At Nazi Surrender, No One Returns the Field Marshal’s Salute
BERLIN (AP) _ Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel strode into the hall after 11 p.m., stiff and arrogant, and raised his baton in a crisp salute. Not an Allied officer in the room returned the honor.
It was a half-century ago today, and Keitel was flown to the Third Reich’s fallen capital to sign Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender. The deed was done in a former German officer’s mess, now a museum.
British Air Marshal Arthur W. Tedder, the presiding Allied Expeditionary Force officer, later said Keitel ``embodied in every way that awful mixture of Nazi and Prussian.″
Keitel was handed the capitulation declaration and Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov asked if he had read, understood and consented.
The German High Command chief said yes but pleaded for 24 hours more to inform all his units. He was refused.
Indeed, word did not immediately reach many quarters, and more than 600 Soviet soldiers were killed the next day by Germans troops still fighting in Silesia.
Keitel removed his gray leather glove and signed, followed by the air force chief, Maj. Gen. Hans-Juergen Stuempff, and Adm. Hans Georg von Friedeburg. It was Friedeburg’s third surrender in four days.
News photographers climbed over chairs and tables to record the moment.
The Allied officers _ mostly Russians whose soldiers had conquered Berlin _ took great pleasure in watching the Germans’ discomfort as they signed the separate German, Russian and English-language documents.
Nazi Germany had agreed to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European time on that day _ May 8, 1945 _ ending five years, eight months and seven days of war in Europe.
It was midnight before the papers were signed by all the Allied representatives: Zhukov, Tedder, Air Force commanding Gen. Carl A. Spaatz for the Americans and Gen. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny for the French.
An hour later, the Allied officers returned to the same long hall where the capitulation was signed to find that the Russians had laid out a great feast that lasted past dawn.
Bottle after bottle of wine, champagne, cognac and vodka was consumed and many Allied officers got roaring drunk, Tedder said in his memoirs.
The Germans, of course, were not invited.
Friedeburg committed suicide 15 days later, and Keitel would mount the gallows at Nuremberg a year and a half later.