The Flensburg Government (German: Flensburger Regierung), also known as the Flensburg Cabinet (German: Flensburger Kabinett) and the Dönitz Government (German: Regierung Dönitz), was the short-lived administration that attempted to rule Nazi Germany during a period of several weeks surrounding the end of World War II in Europe. The government was formed following the suicide of Adolf Hitler on 30 April during the Battle of Berlin, and headed by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz.
The administration was referred to as the “Flensburg Government” because Dönitz’s headquarters was located in the city of Flensburg in Northern Germany. Due to the rapid Allied advance, its effective jurisdiction was limited to a narrow wedge of territory running from the Austrian border through Berlin to the Danish border.
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In his last will and testament, Hitler designated Dönitz as his successor. Dönitz was not to become Führer (a post which Hitler abolished in his will), but rather President (Reichspräsident), a post Hitler had abolished in 1934. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels was to become Chancellor (Reichskanzler). Martin Bormann was designated “Party Minister”, granting him de facto control of the Nazi Party. Hitler condemned both Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler as traitors and expelled them both from the Nazi Party and the German government. Göring was at that time in Bavaria under arrest by SS-guards. Himmler was with Dönitz but was not informed of his condemnation by Hitler.
On the evening of 30 April, Dönitz received a message from the Reich Chancellery, issued by Bormann, informing him that Hitler had named him as his successor, in place of Göring. On 1 May, Dönitz received a further communication from the Reich Chancellery, issued by Bormann and Goebbels, informing that Hitler had committed suicide and that accordingly the ‘Führer’s testament’ was in effect, so that Dönitz was now Reich President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Later that day, Goebbels committed suicide and Bormann fled the Führerbunker and disappeared. Dönitz asked finance minister Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, also at Flensburg, to replace Goebbels as Chancellor. Von Krosigk refused. Instead, the two agreed that von Krosigk would become the ‘Leading Minister’.
On the night of 1 May, Dönitz gave his first nationwide radio address, in which he spoke of Hitler’s “hero’s death” and vowed the war would continue “to save Germany from destruction by the advancing Bolshevik enemy.” Dönitz had known before he accepted the reins of power that Germany’s position was untenable and that the Wehrmacht was no longer capable of offering meaningful resistance. During his brief period in office he devoted most of his efforts to ensuring the loyalty of the German armed forces and trying to ensure German troops would surrender to the British or Americans and not the Russians, as he feared Soviet reprisals. Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk made his first radio broadcast in his capacity as Leading Minister of the Reich on 2 May.
The Cabinet Schwerin von Krosigk, the nominal administration of the Flensburg government, had its first meeting in Mürwik, near (and now part of) Flensburg on 5 May. The Naval Academy at Mürwik, overlooking the Flensburg Fjord, near the Danish border, served as headquarters of the Dönitz administration throughout its existence.
- Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, Reich President and Minister of War
- Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, Leading Minister of the German Reich (Head of Cabinet, post equivalent to Chancellor), Foreign Minister, Minister of Finance
- Wilhelm Stuckart, Minister of Culture, succeeded Himmler as Minister of the Interior
- Albert Speer, Minister of Industry and Production
- Herbert Backe, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Forests
- Franz Seldte, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs
- Julius Dorpmüller, Minister of Posts and Communications
Colonel General Alfred Jodl was Chief of Operations Staff of the Wehrmacht and represented Dönitz in negotiations with the Allies in Rheims, France. Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, was Chief of the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht), to which the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres) had been subject since 28 April 1945, and he represented Dönitz in negotiations with the Red Army in Berlin. Admiral von Friedeburg was appointed to succeed Dönitz as Commander of the Kriegsmarine, and was promoted by Dönitz to the rank of Generaladmiral on 1 May. The Air Force had been destroyed, so no new appointment was made, Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim remaining Commander of the Luftwaffe.
At Dönitz’s urging, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and General Alfred Jodl attempted to direct what was left of the Wehrmacht towards the armies invading from the west.
On 4 May Dönitz sent Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, his successor as naval commander in chief, to the headquarters of British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery at Lüneburg, with orders to negotiate a surrender to the Western Allies. Montgomery informed Admiral von Friedeburg that only unconditional surrender to all the Allies was acceptable, and that this was non-negotiable. Nevertheless, authorized by Dönitz, von Friedeburg signed an instrument of surrender for all German troops in the Netherlands, Denmark and Northwestern Germany, which was accepted by Montgomery on behalf of the Allied Powers. This 4 May surrender, which became effective at 8:00 am on 5 May, included the Flensburg area (being part of Northwestern Germany), and thus meant Dönitz’s seat of government could no longer be defended and would soon come under Allied control.
After the partial 4 May surrender, Dönitz instructed von Friedeburg to go to the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force to negotiate terms for a general surrender with General Eisenhower. Since von Friedeburg’s meeting with Montgomery, the British and American position of not accepting a German surrender to the Western Allies only had been made clear to the Germans; the Western Powers insisted on unconditional surrender, including cessation of hostilities with their Soviet allies.
On the next day, 5 May, von Friedeburg arrived at General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters at Rheims, France, to negotiate a total surrender. Jodl arrived a day later. Dönitz had instructed them to draw out the negotiations for as long as possible so that German troops and refugees could move west to surrender to the Western Powers. Eisenhower made it clear that the Allies demanded unconditional surrender. When it was obvious that the Germans were stalling, Eisenhower threatened to close the front unless it stopped. Had this happened, German soldiers attempting to cross the line to surrender would be fired on and all subsequent surrenders would have to be to the Soviets. When Dönitz learned this, he radioed Jodl full powers to sign the unconditional German Instrument of Surrender at 1.30 am on the morning of 7 May. Just over an hour later, Jodl signed the documents. The surrender documents included the phrase, “All forces under German control to cease active operations at 23.01 hours Central European Time on 8 May 1945.” U.S. Army General Walter Bedell Smith (Eisenhower’s chief of staff at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) signed on behalf of the Western Allies (the Western Allies had a unified command structure, and formed a single expeditionary force, the “Allied Expeditionary Force”; thus one representative signed for all the Western Allies), and General Ivan Susloparov (the Soviet liaison officer at SHAEF) signed on behalf of the Soviets. French Major General François Sevez signed as the official witness.
As soon as the Soviets learned that the Act of Military Surrender had been signed at General Eisenhower’s headquarters in Rheims, they demanded that the act of surrender be repeated in Berlin, at Marshal Georgiy Zhukov’s headquarters. General Susloparov did not have the necessary powers to accept the surrender on behalf of the Soviet High Command, and as soon as he tried to radio Soviet Headquarters in Berlin to inform them that the instrument of surrender had been signed, he saw orders not to sign the documents. Given this situation, Susloparov and the representatives of the Western Allies present at Rheims extracted from Jodl a written undertaking that the Germans would execute a “formal ratification” of the Act of Military Surrender that had just been signed.
A second instrument of surrender was accordingly signed at Soviet Headquarters in Berlin on 8 May shortly before midnight. Marshal Zhukov signed for the Soviet High Command, and the British Marshal of the Royal Air Force A.W. Tedder signed on behalf of the Western Allies (Tedder acted as Eisenhower’s representative at the Berlin ceremony, and signed “on behalf of the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force”, in his capacity as Deputy Supreme Commander). French General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny and U.S. Army Air Forces General Carl Spaatz signed as the official witnesses. The Allies had demanded that representatives of the German Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the High Command of the Armed Forces, should sign the ratification of unconditional surrender. Complying with that demand, Dönitz’s message appointing the German representatives and granting the necessary powers authorised Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel to sign as representative of the High Command of the Armed Forces and also as representative of the Army, named Admiral von Friedeburg to sign as the representative of the Kriegsmarine (navy), and appointed General Hans-Jürgen Stumpff to sign for the Luftwaffe (air force). Thus empowered by Dönitz, Keitel, von Friedeburg and Stumpff signed the second instrument of surrender in Berlin as the representatives of Germany. At the time specified, World War II in Europe ended. On 9 May, Dönitz issued orders to the German Armed Forces regarding the surrender.
Former armaments minister Albert Speer suggested that after the surrender the Flensburg government should dissolve itself. Instead Dönitz and his ministers chose to continue in hope of presiding over post-War Germany as a provisional government.
The speech by Winston Churchill announcing victory to the British people is evidence of de facto recognition of the Flensburg Government’s authority, at least up to the moment of the unconditional surrender, since Churchill specified that the surrender had been authorised by “Grand Admiral Dönitz, the designated Head of the German State”. After the unconditional surrender, the Flensburg government was not recognised by the Allies.
On 20 May, the Soviet government made it clear what it thought about the Flensburg government. It attacked the Dönitz Administration, calling it the “Dönitz Gang” and harshly criticised any idea of allowing it to retain any power. Pravda said:
Discussions of the status of the Fascist gang around Dönitz continue. Several prominent Allied circles will deem it necessary to make use of the “services” of Dönitz and his collaborators. In the British Parliament, this gang has been described as the ‘Dönitz Administration’… A reporter of the reactionary Hearst press has called the enlistment of Dönitz “an act of political sagacity.” Thus a Fascist scribbler has seen fit to make common cause with Hitler’s marauding disciple. At the same time, the Fascist press on both sides of the Atlantic has put it abroad that conditions in Germany in 1918, when German Rightists produced similar fairy-tales of impending chaos. Then, the intact German Army units were used for new adventures in the East, immediately after capitulation. The present campaign has similar objectives. Many reactionary circles around the Allies are opposed to the creation of a new Europe on the basis of the Crimea Conference. These circles consider the preservation of Fascist states and breeding grounds as a means of thwarting the democratic aspirations of all freedom-loving nations…
On 12 May, American Major General Lowell W. Rooks and his British deputy, Brigadier E. J. Foord arrived in Flensburg and established their quarters in the passenger ship Patria, docked in Flensburg harbour. Their mission was to liaise with the Dönitz “acting government” and to impose the will of the victorious Allied Powers on the German High Command. After several contacts between the Allied liaison officers and the Dönitz acting government, on 21 May a decision regarding the dissolution of that Government and the arrest of its members as POWs was made by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), in agreement with the Soviet High Command, and carried out on 23 May. On that day, a British officer went to Dönitz’s headquarters and asked to speak to the members of the government. Dönitz, Von Friedeburg and Jodl were then taken aboard the Patria, where Maj. Gen. Rooks informed them of the dissolution of the Government and their arrest.
The communication regarding the dissolution of the acting Government and the arrest of its members was made in a formal manner, around a table on Patria’s deck: Dönitz, Jodl and Von Friedeburg sat on one side, with Major General Rooks, British Navy Captain Mund and Soviet General Trusov on the other. Brigadier Foord remained standing, next to Maj. Gen. Rooks, and an official interpreter was also present at the proceedings. By the time Dönitz emerged from the ship, the town’s main street was filled with British tanks and troops rounding up the Germans. Von Friedeburg committed suicide, while Dönitz, Speer, Jodl and other members of the dissolved Flensburg Government were taken prisoner.
With the arrest of the Flensburg Government on 23 May 1945, the German High Command also ceased to exist, and no central authority was kept in place to govern Germany, or even to assume responsibility for complying with the demands and instructions of the victorious nations. The power vacuum that ensued following the arrest of the Flensburg Government and the dissolution of the Third Reich was terminated on 5 June 1945, when the representatives of the Allies signed the Declaration Regarding the Defeat of Germany and the Assumption of Supreme Authority by Allied Powers. By means of that declaration the Four Powers assumed direct control of the administration of Germany, with absolute powers.
The declaration, issued in Berlin at 18:00 hours on 5 June 1945, and signed by General Eisenhower on behalf of the United States of America, by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery on behalf of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, by Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgiy Zhukov on behalf of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and by General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny on behalf of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, contained the following statement:
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.
Therefore, from 5 June 1945, Germany did not possess a native government. Whether the German Reich continued to exist as a state is a matter of perspective and debate, since full authority was assumed by the Allied Military Occupation Government. In any event, Germany continued to exist as a nation.
During the initial stage of the occupation of Germany, supreme authority was discharged by the Four Powers jointly for all occupation zones via the Allied Control Council, so that this Council was the immediate successor of the Dönitz Administration in the Government of Germany.