01 May 2016
photoquest / getty images
photoquest / getty images

ON 7 MAY 1945, in Reims, France, the German general Alfred Jodl signs the first unconditional surrender of the Third Reich, officially ending the Second World War in Europe. Sitting in a small brick schoolhouse that served as a headquarters for Allied troops, Jodl is flanked on either side by British, French, Russian and American officers.

Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in Berlin on 30 April, leaving a note that appointed the admiral Karl Donitz to the German presidency. Two days later, the Nazis lost the Battle of Berlin, and their surviving forces, dispersed throughout Europe, began signing independent acts of surrender. Not content with these isolated capitulations, the American military leader and supreme commander of the Allied forces, Dwight D Eisenhower, demanded the Germans’ immediate surrender on all fronts. Donitz initially intended to negotiate with the Allies, but when Eisenhower threatened a severe bombing offensive, the German president told Jodl to sign the first instrument of surrender.

The text of the surrender was divided into three parts: the first acknowledged Germany’s comprehensive defeat, the second specified procedures for its disarmament and withdrawal from non-German territories, and the third yielded control of its government to the Allied forces. Part three stipulated measures such as monetary compensation for war damages and the release of prisoners and prosecution of Nazi leaders.