VE Day 70: Berlin’s surrender after fruitless bid to carry on

Headlines from April 29 - May 5, 1945
Headlines from April 29 - May 5, 1945

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Under the leadership of General Doenitz, the Third Reich staggered on for another eight days after Hitler’s death.

That the end was near was obvious. Italy surrendered on May 2 and broken German troops, exhausted after three weeks of bloody battle against the Russians that cost 1,298,745 casualties, finally surrendered to Marshall Zukhov in Berlin in the same day.

Doenitz, wanting to delay the inevitable, continued to stall.

On May 4, instead of meeting Field Marshal Montgomery himself, he sent a delegation to secure a two-stage surrender that would allow more German forces to retreat from the Russians.

Predictably, the plea was ignored and Montgomery insisted on an unconditional surrender.

However, the delegation had to seek authorisation from Doenitz, buying the Germans more time.

The next day, the last embers of German power were extinguished.

US troops took Hitler’s mountain residence in Berchtesgaden, Prague fell to a civilian uprising and all German U­-boats returned to their bases.

But Doenitz continued to play for time. He sent his chief of operations, General Alfred Jodl, to meet Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, at Reims in north-western France, on May 6. Jodl asked if surrender would apply only to the forces still fighting the Western Allies.

Not surprisingly, his demand was dismissed and Eisenhower demanded complete surrender of all German forces, in the East and the West.

Finally, with nowhere left to turn, Doenitz ordered Jodl to sign the documents.

Germany officially admitted defeat at 2.41am on May 7, with arms to fall silent at 11pm on May 8.

The Russians actually insisted peace came a day later, with their surrender ceremony in Berlin.

But what is 24 hours? The timing that really mattered is that after five years, eight months and seven days of unrelenting horror, World War II in Europe was over.