Missing image
Red_army_soldiers_raising_the_soviet_flag_on_the_roof_of_the_reichstag_berlin_germany.jpg
The raising of the hammer and sickle over the Reichstag.

On April 30, 1945 realising all was lost, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker along with his long-time lover and, briefly, his wife, Eva Braun. In his last testament Hitler appointed his successors. Karl Dönitz as the new Reichspräsident ("President of Germany") and Joseph Goebbels as the new Reichskanzler (Chancellor of Germany). However, Goebbels committed suicide on May 1 1945, leaving Dönitz to orchestrate negotiations of surrender. Dönitz appointed von Krosigk Reichskanzler.

On May 1 SS General Karl Wolff, after prolonged unauthorised negotiations with the Allies, and the Commander-in-Chief of the German 10th Army, General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, ordered all German armed forces in Italy to cease hostilities and signed a surrender document which stipulated that all German forces in Italy were to surrender unconditionally to the Allies on May 2. The Battle of Berlin ended on May 2, when the commandant, General Helmuth Weidling, surrendered the city to the Soviet troops.

On May 4 1945, the British Field Marshal Montgomery accepted the military surrender of all German forces in Holland, Northwest Germany, and Denmark on Lüneburg Heath; an area between the cities of Hamburg, Hanover and Bremen. As the operational commander of some of these forces was Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, this signaled that the European war was over. On May 5 Dönitz ordered all U-boats to cease offensive operations and return to their bases.

At 02:41 on the morning of, May 7 1945, at the SHAEF headquarters in Rheims, France, the Chief-of-Staff of German Armed Forces High Command General Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender documents for all German forces to the AlliesTemplate:Ref. It included the phrase "All forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European Time on 8th May 1945"Template:RefTemplate:Ref. The next day 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 May 8, and celebrations erupted throughout Europe. In the United States Americans awoke to the news and declared May 8 V-E Day. As the Soviet Union was to the east of Germany it was May 9 Moscow Time when German military surrender became effective. World War II is known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia, and Russia, and many other European countries east of Germany, commemorate Victory Day on May 9.

Karl Dönitz continued to act as head of state, but his government was not recognised by the Allied powers and was dissolved when its members were captured and arrested by British forces on May 23, 1945 at Flensburg. The Allies had a problem, because they realised 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 the civilian German government had not. 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 a future hostile German regime a legal argument to resurrect an old quarrel. Eventually they decided not to recognise Dönitz and to sign a four-power document instead, creating the Allied Control Council which included the following:

The Governments of the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and 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 affect the annexation of Germany. [US Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series, No. 1520.]

On June 5 1945 the four powers signed the document in Berlin and the de facto became the de jure.

Thousands of Holocaust victims arriving at the Nazi extermination camp at Birkenau in 1944
Enlarge
Thousands of Holocaust victims arriving at the Nazi extermination camp at Birkenau in 1944

In the last months of the war and immediately afterwards, Allied soldiers discovered a number of concentration camps and other locations that had been used by the Nazis to imprison and exterminate an estimated 12 million people. The largest single group represented in this number were Jewish (roughly half the total according to the Nuremberg trials), but Gypsies, Slavs, Catholics, homosexuals and various minorities and disabled persons, as well as political enemies of the Nazi regime (particularly communists) formed the remainder. The most well-known of these camps is the death camp Auschwitz in which about two million prisoners were killed. Although the Nazi genocide or Holocaust was largely unknown to the Allied soldiers fighting the war, it has become an inseparable part of the story of World War II.

In May and June 1945 thousands of refugees from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were rounded up by the Western Allies in Austria and handed over to the Soviets and the Yugoslavs in Operation Keelhaul. The Soviets and the Yugoslavs executed or deported many of them (an example being the Bleiburg massacre). Also defeated Finland and neutral Sweden felt compelled to extradite Ingrian and Baltic refugees in a similar manner, some of whom committed suicide before the extradition.

The former Third Reich was partitioned as previously agreed by the Allies. Some parts like East Prussia were divided between Poland and the USSR. Other German lands, to the East of the Oder River, were transferred to Poland. Germany, excluding Berlin, was divided into four military zones of military occupation: American, British, French and Soviet. Austria, which had been become part of the Third Reich in 1938 (see Anschluss), was recreated and was partitioned in a similar way. In 1955 Austria signed the Austrian State Treaty and under the condition that it remained neutral, the country again became a fully independent republic. In 1949 the Soviet Zone became East Germany (German Democratic Republic—GDR). In the same year the other three zones became West Germany (Federal Republic of Germany (FRG)). Berlin, which was also partitioned into four zones, remained under formal military occupation until September 12, 1990 when the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany was signed by the four powers and the two German governments which was the final peace treaty and the restoration of German sovereignty. This allowed German reunification to take place on October 3, 1990 and the reunited country became fully sovereign again on March 15, 1991. Germany signed a separate treaty with Poland confirming their present border the same year.

Notes

  1. Template:Note General Böhne announced the unconditional surrender of German troops in Norway on May 7, the same day as Jodl signed the unconditional surrender document. Although the military commanders of most German forces obeyed the order to surrender issued by the German Armed Forces High Command (German acronym OKW), not all commanders did so. The largest contingent not to do so were Army Group Centre under the command of Field Marshal Ferdinand Schorner who had been promoted to Commander-in-Chief of the Army on April 30 in Hitler's last testament. Like many institutions in Nazi Germany the control of the Army was split between the OKW and the German Army High Command (OKH). By 1945 the OKW commanded all German forces in every theatre apart from those on the Eastern Front which were under OKH control and which, before his suicide, had reported directly to Hitler. So it was not clear if Schorner was under the command of OKW on May 8 or if Dönitz, or von Krosigk, needed to order Schorner to surrender. In the end it was resolved by force of arms. On May 8, Schorner deserted his command and flew to Austria and the Soviet Army sent overwhelming force against Army Group Centre in the Prague Offensive forcing all German units in Army Group Centre to capitulate by May 11 (some sources state May 12). The other forces which did not surrender on May 8 surrendered piecemeal:
    • Army Group Courland the only other sizable pocket not to surrender on May 8 surrendered on May 9; as did the Second Army, under the command of General von Saucken, on the Heiligenbeil and Danzig beachheads, on the Hela Peninsula in Vistula delta; the forces on the Greek islands; and the garrisons of St. Nazaire, La Rochelle, Lorient and La Pallice.
    • The garrison on Alderney surrendered on May 16 one week after the garrisons on the other Channel Islands which surrendered on May 9.
  2. Template:Note The German Surrender Documents - WWII (http://www.law.ou.edu/hist/germsurr.html)
  3. Template:Note 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 9 May". RAF Site Diary 7/8 May (http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/apr45.html)

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