These are the only colour photographs of the German surrender of World War Two. Sixty-Four years earlier there were being taken by a lowly clerk who hid behind a tree, one Ronald Playforth who was General Bernard Montgomery’s clerk since D-Day. The historic items have remained in Mr Playforth’s family ever since but have now been made public for the first time as they are being sold at auction.
In May 1945, the Nazi high command arrived at Montgomery’s HQ at Luneburg Heath, near Hamburg to sign the papers for the surrender of the German armies in Europe. Until now the only images of the momentous occasion in existence are the official black and white ones held by the Imperial War Museum. Playforth was of too low a rank to be present so he crept into the trees and bushes on the perimeter of the HQ tent and took four photographs using colour slides.
His pictures show Admiral Hans Georg von Friedeburg, the most senior member of the delegation, General Eberhard Kinzel, chief of staff of the north west Germany army, and Major Friedl, a 6ft 6ins Gestapo chief. They were received by Field Marshall Montgomery, with his customary black beret and army uniform, who, when the Germans tried to negotiate, reportedly gave them a ‘tongue lashing’ about the bombing of Coventry and the horrors of Belsen. The delegation reported back to their HQ and Admiral Karl Doenitz – Hitler’s successor – and were given permission to sign the surrender papers, which they did the next day, May 4. When it was all over Montgomery is said to have leaned back and said simply: ‘That concludes the surrender.’ Two of the German delegation – Kinzel and Friedeburg – committed suicide weeks later by taking cyanide while Friedl died in a car accident.