“Small pockets German troops refused to give up and in some cases fought on for days, even weeks, before finally calling it quits.”
IT WAS JUST after 2:30 a.m. on May 7, 1945 when Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, commander of what was left of the once mighty Wehrmacht, marched into Supreme Allied Headquarters in Reims, France and signed the “German Instrument of Surrender” officially ending the war in Europe.
Under the terms of the document, all of the Third Reich’s remaining land, sea and air forces were to cease hostilities on or before11:01 p.m. on May 8. As expected, the vast majority of war weary Axis personnel in Europe obeyed the orders. Yet in a number of locations, small pockets German troops refused to give up and in some cases fought on for days, even weeks, before finally calling it quits. Consider these last Nazi holdouts:
VE Plus One
It took an extra 24 hours for thousands of German troops trapped behind the lines in Soviet-occupied Poland to lay down their weapons. Infantrymen isolated in coastal fortifications near the port city of Danzig manned their guns for a full day before giving up to the Red Army on May 9. Stragglers from the German 4th Army, which was all but obliterated during the fight for the East Prussian Heiligenbeil Pocket, also continued to resist for a full day, as did the garrisons on a number of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.
VE Plus Five
It wasn’t until May 13, five days after Germany’s defeat, that the last remnants of Wehrmacht and SS units in Czechoslovakia stopped fighting. Likewise, German forces occupying the narrow Hel Peninsula in Poland didn’t surrender to the Soviets for nearly a full week after the official end of hostilities. The last of them marched out of their trenches and bunkers on May 13 and 14.
VE Plus Six
May 14 also saw a force of 30,000 Chetniks, pro-Nazi Croats and German regulars fight a pitched battle against an army of communist partisans at Poljana near the Yugoslav/Austrian border. The two-day confrontation claimed more than 400 lives. Over the following days, British troops in the region forcibly repatriated thousands of Yugoslavian Axis collaborators. Many of these fugitives were slaughtered wholesale by the new national army upon their return.
German submarine U-234, didn’t strike her colours until May 14. The Type XB vessel was in the middle of the North Atlantic when the war officially ended. Travelling on board were Nazi military envoys and technical advisors bound for Berlin’s embassy in Tokyo, as well as two Japanese naval attaches who had been in Germany since 1943. U-234 was also carrying more than a half-ton of uranium that Hitler hoped to deliver to his allies in the Far East. The sub’s skipper, Johann-Heinrich Fehler, didn’t get the surrender order until May 10, at which point the 34-year-old Kapitänleutnant decided to make for the U.S. coast at flank speed. Fehler feared a lengthier detention if he and his crew were taken by British or Canadian forces. U-234 was overhauled by the American destroyer USS Sutton off Newfoundland and captured without incident six days after Germany’s official capitulation. Fehler’s two Japanese passengers committed suicide rather than face the shame of a POW camp. The Sutton’s crew sailed their prize to Portsmouth Navy Yard in Maine where the U.S. government confiscated the cargo of uranium, possibly adding it to the reserves of material used in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs — at least that’s what one author has suggested. The sub itself was eventually scuttled off Cape Cod and all aboard were repatriated.
VE Plus Eight
It took more than a week before German garrisons on the British Channel Islands finally surrendered to Allied forces after a five-year occupation. Axis troops on Alderney remained in control of the territory until May 16 – eight days after the official surrender.
VE Plus 12
Ironically, the last Axis troops to see battle in Europe weren’t die-hard Nazis at all. In fact, they weren’t even German. On April 5, 1945, 800 Georgian conscripts in the German 882nd Queen Tamara Infantry Battalion stationed on the Friesian isle of Texel rose against their former comrades of the Wehrmacht. The fighting lasted several weeks, raging on until well after VE Day. The disgruntled soldiers, all former members of the Red Army, had been pressed into the service of the Third Reich after being captured on the Eastern Front in 1943. Part of the larger Nazi Georgian Legion, the unit was ordered to Texel as part of the “Atlantic Wall” defenses. As the Allied forces began their drive into Germany in early 1945, Berlin ordered the 882nd to be transferred to the mainland to help stem the British and American advance. Days before shipping out to what seemed like certain death, the men of the unit mutinied and massacred more than 400 German soldiers on the island. Many of the victims were butchered while they slept. Regular troops manning fortifications elsewhere on the island fought off the turncoats and radioed for assistance. In the days that followed, two thousand German reinforcements were dispatched to Texel to suppress the uprising, which was now being openly supported by elements of the Dutch underground as well as ordinary civilians. The once peaceful 15-kilometer-long island, which had remained largely untouched by the war, was became a battlefield. The German crackdown was swift and ruthless – more than 500 Georgians were captured and summarily executed, their bodies dumped into mass graves. But the Wehrmacht relief force, now cut off on Texel by advancing Allied troops surging through the Netherlands, became stranded. Hostilities didn’t finally cease until May 20. That’s when Canadian troops landed and disarmed both factions. By the time the fighting petered out, nearly 800 Germans were dead. Soviet military police arrived shortly thereafter to take custody of the Georgians, many of whom were later condemned by Moscow as traitors and imprisoned or shot. In subsequent decades, the communist regime softened its stance towards the Georgians of Texel and went so far as name some of the rebels that fought there as Heroes of the Soviet Union. In 2005, Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili even visited the island to honour his fallen countrymen. Monuments to the struggle adorn Texel to this day. The uprising is considered the final battle of the war in Europe.
V-Plus 101 Days
Germany had all but collapsed when the Type VII sub U-977 put to sea from Kristiansand, Norway on her very first war patrol. It was May 2, 1945 – less than a week before VE Day. The sub’s rookie captain, Heinz Schäffer, had orders to sail for the southern coast of England, slip undetected into Portsmouth harbour and sink as many British warships as possible before hostilities ceased. Recognizing the futility of the mission, the 24-year-old skipper instead made for Argentina to request political asylum. After a 107-day voyage, 66 consecutive days of which were spent submerged, the U-977 arrived in Mar del Plata, Argentina on Aug. 17. The sub and her crew formally requested amnesty. Instead they were turned over to the United States Navy. Schäffer eventually returned home and wrote a book about his astounding voyage: U-977 – 66 Tage unter Wasser or “U-977 – 66 Days Under Water”.
VE Plus 119
The very last German troops of the Second World War to call it quits turned themselves in to a band of Norwegian seal hunters on the remote Bear Island in the Barents Sea on Sept. 4, 1945 – nearly four months after VE Day! The small detachment had been sent to the distant Arctic outpost to establish a weather station sometime late in the war. Having lost radio contact with headquarters in May. They gave up without a fight.
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