Victory in Europe - Backstory

Despite the first surrender of Germany during World War II occuring on May 7th, 1945, the official Victory in Europe day is May 8th in Western Europe and the United States. There was an interesting backstory as to why it wasn't declared on the same day Germany surrendered to the Allies and also how the story got out of the surrender despite every effort by the Allied governments trying to prevent it.

The Surrender

At 8:41 PM May 6th (Eastern Wartime) or 2:41 AM May 7th (French time)in Reims, France representatives of the German High Command including Colonel General Gustav Jodl, the Chief of Staff, signed a surrender Surrender Documentagreement and "for better or worse delivered [the German people] into the victor's hands." Present were representatives of the Allies (Gen. Walter Bedell Smith), Soviets (Gen. Ivan Susloparov). Official witness was French Major-General Francois Sevez.

Immediate Controversy

There was immediate controversy because the documents signed were not the official European Advisory Commission (EAC) documents which were yet to be approved by all Allied nations. The problem with the EAC was that there were differences of opinions and no one knew when or if a German surrender would occur. As this came up quickly, Eisenhower needed documents quickly for Germany to sign. And so when the documents were actually signed, Moscow objected indicating that there representative, Susloparov, did not have authorization to sign the document. Moscow wanted to wait until they could have an authorized signing in Berlin, and so the Allied signed documents were relegated to be a document to "formalize the surrender." The official surrender was to be in Berlin on May 9th. However, the Berlin signing actually took place a little before midnight on May 8th. That date became the offical date for the Western Allies, while May 9th became the Soviet official day.

Still more controversy in the media

With the signing in France, seventeen reporters were selected to witness the signing in Reims. Because Truman and Churchill previously agreed to a simultaneous announcement and Stalin wanted them all to wait until after the Berlin signing, all of the reporters present at Reims agreed to an embargo to withhold the media announcement until after the offical announcement. Initially, they were told the news would only be held up a few hours, but after the surrender occured, the embargo was extended for 36 hours. For several weeks, most of the world knew the end was near and there was fear of false announcements which had occurred the previous week. In essence the reporters had to bite their tongues on the story of century.

However, at 2:09 pm French time (8:09 AM EWT) on the 7th, it was discovered that Grand Admiral Doenitz' German radio broadcasting from Flensburg, a city in Allied hands, was already announcing to its listeners that the surrender had occurred.

The AP Bureau Chief Decides to Act

Edward Kennedy, Ed Kennedythe head of the AP in Europe, was furious when he heard that the German broadcast was occuring. He knew that the broadcast would have been controlled by the same military censors who were in turn censoring the witnessing reporters. He approached the chief American censor where he was located and told him there was no way he could hold the story. The military had broken its pact with reporters, he said, but the censor waved him off.

Kennedy found a military phone that was not controlled by the censors and contacted the London AP bureau. The phone cut off before he could finish his story and he had not explained to the London AP office about the embargo or his decision to avoid the censors. The story broke into the AP network at 3:37 PM French time or 9:37 AM Eastern War Time.

The reaction among various factions was swift. A number of reporters were outraged by Kennedy's actions calling it a betrayal of honor among reporters. Adding to the anger, the government refused to allow any of the other news outlets to send their own stories. This was compounded by the AP claiming it as a historic news beat, though once they learned more detail, they backed down.

During these final days of the War in Europe, retribution to the AP was quick. The APs credentials were initially suspended disallowing any reporting within the European Theater. Yet when the ban was lifted there were at least 50 war correspondents who demanded the ban be reinstated. Such was the teeth of competition. Once the AP understood facts at that time, they forced Kennedy to return to the United States and subsequently fired him.

The Truth Will Out

Over the years, new facts emerged and today many reporters feel Kennedy needed to be vindicated. It was discovered that the ban was more for political reasons than military ones, something no reporter would have agreed to. Especially, in light that the reasons on the Western Allies part was due to placating the Soviets realizing a potential Cold War was beginning to brew and they were attempting to appease Stalin to contain him.