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The Berlin Surrender Pens

(This page revised November 14, 2023)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

The Karlshorst HQ

The Soviet High Command Headquarters in Karlshorst, Germany.
Credit: Russian State Archives. Used under 17 U.S.C. §107, Fair Use.

The Prelude

In the dark hours just after midnight on Monday, May 7, 1945, at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) in the red brick building of the Collège Moderne et Technique de Reims, in Rheims, France, high-ranking officers of the United States, British, French, Soviet, and German armed forces gathered to sign an Act of Surrender, ending World War II in Europe. The document was duly signed, but the Soviet High Command refused to accept the surrender, saying that General Ivan Susloparov, the Soviet army officer who had signed it, was not authorized to do so. Furthermore, German troops in the east were still fighting against the Red Army in an attempt to withdraw to the west, and Soviet chief of staff General Alexei Antonov expressed concern that this continued action in the east made the Rheims surrender look like a separate peace.

Marshaling its arguments, the Soviet High Command demanded that a second surrender be executed, pointing out that the Act of Surrender at Rheims did not adhere to the wording that had been set out by the European Advisory Commission (EAC); that the surrender should properly take place at the seat of the losing aggressor government, not at some remote location; and that the signing should take place in a unique, historical ceremony. U.S. General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, discussed the matter with Antonov and agreed with the Soviet position, and a formal surrender ceremony to ratify the Rheims surrender of the previous day was arranged for late in the evening of May 8, not in the ruins of the Reichstag in Berlin, but at the Soviet High Command headquarters, in the hall that had formerly been the officers' mess of the Heer pioneer school, in Karlshorst, a suburb of Berlin.

The Signing

A new Instrument of Surrender was written, adhering to the form set out by the EAC, and typed up in English, Russian, and German, including the stipulation that the English and Russian versions were the only authoritative texts. The Allied signatories gathered at the appointed time, and that was when things started to go wrong. The French members of the party quickly pointed out that the Tricolore, the French flag, was not to be found among the flags that were placed, each on its own staff, in a fan array on one wall of the hall. The Soviet hosts, quick to oblige, had the requisite flag manufactured on the spot — but the first attempt produced the flag of the Netherlands (left below), and a second flag, correctly French (right below), had to be made.

Netherlands flagFrance flag

With the matter of the flags settled, there arose a question of which members of the Allied delegation would serve as witnesses. After a short discussion, roles were sorted out. For protocol reasons, Eisenhower had not traveled to Karlshorst; he technically outranked the Soviet commander, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, so that the responsibility for signing on the Western Allies’ behalf fell on Deputy Supreme Commander Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder. Zhukov would sign for the Soviets, and U.S. General Carl Spaatz and French General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny were designated to be the witnesses.

At 10:43 p.m., before the ceremony could begin, it was discovered that the Russian version of the document was missing several sentences. After a delay of a little more than an hour, a corrected version was produced. With their aides and subordinates, the Allied signatories were seated. The tables had been arranged in the shape of the Cyrillic letter Sha (ш), with Zhukov taking the center chair on the base of the ш. Before all were seated, however, there was some minor scuffling as members of the Soviet press, eager to get the best vantage points, pushed several of the military personnel aside, scrambling to climb upon chairs until other reporters pushed them off. Once order was restored, the three German emissaries, representing the Flensburg Government, were shown into the room, Feldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel carrying his marshal’s baton and evincing the haughty “Prussianism that we’ve so long been fighting.” Photographers surged forward and “thrust their cameras within inches of Keitel’s furious face.”

There exists a motion picture of the surrender, produced by the United Newsreel Corporation and now in the U.S. National Archives; but the inherently poor video quality of the film’s image makes it possible to positively identify only the pen, to be discussed later, that was used by the two witnesses to the signing.

The Germans

The Germans were seated on the left flank of the ш. Generaloberst Hans-Jürgen Stumpff took the chair nearest the corner, with Keitel next and Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg third. Although the surrender document stipulated an effective time of 11:01 p.m. Central European Time (CET), May 8, that time had already passed. The actual signing did not begin until 12:16 a.m., May 9. Asked by Tedder whether he was ready to sign, Keitel said he was ready. There followed some fumbling, as there were nine copies to be signed, three in each of the three languages, and because Keitel was asked to move to the chair that Stumpff had taken. Once everything was sorted out, Keitel signed with his personal fountain pen; although he disdained the use of one of two nondescript (and non-matching) dip pens that had been laid on the table, along with a double inkwell and a rocker blotter, before the ceremony began, none of the other signatories wished to lend him theirs. As the first signatory, he chose to place his signature, ending it with a long swash stroke, at the center of the line reserved for the vanquished. Keitel’s pen was a Soennecken No 1310 “Medicus” like the example shown below (upper), an impressive black “doctor’s pen,” which can be seen clearly in his hand in the photo below (lower, left). The expanded view below (lower, right) shows a closer look at his pen.

Medicus 1310
Keitel signing
Keitel signing close-up
Feldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel signs the German Instrument of
Surrender, Karlshorst, Germany, May 9, 1945. U.S. Army photo.

As can be seen in the photo above and the two following, the same young Soviet officer, serving as a sergeant at arms, stood next to each of the Germans, handling the papers and watching carefully as the men signed.

Von Friedeburg seems to have had a knack for being present at surrender ceremonies. After having headed the German delegation that surrendered to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery at Lüneburg Heath on May 4, he had accompanied Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, who was the only German signer of the Act of Military Surrender at Rheims on May 7. Now he was the second person to sign at Karlshorst. After changing seats so that he was in the chair formerly occupied by Keitel, he signed in the space to the left of Keitel’s signature, using one of the two dip pens on the table. The other dip pen can be seen on the table just beyond the document. The inkwell, the blotter, and the pen von Friedeburg used are visible in the photo above.

Von Friedeburg signing
Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg signs the German Instrument
of Surrender, Karlshorst, Germany, May 9, 1945. U.S. Navy photo.

At the time of the signing, Stumpff was the de-facto commander the the Luftwaffe, having had that unofficial position thrust upon him by Hitler‘s having unceremoniously relieved Hermann Göring from all his positions, expelled him from the party, and ordered his arrest. Stumpff was therefore the third and last German signatory at Karlshorst. He used the same dip pen that von Friedeburg had used before him, signing in the right-hand space left by Keitel.

Stumpff signing signing
Generaloberst Hans-Georg von Stumpff signs the German Instrument
of Surrender, Karlshorst, Germany, May 9, 1945. U.S. Army photo.

The Allies

The Soviet headquarters in which the ceremony took place had been established by Marshal Zhukov for himself and his staff in mid-April, shortly after the April 16 opening of the Battle of Berlin. As the chief Soviet official present, and arguably the best commander in the Red Army, Zhukov hosted the surrender ceremony. As the host, he wore a full-dress uniform and maintained a cold military bearing throughout. At the beginning of the ceremony, he stood and read aloud the Instrument of Surrender; he then spoke not a word until after the signing was finished. When the Germans had all signed, Zhukov signed with his personal pen.

Zhukov signing
Marshal Georgy Zhukov signs the German Instrument of
Surrender, Karlshorst, Germany, May 9, 1945. Photo credit:
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R83900. Used under CC-BY-SA 4.0.

The photograph below, from the Victory Museum in Moscow, shows Zhukov’s pen. In the original copy of this image, the pen was too dark to discern detail; accordingly, I have adjusted levels in this copy to show the pen more clearly. Although the cap-crown jewel and clip are damaged, the pen is obviously a Parker “51”. How this instrument came into Zhukov’s possession is not known.

Zhukov’s pen
Zhukov’s pen clodse-up

As noted earlier, General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower, as the supreme commander of Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, would have been the logical choice to sign on behalf ot the Western Allies, but because he outranked Marshal Zhukov, he chose to yield the honor to his second-in command, Deputy Supreme Commander Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, who was Zhukov’s equal in rank.

During the war, Eisenhower had received several Parker “51” pen sets as gifts from his old friend Kenneth Parker, and because he could not use all of them he took pleasure in passing them on to those around him. Tedder signed with a “51” that he had received from Eisenhower. The clip on this pen had been sprung outward as a result of Tedder’s having kept the pen in the pocket of his uniform; the fabric of British uniforms was thicker than that used by the Americans, and wartime Parker clips, which were made of silver-gold vermeil instead of gold-filled brass, were notorious for their lack of springiness.

Tedder signing
Tedder signing close-up
Air Vice Marshal Arthur Tedder signs the German Instrument of
Surrender, Karlshorst, Germany, May 9, 1945. U.S. Navy photo.

The Witnesses

Following the protocol established at the Rheims surrender, the official signatures were witnessed by two additional officers, but when it was their turn to sign, neither was able to produce a pen. Not wanting to sign with either of the dip pens that were on the table, de Lattre borrowed the Burgundy and Black streamlined Parker Duofold shown below from his chief of staff, Colonel André Demetz. De Lattre signed and then handed the pen to Spaatz, who signed the surrender — and then decided he would just keep the pen as a souvenir. De Lattre had to ask for it back so that he could return it to Demetz. This pen how resides in the Musée de l’Armée Invalides in Paris, France. Note the well-crafted replacement clip, which can be seen in de Lattre’s hand in the motion picture cited earlier.

Photo © Musée de'l'Armée Invalides. Used under 17 U.S.C. §107, Fair Use.

With Spaatz’s signature, the surrender was complete, and World War II in Europe was finally ended. The signing had taken less than four minutes.

Instrument of Surrender

The Aftermath

The Christian Science Monitor’s May 9, 1945, Second Edition carried on page 11 what was perhaps the most incisive description of the chilly atmosphere in the hall. Of the end of the signing ceremony, it reported as follows:

As the signing was completed Marshal Zhukov rose and said coldly in Russian, “I now request the German delegation to leave the room.” Marshal Keitel rose, snapped together the folder in which he was carrying his copy, and marched out haughtily followed by the other Germans.

Soviet staff quickly cleared the room and redressed it for a banquet, which of course included large amounts of champagne and vodka. The party, according to those who were present, lasted for approximately five hours. There was dancing, and whether it was the alcohol or the high spirits (or both), a gleeful Marshal Georgy Zhukov was seen to be performing a Russian folk dance.

This article is one of a set about the historic pens used at the official German and Japanese surrenders that ended World War II.

  1. In French, and in English today, the name of the city is spelled Reims. In English, it was formerly spelled Rheims, and that is how it appears in English-language documents of the time. For aesthetic reasons, I have chosen to adhere to that convention.  Return

  2. Heer = the army branch of the Wehrmacht.  Return

  3. Butcher, Harry C., My Three Years with Eisenhower: The Personal Diary of Captain Harry C. Butcher, USNR, Naval Aide to General Eisenhower, 1942 to 1945 (New York: Simon &Amp; Schuster, 1946), 834.  Return

  4. The Flensburg Government was the rump government under Großadmiral Karl Dönitz that was set up by Nazi Germany upon the suicide of Adolf Hitler. It lasted about three weeks before being replaced by the Allied occupation.  Return

  5. Quoted from the narration of the United Newsreal film.  Return

  6. Clifton Webb, eyewitness account for the London Daily Herald.  Return

  7. Generaloberst = Colonel General.  Return

  8. Because the actual signing occurred on May 9, the Soviet Union considered that date, not May 8, to be the official end of the Great Patriotic War, and the Russian Federation still does so.  Return

  9. Many pen lovers have misidentified this pen as a Pelikan 100 or 100N. The proportions of the cap crown are not correct for either Pelikan model, and the pen overall is thicker than the famously slender Pelikans, especially considering the extended length of the Pelikans when posted. When taken together, the pen’s proportions and the broad engraved cap band adjacent to the gentle curve of the cap lip are unique to the Soennecken “Medicus.”  Return

The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information.

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