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Field Marshal Keitel's surrender

by Ron Goldstein

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Contributed by 
Ron Goldstein
People in story: 
Field Marshal Keitel and Nathan Sterrie
Location of story: 
Buchen on the Weser
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A4604384
Contributed on: 
29 July 2005

Official English translation of Field Marshal Keitel's surrender document

This article has been submitted to the BBC “People War” website by Ron Goldstein, an active member of AJEX (Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women) on behalf of Mr.Nathan Sterrie

Mr.Sterrie fully understands the terms of the “People’s War” website and agrees to its conditions.

I was a member of a small unit of the Royal Corps of Signals, Intercept Section detached to ‘Y’ Corps moving with the invasion through France, Belgium, Holland finally ending up at Buchen on the Weser, near Hamburg.

On 7th May, 1945 at 02.15 a.m. I intercepted a signal from Field Marshal Keitel ordering all units of Army, Navy, Air Force and SS to cease fire.

It appears that this was approximately 10 hours BEFORE General Montgomery’s Headquarters at Luneberg received the surrender.

The photo shows a copy of the original message translated into English. I still hold a copy of the original German version.

Nathan Sterrie

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Message 1 - Re: Field Marshal Keitel's surrender

Posted on: 29 July 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Nathan

You did indeed intercept a very important signal. However it was the last, not the first, signal closing a dramatic few days. It wasn't Keitel's surrender; he was, as always, simply 'obeying orders'.

In Britain, perhaps understandably, we tend to take a parochial view of the surrender. One generally hears onl of the surrender to Field Marshal Montgomery on Luneberg Heath and of VE Day on 8 May. But matters, as always, were rather more complex than that.

Here is the sequence of events leading to Keitel's signal of 7 May:

1. At 11.30 on the morning of Thursday, 3 May 1945, just outside the village of Wendisch, Grand Admiral Hans Georg von Friedburg, Dönitz successor as Chief of the Naval Staff, and General Hans Kinzel, Chief of Staff, North West Army Command, arrived at Montgomery's GHQ. They stifly saluted Montgomery who cut them down to size by saying loudly to his interpreter "Who are these men? What do they want?" They wanted to surrender three German armies facing the Russians. Montgomery sent them packing, insisting they must surrender to the Russians any troops engaged in battle with the Russians, he would only accept the surrender of armies facing the British. They returned to Flensburg and put this to Dönitz.

2. At 5.30 the next day, Friday, 4 May, they returned and an hour later signed the instrument of surrender. This was the famous Luneberg Heath surrender. That same day, in Austria, Innsbruck and Salzburg surrendered to the Americans.

3.Several more German surrenders were signed the following day, on Saturday, 5 May. One signed at Baldham in southern Germany at 2.30 pm by General Hermann Foertsch to the American General Jacob L. Devers, of all forces between the Bohemian mountains and the Upper Inn river. Another signed at Wageningen, in Holland, led to the surrender of all German forces in Holland. This was signed shortly after 4 pm by General Blaskowitz to a senior Canadian officer, Lieutenant-General Foulkes in the presence of Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.

4. At 6 pm on Sunday, 6 May, The commander of the German forces besieged in Breslau, General Nickoff, surrendered to the Russians and at 6.30 General Jodl flew from Flensburg to Rheims, to sign the capitulation of all German forces still fighting or facing the Western Allies. At this point Eisenhower threatened to break off all negotiations unless the Germans agreed to a complete surrender of all forces east and west. Jodl the sent a signal to Dönitz in Flensburg.

5. On Monday, 7 May, in the very early hours, shortly after midnight 6/7 May, Dönitz replied authorising the complete and total surrender, which Jodl signed watched by General Bedell Smith for the Western Allies and by General Susloperov for the Soviet High Command. This was immediately signalled to Dönitz who then instructed General Keitel to signal all German forces on sea and on land to surrender. I note that the signal you mention is timed at 2.15 am and is clearly that signal.

Troops are never ordered to surrender by their own commander before surrender or armistice terms are signed. Should this happen they would risk being killed without orders to defend themselves.

Kindest regards,

Peter

 

Message 2 - Re: Field Marshal Keitel's surrender

Posted on: 29 July 2005 by Ron Goldstein

Dear Peter

Thanks for your comment.

I shall be passing it on to Nathan by e-mail and will of course post any response on to the site

Ron

 

Message 3 - Re: Field Marshal Keitel's surrender

Posted on: 30 July 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

You may well wonder why VE Day is on 8 May if the Germans capitulated in the early hours of 7 May, as I set out above.

This rather curious decision was arrived at in the following way. Jodl actually put pen to paper, signing the instrument of surrender, at 2.41 am, having received Dönitz consent around 2 am. The Keitel signal went out en clair at 2.15 am. But the document of unconditional surrender, prepared by the Allies, which Jodl had signed, stated that all fighting would cease one minute after midnight on 8th/9th May. The most accurate account of what happened next is in Martin Gilbert's monumental biography of Winston Churchill, in Volume VII at pages 1,336 - 1,337:

"Eisenhower originally suggested that the surrender should be announced by the Governments of the three Great Powers simultaneously, on Tuesday May 8. Churchill had then suggested to Truman and Stalin that the announcement should be made at 3 p.m. London time, 4 p.m. in Moscow and 9 a.m. in Washington." - but then the Keitel signal completely upset this - "... Eisenhower then asked for the announcement to be moved forward to 6 p.m. on that same day, May 7, as the orders to lay down their arms would be broadcast en clair to the German troops during May 7 [in fact, as the Keitel signal shows, it already had been sent], and could not then be kept secret.
"Churchill therefore proposed 6 p.m., May 7, as the moment for the announcement, this being noon in Washington and 7 p.m. in Moscow. Assuming that the timing would be accepted by Truman and Stalin, he alerted his Chiefs of Staff and War Cabinet to be ready to go together with him to Buckingham Palace at 6.30 that evening, when the announcement of victory would be made. By midday on May 7, however, it became clear that this plan was impossible. Stalin, as Admiral Cunningham noted in his diary, was 'refusing to recognize the signatures at Eisenhower's headquarters, and wanting it done in Berlin and by Zhukov'."

There followed a series of telephone calls amid growing confusion with Stalin insisting that the time in the document 'one minute after midnight on 8/9 May' be at least strictly adhered to and Truman taking Stalin's side. Stalin then proposed making the announcement at 7 am Moscow time on 9 May. This left Churchill fuming with his prepared statement from Buckingham Palace already typed. At the last moment he was still hoping that the announcement would be made, as common sense dictated, in the evening of 7 May. But, in Martin Gilbert's words "Churchill had lost May 7. He now insisted upon May 8. Tuesday May 8, he telegraphed to Truman that evening [7 May], 'will be treated as Victory in Europe Day and will be regarded as a holiday. This was necessary on account of the masses of work people who have to be considered. I have informed Marshal Stalin'. To Stalin, Churchill telegraphed that he had decided 'with much regret', in view of the 'difficulty in concerting an earlier release', to postpone his broadcast announcement of victory from that evening, May 7, to the following day, May 8, at 3 p.m. British Double Summer Time, 4 p.m. Moscow time".

Thus, for purely political considerations, and to the regret of Churchill at the time, we are stuck with 8 May as VE Day when it should really be 7 May.

Peter

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