Telex spells out how Admiral Doenitz tried to prevent destruction of air force in final hours of Second World War after his generals had agreed surrender terms
His generals had surrendered to Allied forces a day earlier, leaving Admiral Karl Doenitz, who succeeded Adolf Hitler, with one final act as head of the collapsing Third Reich.
In terse language, he telexed his commanders in the field at 10.40pm on May 8 informing them the war was over and that all hostilities were to cease.
“Effective immediately, no maritime vehicle or aeroplane shall be sunk or destroyed, no military equipment may be damaged in any way,” he wrote, warning that failure to comply would bring punitive action from the Allies.
While the Nazis burned and destroyed their paper records, one copy of the historic order survived in the pocket of Field Marshall Robert Ritter von Greim, head of the Luftwaffe.
Now in the hands of a private collector, it is expected to fetch up to $30,000 (£20,000) when it sells at auction in New York on Wednesday.
Doenitz had been head of the German navy and was Hitler’s choice to lead the Nazis when the dictator committed suicide on April 30.
Although he promised to fight on, the veteran seaman knew he controlled only a few square miles close to the Danish border. Instead, he focused on trying to ensure his forces surrendered to the advancing British and Americans rather than the Russians in the East.
The recovered telex – strips of ticker tape pasted on to a piece of card – was sent to a Munich airbase, code-named Robinson 5.
In it, Doenitz spelt out that surrender was inevitable.
“This was unavoidable in order to prevent the complete destruction of certain parts of the front, which was expected to occur in a short time, and, in doing so, to save as many people as possible for Germany,” he wrote.
Tom Lamb, an expert in military history at Bonhams, said very few examples of telexed orders had survived.
“Doenitz was very well aware that the game was up,” he said.
“There was no way either that he could retain control or that the German nation could get back into this war so his concern – particularly with the air force, which was very proud – was that they would put up planes that would quickly be shot down.”
The orders were received by Von Greim, who took over the Luftwaffe after Hitler accused Hermann Goering of treason.
In the final days of the war he had been summoned to the Fuhrer’s Berlin bunkerwhere he was ordered to arrest Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, who had also been accused of treason for considering surrender. He left in a plane piloted by Hanna Reitsch for Plon, in Holstein, where the remains of Hitler’s cabinet were housed in Wehrmacht barracks.
What happened next is unknown, but Von Greim was arrested in Austria on May 8.
He carried the surrender telex in his pocket and told his American captors: “I am the head of the Luftwaffe, but I have no Luftwaffe.”
A little over two weeks later he was dead. He had been earmarked for a prisoner exchange with the Russians and, fearing torture and execution, he swallowed a cyanide pill.
The telex is among hundreds of Second World War lots on sale at Bonhams. They include propaganda posters, American flags flown on the Normandy beaches on D-Day, and artefacts from the Pacific campaign.
Among them are the archives of Capt Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atom bomb on Hiroshima.
For sale is a sketch of the bombing run and a copy of his logbook – one of six he reproduced by hand for his wife and five children. It sets out how he and the crew grappled with the enormity of their duty.
“I am certain the entire crew felt this experience was more than anyone human had ever thought possible,” he wrote.
“Just how many Japs did we kill? I honestly have the feeling of groping forwards to explain this … My God what have we done?”