Act of Surrender Signed in Reims. “Not to Be Cancelled or Recognized”
Yuriy RUBTSOV | 07.05.2015 | OPINION

Act of Surrender Signed in Reims. “Not to Be Cancelled or Recognized”

More and more countries refuse to mark the Victory Day on May 9 as they used to do. Poland was the last to cancel the Day of Victory and Freedom on May 9 in favor of the national Victory Day to be celebrated on May 8. It is done to diminish the role of the Soviet Union in achieving the victory and forming the world system after the war.

The Polish parliament said there were no reasons to agree with the Soviet interpretation of events. According to it, the Soviet Army established unelected governments and undemocratic political systems in the countries that happened to be under its control after the Second World War was ended. These invented reasons serve well the goal of putting under doubt the contribution of the Soviet Union into the victory of the United Nations and marking the event on a different day, not the one considered to be Victory Day in the “totalitarian” Russia, especially in view that it was the most significant event of the last century. Even the countries and politicians friendly to Russia seek explanations to justify their decision to cancel the historic date for the sake of Euro-Atlantic solidarity. For this purpose they use the event that took place in Reims before the Act of unconditional capitulation of Germans was signed in Karlhorst on May 9.

On May 6th Generaloberst(Colonel General) Alfred Jodl, German Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, arrived at temporary headquarters of General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, in Reims, France, to sign the surrender document according to the authority to sign capitulation with Western powers given to him by Grossadmiral(Grand Admiral, the highest rank) Karl Dönitz who acted as President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces at the time.Eisenhower insisted the capitulation act was to be signed to stop hostilities on all fronts, including the Eastern where Wehrmacht continued to offer fierce resistance to Red Army. On May 4, Eisenhower informed the Soviet command about the upcoming visit of Yodl. In a letter addressed to Army General A. Antonov, Head of the Operations Directorate in Stavka,he wrote that he would recommend Admiral Dönitz to establish contacts with the Russian top 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, signed for the Soviet Union the German Instrument of Surrender on May 7, 1945. According to memories of Army General S. Shtemenko, the head of operations directorate of General Staff, Susloparov was in Paris. He was visited by Eisenhower’s adjutant who asked him to come to Reims without delay. Eisenhower informed him that Yodl was ready to sign the surrender instruments and the Soviet representative was to attend the ceremony. Eisenhower said he flatly denied to sign a separate instrument without the Soviet participation. The Allied Supreme Commander asked Susloparov to send the text of protocol to Moscow and represent his country at the signing ceremony which was scheduled on at 02:30 Central European Time on 7 May 1945.The protocol said all forces under the control of German government were to comply with unconditional surrender. The armed forces were to remain at the positions. All orders of the Allied Supreme Commander and Soviet Command were to be carried out.

Susloparov had not received instructions from Moscow by the time. So he took the risk to act on his own signing the document. According to Shtemenko, he offered a supplement to the document to say that another document on capitulation could be signed if one of allied governments found it expedient. The representatives of other allied nations agreed.

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 witnessed the signing. The document was to come into force at 00.00 May 8 Central European Time (two hours later according to Moscow time).

The message from Moscow came after the ceremony was over. It said no documents were to be signed. Shtemenko says it took a few hours to report the information to Stalin and make him prepare the reply. 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, Yodl used bad communications as a pretext to give 45 hours of delay to the forces (from the moment of signing to coming into force, that is till 2300 o’clock, May 8, Central European Time). An Aflred Yodl’s biography called A Soldier Without Fear or Reproach has been recently published in Germany. It says many soldiers and refugees used the time to escape from Russians. Stalin has big policy considerations. The allies emphasized their role in defeating Germany by organizing the ceremony on the territory they controlled, no matter the Soviet Union bore the brunt of war effort: the enemy lost 73% of personnel and 75% of weapons systems at the Soviet-German front.

Stalin declined the proposals of Churchill and Truman to declare May 8 the Victory Day. He sent personal letters to each of 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 2300, May 8, Central European Time or 1.00 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 top commanders of alliance. That’s what happened late at night on May 9, 1945, in the Berlin’s suburb of Karlshorst.

Tags: Victory Day