The campaign in Italy would end as it had begun in early September 1943--with weeks of intrigue and behind-the-scenes negotiations. Known only to a small group of senior commanders and staff officers on both sides, covert contacts to bring about a separate surrender of the German forces in Italy had been under way since February.
They began late in January when an Italian businessman, Baron Parrilli, a former head of the Fascist information bureau in Belgium, applied for a Swiss visa to travel to Switzerland for the avowed purpose of visiting a long-time friend, Dr. Max Husmann, director of an exclusive private school on the outskirts of Lucerne. Only after Professor Husmann had posted a bond of ten thousand Swiss francs as guarantee that Parrilli would make no attempt to remain in Switzerland was the baron able to obtain a visa.1
In Switzerland Parrilli informed his host that the Germans were reported to have prepared large-scale demolition plans which, if carried out, would make an economic desert of northern Italy. Such a catastrophe might be averted, the baron suggested, for there were in Italy high-ranking German officers opposed to the plans and willing to discuss the problem with responsible officials on the Allied side. Although Parrilli mentioned no names, he did assert that there were certain well-placed SS officers in Italy who had hopes of persuading the Allies to join forces with the Germans to keep the Russians out of Europe.
Although Professor Husmann saw no possibility of meaningful contacts with the western allies on that basis, the possibility of somehow averting the destruction of northern Italy was compelling. He telephoned an old friend, Col. Max Waibel, chief of the Italian section of Swiss Army intelligence, reaching him at St. Moritz where Waibel had gone for a winter vacation. To Colonel Waibel Husmann's information was serious enough to prompt him to cut short his holiday and return to Zurich the following day.
As Parrilli and Waibel talked, Waibel revealed that he had heard a somewhat similar story from other sources. In answer to the colonel's questions as to Parrilli's sources of information, the baron gave the names of no high-ranking German officers--only that of SS Obersturmfuehrer Guido Zimmer of the Milan office of the foreign intelligence branch of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA). Like Husmann, Waibel dismissed the idea that the Americans
and the British would negotiate at the expense of their Russian ally. Yet the situation, in Waibel's words, "seemed to open vast perspectives," and he declared himself willing to act as an intermediary.
On the evening of 25 February, Colonel Waibel and his assistant, Dr. Bernhard Mayr von Baldegg, met Allen Dulles, ostensibly an official of the American Embassy but in reality chief of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) intelligence network for Central Europe, and his assistant, Dr. Gero von Gaevernitz, at Husmann's villa near Lucerne. Knowing nothing about Baron Parrilli, Dulles approached the matter with caution, but he sanctioned Waibel's sounding out the German unofficially on his own responsibility. Only if the Germans gave evidence of genuine sincerity about ending the war in Italy would Dulles enter the picture.2
The Widening Circle
Two days after the Waibel-Dulles meeting and after arranging with Professor Husmann for a secret password to permit less formal arrangements for re-entry into Switzerland, Baron Parrilli returned to Italy. Meanwhile, Obersturmfuehrer Zimmer reported to SS Obergruppenfuehrer Karl Wolff, highest SS and Police Commissioner with the German Forces in Italy, and Rudolf Rahn, German Ambassador to the neo-Fascist Republic, on the results of Parrilli's first mission. According to Rahn, Wolff was eager to make contact with the Allies. He selected SS Standartenfuehrer Eugen Dollmann, Wolf's liaison officer at Kesselring's headquarters, to lay the groundwork for possible negotiations.
Wolff had formerly been Heinrich Himmler's adjutant and confidant. In his capacity as senior SS official in Italy, he reported directly to Himmler and thus enjoyed a command channel to the highest levels independent of the OB Suedwest, Field Marshal Kesselring. After mid-1944 Wolff was also designated General Plenipotentiary of the Armed Forces in Italy, a strategic post in the channel between the OKW and Mussolini's neo-Fascist Republic.3
Ambassador Rahn for his part was no stranger to covert negotiations by military leaders behind the backs of their civilian counterparts, for when he had first arrived in Rome to present his credentials in September 1943, members of the Italian high command were busily putting the finishing touches to secret operations designed to get Italy out of the war. Even so, in negotiations aimed at ending hostilities with the Allies the key role from the beginning apparently belonged to Wolff.4
From the end of February to the first week in April the circle slowly widened on the German side to include, in addition to Wolff and his confidants, General von Vietinghoff and his chief of staff, Generalleutnant Hans Roettiger, and on the Allied side Field Marshal Alexander's military representatives, Generals T. S. Airey (British)
and Lyman Lemnitzer. Nonetheless, outside that circle there were others less favorably disposed to the negotiations. Both Heinrich Himmler and his deputy, Dr. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, had begun to suspect the nature of Wolff's Swiss contacts. Reaching Soviet agents, news of the contacts had also aroused latent suspicions among the Soviet leaders that their western partners were surreptitiously dealing with the Germans. To allay the suspicions the western allies began in mid-March to keep their eastern allies informed of the conversations with Wolff's agents.5
On 9 April Parrilli, accompanied by Maj. Max Wenner, Wolff's adjutant, went to Chiasso on the Italo-Swiss frontier with a message from General Wolff. The message asked "an honorable capitulation," including permission for the German forces to withdraw into Germany with military honor and for Army Group C to maintain a modest contingent "as a future instrument of order inside Germany." That had been the German Army's role following the Armistice in 1918 and reflected General von Vietinghoff's influence on the drafting of the message.6
Vietinghoff's request accorded with a soldierly honor and tradition largely alien to Wolff and his SS associates.
GENERAL VON VIETINGHOFF
Although Wolff and the men close to him had all sworn fealty to the Fuehrer as head of state, they, unlike Vietinghoff, would have little compunction in betraying the Fuehrer and deserting his ally, Mussolini. Opportunists to the core, they were anxious to save anything that could yet be salvaged, including their lives and fortunes.
The terms requested by Vietinghoff were in any event foredoomed, for they ran counter to the Allied political and military decision to extirpate German military traditions and institutions. Surrender, it had been agreed, was to be unconditional and, unlike 1918, no German forces would be allowed to march back to their fatherland in military formation.
Baron Parrilli nevertheless urged his Allied contact not to reject Vietinghoff's request out of hand, for as a soldier of the old school the general would no doubt continue to fight rather than act contrary to what he deemed his military
code. Wolff himself pointed out in his message that while he believed he could keep his promise to deliver northern Italy to the Allies by 16 April, Vietinghoff's insistence upon points of military honor constituted a serious obstacle.7
Concerned lest the Germans might be attempting to draw out the negotiations, Field Marshal Alexander refused to give Wolff and his colleagues anything in writing. He instructed Dulles instead to tell the Germans that a draft copy of the capitulation would be handed the German plenipotentaries only after their arrival at Allied headquarters fully empowered to act in Vietinghoff's behalf. With that reply in hand, Parrilli returned on 10 April to Wolff's headquarters at Fasano. After hearing the baron's report Dulles and Gaevernitz concluded that the German commanders in Italy would actually capitulate only after Army Group C had been effectively cut off from communication with the Reich. At that point even the most fanatical units would have no alternative to surrender.
The next day, 16 April, two days after the Fifth Army had launched its phase of the final offensive, Zimmer arrived at Chiasso, where he informed the Swiss agents who acted as liaison with Dulles that Himmler had been pressuring Wolff to come to Berlin. Wolff, Zimmer added, urged the Allies not to "make useless sacrifices with their intensified offensives," for a surrender was imminent. Although Dulles transmitted that information to Allied headquarters at Caserta, Alexander dismissed it, convinced that it was only an attempt to relieve the mounting pressure of Allied operations against the German forces or to delay the progress of the offensive. One bit of information that did invite the Allied commander's consideration was that OKW had placed the territory east of the Isonzo River under Generaloberst Alexander Loehr's heterogeneous German-Croat-Cossack Army Group E, then withdrawing before Tito's partisans and the Russians. That meant that the Trieste area, lying east of the Isonzo, would not be included in any surrender of Army Group C. The establishment of a new interarmy boundary also raised the possibility, the Allies believed, that OKW might use Loehr, who had had no part in the surrender negotiations, to pressure Vietinghoff into not surrendering prematurely. In reality, Vietinghoff had already taken precautions against that possibility by directing his air commander, General Erich Ritter von Pohl, who had been informed of the covert contacts, to move troops under his command west of the Isonzo in order to cover Army Group C's rear. Pohl also sent artillery to the Alpine passes east of the Brenner Pass to block movements by either Yugoslav partisans or German units opposed to a capitulation.
The labyrinthine maneuverings within the German command were actually of no more than minor interest to Field Marshal Alexander. With the Eighth Army's phase of the spring offensive favorably under way and the Fifth Army about to unleash the second phase, the Allied commander was confident that no matter what the Germans
did, their defeat was only a matter of weeks. Thus, he cautioned Dulles and his representatives to avoid giving the Germans an impression that the Allies were negotiating; the Allied commander's sole interest was in arranging for safe passage of enemy parliamentaries to his headquarters "with full powers to arrange details of unconditional military surrender."8
Parrilli meanwhile arrived at Chiasso on 17 April with the disturbing news that, at Himmler's insistence, Wolff had finally gone to Berlin for a face-to-face confrontation with Hitler and the Reichsfuehrer SS. Two days later Wolff, proving an exception to the rule that those summoned peremptorily to the Fuehrer's headquarters rarely came back, returned to Italy with assurances that nothing had been compromised. As the general explained to Dulles through his intermediaries, he had convinced Hitler that the discussions with the Allies had been only a ploy to gain time and divide the Allied coalition. Apparently satisfied, the Fuehrer ordered him back to his post with no restrictions other than to forbid travel to Switzerland.
Preparations for a Cease-Fire
Aware that his movements would be carefully watched from Berlin, Wolff nevertheless continued to try to talk his colleagues into reaching an immediate cease-fire agreement. Impelled by a growing sense of urgency, he met on 22 April with Vietinghoff, Pohl, Rahn, and Franz Hofer at army group headquarters, then located at Recoaro. Gauleiter of the Tyrol, and a confidant of Kaltenbrunner, Himmler's deputy, Hofer affected an extremely defeatist position in an effort to draw out the conferees so that he could later betray them to Kaltenbrunner. The war was lost, Hofer declared, and further fighting would produce senseless slaughter. If Hitler himself should come to the Tyrol and order a last-ditch resistance in the Alpine Redoubt, Hofer added, he would place the Fuehrer in a sanitorium. It took the conferees little time to agree that the tempo of contacts with the Allied agents in Switzerland should be stepped up.
As prepared by Rahn, guidelines for final negotiations specified that from that point Army Group C was to act independently and, in particular, no orders originating from Himmler were to be followed. All present bound themselves on their word of honor to support the effort to bring the fighting in northern Italy to the earliest possible end.
Von Vietinghoff then wrote out instructions for his representative, Oberstleutnant Victor von Schweinitz, "to conduct negotiations [with Allied authorities] within the meaning of my instructions. . . [and] to sign binding agreements in my name."9 He inserted the phrase "within the meaning of my instructions" to help ensure that von Schweinitz would do everything possible to secure honorable conditions for the troops.
As senior political representative, Hofer sought to look out for his own
interest by insisting that certain political questions concerning the Tyrol and upper Austria also be included in the instructions, possibly a reflection of a strong undercurrent of Austrian separatism which was surfacing among Nazi functionaries from that part of the Reich. In any event, Hofer's efforts were futile, for Wolff was determined to ignore them.10
Unknown to the German emissaries as they prepared to set out for the Swiss frontier, the climate for negotiations on the Allied side had changed. Convinced by SACMED's reports that the German command in Italy had no real intention of surrendering on terms acceptable to the Allies, the Combined Chiefs of Staff directed Field Marshal Alexander on 20 April to tell Dulles to break off contact with the Germans. He was to "regard the whole matter as being closed" and so inform the Russians through the Allied mission in Moscow.11
On 22 April Baron Parrilli arrived at Chiasso with word that General Wolff, accompanied by his aide, Major Wenner, and Oberstleutnant von Schweinitz, entrusted with full powers to conduct surrender negotiations in Vietinghoff's name, were on their way to the frontier and would arrive the next day. For Dulles that posed a dilemma. Three enemy plenipotentiaries were on their way to surrender the German armies in Italy, yet Alexander and Dulles were under unequivocal orders to cease all contacts with them.
The Swiss intermediaries, Major Waibel and Professor Husmann, under no such restrictions, meanwhile prepared to meet the Germans at the frontier. Although aware of the Allied decision to end negotiations, they decided against telling the Germans of it as did Dulles himself, for he could have informed them by secret radio.
Learning on the morning of 23 April that Wolff and his party had arrived, Waibel and Husmann hastened to Chiasso, making part of the trip by train because snow still blocked the St. Gotthard Pass. They had to hurry in order to pick up the Germans and return in time to catch the last train of the day through the St. Gotthard tunnel and bring the Germans to Waibel's home near Lucerne, for under the circumstances they could hardly be lodged in a public hotel.12
Waibel and Husmann found Parrilli, Wolff, and his party waiting for them. Still reluctant to reveal the Allied order to break off negotiations lest the news throw Wolff into the arms of the bitter-enders in Italy, Waibel nevertheless considered that it had to be done. Choosing his words carefully, in an attempt to prepare Wolff for the blow, he explained that there had been some difficulties on the Allied side and that Dulles had been instructed temporarily to break off contact with Wolff.
Waibel quickly added that he would use his influence to get the talks started again. Meanwhile, he invited them to come to his country home, Villa Doerrenbach near Lucerne, and there await
the results of his efforts. When Wolff and his companions wearily accepted the invitation, Waibel telephoned Dulles to ask him to come to Lucerne that evening. Although Dulles agreed to meet with Waibel, he pointed out that he would be unable to see Wolff.
Sure enough, about the same time that Waibel and his companions arrived from Chiasso, Dulles, accompanied by Gaevernitz, drove to Lucerne from Bern. Calling on Dulles at his hotel, Waibel laid before him Vietinghoff's written statement naming von Schweinitz as his plenipotentiary. Dated 22 April and written on the official stationery of Der Oberbefehlshaber Suedwest und der Heeresgruppe C, the document stated that von Schweinitz was empowered to conduct and conclude binding agreements "within the framework of the instructions which I have given him." The document bore von Vietinghoff's signature.
In Dulles' view the statement of authority contained in the document changed matters, for no such authority had entered into earlier negotiations. Dulles cabled Caserta for new instructions, and Alexander, in turn, cabled the CCS that enemy officers had appeared in Switzerland with full powers to act for the German commander-in-chief in Italy in bringing about an unconditional surrender.
Wolff and the two plenipotentaries meanwhile waited restlessly at Villa Doerrenbach. Early on 24 April, not quite 24 hours after their arrival, word arrived from Caserta via Bern that while Alexander awaited a reply to his request to the CCS, Dulles was free to refer the matter to higher political authority, which prompted General Wolff to observe wryly to Husmann that he himself was acting without his superiors' permission. Indeed, he was in Switzerland in defiance of them. Because of the delay Wenner and von Schweinitz at that point were ready to abandon the project and return to Italy, but Wolff would not permit them to do so.13
During a luncheon conference later that day, Waibel, Husmann, and Wolff agreed that without waiting for Dulles' reply, Wolff should return to his headquarters where he could keep watch over the situation and, if necessary, try unilaterally to bring about a cessation of hostilities. Although Waibel doubted whether that was practicable, he thought it worth trying, even if it brought about only a partial end to the fighting.
Before leaving the villa Wolff gave Wenner full authority in writing to sign binding agreements in the name of the highest SS and Police Commander and General Plenipotentiary of the Wehrmacht in Italy. At Waibel's insistence he deleted the words "to negotiate." Accompanied by Husmann, Wolff on 25 April returned to Chiasso.
General Wolff had motored only four miles from Chiasso when bands of partisans forced him to take refuge in an SS command post in the Villa Locatelli near Cernobbio on the shores of Lake Como, to await the arrival of a military convoy. There Wolff found several neo-Fascist dignitaries, among them Mussolini's defense minister, Marshal Graziani, and the Italian Air Force
commander, General Ruggero Bonomi. Learning of Wolff's plans, they readily authorized him to surrender their forces. Meanwhile, the hoped-for convoy never came.
Deterred by partisans and the Allied offensive, General Wolff was able only through intervention of the Swiss intermediaries and an American agent serving with the partisans to return to the frontier, where Major Waibel met him. Since the circumstances made it impossible to go directly from Chiasso to Army Group C's headquarters at Bolzano, Waibel arranged for Wolff and Guido Zimmer, who had joined Wolff, to return to Bolzano by way of Austria. Just as Wolff was leaving Switzerland on the 27th he learned that Dulles had received word lifting the ban on contacts with the Germans.14
Vietinghoff and his senior commanders gathered in Bolzano on the afternoon of 28 April at his headquarters to hear Wolff's report. What Wolff had to say was brief and to the point. Schweinitz and Wenner, acting as plenipotentiaries for Vietinghoff and Wolff, were on their way to Caserta, perhaps were already there. Although Wolff had not even bothered to mention Hofer's political conditions to Allied representatives in Switzerland, yet he told his colleagues that he had done so but that the Allies had refused to consider them.15
Expressing keen disappointment at that news but still determined to retrieve something for his pains, Gauleiter Hofer insisted that Vietinghoff place him in control of all military units in the Tyrol, which, in effect, would give him control of most of the forces still under Vietinghoff's command. The army group commander's immediate and violent reaction to the demand revealed a widening gap between the military and political authorities in the southwestern theater. At that point Vietinghoff's chief of staff, Roettiger, who thus far had been quietly biding his time, became spokesman for the opposition to Hofer and his fellow die-hards in the German camp. The Gauleiter's demands, Roettiger said, were completely out of line with the military situation. After five hours of fruitless discussion turning on that point, the conferees dispersed to await the return of Schweinitz and Wenner.16
Although Hofer found himself in a minority at army group headquarters, he still had a powerful ally in Field Marshal Kesselring. Having hosted a meeting with Kesselring, Vietinghoff, and Rahn at his estate near Innsbruck on the 27th, Hofer knew as well as the others that Kesselring at that time had flatly rejected a capitulation in northern Italy. It was also well known how harshly the field marshal had dealt with officers involved in an abortive uprising near Munich the day before.17
Kesselring's reaction had puzzled Wolff, who only a few days earlier had sent one of his staff, SS Standartenfuehrer Dollmann, to the field marshal's headquarters on the Western Front to sound
him out concerning surrender in Italy. The field marshal, according to Dollmann, had at that time declared that he would raise no objections to the capitulation of Army Group C, although he himself could take no active part in it until the Fuehrer's death should release him from his soldier's oath. (It is possible, of course, that Dollmann interpreted Kesselring's remarks in such a way as to encourage Wolff in his enterprise.)
The field marshal's seeming change of heart and unyielding stand apparently arose from his own estimate of the military situation. A premature surrender of Vietinghoff's Army Group C, Kesselring believed, would create an untenable situation for General Schulz's Army Group G, still fighting north of the Alps, and Loehr's Army Group E, falling back before the Russians and Yugoslavs through Croatia to the Isonzo. A surrender in Italy, he believed, would also adversely affect troops still fighting in Berlin and along the Eastern Front. To that line of reasoning none of the conferees at the earlier Innsbruck meeting had raised objections.18
Recalling that conference strengthened Hofer in his conviction that in the developing confrontation with Wolff and Roettiger, Kesselring would be on his side. Without consulting either Vietinghoff or Wolff, Hofer telephoned Kesselring to give what Wolff would later describe as "a dangerous stab in the back" to the military command in northern Italy. Thus in the last four days of Army Group C's existence the fantastically unrealistic political hopes of the Kaltenbrunner-Hofer faction joined with the Doenitz-Kesselring faction. Their strategy represented a desperate hope of saving as much as possible of the German armed forces from capture by the Red Army and their east European partisan allies.19
The Surrender at Caserta
However much difficulty Wolff's plans for a separate peace had encountered within the German command structure, these plans were moving smoothly toward realization. Late on the 28th, an airplane bearing the two German plenipotentiaries and Dulles' assistant, von Gaevernitz arrived at Caserta, where they were met by General Lemnitzer and General Airey, who had taken part in the earlier conversations with the Germans in Switzerland. The party then drove to a camp especially prepared for the visitors in a secluded corner of the palace grounds at Caserta.20
Late that evening Lt. Gen. Sir William D. Morgan, since December 1944 Alexander's chief of staff, together with representatives of the Allied air forces and naval commands, met with the Germans. This time there was none of the outwardly informal, sometimes cordial conversation marking the clandestine sessions in Switzerland. It was a meeting of conqueror and conquered; for as far as the Allied command was concerned, the sole purpose of Caserta was to receive an unconditional military surrender and instruct the defeated army in the steps for an orderly capitulation. After receiving the German
GERMAN REPRESENTATIVES SIGN SURRENDER DOCUMENT
emissaries, General Morgan handed them three copies of the instrument of surrender and told them to withdraw to their quarters to study it.
Three hours later General Morgan summoned the Germans to a second conference. For the first time a representative of the Russian armed forces, Maj. Gen. Aleksey Pavlovich Kislenko, Soviet delegate to the Allied Control Commission in Rome, was present as an observer. Morgan opened the meeting by asking the Germans to state whether the general instrument of surrender was acceptable. After some hesitation they agreed that it was. Assured that all who surrendered would be treated as prisoners of war, von Schweinitz also asked assurance that Germans would be interned in Italy rather than be transferred to either Great Britain or to the United States. Allied representatives refused such assurance. Schweinitz failed to bring up Vietinghoff's desire, expressed earlier, that the German troops be allowed to retain belts and bayonets and march back into Germany as in 1918.
The Germans did ask that all officers and military police be permitted to retain side arms in order to maintain discipline during the interim between cease-fire and internment. Conceding that some units might refuse to accept the cease-fire order, Morgan acceded to that request.21 He also agreed to let Schweinitz, before signing the surrender terms, radio them and the results of the discussions to Vietinghoff, who could then indicate a time for cessation of hostilities.
Following the meeting, General Lemnitzer and Dr. von Gaevernitz accompanied the Germans to their quarters, where the four spent most of the rest of the night discussing technical details of the appendices to the surrender document, point by point. By 0400 on 29 April they had drafted a mutually acceptable cable for transmission to Vietinghoff via Dulles' office in Switzerland.
The message, which reached Bern later that morning, was garbled by atmospheric conditions so that Vietinghoff's headquarters did not receive a clear text. Anxious to forward a complete and ungarbled version of the surrender terms to Vietinghoff as soon as possible, Dulles decided to parachute a member of his staff near the German headquarters at Bolzano. By the time plans had been completed and an aircraft obtained, it was already too late in the day.
When neither an acknowledgment nor a reply came from Army Group C's headquarters, Wenner, General Wolff's representative, who had been instructed to sign a surrender document no matter what the terms, indicated his willingness to do so. Schweinitz for his part refused to proceed without word from Vietinghoff and at the same time continued to argue for a promise of internment of German troops in Italy. Not until late in the morning of the 29th did Schweinitz finally agree to sign without waiting for Vietinghoff's reply. Even then he insisted that he was exceeding his instructions.
At 1400 that afternoon the two German emissaries entered Morgan's office to sign the surrender document. Both Schweinitz and Wenner appeared somewhat ill at ease in the glare of floodlights, popping of flash bulbs, and whirring of movie cameras. Quickly recovering their composure, they turned to face a room filled with high-ranking Allied officers gathered to witness the ceremony. General Morgan stepped forward to ask formally if the two were prepared to sign an instrument of surrender on behalf of their respective commanders. When they replied affirmatively, an aide to General Morgan placed five copies of the document before them.
Breaking an awkward silence that followed, Schweinitz--speaking in German, although he was able to discourse fluently in English--reiterated that in signing without guarantees concerning internment of German prisoners of war in Italy, he would be exceeding his authority. Nevertheless, he declared, he would sign on his own responsibility and on the assumption that his superiors would approve, although he could give
GENERAL MORGAN RECEIVES GERMAN REPRESENTATIVES
no absolute assurance to that effect. The mild caveat failed to deter Morgan, who replied that he was prepared to accept the signature under that condition. In reality, Schweinitz's declaration was no more than an empty gesture, for the Germans in Italy had no alternative to surrender.
Shortly after 1400, 29 April, Schweinitz and Wenner signed the document, which stipulated that the capitulation was to be unconditional and that hostilities were to cease, beginning at noon, GMT, on Wednesday, 2 May 1945. The Germans thus had four days to get word of the capitulation to their troops.22
Because of difficulties in radio communications and the need for security, the text of the surrender document had to go to von Vietinghoff as soon as possible. Immediately following the surrender ceremony, the German emissaries, accompanied by von Gaevernitz and an American staff officer, headed to Switzerland. The emissaries went on to Bolzano. They got there late in the
evening of 30 April. Thirty-one hours had elapsed since the two officers had left Caserta; only 36 remained before the cease-fire was to take effect.
Army Group C's Last Hours
Army Group C, Schweinitz and Wenner discovered upon reaching Bolzano, was no longer under von Vietinghoff's command. Hofer having by telephone charged von Vietinghoff and his chief of staff, General Roettiger, with treasonable contact with the Allies, Kesselring had relieved both officers and placed Army Group C under the Army Group G commander, General Friedrich Schulz. Kesselring referred SS General Wolff's case to the chief of the RSHA, Dr. Kaltenbrunner, for disciplinary action. Kaltenbrunner had, in the meantime, left Berlin to take refuge in upper Austria, where he was engaged in a wild and hopeless effort to take over surrender negotiations and arrange, through conservative clerical circles, a separate peace for Austria.23
At noon on the 30th General Schulz and his chief of staff, General Wentzell, had arrived to assume command of Army Group C. Von Vietinghoff immediately turned over his command to Schulz, but Roettiger, unwilling to abandon the scene, decided to remain in his office for a day or so, ostensibly to "orient" his successor. Determined to carry out Kesselring's intent for Army Group C to continue to resist in hope of gaining time for other forces elsewhere to elude the Russians, General Schulz ordered all subordinate units to fight on.
The situation on 1 May was such that the order was manifestly impossible to execute. In northwestern Italy virtually all resistance had already ceased and north of Lake Garda and in the Brenta and Piave valleys the remnants of the two German armies were backed up against the Alps.
At that point Roettiger emerged as the key figure in an attempt to force Kesselring to abandon his plan and permit the capitulation to take place at the appointed hour. Instead of allowing von Schweinitz and Wenner to report directly to the new army group commander, Roettiger had them brought to his own quarters were they were joined by General Wolff and SS Standartenfuehrer Dollmann. All agreed that without Kesselring's authorization neither Schulz nor Wentzell would order the cease-fire. If there was to be an immediate cease-fire, there was no alternative, Roettiger and Wolff agreed, to taking Schulz and Wentzell into custody and themselves issuing a cease-fire order.
Events at Army Group C headquarters thus acquired the character of opéra bouffe. To prevent word from reaching Kesselring, Roettiger and Wolff, with the co-operation of the army group intelligence officer, blocked all communications between Bolzano and the Reich. Moving rapidly, they thereupon seized Schulz and Wentzell soon after daylight on 1 May and confined them to their quarters under house arrest.
In de facto command of Army Group C, Roettiger issued the cease-fire order, but he had failed to reckon with the hold that military protocol and tradition still had on his fellow officers. When two of the army commanders, Lemelsen
and Herr, learned that Schulz and Wentzell were under house arrest, they refused to implement Roettiger's orders even though they had agreed in principle with the decision to surrender. That left Roettiger with no choice but to release Schulz and Wentzell and attempt to win them over by argument. At Wolff's insistence, Schulz called a meeting of all the senior commanders for 1800 at army group headquarters, which Roettiger and Vietinghoff would be allowed to attend.
While that bizarre drama was being played out, the XIV Panzer Corps commander, General von Senger, had moved with his corps staff to Mattarello, three miles south of Trento. There, "in a pretty country house with a baroque garden and a wide view into the Adige valley," he awaited word of the capitulation.24
That afternoon Senger received a call from Lemelsen asking him to take his place at the army command post because he had just been summoned to a meeting at army group headquarters. Arriving at army headquarters that evening, von Senger learned details of the capitulation that had been signed at Caserta on the 29th and that Lemelsen and Herr, as well as General Pohl, the air force commander in Italy, and SS Obergruppenfuehrer Wolff, had all concurred in the action.25
In the meantime, a teletype message from Admiral Doenitz reached Army Group C headquarters, telling of the Fuehrer's death in Berlin and announcing that, in accordance with the Fuehrer's will, Doenitz was Chief of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Doenitz's message also ordered the German armies to continue to fight against the Western Allies so long as they interfered with the battle against Bolshevism.26
In view of that order--or exhortation--Schulz hesitated to support the pro-capitulation faction at army group headquarters. Yet from the two army commanders he learned that they no longer considered their armies capable of meaningful resistance, so that continuation of the war in Italy no longer made sense. Wolff and Pohl added that with partisans already in control of wide areas of German-occupied Italy, the political situation there was equally hopeless. Even so Schulz merely agreed to pass that information on to Kesselring; he still refused to issue a cease-fire order without the field marshal's approval.
Unaware of the machinations within the German command and concerned that the emissaries might not have reached Bolzano, Field Marshal Alexander, meanwhile, in another message to von Vietinghoff demanded an unequivocal answer to whether he accepted the terms of surrender and whether his force would cease fire at the agreed time. The message arrived at Army Group C at 2130 on 1 May. Its stern tone convinced even Schulz that a final decision could no longer be deferred.27
After advising the Allied commander that a decision would be made within the hour, Schulz telephoned Kesselring's
headquarters only to learn after he finally got through that the field marshal was at the front and that his chief of staff was unwilling to make a decision. Wolff then got on the telephone and angrily insisted that since all were agreed that further resistance was futile, one of Army Group C's senior commanders should be given authority to issue the cease-fire order. To that the chief of staff lamely replied that he would lay the matter before the field marshal when the latter returned that night.
When by 2200 no word had been received from Kesselring's headquarters, Lemelsen and Herr at last agreed to issue the orders on their own responsibility. Later that night Lemelsen telephoned von Senger to tell him to order a cease-fire as of 1400 on the 2d--two hours later than the time agreed upon at Caserta--and to halt all troop movements except those necessary for supply. Von Senger immediately transmitted the orders to the LI Mountain and the XIV Panzer Corps, as well as to the I Parachute Corps, which in the confusion of the past week had come under the control of the Fourteenth Army.28 The Tenth Army's LXXVI Panzer Corps having surrendered a week before, Herr had little trouble communicating the orders to the few troops still under his command.
While there were no objections or demands for explanation from any of the corps headquarters, it soon became evident at army group headquarters that many younger officers were determined to fight on. To avoid a showdown with the young zealots, Wolff, Pohl, and the two army commanders
GENERAL LEMELSEN AND COLONEL VON SCHWEINITZ
took refuge in Wolff's headquarters where the SS general had prudently assembled seven tanks and 350 SS troops.
They acted just in time, for at 0115 on 2 May an order arrived from Kesselring for the arrest of Roettiger, von Schweinitz, and von Vietinghoff. Although the order made no mention of the army commanders, both Herr and Lemelsen found it prudent to depart for the relative security of their own headquarters. A similar order from Kesselring's air officer for the arrest of General Pohl reached Pohl's adjutant, who quietly ignored it.
Before the arrests could be carried out, Kesselring telephoned Wolff in his barricaded headquarters and upbraided him for attempting to usurp his, Kesselring's, authority as commander of the
GENERAL HERR LEAVES BOLZANO FOR SURRENDER
southwestern theater. For two hours the two officers argued bitterly until connections became bad, whereupon the chiefs of staff of the two commanders resumed the argument. Toward the end of the marathon and sometimes acrimonious debate, even Schulz joined in, supporting Wolff's contention that since further resistance was impossible Kesselring would only be agreeing to a fait accompli.
Not until 0430 on 2 May did Kesselring finally agree to authorize Schulz to issue a cease-fire order--limited to the sphere of command of OB Suedwest. Wolff then sent word of Kesselring's acceptance of the "written and verbal conditions of the Armistice Agreement" to Alexander with a request that public announcement be withheld for forty-eight hours. The Allied commander agreed to relay the request to his superiors but insisted that Wolff was "to carry out your agreement to cease hostilities on my front at 12 noon GMT today [2 May]."29 The Germans, after a two-hour delay, broadcast cease-fire orders
to their troops at 1400. When the Allied command picked up their broadcast, Alexander announced the cease-fire four and a half hours later at 1830.30
Field Marshal Kesselring meanwhile placed himself at Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz's disposal for "this arbitrary and punishable action."31 At the same time, he asked Doenitz's authority to arrange for surrender of the remaining two army groups, G and E. Although the Admiral approved Kesselring's action in regard to Army Group C, he refused to authorize capitulation of the two other army groups.
Back at headquarters of the XIV Panzer Corps on the morning of 2 May, General von Senger, explaining the surrender, fully emphasized that Kesselring had approved it, for the field marshal's name still enjoyed considerable prestige among the officers and men. "It was," von Senger noted in his diary, "a tragic moment, the complete defeat and the imminent surrender after a fight lasting six years, tragic even for those who [like himself] had foreseen it for a long time."32
At Army Group C's behest von Senger then left to head a mission to the Allied 15th Army Group headquarters at Florence to arrange for implementation of the surrender agreement. Under the escort of Brig. Gen. David L. Ruffner, deputy commander of the 10th Mountain Division, and a British colonel, von Senger and a small party that included von Schweinitz traveled south along Lake Garda's eastern shore, taking to the windswept waters in DUKW's to bypass the damaged tunnels, and at about 2100 arrived cold and wet at the 10th Mountain Division's command post. Transferring to staff cars and exchanging General Ruffner for General Hays, the party set out for Verona, where they spent the night, then flew to Clark's headquarters at Florence.
At 1030 on 4 May the German commander appeared before his long-time adversary in the van that Clark used as an office.33 Von Senger presented a gaunt and haggard appearance. Saluting Clark and other senior American commanders crowded into the little van, he reported formally in English that as General von Vietinghoff's representative he had come to receive his instructions consistent with the terms of surrender signed at Caserta. Did he have full authority to implement the terms of unconditional surrender, Clark asked. Von Senger replied that he had. Handing him detailed instructions for the surrender, Clark told him to withdraw with General Gruenther and other members of Clark's staff for full explanation of these instructions.
During the conference with Gruenther, von Senger and his staff pointed out that until the Allied forces arrived in the German-held areas, armed bands of partisans roaming the countryside would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the Germans to lay down their arms and at the same time protect their supply depots, which by the terms of surrender were to be
GENERAL VON SENGER SURRENDERS TO GENERAL CLARK AT FIFTEENTH ARMY GROUP HEADQUARTERS
turned over to the Allied forces and not to irregulars. That was a crucial point, for General Clark was anxious to prevent additional arms from falling into the hands of Communist-controlled partisans who constituted one of the largest and most active groups in the Italian resistance.34
The problem was deemed serious enough to refer back to Clark. What von Senger essentially wanted was for the Allied commander to restrain the partisan bands. That Clark agreed to do, although he noted that, having just given them a "signal to go in for the kill," it would be pretty hard to squelch all that ardor through radio messages.35 The best solution would be to get the American troops as quickly as possible into those areas still occupied by the Germans.
This had to be carefully arranged, for to rush American troops into German-occupied areas before all German
GERMAN REPRESENTATIVES RECEIVE INSTRUCTIONS FROM GENERAL GRUENTHER
units had gotten word of the surrender was to invite possible bloodshed. General Truscott had thus held Keyes' II Corps in place since early on 2 May to allow the German command in the area east of Lake Garda and in the Piave and Brenta valleys ample time to get word of the cease-fire to all units, many isolated and lacking regular military communications with their headquarters. Some German units took advantage of the delay to attempt escape through the Alpine passes into Austria, in spite of a standfast order. Aerial reconnaissance reported over a thousand horse-drawn vehicles and more than 500 motor vehicles mixed with civilian traffic passing through Bolzano in the direction of the Brenner pass. Deterred by poor weather conditions and reluctant to cause further bloodshed, Allied pilots made no effort to attack the columns.
Satisfied by 3 May that all German units had received the cease-fire order, Truscott let Keyes' II Corps resume roundup operations. Northeast of Lake Garda the 85th and 88th Divisions sent small task forces up the Piave and Brenta valleys toward the Austrian
PRISONERS OF WAR ASSEMBLE AT FOOT OF ALPS
frontier. Early on 4 May the 339th Infantry crossed the frontier near Dobbiaco, forty miles east of the Brenner pass, and a few hours later a reconnaissance unit from the 349th Infantry met troops from the Seventh Army's VI Corps at Vipiteno, nine miles to the south of the Brenner. Later in the day, the 338th Infantry, advancing astride Highway 12, reached the frontier at the Brenner pass. The next day, 5 May, the 10th Mountain Division, after passing through Bolzano, turned northwestward via Merano and reached the Austrian frontier over the Reschen pass. Just beyond the pass, at the Austrian village of Nauders, the mountain infantrymen made their first contact with those German troops retreating before the U.S. Seventh Army. Aware that the Seventh Army had already received a surrender delegation from Army Group G, General Hays halted his men just outside Nauders. On 6 May, following surrender of Army Group G at noon, elements of the 10th Mountain Division continued northward to establish contact with troops of the Seventh Army's VI Corps, Truscott's former command.36
In northwestern Italy throughout 3 May the divisions of the IV Corps--the 1st Armored and the 34th, 91st, and 92d Infantry Divisions--had continued to accept the capitulation of isolated enemy units that had not yet received word of the general surrender. Faced with a choice of surrendering to the French, the Americans, or partisans, most of the Germans gave themselves up readily, even eagerly, to the Americans.
Meanwhile, on 1 May, the Eighth Army had contacted Tito's partisans at Montfalcone, about 17 miles northwest of Trieste. Although for many months an uneasy confrontation would remain between the Western Allies and the Yugoslavs along the Isonzo and at Trieste, northeastern Italy rapidly settled down to welcome though tense peace. By 6 May the occupation of all Italy from the Straits of Messina to the Alps had been completed. The eastern, western, and northern frontiers were closed, with all major exits under Allied control. In spite of the protracted negotiations, which had reached a point of dramatic tension through frequent covert comings and goings across international
88TH DIVISION IN ALPINE PASS
frontiers, the end came in Italy, as it would in northern Europe, only after the German forces, defeated in the field, had been backed into corners of Europe from which there was neither escape nor hope of survival. Only then did the Germans finally lay down their arms.
1. Col Max Waibel, GSC, Swiss Army, The Secret Negotiations Concerning the Surrender of the German Armed Forces in Italy, 21 February to 2 May 1945, MS (hereafter cited as Waibel MS), CMH. Also Office of Strategic Services Memoranda file on same subject, National Archives, Washington, D.C., John Kimche, Spying for Peace (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1961) pp. 126ff; Allen W. Dulles, The Secret Surrender (New York: Harper and Row, 1966). Unless otherwise cited the following is based upon these references.
2. The Germans had known of Dulles' presence and mission since the previous autumn. See Walter Hagen, Die Geheime Front (Wien, 1950), p. 455.
3. Rudolf Rahn, Ruheloses Leben (Dusseldorf, 1949), p. 282.
4. Details of these negotiations are to be found in the AFHQ CROSSWORD Cable file, 0100/4, AFHQ SACS, Negotiations for German Surrender in Italy, Feb-Apr 1945 (Waibel MS). See also Dulles, The Secret Surrender.
5. For details of Russian reaction and Allied response see Winston S. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Publishing Co., 1953), p. 446; William D. Leahy, I Was There (New York: Whittlesey House, 1950), pp. 334-35; Feis, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin. See also 00100/4, AFHQ SACS, Negotiations for German Surrender in Italy, Vols. 1-4.
6. See Harry R. Rudin, Armistice 1918 (New Haven; Yale University Press, 1944), pp. 395ff.
7. General von Schwerin, following his surrender on 25 April, said that Vietinghoff "will continue to obey the Fuehrer's orders as long as a telephone line exists between his headquarters and OKW." See Operations of British, Indian, and Dominion Forces in Italy, Pt. IV, Sec. G, App. B.
8. Msg. AGWAR for CCS from Alexander SACMED, ref. no. FX-59004, 12 Apr 45. In 0100/4, AFHQ SACS, Gen McNarney's Papers Concerning Negotiations for German Surrender in Italy, Mar-Apr 45 (127-132SP), ser. 412.
9. Waibel MS, p. 69.
10. Ibid., Rahn, Ruheloses Leben, p. 289.
11. Msg. U.S. Mission, Moscow, from Alexander, ref. No. F-63542, 21 Apr 45, in 0100/4, AFHQ SACS, Gen McNarney, Papers Concerning Negotiations for German Surrender in Italy, Mar-Apr 45, (128-132SP), ser. 412.
12. Waibel MS. The following section is based upon this source.
13. Waibel MS; Msg. Alexander to AGWAR for CCS, ref. no. FX65020, 24 April 45, 0100/4 AFHQ SACS.
14. Msg. Alexander to Military Mission to Dean and Archer, ref. No. FX66435, April 45, file 0100/4 AFHQ SACS.
15. Waibel MS; CROSSWORD Cable File.
16. Memo, Wolff, in CROSSWORD Cable File.
17. Ibid. This was a premature attempt on the part of the garrison at a cantonment to seize control of Munich and order a cease-fire prior to the arrival of Allied forces. The officers involved had been summarily executed.
18. Kesselring, A Soldier's Record, p. 341.
19. Waibel MS; CROSSWORD Cable File.
20. See AFHQ SACS file 0100/4; Waibel MS; Dulles, The Secret Surrender. Unless otherwise cited the following section is based on these sources.
21. General Clark, apparently unaware of the concession, was incensed that von Senger had surrendered while wearing his side arm. He ordered the German general to remove it. Von Senger did so, throwing the weapon and belt to the ground. Clark ordered a guard to retrieve it for his souvenir collection. See Calculated Risk, p. 440.
22. See Garland and Smyth, Sicily and the Surrender Italy, pp. 545-552.
23. AFHQ SAC Negotiations, file 0100/4, Vol. II, Msg Bern to AFHQ, 30 April 45.
24. MS # C-095f (Senger).
26. Records of the Reichsfuehrer SS and Chief of the German Police, Microfilm T-175, Roll # 225.
27. Msg Alexander to AGWAR for CCS, 2 May 45, AFHQ SACS, file 0100/4.
28. MS # C-095f (Senger), CMH.
29. Msg Alexander to AGWAR for CCS, ref. No. FX-69224, 2 May 45, in AFHQ SACS, McNarney file 0100/4.
30. Msg Alexander to AGWAR for CCS, Ref. No. FX-69417, 2 May 45, AFHQ SACS, McNarney file 0100/4.
31. Kesselring, A Soldier's Record, p. 342.
32. MS # C-095f (Senger), CMH.
33. Clark Diary, 4 May 1945. Unless otherwise noted the following is based upon this reference.
34. MS # C-095f (Senger).
35. Clark Diary, 4 May 45.
36. Seventh Army Report of Operations, pp. 856-61.