May 7th in German History: The Signing of the Unconditional Surrender of German Forces

General Alfred Jodl signs the instrument of surrender. Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Second World War began with the rapid German invasion of Poland followed by the conquest of several more countries. The German Army seemed invincible as it overran first Poland then the Low Countries then France. World War II would end with a broken German Army surrendering in a city in liberated France. On May 7th, as Germany collapsed and following the death of Adolf Hitler, General Alfred Jodl would surrender all German forces on all fronts. Fighting would continue in some places for nearly another day, but for all intensive purposes the war was over.

By the time Germany surrendered, the nation had fallen far. In 1941, Germany and its allies controlled all of Europe from the Pyrenees to the gates of Moscow, and a good portion of North Africa as well. The flaws in the German Army were not yet fully exposed, and it has as of yet not suffered any major defeats. The same could not be said of the German air force, but that body was still famous and had generally been successful in its battles. In the following years, the German military was worn down by attrition on the Eastern Front and German industry suffered from labor and resource shortages along with Allied bombing raids. The German Army was unable to resist the Allied invasion of France along with Soviet offensives in the East, and the German High Command became ever more pessimistic about the outcome of the war. One of the last resort options considered was to cease all fighting on the Western Front and make a separate peace in order to focus their efforts on the East. This hope was gradually shown to be in vain, and the new plan became surrender to the Western Allies and have the remaining forces flee to the West. By May of 1945, most of Germany’s more famous and skilled generals, like Rommel, Rundstedt, and Manstein, had been killed or fired. Thus, it was left to General Jodl to attempt to negotiate a surrender solely on the Western Front. The Americans and British flatly refused this offer, and so Jodl was forced to surrender all German forces everywhere. At the town of Reims in France, Jodl signed the instrument of surrender. The document provided for the cease of all combat operations, the surrender of German soldiers, and the transfer of governmental power to the victorious Allies. It essentially ended Nazi Germany and the European theater of the Second World War.

The surrender at Reims is interesting because it was one of the few times in modern history that a nation ceased to exist. Germany did not change its governments regimes. For a time, there was no actual German nation. Germany was split up into occupation zones in which foreign powers performed the roles of governments. The surrender at Reims represented the utter abandonment of any hope of victory. The fact that the crazed optimists at that point were hoping only to be able to surrender to the Americans rather than the Russians show just how far Germany had fallen. The destruction of the German nation and the stamping out of any nationalism or national pride was near total. What is surprising, though, is how quickly Germany was able to rebuild its economy and regain its independence, although the level of German nationalism that existed before the war will probably never be seen again.

Also on this day in history, Brahms, who I discuss here, was born.

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