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Oberkommando der Wehrmacht

For other uses of OKW, see OKW (disambiguation).

The command flag for a Generalfeldmarschall as the Chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (1941 1945)
The command flag for a Generalfeldmarschall as the Chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (1941 1945)
The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) (English: "Supreme Command of the Armed Forces") was part of the command structure of the armed forces (Wehrmacht) of Nazi Germany during World War II.



The OKW was formed on 4 February 1938 following the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, which led to the dismissal of Generalfeldmarschall (and Reich War Minister) Werner von Blomberg and the dissolution of the Reichskriegsministerium (Reich War Ministry). The OKW replaced the War Ministry. The appointments made to the OKW and the motive behind the reorganization are commonly thought to be Adolf Hitler's desire to consolidate power and authority around his position as F hrer and Reich Chancellor (F hrer und Reichskanzler), to the detriment of the military leadership of the Wehrmacht.


Command Flag for the Chief of the OKW 1938 1941
Command Flag for the Chief of the OKW 1938 1941
By June 1938, the OKW comprised four departments:

  • Wehrmacht-F hrungsamt (WFA) - operational orders.
    • Abteilung Landesverteidigungsf hrungsamt (WFA/L) a subdepartment through which all details of operational planning were worked out, and from which all operational orders were communicated to the OKW.
  • Amt Ausland/Abwehr - foreign intelligence[1]
    • Chief of Staff
    • Zentralabteilung - central department
    • Abteilung Ausland - foreign
      • Gruppe I: Au en- und Wehrpolitik - foreign and defence policy
      • Gruppe II: Beziehung zu fremden Wehrm chten - relations with foreign militaries
      • Gruppe III: Fremde Wehrmachten, Meldesammelstelle des OKW - foreign militaries
      • Gruppe IV: Etappenorganisation der Kriegsmarine
      • Gruppe V: Auslandspresse - foreign media
      • Gruppe VI: Milit rische Untersuchungsstelle f r Kriegsv lkerrecht - research service for international laws of war
      • Gruppe VII: Kolonialfragen - colonial matters
      • Gruppe VIII: Wehrauswertung - defence analysis
    • Abteilung Nachrichtenbeschaffung - intelligence
      • Gruppe H: Geheimer Meldedienst Heer - army intelligence service
      • Gruppe M: Geheimer Meldedienst Marine - naval intelligence service
      • Gruppe L: Geheimer Meldedienst Luftwaffe - air intelligence service
      • Gruppe G: Technische Arbeitsmittel - technical equipment
      • Gruppe wi: Geheimer Meldedienst Wirtschaft - economic intelligence service
      • Gruppe P: Presseauswertung - media analysis
      • Gruppe i: Funknetz Abwehr Funkstelle - radio communications
    • Abteilung Sonderdienst - special service
      • Gruppe I: Minderheiten - minorities
      • Gruppe II: Sonderma nahmen - special measures
    • Abteilung Abwehr - counter-intelligence
      • F hrungsgruppe W: Abwehr in der Wehrmacht - counter-intelligence in the military
      • Gruppe Wi: Abwehr Wirtschaft - economic counter-intelligence
      • Gruppe C: Abwehr Inland - inland counter-intelligence
      • Gruppe F: Abwehr Ausland - foreign counter-intelligence
      • Gruppe D: Sonderdienst - special service
      • Gruppe S: Sabotageabwehr - counter-sabotage
      • Gruppe G: Gutachten - evaluation
      • Gruppe Z: Zentralarchiv - central archives
    • Auslands(telegramm)pr fstelle - foreign communications
      • Gruppe I: Sortierung - sorting
      • Gruppe II: Chemische Untersuchung - chemical testing
      • Gruppe III: Privatbriefe - private mail
      • Gruppe IV: Handelsbriefe - commercial mail
      • Gruppe V: Feldpostbriefe - military mail
      • Gruppe VI: Kriegsgefangenenbriefe - POWs' mail
      • Gruppe VII: Zentralkartei - central register
      • Gruppe VIII: Auswertung - analysis
      • Gruppe IX: Kriegsgefangenen-Brief-Auswertung - analysis of POWs' mail
  • Wirtschafts und R stungsamt - supply matters [2]
  • Amtsgruppe Allgemeine Wehrmachtsangelegenheiten - miscellaneous matters.
    • Abteilung Inland - inland
    • Allgemeine Abteilung - general
    • Wehrmachtsf rsorge- und versorgungsabteilung - supplies
    • Wehrmachtsfachschulunterricht - education
    • Wissenschaft - science
    • Wehrmachtsverwaltungsabteilung - administration
    • General zu besonderen Verf gung f r Kriegsgefangenenwesen - prisoners of war
    • Abteilung Wehrmachtverlustwesen (WVW) - casualties

The WFA replaced the Wehrmachtsamt (Armed Forces Office) which existed between 1935 and 1938. During this time Wilhelm Keitel had headed the ministry and Hitler promoted Keitel to head OKW under the title Chef des OKW, or Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces. As head of the WFA, Keitel appointed Max von Viebahn although after two months he was removed from command, and this post was not refilled until the promotion of Alfred Jodl. To replace Jodl at Abteilung Landesverteidigungsf hrungsamt (WFA/L), Walther Warlimont was appointed.[3]

The WFA was renamed as the Wehrmachtf hrungsstab (Wfst) in August 1940. In December 1941 further changes took place with Abteilung Landesverteidigungsf hrungsamt (WFA/L) being merged into the Wehrmacht-F hrungsamt and losing its role as a subordinate organization. These changes were largely cosmetic however as key staff remained in post and continued to fulfill the same duties.

The OKW directed the operations of the German Armed Forces during World War II. The OKW was almost always represented at daily situation conferences (Lagevortr ge) by Jodl, Keitel, and the officer serving as Hitler's adjutant. During these conferences situation reports prepared by the head of WFA/L would be delivered to Hitler and then discussed. Following these discussions, Hitler would issue further operational orders. These orders were then relayed back to WFA/L by Jodl along with the minutes of the meeting. These would then be converted into orders for issuance to the appropriate commanders.

OKW in operation

In theory, the OKW served as the military general staff for the Third Reich, coordinating the efforts of the Army, Navy, and Air Force (Heer, Kriegsmarine, and Luftwaffe). In practice, the OKW acted as Hitler's personal military staff, translating his ideas into military orders, and issuing them to the three services while having little control over them. However, as the war progressed the OKW found itself exercising increasing amounts of direct command authority over military units, particularly in the West. This created a situation such that by 1942 the OKW held the de facto command of Western forces while the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres) (OKH) exercised de facto command of the Eastern Front. It was not until 28 April 1945 (2 days before his suicide) that Hitler placed OKH under OKW, giving OKW command of forces on the Eastern Front.[4]

Setting different parts of the Nazi bureaucracy to compete for his favor in areas where their administration overlapped was a standard tactic employed by Hitler to reinforce his authority; and just as in other areas of government, there was a rivalry between the OKW and the OKH. Since most German operations during World War II were Army controlled (with Luftwaffe support), the OKH demanded control over German military forces. Nevertheless, Hitler decided against the OKH and in favor of the OKW overseeing operations in many land theaters. As the war progressed more and more influence moved from the OKH to the OKW, with Norway being the first "OKW war theater". More and more areas came under complete control of the OKW. Finally only the Eastern Front remained the domain of the OKH. However, as the Eastern Front was by far the primary battlefield of the German military, the OKH was still influential, particularly as Hitler was commander-in-chief of the OKH (Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres) from December 1941 until his suicide on 30 April 1945.

The OKW ran military operations on the Western front, in North Africa, and in Italy. In the west operations were further split between the OKW and Oberbefehlshaber West (OBW, Commander in Chief West), who was Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt (succeeded by Field Marshal G nther von Kluge).

There was even more fragmentation since the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe operations had their own commands (Oberkommando der Marine (OKM) and Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL)) which, while theoretically subordinate, were largely independent from the OKW or the OBW.

During the entire period of the war, the OKW was led by Keitel, who reported directly to Hitler, from whom most operational orders actually originated as Oberster Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht (Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces).

Albrecht von Hagen, a member of the failed assassination attempt on Hitler on 20 July 1944, was stationed here to be responsible for the courier service between military posts in Berlin and Hitler's secret military headquarters known as the Wolf's Lair.

International Military Tribunal

The OKW was indicted but acquitted of being a criminal organization during the Nuremberg Trials. Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl however were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. Jodl was posthumously acquitted of the main charges against him in 1952, six years after sentence was carried out.

See also

Notes and references

Further reading

  • Greiner, Helmut. Die Oberste Wehrmachtf hrung 1939 1943 (1951).
  • Warlimont, Walther. Im Hauptquartier der deutschen Wehrmacht (1962).

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