Leaking V-E Day

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Adolph Hitler’s suicide, in his Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945, led to the European war’s final act — the German surrender. After Hitler’s death Admiral Karl Doenitz became the Third Reich’s second and last leader. During the first week of May, Doenitz attempted to surrender the German Armed forces in the West to General Eisenhower(Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force), while continuing the fight against the Red Army in the East. But the agreements arrived at between the Allied leaders and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin prohibited separate surrenders. Eisenhower told the Germans that they must unconditionally surrender both at his headquarters and at the headquarters of Red Army leader Marshal Georgi Zhukov in Berlin. The Germans accepted the ultimatum and agreed to cease all military operations at 11:01 p.m. Central European Time on May 8, 1945.

General Alfred Jodl signed the surrender document at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces(SHAEF), Rheims, France at 2:41 a.m. on the morning of May 7. Sixteen Allied news correspondents witnessed the ceremony. General Eisenhower, however, ordered a hold on the story because the formal surrender at Russian headquarters had yet to take place. All the correspondents agreed to wait until the Supreme Commander gave the OK.

But when the German foreign minister broadcast the surrender news to the German people, later that day, one of the correspondents at Eisenhower’s headquarters defied the Supreme Commander and broke the story. Ed Kennedy, Western Front chief of Associated Press, placed an unauthorized phone call to his London office: “This is Ed Kennedy. Germany has surrendered unconditionally. That’s official. Make the dateline Rheims, France, and get it out.” At 9:36 a.m. in New York the news tickers chattered out: FLASH. GERMANY SURRENDERS UNCONDITIONALLY TO THE WESTERN ALLIES AND RUSSIA.

Meanwhile at SHAEF, General Eisenhower and his staff tried to squelch the story to placate the Russians, the White House, 10 Downing Street, and 15 indignant reporters. No one was madder than Ike. Within two hours Eisenhower’s staff released the following message: “Supreme Headquarters authorize correspondents at 16:45 Paris time (10:45 Eastern Daylight Time) today to state that SHAEF has made nowhere any official statement for publication to that hour concerning the complete surrender of all German armed forces in Europe and that no story to this effect is authorized.”

It didn’t work. The public knew about the German broadcast and saw through the evasive SHAEF statement. Celebrations began in Times Square and all across the United States and the Allied world. President Truman made the official announcement the next day from the Oval Office, declaring May 8, V-E Day.

As for Kennedy, his colleagues in Europe claimed he had committed “the most disgraceful, deliberate, and unethical double cross in the history of journalism.” Kennedy, a veteran newsman in Europe since 1935, lost his credentials as a war correspondent and left AP in 1946.

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