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My question is about German Army Surrender in Reims. The unconditional surrender was signed by Colonel General Alfred Jodl, on behalf of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and General Walter Bedell Smith on behalf of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Supreme Commander Eisenhower was in the same building, on the second floor (Jodl and Smith signed the act in the map room on first floor). After the signing Eisenhower received the German delegation in his office.

So, my question is, why Eisenhower didn't sign the act?

I've tried to find some explanation and found two answers:

  1. Eisenhower outranked Jodl.
  2. Eisenhower absolutely despised nazis.

Now, I don't know if one, both or none of these answers is true. I don't know how to compare ranks, but Generaloberst ("Colonel General") is supposed to be above four-star full general and below five-star field marshall. Eisenhower was the General of the Army which is a five-star rank. So Jodl was four-and-a-half-star and Eisenhower was five star. Did this difference really matter?

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It is difficult to answer with certainty, but I think the answer is closer to #1. But the comparison would not be about how many stars the generals had (after all, comparisons could be tricky between armies of different nations) but of the respective positions in each army.

Eisenhower was the Supreme Allied Commander of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and, as such, held the top military position and was answerable only to the Allied governments.

The German equivalent would have been Wilhelm Keitel as head of the Oberkommando der Werhmacht(OKW).

Jodl was the Chief of Staff of the OKW, so he was under the orders of Keitel. Sending the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces to work out a deal with a subordinate would have been highly unusual even in a situation in which the Germans were not on the losing side, and probably could be taken as an insult1.

The closest equivalent in the SHAEF to Jodl's position would have been that of Walter Bedell Smith, making the negotiations an issue "between peers".

Additionally, the fact that Eisenhower received the German delegation after the signing shows that, whatever Eisenhower's opinions about them, he could put them aside for a moment. Since there is no reason to believe that such a reception was in any means necessary for the effective surrender of Germany, the #2 seems highly unlikely.


1And, from what I have read somewhere, at the time Eisenhower probably was already considering a political career, making it more important to avoid those faux-pas.

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    One additional thing to note in support here: the WP article is explicit that relative ranks were an issue on the Berlin signing the following day - Tedder signed so that both Allied and Soviet commanders were of equivalent status. – Andrew Aug 23 '18 at 21:18
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    Sending someone of too high a rank can be considered an insult? Did I read that correctly? It's unusual yes, but can you explain why it would be considered an insult? Honest curiousity. – Mast Aug 24 '18 at 9:12
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    @Mast Maybe the insult would be that sending someone of too high a rank could be considered as showing too much respect, which could be seen as showing not enough dignity, an insult against yourself. – Trilarion Aug 24 '18 at 10:53
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    @Mast I meant an insult from the Germans if they expected Jodl to deal with Eisenhower. – SJuan76 Aug 24 '18 at 11:47
  • @Trilarion, yes the insult is sending a lower ranking officer to sign the instrument of surrender in the first place. Responding by sending your own second is considered panache. – JMS Aug 24 '18 at 18:23
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Just to add to SJuan76's great answer which I upvoted as both informative and logical. Such an act as SJuan76 describes has historical precedent.

After the siege of Yorktown Oct 19th 1780, when General Cornwallis was to surrender to General George Washington ending the American Revolutionary War; General Cornwallis declined to show up to the surrender ceremony saying he was ill. Cornwallis sent a secondary officer, General Charles O’Hara to surrender. In response George Washington declined to accept the surrender but instead motioned to his second in command General Benjamin Lincoln who stepped forward to accept Cornwallis's sword, with Washington watching just a few feet away.

General Charles O’Hara
General O'Hara represented the British at the surrender of Yorktown on 19 October 1781, as Cornwallis' adjutant, when he pleaded illness. He first attempted to surrender to French Comte de Rochambeau, who declined his sword and deferred to General George Washington. Washington declined and deferred to Major General Benjamin Lincoln, who was serving as Washington's second-in-command and had surrendered to General Clinton at Charleston in May 1780.

(*) The french officer who declined Cornwallis's sword was General Rochambeau

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