Spurious Act of Surrender Signed in Reims, France

Attempts by the Anglo-Americans to diminish the Soviet Union's role in achieving the victory over fascism began as the war in Europe was drawing to a close. The aim was to deprive the Soviet Union of the great prestige in which it was held by the world's peoples because of its leadership and the great sacrifices of its peoples during the war, and to reduce its role in forming the post-war order.

On this basis, the U.S. created an intrigue in Reims, France, to accept an "unconditional surrender on all fronts" on May 6, aimed at sidelining the Soviet Union and buying time for Nazi troops to escape from Soviet troops on the Eastern Front.

On May 6, Generaloberst (Colonel General) Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, arrived at the temporary headquarters of General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, in Reims to sign the document of surrender according to the authority given to him by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who was acting President and Supreme Commander of the German Armed Forces. Writing for the Strategic Culture Foundation in 2015, historian Yuriy Rubstov, Professor at the Military University of the Russian Ministry of Defense, explained:

"Eisenhower insisted the act of capitulation was to be signed to stop hostilities on all fronts, including the Eastern Front where the Wehrmacht continued to offer fierce resistance to the Red Army. On May 4, Eisenhower informed the Soviet command about the upcoming visit of Jodl. In a letter addressed to Army General A. Antonov, Head of the Operations Directorate in Stavka, Eisenhower wrote that he would recommend Admiral Dönitz establish contacts with the Russian high command and discuss the capitulation of all forces confronting the Red Army. One must give the devil his due -- the American General behaved like a real ally. He stressed that the capitulation was a purely military term, it had no relation to political or economic conditions imposed by the governments of allied states. He found it important to match the time of ending the hostilities on all fronts.

"Late on May 6, Jodl reported the conditions for surrender to Admiral Dönitz whose staff was located in Flensburg at the time. On May 7, the radio message from Dönitz instructed him to sign an act of unconditional surrender on all fronts."

General Ivan Susloparov, the chief of the Soviet liaison mission with the French government and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, was in Paris at that time. He was visited by Eisenhower's adjutant who asked him to come to Reims without delay. Eisenhower informed him that Jodl was ready to sign the surrender instruments and that a presence of a Soviet representative at the ceremony was a must. The Allied Supreme Commander asked Susloparov to send the protocol text to Moscow and represent his country at the signing ceremony which was scheduled for 02:30 Central European Time on May 7, 1945. The protocol said all forces under the control of the German government were to comply with unconditional surrender and remain at their positions. All orders of the Allied Supreme Commander and Soviet Command were to be carried out.

By the time of the ceremony, Susloparov had not received his instructions. So he took the decision to sign the document with the provision that another document on capitulation could be signed if one of the Allied governments found it expedient. The representatives of other Allied nations agreed.

On this basis, on May 7, the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces was signed by Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, on behalf of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces and as the representative for the new Reich President, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz; Walter Bedell Smith signed on behalf of the Western Allies; and Ivan Susloparov on behalf of the Soviet Union. French Major-General Francois Sevez signed as the official witness. German Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg also witnessed the signing. The document was to come into force at 23:00 May 8 Central European Time (two hours later according to Moscow time).

The message from Moscow to Susloparov came after the ceremony was over. It said no documents were to be signed. It is said that the delay was due to the time it took to report Susloparov's message to Stalin and then draft the reply. Rubstov suggests, "Perhaps the real cause was different. Stalin had all the reasons to believe the protocol to be signed in Reims would not be complied with at the Eastern Front. He knew something Susloparov was not informed about. Dönitz gave an order to leave the positions at the Eastern Front and move to the west using arms if need be. Besides, Jodl used poor communications as a pretext to give a 45-hour delay to the forces (from the moment of signing [May 7 at 2:30] until coming into force on May 8, 23:00, Central European Time)."

Rubtsov goes on to explain that a recent biography of Jodl, called A Soldier Without Fear or Reproach, says many soldiers and refugees used this delay to escape from the Soviet forces. He also points out that Stalin had big policy considerations. Whereas the Allies emphasized their role in defeating Germany by organizing the ceremony on the territory they controlled, it is a matter of record that the Soviet Union bore the brunt of the war effort: the enemy lost 73 per cent of its personnel and 75 per cent of its weapons systems at the Soviet-German front.

Regarding the considerations that the Soviets had to take into account, Rubstov informs that "Stalin declined the proposals of Churchill and Truman to declare May 8 Victory Day. He sent personal letters to each of the Western leaders saying the resistance of German forces at the Eastern Front was as strong as before. He offered to wait till the capitulation of German forces at 23:00, May 8, Central European Time or 01:00, May 9, Moscow time. The Western leaders declined the proposal to declare victory on another day, but they agreed to consider the Reims document as preliminary formalization of surrender.

Stalin wrote that the surrender instrument signed in Reims could be neither cancelled, nor recognized. The signing of capitulation had to be an important historic act. The documents had to be signed where the aggression came from -- in Berlin. It could not be done unilaterally. The document had to be signed at the level of the top commanders of the alliance. That is what happened late at night on May 9, 1945, in Berlin's suburb of Karlshorst."

This article was published in
Volume 52 Number 4 - May 8, 2022

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