Nazi Germany surrendered on May 7th 1945 thus bringing World War Two in Europe to an end. On May 6th General Alfred Jodl arrived at General Dwight Eisenhower’s temporary headquarters – a small schoolhouse in Reims, France – to sign the surrender document. Four versions of the surrender document were required: in English, French, Russian and German. Before Jodl signed the surrender document, transcripts had been sent for approval to London, Paris and Moscow. As Hitler was dead, Admiral Doenitz had assigned Jodl, Chief of Staff of the Wehrmacht, to represent him at the signing ceremony.
In the early hours of May 7th, Jodl was led into the ‘war room’ at the schoolhouse. Such was the solemnity of the occasion that an American officer had laid out pencils, papers and ashtrays with military precision aided by a ruler. Eisenhower had insisted that the ceremony had to be carried out with no errors, as members of the press were present.
At 02.30, ten Allied officers entered the room. The Germans were summoned a short time after to sign the Act of Military Surrender. One witness to the signing said that it was done without an air of celebration.
For reasons of protocol, Eisenhower was not at the signing. He remained in a nearby room. Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith represented him in the ‘war room’. An interpreter read out the terms of the surrender document before Jodl signed it. Jodl then addressed those in the room:
“I want to say a word. With this signature the German people and the German armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victor’s hands. In this war, which has lasted more than five years, they both have achieved and suffered more than perhaps any other people in the world. In this hour I can only express the hope that the victor will treat them with generosity.”
No one answered Jodl. There was no saluting and the Germans left the room. Those who remained in the ‘war room’ celebrated with champagne drunk out of mess tins.
However, one more task had to be done and a sergeant in the ATS called Susan Hibbert (who had also typed the English version of the surrender document) completed this. While a very small number of people in Eisenhower’s headquarters knew about the surrender in the early hours of May 7th – no one else did. Hibbert was ordered to signal the War Office in London:
“The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 02.41, local time, May 7th, 1945.”
Senior Allied officers at the signing considered sending a more emotive message but Eisenhower overruled them and opted for a simple one- sentence communication.
Susan Hibbert was a secretary for the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) and she took over 20 hours to type and retype the English version of the surrender document. She was the last surviving British witness to this historic event and died in February 2009 aged 84.
Despite the years spent as Allies fighting against Nazi Germany, the split between the Soviet Union and powers in Western Europe was showing even when the Act of Military Surrender was being signed. Stalin had always believed that the USSR had done the lion’s share of the fighting against Hitler’s forces and he insisted that Nazi Germany should also sign a surrender document to the occupiers of Berlin and that the proceedings should be centred round a Soviet general as opposed to Bedell Smith. The Germans signed another Act of Military Surrender very late on May 8th 1945 at Karlshorst, just outside of Berlin, in a ceremony that centred round Marshal Zhukov, though representatives were there from the UK, America and France. Wilhelm Keitel signed this document on behalf of the German people.