| Already since the autumn of 1944 some Nazi leaders
trying to probe the possibility of surrendering to the Western Allies,
excluding the Soviet Union from the peace accord. The chief of the
German security forces, Heinrich Himmler, contacted in that matter
Folke Bernadotte af Wisborg, a member of the Swedish royal family.
Bernadotte visited Germany and met Himmler several times - their last
meeting took place at night from 23 to 24 April 1945 in Lubeck. The
basement of the Swedish consulate, where they met, was lit by only two
candles, and the engines of the Allied bombers roared over the city.
Nevertheless, Himmler hoped against hope. The Fuehrer's great life, he told
the Swedish count, is drawing to a
close. In a day or two Hitler will be dead. [Shirer W. L. (1990).]
urged Bernadotte to communicate immediately to
General Dwight Eisenhower Germany's willingness to surrender in the
West. In the East, according to Himmler, the war would be continued
until the Western democracies themselves had taken over the front
against the Russians.
Was it a naïveté, or stupidity, or both, that this SS chieftain, who
now claimed for himself the dictatorship of the Third Reich, expected
that the leaders of the great powers would negotiate with him as equal,
and respect whatever he said? The leaders of the free world handled him
for who he was - a wanted bandit. And Allied governments had loyally informed
Moscow that they would only accept unconditional
surrender to all
three Allies, including the Soviet Union.
Shortly before that, on 23 April, the commander-in-chief of the
non-existing now German air force, Reichsmarschall
Hermann Göring, send to Adolf Hitler
a letter, in which he actually
broke up with the German leader. In that letter, full of loyal
trivialities, he stated that Hitler, closed in Berlin, had lost the
freedom of action, and therefore he, Göring, had to take over the total
leadership of the Reich, with full freedom of action at home and
abroad. Adorned with more and more twinkles, and ordering more and more
incredible uniforms - and simultaneously the biggest art robber ever,
stealing pieces of art from musea and galleries throughout Europe - he
probably imagined that the Allied leaders would negotiate with him on
equal footing. Hitler, in his underground bunker, burst in fury and
ordered to arrest and shoot Göring - once his deputy and personal pet.
But there was no more executive power in Germany, capable of carrying
this order out.
On 28 April Soviet forces took Potsdam. All efforts of the loyal
Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, who five days later left Berlin for the
headquarters of the 12th Army, in order to synchronize its operations
with the 9th Army of Gen. Theodor Busse, deployed in the eastern
the German capital, were ineffective.
After the fall of Potsdam, the forces defending Berlin were literally
cut into three pieces, isolated one from another. The German command
did not control the defence any more. The centre of Berlin became a
battlefield. On 30 April 1945 soldiers from the 150th Infantry
Divisions of the 3rd Assault Army (Gen. Vasiliy Kuznetsov) hoisted a
red banner on the buildings of the Reichstag.
On the same day, about half past four in the afternoon, Hitler
committed suicide in his underground bunker. His closest aides had
dragged his body outside the underground, poured petrol over, and burnt
The most faithful of Hitler's consorts, minister for propaganda Dr.
Josef Göbbels, also had committed suicide in the same bunker, having
first killed his wife and six children.
The person, who became the next, and last, chancellor of the German
Reich was Admiral Karl Dönitz, thereto commander-in-chief of the German
navy, appointed to that post by Hitler's political last will. He
assumed his office immediately.
Similarly like Himmler he imagined that
he would manage to strike a deal with the Western Allies against the
Russians. And this time those dreams were not completely unreal.
Fugitive Himmler was exposed, arrested and locked in a British
stockade. There he probably realised his fate as a war criminal, and at
the moment, when his captors eased surveillance, poisoned himself to
death. Dönitz felt more confident about his own fate. He was a
militaryman, and resided in Flensburg, on the Danish frontier. That
part of Germany was occupied by the British forces, and their
commander, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, left them to the
German administration. Nazi authorities and commands operated there
till the end of May. It was not until a categorical Soviet protest that
they were disbanded.
On 1 May the Germans were holding only the complex of state buildings
in the centre of Berlin, and the adjacent quarter Tiergarten. At dawn
German command tried to contact the Soviet command regarding conclusion
of a cease-fire. Marshal Georgiy Zhukov, the commander of the 1st
Byelorussian Front and the Deputy Supreme Commander, in return demanded
unconditional surrender. The demand was rejected. Nazi leaders, with
Hitler's deputy, Martin Bormann, obviously tried to procrastinate, and
hoped against hope for a miracle. In that situation Zhukov ordered to
continue fights. At 11 a.m. Soviet artillery covered the last German
strongholds with powerful barrage. The
Chancellery, wrote Bormann, is
already in ruins. [Shirer
W. L. (1990).] At half past six
in the afternoon infantry supported by tanks began the last assault on
the central quarters of the city.
On 2 May 1945, at 6:30 the last commandant of the Berlin garrison, and
the last commander of the Berlin Defence Area, Gen. Helmuth Weidling,
together with his staff. Liquidation of the last nests of resistance
lasted till the end of the day. As many as 70,000 men were taken
prisoners; unknown number of them fled earlier, without desire to give
their lives for the fallen Reich and its possessed Führer.
After that came the time to search for Hitler and other Nazi
After the capture of the
Imperial Chancellery I went there with Colonel -General Berzarin,
Lieutenant-General F. E. Bokov, member of the Military Council of the
army, and others who had taken part in the attack in order to get
first-hand evidence of the suicide of Hitler, Goebbels and other
leaders. When we arrived we were told that the bodies of the suicides
had been buried by the Germans and no one knew who did it or where.
Different suggestions were offered.
The prisoners, mostly wounded, knew nothing about Hitler and his
entourage. They told us they had seen none of the leaders and knew no
one except their company commanders. In the Imperial Chancellery
only a few score prisoners were taken. Apparently, at the last moment
the SS men, the officers and the remnants of the leadership had gone
into hiding in the city, having escaped by secret tunnels. We started
looking for the bonfires on which the bodies of Hitler and Goebbels
were supposed to have been burned, but could not find them. It's true
we saw the ashes of some fires but they were obviously too small.
Probably the German soldiers had been boiling water there.
After some time, when we had about finished inspecting the Imperial
Chancellery it was reported to me that the bodies of Goebbels's six
children had been found in an underground room. I must admit I had not
the heart to go down and look at the children ruthlessly killed by
their mother and father. The next day the bodies of Goebbels and his
wife were found close to the bunker. Dr. Fritsche was brought to
identify the bodies and he testified that they were those of Goebbels
and his wife.
Circumstances made me doubt at first the truthfulness of the account of
Hitler's suicide, all the more so because we could not find Bormann
either. I thought then that perhaps Hitler had escaped at the last
moment when there was no hope of any outside help for Berlin.
I stated that conjecture in Berlin at a press conference for Soviet and
foreign correspondents. Some time later, after careful investigation
and questioning of Hitler's personal medical staff, etc., we began to
receive additional and more concrete evidence confirming Hitler's
Personally I am inclined to believe there are no grounds for doubting
that Hitler committed suicide. [Zhukov
G. KI. (1971)
On 4 May capitulated German forces in front of the British 21st Army
Group. On 5 May capitulated German forces in Bavaria, Austria, Italy
and Yugoslavia. But Dönitz's group still tried to make an impression
that it controlled Germany as a legitimate government. In name of that
"government" General Alfred Jodl went to Eisenhower's headquarters in
Reims to seek agreement with the Western Allies. His mission was
preceded by hectic manoeuvres, during which Montgomery agreed to accept
capitulation of the German troops coming from the east. On 5 May
Dönitz, after a conference in Flensburg, asked to issue to the fighting
troops a dispatch, which stated that the war with Western powers had
lost its sense, ordered their surrender in north-western Germany,
Denmark and Holland. At the same dispatch he ordered to continue
fighting in the east. But in Reims Jodl was ordered to sign just the
preliminary act of surrender, and he was sent to Berlin, where the
proper unconditional surrender of the German state and army had to take
place in front of representatives of all four Allies.
For such an important event there was chosen a relatively less damaged
suburb Karlshorst, where Zhukov had his headquarters in the buildings
of the military engineers' school. The Allied powers were represented
by Marshal Zhukov as the deputy of the Supreme Commander of the Red
Army for the USSR; commander-in-chief of the US Strategic Air Forces,
General Carl Spaatz, for the USA; Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Air
Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, for Great Britain; and the commander of
the 1st Army, General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, for France.
Half an hour before the midnight from 8 to 9 May 1945 four
representatives of the Allied powers, appointed by their governments,
entered the former officers' mess crowded by commanders of the Soviet
units, which took part in the battle for Berlin, and journalists from
all the world. Then came representatives of the German armed forces:
Keitel for the Army, Colonel-General Hans-Jürgen Stumpff for the Air
Force, and Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg for the Navy, with
accompanying staff officers.
Marshal Zhukov addressed the Germans with the official question,
whether they had the text of the instrument of surrender with them, and
whether they were authorized to sign it. Tedder repeated the same
question in English. Upon the the affirmative answer from Keitel,
spoken with muffled voice, Zhukov asked the German delegation to come
over to the
table of the representatives of the anti-fascist coalition.
Keitel quickly rose from
his seat and turned his eyes on us. He then lowered his gaze and slowly
picking up from the table his Field -Marshal's baton, walked unsteadily
to our table. His monocle dropped and dangled by its cord. Keitel's
face was covered with red blotches.
With him Colonel-General Stumpff, Admiral of the Fleet von Friedeburg
and the German officers accompanying them approached our table. Putting
his monocle in place, Keitel sat down on the edge of a chair and slowly
signed five copies of the instrument of surrender. After Keitel,
Stumpff and Friedeburg affixed their signatures.
After signing the document, Keitel rose, put on his right glove and
again attempted to show his military bearing. But nothing came of it
and very slowly he went over to the small table placed for him.
At 0:44 on 9 May 1945 the procedure of signing of the instrument of
surrender was over. Zhukov asked the German
delegation to leave the place. The Second World War ended. Keitel left
with his head bent. The war was not over to him yet. There was still
the International Military Tribunal ahead, which found him guilty of
war crimes and sentenced him to death by hanging.
Also on 9 May surrendered last German groupings in Courland, East
Prussia and Silesia. Only Field-Marshal Ferdinand Schörner fought in
Czechoslovakia. Schörner had under his command nearly 900,000 soldiers
from the Army Group Centre
(in Czechoslovakia, east of Prague) and Army Group Austria (on the
Austro-Czechoslovak border). He counted on delivering resistance long
enough to see the Americans entering Prague; he seriously hoped to come
to terms with the American command. But on 5 May an uprising that broke
out in Prague cut his forces' retreat routes. Schörner decided to throw
his troops against the insurgents, crush them, and open the way to the
With the aid to the Czechoslovak capital rushed forces of three Soviet
fronts: 4th Ukrainian from Austria, 2nd Ukrainian from Slovakia, and
1st Ukrainian from Saxony. The offensive commenced at night from 6 to 7
May. The main thrust was driven on the right wing, from the north,
across the Ore Mountains. The enemy had no time to prepare there solid
fortifications, but German units resisted in the rough terrain, behind
mine-fields, and forest log-jams. On 6 May the forces of the Soviet 1st
Ukrainian Front finished liquidation of the 40,000-strong enemy
grouping in Breslau. On 7 May they took Meissen and started fights for
Dresden. On the same day retreating German troops stormed into Prague,
reaching the city centre, and breaking resistance with brutal force and
savage reprisals. The decisive days of the Prague operations were 8 and
9 May; while signing of the unconditional surrender was under way in
Berlin, forces of the 4th Ukrainian Front broke through the enemy
defences and liberated Olomouc. At the same time forces of the 1st
Ukrainian Front waged heavy fights for the passes across the Ore
Mountains. At the end of the day their advanced units reached Karlovy
Vary, destroyed Schörner's headquarters, and disrupted command and
communications of the Army Group Centre.
On 8 May Dresden was finally taken; in the out-of-the-city caves Soviet
special units discovered priceless paintings and other items from the
famous Dresden galleries. The German counter-attack at Bautzen was
repelled, and the centre and left wing of the 1st Ukrainian Front went
to pursuit across the Lower Silesia. In the evening the Soviet command
demanded unconditional surrender of the German forces in Prague before
23:00. Although the Germans already knew about the capitulation,
Schörner still deluded himself with the hope that he would hold long
enough to surrender to the Americans. Those hopes proved futile as at
night of 9 May Soviet forces closed the ring around Prague, and made
contact with the advanced American units along the line Chemnitz -
Plzen - Ceske Budejovice.
Last German units capitulated after the failed attempt to break through
the encirclement ring near Rokycany. Only Field-Marshal Schörner
escaped from the "cauldron"; he abandoned his troops and flew on his
personal plane to the areas under the American control. Yet, his plane
had to make crash-landing on the way to southern Germany. There he
tried to hide, but he was recognized and handed over to the Americans.
On 5 June 1945 representatives of the Allied powers signed the
Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany, in which they announced
assumption of the 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 war in Europe was over. The military victory was politically
complemented with the peace conference convened on 17 July - 2 August
1945 in relatively well-preserved Potsdam. The Potsdam conference
shaped European political relations for the next 45 years. At the same
time the war in the Far East and the Pacific Ocean was coming to the
end as well.