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Remembering VE Day

In Military History, Featured

Events are being held across the world this weekend to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day and the coverage is already pretty extensive.

The BBC talk about the planned events for the anniversay as well as running a pretty extensive interview with the last surviving member of the Dambusters. And of course there is the much-hyped military parade in Russia planned for Saturday (where some of the latest Russian tech is going to be on show for the first time).

And, if the mood takes you - why not pop down to your local cinema and see what the future Queen got up to during the celebrations.

 

One of our authors, Nicholas Best - covers the last five days of the war from an array of different first hand perspectives in his fabulous book Five Days That Shocked The World. Below is an extract from the book, that talks about the very last moments of the war.

 

 

The German delegation arrived at Lüneberg at eleven thirty am on 3 May. Their welcome from Montgomery was frosty. 'Who are these men?' he demanded, when they presented themselves at his headquarters. 'What do they want?" He was using the words traditional since medieval times for the opening of a parley.

Kinzel and Friedeburg offered to surrender to the British all the German forces in Holland, Denmark and northern Germany, including those fighting the Russians. Montgomery refused, insisting that the Germans fighting the Russians must surrender to the Russians. He warned that the fighting would continue to the bitter end if the Germans did not agree. 'I shall go on with the war, and will be delighted to do so and am ready. All your soldiers will be killed'.

Chastened, two of the Germans returned to their own side to consult Dönitz and Keitel. They were back again next day to agree Montgomery's conditions. Leonard Mosley was with a party of war correspondents who watched them arrive:

Montgomery kept the German delegates waiting, standing miserably about in the rain, first while he told us of the events which had lef up to the armistice, and later while he conferred with his aides inside the caravan. With their backs towards us, von Friedeburg and his three companions stood there, on the spot where all of them must, at some time in their careers, have watched German armies manoeuvring on the pain below in the exercises of pre-war days, and where now unending convoys of British troops were moving. Montgomery keot them standing there, letting them watch and think, letting the rain splash over them, until he judged the moment right; and then he sent Colonel Ewart clattering down the steps to round the Nazi generals up and shepherd them to the tiny army tent on the lip of Lüneberg tor, where the klieg lights were ready, and the microphones, for photographs to be taken and records made of the signing ceremony.

The Germans were shown to a plain trestle table covered by an army blanket. They sat in glum silence as Montgomery put on his spectacles and read the terms of the surrender to them. He was loving every minute of it:

'You will now sign,' he said, and, meekly, one by one, the came. The Post Office pen scraped on the paper; the delegates sat down again, expressionless, and waited. There was a moment, while the last photographs were being taken, when von Friedeburg turned his full face into the lights, an expression of tremendous anguish in his eyes as he posed for the pictures, and then the flap of the tent dropped and it was over.

Almost. Friedeburg went to Eisenhower's headquarters next day to negotiate the surrender of the remaining forces in southern Germany and elsewhere. He repeated his plea for a separate peace, but the Americans proved no more receptive than the British. Chief of Staff Bedell Smith told Friedeburg coldly that the surrender was unconditional and had to be simultaneous on all fronts. In desperation, Dönitz tried to buy more time for the Germans fleeing the Russians by sending Jodl to Reims to argue their case. Jodl had no more success than Friedeburg. Dönitz finally accepted defeat in the early hours of 7 May, when he authorised the surrender of all Germans everywhere on the terms stated.

Jodl signed on his behalf at 1.41am, Bedell Smith signed for the Allied Expeditionary Force and General Ivan Susloparov for the Soviet High Command. The surrender was to come into effect at midnight on 8 May. After the brief ceremony was over, Jodl stood up and made a short speech, beginning in English and continuing in German: 'Sir, with this signature, the German nation and the German armed forces are at the mercy of the victors. Throughout this war, which has lasted for five years, both have performed more, and perhaps suffered more, than any other nation on earth. At this hour, we can only hope that the victors will be generous.'

He was greeted with stunned silence. The suffering of the German people had not been uppermost in anyone's thoughts as they watched the surrender being signed. When no answer came, Jodl snapped to attention, saluted and left the room. The war in Europe was over.

Post Comments

Mark Lardas posted on 9 May 2015 14:37:35
"And are these anniversaries really about commemorating the genuine importance of the victories that were won? Or are they an excuse for a current generation of politicians to wrap themselves in a flag and bask in undeserved glory?"

Gee,

I thought they were about an excuse to sell books - a reason I heartily applaud.

Seriously though, there were commemorations for the various bicentennials of the War of 1812 events and the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War on my side of the pond over the last four or so years. (I even talk Osprey into releasing Sheridan's Shenandoah Campaign on the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek.) And I believe there are going to be commemorations and parades over Waterloo later this year.

My father and father-in-law are both veterans of WWI, and both still alive. Dad fought in the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Germany. He does not think the celebrations excessive.
Paintybeard posted on 8 May 2015 18:30:56
OK, throwing the cat among the pigeons here...

I think we should stop making such a big issue of these WW2 anniversaries. Will we be doing all these parades again at the 75 year mark? and at 80? 90? it gets a bit ridiculous.

And are these anniversaries really about commemorating the genuine importance of the victories that were won? Or are they an excuse for a current generation of politicians to wrap themselves in a flag and bask in undeserved glory?

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