CBC Digital Archives

VE-Day countdown: 'Agony of defeat' for Germans in Italy

Day by day, the news got better as the Second World War wound down in Europe. Sixty years ago, CBC Radio brought home reports of retreating Germans, freed prisoners of war, captured spies and surrender in Italy. But with the end of hostilities came dark news of hellish concentration camps, starving civilians and a rocky future for U.S.-Soviet relations. CBC Archives counts down the days to victory in Europe.

May 2, 1945: CASERTA, Italy -- Something big is about to happen. Inside a frescoed Italian castle, a crystal inkstand and fountain pen sit at the ready on a long table. Then 16 high-ranking Allied officers file in, soon followed by two German officers in civilian clothes. The purpose of the meeting is betrayed by the expressions the Germans wear: "I could well see the agony of defeat and the tension of surrender on their faces," says reporter Patrick Smith in this CBC Radio clip.

The two sides are meeting to sign the terms of an unconditional German surrender in Italy -- the first surrender on any front. As motion-picture cameras roll, the Germans sign the agreement that awaits them. Between 600,000 and 900,000 German troops in Italy and parts of Austria will stop fighting at noon on May 2, 1945. Smith concludes: "The collapse of the southern front means that the end of all co-ordinated German resistance in Europe can't be far off."
• The Italian fascist and former leader of the country Benito Mussolini was executed by Italian partisans on April 28, 1945.
• The Germans no longer occupied all of Italy by the end of the war. Rather, they held a region in the north dubbed the Salò Republic, a fascist puppet state ruled by Mussolini.
• The Allies had taken most of Italy after invading Sicily in July 1943.

• The surrender, which began as a German initiative, was covertly engineered by U.S. secret agent Allen Dulles of the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the CIA). Under "Operation Sunrise," Dulles negotiated with Nazi Karl Wolff for the surrender of the Germans in Italy.
• The Americans deliberately left the Soviets out of the negotiations. Their exclusion heightened Soviet distrust of the Allies and contributed to the tensions of the Cold War that followed.

• Italy was nearly a forgotten front by the end of the war. After the June 1944 invasion at Normandy on D-Day, the Allies focussed their efforts on northern Europe.
• The Canadians had largely pulled out of Italy by the time of this clip. They left in February 1945 to support the Allied push through Holland and Germany.
• See the CBC Archives topic on The Italian Campaign.

• The signing of the surrender agreement took place at the royal palace at Caserta near Naples, Italy. The palace was one of the largest buildings constructed in Europe in the 18th century.
• The palace served as Allied headquarters during the Italian campaign. It also housed a military hospital from December 1943 to September 1945.
• In 1997 the United Nations named the royal palace at Caserta a World Heritage Site.

• See the CBC Archives topic Victory! The End the of War in Europe for more material on VE-Day.
Medium: Radio
Program: War Dispatches
Broadcast Date: May 2, 1945
Reporter: Patrick Smith
Duration: 9:31

Last updated: April 18, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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