August 17, 2023

1945. The German Surrender at Lüneburg Heath

"Montgomery Scorns Nazis, Exults, 'This Is the Moment'"
Bill Downs broadcasting from Lüneburg, Germany on V-E Day, May 8, 1945 (Photo by Dennis Allen of the British Second Army)
The transcript of this broadcast was printed in The New York Times on May 5, 1945. The text in parentheses was inserted by the newspaper.


May 4, 1945 – 4:30 PM

More than one million Germans on Field Marshal (Sir Bernard L.) Montgomery's Twenty-first Army Group front surrendered on this historic May 4, bringing hostilities to an end for the Canadian Army fighting in Holland and the British Second Army fighting in northern Germany. (Other dispatches and previous estimates set the figure of troops involved at well over 500,000, but not more than 600,000.) It was the biggest mass surrender of German forces since the Armistice of 1918 (provided the higher figure is correct).

A German surrender mission headed by Admiral von Friedeburg, Commander in Chief of the German Navy, signed articles of unconditional surrender for the German land, sea and air forces facing the Canadian First Army and the British Second Army at 6:25 o'clock this evening. Field Marshal Montgomery signed in behalf of the Allied Supreme Commander in Chief, General (Dwight D.) Eisenhower.

The signing occurred in a tent set up especially for the ceremony in front of Marshal Montgomery's headquarters on the Lüneburg Heath just south of Hamburg. It's significant that the northern German armies were surrendered on this barren, artificially forested heath, which for years has served as the training ground and birthplace for German armies. It was here that technically a large part of the Wehrmacht died.

For this northern European front, it means that the fighting for the Canadian and British armies here is virtually finished. The only European nation in northern Europe yet to be liberated is Norway. There still is the Dunkerque pocket, but these events must have a tremendous effect on the Germans still holding out there.

In the words of Field Marshal Montgomery as he walked to the tent where the official signing took place, grinned and commented to the reporters:

"This is the moment!"

It was a great moment, a historic moment, there in the cold rain, the blustering winds on the Lüneburg Heath, in the heart of northern Germany, a great moment not only for Britain and Canada but for the American Eighty-second Airborne Division, the American Eighth Infantry Division and the American Seventh Armored Division, fighting under the Second Army in its hour of victory.

It was also a great moment for America and Russia and France and the world.

Here is the background of the historic signing of the biggest mass surrender of German forces since the armistice of 1918. The stage was set for the big surrender in the north when the British Sixth Airborne Division, operating under the American Eighteenth Airborne Corps, drove northward to the Cleve-Elbe River bridgehead south of Hamburg to reach the Baltic Sea at the city of Wismar. This happened Wednesday night.

Then the British paratroopers linked up with the Russians. Coming up on the right flank, the American Eighth Infantry Division and the American Eighty-second Airborne Division made linkups to the south of Wismar on Thursday, the next day, with the Russian Army.

What happened was that this drive to the Baltic carried the Second Army thrust directly behind the line of retreat of the Germany Army Group, the Nazi armies retreating before the drive in the north by General (Konstantin K.) Rokossovsky's forces advancing westward.

In the first three days it is estimated that more than half a million prisoners were taken, mostly from this army group retreating westward. That explains the large number of staff officers who fell into British hands during these fateful days. We were capturing the generals before encountering their fighting troops.

The rout had set in for the German armies on the northern front. On Wednesday, May 2, a German general who said he commanded the so-called army group, hoisted a white flag and sent an emissary to the headquarters of the British Second Army. He said he commanded all the forces between the Baltic and the Weser River, the river running southward from Bremen. He said he wanted to surrender this army group.

General (Sir Miles C.) Dempsey, commander of the Second Army, replied that he should start moving, and a rendezvous was arranged for Thursday. The German general did not appear, but he sent word that negotiations were going on a much higher level than his military station. He could not negotiate.

It was yesterday that a party of four higher German officials again hoisted a white flag and drove into the British lines. The head of the party was Admiral von Friedeburg, commander in Chief of the German Navy who replaced Admiral (Karl) Dönitz while the latter assumed the title of Führer. Von Friedeburg's rank also carries the title of General of the Army; thus, he was able to negotiate for the ground forces as well.

With von Friedeburg was General Kinzel, the next ranking officer, who is chief of staff to Field Marshal (General Ernst) Busch, who is commander of the northern German armies. Field Marshal Busch, incidentally, is still missing from our prisoners' list, but we should catch up with him soon. And next came Rear Admiral Wagner, a staff officer to Von Friedeburg, and lastly, a Major Friede, a staff officer to General Kinzel.

This was the party who hoped to negotiate with Field Marshal Montgomery. They were taken to "Monty's" field headquarters on the Lüneburg Heath. He stepped out, returned their military, not Nazi, salute and asked, as if they were vacuum cleaner salesman, "What do you want?"

The Germans replied:

"We come from Field Marshal Busch to ask you to accept the surrender of three German armies which now are withdrawing in front of the Russians in the Mecklenberg area."

These armies, it was later revealed, were the Third Panzer Army, the German Twelfth Army, and the Twenty-first Army.


The Nazi officers continued: "We are very anxious about the condition of German civilians who are fleeing as the German armies retreat in the path of the Russian advance. We want you to accept the surrender of these three armies."

To his everlasting credit, Field Marshal Montgomery turned down three German armies willing to surrender to him. "No," he said. "Certainly not. Those German armies are fighting the Russians. Therefore if they surrender to anyone, it must be to the forces of the Soviet Union. They have nothing to do with me. I have nothing to do with the happenings on my eastern front. You go surrender to the Soviet commander. The subject is closed."

Then Field Marshal Montgomery asked: "Are you prepared to surrender the German forces on my northern and western flanks? Those forces between Lübeck and Holland and the forces in support of them, such as those in Denmark?"

The Germans said no, but they added that again they were anxious about the conditions of the German civilians on the northern flank. "We would like to come to some agreement with you by which the civilians would be saved from battle slaughter," they said.

Then the German commander proposed a complicated and difficult military program covering the next few weeks, in which the British Second Army would advance slowly while at the same time the German troops, by agreement, would retreat slowly. It would work well for the Germans.

Again Monty said: "No, I will not discuss what I propose to do in the future—nothing."


Then the British Field Marshal took the offensive. "I wonder," he said, "whether you know the battle situation on the Western Front." And he produced his operational map; the war was too close to being won for it to have any security importance. This map, and what he said, were the final straw, the one factor which precipitated the surrender of 1,000,000 Germans. The German commanders were shocked, astounded by the progress of the Allies in the east and the west.

It was lunchtime and they went off to lunch alone. Admiral von Friedeburg burst into tears when he got out of sight of Montgomery, and he wept throughout lunch. After lunch, Field Marshal Montgomery called the Germans back for further consultation, and there he delivered his ultimatum, an ultimatum that must have hurt the Nazis as much as the landing in Normandy.

He told the Germans:

"You must understand three things: Firstly, you must surrender to me unconditionally all the German forces in Holland, Friesen and the Frisian Islands and Helgoland and all other islands in Schleswig-Holstein and in Denmark.

"Secondly, when you have done that, I am prepared to discuss with you the implications of your surrender: how we will dispose of those surrendered troops, how we will occupy the surrendered territory, how we will deal with the civilians, and so forth.

"And my third point: If you do not agree to Point 1, the surrender, then I will go on with the war and I will be delighted to do so."

Monty added, as an after-thought, "All your soldiers and civilians may be killed."

One, two, three, finished. This shook them. They said that they came entirely to ask for the acceptance of three armies who wanted to surrender. They said they had no authority to agree to Monty's demand. But they agreed that two of them would remain behind while the others presented the new terms of surrender to their superior.

So at 4 P.M. yesterday afternoon, Admiral von Friedeburg and Major Friede went back with the news. They returned today at about 5 o'clock in the afternoon with the complete acceptance of the unconditional surrender terms, and that's how surrenders are made.

And this is what it looked like, the signing of a great surrender of the German forces in the north to the British and Canadian armies. It was raining when we arrived at Monty's headquarters, set in the shrubbed pines and firs of the Lüneburg Heath. The weather was more like fall than spring, with the winds of the North Sea whipping a cold drizzle over the whole landscape.

But overhead, weather or not, the Spitfires and Typhoons roared over, heading always northward, where Germans were reported trying to escape to Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The air forces were continuing the attack until the last minutes of surrender, a sign of Allied strength built up in Germany.

We were led to a tent, a weather-beaten tent that had been pitched scores of times at the Field Marshal's headquarters. It wasn't large, about ten feet wide and twenty feet long. Family size. Inside was set up an ordinary kitchen-size table. On top of it was a blue cloth. Between two microphones was an inkstand with an ordinary steel-tipped pen lying on top.

The German mission arrived and walked to the front of Monty's caravan. Admiral von Friedeburg was invited inside for a last-minute conference. At this time it was not completely settled whether the German answer to the unconditional terms would be yes or no.

An extra person had arrived with the Admiral's party, a Colonel Paulik, once a member of the staff of Field Marshal (General Wilhelm) Keitel; Keitel is second in command of the German armed forces only to Führer Dönitz. The party had plenty of weight, but did not officially bear Keitel's authority.

And while Monty and the Admiral were meeting in the caravan, the other Nazi bigwigs stood in the rain, cold and shivering, just like us reporters. Then they marched down the gravel path toward the tent.

There was Admiral von Friedeburg dressed in a gray leather coat, German Navy style, with a battered hat on his head. But the striking thing was his face, the pushed-in German face, deeply lined and absolutely gray and motionless.

His was the responsibility in the surrender mission, and he showed the strain of his duty. Frankly the Admiral, who wept so copiously at lunch the day before, today looked as if he had been crying ever since.

But the most magnificent figure was General Kinzel, the chief of staff for the German armies in the north. He was the perfect figure of what the world has come to know its sorrow as the German military peacock, complete with monocle.

General Kinzel wore a light green, fastidious German Army greatcoat, with brilliant red lapels. His monocle seemed to glisten even in the dull gray of the afternoon. If his face had not been set in concrete, you might have expected him to burst into song for a Viennese operetta. He was that beautiful.

The small fry, the colonels and majors and all the rest of the surrender party, were gray ducks by comparison.

Again Field Marshal Montgomery kept the party waiting. They stood at attention around the kitchen table. Finally the Marshal, wearing immaculate British field battledress with red tabs on the lapels and a field marshal's baton on his shoulders, almost sauntered down the path. He came to this reporter and said out of the corner of his mouth:

"This is the moment."

He carried the surrender papers in his right hand. The moment he appeared the Germans snapped to attention, like puppets. The British Field Marshal sat down and stretched out his hand in invitation for the Nazis to do the same.

The cameras began to whirl and click, and Monty picked up the historic document that meant the surrender of more than 1,000,000 Germans. He put up his horn-rimmed spectacles, picked up the papers and said, "I will now read the terms of the surrender."

The Germans sat like statues, not a flicker of emotion on their faces. Solemnly, but with a note of triumph in his voice, Monty read the terms of surrender. You could tell that this was the moment for which he had been waiting in Alamein, in Tunis and in Italy.

Then, one by one, the Germans signed. Admiral von Friedeberg, General Kinzel, Rear Admiral Wagner, staff officer to von Friedeberg; General Paulik and Major Freiberger. They didn't say a word or betray a single emotion; it was strictly Prussian ceremony for the Germans.

Then the Field Marshal took up the wooden pen with the steel tip. "And now," he said, "I will sign on behalf of the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower."

The ceremony took about five minutes.

August 4, 2023

1940. William L. Shirer Describes the Armistice Negotiations at Compiègne

Adolf Hitler Arrives in France for the Armistice Negotiations

William L. Shirer
CBS News
June 21, 1940

Here, a few feet from where we're standing, in the very same old Wagon-Lits railroad coach where the armistice was signed on that chilly morning of November 11, 1918, negotiations for another armistice—the one to end the present war between France and Germany—began at 3:30 PM German Summer Time this afternoon.

What a turning back of the clock; what a reversing of history we've been watching here in this beautiful Compiègne Forest this afternoon. What a contrast to that day a mere twenty-two years ago. Yes, even the weather, for we've had one of those lovely warm June days which you get in this part of France close to Paris about this time of year.

As we stood here watching Adolf Hitler and Field Marshal Göring and the other German leaders laying down the terms of armistice to the French plenipotentiaries here this afternoon, it was difficult to comprehend that, in this rustic little clearing in the midst of the forest of Compiègne from where we're talking to you now, an armistice was signed here on a cold gray morning at 5 AM on November 11, 1918.

The railroad coach—it was Marshal Foch's private car—stands a few feet away from us here at exactly the same spot where it stood on that gray morning twenty-two years ago. Only—and what an "only" it is, too—Adolf Hitler sat in the seat occupied that day by Marshal Foch. Hitler, who at that time was only an unknown corporal in the German Army.

And in that quaint, old wartime Wagons-Lits car, another armistice is being drawn up as I speak to you now. An armistice designed like the other that was signed on this spot to bring armed hostilities to a halt between those ancient enemies, Germany and France.
Only everything, everything that we've been seeing here this afternoon in Compiègne Forest has been so reversed. The last time the representatives of France sat in that car dictating the terms of the armistice. This afternoon we peered through the windows of the car and saw Adolf Hitler laying down the terms.

Thus does history reverse itself, but seldom has it done so as today on the very same spot.

The German leader, in the preamble of the conditions which were read to the French delegates by Colonel General von Keitel, chief of the German Supreme Command, told the French that he had not chosen this spot at Compiègne out of revenge, but merely to right an old wrong.

The armistice negotiations here on the same spot where the last armistice was signed in 1918 here in Compiègne Forest began at 3:15 PM our time. A warm June sun beat down on the great elm and pine trees and cast pleasant shadows on the wooded avenues as Herr Hitler, with the German plenipotentiaries at his side, appeared.

He alighted from his car in front of the French monument to Alsace-Lorraine, which stands at the end of an avenue about two hundred yards from the clearing here in front of us where the armistice car stands.
That famous Alsace-Lorraine statue was covered with German war flags so that you cannot see its sculpture work nor read its inscription. But I've seen it many times in the postwar years, and doubtless many of you have seen it: the large sword representing the sword of the Allies, and its point sticking into a large, limp eagle representing the old empire of the Kaiser. And the inscription underneath in French saying: "TO THE HEROIC SOLDIERS OF FRANCE. DEFENDERS OF THE COUNTRY AND OF RIGHT. GLORIOUS LIBERATORS OF ALSACE-LORRAINE."

Through our glasses we saw the Führer stop, glance at the statue, observe the Reich war flags with their big swastikas in the center. Then he strolled slowly toward us, toward the little clearing where the famous armistice car stood.

I thought he looked very solemn. His face was grave, but there was a certain spring in his step as he walked for the first time toward the spot where Germany's fate was sealed on that November day of 1918. A fate which, by reason of his own deeds, is now being radically changed here in this spot.

And now—if I may sort of go over my notes I made from moment to moment this afternoon—now Hitler reaches a little opening in the Compiègne woods where the armistice was signed, and where another is about to be drawn up. He pauses and slowly looks around. The opening here is in the form of a circle about two hundred yards in diameter and laid out like a park. Cyprus trees line it all around, and behind them the great elms and oaks of the forest. This has been one of France's national shrines for twenty-two years.

Hitler pauses and gazes slowly around. In a group just behind him are the other German plenipotentiaries: Field Marshal Göring, grasping his field marshal's baton in one hand—he wears the blue uniform of the air force. All the Germans are in uniform—Hitler in a double-breasted gray uniform with the Iron Cross hanging from his left breast pocket.

Next to Göring are the two German Army chiefs: Colonel General von Keitel, Chief of the Supreme Command, and Colonel General von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the German Army. Both are just approaching sixty but look younger, especially General von Keitel who has a dapper appearance with his cap slightly cocked on one side.
Then we see there Dr. Raeder, Grand Admiral of the German Fleet. He has on a blue naval uniform and the invariable upturned stiff collar which German naval officers usually wear. We see two non-military men in Hitler's suite: his Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in the field gray uniform of the Foreign Office, and Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, in a gray party uniform.

The time is now, I see by my notes, 3:18 PM in the forest of Compiègne. Hitler's personal standard is run up on a small post in the center of the circular opening in the woods. Also in the center is a great granite block which stands some three feet above the ground. Hitler, followed by the others, walks slowly over to it, steps up, and reads the inscription engraved in great high letters on that block. Many of you will remember the words of that inscription. The Führer slowly reads them, and the inscription says: "HERE ON THE ELEVENTH OF NOVEMBER 1918 SUCCUMBED THE CRIMINAL PRIDE OF THE GERMAN EMPIRE. VANQUISHED BY THE FREE PEOPLES WHICH IT TRIED TO ENSLAVE."

Hitler reads it and Göring reads it. They all read it standing there in the June sun and the silence.

We look for the expression on Hitler's face, but it does not change. Finally he leads his party over to another granite stone, a smaller one some fifty yards to one side. Here it was that the railroad car in which the German plenipotentiaries stayed during the 1918 armistice negotiations stood from November 8 to 11. Hitler looks down and reads the inscription which merely says, "THE GERMAN PLENIPOTENTIARIES." The stone itself, I notice, is set between a pair of rusty old railroad tracks, the very ones that were there twenty-two years ago.

It is now 3:23 PM and the German leaders stride over to the armistice car. This car, of course, was not standing on this spot yesterday. It was standing seventy-five yards down the rusty tracks on the shoulder of a tiny museum built to house it by an American citizen, Mr. Arthur Henry Fleming of Pasadena, California.

Yesterday the car was removed from the museum by German Army engineers and rolled back those seventy-five yards to this spot where it stood on the morning of November 11, 1918.
"Left to right: Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler, and Walther von Brauchitsch in front of the Armistice carriage, on 21 June 1940" (source)
The Germans stand outside the car chatting in the sunlight. This goes on for two minutes. Then Hitler steps up into the car, followed by Göring and the others. We watch them entering the drawing room in Marshal Foch's car. We can see nicely now through the car windows.
Hitler enters first and takes the place occupied by Marshal Foch the morning the first armistice was signed. At his side are Göring and General Keitel. To his right and left at the ends of the table we see General von Brauchitsch and Herr Hess at the one end. At the other end, Grand Admiral Raeder and Herr Von Ribbentrop. The opposite side of the table is still empty. All we see there: four vacant chairs. The French have not yet appeared, but we do not wait long.
Exactly at 3:30 PM the French alight from car. They have flown up from Bordeaux to a nearby landing field and then driven here in auto. They glance at the Alsace-Lorraine memorial now draped with swastikas, but it's a swift glance. Then they walk down the avenue, flanked by three German Army officers. We see them now as they come into the sunlight of the clearing: General Huntziger, wearing a bleached khaki uniform, Air-General Bergeret, and Vice Admiral Le Luc, both in their respective dark blue uniforms.

And then, almost buried in the uniforms, the one single civilian of the day: Mr. Noël, French ambassador to Poland when the present war broke out there. The French plenipotentiaries pass the guard of honor drawn up at the entrance of the clearing. The guard snaps to attention for the French, but does not present arms.

The Frenchmen keep their eyes straight ahead. It's a grave hour in the life of France, and their faces, their bearing, show what a burden they feel on their shoulders. Their faces are solemn, drawn, but they're the picture of tragic dignity.

They walk stiffly to the car where they're met by two German officers, Lieutenant Colonel Tippelskirch, quartermaster general, and Colonel Thomas, Chief of the Führer's Headquarters. The Germans salute, the French salute. The atmosphere is what Europeans call "correct." But you get the picture when I say that we seen no handshakes. Not on occasions like this.

The historic moment is now approaching. It is 3:32 by my watch—the Frenchmen, under Marshal Foch's Pullman car, standing there a few feet from us in Compiègne Forest.

Now we get our picture through the dusty windows of that historic old wagon-lit car. Hitler and the other German leaders rise to their feet as the French enter the drawing room. Hitler, we see, gives the Nazi salute, the arm raised. The German officers give a military salute. The French do the same. I cannot see Mr. Noël to see whether he salutes or how.

Hitler, so far as we can see through the windows just in front of us here, does not say anything. He nods to General Keitel at his side. We can see General Keitel adjusting his papers, and then he starts to read. He is reading the preamble of the German armistice terms. The French sit there with marble-like faces and listen intently. Hitler and Göring glance at the green tabletop.

This part of this historic act lasts but a few moments. I note in my notebook here it's 3:42 PM—that is 12 minutes after the French arrive—3:42 we see Hitler stand up, salute stiffly with hand upraised. Then he strides out of the drawing room, followed by Göring, General Brauchitsch, Grand Admiral Raeder there, Herr Hess, and at the end, Herr von Ribbentrop.

The French remain at the green-topped table in the old Pullman car and we see General Keitel remains with them. He is going to read them the detailed conditions of the armistice. Hitler, Göring, and the others do not wait for this. They walk down the avenue back towards the Alsace-Lorraine monument. As they pass the guard of honor, the German band strikes up the two national anthems, "Deutschland über alles" and "The Horst Wessel Song."
The whole thing has taken but a quarter of an hour—this great reversal of a historic event.