Friday, May 8, marks the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, which was celebrated in both Great Britain and the United States as the end of Nazi terror after German troops laid down their arms during World War II and surrendered.
At the time, reporter Price Day, who died in 1978, was covering the war for The Baltimore Sun. He was the only staff correspondent of an individual newspaper to witness the surrender of Germany at Reims.
Here’s an abridged version of his account:
Reims, France, May 7, 1945 — At 2:45 o’clock on this warm spring morning, Col. Gen. Gustav Jodl signed his name for the fourth time and carefully put down his pen. Europe’s long war was over.
Jodl stood up. His back was rigid, his heels in their black boots were close together. He rested the tips of his fingers on the wide, battered oak table that filled a good part of what, until tonight, was the most secret of all the secret chambers of Europe — SHAEF’s War Room.
General Jodl said in German: “With this signature the German people and German armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victor’s hands.”
Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, chief of staff to General Eisenhower, watched him impassively. So did four other Americans, three Russians, one French and three British officers seated at the table.
On Jodl’s left a German admiral, on his right a German major stared straight ahead. Still speaking of the civilians and soldiers of his beaten nation, Jodl said: “In this war, which has lasted more than five years, they both have achieved and suffered more than perhaps any other people in the world. In this hour I can only express the hope that the victors will treat them with generosity.”
He sat down and then at once stood up again. The admiral and major stood up with him. There was no answer. There were no salutes.
Jodl turned and walked from the room. He was followed by the others, the major carrying Jodl’s cap with its German high command insignia.
With their going, the solemn tableau of the surrender broke up. The Allied officers spoke a few words to each other, rose from their chairs, chatted quietly for another moment and strolled from the room. Everybody was very tired.
That was how it was. That was it — the victory of all the Allies over the German forces on land, sea and air. This was not an armistice, it was surrender, total and complete.
More than 45 hours must still go by before the peace effected tonight at General Eisenhower’s headquarters would settle over the battlefields.
But of these battlefields only a few were still the scenes of battle. Every man around the table knew that his ceremony was in large part simply the proper recognition of the accomplished fact of the defeat of Germany.
The signing of the surrender document by Smith, Jodl, Major Gen. of Artillery Ivan Susloparov, of the Red Army; and Gen. F. Sevez of France came at the waning of a long night in the course of which it had begun to seem certain that the great event would have to wait until the dawn of another day.
For five and a half hours the German representatives had been conferring alone in a billet in a house on Rue Godinot near the great Cathedral of Reims.
The Americans, British, Russians and French had no word from this conference throughout the evening. Then, deciding that the acceptance seemed unlikely tonight, they all left headquarters. Many went to bed.
As midnight came and went a hush fell over Reims, except in one corner of the G-4, or supply sector, of the main building of SHAEF’s command post, where the correspondents waited.
Military police guarded every corridor and gate as, indeed, they do on all nights.
A faint, warm breeze came through the open windows. Here and there an electric light shone out on the pale green foliage of the trees that ringed the courtyard. Everything was still and suspended, waiting.
At 1:58 o’clock, Brig. Gen. Frank A. Allen, public relations director of SHAEF and once commander of Combat Command B of the 1st Armored Division, called the correspondents together in one small room.
“I THINK THIS IS IT”
“I think something is going to happen shortly,” he said. And then when the scuffling of feet ceased, he said, “Gentleman, I think this is it. All the staff officers have been recalled.”
We filed through the wide, barren hallways, with their checked floors of gray and black tile, up a flight of concrete steps and into Room No. 119.
It is a room of maps. Its walls are papered entirely from floor to ceiling with maps — of that bugaboo, the “national redoubt”; the regions of China, Burma and the Philippines; of the air operations; a mine sweepers’ chart of the North Sea; maps of the pockets on the Atlantic coast; of the Army’s railway system and the airfields of the world.
The conference table, 20 feet long and 8 wide, is directly in front of the battle map. Its top is painted black and its edges are nicked and scarred.
At the moment the room looks more like a movie set than either a war center of a place for a great conference. From all angles and elevations batteries of cameras are aimed at the most important table on earth, while the photographers are making their last-minute adjustments and scurry and climb about like monkeys.
Air Marshal Sir J. M. Robb, chief of air staff, who walked in at 2:29 a.m., was the first of the conference group to enter the room.
Robb was followed by weathered Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, whose United States Strategic Air Forces brought victory much sooner than it would otherwise have come. At 2:34 General Smith, moving quickly, came into the room.
SILENT SIGNING OF NAMES
Along the back of the table, from left to right, stood Lt. Gen. Sir F. E. Morgan, deputy chief of staff, with a sandy mustache and a brown, British face; small, trim Gen. Francois Sevez; big, broad Adm. Sir Harold Burrough, commander of the Allied naval forces, and General Smith, looking tired, but as always, extraordinarily self-contained and precise.
At 2:39, (Jodl), the new German chief of staff, and Adm. Hans George von Friedeburg, the new commander in chief of the German Navy, walked into Room 119, followed by Jodl’s aide. They went straight to their chairs and all the men around the table sat down at once. If there was any bowing, it was extremely slight.
At 2:40 began a flurry of silent signing of names. Seventeen minutes later it would be all over. The Germans by then would have walked from Room 119 to meet the escort to take them upstairs to General Eisenhower’s simple and comfortable suite and spend two minutes with the supreme (commander).
Leaving him, they would stand for awhile in the narrow hall talking among themselves before leaving the scene of the final act of Germany’s greatest defeat.
The signing of the paper that symbolized that defeat grew directly from the earlier surrender of the German troops in the north to Field Marshal Montgomery.
After that agreement of capitulation had, on May 3, become history, the Germans made it known that they wished to discuss the question of the surrender of the whole of the German armed forces.
Eisenhower agreed. He named Reims, already rich in history, as the place of discussion, and he named May 5 as the date.
Escorted by Lieutenant Colonel Viscount Bury and Major F. J. Lawrence, of Montgomery’s headquarters, von Friedeburg and Col. Fritz Poleck, supply expert of the Wehrmacht’s high command, set out.
It was a rough trip. The party left Lueneberg, the scene of the northern surrender at 8 o’clock in the morning flying to Vorst, where they changed planes. Bad weather forced them to land a Brussels at 11:15.
At the RAF snack bar, the group lunched on the fare typical of all the RAF snack bars all over the world — Spam and ale.
At 1:30 in the afternoon, Miss Bobbie Alexander of Inverness, Scotland, who is an ATS private, appeared with a staff car and drove the drowsy Friedeburg and gloomy Poleck, with their escort toward Reims.
Friedeburg immediately dozed off. Poleck, who does not speak English, showed little inclination to speak German either.
The car reached SHAEF’s forward command post at Reims at four minutes past 5 o’clock, and was met at the entrance to the unimposing building by British Brigadier J. Foord, assistant for SHAEF’s G-2, and by Lieut. Col. K. A. S Morrice, assistant secretary of the general staff.
The Allied officers and German officers exchanged salutes. Those of the Germans were not Nazi salutes.
©2020 The Baltimore Sun
Visit The Baltimore Sun at www.baltimoresun.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.