Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Evacuation from France and the march to occupy Germany

“Dunkirk was the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.”
Patrick Wilson

April 8, 2016


Forces waiting to be rescued at Dunkirk

Patrick Wilson, writing
“Dunkirk: Victory or defeat” published by History Review in September 2000, cautioned people not to underestimate the importance of the mass British military evacuations from Dunkirk, France, writing this:

“Dunkirk was the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.”

Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt, the opposing force German commanding general said something similar. He called Dunkirk “one of the great turning points of the war.”

German Generals Erich von Manstein and Heinz Guderian as well as Admiral Karl Dönitz considered the failure of the German High Command to order a timely assault on Dunkirk and eliminating the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) as one of the major mistakes the Germans had made on the Western Front.

They are talking about the fact that the British force in France, and their French and Belgian allies were virtually surrounded by robust German ground forces and vulnerable to the German Air Force (Luftwaffe). Yet the British managed to evacuate them from the French port of Dunkirk, across the English Channel. As it turns out, the British had to evacuate over 500,000 forces from multiple French ports during May 1940, Dunkirk being the one that is best known. The forces at all the French ports used for evacuation faced annihilation by a German ground and air invasion force many times their size with many times their capability. Yet they made it out.

So the question comes to mind, how could these evacuations which many say was the result of a military disaster lead to the fall of the Third Reich?


I have concluded that these evacuations marked the beginning of an evolution that maintained the British Army to fight another day. Had those more than 500,000 troops been captured or killed, the British Army would have been left barren. Further, the Royal Air Force (RAF) provided these evacuating forces air support that out-matched the attacking German Luftwaffe (Air Force). And finally, the evolution brought a hitherto neutral US into the war.


The RAF would underscore its bravado just a short time later as it defended the British Isles from a Luftwaffe onslaught in the Battle of Britain. That in turn erased German plans to invade the British Isles.

While observing events in Europe from 1939 onward, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) clearly viewed the Germans as the aggressors and he unhesitatingly though oft times ambiguously and slyly favored the British. The net result was that the US stepped out of its position of neutrality and became an aggressive and committed combatant.

And Adolf Hitler, the German leader, basking in the glow of continuous victories throughout Europe, double-crossed the Soviet Union and invaded it.

The cumulative result was that after periods of horrific warfare the US, Britain and other allies came from the West while the Soviets came from the East and together they squeezed Germany into an abyss.

Once Germany surrendered in 1945, the Allies, the US, Britain and the USSR had to decide how to deal with post-war Germany, or what was known as "the German problem." After all, this was the second world war begun by Germany in less than 50 years. Deciding what to do with Germany ended up with the US, Britain, the USSR and France occupying it.

And, you might be surprised to learn, German forces along their so-called "Atlantic Wall," their "Atlantikfestung" or "Atlantic Fortress," were trapped in multiple French ports, including Dunkirk, while the Normandy Invasion came ashore and moved inland. They would remain trapped there until 1945.

This report will at a top level walk you from those evacuations from France through to the Allied occupation of a defeated Germany. Indeed, I will conclude by telling you how the Allies trapped German forces in Dunkirk and forced them to surrender, in 1945. The evacuations can be viewed as the first step. I will do so primarily by highlighting important policy decisions and policy planning, many of which at the time were kept secret. This is not so much a report about the fighting and the battles as it is about policy.

While going through this report, please keep in mind, regarding WWII, that the US was neutral until it declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941 and on Germany and Italy on December 11, 1941. I remind you of this because so much happened prior to those dates.


For almost all those report, the term "British forces" will include those of the Commonwealth, mainly from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. I regret I will not differentiate among them during this report, but men and women from those countries most certainly played mega-roles in this war.

German military timeline, 1936-1941 — a brief summary

Let's start by running through the timeline established by the German Wehrmacht, the unified forces of Nazi Germany from 1936 through 1941. Al of this occurred before the US entered the European war.


  • The Treaty of Versailles marking the end of WWI forbade German militarization of the Rhineland, an area between Germany, Belgium and France, even though this region remained part of Germany. Hitler unilaterally canceled that and other agreements and sent about 3,000 military troops into the Rhineland in March 1936.
  • Germany annexed Austria in March 1938.
  • During October 1938, German troops occupied the Sudetenland, which was a sizable strip of land in Czechoslovakia along the entire border with Germany.
  • In mid-March 1939 Germany invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia.
  • In May 1939, Italy and Germany signed a military and political alliance.
  • Germany and the USSR signed the German-Soviet Pact, also known as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in August 1939. Among other things, it was a ten-year non-aggression pact in which each side promised not to attack the other.


  • On September 1, 1939 Germany invaded western Poland, now without fear of Soviet intervention. In retaliation, the Soviets invaded eastern Poland in September as well. Germany and the USSR agree to divide Poland.
  • In September 1939 Britain, France, Australia, Canada and New Zealand declared war on Germany. The US declared its neutrality in September 1939 as well.
  • In April 1940 the Germans invaded Denmark and Norway.
  • In May 1940 the Germans invaded France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.
  • In August 1940 the Luftwaffe commenced bombing airfields and factories in England, executed a blockade of Great Britain, and began bombing London.
  • In September 1940 Germany began its bombing blitz against Britain.
  • In September 1940, Germany, Italy and Japan signed a Tripartite (Axis) Pact
  • German forces entered Romania in October 1940. Italy invaded Greece.
  • In November 1940 Hungary joined the Axis. So did Romania.
  • The Germans invaded Greece and Yugoslavia in April 1941
  • In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, began the siege of Leningrad in August, took Kiev in September, Odessa, Kharkov and Sevastopol in October, Rostov in November and launched an offensive against Moscow in December 1941.

As you look at this timeline, Germany's days in the sun of military achievement lasted five years, 1936-1941. If you accept the premise that the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of August 1939 was the beginning of WWII, then it lasted only two years. After that, the German
Wehrmacht began its slide down the slippery slope. Regrettably, the war would go on for four more years, ending in 1945.

Next, a quick reminder of who Adolf Hitler was.

The rise of Adolf Hitler: 1920-1936

Let's now quickly remind you how Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany.

The Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, ending WWI forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente power. This a a very negative impact on Germany and Germans.

The National Socialist Germany Workers' Party (NSDAP), known to most in the English-speaking world as the Nazi Party, was active in Germany from 1921 through 1945. Adolf Hitler became the Nazi Party leader in 1921. He became its chairman in 1921. He attempted a coup in Munich in 1923 and was imprisoned. He was released in 1924 after which he attacked the Treaty of Versailles reached at the end of WWI, promoted Pan-Germanism, anti-Semitism, and anti-communism. He rapidly became quite popular.

German President Paul von Hindenburg reluctantly named Hitler as German Chancellor or leader of government in 1933, also known as the "Führer." Hitler then maneuvered to gain full control over the legislative and executive branches of government. Hitler withdrew Germany from the League of Nations and from Geneva disarmament talks in 1933. This is a photo of him in 1933.

Hindenburg died in 1934, Hitler became head of state and supreme commander of the military. That set off alarm bells throughout Europe. He would have nothing to do with the Versailles treaty military requirements.

His foreign policy was basically this:

  • Germany and Austria should be reunited
  • The Treaty of Versailles should be cancelled: Germany will rearm and regain lands taken from it by the treaty
  • Germany will return to the idea of armed struggle
  • Germany must destroy communism
  • Germany must conquer living space, termed lebensraum, in the east, in Russia and Eastern Europe

In 1935 Hitler reinstituted conscription, formed several new armored divisions, created an air force and rapidly grew his navy. And then in 1936 German troops moved into the Rhineland, which had been forbidden by the Versailles Treaty ending WWI. He remilitarized this region, which is shown in yellow on the map. That in turn placed German military forces on the west side of the Rhine River close to the Netherlands, Belgium and France. That changed the balance of power in Europe. Since no country retaliated, Hitler saw them as weak. Furthermore, the Rhineland was an industrialized area of Germany, making it crucial to building a war machine.

British forces sent to defend France

Now let's get into the heart of this report, starting with Britain's entry into WWII.

During much of the 1930s, Britain and France became increasingly aware of growing German militarism and aggressiveness. One result was that Britain formed the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in 1938. It was the annexation of Austria that kicked Britain into action to organize the BEF.

It deployed the BEF, about 160,000, fighting forces to France in September 1939. Some 25,000 vehicles arrived by October 19 to complete the first deployment. Most of the BEF was deployed along the borders with Belgium and Netherlands, along with two French Armies. By this time, Germany had annexedAustria, occupied Czechoslovakia invaded Poland.


Some BEF troops were sent to the Maginot Line, shown by the red line of the map graphic. The Maginot Line was a line of concrete fortifications, obstacles and weapon installations that France constructed on the French side of its borders with Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg during the 1930s.

The force grew to about 400,000 men by May 1940, of whom about 237,000 were in the main fighting force, some 10 infantry divisions organized in three corps, a tank brigade, General Lord Gort in command, shown here. Roughly another 150,000 - 200,000 were sent to other places in France, mainly to provide support and issue lines-of-communication. The Royal Air Force (RAF) also sent about 500 aircraft and 10,000 airmen. RAF aircraft were sent farther to the rear. Over time the force in France would grow to over 500,000.


There was a calm after the initial British deployments in 1939, sometimes referred to as “The Phony War.” But on May 10, 1940 the Germans made their move. The German Blitzkrieg of May 10, 1940 invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France. German Army “B” with some 300,000 troops invaded northeast France through Belgium, Generalfeldmarshall Fedor von Bock in command, shown here.

French, Belgian and British forces moved into Belgium to set up a defensive line known as the Dyla or K-W line, roughly northeast of Brussels. The Allies thought this was the main German thrust. It was not.

The main thrust was executed by German Army Group “A” with some 45 divisions including seven Panzer (tank) divisions.

They attacked through the Ardennes Forest in Belgium's southeast and raced across to the English Channel, done in five days or by May 15.

Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt was in command, shown here.


The immediate need for the British to evacuate France — three operations

The net effect was the Germans trapped the BEF of some 316,000 mainly combat troops and several French Armies, forcing them to withdraw to the area of Dunkirk, marked roughly by the red circle on the map above, the only port they could reach for evacuation to Britain. Fortunately, most of the retreating forces were able to get inside the organized defenses of the perimeter. Only a single British battalion blocked the Germans from seizing Dunkirk.

Andrew Roberts, reporting for the
Telegraph of the UK, described it aptly:

"Army Group A, and Army Group B, Germany's two main forces attacking France, joined together to push the Allies into a rapidly diminishing corner of France and Belgium … Then something astonishing happened. With General Paul von Kleist's (shown here) panzers only 18 miles from Dunkirk, indeed closer to it than the bulk of the Allied forces in the Belgian pocket, they were given an order to halt by Hitler that countermanded the order to take the town by the Wehrmacht's Commander-in-Chief, General Walther von Brauchitsch."

Actually, Hitler was affirming a request by General Rundstedt to halt. Rundstedt felt his logistics line needed to catch up, and he was concerned the panzers could not navigate through the marshy land.

Von Kleist was amazed and angry. He said this:

''I must say that the English managed to escape that trap in Dunkirk which I had so carefully laid only with the personal help of Hitler. There was a channel from Arras to Dunkirk. I had already crossed this channel and my troops occupied the heights which jutted out over Flanders. Therefore, my panzer group had complete control of Dunkirk and the area in which the British were trapped. The fact of the matter is that the English would have been unable to get into Dunkirk because I had them covered. Then Hitler personally ordered that I should withdraw my troops from these heights."

The "halt order" is debated to this day. But the fact was that the Allies had 48 hours breathing space to evacuate. Now while there was a so-called halt order, there was still a lot of fighting in and around Dunkirk. And the Luftwaffe kept strafing and attacking, so it was no picnic getting out of there. Fortunately the RAF was there to ward off as many as it could.


Incredibly, and for many reasons, the British Navy along with navies from France, Belgium, Holland and Norway and countless small private boats crossed the English Channel. Together they and their crews were able to evacuate 338,226 men, of which about 100,000 were French, and take them to England in what was known as “Operation Dynamo.” The troops left their equipment behind except for what they could hand-carry. They tried to destroy as much of it as they could before they left.


Some 933 ships took part in Operation Dynamo, of which 236 were lost and 61 put out of action. The number of small private boats that came across is not known, but it was many.


The BEF lost 68,111 men captured or killed during the
Blitzkrieg, the retreat and the evacuation. Some 40,000 French troops were taken into captivity and many of them died in captivity. One hundred twenty-six merchant seamen died during the evacuation. One thousand Dunkirk citizens died during the raids.

One might say Dunkirk was a disaster for the British and French, and the other Allies, a colossal and perhaps debilitating defeat for each. Certainly so for those who perished, were maimed, or taken prisoner. But not so in the long view of the war.

General Rundstedt called Dunkirk “one of the great turning points of the war.”

Patrick Wilson, writing “Dunkirk: Victory or defeat” published by
History Review in September 2000, cautioned people not to underestimate the importance of Dunkirk, writing this:

“Dunkirk was the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.”

As events would have it, the Germans did capture Dunkirk, and were now able to turn their attention to the rest of France. But guess what? The British still had hundreds of thousands of troops in France, in other locations.


There was a second BEF in France, sent in April 1940. It included the 1st Armored Division in an incomplete form and the 51st (Highland) Division. These were fighting forces. But there were some 150,000 support and lines-of-communication troops spread among some six English Channel ports in France, in other words, in rear areas such as shown on the map.

All together, the BEF had about 560,000 men in France by 1940, and a good portion of those forces were still there. Dunkirk, northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were now under German control, so the German Army began to sweep through France. The BEF now had been split in two, one part evacuated from Dunkirk, and one part still in France, General Alan Brooke, shown here, in command.

On June 5 the Germans launched a new offensive, often called the Battle of France, and they pushed the French armies to the west. On June 17, 1940 the French asked for an armistice, and on June 22 France signed its surrender.

The British decided they had to get the rest of their forces and as many Allied forces as they could handle out of France. There would be two more major evacuations, Operations Cycle and Ariel.


The British implemented Operation Cycle at Havre, northeast of Cherbourg. from June 10-13, 1940 to evacuate the Highland Division which had been fighting on the Somme River, which among other things runs through Paris to the English Channel. On June 13 a total of 11,059 were evacuated from Havre, of whom 9,000 were taken to Cherbourg. A good part of the Highland Division could not make it to Havre, so on June 10-11 some 2,137 British and 1,184 French troops were evacuated from Veules, northeast of Havre.

Then, in Brooke's first conversation with Churchill, by phone, Brooke recommended the rest of the BEF evacuate France as well. Churchill agreed and the British launched Operation Ariel.


Admiral James, based in Portsmouth, England, was tasked to control the evacuation from Cherbourg and Saint-Malo. Admiral Dunbar-Naismith, based in Plymouth, would control the evacuation of Brest, St. Nazaire and La Pallice, the Gironde estuary, Bayonne and St Jean-de-Luz.


Some 21,474 men were evacuated from Saint-Malo by June 17, another 30,630 by June 18. The photo shows men awaiting their turn to board a boat. There were a large number of British, Polish and Czech troops to the south. By June 17 some 28,145 were British and 4,439 Allied troops with a large number of RAF forces were evacuated from Brest. Thus far, the Germans did not cause much trouble, in party because they were advancing toward Paris.


About 13,000 troops were placed aboard ship at Saint-Nazaire by June 16. However, on June 17 German bombing sunk the liner
Lancastria killing 3,000 of the 5,800 men embarked. The photo shows Lancastria survivors: "Tired, weary and covered in oil from Lancastria’s tanks. This shot shows survivors aboard the destroyer HMS Highlander.

By June 18 another 23,000 were evacuated leaving only 4,000 ashore in France. They were taken out on June 18 as well. Then it was learned some 8,000 Polish troops had reached the port, but when ships got there they found only 2,000. By the end of June 18 a total of 57,235 troops had been evacuated from St. Nazaire, of which 54,411 were British, and 2,764 Polish. On June 19 a total of 2,303 British and over 4,000 Poles were evacuated from from La Pallace.

That terminated Operation Ariel, or so the British thought. The British saw that the French armistice was imminent, so they sent more ships to the River Gironde and the ports of Bayonne and St Jean-de-Luz. Most of the evacuations were of refugees.

Between them, Operations Cycle and Aerial managed to rescue 191,870 fighting men from the ports of north west and western France (144,171 British, 18,246 French, 24,352 Polish, 4,938 Czechs and 163 Belgians). Add in the men evacuated from Dunkirk and the total number evacuated from France was 530,096. I estimated that the total British force in France before all this was about 560,000, so you can see that nearly the entire force, about 94 percent, was saved.

This was important for a number of reasons. First, the British Army was in tact ready to fight another day. Second, British morale zoomed high. Third, and perhaps most important, the British were no longer contemplating a negotiated settlement with Germany, and Germany was no longer going to attempt to invade Britain. I will also remark these evacuations caught the eye of the American public, which had been very much against entering the war — they began to soften.

Churchill, who had become prime minister only a few weeks earlier, was able to confidently tell his people:

"We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight, on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets, and on the hills. We shall never surrender."

All assembled together, PM Churchill's position to influence the neutral US to join the war was significantly enhanced. Many have described this as "a watershed moment," the emergence of the "Dunkirk Spirit," an army rescued.

US the missing piece … Publicly maintain neutrality, secretly plan for war

Its June 1940 and the US was still the missing piece. Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand and Canada declared war against Germany in September 1939. The US declared its neutrality in September 1939. While the US said it was officially neutral, there is no question that FDR knew it was just a matter of time before the US would have to go to war against Germany, but the American public still wanted no part of it. Hitler was not anxious to go to war with the US at this time either. His first priority was to invade the Soviet Union which he did in June 1941.

Let's step back just a bit.

Up until the late 1930s, the US was focused on the possibility of war with Japan.

The US Navy began planning for war with Japan in 1897. Edward Miller’s book, War Plan ORANGE: The US Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945, is partially available on the internet, thanks to the Naval Institute Press. This naval war planning was done mostly in secret. In the early decades US relations with Japan were at various stages of friendly and not-so-friendly. There was, however, virtually no senior American official who could contemplate a war with Japan.

But Navy planners did have such a vision. They simply looked at the map of the Pacific islands, studied the Japanese penchant for economic development and expansion, and deduced there was a likelihood somewhere down the line that Japan might attack some or all of these islands, many of which were under some sphere of US influence, many of which were under the European sphere of influence.

There were a series of war plans, each labeled by color, BLACK through WHITE, each addressing plans for wars with Germany, the Caribbean, Philippines, China, Mexico, Latin and South America under various scenarios and including an uprising in the US.

Events changed during the period 1938-1939. US war planners shifted their strategic thinking from the Pacific to events in Europe and the Atlantic Ocean.They developed the RAINBOW Plans. In his book, The Road to Rainbow, Henry G. Gole argues that Army planning for coalition warfare and global war began as early as 1934. The Army envisioned a two-ocean war against Germany and Japan, to wit the development of the RAINBOW plans. Global Security outlines plan numbers 1-5 as follows:

  • RAINBOW 1: maintain a strategic defensive in the Pacific, from behind the line Alaska-Hawaii-Panama, until developments in the Atlantic permitted concentration of the fleet in the mid-Pacific for offensive action against Japan.
  • RAINBOW 2: Conduct immediate offensive operations across the Pacific to sustain the interests of democratic powers by the defeat of enemy forces.
  • RAINBOW 3: Repeated War Plan ORANGE.
  • RAINBOW 4: Send Army forces to the southern part of South America, and maintain a strategic defensive in the Pacific until the situation in the Atlantic permitted transfer of major naval forces for an offensive against Japan.
  • RAINBOW 5: Project U.S. forces to the eastern Atlantic, and to either or both the Asian and European Continents, followed by offensive operations to defeat of Germany and Italy. Maintain a strategic defensive in the Pacific until success against the European Axis Powers permitted transfer of major forces to the Pacific for an offensive against Japan.

These RAINBOW plans were being developed at a time when FDR was bound by a series of Neutrality Acts passed in 1936 and 1937. These were a series of laws banning arms sales and loans to countries at war, in the hope that this would remove any potential reason that the United States might have for entering a European conflict.


I need to mention here that on November 8-9, 1938, Nazis in Germany torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools and business, and killed some 100 Jews in what was known as Krystallnacht, "Night of the Broken Glass." There was now no doubt in the minds of German Jews that they were in serious trouble, and their situation deteriorated rapidly. FDR recalled the US Ambassador to Germany, Hugh Wilson, shown here, and extended visitors' visa for 12,000 German Jewish refugees in the US.

The American public was fully informed about what happened, but even the
New York Times twisted the story suggesting it was an event associated with "making a profit out of legalized loot." And I might add the American public remained opposed to more immigration, especially of Jews.

In 1939, understanding how the world was turning in the Far East and Europe, and seeing the warlike behavior of Japan, Germany and Italy, FDR, who was already turning away from isolationism and toward internationalism, asked the Congress to ease the restrictions imposed by the Neutrality Acts. FDR saw Germany as the clear aggressor and felt the US should support the Allies, especially Britain.

On November 4 the Neutrality Act of 1939 was passed, allowing for arms trade with belligerent nations (Great Britain and France) on a cash-and-carry basis, thus in effect ending the arms embargo. Furthermore, the Neutrality Acts of 1935 and 1937 were repealed. FDR was slowly but surely moving the US toward war, but trying to remain in a public position "short of war."

In the meantime, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral Harold Stark, USN, shown here, wrote a memorandum in 1940 which made its way to FDR known as the “Plan Dog Memorandum.” The word “Dog” was derived from his suggesting four possible scenarios for US participation in WWII:

A: Defend the western hemisphere
B. Go on the offensive in the Pacific against Japan and stay on the defensive in the Atlantic
C. Fight equally in the Pacific and Atlantic
D. Go on the offensive in the Atlantic against Germany and Italy and remain on the defensive in the Pacific

Admiral Stark recommended Option D, hence the name “The Plan Dog Memorandum” drawn from the military phonetic alphabet. This memorandum said it was imperative for the British Empire to survive. For that to happen, the US would have to help, “possibly even on the continents of Europe or Africa.”


On September 27, 1940 Germany, Italy and Japan signed a Tripartite Pact in Berlin, also known as The Berlin Pact. The Pact provided for mutual assistance should any of the signatories suffer attack by any nation not already involved in the war. Furthermore, it recognized two spheres of influence, Europe for Germany and Italy, Asia for Japan. The photo shows the signatories, seated from left to right: Saburō Kurusu (representing Japan), Galeazzo Ciano (Italy) and Adolf Hitler (Germany).

It was a defensive military alliance that was eventually joined by Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Slovakia. So it seemed as though the die were cast. FDR knew in 1940 it was not a question of if the US would go to war against Germany, but when.


He took his case to the American people in his Fireside Chat of May 26, 1940 where he argued that an isolationist US could not remain safe in a world dominated by fascist terror. The idea of FDR favoring neutrality was gone. But he did not yet mention war in Europe and the Japanese attack against the Hawaiian Islands had not yet occurred.

In November 1940, Stark briefed FDR and told him the US would have to aid Britain against Germany and prevent Britain’s defeat by Germany. Such aid would require the US armed forces to fight in Europe and in North Africa. Finally, he argued that defeat of Germany should be America’s top priority, regardless of the Japanese threat. FDR had expected this and agreed. General George Marshall, the Chief of Staff US Army (CSA) and chief military adviser to FDR, shown here, also agreed, anxious to get his Army forces into the land war in Europe.

The US was now at a stage where official US policy was neutrality yet military planners, with the full knowledge of FDR and the senior military leadership, were planning for war in Europe and the Pacific. This actually worked to the benefit of both the military and FDR, giving each side wiggle room to press ahead.


One result was US and British military staff members began secretly meeting January 1941 to discuss possible US involvement in the European War. By March 1941 they came to agreement regarding this eventuality. These meetings came to be known as the American-British Conversations (ABC). This photo hows US and British defense planners meeting and planning in November 1941.

Emergence of a US "Germany first" strategy — Get the US fighting in the war

These first meetings provided an ABC-1 report. In her book
Historical Dictionary of World War II: The War against Germany and Italy, Anne Sharp Wells wrote:

“The (ABC-1) document concluded that if the United States found itself at war with Germany, Italy and Japan, it would consider the defeat of Germany and Italy a priority and would execute only defensive operations against Japan until the end of the European conflict. The Allies would then take the offensive against Japan.”

Thus, the “Germany first” strategy emerged in concrete as the basic Allied strategy in WWII. An aggressive offensive war would have to be fought against Germany, while a defensive strategy would have to apply to the Pacific. The intent was, speaking broadly, to abandon to Japan everything west of a line connecting Alaska, Hawaii and the Panama Canal. US officials in the know kept this secret from the American public.


In June1941, the Germans invaded the USSR, "Operation Barbarossa," which pitted the USSR against Germany. Germany had broken its alliance with the USSR reflected in the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of August 1939.


Germany crossed into Ukraine in July, began the siege of Leningrad in August, took Kiev in September, Odessa, Kharkov and Sevastopol in October, Rostov in November and launched an offensive against Moscow in December 1941. To the surprise of the Germans, the Soviet Army launched a major counteroffensive around Moscow. This would mark what would be a horrific war between the two sides.


Germany had earlier implemented a naval blockade of Britain, employing its submarines to attack all shipping to and from the island. This, of course, included American ships with tons of American supplies bound for Britain.


The military and political systems now started to come together in US. American neutrality policy effectively ending such neutrality with the Lend-Lease Act of March 1941. This photo shows FDR signing the bill. FDR advocated lending or leasing anything the British needed to win the war against Germany. The bill, known as H.R. 1776, was engineered by Rep. John McCormack (D-MA), at the time the Majority Leader in the House. H.R. 1776 allowed the U.S. to sell, lend or give war materials to nations the administration wanted to support. The US also started sending arms and supplies to the USSR.

In April 1941, FDR extended the Pan-American Security Zone eastward almost to Iceland. The Navy started shortly thereafter to learn how to counter the German U-Boat threat. FDR now went way beyond the definition of neutrality. In July 1941, in a top secret memo to Admiral Stark, FDR authorized the Atlantic Fleet to conduct offensive operations against the U-Boats instead of simply defensive.


In September 1941, Stark issued Operation Plan 7-41, providing his commanders an unconditional order to "destroy hostile forces that threaten shipping…” Task Force 14 was organized and started the escorts directed to "destroy, repel and cripple threatening raiders." Indeed USN ships began hunting for German military vessels. This has often been referred to as "FDR's Undeclared War" and the "Battle of the Atlantic." The US Coast Guard participated. The photo shows a U-Boat under attack.


FDR first met secretly wth Churchill in August 1941 aboard the USS
Augusta heavy cruiser in Placentia Bay, New Foundland (photo applies). Both Admiral Ernest King, the commander-in-chief, US Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and General Marshall attended. The main outcome was The Atlantic Charter, where each side committed to not wanting any territorial gains as the result of WWII. There were some economic agreements in the Charter as well. Perhaps most important, the agreement underscored the need for self-determination, a stipulation important to FDR but quietly rejected by Churchill, the owner of the British Empire. But Churchill agreed to the Charter because he needed the US. There was, however, no signed agreement, only telegraph copies.

But there were other important agreements reached at this meeting. The conference produced two military plans. One was named "Operation Sledgehammer," the other "Operation Super-Gymnast." Sledgehammer would require the US to start building up force levels in England should the Allies decide to invade France. Super-Gymnast called for a British landing behind enemy lines in Libya combined with a US amphibious landing in Morocco.

This was the first involvement by the US in a wartime conference with an Ally opposed to the Axis and helped solidify the “Germany first” war-fighting strategy. The US was still publicly neutral, but was mightily involved in establishing this war-fighting strategy.


FDR and Churchill outwardly seemed to be the best of friends, but privately they had many disagreements. One of the disagreements I want to underscore has to do with this business of self-determination and the British Empire.

British Empire at its peak in 1921

Throughout the war, and until FDR’s dying day, FDR deplored the European colonial empires, most of all the French colonial empire. He persistently advocated self-determination as a right of people around the world. While he might have seemed to agree with discussions that would appear to contradict this view, inside FDR, self-determination always remained a steadfast objective.


Not so with Churchill. Churchill would do everything in his power to maintain the British Empire in tact. For his part, outwardly he might seem to agree with this idea of self-determination, but he did not agree with it at all. I don't know what FDR and Churchill are discussing aboard the USS
Augusta in this photo, but I thought it illustrative of Churchill grimacing and FDR acting a bit surprised.

As time went by, and the war drew to a conclusion, FDR’s position remained crucial to the evolution of post-war Germany. He went along with Britain maintaining its empire if it wishes, and he agreed to a post-war occupation of Germany, but he pushed for the right of Germans to ultimately have the right of self-determination, even after such a bloody war.

As a reminder, this meeting aboard the USS
Augusta occurred after Germany had pretty well taken and occupied most of Europe and had begun its invasion of the Soviet Union. And, of course, the US was not at war. The US on paper was still neutral.

For our purposes, it is intriguing to note that after the conference the British dropped millions of flysheets over Germany to assure Germans there would be no punitive peace that would destroy the German state. That story-line would be changed later downstream.


The attack against the Hawaiian Islands on December 7, 1941 did not change the "Germany first" strategy, though some alterations were made. On December 11, 1941 Hitler declared war on the US and the US declared war against Germany and Italy.


On December 12 Hitler ordered an assault on America. On December 18 the first group of U-Boats left port in France bound for the US eastern coast, the target area from Maine to North Carolina, in Operation Paukenshlag (Operation Drumbeat). Between December 1941 and February 1942, German U-Boats sunk 23 merchant ships along the US eastern coast. The USN at the time was not prepared to handle this kind of assault. The photo shows the US tanker Cities Services Empire in fames and stinking.


She was attacked by U-128, shown here, on February 22, 1942. The tanker was cruising offshore Melbourne, Florida.

Hitler's thinking appeared to be that the US would devote most of its naval power to the Pacific, which would leave the Atlantic shipping lanes wide open to U-Boat attacks. He apparently did not know about the "Germany first " strategy now in play in the US. The reality was the US would direct nearly 90 percent of its resources to defeating Germany, not Japan.

Germany would now have to face the combined wrath of the US, Britain and the USSR.


Hitler must have been looking at a map like this, which reflects German conquests from 1939 through 1941. He must have felt invincible. The problem for him, however, was that his forces were overextended, they faced resistance everywhere, and behind closed doors Allies were plotting Germany's defeat with an uncanny presumption of achieving ultimate victory.

The US declares war against Germany and Japan, sets plan to invade North Africa


The top British and American military leaders met in Washington from December 22, 1941 through January 14, 1942 in what was known as the Arcadia Conference, just a couple weeks after the Pearl Harbor attacks and the US declaration of war on Germany. Admiral Ernest King, USN (shown in the photo at the left corner of the table at the Arcadia Conference), a friend and close associate of Admiral Stark, was appointed CNO on December 30, 1941, after Pearl Harbor. King did not favor this idea of "Germany first" at the expense of the war against Japan and several of his protests were heard, but the "German first" strategy" remained locked in.


The military leaders decided the Americans would invade North Africa, and the British would strengthen their forces in the Pacific. The meetings also set up the Combined Chiefs Staff (CCS), headquartered in Washington. The CCS met for its first formal meeting on February 9, 1942. The photo shows them meeting in October 1942. The British set up a British Joint Staff Mission in Washington to represent British interests. The US set up the Special Observer Group (SPOBS) in London. SPOBS was succeeded by United States Army Forces in the British Isles (USAFBI), actually SPOBS under a new name.

The full CCS only met during the great wartime conferences on grand strategy. The US was assigned the lead for the war in the Pacific, the British for the Middle East-Indian Ocean region, and both staffs had responsibility for the European-Mediterranean-Atlantic area. China was a separate theater commanded by Chiang Kai-Shek. The US had the task of planning for an invasion of northwest Europe in spring 1943.

I'll point out that General Marshall wanted to invade Europe in 1942, to take the pressure off the Soviets. In April 1942 General Marshall and FDR confidant Harry Hopkins, shown here, went to London to suggest eliminating Operation Super-Gymnast into Libya, which called for an US invasion of Morocco, and instead favor Operation Bolero, which would concentrate US forces in England for a landing in either Brest or Cherbourg, France in autumn 1942! They proposed Bolero be followed by Operation Roundup which would occur in April 1943 with another invasion of France by reinforcements. The British are said to have agreed but they did not really agree. The British continued to walk on an egg-shell because they needed the US in the war, badly.

British military leaders, led by chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshall Alan Brooke, shown here, vigorously opposed such a venture. Brooke explained why:

"I found Marshall’s rigid form of strategy very difficult to cope with. He never fully appreciated what operations in France would mean — the different standard of training of German divisions as opposed to the raw American divisions and to most of our new divisions. He could not appreciate the fact that the Germans could reinforce the point of attack some three to four times faster than we could, nor would he understand that until the Mediterranean was open again we should always suffer from a crippling shortage of sea transport.’

You will recall Brooke had led British forces fighting in France and also led their Operation Ariel evacuation.

Churchill also objected to the invasion plans for France for a number of reasons. FDR supported Churchill's position, to the chagrin of General Marshall, Secretary of War Stimson, and CNO Admiral King. However, FDR made it clear to all hands the US would first invade North Africa.

While FDR had agreed with the “Germany first” strategy earlier, he kept quiet about it, probably for political reasons. However, at the Arcadia Conference the US affirmed the strategy which then became known as the “Europe first” strategy. The Allies agreed to combine their military resources under one command in the European Theater of Operations.

For his part, Churchill felt lands taken by Japan could be recovered as soon as Germany were defeated.


FDR saw it just a bit differently. He acquiesced to the loss of the Philippines, but would not let the Japanese take Australia, in part because of the string of islands connecting Australia to Hawaii and Japan. This reflected Admiral King’s position. FDR agreed to defend Australia and support King’s aggressive strategy to strike at Japan’s southern defensive perimeter through the Solomon Islands. Effectively Admiral King along with Admiral Chester Nimitz, USN, commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Fleet, were now in charge of developing and implementing this strategy.

NimitzCharles MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur, USA, the commander of US forces in the Far East, was forced by the Japanese invasion forces to leave the Philippines. He went to Australia in a harrowing escape. He came to the fore in 1942, named supreme commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific, after which he would take his forces on an offensive island hopping campaign. The JCS divided the Pacific theater in 1942. Admiral Nimitz (photo left) was in charge of the Pacific Ocean areas while General MacArthur (photo right) was in charge of the Southwest Pacific area.


What ended up happening is that the US took the offensive against Japan, first to defend American lines of communication in the Pacific, but then with a view toward marching straight to the Japanese Home Islands. Nimitz and MacArthur split responsibilities in this “Island Leap Frogging” campaign.

Nonetheless, the "Germany First" Strategy dominated, especially in the area of resources. That’s as far as I can go on the Pacific.

It's still only 1942, and the Germans are creating an incredible amount of havoc in Europe and North Africa. By way of summary, in January 1942, the Germans began a U-boat offensive along the eastern US coast, began air raids against cathedral cites in Britain in April, and an offensive in Crimea in May. Field Marshal Rommel reached El Alamein near Cairo in June, threatening the British protected Suez Canal, the Germans began a drive toward Stalingrad in July, and the Battle of Stalingrad began in September 1942.

The tide turns against Germany — The US enters the European War, the Soviets hold at Moscow

Let's switch gears a bit over to northern Africa. You recall FDR signed up to invading North Africa instead of Africa as its first major military endeavor in the European War.


This map portrays Italy's colonial holdings at the outbreak of WWII. The dominant British concern was the Suez Canal in Egypt. For its part, Egypt had long been worried that Italy, which had colonized Libya and created Italian East Africa, would invade Egypt. Therefore, when Italy declared war against Britain in June 1940, British forces crossed out of Egypt into Libya. Italian forces moved into Egypt in late 1940 as a counteroffensive. The British also attacked into Italian East Africa and virtually removed Italian administration over the area. As a result, in early 1941 Hitler sent in the Afrika Korps commanded by Lt. General Erwin Rommel (shown here) to reinforce the Italians and prevent an Axis defeat in Libya.


The first of what would be a series of failures for Germany now emerged. The British 8th Army led by General Bernard Montgomery, shown here, drove back Rommel south of El Alamein, Egypt. It had been Rommel’s intention to defeat the British 8th Army before Allied reinforcements could get there. But as events turned, the British pushed Rommel back to the west and recaptured Tripoli, Libya in late October 1942.

A note on the British 8th Army. It was an imperial force, the most ethnically diverse army to assemble in modern history. In late 1941, it was a quarter British and three quarters imperial. It included forces from Australia, Britain, India, New Zealand, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, Ceylon, Cyprus and the British colonies on the African continent. I will add that men from other countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and units from Canada were often attached to the 8th Army.

Recall that in 1941 the idea of "Operation Super-Gymnast" called for a British landing behind enemy lines in Libya combined with a US landing in Morocco. Well, the hammer came down in November 1942.

British and US forces conducted an amphibious assault against French North Africa, French Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in November 1942, known as "Operation Torch." Lt. General Dwight Eisenhower (shown here) was in command. He had previously commanded the USAFBI, but relinquished that command to take charge of the Africa invasion.


The invasion force consisted of three task forces: Western Task Force targeted at Casablanca, Morocco, Major General George Patton, USA in command; Center Task Force targets at Oran, Algeria Major General Lloyd Fredendall, USA in command; and Eastern Task Force targets at Algiers, British Lt. General Kenneth Anderson in command.


Operation Torch landed 100,000 U.S. and British troops at nine beachheads along the Moroc­can and Algerian coasts, assisted by 670 vessels and heavy air cover. It was an eight-day operation. Following this, the forces moved toward Tunisia. Those photo shows them landing near Algiers.


I’ll not go into specifics on individual battles fought but suffice to say by March 1943 the British 8th Army had pushed into Tunisia and the Germans were caught in between the "Operation Torch" invasion force from the west and the 8th Army from the east. Axis forces surrendered in May 1943. This photo shows German and Italian troops surrendering.


Over in the Soviet Union, the Germans arrived on the outskirts of Moscow in "Operation Typhoon" on October 1941. Soviet forces fought back in what would become one of the bloodiest and most lethal struggles in world history. The German Army was tired, but nonetheless in November launched a major offensive aimed at Moscow. The combination of Soviet resilience, incredible human sacrifice, and freezing weather stopped the Germans in early December. The Soviets in turn launched a counter-offensive. The Soviets drove the Germans back some 100-250 km from Moscow by early January 1942, in another major defeat for the Germans. The Germans remained fairly close to Moscow, so fighting continued until the Germans were forced to disengage by early 1943. Moscow was secured by October 1943.

The net result was that German and Italian forces had to withdraw from North Africa into Italy, the US was no longer the missing piece and was fighting in the European War, and the Soviets were ready to begin a westward march toward Germany.

Emergence of the requirement for "Unconditional Surrender"


Stepping back just a bit to January 1943, FDR and Churchill met again at the Anfa Hotel in Casablanca, Morocco to discuss the next phase of war, known as the Casablanca Conference. Free French forces Generals Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud also attended. Soviet leader Josef Stalin did not attend because of the German invasion of the USSR.

Several important decisions emerged. Largely at FDR’s insistence, the Casablanca Declaration announced the Allies would accept nothing less than “unconditional surrender” by Germany, Italy and Japan. FDR is thought to have insisted on this because he wanted to ease Stalin's disappointment that an invasion of France would not occur in 1943. FDR also wanted to keep the Soviets and British from cutting separate peace agreements with the Germans. Finally, he wanted to be sure the post-WWI situation would be one where Germany was able to rise again militarily. FDR's public papers reflected:

"…We say-all the United Nations say-that the only terms on which we shall deal with an Axis government or any Axis factions are the terms proclaimed at Casablanca: 'Unconditional Surrender.' In our uncompromising policy we mean no harm to the common people of the Axis nations. But we do mean to impose punishment and retribution in full upon their guilty, barbaric leaders…"

FDR announced the unconditional surrender requirement without prior consultation with Churchill or Stalin. While Churchill went along with this, he felt that some kind of accommodation with Germany might still be possible, though Hitler had to go.

This was a huge step, unthinkable just a year earlier. The idea was to permanently eliminate Germany as a threat, assure the Soviets that the US and Britain would fight until the end as a means to encourage the Soviets to keep fighting instead of negotiating a settlement, and eliminate any idea Hitler might have to seek a negotiated settlement. This latter point is important, as one could envision a scenario where Hitler might negotiate a settlement that would leave him in power.

This was also a controversial step. As mentioned, the US did not consult the Soviets. In turn, the Soviets felt the requirement simply meant the Germans would fight until the bitter end instead of laying down arms earlier or seeking a negotiated settlement. Stalin, even the British, were interested in a negotiated settlement. Second it increased Stalin's distrust of the West, which would rear its ugly head throughout the war and beyond into the Cold War.

Third, and arguably the most important, the phrase was not well defined, and not well understood. Unconditional surrender theoretically involves no concessions or bargaining. In most instances, however, when an enemy surrenders there is some level of mutual concessions and there is almost always some level of negotiation. So there was little consensus on what "unconditional surrender" meant.

GiraudHenri DeGaulleCharles

Finally, the I read it, FDR wanted to bring the two Free French leaders, Generals Giraud (left) and de Gaulle (right) together because they were competitive and oft bitter opponents and decisions would ultimately be needed on who who lead post-war France. FDR encouraged the two to try to get along with each other.

Trident Conference, Washington — When and where to invade the Continent


Churchill and FDR and their chiefs of staff met again in Washington for fourteen days, May 12-25, 1943. The dominant strategic question facing them was when and where to invade the Continent, either a cross-channel operation, favored by the US, or a Mediterranean assault on Italy. FDR was not keen on putting large numbers of ground forces into Italy, but he was very keen on opening a second front in France to relieve the pressures on the Soviets. Churchill argued that the number one goal at present ought to be to eliminate Italy from the war. Churchill's generals also believed the US military was not yet prepared for such a massive crossing of the English Channel that would be required.

General Marshall felt Italy could be brought to its knees with a concerted air campaign and did not merit an invasion with ground forces. Instead he wanted to focus American ground force buildups in England as a means to prepare for the cross-Channel invasion of France, as he had wanted from the beginning. He felt a full-up invasion of Italy would jeopardize force buildups in England. First, Marshall believed an invasion of Italy would require more ground forces than the British envisioned. Second it would place heavy demands on landing craft, which would be sorely needed for the cross-Channel operation. It turned out the landing-craft question loomed large during the conference. The US finally agreed there would be enough for invasions of both Italy and France.

There was a lot of horse-trading during the conference. The US agreed to invade Italy, but listed out a bunch of provisos affecting where force levels would be placed, the Mediterranean or England.

This conference occurred in May 1943. The invasion of Sicily and Italy had already been planned for August 1943 as the result of successful US and British operations in North Africa. It is important to understand that the military guys have to plan things in advance of the political arrangements being settled, and since they sometimes don't know how the political people are going to go, they have to plan multiple scenarios and then adjust once the political guys set things in concrete. This is a laborious process. In any event, the two sides agreed to mount a cross-Channel operation with a target date May 1, 1944. But here again, that's about as far as the political leaders went, so the military people had to come up with the various scenarios and the pluses and minuses to go with each.

Quebec Conference — Operation OVERLORD invasion of France set for 1944

You will recall that at the Combined Chiefs Staff meetings in late December 1941 and early January 1942 the US was assigned the task of planning for an invasion of northwest Europe in spring 1943. As I have said, the US was eager for such a crossing, especially General Marshall. A target date of May 1, 1944 seemed to be acceptable at the Washington Conference, but it was not firmed up.


Churchill, FDR and their military chiefs met in Quebec in August 1943, along with Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (left). FDR did not want King in on the discussions, so his role was primarily ceremonial. The US and Britain decided that a cross-Channel attack, codename OVERLORD, would be the main Anglo-American effort in Europe in 1944, target date still set for May 1, 1944. So OVERLORD started to harden at least conceptually.


The combined air offensive against Germany for the moment would have the highest strategic priority. This photo shows US Army Air Corps (USAAC) B-17Fs on a bombing raid over Schweinfurt, Germany in August 1943.


For the immediate term, the Mediterranean Campaign would have the focus. The invasion of North Africa opened up a clear avenue to Sicily, and thence to Italy. The invasion of Sicily had already begun a month before the Quebec meetings. Perhaps most important, with Operation Torch, the US was now in the European war.

Allies invade Sicily - Mussolini falls

While the US agreed to invade Sicily and Italy following Operation Torch, General Marshall still had his stubborn eyes on France. He had been focused there for some time. I know I have underlined this point multiple times, but Marshall was adamant about this. He had a fairly large Army that was idle, and he wanted to get it up to war fighting standards and in the fight. He knew this would take time and priority; he had enough time but he had trouble getting the priority for 1943. Indeed he did not get 1943, but did get May 1944.

FDR, against the wishes of his chiefs of staff, reluctantly agreed to invade Sicily and then Italy, so Churchill prevailed as he had in large measure from the beginning. This would be among the last times that Churchill got his way on such crucial matters.

The principle arguments for invading Sicily were to then invade Italy and remove Italy from the war, break up the Axis, and gain a foothold on the European mainland. There were plenty of ground and naval forces available in the Mediterranean region as the result of the North African invasion, and the Allies could make good use of the air bases on British Malta. I might mention that the British, with a strong naval tradition, had long favored a "blue water" approach to the war.


The invasion of Sicily, "Operation Husky," began in July 1943 and was concluded in August 1943. US and British forces landed in southern Sicily, one of the largest seaboard operations in military history at the time. Taking Sicily helped secure the Mediterranean Sea for Allied shipping and led to the downfall of Mussolini.


Recalling the evacuation of British, French and Belgian forces from Dunkirk in 1940, the Germans and Italians evacuated most of their forces from Sicily to the Italian mainland, getting the last forces out in August. The tide had indeed turned.


The Allies were unable to prevent the German and Italian evacuation largely because the invasion force was exhausted and there were no reserves. As a result, the Germans got 50,000 troops out and the Italians 75,000. The German forces would fight another day, along with some of the Italian forces. This photo shows a German Tiger Tank crossing the Straights of Messina during the evacuation of August 1943.

Mussolini BadoglioPietro

In July 1943, as a result of the Sicilian debacle, among other things, Italy's Grand Council voted no confidence in Mussolini. King Victor Emmanuel III, shown here, removed him from power and arrested him. On July 25, 1943, Marshal Pietro Badoglio (right) replaced Mussolini (Left) as head of state, announced Italy would continue allied with the Germans to fight the war, but privately began to get Italy out of the war. In fact, Badoglio began to negotiate with the Allies secretly the day he took office, despite what he was saying publicly.

As a point of history, on July 26, 1943, a day after Mussolini's arrest, Hitler summoned German Waffen SS Captain Otto Skorzeny, a commando expert shown here, and ordered him to find Mussolini and rescue him before the Allies could get their hands on him.

On September 8, 1943, Skorzeny and his men launched "Operation Eiche" and located Mussolini at the Hotel Camp Imperator in the Apennine Mountains, where he was being held prisoner in quite plush surroundings.


On September 12 Skorzeny's men kidnapped an Italian general hoping the kidnapping would persuade the armed guards not to block the rescue of Mussolini. It worked. Skorzeny put Mussolini aboard a German light aircraft, and flew him to Vienna, putting him up in the Hotel Continental. The larger photo shows Mussolini in the black coat walking over to the aircraft that would take him out. The embedded photo shows Mussolini (right) standing with Skorzeny after the successful rescue, obviously elated. I should say here there are multiple renditions of where Mussolini was taken. I believe Vienna is the correct one.

Hitler installed Mussolini as the figurehead of the Social Republic of Italy, a Nazi puppet state in German-occupied northern Italy. Mussolini had nothing to do in this job, and stayed at a lakeside villa in northern Italy surrounded by a detachment of the
Leibstandarte-SS, Hitler's personal bodyguard.

But Mussolini and his mistress would make a mistake, and try to get to Switzerland. Italian partisans stopped them, captured them, and they were both executed on April 28, by a single machine gun, I believe, and later taken to Milan and hung upside down on public display. The whole episode is described in some detail in the book
Mussolini, by Peter Nevelle, many sections of which are on-line.

Italian leadership surrenders, the Allies invade Italy


The process by which Italy surrendered to the Allies in WWII was messy, chaotic, and confusing. I commend a paper by Joseph Capuana published in the Times of Malta on January 12, 2014, "Secret signing in Malta of final Italian armistice during World War II." There are others if you wish to go more deeply.

My reading of events is as follows.

General Eisenhower was in a hurry to get an armistice deal signed because the Allied invasion of Italy at Salerno was scheduled for September 9, and he wanted this armistice agreement beforehand.

Recall that on July 25, 1943, Marshal Pietro Badoglio replaced Mussolini as head of state, announced Italy would continue allied with the Germans to fight the war, but privately began to get Italy out of the war.

General di Brigati Giuseppe Castellano, shown here, and went to Lisbon in August 1943, arguably without credentials, to work out arrangements with the Allies. He intended that Italy side with the Allies. While there, amidst a lot of turmoil, the Allies presented him with a "short" document containing 11 terms of surrender.

Rome accepted the "short document" on August 30 and General Castellano signed it on September 3 in Cassibile, Sicily. It became known as the Armistice of Cassibile. Once done, the US handed Castellano a "long document" with an additional 30 terms.

Castellano was surprised. But the Italians were in a real squeeze. The Germans had surrounded Rome and occupied most of Italy. The Italian leadership knew the Allies planned to invade Italy on September 9. They had to make a decision. Eisenhower understood the Italians' predicament, and did what he could to assure Castellano that the details of the "long document"would be worked out at some point in the future if the Italians needed time.

Eisenhower and Marshal Badoglio announced the Armistice of Cassibile by radio on September 8. The Allies landed at Salerno on September 9 as scheduled. The Italian king and Marshal Pietro Badoglio fled Rome and set up their government in Brindisi, on the heel of Italy on the Adriatic side.


Marshal Badoglio (third from the left) secretly went to Malta, boarded the HMS
Nelson in a Maltese harbor, and signed the "long" document on September 29. He was assured in writing that it was understandable Italy would not be able to implement everything.


On October 13, 1943 Prime Minister Badoglio (right) declared war against Germany and joined the war on the side of the Allies. This photo shows him reading the statement. Seated to his right is Brigadier General Maxwell Taylor, USA.

I believe Badoglio had, or at least felt he had negotiated a conditional surrender. There certainly were plenty of negotiations and promises made by both sides. There was an arm-wrestling match between Eisenhower, Washington and the British over whether the Italians had agreed to an unconditional surrender. Ike maneuvered about and had the word stricken.

The official document was amended on November 12 with a protocol dated November 9. Badoglio signed it in Brindisi, Italy, his headquarters.


Italy quickly submerged into civil war between the Italian Resistance (some of whom are shown here) and the Royal Italian Army on the one hand against the Fascist forces on the other.


There were three Allied landings on Italy.

  • The invasion began with Operation Baytown on September 3, 1943 targeted at Calabria, on the toe of Italy, a short distance from Sicily. British General Montgomery's 8th Army conducted this operation. This was the day the Italians agreed to an armistice, to the "short" document.
  • Then on September 9 Operation Avalanche was launched targeted at Salerno, Italy led by the US 5th Army, Lt. General Mark Clark in command, shown here. This was the main thrust.
  • Operation Slapstick was targeted at Toronto on the heel of Italy by the British 1st Airborne Division, Major General George Hopkinson in command.

The war in Italy deserves its own study, as do many subjects raised in this report. I will only say that some among the Allies anticipated a relatively “easy” campaign in Italy. Private deals had been made with the Italian leadership that were meant to neutralize Italian forces and leave defense of the peninsula to the Germans alone. The idea was to race up the boot of Italy to Germany’s southern flank, and open a second front there. But recall the US leadership was not enthusiastic about committing ground forces and amphibious lift to this ind of operation.


Even though the Italian government capitulated, the Germans took control and put up very stiff resistance, using the mountainous terrain as superb defensive positions. This terrain also hindered the Allies' motorized and mechanized units. The German strategy was to inflict as many casualties on the Allied advance and then retreat to the next line of resistance. This photo shows a German anti-tank gun preparing to fire.


The war in Italy was not "easy." It turned out to be a slow and very bloody slog. Casualties were very high, sacrifices very great. Nonetheless, the Allies had a good part of the German military tied down in Italy, so these forces were not available to fight the Soviets who were moving on the Eastern Front or the US and Britain who were planning to invade France from England in 1944 and establish a Western Front.


It took until June 5, 1944 for the Allies to capture Rome. Once done, the Allies moved northward and steadily German resistance crumbled. It would take until May 1945 for German forces to surrender in Italy. Several German military leaders surrendered without authorization, having been in communication with the Allied leadership in preparation. Furthermore columns of German troops urgently tried to reach Germany to the north.

The photo shows German Army Lieutenant General von Senger und Etterlin, the Commander XIV Panzer Corps, with General Mark Clark, Lieutenant General McCreary and Lieutenant General L. K. Truscott at 15 Army Group Headquarters, where the Germans received instructions regarding the unconditional surrender of German forces in Italy and West Austria. Some one million German troops were now taken out of battle.

Moscow Foreign Ministers Conference

The "Third Moscow Conference" occurred during October 18 to November 11, 1943, at the Moscow Kremlin and Spiridonovka Palace. It was one of the first times in which foreign ministers of the US, UK and USSR could meet and discuss important global matters. They met for 12 days. Arguably the most important outcome was they agreed (Soviets reluctantly) to create a world organization they called the European Advisory Commission (EAC).

The task of the EAC was to study the postwar political problems in Europe and make recommendation to the three governments, including the surrender of the European enemy states. The EAC will come up again later in our discussions about "The German Problem," to wit what to do about Germany once it were defeated.

I should comment on the first two Moscow conferences. The first was held in September and October 1941 between W. Averell Harriman (US special envoy to Europe), Lord Max Aitken Beaverbrook (UK minister of supply) and Stalin. The US-UK mission was to assure Stalin they would provide aid and support to the Soviets during the war. The Second Moscow Conference was held in August 1942 between Churchill, Harriman and Stalin. They addressed general strategy, planned the North Africa Campaign, and discussed opening a second front in France.

Tehran Conference - Plan to invade France confirmed


Another conference was held in the Soviet Embassy, Tehran, Iran from November 28 - December 1, 1943. Principal participants were FDR, Churchill, and Josef Stalin. This was the first time all three leaders met at the same time. FDR wanted this meeting the most; the other two were a bit ambivalent. FDR was most interested in meeting with Stalin.

Stalin felt the war was turning positive for the Soviets. He made some demands and the other two agreed. One of Stalin's constant themes throughout the war was that the Soviets were making the most sacrifice, and were taking the hardest beating from the German, and therefore should be treated kindly. Churchill wanted to continue pressing through Italy. FDR, however, insisted on a cross-English Channel invasion of France in May 1944 as earlier envisioned, to wit, "Operation OVERLORD." Stalin wholeheartedly agreed and promised to enter the war against Japan once Germany were defeated.

The British and US agreed General Eisenhower would command the invasion of France. Seven officers, four British and three American, led the invasion, sitting down for the first time together in January 1944. The organization formed to direct OVERLORD was known as Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). All of the commanders in SHAEF reported to Eisenhower. Though the leaders of the ground forces, General Montgomery and General Bradley, were not technically part of SHAEF, they took their orders directly from the Supreme Commander and worked closely with SHAEF staff.

Just a bit of background on Eisenhower. He was a protege of General Marshall, and a very capable one at that. But he had little combat experience and almost no experience being in charge of men and equipment. However he had demonstrated an uncanny ability to deal with the British in Washington. As a result, Marshall appointed him to command US forces in the European Theater, a position he took in 1942. Then the CCS appointed him to command "Operation Torch" in North Africa. Given that operation's success, the CCS appointed him to be the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Europe. He set up his headquarters as Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, SHAEF.


He had learned one key thing while commanding Operation Torch — politics and finding consensus among his commander and political leaders were more demanding than planning or even directing the military operation itself. For example, he talked his Allied commanders into a unified command structure, each of the top dogs reporting to him and fighting in concert with the others.

In any event, Operation OVERLORD was now set. The CCS gave this to Eisenhower as his objective:

"You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with the other Allied Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her Armed Forces."

Stalin promised to launch a major offensive against the Germans simultaneously with OVERLORD.


The subject of partition or dismemberment of Germany arose at Tehran.

FDR suggested dividing Germany into six autonomous states (Austria, Bavaria, Hanover, Hesse, Prussia, Saxony) and two internationally controlled areas (one bordering France, one bordering Belgium-Netherlands). He also proposed dividing East Prussia between Poland and the USSR.


Churchill's idea was for a north-south dividing line and an east-west dividing line: Orange the Republic of the Rhineland, Green the Federal Republic of Prussia, and Yellow The Federation of South German States. The two bright Blue, the Ruhr Area to the north (A) and the Saarland (B) to the south. The latter two would be internationally administered regions.

Stalin wanted to alter Germany's eastern frontiers to revise the boundaries of Poland and Russia.

They agreed to have the European Advisory Commission (EAC) "carefully study the question of dismemberment" before any final decision was taken. This simply confirmed what was decided by subordinates at the Moscow Conference of 1943.

US-Britain invade France, Soviets push westward, target: Berlin

It is not my purpose in this report to review in any kind of detail the military events leading to end of the war in Europe. But a brisk overview is in order so we can have some context for the policy decisions made.



Fundamentally, the Allies, including the Soviets, put the squeeze on Germany from three directions with surprising dispatch.



The Western Allies, hereinafter referred to as the Allies, landed at Normandy, France in June 1944. By August they were in Paris and crossing the Seine River, closing in on Paris. They captured Paris on August 25, 1944.

Allied attack Map Germany

By September they were in Belgium, the Netherlands and eastern France. By December 1944 the Allies were moving into positions to cross the Rhine River into Germany. They crossed the Rhine into Germany during March 1945. By May 1945 the Allies had crossed the Elbe and Mulde Rivers, to the northwest and south of Berlin (just off the map to the right, roughly least of the Elbe and Magdeburg) and had moved into Czechoslovakia and Austria to the south. US forces positioned to take Prague. They were also within 50 miles of Berlin and stopped. In both instances, Eisenhower told them to stop and hold.

The Eastern Front


The initial German invasion pushed all the way to Leningrad by October 1941. Fighting there continued through January 1944. They launched an offensive against Moscow in December 1941 but the Soviets pushed them back. Fighting continued until the Germans were forced to disengage by early 1943. Moscow was secured by October 1943. By July 1942 the Germans felt poised to take Stalingrad. A German siege officially began in August 1942, but failed. The Soviets liberated Stalingrad in February 1943. Slowly but surely the Germans begin to retreat.

The Soviets declared the German siege of Leningrad over by late January 1944. The Soviets began to move westward, going into Ukraine in July 1944, Lithuania that same month, and by the end of July 1944 the Soviets were closing in on the Germans in Warsaw. By the end of August the Soviets were in the outskirts of Warsaw, and they had gone through Belorussia and into Poland.


The Soviets took Warsaw in January 1945 and also moved into East Prussia. The Soviets now focused on Berlin. On February 5, 1945 Soviet forces crossed the Oder River defining the border between Poland and Germany. In March they began an offensive into Austria targeting Vienna. By the end of March Soviet forces were 50 miles from Berlin and they began preparing for the final battle of Berlin.

Italian Campaign


I have discussed the Allied landings at Salerno on September 9, 1943 and the difficulty, hardships and casualties of the Italian campaign. The Allies captured Rome on June 4, 1944, Florence in August 1944 and into the Apennine Mountains. It took until April 1945 to get to Boulogne, the River Po and on toward Milan, Turin and Genoa. The Germans signed the instrument of surrender in lat April. The Allies got to the Brenner Pass ready to assault into Austria and southern Germany in early May 1945.

In sum, the Allies were now approaching Germany, from three sides, and most important Berlin by the Soviets with the Western Allies sitting nearby, moving a bit to the south to stop any chance the German leadership would escape to a Redoubt in the Alps.

Battle of Berlin


The Soviet campaign against Berlin began on April 16, 1945. The Soviets were in Berlin’s suburbs by April 21. The Soviets then cut off all access routes west of Berlin, effectively surrounding the city.


They captured the Reichstag on April 30, Hitler killed himself, his wife and his dog, and Berlin surrendered formally and unconditionally to the Soviets and Western Allies on May 1, 1945. All major sections of Berlin were occupied by the Soviets by May 2 and the war officially ended on that date, well sort of.

Allies lack a plan for post-war Germany — dismember or partition, or what?

Through this point, I have attempted to follow some semblance of chronological order. I'll now have to deviate from that as I turn to how Germany came to be occupied by the four powers; France ultimately got admitted to the fraternity. For my part, the war from a military standpoint is effectively over, though many soldiers had yet to be killed and maimed.

But let's press ahead and observe how the Allies at the leadership level dealt with what to do about Germany following its defeat — "The German Problem."

The discussions, debates, studies and arguments about dismemberment were, to use my word, "wild," all over the playing field. I can only touch the surface. It is and still would be a fascinating historical subject to study in some depth. Philip E. Mosely authored “
Dismemberment of Germany: Allied Negotiations from Yalta to Potsdam,” published by Foreign Affairs in April 1950. I will draw from it and commend it to you.

This was not going to happen again

As they began their deliberations, I can tell you the Allies wanted to treat Germany in a very harsh way. They wanted to punish Germany. There was a desire for revenge. After all, Germany had begun two world wars within 50 years. The Allies wanted to be sure Germany would not and could not start another — there was a strong desire for reprisals. Dismembering Germany, breaking her apart into individual states, seemed to be the strongest way to achieve reprisal.

The French had for a very long time, dating back to Richelieu and Napoleon, wanted Germany divided into several independent states.

The term “dismemberment," in diplomatic circles, meant permanent division; in other words, Germany would be permanently divided into multiple separate and independent states.

FDR is thought to have had the idea of dismemberment in mind as early as 1942. Some experts believed Churchill raised the subject to FDR in 1941 aboard the HMS Nelson. In any event, FDR asked Undersecretary of State Secretary Welles, shown here, to take a look at it. Welles handed the task to a committee. The committee examined breaking up Germany into three, five and seven separate states. But it concluded by June 1942 that it was not a good idea and therefore the committee rejected it. The committee felt democracy, preventing rearmament, and controlling Germany’s economic might were more important.

British Foreign Secretary Eden, shown here, broached the subject with FDR in March 1943, asking if the Allies "were going to insist that it (Germany) be broken up into several independent states." Henry Hopkins wrote this in his notes:

"(FDR said he) hoped we would not use the methods discussed at Versailles and also promoted by Clemenceau to arbitrarily divide Germany, but thought we should encourage the differences and ambitions that will spring up within Germany for a Separatists Movement and, in effect, approve of a division which represents German public opinion … Both the President and Eden agreed that, under any circumstances, Germany must be divided into several states, one of which must, over all circumstances, be Prussia."

At a foreign ministers conference in Moscow in October 1943 the subject was discussed. The US delegation submitted a paper known as the Hull memorandum. It called for unconditional surrender, joint occupation and control of Germany by the three powers (US, UK, USSR), the total disarmament of Germany, the dissolution of National Socialism, separation of East Prussia from Germany and returning Germany to its 1937 frontiers. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, shown here, dismissed the idea of dismemberment, but acknowledged that it was favored in "high quarters in the US." That said, discussions about it would continue and the idea remained on the table. Churchill liked the idea of dismemberment while the Soviets preferred Hull's approach but understood dismemberment to be an option.

And you will recall that the subject came up at the Tehran Conference of November-December 1943, FDR, Churchill and Stalin each presenting their own concepts. As all good leaders do when a decision seems too tough to handle, they agreed to have the European Advisory Commission (EAC) "carefully study the question of dismemberment" before any final decision was taken. That simply confirmed what had been decided by subordinates at the Moscow Conference of 1943.

The Interdivisional Committee on Germany (IGC) of the US State Department produced a paper dated August 5, 1944, Top Secret at the time, that addressed the occupation and treatment of Germany after the war. The IGC envisioned two separate periods of time:

  • The short range during which the Allies would occupy Germany.
  • The long-term.
  • Speaking to the long term, the paper addressed partition, or dividing Germany into separate parts, once again you hear it,
  • “dismemberment.” The IGC position, to which the US government would hold, was that the US ought to oppose partition or
  • dismemberment. It would be difficult to enforce, it probably would require force to implement, it would drastically interfere with
  • German life, it would endanger the economic stability of Europe, and it would be a never-ending burden on the Allies to
  • enforce it.

The Second Quebec Conference


The Second Quebec Conference of September 12 - 16, 1944, codenamed "Octagon," was held at the Château Frontenac in Quebec. It was the 11th meeting between FDR and Churchill. Again Stalin was not there, tending to the Germans instead.

The war in the minds of the Allies was effectively coming to a victorious end. All Allied forces were moving to squeeze the German military machine, such as it was at this time, back into Germany all the way to Berlin. Indeed the 1st US Army had entered Germany at three points. The Soviets had cleared their southern flank and continued moving westward. And the 5th Army was still locked in harsh combat at the Pisa-Rimini line north of Florence but was making steady progress. The Allies were coming at Germany from three directions.

Churchill observed:

"Everything we had touched had turned to gold, and during the last seven weeks there had been an unbroken run of military successes.”

The Combined Chiefs felt the military side of the war could pretty well be handled by the field commanders.

FDR had insisted the purpose of this Quebec conference was to discuss military matters, but there is cause to believe that he was not all that sincere. Something was in the wind because US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., shown here, attended, and he was known to be keenly interested in what to do about Germany after the war, a purely political matter. He was also known to favor dismemberment of Germany, feeling that the only way to stop German aggression was to dismantle its industrial base. Furthermore, he was FDR's neighbor and good friend.

FDR's log highlighted what was on his mind for the conference: "…the President and the Prime Minister convened their eleventh War Conference to discuss two great problems: postwar control of Germany and the final defeat of Japan."

Indeed postwar planning had been well underway for some time. But the problem was there was no plan. The need for a plan was growing exponentially. That was in part due to the fact that there were tensions among the Allies and the Allied military forces who were now moving into Germany, to wit Germany was going to be defeated and a postwar plan was needed.

The British, as noted by Churchill, could see that the "British Empire effort had now reached its peak." There was a growing realization that the Soviet and American militaries would be the forces with which to reckon in the future. Both Churchill and FDR distrusted Stalin, and Stalin distrusted them. Everyone understood there were stark ideological differences between the US and USSR. Americans saw Stalin as a dictator, and communism as a means to dictatorship. The Russian people saw capitalism as a con-job with the real power in the hands of corporate leaders. They believed capitalism was a dangerous threat to the USSR. And once again, the Soviets felt they bore the brunt of the war. In the midst of all this was how to handle a defeated Germany to avoid Germany starting yet another world war.

Morgenthau's friend, Dr. Harry Dexter White, shown here, was an economist and a principal adviser on monetary matters, one who would play a leading role in setting up the postwar economic order. He had developed a plan for Germany. White was a big picture guy, and often developed plans dealing with foreign affairs. He would give them directly to Morgenthau who in turn handed them directly over to FDR, without going through Hull and the State Department, or any other department. In short his nose was deeply into foreign policy making. White would later be accused of espionage with the Soviets and was seen by many as a communist. White would die before any serious action was taken and the verdict on this question remains largely unresolved.

For our purposes, however, White and his staff focused on postwar treatment of Germany. The end result in summer 1944 was what was known as the Morgenthau Plan. The Morgenthau Plan was a dismemberment plan.


In essence, it de-industrialized Germany. It broke it into two non-industrial, independent states, the northern and southern German states. These would be relegated to pastoral pursuits. A third zone would be created that would be an international zone, occupying much of the territory of industrialized Germany. The plan read in part:

"It should be the aim of the Allied Forces to accomplish the complete demilitarization of Germany in the shortest possible period of time after surrender. This means disarming the German Army and people, the total destruction of the whole German armament industry, and the removal or destruction of other key industries which are the bases of military strength … (The Ruhr area) should not only be stripped of all presently existing industries but so weakened and controlled that it cannot in the foreseeable future became an industrial area."

Morgenthau had convinced FDR this was the way to go. Doing that ran counter to most other views held in the State and other departments of the US government. The Plan caused enormous controversy in the US and Britain, especially among cabinet officials. Germany’s Nazi propaganda minister used it to full advantage, hyping up the German people and Army, showing how miserably the Allies intended to treat them if Germany lost the war. Some experts say many thousands of Allied lives were lost as a result.

Morgenthau briefed the plan at Quebec. Churchill was aghast at the idea. FDR supported it. Many ideas started floating around during the Quebec Conference and Churchill was mightily involved. The many discussions held require their own in-depth study. One point is clear. The Morgenthau Plan aroused a lot of thinking about what to do with Germany after the war.

Churchill remained in the same box he was in since the war's beginning — he needed the Americans badly. In this case, the British were deeply in debt and needed continued US financial and other support. So Churchill tentatively gave in and he and FDR initialed the Morgenthau Plan on September 15, 1944, to many meaning they had “OK’d” it.

The fallouts after both leaders returned home included protests, loud opposition, heavy criticism and even rebuke of Churchill especially and to some degree FDR as well. FDR would rapidly soften. He decided not to decide how to partition or dismember a country which the Allies had not yet occupied.

This entire story is very complex. I have glossed over a lot of most interesting research and highlighted only the gist of what occurred. The Morgenthau Plan would slowly die of its own weight.

The London Protocol on Zones of Occupation and the Administration of "Greater Berlin"

About at the same time Churchill and FDR were meeting in Quebec, the EAC was meeting in London. On September 12, 1944, it produced the "London Protocol on Zones of Occupation and the Administration of 'Greater Berlin.'" Representatives of the US, UK and USSR signed it.

A protocol usually is an original draft of a diplomatic document, especially of the terms of a treaty agreed to in conference and signed by the parties. This protocol was indeed a draft protocol. It was amended in July 1945 and probably was touched up several times thereafter.


The highlights of the London Protocol are as follows:

  • Divide Germany into three zones, one of which would be allotted to each of the three Powers.
  • Berlin would be a special area and would also be under joint occupation by the three Powers.
  • There would be an Eastern Zone allotted to the USSR, and it would encompass Berlin.
  • There would be a North-Western Zone, allotted to Great Britain.
  • There would be a Southwestern Zone allotted to the US.
  • Berlin would be jointly occupied by the armed forces of the three Powers:
  1. The North-Eastern part of Greater Berlin would go to the Soviets.
  2. The North-Western part would go to (blank, eventually to Britain)
  3. The Southern part would go to (blank, eventually to the US)
  • The Ruhr and Saar war-making industrial centers would not be rehabilitated but instead would be shut down with a view toward making Germany largely an agricultural country.
  • The port of Bremerhaven would be controlled by the US.
  • The matter of which zone in Berlin would be occupied by the US and Britain would be addressed later.

But let’s return to part of the reason Eisenhower stopped the Western Allies from going into Berlin. Simply said, Eisenhower knew the Three Powers had already agreed to zones of occupation for all Germany and of Berlin. While General Montgomery was eager to fight his way into Berlin, the American commanders felt the Ruhr was more important, casualties from a Berlin excursion would be very high, and quite frankly, I think Eisenhower felt he ought to let the Soviets handle it.

General Omar Bradley, USA, in March 1945 a newly minted four-star, commented:

“I could see no political advantage accruing from the capture of Berlin that would offset the need for quick destruction of the German army on our front. As soldiers we looked naively on this British inclination [the desire to go on to Berlin] to complicate the war with political foresight and non-military objectives.”

Therefore, there was no compelling reason for the US to go into Berlin at this point in time. Indeed both the British and US Armies had their hands full, despite their many successes.

As Churchill put it:

“The Soviet armies were at this very moment swarming over the pre-war frontiers, and we wished them all success.”

And finally, there was concern that the Nazi government would evacuate from Berlin and head into the Alps to establish a redoubt, a temporary fortification from which to fight on. Eisenhower wanted to send forces to the south to block any such attempt.

The Yalta Conference


From February 4-11, 1945 FDR, Churchill, and Stalin met at Yalta on the southern tip of the Crimea for what came to be known as the Yalta Conference. These three leaders had met together only twice during WWII, first at the Tehran Conference from November 28 - December 1, 1943.

FDR in last days
FDR does not look at all well in the group photo. That is because he was fading. He would die in April 1945 of cerebral hemorrhage, just two months after the conference, replaced by Vice President Harry Truman. This is the last known photo taken of FDR shortly before he died. It is also worth noting that the war in Europe ended in May 1945, just three months after the conference, one month before FDR died.

By the time of this conference, Soviet forces were approaching eastern Germany, only 40 miles from Berlin, and across most of the Oder River. The Western Allies had crossed into western Germany and were approaching the Rhine River from its mouth at the North Sea in the Netherlands to the Swiss border in the south.

Each leader had an agenda at the conference. Stalin felt especially strong, holding most of Poland, all of the Baltic states, Belorussia, Ukraine, Rumania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and most of Hungary. Furthermore, Soviet military strength was about three times that of the entire Western Alliance. For their part, the Western Allies acquiesced to most Soviet demands, wanting to end the war as rapidly as possible.

The principle concern among the Big Three was that Germany should not be allowed to have a war-making capability and Nazism should be destroyed, both of which would demand joint occupation.

Surprisingly, the word “dismemberment” was added to the official Allied lexicon at Yalta. All three leaders agreed Germany should be partitioned, though details were lacking. Indeed they changed the articles of surrender to include “complete disarmament, demilitarization and dismemberment of Germany.” The three leaders agreed to inform Germany of this intent at the surrender. While the French would be allowed to participate in the control of Germany, France was not to be included in discussions within the Committee on Dismemberment that would lay out the details.

As each day went by, FDR became less and less enamored with dismemberment, and told his people to delay and study. As a result the whole idea fell down the priority list of things to do within the Committee on Dismemberment.

FDR subscribed to the Atlantic Charter of 1941 which emphasized self-determination, no territorial changes, and restoration of self-government. So FDR in his heart wanted a unified Germany.

Churchill viewed the Soviet Union as the principle threat. He worried they would take control of all Eastern Europe, he strongly opposed communism, and he wanted Eastern European countries presently occupied by Soviet forces to be free. Churchill not only supported dividing Germany into occupation zones with a long term view for reunification, but he wanted France to get a zone of its own to make it a stronger ally and prevent the Soviets from taking over whatever they wanted. He was adamant that Germany be divided into three zone, US, Britain and USSR.

Stalin felt the Soviet Union bore the brunt of German aggression, that Soviet forces fought a greater percentage of German forces than did the Western Allies, and the Soviets suffered the most. Furthermore, he believed the Eastern European countries were a threat to the USSR. Therefore, he wanted to control them as buffer states between the USSR and the West.


The highlights of the conference were are shown next, many of the details of which were initially kept secret. Please remember this occupation zone map is a 1945 rendition, but it is very close to the final arrangement:

  • Demand for unconditional surrender
  • Divide Germany permanently but temporarily divide Germany into occupation zones
  • France could have a fourth occupation zone, but it would have to be taken out of the British and American zones.
  • Demilitarize and denazify Germany
  • German forced labor would help pay reparations; further reparations would be decided later
  • Soviets agreed to hold a conference on the United Nations in April


  • The Polish eastern border would follow the Curzon line, which gave the USSR eastern Poland and gave Poland much of eastern Germany.
  • The communist government in Poland would reorganize on a more democratic basis, enabling involvement by the government in exile.
  • Belorussia and western Ukraine would return to the Soviet sphere
  • Interim governments broadly representing democracies would be established in the countries of eastern Europe
  • The USSR would enter the war against Japan once the European war were over, and various concessions were given to the Soviets regarding transfer to them of territories currently held by Japan
  • Provide the German people minimum subsistence
  • Try war criminals before an international court

Hitler commits suicide

On April 30, 1945 Adolf Hitler committed suicide in an air-raid shelter under the Reich Chancellery building in Berlin. He
had been there since January 16. It is said that bunker survivors cremated him. A German court declared him officially dead in 1956.

Members of the Soviet SMERSH, the Soviet Army's counter-espionage and counter-intelligence unit, led by Lt. General Aleksandr Anatolevich Vadis, shown here, entered the compound to search for Hitler but found nothing. He said he interviewed all the survivors and they all said Hitler had been cremated. There was concern in Moscow that Hitler had tricked them and got away.

Stalin then ordered Lavrentiy Beria, shown here, head of the Soviet secret police known as the NKVD, to send a NKVD general to Berlin and report back frequently. That notwithstanding, SMERSH people found bodies in the Reich Chancellery garden on May 4, 1945, they were taken to SMERSH headquarters in northeast Berlin, and dental records proved to General Vadis that one of the bodies was Hitler's. SMERSH kept the jaws used in their dental checks, and the NKVD kept the cranium. The Soviets said they burned everything in 1970.

The Soviets kept much of this secret. In September 1945 a Russian report emerged that said Adolph Hitler and his wife, Eva Braun Hitler, were living in the British zone of Germany. That caused the British intelligence bureau in the British zone to task Major Hugh Trevor-Roper, shown here, to conduct an official inquiry into Hitler's death. Trevor-Roper served as an officer in the Radio Security Service of the Secret Intelligence Service, intercepting messages from the German intelligence service. He would go on to become a historian of early modern Britain and Nazi Germany and a Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford. After exhaustive research and interviews, he announced on November 1 that he concluded HitlerHitler shot himself in the head and his wife took a cyanide tablet on April 30, 1945. He would admit he had no conclusive proof.

There were myriad reports of sightings of Hitler throughout western Europe. Trevor-Roper's continued working the problem but in 1947 his report was published in a book and he stuck to his guns. The controversy continues to this day.

Occupation of Germany already a fait accompli - military imposed realities

Only days away from formal German surrender, details were still lacking and how to or whether to approach the subject of dismemberment in the surrender documents. The military leaders, however, were on the move, they needed solutions, and they came up with them and implemented them, as far as I can tell, pretty well on their own.


You will recall that seven officers were in charge of the OVERLORD invasion of western France at Normandy in 1944. They formed the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), which was General Eisenhower’s headquarters for command of Allied forces in northwest Europe. The staff is shown here: (Front row, L-R) Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder (Deputy Supreme Allied Commander), General Dwight Eisenhower (Supreme Allied Commander), Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery (21st Army Group); (Back Row, L-R) Lt. General Omar Bradley (12th Army Group), Admiral Sir Bertram H Ramsay, Naval Commander, Air Marshal Sir Tafford Leigh-Mallory (Air Force Commander), Lt General Walter Befell Smith, Chief of Staff to General Eisenhower.

For its part, SHAEF wanted the dismemberment issue left out of the documents. That was primarily because SHEAF wanted to be sure everyone agreed that the war had ended, that there would be no disputes, and that the articles of surrender be kept simple.

The problem with this approach was that it did not present a political solution. In short, it would fail to acknowledge the agreements already made by the Allies. There was disagreement back and forth. This is a most important point. Yalta and all the other conferences yielded agreements among the Allies, I should say among the politicians representing the Allies, but none of those agreements reflected a treaty with the Germans and there was no instrument of surrender available.

As I said earlier, Western Allied and Soviet military forces were moving into Germany, and the Western Allies were moving into areas occupied by the Soviets in the east. As a matter of fact, the Allies occupied four zones, leaving a fifth zone under Four-Power control. The net effect was that the military divided and occupied Germany: de facto soon became de jure. Lt. General Lucius Clay, General Eisenhower’s deputy, told Secretary of State Byrnes the “zones represent air-tight territories.”

I will also tell you that the German surrender was no simple chore. It is yet another study to dig into this subject.


The Germans surrendered unconditionally to the Allies at the Western Allied Headquarters in Reims, France on May 7, 1945. German General Alfred Jodl signed on behalf of the German High Command. Joel had wanted to surrender only those forces fighting against the Western Allies. Eisenhower rejected that, threatened to seal off the Western front, preventing Germans from fleeing to the West, thereby leaving them to the Soviets. Joel called Hitler's successor, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, and told him to sign.

GeneralSmithSignsSurrenderReis copy

Soviet Major General Ivan Susloparov (far right) and and Lt General Walter Bedell Smith (center), Ike’s chief of staff, signed for the Allied Expeditionary Force, the former on behalf of the Soviet High Command, the latter on behalf of the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces. French Major General Francois Sevez, shown to the left, signed as a witness. The Russian and English versions of the document were the only authoritative ones.

It is important to note that Jodl signed on behalf of the German High Command, and only military leaders signed it. This was not a political event though there was plenty of politics swirling around. It was a military surrender, frankly an armistice.



The Soviets objected. There was a mix-up with regard to whether General Susloparov, the Soviet representative, should have signed. He did sign, but the Soviets demanded a second instrument of surrender at Marshal Zhukov’s headquarters in Berlin. Eisenhower agreed to their objections and said the surrender signed in Reims should be considered "a brief instrument of unconditional military surrender.” As a result, a second signing was held in Berlin just before midnight, May 8. The top photo shows German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signing the surrender for the German Army at the Soviet headquarters in Berlin-Karlshorst. The bottom photo shows Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov, commander of the 1st Belorussian Front that captured Berlin, signing for the Soviet military.

Once Hitler had died, those Nazi leaders remaining formed what came to be known as the Flensburg Government in Northern Germany on April 30, 1945, led by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, shown here, and Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, the latter serving as Reichspräsident and Reich Chancellor. On May 1, 1945, Dönitz accepted the offices of Supreme Commander and Head of State for Germany. While he was a military man, he was effectively the head of state, the top political entity in Germany at the time. In effect, this was a continuation of the Nazi government. Dönitz had hoped this would allow them to preside over a provisional government in Germany. It was called the Flensburg Government because it formed at Dönitz's headquarters in the northern port of Flensburg.

Forrest C. Pogue, writing
US Army in WWII, the European Theater of operations, The Supreme Command wrote this about Dönitz:

"In his address to the German people on 8 May, Admiral Dönitz declared that the foundation on which the German Empire had been built was a thing of the past, and that unity of state and party no longer existed. All power in Germany had now passed into the hands of the occupying powers, who would decide whether he and his government were to continue. Events of the next few weeks were to show conclusively that Dönitz' government had no real standing and that SHAEF was interested in dealing with the admiral only as head of the armed forces."

Once the surrenders were signed, the Flensburg government effectively was out of business. However, the Allies allowed it to continue operating until May 23. For the record, the Flensburg government was in place, the German High Command had relocated to Flensburg, and ministers were assigned and operating to a certain limited degree between May 1 and May 23, 1945. This caused some turbulence among the Allies, some of whom saw members of the Flensburg government as attempting to exercise too much power and influence.

There was some debate between Churchill, Eisenhower and the Soviets about whether to let the Flensburg government continue. Eisenhower wanted it to go on for a bit. There were issues associated with following the instructions of the Allies regarding the feeding, disarming and medical care of the German Armed Forces. The Soviet disapproval prevailed.


A British officer arrested Dönitz, Albert Speer (behind Dönitz in civilian clothes), the armaments minister, General Jodl (on Speer's right side) and others.

As a matter of formality, HQ SHAEF in agreement with the Soviet High Command dissolved the Flensburg government on May 23. The British arrested Admiral Dönitz and others that same day. Most experts view May 23, 1945 as the official end of WWII in Europe.

I wish to point out that Dönitz claimed to be the head of state and did not sign any instruments of surrender. To repeat myself, technically there was still no political settlement, only a military one, a military armistice. For its part, as I mentioned, SHAEF saw Dönitz as a military man rather than a head of state.

Other surrenders of interest — the beat went on for a little while

As I was doing my research, I came across some other surrenders about which I did not know yet I thought were significant enough to pass on. It was weird doing this research as it seemed German military officers were surrendering all over the place — quite remarkable in retrospect.

The Netherlands


On May 4, 1945, Field Marshal Montgomery accepted the unconditional surrender of German forces in the Netherlands, in northwest Germany including the Frisian Islands and Heligoland and all other islands, in Denmark and all naval ships in those areas. Marshal Montgomery signed it in a carpeted tent at his headquarters on the Timeloberg Hill at Wendisch Evern in north-central Germany. German Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, the deputy commander of U-boat forces and the last commander-in-chef of the Kriegsmarine German navy, represented the Germans.

There was German reluctance to accept Montgomery's terms. So the group left and returned the next day. Apparently there was a lunch and after lunch Montgomery is said to have returned and delivered the following ultimatum:

"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. All your soldiers and civilians may be killed."

The Germans signed.


The situation in Norway is most interesting and quite complicated. Forrest C. Pogue, writing
US Army in WWII, the European Theater of operations, The Supreme Command wrote this about the degree of difficulty in Norway:

"Disarming German forces in Norway required much more elaborate planning and more extensive activities than in Denmark because of the extent of the country, the difficulty to access parts of it, and the size of the forces involved. Spread throughout Norway was a force of some 400,000 Germans … plus 90,0000 Russian prisoners and displaced persons as well as some 30,000 displaced persons of other nationalities. These forces … had not been defeated and were disinclined to surrender unless proper deference was paid to their dignity."

VidkunQuisling TerbovenJoseph

Technically Norway was not covered by the surrender to SHAEF in Reims. Norway also had effectively become a German state, with Nazi leader Joseph Terboven (right photo) working as the Reichskommisar for Norway and a Norwegian, Vidkun Quisling (left photo), serving as the Hitler approved prime minister of a puppet government. Norwegian Nazis looked upon themselves as real patriots, but were totally dependent on German military power. There even was a plan supported by Terboven to make Norway a fortress where Nazi Germany could make its last stand.

The German military commander in Norway was General der Gebirgstruppen Franz Böhme, commander of the 20th Mountain Army, shown here. Böhme was a real hard-nose, ruthless. He had participated in the invasions of Poland and France. While the commanding general in Serbia, he ordered the execution of some 2,000 communists and Jews.

In sum the Allies knew there were as many as 400,000 German troops in Norway, no one had defeated them, and the leadership there consisted of Terboven, Böhme and the puppet Norwegian Nazi Quisling.

As a result, the Allies were concerned about the following: German forces in Norway might transfer to France (I'll talk more about this in a bit); the German navy and Luftwaffe would use Norwegian bases to attack Britain; and German submarines would continue operating from Norwegian ports.

The Allies had to some degree prepared. They had a plan developed in 1943 to occupy Norway, called "Operation Apostle." It had two scenarios, one assuming the Germans in Norway unconditionally surrendered, the other assuming they did not.

The problem with this plan was the Allies felt they lacked the resources, namely the troops, to do either of the jobs. General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Scottish Command and Air Officer Commanding 13 Group RAF, General Sir Andrew Thorne, shown here, was designated to liberate Norway. Forces earmarked in the plan either no longer existed or was unavailable. A new plan was developed, called "Operation Doomsday." He was to get the British 1st Airborne Division but was told on May 3, 1945 it was not available. He had a force called Force 134, which I believe consisted of two British Special Air Service (SAS) regiments that were still fighting in Germany. There also was a Norwegian parachute company available. But SHAEF estimated it would take 14 days minimum to get the forces to Thorne as it would take that long to get the 1st Airborne reallocated and in position. Some strings and bold action were taken and on May 6 "Doomsday" was put on 24-hour alert. Transport aircraft were made available. The forces were ready to roll by May 8 and 9.

In the meantime, German Admiral Dönitz ordered Böhme and Terboven to Germany on May 1. Dönitz told them he intended to make peace and would use the large German military presence in Norway as a bargaining chip. Dönitz then elevated Böhme to supreme commander in Norway, giving him command of his ground forces, and air and naval forces. For his part, Terboven wanted to fight on. Eisenhower would not soften to the Dönitz strategy of using the German presence in Norway as a bargaining tool. That left Terboven as the only major obstacle.

So, Dönitz fired Terboven, transferred his powers and the German High Command headquarters in Lillehammer to Böhme, and ordered him to follow capitulation plans. Böhme in turn ordered his men to obey such orders. On May 5 Eisenhower transmitted instructions to Böhme regarding how to contact SHAEF.


Norway also had a substantial resistance movement, known as Milorg. The photo shows a Milorg team.The Milorg, with more than 40,000 armed forces, fully mobilized and occupied the Royal Palace, Oslo's main police station, as well as other public buildings. A planned Norwegian administration was set up overnight.

The German surrender to the Allies in Norway was a bit tough to figure out, but I think I've got it.

A SHAEF directive of May 7, 1945 advised German commanders in Norway that General Eisenhower's representative to the German surrender would be General Thorne.

Forrest C. Pogue's wrote this about him:

"(General Thorne) had been engaged in detailed planning for a return to Norway in case of German collapse or surrender. When the Germans surrendered at Reims, they were instructed to send Army representatives to Edinburgh to sign final surrender papers pertaining to their forces in Norway and were also told to expect the arrival of General Thorne's representatives shortly in Oslo.

"Representatives of General Thorne flew to Norway on 8 May to deliver his orders to General Böhme. During the next three days, airborne forces were flown in to aid the mission in its task of evacuating the Germans."


General Thorne's representative was British Air Commodore Sir Lawrence Darvall, shown here receiving a German officer, whom I have been unable to identify, upon his arrival. The German officer attempted to shake Darvall's hand but Darvall refused. It is my understanding the Germans surrendered to the Allies and not to Norwegian officials because technically Germany was not at war with Norway since Norway surrendered in July 1940. I believe this surrender to Darrell marked the official surrender of all German forces in Norway.


The British 1st Airborne Division began crossing the North Sea by transport aircraft on May 8, 1945 and landed near Oslo and Stavenger. The division arrived between May 9 and May 11. Three aircraft crashed with a number of fatalities. There was little German resistance.

Akershaus FortressSurrenderGermany

There was also a German surrender to the Norwegian resistance at Akershaus in Oslo, Norway on May 11, 1945. In this photo, you see the German garrison's commander Major Josef Nichterlein and his aide Captain Hamel handing the fortress over to the Norwegian resistance movement's Terje Rollem, commander Milord D13 in May 1945. Milorg D13 was for District 13, the Oslo area.


Akershaus was a medieval castle that was built to protect Oslo. I believe Nichterlein's surrender was of his troops garrisoned there only. Frankly I am not sure why it was done given the earlier surrender to Darvall.

Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany and the Assumption of Supreme Authority by Allied Powers


Representatives of the Allies signed the Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany and the Assumption of Supreme Authority by Allied Powers on June 5, 1945 at the Soviet headquarters in Berlin-Köpenick: General Eisenhower on behalf of the United States, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery on behalf of the United Kingdom, Marshal Georgy Zhukov on behalf of the Soviet Union, and by General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny on behalf of the French Provisional Government. The introduction says it all:

"The German armed forces on land, at sea and in the air have been completely defeated and have surrendered unconditionally and Germany, which bears responsibility for the war, is no longer capable of resisting the will of the victorious Powers. The unconditional surrender of Germany has thereby been effected, and Germany has become subject to such requirements as may now or hereafter be imposed upon her.

"There is no central Government or authority in Germany capable of accepting responsibility for the maintenance of order, the administration of the country and compliance with the requirements of the victorious Powers …

"…The Governments of the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United Kingdom, and the Provisional Government of the French Republic, hereby assume supreme authority with respect to Germany, including all the powers possessed by the German Government, the High Command and any state, municipal, or local government or authority. The assumption, for the purposes stated above, of the said authority and powers does not affect the annexation of Germany.

"The Governments of the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United Kingdom, and the Provisional Government of the French Republic, will hereafter determine the boundaries of Germany or any part thereof and the status of Germany or of any area at present being part of German territory.

"In virtue of the supreme authority and powers thus assumed by the four Governments, the Allied Representatives announce the following requirements arising from the complete defeat and unconditional surrender of Germany with which Germany must comply…"


This meant the Four Powers assumed direct control of the administration of Germany, with absolute powers, to be executed through the Allied Control Council. The Allied Control Council began to meet informally on July 30, 1945; it officially commenced its work as the supreme governmental, supervisory, and administrative body in Germany a month later, on August 30, 1945. It consisted of the four supreme commanders of the occupying armies; these men also doubled as the military governors of their respective zones. They are shown in this photo, left-right: Deputy Military Governor Charles Jean Roger Noiret, France; Military Governor Lucius D. Clay, USA; Soviet military governor, Marshal Vasily Sokolovski, USSR; Military Governor William S. Douglas. As a footnote, the Russians walked out on March 20, 1948 upon learning of the founding of a West German state. The council terminated operations in 1948, though it was not formally dissolved.

The state, known as the Federal Republic of Germany, was created in May 1949.

In sum

I titled this section, "Occupation of Germany already a
fait accompli - military imposed realities," and I hope you can see why. Absent any political decisions of consequence, the military leaders of the Allied Powers took control of the whole nine yards.

The main consideration here is that there was no peace treaty. The civil provisions for the unconditional surrender remained without a formal underpinning. No one from the civilian-political side of the Third Reich signed anything here, nor were they asked to do so. Indeed technically speaking, the German Reich did not surrender.

The Allies had asserted that Hitler was dead, the German Reich had ceased to exist, so therefore civil authority in Germany rested with the Allied Control Council. Furthermore, Stalin changed direction, opposed the principle of German dismemberment, and there was no dismemberment clause in the Act of Military Surrender. While dismemberment did not happen, division of Germany into zones of occupation did happen as described earlier.

There were a set of Paris Peace Treaties signed in 1947, but they applied to Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Finland, not to Germany. The US, Britain, France and the USSR had talked about a peace treaty with Germany but by 1947-48 all sides believed that such a treaty was not possible or desirable.

Germany remained under nominal military occupation until 15 March 1991, when the final ratification of the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany (signed on 12 September 1990) was lodged with the German Government. This, as the final peace treaty signed by the four powers and the two German governments, formally restored full sovereignty to a reunified Germany. It also meant the official end of the Allied Control Council

Pockets of German resistance — Germans trapped at Dunkirk!

Charles Whiting has written a paper,
"Germany in World War II: The Long Surrender," in which he briefly describes several German pockets of resistance following the German surrenders. I commend the paper to you. The paper drew my attention because it turns out a substantial German military presence was located at Dunkirk which is where I started this story. Whiting wrote this:

FrisiusFriedrich"Now in May, with Germany clearly defeated, (Admiral Friedrich) Huffmeier (a former commander of a German cruiser) was already planning another attack on the Americans in France. However, another hard liner, Admiral Friedrich Frisius, shown here, who was the commander of the 12,000-strong garrison at Dunkirk farther up the French coast, had beaten him to it. Ever since the British Army had fled Europe in June 1940, Dunkirk had been a thorn in the flesh of the British and later the Americans. For years, the big German guns located at a spot some 20 miles from the white cliffs of Dover, had pounded southwestern England. From Dunkirk the Germans had received the first warning of the great Allied air armada soon to descend upon Holland in September 1944 during Operation Market Garden.

"In 1945, Frisius was not content to maintain a passive role, surrounded as Dunkirk now was by the exiled Czech Legion. Code-named Operation Bluecher after the great Prussian general of the Napoleonic Wars, Frisius launched a surprise attack on the Czech positions. The Germans advanced some 10 miles out of their fortified positions at Dunkirk. British engineers at Gravelines, south of Dunkirk, had to blow up the bridge on the River As to prevent them advancing any farther. The date was May 4, 1945, five days after Hitler had committed suicide!"

Lets talk just a bit about something known as the
Atlantic Pockets, or the Atlantic Wall, Atlantikfestungen, translated Atlantic fortresses. I specifically want to draw your attention to Dunkirk.

Once the invasions of the Netherlands, Belgium and France were completed in 1942, and the British had successfully evacuated their BEFs from France, the Germans began a major construction effort to build up heavy offensive batteries. Between 1942 and 1944 an Atlantic Wall was constructed from southern France all the way along the coast of Norway, although the fortifications were far stronger in the English Channel areas than the others, the latter being largely coastal artillery fortresses.


On January 19, 1944 Hitler declared fourteen ports along the Atlantic Wall to be fortresses (
festungen). Three of those were occupied by the German 15th Army: Dunkirk, Boulogne-sur-Mer and Le Havre in the sector of the 15th Army. The 15th Army was to protect the Channel coast from a possible Allied invasion.


Once the Normandy Invasion took hold, the Allies did engage multiple fortresses along the French coast, many of which were strongly defended. That was because the Germans felt the Normandy Landings were a feint to disguise the main landings elsewhere. I don't want to oversimplify this, the Allies had a set of objectives and a plan to get there, and they simply avoided tackling German forces located at several of the fortresses.


My research indicates some seven ports in France remained occupied by German forces through April and May 1945. These included Dunkirk (10,000), Channel Islands (28,000), Lorient (25,000), St. Nazaire (35,000), Gironde North (Royan) (5,000) and Gironde South (Verdon-su-mer) (3,500). Many, arguably most of these German forces actually fell back to these stronghold positions following the invasion, with no place else to go. That said, they were able to keep the U-Boats active and functioning.

It is interesting that the Allies passed-by Lorient since the invasion forces did take on German forces located at Brest, to the northwest of Lorient in Brittany. Brest was a key target because of its port facilities which the Allies needed for logistics movement. But the Battle of Brest was a rugged one, costly. As a result, the Allies decided not to try to fight for the ports in the area, but instead simply surround them. Therefore the German forces remained.

Let's focus on Dunkirk.


The 2nd Canadian Division, assigned to Montgomery, surrounded Dunkirk in September 1944. The city and port were heavily fortified. The German forces were clearly prepared to make a stand, assessed to be the most resilient of the German forces left in the port fortresses. There were German Army, Navy and Luftwaffe forces in Dunkirk along with about 2,000 Waffen-SS, in excess of 10,000 all together. This photo shows a Canadian 8th Reconnaissance Regiment anti-tank crew helping to guard the road near Dunkirk on September 16, 1944.

Canadian outfits worked hard to approach Dunkirk in September and suffered major casualties. After multiple battles in the areas around the city and several probing attacks into the city, a decision was made not to conduct an all out assault.

In mid-September, Eisenhower pressured Montgomery to drop the planned attacks against Calais and Dunkirk in order to employ those forces to capture the large and generally undamaged port of Antwerp, Belgium. As a result, most of the Canadian forces going after Dunkirk were transferred to the battle for Antwerp. A small group of forces was left to surround Dunkirk and Calais. The port of Ostende, Belgium fell to the 1st US Army in early September so the importance of Dunkirk as a port facility began to wane. In short, at the moment it was not worth the effort to capture it.


The 1st Czechoslovak Independent Armored Brigade, formed by expatriate Czechs and supported by the British, landed at Normandy and arrived in the Dunkirk area in late October-early November 1945. It was tasked to contain the Germans at Dunkirk for the duration of the war. It was assigned to the 1st Canadian Army. This photo shows the a reconnaissance outfit from the Czech Brigade patrolling the perimeter and approaches to Dunkirk.

The Czechs conducted a lot of nuisance attacks and Canadian artillery was employed. The low-lying areas around the city had been flooded hampering movement. But the German defenders were in rough shape, poor food, poor health and tough discipline. Between April 28-May 2, 1945 German two-man midget submarines delivered limited supplies.


Once the German High Command surrendered, Vice-Admiral Frisius surrendered his garrison at Dunkirk on May 9, 1945 to Czech General Alois Liška. This photo shows Frisius center and I believe that is General Liška on the right side of the photo.

So there we are, from the British evacuation of Dunkirk while under German attack to the German surrender of Dunkirk to a Czechoslovakian general officer subordinate to a Canadian Division which in turn was subordinate to the British 21st Army Group.

I'll close out by showing you some photos of other "post-surrender" surrenders.

Channel Islands


The first Allied conference with German Captain Lieutenant Zimmerman (right) on board HMS Bulldog prior to the signing of the surrender document which liberated the Channel Islands on 9 May 9,1945.


On the quarter deck of the HMS Bulldog, German General Siegfried Heine, second-in-command for Guernsey, Channel Islands, surrenders the islands to British Brigadier General A.E. Snow.

Lorient and St. Nazaire

The German surrenders at Lorient and St. Nazaire were quite an affair, taking several days. Reports about these surrenders are sketchy and often contradictory. I think I have deciphered them very close to the mark or on the mark.

For starters, both pockets were close to each other, Lorient just northwest of St. Nizzare. Additionally, the Germans occupied several islands nearby, each well fortified, and the Germans also had plenty of antiaircraft guns in the area. Both fortresses protected U-Boat submarine pens, and the naval officers at both locations wanted to continue the fight even as the Normandy invasion force moved across France. However, their supply line was cut off and Eisenhower concluded they would not be able to carry on significant operations, so he chose to pass them by. As a result, both pockets remained under German control until May 1945, though Allied forces surrounded them, kept the Germans inside, and conducted the usual kinds of harassing attacks while French resistance forces made sure nothing got into the fortresses. As a point of interest, the U-Boats had left both ports in September but they would return on occasion with supplies.

FahrmbackerWilhelm JunckWerner

Lt General Wilhelm Fahrmbacher (left) commanded German forces at Lorient, while Brigadier General Werner Junck (right) commanded those at St. Nizaire.

St. Nazaire

Let's start wth St. Nizaire and General Junck, an infantry officer.

On May 8, 1945 Captain Hauptmann Mueller, representing the commander of the fortress, General Werner Junck, brought a flag of truce and was met by Colonel John Keating, USA on behalf of Major General Herman Kramer, the commander of the US 66th Infantry Division. A few days prior some 1250 Allied aircraft overflew St Nazaire to make an impression. Colonel Keating told Hauptmann he wanted an unconditional surrender. Mueller returned to see General Junck. General Junck accepted the terms and General Kramer ordered a cease-fire that afternoon after the surrender documents were signed. I believe the surrender became official at 1:30 pm on May 8. There were a few more artillery duals but they stopped in the 3:00 pm hour.


The official surrender of St. Nazaire occurred on May 11, 1945 at Bouvron just to the northeast of St. Nazaire. The 66th Division band played national anthems of the US and France. General Kramer was there with other general officers to accept Junck's surrender. General Junck handed his pistol over to General Kramer and that was it. This photo shows Col. Keating (second from right) discussing the surrender with Major Engelken (second from left), the aide to General Junck.


Now over to Lorient and General Fahrmbacher, an artillery officer.

The Allies had been employing artillery against the fortress since late 1944, and artillery duals were common fare. The Allies conducted a heavy artillery attack on May 7, 1945 and increased it until the Germans surrendered.

FahnbackerHandsGunto GeneralKrammer

On May 9 the Americans broadcast the news of Junck's surrender, and French General Raymond Chomel did the same. As a result, German Lt General Wilhelm Fahrmbacher, the commander of the garrison at Lorient Pocket, surrendered as well. Here you see him handing over his weapon to Major General Kramer, commander US 66th Division, at about 4:00 pm, May 10, 1945. He told General Kramer he was surrendering unconditionally. There was a brief ceremony with the 66th Division band and many introductions.


Colonel John Keating (left), Chief of Staff at the 66th American division takes the surrender from the pocket of Lorient from German Lt General Fahrmbacher, May 10, 1945.

On May 11, 1945, American forces moved into Lorient, took over the submarine pens, confiscated all arms and ammunition, and collected prisoners.

I have read one report that said after the surrender of Lorient, German artillery opened up from St. Nazaire with the Germans resisting for 24 hours. I cannot validate this.

Throughout this entire report, I have addressed the major military movements rather antiseptically. WWII was the deadliest military conflict in history. The figures vary from one report to another, but this will give you a short glimpse. An estimated 13 million military personnel were killed in Europe, about 19 million civilians, totaling 32 million dead. The US lost about 400,000 killed and missing. The Soviets lost 11 million soldiers killed and missing and anywhere between seven and 20 million civilians. The Soviets alone would kill some six million German soldiers, and about nine million total were killed. If you add in the Pacific and China-Burma-India theaters of war, over 60 million people were killed, about three percent of the world's population. I should stop there, not to dishonor all those who were killed from all countries fighting this war, but rather to say that what I have given you here is morbid enough, and the figures are all over the radar — one simply can say a horrifying number of people were killed, an almost unspeakable number.