30 April 2021
Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images
Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images

ON 8 MAY 1945, the commanders of the three branches of the German armed forces prepare to sign an instrument of surrender at the headquarters of the Soviet military administration in Berlin, ending hostilities in the European theatre during the Second World War. Their surrender was formally accepted by Georgy Zhukov, who represented the Red Army, and Arthur William Tedder, the deputy supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. The terms had been prepared the year before by the European Advisory Commission. They were developed further at the Yalta Conference, in February 1945.

Adolf Hitler killed himself on 30 April. His successor as president of Germany, Karl Dönitz, authorised Alfred Jodl, the chief of operations staff at the Wehrmacht high command, to negotiate terms with Dwight D Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the AEF. On Dönitz’s orders, German military commanders began signing partial surrenders to their counterparts in the British, Canadian and US armies. After Eisenhower insisted on “immediate, simultaneous and unconditional surrender on all fronts,” failing which no quarter would be given to German soldiers, Jodl signed an instrument of surrender at Reims, in the early hours of 7 May.

The Soviet high command, however, did not accept this instrument. It did not contain the language agreed by the European Advisory Commission, and the Soviets insisted that the surrender should take place in Berlin, with the entire German top brass submitting to the Red Army as well as the AEF. The signing ceremony was completed shortly after midnight on 9 May. Eisenhower—who did not sign the document as he outranked Zhukov—had ordered a media blackout until the ceremony was complete, but the Associated Press broke the news of Jodl’s surrender at Reims. As a result, the United States and European nations celebrate “Victory in Europe Day” on 8 May, while Russia celebrates it on 9 May.

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