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The Rheims Surrender Pens

(This page revised October 24, 2023)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

SHAEF Headquarters

Captured German troops march past the main entrance to the “little red schoolhouse,”
SHAEF Headquarters on Rue Henry Jolicoeur, Rheims, France. U.S. Army photograph.

The Setting

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 Military Surrender, ending World War II in Europe. This meeting was not a formal ceremony; it had been organized hastily because the Germans were desperate to surrender to the Western Allies, not to the vengeful Soviets, of whom they were terrified and who were already committing mass atrocities against the civilian population in Berlin. General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, made it clear that any surrender was to be a full capitulation to all Allies on both fronts.

Initially arranged for May 6, the signing was postponed until May 7 in response to the Germans’ request for a 48-hour extension. Eisenhower granted the delay without hesitation, stating that he would close American and British lines 48 hours from midnight that night, allowing no more Germans through.

Some of the information in this article is drawn from the diary of U.S. Navy Captain Harry Butcher, who was Eisenhower’s Naval Aide from 1942 to 1945, and whom Eisenhower had put in charge of wrangling the pens that would be used. Especially important to Eisenhower was a custom-made gold-capped Buckskin Beige Parker “51” (shown below, left) that had been a gift from Kenneth Parker, president of the Parker Pen Company and an old friend of Eisenhower. Lieutenant General Walter Bedell (“Beetle”) Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, handed that pen and one other to Butcher (below, right), saying, “Ike asked me to make you superintendent of the fountain pens. Take these two and make sure they are used at the signing and that no one steals them.” Eisenhower had promised Parker that the Buckskin Beige pen would be used in the signing and that there would be a photograph showing it in Ike’s hand. The other pen, a Dove Gray Parker “51” with a gold-filled cap, also belonged to Eisenhower.

Fountain pen set
Butcher with pens
Photo © Walter Wolf. Used under 17 U.S.C. §107, Fair Use.

After the war, Eisenhower had the Buckskin Beige pen engraved and gave the pen/pencil set, in its box (which was gold-stamped to commemorate the gift), to President Harry Truman. It is now in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, in Independence Missouri.

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The Preliminaries

At about 2:30 a.m. on May 7, the Allied representatives assembled in the War Room, where the signing was to take place: Beetle Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff; General Ivan Susloparov, the Soviet military liaison commander; and Major General François Sevez, a French officer who would witness the signings. Aides and subordinates accompanied the three, and Susloparov also had with him a translator. Seventeen previously chosen representatives of the media, quietly hovering in the background, were also present to document the event for the whole world. Eisenhower himself, having seen the horror of the Holocaust during an April 12 visit to the Ohrdruf concentration camp, refused to have anything to do with the Germans before they signed the surrender documents. He remained in his office with his Deputy Supreme Commander, Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder.

The three German emissaries were then ushered into the War Room: Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, commander of the Wehrmacht; Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, commander of the Kriegsmarine; and Major Wilhelm Oxenius, an aide to Jodl.

When the Germans had been seated, Beetle Smith addressed them coldly, without emotion or cadence. “There are four copies to be signed,” he said, and Major General Kenneth W. D. Strong, the G-2 officer (Intelligence) for SHAEF, placed the documents on the table in front of the Germans, translating in a low voice. Smith then said that the papers in front of the Germans were the documents stipulating formal surrender and asked the Germans if they were ready and prepared to sign. Jodl nodded but did not speak.

As shown below (left), there was a desk set on the table with two pens, placed facing the Allied delegation. (The expanded image to the right below shows that set more clearly.) None of the signatories used either of those pens.

Desk set
Desk set close-up

Jodl and the First Copies

Butcher had placed the Dove Gray Parker “51” in front of Jodl, who picked it up and (shown below, left) signed the first copy of the surrender document at 2:41 a.m. Butcher immediately retrieved that pen, exchanging for it his own Carmine Red Sheaffer Valiant for Jodl to use in signing the first copy of the “undertaking” (below, right), which was an agreement made beforehand that the Germans would appear at a place to be designated by SCAEF (Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force) in order to sign the surrender.

Jodl signing
The Undertaking

As of this writing, the disposition of the Dove Gray “51”, similar to the example shown below (upper), is unclear. Harry Butcher’s Carmine Red Sheaffer pen (below, lower), in the case for one of Eisenhower’s Parker “51” pens, now resides in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, in Abilene, Kansas.

Fountain pen
Fountain pen
Photo © Walter Wolf. Used under 17 U.S.C. §107, Fair Use.

Jodl and the Second Copies

I have found no documentation reflecting the fact that Jodl signed only the first copies of the two documents with the Parler “51” and the Sheaffer Valiant. Photographs taken at the signing, however, make it clear that he used a different pen, possibly a Pelikan 100, to sign the second copies. These copies, in German, would go to the German authorities while the Allies kept the first copies, which were in English. The photo below (left) shows him using this pen to sign the second copy of one of the two documents. The expanded image to the right below makes it clear that the pen was neither of the American pens.

Jodl signing the second copy
Jodl signing the second copy

Everybody Else

As Jodl signed, the documents were passed over the table to the Allies. The Buckskin Beige “51” had been placed before Beetle Smith, who signed the Act of Surrender with it on Eisenhower’s behalf (shown below, left). Susloparov used his own Russian-made pen to sign on behalf of the Soviet High Command (below, center), and Sevez signed as witness with the “51” that Smith had used (below, right). When the three Allied representatives had finished signing the Act of Surrender (below, lower) and the Undertaking, Butcher corralled all three of the American pens.

Smith signing Susloparov signing Sevez signing
The Act of Surrender

When the signing was over, Jodl stood and asked Smith in English for permission to speak. Smith assented. A pathetic figure, with his voice breaking, Jodl delivered a brief speech in German, in which he expressed the hope that the victorious Allies, who had suffered terrible losses as had the Germans, would treat the vanquished with generosity.

The Finish

After a brief uncomfortable silence, the Germans were led down the hall to Eisenhower’s office, where he sat behind his desk, waiting for them. When they entered the office, he stood and, without formality or preface, asked in a cold voice if they understood the terms of the surrender. They answered in the affirmative. He then stated that they would officially and personally be held responsible if the terms were violated. Ending with, “That is all,” he fell silent; and the Germans, realizing that the meeting was at an end, departed. The war in the west was over.

Eisenhower’s V Sign

Gen. Eisenhower holding the two Parker “51” pens in a V sign. L to R: Gen. Ivan Susloparov, an unidentified aide,
Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, Kay Summersby, Gen. Eisenhower, Capt. Harry Butcher, Air Marshal Arthur Tedder


The Soviet High Command refused to accept the surrender. Soviet chief of staff General Alexei Antonov expressed concern that the continued fighting in the east between Germany and the Soviet Union made the Rheims surrender look like a separate peace. The Soviets said, correctly, that the Act of Surrender at Rheims did not adhere to the wording that had been set out by the European Advisory Commission; that the surrender should be at the seat of the losing aggressor government; and that the signing should take place in a unique, historical ceremony. Eisenhower agreed, and a formal surrender ceremony was staged late in the evening of May 8, in the Soviet headquarters at Karlshorst, near Berlin.

This article is one of a set of three 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. 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), 831ff.  Return

  3. As of this writing, at least one published account of the surrender places Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery at Rheims, but he was not present there. His moment in the sun had come at Lüneburg Heath on May 4, when he accepted the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands, Denmark, and northwestern Germany. Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, who had headed the German delegation at Lüneburg, also attended at Rheims but was not a signatory there. His presences at Rheims might have been the source of the story putting Montgomery there.  Return

  4. Generaloberst = Colonel General.  Return

  5. Morin, Relman, “In a Schoolhouse at Rheims, Four Copies Were Signed,” Reporting to Remember" Unforgettable Stories and Pictures of World War II (The Associated Press: New York, 1945), 61.  Return

  6. The English copy of the Act of Surrender bore a superscription above the title, stating that the English version was the only authoritative version.  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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