Memorandum (Sunrise) – German Capitulation in Northern Italy (OSS)


(Memoranda for the President : Sunrise)(OFFICIAL USE ONLY)
Intelligence cables covering the capitulation of the German armies in northern Italy. Among the William J. Donovan papers are five volumes entitled OSS Reports to the White House containing carbons of memorandum predominantly transmitting or paraphrasing intelligence reports for the President’s personal attention.

They are characteristically introduced by a note to the President’s secretary, Miss Grace Tully : Dear Grace : Will you please hand the attached memorandum to the President ? I believe it will be of interest to him. They begin in modest quantity, the first volume covering a full two years and including some administrative matters such as requests for draft deferment; but those for the nine months beginning with July 1944 occupy three volumes, almost exclusively intelligence. After President Roosevelt’s death and the end of the war in Europe they taper off in the fifth volume bound, curiously, in reverse chronology and again include non substantive material, particularly concerning the formation of a peacetime central intelligence agency. The reports are for the most part not the finished intelligence that the President might now be expected to examine personally. They do include summaries of some Research and Analysis Branch estimates of the age distribution of German casualties, for example, or the Soviet Union’s population in 1970 – but the bulk of them are unedited reporting from individual case officers on subjects of particular importance or of particular interest to President Roosevelt. For the historian this minute but choice fraction of the total of OSS raw reporting constitutes a pre-selected documentary source of considerable value.

9 February 1945
Memorandum for the President

The following information has been transmitted by the OSS representative in Bern : Allen W. Dulles.

Alexander Constantin von Neurath, German Consul at Lugano, has just returned from a meeting with Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, Commander of German Army Group C Italy; Rudolph Rahn, German Ambassador to the Mussolini regime in North Italy; and Obergruppenfuehrer and General der Waffen SS Karl Wolff, the Higher SS and Police leader in Italy and chief of Himmler’s personal staff (*). Von Neurath declares that he did not gain the impression at the meeting that an immediate withdrawal of German forces in Italy was planned. According to Neurath, even high German officials in Italy appear to be somewhat surprised that the bulk of the German reinforcements for the Eastern Front have been coming from the west rather than from the south. Neurath feels that a possible explanation for this is that the German Army in Italy is being kept largely intact for eventual protection of the southern flank of the German “inner fortress” which would be based on the Bavarian and Austrian Alps. (*) Earlier memorandum had reported Von Neurath in contact with British representatives in Switzerland, seeking to arrange peace negotiations on behalf of SS Generals Wolff and Harster. Rahn had been mentioned early in December in connection with a Catholic Church plan for an understanding with the Partisans to facilitate the anticipated withdrawal of German forces from Italy with a minimum of war damage.

William Joseph (Wild Bill) Donovan (01/01/1883–02/08/1959) was a United States soldier, lawyer, intelligence officer and diplomat. Donovan is best remembered as the wartime head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. He is also known as the Father of American Intelligence and the Father of Central Intelligence. A decorated veteran of World War I, General Donovan is the only person to have received the four highest awards in the United States : the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal. He is also a recipient of the Silver Star and Purple Heart. Of Irish descent, Donovan was born in Buffalo, New York to first generation immigrants Anna Letitia (Tish) Donovan (née Lennon) and Timothy P. Donovan, of Ulster and County Cork origins respectively. His grandfather Timothy O’Donovan (Sr.) was from the town of Skibbereen, being raised there by an uncle, a parish priest, and married Donovan’s grandmother Mary Mahoney, who belonged to a propertied family of substantial means which disapproved of him. They would move first to Canada and then to New York, where their son Timothy (Jr.), Donovan’s father, would attempt to engage in a political career, but with little success.

William Joseph attended St Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and Niagara University before starring on the football team at Columbia University. On the field, he earned the nickname Wild Bill, which would remain with him for the rest of his life. Donovan graduated from Columbia in 1905 and was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, as well as the Knights of Malta. Donovan was a graduate of Columbia Law School and became an influential Wall Street lawyer. In 1912, Donovan formed and led a troop of cavalry of the New York State Militia. This unit was mobilized in 1916 and served on the US-Mexico Border during the American government’s campaign against Pancho Villa. During World War I, Maj William Donovan organized and led the 1st battalion of the 165th Regiment of the 42nd Division, the federalized designation of the famed 69th New York Volunteers, (the Fighting 69th). In France one of his aides was poet Joyce Kilmer, a fellow Columbia College alumnus. For his service near Landres et St Georges, France, on 14 and 15 October 1918, he received the Medal of Honor. By the end of the war he received a promotion to colonel, the Distinguished Service Cross and two Purple Hearts.

Medal of Honor Citation
Rank : Lt Col, US Army
Organization : 165th Infantry, 42d Division
Place and date : Near Landres et St Georges, France, Oct 14/15 1918
Entered service at : Buffalo, N.Y.
Born : 1 January 1883, Buffalo, N.Y.
G.O., No.: 56, W.D., 1922
Citation : Lt Col Donovan personally led the assaulting wave in an attack upon a very strongly organized position, and when our troops were suffering heavy casualties he encouraged all near him by his example, moving among his men in exposed positions, reorganizing decimated platoons, and accompanying them forward in attacks. When he was wounded in the leg by machine-gun bullets, he refused to be evacuated and continued with his unit until it withdrew to a less exposed position.

From 1922 to 1924, he was US Attorney for the Western District of New York, famous for his energetic enforcement of Prohibition. In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge named Donovan to the United States Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division as a deputy assistant to Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty. Donovan ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1922, and for Governor of New York in 1932. Assisting Donovan in his 1932 campaign was journalist James J. Montague, who served as personal adviser and campaign critic.

During the inter war years, Donovan traveled extensively in Europe and met with foreign leaders including Benito Mussolini of Italy. Donovan openly believed during this time that a second major European war was inevitable. His foreign experience and realism earned him the attention and friendship of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The two men were from opposing political parties, but were similar in personality. Because of this, Roosevelt came to highly value Donovan’s insights. Following Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the start of World War II in Europe, President Roosevelt began to put the United States on a war footing. This was a crisis of the sort that Donovan had predicted, and he sought out a responsible place in the wartime infrastructure. On the recommendation of Donovan’s friend United States Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Roosevelt gave him a number of increasingly important assignments. In 1940 and 1941, Donovan traveled as an informal emissary to Britain, where he was urged by Knox and Roosevelt to evaluate Britain’s ability to withstand Germany’s aggression. During these trips, Donovan met with key officials in the British war effort, including Winston Churchill and the directors of Britain’s intelligence services. Donovan returned to the US confident of Britain’s chances and enamored with the possibility of founding an American intelligence service modeled on that of the British.

On July 11, 1941, Donovan was named Coordinator of Information (COI). America’s foreign intelligence organizations at the time were fragmented and isolated from each other. The Army, Navy, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States Department of State, and other interests each ran their own intelligence operations, the results of which they were reluctant to share with the other departments. Donovan was the nominal director of this unwieldy system, but was plagued over the course of the next year with jurisdictional battles. Few of the leaders in the intelligence community were willing to part with any of the power that the current ad hoc system granted them. The FBI, for example, under the control of Donovan’s rival J. Edgar Hoover, insisted on retaining its autonomy in South America. Nevertheless, Donovan began to lay the groundwork for a centralized intelligence program. It was he who organized the COI’s New York headquarters in Room 3603 of Rockefeller Center in October, 1941 and asked Allen Dulles to head it; the offices Dulles took over had been the location of the operations of Britain’s MI6.

In 1942, the COI became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and Donovan was returned to active duty in his World War I rank of colonel (by war’s end, he would be promoted to major general). Under his leadership the OSS would eventually conduct successful espionage and sabotage operations in Europe and parts of Asia, but continued to be kept out of South America as a result of Hoover’s hostility to Donovan. In addition, the OSS was blocked from the Philippines by the antipathy of General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater. For many years the operations of the OSS remained secret, but in the 1970s and 1980s, significant parts of the OSS history were declassified and became public record.

As World War II began to wind to a close in early 1945, Donovan began to focus on preserving the OSS beyond the end of the war. After President Roosevelt’s death in April, however, Donovan’s political position, which had thrived because of his personal relationship to the President, was substantially weakened. Although he argued forcefully for the OSS’s retention, he found himself opposed by numerous opponents, including President Harry S. Truman, who personally disliked Donovan, as well as J. Edgar Hoover, who viewed the OSS as competition for his goal to expand the FBI’s investigative operations internationally. Public opinion turned against Donovan’s efforts when conservative critics rallied against the intelligence service that they called an ‘American Gestapo.’ After Truman disbanded the OSS in September 1945, Donovan returned to civilian life. Various departments of the OSS survived the agency’s dissolution, however, and less than two years later the Central Intelligence Agency was founded, a realization of Donovan’s hopes for a centralized peacetime intelligence agency.

Neurath also reports that Kesselring recently saw Field Marshal Gert von Rundstedt. The two men are on friendly terms, Neurath declares, but neither is yet ready to come over to the Western Allies. Neurath has a contact with Generalleutnant Siegfried Westphal, Rundstedt’s Chief of Staff, but was advised by Kesselring not to attempt to see Westphal immediately in view of the suspicions which such a trip might arouse.

24 February 1945
Memorandum for the President

The following information, transmitted by the OSS representative in Bern, has been supplied by a source of uncertain reliability, but appears plausible in the light of information from other sources available to the representative : An official of the German Embassy in North Italy whose name source did not disclose has come to Switzerland to convert to Swiss francs some marks belonging to members of Marshal Kesselring’s staff. This official declares that Marshal Kesselring and Rudolph Rahn Ambassador to the Mussolini regime in North Italy, are ready to surrender and even to fight against Hitler, if the Allies can make it worth their while. Kesselring, according to the official, feels that under present trends he is destined to retire to the Alps and, subordinate to SS officials, to die in the final resistance or be killed for not resisting the Allies. As long as Kesselring is still in Italy he feels he still has power and is willing to use that power to surrender, in return for concessions. The official did not make it clear as to whether concessions to Kesselring and his staff or to Germany in general are desired.

26 February 1945
Memorandum for the President

The following information, transmitted by the OSS representative in Bern, is a sequel to a memorandum dated 9 February : Alexander Constantin von Neurath, the German Consul at Lugano, while visiting his father (the former Foreign Minister and Protector of Bohemia and Moravia) near Stuttgart on 10 February, received a telephone call from Marshal Kesselring, advising him to go to a secret rendez-vous where he found Lt Gen Siegfried Westphal, chief of staff to Rundstedt, and Marshal Johannes Blaskowitz, former commander of Army Group “G” on the Western Front. Von Neurath knew Westphal well, having served with him for two years as liaison officer in North Africa; he knew Blaskowitz less well. The three frankly discussed the possibility of opening the Western Front to the Allies. Westphal and Blaskowitz questioned the value of taking such a step, if they were merely to be considered as war criminals. They added that it was increasingly difficult to organize any large-scale move to open the front because of the technical difficulties presented by the SS and the state of mind of the troops. They said that their armies included large elements of Germans from East Prussia and eastern Germany whose fighting qualities had been stiffened by the Soviet occupation of their home areas. These troops, they explained, motivated by the feeling that they have lost everything and having no homes or families to which to return, consider it better to stay on and fight. Westphal even declared that the troops sometimes refuse to obey orders from headquarters to retire, stating that since they are holding good positions and may not find as good ones in the rear, they prefer to fight it out where they are.

Neither Westphal nor Blaskowitz made definite suggestions. They appear however :
a) to be working with Kesselring;
b) to have uppermost in their minds the idea of opening up the Western and Italian Fronts to the Allies;
c) to be approaching the point where they might discuss such an arrangement on purely military lines with an American Army officer.

Prerequisites to such a discussion would be adequate security arrangements and personal assurances that they would not be included in the war criminals list but would be granted some basis to justify their action, such as an opportunity to help in the orderly liquidation and to prevent unnecessary destruction in Germany. Von Neurath, now back in Switzerland, plans to report to Kesselring his conversation with Westphal and Blaskowitz and to determine whether a routine reason can be found for Westphal to visit Kesselring.

The OSS representative comments that while von Neurath may obtain further direct access to Kesselring without arousing SS and SD suspicions, he must exercise the greatest care. The representative doubts that von Neurath will be guilty of indiscretion, since his own life is apparently at stake and since his background is non-Nazi. The representative describes von Neurath as not brilliant but a reasonably solid type who has excellent relations with the Reichswehr as a result of his long liaison work in North Africa. If Westphal makes the trip to Italy he could probably stay only a very short time without arousing suspicion, since Kesselring himself is already the subject of press rumors which may result in his elimination by Himmler

The London Daily Dispatch on 24 February carried a story from its Bern correspondent stating that Kesselring has offered secretly to the Allies to withdraw under pressure, leaving North Italian cities intact and preventing neo-Fascist destruction, in return for which he has asked for assurances that he would not be considered a war criminal and would be allowed to retire his troops to Germany to maintain order

The OSS representative declares that while he cannot predict the chances of successfully persuading Westphal and Kesselring to open up the Italian and Western Fronts simultaneously, he judges them to be sufficient to justify careful consideration of the idea. He believes that no political quid pro quo’s or impairment of the unconditional surrender principle would be involved if conversations were held between an American officer and these German officers. Such conversations, which could be held in the Lugano area on the Swiss side of the Italy-Swiss border, would have to await the outcome of von Neurath’s forthcoming meeting with Kesselring

The OSS representative in Caserta reports that AFHQ is interested in obtaining positive and authentic confirmation of Kesselring’s disposition to negotiate with the Allies. AFHQ feels that if Kesselring wishes to dispatch an emissary with an official message, he could find means to do so

First Action
8 March 1945
Memorandum for the President

The following information, transmitted by the OSS representative in Bern, is a sequel to memorandum dated Feb 9 and Feb 26 : Obergruppenfuehrer u. General der Waffen SS Karl Wolff, the Higher SS and Police Leader in Italy, and a German High Command representative presumably from General Kesselring’s staff, arrived in Lugano, Switzerland on the morning of 8 March. They are allegedly prepared to make definite commitments in regard to terminating German resistance in North Italy.
The OSS representative in Bern believes that, if Wolff is really working with Kesselring, the two Generals might effect an unconditional surrender. Absolute secrecy is essential to a successful surrender, and the OSS representative is ready to arrange with complete secrecy for the entry into Switzerland in civilian clothes of fully authorized representatives of the Supreme Allied Mediterranean Command. It is not clear whether this move is separate from the Neurath negotiations [described in the memorandum of 9 and 26 February] but the OSS representative in Bern believes they will merge in so far as the North Italian situation is concerned. Wolff is accompanied by Standartenfuhrer Dollmann, who has in the past claimed that he represented Kesselring, Rahn, Wolff, and Harster. Dollman and his aide, Guido Zimmer, had made indirect contact with the OSS representative on 2 March, and promised to return on 8 March with credentials and definite proposals. On the earlier date the suggestion was made to Dollmann that he bring with him an important Italian partisan leader as evidence of his good faith and ability to act. Dollman has reportedly brought along Ferruccio Parri, (Prime Minister after liberation) chief of the North Italian Patriots Unified Command. The above information has been given to AFHQ by our Caserta representative.

9 March 1945
Memorandum for the President

The OSS representative in Bern has transmitted the following information, a sequel to my memorandum of Mar 8 : Obergruppenfuehrer u. General der Waffen SS Karl Wolff has shown willingness to attempt to develop a program to take the German forces in North Italy out of the conflict. He considers simple military surrender difficult and prefers that capitulation be preceded by a statement by German leaders in North Italy informing the German people that the struggle is hopeless and will merely cause needless bloodshed and destruction. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring has not yet been won over, and his adherence is essential. Wolff is proceeding immediately to try to sell the program to Kesselring, and will maintain contact with the OSS representative in Bern. Wolff states that Rudolph Rahn, German Ambassador to Mussolini’s regime in North Italy, is in accord with the program.

Wolff apparently controls all police and border forces on the entire Swiss-Italian frontier and can arrange quick contact with top German personalities in North Italy. Wolff, who in his SS and Police capacity is directly responsible to Himmler, claims that Himmler is unaware of his activities. The OSS representative comments that this may or may not be true. The Italian partisan leader, Ferruccio Parri, whose delivery in Switzerland was requested as an evidence of good faith, was turned over unconditionally to the OSS representative even before the latter saw Wolff. Parri is in good health and does not know the reason for his release. A further meeting with Wolff was to take place during the day, 9 March. AFHQ and SHAEF have been informed of the above.

10 March 1945
Memorandum for the President

General Karl Wolff, who has arrived in Zurich to discuss a definite program for taking German forces in North Italy out of the war, is accompanied by the two men who made the preliminary contact with the OSS representative (Standartenfuehrer Dollman and his aide, Zimmern) as well as by Wolff’s military expert, Sturmbandfuehrer Wenner, and an Italian intermediary, Baron Luigi Parelli. The OSS representative consented to see only Wolff, who came to the former’s apartment with a Swiss intermediary on the evening of 8 March. The OSS representative and an associate, a former German Consul in Zurich, then talked with Wolff alone. The former Consul later saw Wolff and Dollman together. (Gero von Gaevernitz, who had emigrated to the United States in the thirties and was now one of Allen Dulles’ principal assistants. There seems to be no record, however, of the consular service here credited to him).

Wolff is a distinctive personality, and evidence indicates that he represents the more moderate element in Waffen SS combined with a measure of romanticism. He is probably the most dynamic personality in North Italy and, next to Kesselring, the most powerful. Wolff stated that the time had come when some German with power to act should lead Germany out of the war in order to end useless human and material destruction. He says he is willing to act and feels he can persuade Kesselring to cooperate, and that the two control the situation in North Italy. As far as the SS is concerned, Wolff states that he also controls Western Austria, since his authority includes the Vorarlberg, Tyrol, and the Brenner Pass with both its northern and southern approaches. Wolff declares that joint action by Kesselring and himself would leave Hitler and Himmler powerless to take effective countermeasures like the ones they employed in the 20 July crisis. Also Wolff feels that joint action by Kesselring and himself would have a vital repercussion on the German Army, particularly on the Western Front, since many Generals are only waiting for someone to take the lead. Wolff made no request concerning his personal safety or privileged treatment from the war criminal viewpoint. Wolff envisages the following procedures to bring about action :

(1) He will meet Kesselring during the week-end of 10 March in order to obtain a definite commitment to joint action. Wolff says he has had the closest possible personal relations with Kesselring for several years, and indicated that Kesselring’s problem was to reconcile such action with his oath of allegiance. Kesselring has insisted that, after a long military career throughout which he had always kept his oat : he was too old to change. Nevertheless Wolff believes he can be won over to see the senselessness of the struggle and admit that his duty to the German people is higher than that to the Fuehrer.

(2) With Kesselring, Wolff will draft an appeal to be signed by themselves, Rahn, and others. The appeal will set forth the uselessness of the struggle and the signers’ responsibility to the German people to end it, will call on military commanders in particular and Germans in general to disassociate themselves from Himmler-Hitler control, and will state that the Germans in North Italy are terminating hostilities.

(3) Wolff will make preparations to get this message to the German people and military commanders via radio and wireless.

(4) Provided Kesselring is won over, Wolff believes that he and Kesselring would come clandestinely to Switzerland within the week in order to meet Allied military men and coordinate purely military surrender moves with the appeal. Apparently no one on Kesselring’s immediate staff is suited to represent him for this purpose, his chief of staff not yet having been acquainted with the plan.

As evidence of his ability to act, Wolff has already unconditionally delivered Ferruccio Parri and Maj Usmiani, a former OSS agent in Milan, to the OSS representative in Bern. Parri had been imprisoned in Verona, Usmiani in Milan. Both men assumed at the time they were taken away by the SS that they were being led to execution. Neither yet knows the reason for the release. Wolff fully realizes Parri’s importance, and remarked to an intermediary that he was giving up his most important hostage. Wolff is prepared to demonstrate further his ability to act by :

(1) discontinuing active warfare against Italian partisans, merely keeping up whatever pretense is necessary pending execution of the plan.

(2) releasing to Switzerland several hundred Jews interned at Bozen (Bolzano); Wolff claims he has refused any ransom money offered in this connection, although some has possibly already been swallowed up by intermediaries.

(3) assuming full responsibility for the safety and good treatment of 350 British and American prisoners at Mantua, of whop : 150 are in the hospital and 200 on the southern outskirts; Wolff claims that these are all the British American prisoners held in North Italy, since they had been currently transferred to Germany.

(4) releasing to Switzerland, if he can be found, Sogno Franci, an Italian patriot working with CLNAI and the British; his release is particularly desired by Parri.

(5) facilitating as much as possible the return to North Italy of Italian officers presently held in Germany, who might be useful in the post-hostilities period.


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