200 Impact of War World II

31.8: Impact of War World II

31.8.1: Terms of Surrender

The unconditional surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945, and Japan on September 2, 1945, brought World War II to an end. Various documents and treaties placed stringent terms on Axis powers to prevent future hostilities.

Learning Objective

Describe the terms under which Germany, Japan, and Italy surrendered

Key Points

  • The German Instrument of Surrender ended World War II in Europe on the night of May 8, 1945.
  • The terms of Germany’s unconditional surrender had been discussed since January 1944 and further clarified at the Yalta conference. They established, among other things, that the Allied Representatives “will take such steps, including the complete disarmament, demilitarisation and dismemberment of Germany as they deem requisite for future peace and security.”
  • The surrender of Japan was announced by Imperial Japan on August 15 and formally signed on September 2, 1945, bringing the hostilities of World War II to a close.
  • Their terms of surrender included disarmament and occupation by Allied forces.
  • The terms of Italy’s defeat were determined during the Paris Peace Conference in 1947, and included limits on their military and a ban on all fascist organizations.

Key Terms

Paris Peace Treaties
A series of document wherein victorious wartime Allied powers negotiated the details of peace treaties with minor Axis powers, namely Italy (though it was considered a major Axis Power), Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Finland, following the end of World War II in 1945.
German Instrument of Surrender
The legal document that established the unconditional surrender of Germany in World War II.
unconditional surrender
A surrender in which no guarantees are given to the surrendering party.
Potsdam Declaration
A statement that called for the surrender of all Japanese armed forces during World War II.

Surrender of Germany

The German Instrument of Surrender ended World War II in Europe. The definitive text was signed in Karlshorst, Berlin on the night of May 8, 1945 by representatives of the three armed services of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) and the Allied Expeditionary Force together with the Supreme High Command of the Red Army, with further French and U.S. representatives signing as witnesses. An earlier version of the text was signed in a ceremony in Reims in the early hours of May 7, 1945, but the Soviets rejected that version as it underplayed their role in the defeat of Germany in Berlin. In the West, May 8 is known as Victory in Europe Day, whereas in post-Soviet states the Victory Day is celebrated on May 9 since the definitive signing occurred after midnight Moscow time.

Preparations of the text of the instrument of surrender began by representatives of the then three Allied Powers, the U.S., the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom, at the European Advisory Commission (EAC) throughout 1944. By January 3, 1944, the Working Security Committee in the EAC proposed, “that the capitulation of Germany should be recorded in a single document of unconditional surrender.”

The agreed text was in three parts. The first consisted of a brief preamble “The German Government and German High Command, recognizing and acknowledging the complete defeat of the German armed forces on land, at sea and in the air, hereby announce Germany’s unconditional surrender.”

The instrument of surrender itself followed in fourteen articles. The second part, articles 1-5, related to the military surrender by the German High Command of all forces on land, at sea, and in the air, to the surrender of their weapons, to their evacuation from any territory outside German boundaries by December 31, 1937, and to their liability to captivity as prisoners of war. The third part, articles 6 to 12, related to the surrender by the German Government to Allied Representatives of almost all its powers and authority, the release and repatriation of prisoners and forced laborers, the cessation of radio broadcasts, the provision of intelligence and information, the non-destruction of weapons and infrastructure, the yielding of Nazi leaders for war-crime trials, and the power of Allied Representatives to issue proclamations, orders, ordinances, and instructions covering “additional political, administrative, economic, financial, military and other requirements arising from the complete defeat of Germany.” The key article in the third part was article 12, providing that the German Government and German High command would comply fully with any proclamations, orders, ordinances, and instructions of the accredited Allied Representatives; this was understood by the Allies as allowing unlimited scope to impose arrangements for the restitution and reparation of war damages. Articles 13 and 14 specified the date of surrender and the languages of the definitive texts.

The Yalta Conference in February 1945 led to a further development of the terms of surrender, as it was agreed that administration of post-war Germany would be split into four occupation zones for Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union respectively. In addition, but separately, it was agreed at Yalta that an additional clause 12a would be added to the July 1944 surrender text: that the Allied Representatives “will take such steps, including the complete disarmament, demilitarisation and dismemberment of Germany as they deem requisite for future peace and security.”

In the event of the German signings of Instruments of Surrender at Reims and Berlin, the EAC text was not used; a simplified, military-only version, based largely on the wording of the partial surrender instrument of German forces in Italy signed at Caserta, was applied instead. The reasons for the change are disputed, but it may reflect awareness of reservations as to the capability of the German signatories to agree the provisions of the full text.

With the Potsdam Agreement, signed on August 12, 1945, the Allied leaders planned the new post-war German government, resettled war territory boundaries, de facto annexed a quarter of prewar Germany situated east of the Oder-Neisse line, and mandated and organized the expulsion of the millions of Germans who remained in the annexed territories and elsewhere in the east. They also ordered German demilitarization, denazification, industrial disarmament, and settlements of war reparations.

Photo of the text of the German Instrument of Surrender
German Instrument of Surrender: The first instrument of surrender signed at Reims on May 7, 1945.

Surrender of Japan

The surrender of Japan was announced by Imperial Japan on August 15 and formally signed on September 2, 1945, bringing the hostilities of World War II to a close. By the end of July 1945, the Imperial Japanese Navy was incapable of conducting major operations, and an Allied invasion of Japan was imminent. Together with the United Kingdom and China, the United States called for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces in the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945—the alternative being “prompt and utter destruction.”

On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m. local time, the U.S. detonated an atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Sixteen hours later, American President Harry S. Truman called again for Japan’s surrender, warning them to “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.” Late in the evening of August 8, 1945, in accordance with the Yalta agreements but in violation of the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and soon after midnight on August 9, 1945, invaded the Imperial Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. Later in the day, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb, this time on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Following these events, Emperor Hirohito intervened and ordered the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War to accept the terms the Allies had set down in the Potsdam Declaration for ending the war. After several more days of behind-the-scenes negotiations and a failed coup d’état, Emperor Hirohito gave a recorded radio address across the Empire on August 15. In the radio address, called the Jewel Voice Broadcast, he announced the surrender of Japan to the Allies.

The term for Japan’s surrender were decided at the Potsdam Conference. On July 26 1945, the United States, Britain, and China released the Potsdam Declaration announcing the terms for Japan’s surrender, with the warning, “We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay.” For Japan, the terms of the declaration specified:

  • the elimination “for all time [of] the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest”
  • the occupation of “points in Japanese territory to be designated by the Allies”
  • that the “Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshū, Hokkaidō, Kyūshū, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.” As had been announced in the Cairo Declaration in 1943, Japan was to be reduced to her pre-1894 territory and stripped of her prewar empire including Korea and Taiwan, as well as all her recent conquests.
  • that “[t]he Japanese military forces, after being completely disarmed, shall be permitted to return to their homes with the opportunity to lead peaceful and productive lives.”
  • that “[w]e do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners.”
  • “The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established.”
  • “We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”

On August 28, the occupation of Japan by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers began. The surrender ceremony was held on September 2 aboard the United States Navy battleship USS Missouri, at which officials from the Japanese government signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, thereby ending the hostilities.

Terms of Peace with Italy

The Treaty of Peace with Italy (one of the Paris Peace Treaties) was signed on February 10, 1947 between Italy and the victorious powers of World War II, formally ending hostilities. It came into general effect on September 15, 1947.

Articles 47 and 48 called for the demolition of all permanent fortifications along the Franco-Italian and Yugoslav-Italian frontier. Italy was banned from possessing, building, or experimenting with atomic weapons, guided missiles, guns with a range of over 30 km, non-contact naval mines and torpedoes as well as manned torpedoes (article 51).

The military of Italy was limited in size. Italy was allowed a maximum of 200 heavy and medium tanks (article 54). Former officers and non-commissioned officers of the Blackshirts and the National Republican Army were barred from becoming officers or non-commissioned officers in the Italian military (except those exonerated by the Italian courts, article 55).

The Italian navy was reduced. Some warships were awarded to the governments of the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and France (articles 56 and 57). Italy was ordered to scuttle all its submarines (article 58) and banned from acquiring new battleships, submarines, and aircraft carriers (article 59). The navy was limited to a maximum force of 25,000 personnel (article 60). The Italian army was limited to a size of 185,000 personnel plus 65,000 Carabinieri for a maximum total of 250,000 personnel (article 61). The Italian air force was limited to 200 fighters and reconnaissance aircraft plus 150 transport, air-rescue, training, and liaison aircraft, and was banned from owning and operating bomber aircraft (article 64). The number of air force personnel was limited to 25,000 (article 65).

Article 17 of the treaty banned Fascist organizations (“whether political, military, or semi-military”) in Italy.



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