The Wehrmacht ( (Defence Force) from , to defend and , power, force, cognate to English might) was the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air force).
Origin and use of the term
Before the National Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party assumed control of the German government in 1933, the term Wehrmacht generically described a nation s home defence forces, analogous to the German Streitmacht foreign war forces, thus, Britische Wehrmacht denoted British defence forces. The term Wehrmacht is in Article 47 of the 1919 Weimar Constitution, establishing that: Der Reichspr sident hat den Oberbefehl ber die gesamte Wehrmacht des Reiches ( The National President holds supreme command of all armed forces of the nation ). From 1919, Germany s national defence force was known as the Reichswehr, until its renaming as the Wehrmacht on 16 March 1935.
After World War II (1939 45), the Allies abolished the Wehrmacht. In 1955, when the western Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) remilitarized, its armed forces were named the Bundeswehr ("Federal Defence"). In 1956, upon formal establishment, the armed forces of the Communist, east German Democratic Republic (known for short in English as the GDR, or for short in German as the DDR) were named the Nationale Volksarmee (National People's Army), some of whom, with mat riel, were incorporated to the Bundeswehr when the German reunification consolidated the two Germanies in 1990.
In German usage, Wehrmacht denotes all of the armed forces of Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, in English writing Wehrmacht is often used to refer specifically to the land forces (army); the correct German for this is Heer.
For branch-of-service identification, Wehrmacht vehicles bore alpha-numeric identity licence plates: WH for the Heer, WL for the Luftwaffe, WM for the Kriegsmarine. SS vehicles bore the identity licence prefix SS, always depicted with the double Sigrunen of the force.
Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht
The Waffen-SS, the combat branch of the SS (the Nazi Party's paramilitary organization), became the de facto fourth branch of the Wehrmacht, as it expanded from three regiments to 38 divisions by 1945. Although the SS was autonomous and existed in parallel to the Wehrmacht, the Waffen-SS field units were placed under the operational control of the Supreme High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, OKW) or the Supreme High Command of the Army (Oberkommando des Heeres, OKH).
Competence struggles hampered organization in the German armed forces, as OKW, OKH, OKL ( had its own ground forces, including tank divisions) and often worked concurrently and not as a joint command.
After World War I ended with the armistice of 11 November 1918, the armed forces were dubbed Friedensheer (peace army) in January 1919. In March 1919, the national assembly passed a law founding a 420,000 strong preliminary army as Vorl ufige Reichswehr. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles were announced in May, and in June Germany was forced to sign the treaty which, among other terms, imposed severe constraints on the size of Germany's armed forces. The army was limited to one hundred thousand men with an additional fifteen thousand in the navy. The fleet was to consist of at most six battleships, six cruisers, and twelve destroyers. Submarines, tanks and heavy artillery were forbidden and the air force was dissolved. A new post-war military (the Reichswehr) was established on 23 March 1921. General conscription was abolished under another mandate of the Versailles treaty.
The limitions imposed by Versailles turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the military. That the Reichswehr was limited to 100, 000 men ensured that under the new leadership of Hans von Seeckt that the Reichswehr kept only the very best officers. The American historians' Alan Millet and Williamson Murray wrote "In reducing the officers corps, Seeckt chose the new leadership from the best men of the general staff with ruthless disregard for other constituencies, such as war heroes and the nobility". Seeckt's determination that the Reichswehr be an elite cadre force that would serve as the nucleus of an expanded military when the chance for restoring conscription came essentially led to the creation of a new army, based upon, but very different from the army that existed in World War I. Through Seeckt retired in 1926, the army that went to war in 1939 was largely his creation. In the 1920s, Seeckt and his officers developed new doctrines emphasizing speed, aggression, combined arms and initiatve on the part of lower officers to take advantage of momentary opportunities. Germany was forbidden to have an air force by Versailles, but Seeckt who saw the advantages of air warfare created a clandestine cadre of air force officers in the early 1920s. Seeckt's cadre of secret air officers saw the role of an air force as winning air superiority, tactical and stategic bombing and providing ground support. That the Luftwaffe did not develop a stategic bombing force in the 1930s was not due to a lack of interest, but because of economic limitations. The leadership of the Navy led by Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, a close prot g of Alfred von Tirpitz was dedicated to the idea of reviving Tirpitz's High Seas Fleet. Officers who believed in submarine warfare led by Admiral Karl D nitz were in a minority before 1939. Naval officers saw war almost entirely in tactical and technological terms, and had almost no interest in operational matters.
By 1922, Germany had begun covertly circumventing these conditions. A secret collaboration with the Soviet Union began after the treaty of Rapallo. Major-General Otto Hasse traveled to Moscow in 1923 to further negotiate the terms. Germany helped the Soviet Union with industrialization and Soviet officers were to be trained in Germany. German tank and air force specialists could exercise in the Soviet Union and German chemical weapons research and manufacture would be carried out there along with other projects. Around 300 German pilots received training at Lipetsk, some tank training took place near Kazan and toxic gas was developed at Saratov for the German army.
Hitler and reinstatement of conscription
After the death of President Paul von Hindenburg on 2 August 1934, Hitler assumed the office of Reichspr sident, and thus became commander in chief. All officers and soldiers of the German armed forces had to swear a personal oath of loyalty to the F hrer, as Adolf Hitler was called. By 1935, Germany was openly flouting the military restrictions set forth in the Versailles Treaty, and conscription was reintroduced on 16 March 1935.
While the size of the standing army was to remain at about the 100,000-man mark decreed by the treaty, a new group of conscripts equal to this size would receive training each year. The conscription law introduced the name Wehrmacht, so not only can this be regarded as its founding date, but the organization and authority of the Wehrmacht can be viewed as Nazi creations regardless of the political affiliations of its high command (who nevertheless all swore the same personal oath of loyalty to Hitler). The insignia was a simpler version of the Iron Cross (the straight-armed so-called Balkenkreuz or beamed cross) that had been used as an aircraft and tank marking in late World War I, beginning in March and April 1918. The existence of the Wehrmacht was officially announced on 15 October 1935.
The total number of soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht during its existence from 1935-1945 is believed to have approached 18.2 million. This figure was put forward by historian R diger Overmans and represents the total number of people who ever served in the Wehrmacht, and not the force strength of the Wehrmacht at any point.
Legally, the Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht was Adolf Hitler in his capacity as Germany's head of state, a position he gained after the death of President Paul von Hindenburg in August 1934. In the reshuffle in 1938, Hitler became the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and retained that position until his suicide on 30 April 1945. Administration and military authority initially lay with the war ministry under Generalfeldmarschall Werner von Blomberg. After von Blomberg resigned in the course of the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair (1938), the ministry was dissolved and the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW) under Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel was put in its place. It was headquartered in W nsdorf near Zossen, and a field echelon (Feldstaffel) was stationed wherever the F hrers headquarters were situated at a given time. Army work was also coordinated by the German General Staff, an institution that had been developing for more than a century and which had sought to institutionalize military perfection.
The OKW coordinated all military activities but Keitel's sway over the three branches of service (army, air force, and navy) was rather limited. Each had its own High Command, known as Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH, army), Oberkommando der Marine (OKM, navy), and Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL, air force). Each of these high commands had its own general staff. In practice the OKW had operational authority over the Western Front whereas the Eastern Front was under the operational authority of the OKH. Flag for the Commander-in-Chief of the German Armed Forces (1935 1938).
- Supreme High Command of the Armed Forces (OKW)
- Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces
- Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces
- Vice Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces
General Werner von Blomberg (1933 1935), promoted Generaloberst 1933
- Chief of the Armed Forces Supreme High Command Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel (1938 1945)
- Chief of the Operations Staff (Wehrmachtf hrungsstab) Generaloberst Alfred Jodl
- Supreme High Command of the Army (OKH)
- Army Commanders-in-Chief
- Chiefs of Staff of the German Army
- Supreme High Command of the Navy (OKM)
- War Navy Commanders-in-Chief
- "Admiral Inspector": Gro admiral Erich Raeder (1943 1945) (sinecure)
- Supreme High Command of the Air Force (OKL)
- Air Force Commanders-in-Chief
(!) Promotion to field marshal was considered as something which is only done in wartime.
The OKW was also given the task of central economic planning and procurement, but the authority and influence of the OKW's war economy office (Wehrwirtschaftsamt) was challenged by the procurement offices (Waffen mter) of the single branches of service as well as by the Ministry for Armament and Munitions (Reichsministerium f r Bewaffnung und Munition), into which it was merged after the ministry was taken over by Albert Speer in early 1942.
A Heeresadler ("Army Eagle") decal for the helmets of the Wehrmacht Heer (model 1942).
The German Army furthered concepts pioneered during World War I, combining ground (Heer) and Air Force (Luftwaffe) assets into combined arms teams. Coupled with traditional war fighting methods such as encirclements and the "battle of annihilation", the German military managed many lightning quick victories in the first year of World War II, prompting foreign journalists to create a new word for what they witnessed: Blitzkrieg.
The Heer entered the war with a minority of its formations motorized; infantry remained approximately 90% foot-borne throughout the war, and artillery was primarily horse-drawn. The motorized formations received much attention in the world press in the opening years of the war, and were cited as the reason for the success of the invasions of Poland (September 1939), Norway and Denmark (April 1940), Belgium, France and Netherlands (May 1940), Yugoslavia and Greece (April 1941) and the early campaigns in the Soviet Union (June 1941).
After Hitler declared war on the United States in December 1941, Germany and other Axis powers found themselves engaged in campaigns against three major industrial powers. At this critical juncture, Hitler assumed personal control of the Wehrmacht high command, and his personal failings as a military commander arguably contributed to major defeats in early 1943, at Stalingrad and Tunis in North Africa.
The Panzerj ger-Abteilung 39 ('Tank-hunter battalion 39', part of "Kampfgruppe Gr f", part of the 21. Panzer Division) of the Afrika Korps on the move.
The Germans' military strength was managed through mission-based tactics (rather than order-based tactics) and an almost proverbial discipline. In public opinion, the German Army was, and sometimes still is, seen as a high-tech army. However, such advanced equipment, while featured much in propaganda, was often only available in small numbers or late in the war, as overall supplies of raw materials and armaments ran low. For example, only 40% of all units were motorized, baggage trains often relied on horse-drawn trailers and many soldiers went by foot or used bicycles (Radfahrtruppen).
Some historians, such as British author and ex-newspaper editor Max Hastings, consider that "... there's no doubt that man for man, the German army was the greatest fighting force of the second world war". Similar views were also expressed in his book Overlord: D-Day and the battle for Normandy, while in the book World War II : An Illustrated Miscellany, Anthony Evans writes: "The German soldier was very professional and well trained, aggressive in attack and stubborn in defence. He was always adaptable, particularly in the later years when shortages of equipment were being felt". However, their integrity was compromised by war crimes, especially those committed on the eastern front. They were over-extended and out-maneuvered before Moscow in 1941, and in North Africa and Stalingrad in 1942, and from 1942-1943 onward, were in constant retreat. Other Axis powers fought with them, especially Hungary and Romania, as well as many volunteers from other nations. Wehrmacht infantrymen marching across Russia's vast steppes, 1942. Among the foreign volunteers who served in the Heer during World War II were ethnic Germans, Dutch, and Scandinavians along with people from the Baltic states and the Balkans. Russians fought in the Russian Liberation Army or as Hilfswilliger. Non-Russians from the Soviet Union formed the Ostlegionen. These units were all commanded by General Ernst August K string and represented about five percent of the forces under the OKH.
The Luftwaffe (German Air Force), led by Hermann G ring, was a key element in the early Blitzkrieg campaigns (Poland, France 1940, USSR 1941). The Luftwaffe concentrated on fighters and (small) tactical bombers, like the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter and the Junkers Ju 87 (Stuka) dive bomber.
The planes cooperated closely with the ground forces. Massive numbers of fighters assured air supremacy, and the bombers would attack command- and supply lines, depots, and other support targets close to the front. They soon achieved an aura of invincibility and terror, where both civilians and soldiers were struck with fear, and started fleeing as soon as the planes were spotted. This caused confusion and disorganisation behind enemy lines, and in conjunction with the "ghost" Panzer Divisions that seemed to be able to appear anywhere, made the Blitzkrieg campaigns highly effective.
As the war progressed, Germany's enemies drastically increased their aircraft production, air supremacy was lost and allied forces gradually gained air superiority, particularly in the West of the theatre of operations. In the second half of the war, the Luftwaffe was reduced to insignificance. As the Western allies started a strategic bombing campaign against German industrial targets they established air supremacy over Germany which the Luftwaffe was unable to contest, leaving German cities open to Allied carpet bombing and massive destruction. Crete]].
Air Force units in a ground role
The Luftwaffe contributed many units of ground forces to the war in Russia as well as the Normandy front. In 1940, the Fallschirmj ger (paratroops) conquered the vital Belgian Fort Eben-Emael and took part in the airborne invasion of Norway, but after suffering heavy losses in the Battle of Crete, large scale airdrops were discontinued. Operating as crack infantry, the 1st Fallschirmj ger Division fought in all the theatres of the war. Notable actions include the bloody Monte Cassino, the last-ditch defence of Tunisia and numerous key battles on the eastern front. A Fallschirmj ger armored division the Fallschirm-Panzer Division 1 Hermann G ring was also formed and was heavily engaged in Sicily and at Salerno.
Separate from the elite Fallschirmj ger, the Luftwaffe also fielded regular infantry in the Luftwaffe Field Divisions. These units were basic infantry formations formed from Luftwaffe personnel. Due to a lack of competent officers and unhappiness by the recruits at having been forced into an infantry role, morale was low in these units. By G ring's personal order they were intended to be restricted to defensive duties in quieter sectors to free up front line troops for combat.
The Luftwaffe being in charge of Germany's anti-aircraft defences also used thousands of teenage Luftwaffenhelfer to support the Flak units.
The German Navy (Kriegsmarine) played a major role in World War II as control over the commerce routes in the Atlantic was crucial for Germany, Britain and later the Soviet Union. In the Battle of the Atlantic, the initially successful German U-boat fleet arm was eventually defeated due to Allied technological innovations like sonar, radar, and the breaking of the Enigma code. Large surface vessels were few in number due to construction limitations by international treaties prior to 1935. The "pocket battleships" and were important as commerce raiders only in the opening year of the war. No aircraft carrier was operational, as German leadership lost interest in the which had been launched in 1938. Following the loss of the in 1941, with Allied air superiority threatening the remaining battlecruisers in French Atlantic harbors, the ships were ordered to make the Channel Dash back to German ports. Operating from fjords of Norway, which had been occupied in 1940, convoys from the U.S. to the Soviet port of Murmansk could be intercepted even though the spent most of her career as Fleet in being. After the appointment of Karl Doenitz as Grand Admiral of the Kriegsmarine (in the aftermath of the Battle of the Barents Sea), Germany stopped constructing battleships and cruisers in favor of U-boats.
Theaters and campaigns
Invasion of Poland]] of 1939.
The Wehrmacht directed combat operations during World War II (from 1 September 1939-8 May 1945) as the German Reich's Armed Forces umbrella command organization. After 1941 the OKH became the de facto Eastern Theatre higher echelon command organization for the Wehrmacht, excluding Waffen-SS except for operational and tactical combat purposes. The OKW conducted operations in the Western Theater.
For a time, the Axis Mediterranean Theater and the North African Campaign was conducted as a joint campaign with the Italian Army, and may be considered a separate theatre.
North African Campaign in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt between the UK and Commonwealth (and later, U.S.) forces and the Axis forces.
- The Italian "Theater" (1943 45) was in fact a continuation of the Axis defeat in North Africa, and was a Campaign for defence of Italy.
The operations by the Kriegsmarine in the North and Mid-Atlantic can also be considered as separate theaters considering the size of the area of operations and their remoteness from other theaters.
Soviet Union, October 1941. The Eastern Wehrmacht campaigns included:
- Czechoslovakian campaign
- Austrian Anschluss campaign
Battle of Poland campaign (Fall Weiss) a joint invasion by Germany, the Soviet Union and Slovakia.
Balkans and Greece (Operation Marita)
Operation Barbarossa Campaign, also known as the Eastern Front, was the largest and most lethal campaign that the Wehrmacht Heer fought in during World War II. The Campaign against the Soviet Union was strategically the most crucial for Germany and its allies during World War II because of the economic and political repercussions defeat of the Soviet Union would have had on the outcome of the war, including that of the conflict with the UK and the U.S. in the Western Theater. The Eastern Front was also the Theater that demanded more resources than any other Theater throughout the war. The large area covered by the Eastern Front necessitated the division of the Theatre in to four separate Strategic Directions overseen by the Army Group North, Army Group Centre, Army Group South, and the Army Norway. These commands would conduct their own interdependent strategic campaigns within the theater.
Battle of the Caucasus.
- A subset of the Eastern Front was a number of anti-partisan operations against guerrilla units and counter-insurgency operations largely by Waffen-SS units behind Axis lines.
However, Hitler demanded that the Wehrmacht had to fight on other fronts, sometimes three simultaneously, thus stretching its resources too thin. By 1944, even the defence of Germany became impossible.
German soldiers marching past the Arc de Triomphe.
Phony War (Sitzkrieg).
- The Denmark campaign as Operation Weser bung
- The Norwegian Campaign.
- The largest campaign in the Western Theatre involving combat was conducted against the Netherlands, Belgium, etc. and France (Fall Gelb) in 1940. This predominantly land campaign evolved into two subsequent campaigns, one by the Luftwaffe against the UK, and the other by the Kriegsmarine against the strategic supply routes linking the UK to the rest of the World.
- The Western Front resumed in 1944 against the Allied forces with the Battle of Normandy.
- The strategic air campaigns the Luftwaffe won in 1939 and 1940 in Poland and France ended with the Battle of Britain. From 1941 to the end of 1943, the Luftwaffe entered a long and bloody air battle with the Red Air Force that affected its participation in the campaign against the RAF. Allied air forces enjoyed aerial superiority on all three Theaters by the summer of 1944. In respect to the Battle of Britain, had the Luftwaffe pursued its early goal of bombing the RAF airfields and fighting a war of attrition, it is likely they would have been victorious. However, in response to a string of events beginning with a small-scale air raid on Berlin by British bombers, Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe bomber forces to attack British cities. These reprisal attacks shifted the weight of the Luftwaffe away from the RAF and onto British civilians, allowing the RAF to rebuild its fighting strength and, within a few short months, turn the tide against the Luftwaffe in the skies above England.
- The Battle of the Atlantic resulted in early Kriegsmarine successes that forced Winston Churchill to confide after the war that the only real threat he felt to Britain's survival was the "U-Boat peril."
Toila war cemetery in Estonia. There are 2,132 graves of German soldiers whose names are carved on these memorial stones. More than 6,000,000 soldiers were wounded during the conflict, while more than 11,000,000 became prisoners. In all, approximately 5,533,000 soldiers from Germany and other nationalities fighting for the German armed forces including the Waffen-SS are estimated to have been killed in action, died of wounds, died in custody or gone missing in World War II. Included in this number are 215,000 Soviet citizens conscripted by Germany.
According to Frank Biess, "German casualties took a sudden jump with the defeat of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad in January 1943, when 180,310 soldiers were killed in one month. Among the 5.3 million Wehrmacht casualties during the Second World War, more than 80 percent died during the last two years of the war. Approximately three-quarters of these losses occurred on the Eastern front (2.7 million) and during the final stages of the war between January and May 1945 (1.2 million)." Jeffrey Herf wrote that:
Politics of the Wehrmacht
The German military had traditionally functioned as a "state within the state" with a very wide measure of institutional autonomy. Thus Chancellor Bismarck had been forbiddden to attend meetings of the Supreme Council of War because as it was insultingly phrased "Lest this civilian might betray the secrets of the State". In the First World War, the military began to complain more and more that both the Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and the Emperor Wilhelm were grossly incompetent, and needed to step aside in order to allow the military to win the war. In March April 1915, Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz stated that the only thing that was keeping Germany from winning the war was the poor leadership of the Chancellor and the Emperor, and his solution was a plan in which Bethmann-Hollweg be sacked and the office of Chancellor abolished, the Kaiser would "temporarily" abdicate, and Field Marshal Hindenburg be given the new office of "Dictator of the Reich" concentrating all political and military power into his hands in order to win the war. Through the Tirpitz plan was not implemented, the very fact it was mooted showed the extent of military dissatisfaction with the existing leadership, and the strength of the "state within the state" in that Tirpitz was not punished despite having essentially called for deposing the Emperor. In August 1916, Germany become a de facto military dictatorship under the duumvirate of Field Marshal Hindenburg and General Ludendorff who ruled Germany until 1918. During the rule of the "silent dictatorship" of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, the German government advocated a set of frankly imperalist war aims calling for the annexation of most Europe and Africa that in many ways were a prototype for the war aims of the Second World War. In October 1918, in order to avoid responsibility for losing the First World War, the military returned power to the civilians and transformed Germany into a democracy, largely because the Allies made it clear that they would never sign an armistice with the Hindenburg-Ludendorff duumvirate . After the November Revolution of 1918, there were demands for the dissolution of the military that had led to such a defeat, but on December 23, 1918, the Provisional government under Friedrich Ebert came under attack from the radical left-wing "People's Marine Division". Ebert called General Wilhelm Gr ner for help, and what resulted was the so-called Ebert Groener pact, where in return for saving the government, the military would be allowed to retain its traditional and informal "state within the state" status. What immediately followed Ebert s phone call was a fiasco as the government had already saved itself from being overthrown by capitulating to the demands of the rebels for the payment of back pay by the time that the troops Gr ner sent arrived, and the attempt by the military to storm the former Imperial stables, which was the base of the Red sailors ended in failure the next day. Despite this, Gr ner assured Ebert that he could still count on the military to fulfill their side of the pact as he was busy creating a new force of volunteers to be known as the Freikorps, which Gr ner promised would not let the government down the next time. In return for crushing the Communist Spartacus League in early January 1919 with its new Freikorps units, the government ended all efforts to democratize the military later that month. Under the constitution of the Weimar Republic, no soldier of the Reichswehr was allowed to be a member of a political party nor to vote in an election. This was because in theory there was a strict separation between politics and the armed forces. The same theory applied later to the Wehrmacht.
In the 1920s, the military did not accept the democratic Weimar Republic as legitimate, and so the Reichswehr under the leadership of Hans von Seeckt became even more so than under the monarchy a state within the state that operated largely outside the control of politicians. During the Kapp Putsch of March 1920, Seeckt disobyed orders from the Defence minister Gustav Noske, the Chancellor Gustav Bauer and the Reich President Friedrich Ebert to suppress the putsch, claiming "There can be no question of sending the Reichwehr to fight these people". Seeckt's actions were entirely illegal as under the Weimar constitution the President was the Supreme Commander in Chief, and moreover Seeckt had violated the Reichswehreid, which committed the military to defending the republic. Seeckt ordered the military to disregard Ebert's orders to defend the republic, and instead assumed a stance of apparent neutrality, which in effect meant siding with the Kapp putsch by depriving the government of the means of defending itself. The position of the military as "state within the state" led to only those few officers and soldiers who had attempted to defend the republic being dismissed, and the officers led by Seeckt who had done nothing to defend the republic were allowed to continue with their jobs. The same officers who violated the Reichswehreid during the Kapp putsch by disobying Ebert's orders to suppress the putsch were later to claim that the Hitler oath made it impossible for them to resist the Nazi regime.
Right from the onset, Seeckt made it clear that he wanted to see another world war. Seeckt's famous "Memo on the Russian Question" of September 11, 1922 ended with the words:
"The German nation, with its Socialist majority, would be averse from a policy of action, which has to reckon with the possiblity of war. It must be admitted that the spirit surrounding the Peace Delegation at Versailles has not yet disappeared, and that stupid cry of 'No more war!' is widely echoed. It is echoed by many bourgeois-pacifist elements, but among the workers and also among the members of the official Social Democratic Party there are many who are not prepared to eat out of the hands of France and Poland. It is true that there is a widespread and understandable need for peace among the German people. The clearest heads, when considering the pros and cons of war, will be those of the military, but to pursue a policy means to take a lead. In spite of everything, the German people will follow the leader in the struggle for their existence. Our task to prepare for this struggle, for we shall not be spared it".
In this regard, it is significant that after meeting Adolf Hitler on March 11, 1923 that Seeckt wrote: "We were one in our aim; only our paths were different".
In 1927, the Phoebus film studio went bankrupt. Subsequently, bankruptcy proceedings established that the studio was a front company created by the Reichsmarine to obtain nitrate and that the navy had poured millions of Reichmarks to subsidize the financially struggling studio over the last few years. These disclosures of his knowledge of this matter forced the Defence minister Otto Gessler to resign in disgrace in January 1928. The military took advantage of the opening created by Gessler s resignation to convince President Paul von Hindenburg to impose General Wilhelm Gr ner as the new Defence minister. Gessler was the last civilian Defence minister of the Weimar republic, and until the abolition of the War ministry by Hitler in 1938, every Defence/War minister was a serving general. The practice of having active duty generals run the Bendlerstrasse (the street in Berlin where the Defence/War ministry was located) in turn further weakened the already weak civilian control of the military, and also led to a further politicization of the military since through their representative in the Cabinet the military become involved in issues that had nothing to do with military matters (through that the fact that Cabinet virtually stopped meeting after 1934 did weaken this venue of excising power).
Reflecting this position as a state within the state , the Reichswehr created the Ministeramt or Office of the Ministerial Affairs in 1928 under General Kurt von Schleicher to lobby politicians ostensibly for improved military budgets, but in fact the Ministeramt was the vehicle for military interference with politics. German historian Eberhard Kolb wrote that:
from the mid-1920s onwards the Army leaders had developed and propagated new social conceptions of a militarist kind, tending towards a fusion of the military and civilian sectors and ultimately a totalitarian military state (Wehrstaat) .
In 1926, Seeckt was ousted by the so-called "modern" fraction within the Reichswehr as a group of more technocratic offiers were known, which saw Seeckt as too conservative as he was less willing to see the sort of radical reorganization of German society that the "modern" fraction wanted. Free Arabian Legion]] in Greece, September 1943. What the German military wanted to see above all was the Wiederwehraftmachung of Germany, namely the total militarization of German society in order to fight a total war and thus ensure that Germany did not lose the next war. As such, what both the Nazis and the German Army wanted to see was Germany remade into a totally militarized Volksgemeinschaft that would be ruthlessly purged of those considered to be internal enemies, such as the Jews who were believed to have "stabbed" Germany in "the back" in 1918. Many officers too in the early 1930s started to express admiration for National Socialism, which they saw as a the best way of creating the much desired Wehrstaat (military state). An important sign of the sympathy for National Socialism within the military came in September October 1930, with the trial in Leipzig of three junior officers, Lieutenant Richard Scheringer, Hans Friedrich Wendt and Hans Ludin. The three men were charged with membership in the Nazi Party; at that time membership in political parties was forbidden for members of the Reichswehr. The three officers openly admitted to Nazi Party membership, and used as their defence the claim that the Nazi Party membership should not be forbidden to Reichswehr personnel. When the three officers were caught red-handed distributing Nazi literature at their base, their commanding officer, General Ludwig Beck (of the 5th Artillery Regiment based in Ulm), was furious at their arrest, and argued that since the Nazi Party was a force for good, Reichswehr personnel should be allowed to join the Party. At the Leipzig trial of Ludin and Scheringer, Beck and other officers testified about the good character of the accused, described the Nazi Party as a positive force in German life, and proclaimed his belief that the Reichswehr ban on Nazi Party membership should be rescinded. The trial in Leipzig caused a media sensation and Hitler himself testified at the trial about how much Nazi and Reichswehr values were one and the same. After the trial, many Reichswehr officers started to favour the NSDAP.
By 1931, Germany's reserves of experienced reservists were coming to an end, because Part V of the Treaty of Versailles forbade conscription and existing reservists were aging. General Kurt von Schleicher worried that unless conscription was restored soon, German military power would be destroyed forever. So, Schleicher and the rest of the Reichswehr leadership were determined that Germany must end Versailles, and in the meantime saw the SA and the other right-wing paramilitary groups as the best substitute for conscription. Schleicher and other Reichswehr generals made secret contracts with the SA leadership starting in 1931. Like the rest of the Reichswehr leadership, Schleicher viewed democracy as a great impediment to military power, and firmly believed that only a dictatorship could make Germany a great military power again. Thus Schleicher worked to replace the democracy with a dictatorship headed by himself. In this way, Schleicher played a key role in the downfall of the Weimar Republic and unintentionally helped to bring about Nazi Germany. The military played a major role in January 1933 in persuading President Paul von Hindenburg to dismiss Schleicher and appoint Hitler as Chancellor. The reasons for this was by January 1933 that it was clear that the Schleicher government could only stay in power by proclaiming martial law, and by sending the Reichswehr to crush popular opposition. In doing so, the military would have to kill hundreds, if not thousands of German civilians; any regime established in this way could never expect to build the national consensus necessary to create the Wehrstaat. The military had decided that Hitler alone was capable of peacefully creating the national consensus that would allow the creation of the Wehrstaat, and thus the military successfully brought pressure on Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor.
Despite their sympathy and approval of the Nazi regime, the military leadership was in the early years of the Third Reich determined to defend their position as a state within the state against all rivals. In January 1934, when the Army commander Kurt von Hammerstein resigned, Hitler's choice for Hammerstein's successor General Walter von Reichenau was vetoed by the Army officer corps with the support of President von Hindenburg under the grounds that Reichenau was too much a military radical, and so Werner von Fritsch was chosen as a compromise. A more serious trial of strength concerned the military and the SA. By 1934, the generals were fearful of Ernst R hm's desire to have the SA, a force of over 3 million men, absorb the much smaller German Army into its ranks under his leadership. Further, reports of a huge cache of weapons in the hands of SA members gave the army commanders great concern. Matters came to a head in June 1934 when President von Hindenburg, who had the complete loyalty of the Reichswehr, informed Hitler that if he did not move to curb the SA then Hindenburg would dissolve the Government and declare martial law. The Reichswehr leadership also pressured Hitler to act against the SA by threatening to block his plans for merging the offices of the Chancellorship and the Presidency after the soon to be expected death of the gravely ill President von Hindenburg. The result was the Night of the Long Knives which began on June 30, 1934 and led to the execution of the majority of the SA leadership, much to the barely veiled glee of the military.
Ciepiel w]] on September 9th, 1939. British historian A.J. Nicholls wrote that the popular stereotype of the German military in the 1920s-1930s as old-fashioned reactionary Junkers is incorrect, and a disproportionate number of officers had a technocratic bent, and instead of looking back to the Second Reich looked with confidence towards a new dynamic, high-tech and revolutionary future dominated by men like themselves. The more technocratic the officer, the more likely he was to be a National Socialist. Israeli historian Omer Bartov wrote that most officers were National Socialists "because they believed had it not been for [Hitler] they would never have been able to realize their dreams of a highly modern, total war of expansion". As part of an effort to preserve the "state within the state", starting in the mid-1930s, the military began to more and more Nazify itself in a paradoxical effort to persuade Hitler that it was not necessary to end the traditional "state within the state", to prevent Gleichschaltung being imposed by engaging in what can be called a process of "self-Gleichschaltung". As part and parcel of the process of "self-Gleichschaltung", the Defence Minister Werner von Blomberg in February 1934, acting on his own initiative, had all of the Jews serving in the Reichswehr given an automatic and immediate dishonorable discharge. In this way, 74 Jewish soldiers lost their jobs for no other reason than there were Jewish. Again, on his own initiative Blomberg had the Reichswehr in May 1934 adopt Nazi symbols into their uniforms. In August 1934, again on Blomberg's initiative and that of the Ministeramt chief General Walther von Reichenau, the entire military took a oath of personal loyalty to Hitler, who was most surprised at the offer; the popular view that Hitler imposed the oath on the military is false. The intention of Blomberg and Reichenau in having the military swear an oath to Hitler was to create a personal special bond between Hitler and the military, which was intended to tie Hitler more tightly towards the military and away from the NSDAP. The American historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote about the oath to Hitler:
"The assertation that most felt bound by their oath of loyalty to Hitler should be seen in the context of prior oaths and subsequent oaths taken and broken by the same individuals, especially in the highest ranks. They had sworn to uphold the Weimar constitution, and many had sworn to uphold its laws-which included the Versailles Treaty. It was considered desirable, even honorable, to break this oath as often as possible, and anyone who wanted to keep it was despised. After World War II, a substantial number of the military leaders were called on to testify under oath. Anyone who has studied their sworn testimony carefully will have noticed that many took this oath very lightly indeed. If of all the oaths generals and field marshals took, only the one to Hitler is so often cited, that may reveal more about their attitude toward Hitler than towards oaths"
The unintentional effect of these measures to defend the "state within the state" by "self-Gleichschaltung" was to ultimately in the long run to weaken the "state within the state" status. At the same time, a new generation of technocratic officers were coming to the fore who were less concerned about maintaining the "state within the state", and more comfortable about being integrated into the National Socialist Wehrstaat. Bartov wrote about the new sort of technocratic officers and their views about the Nazi regime:
"The combined gratification of personal ambitions, technological obsessions and nationalist aspirations greatly enhanced their identification with Hitler's regime as individuals, professionals, representatives of a caste and leaders of a vast conscript army. Men such as Beck and Guderian, Manstein and Rommel, Doentiz and Kesserlring, Milch and Udet cannot be described as mere soldiers strictly devoted to their profession, rearmament and the autonomy of the military establishment while remaining indifferent to and detached from Nazi rule and ideology. The many points of contact between Hitler and his young generals were thus important elements in the integration of the Wehrmacht into the Third Reich, in stark contradication of its image as a "haven" from Nazism".
Because of these conceptions of Germany remade into a totalitarian Wehrstaat, the leadership of the military welcomed and embraced the National Socialist regime. The German historian J rgen F rster wrote that it was wrong as many historians have to dismiss the Wehrmacht's self-proclaimed role as one of the "twin pillars" of Nazi Germany (the other pillar being the NSDAP). General Ludwig Beck welcomed the coming of the Nazi regime in 1933, writing "I have wished for years for the political revolution, and now my wishes have come true. It is the first ray of hope since 1918.". (Ironically, Beck was later executed for opposing National Socialism.) In addition, many soldiers had previously been in the Hitler Youth and Reichsarbeitsdienst and had thus been subjected to intensive Nazi indoctrination; as a result, many newly commissioned officers were committed Nazis. In general, the Luftwaffe (airforce) was heavily Nazi-influenced, as was the navy and army to a lesser degree, through that was only relative.
The Blomberg Fritsch Affair of January February 1938 that ended with the dismissals of Werner von Fritsch as Army commander and Werner von Blomberg as War Minister was the first Nazi attempt to undermine the position of the military as a "state within the state". At the same time, Hitler abolished the War Ministry and replaced it with the OKW. The Blomberg-Fritsch Affair marked the moment when the leadership of the military began to change from the leaders of a more or less autonomous "state within the state" to that of a mere functional, technocratic elite that existed only to execute the F hrer's plans. In one of the last demonstrations of the power of the "state within the state", the Army again veoted Hitler's plans to appoint Walter von Reichenau as Army commander, and following tense negotiations between Hitler and Gerd von Rundstedt, who was acting as the Army's spokesman in this matter and who wanted Ludwig Beck as Fritsch's successor, agreed to Walter von Brauchitsch as a compromise.
On December 8, 1938, the OKW had instructed all officers in all three services to be thoroughly versed in National Socialism and to apply its values in all situations. Starting in February 1939, pamphlets were issued that were made required reading in the military. The content can be gauged by the titles: "The Officer and Politics", "Hitler's World Historical Mission", "The Army in the Third Reich", "The Battle for German Living Space", "Hands off Danzig!", and "The Final Solution of the Jewish Question in the Third Reich". In the last essay, the author, C.A. Holberg wrote: Stalingrad]], 1942. On August 22, 1939 in a conference between Hitler and all of the Reichs senior military leaders, Hitler stated quite explictly that the coming war against Poland was to be a "war of extermination" in which Hitler expressed his intention to "...to kill without pity or mercy all men, women and children of the Polish race or language". The British historian Sir John Wheeler-Bennett wrote that whatever doubts the Wehrmacht might still had about the sort of regime that they would about to go to war for and the kind of people that they would be fighting for in this war, should been clearly dispelled by Hitler's genocidal comments during the conference of August 22, 1939, and that the claims made after the war that the Wehrmacht simply did not understand the nature of the regime that they fought for, are not believable. Anti-Semitic and anti-Polish attitudes like the views expressed above coloured all the instructions that came to Wehrmacht during the summer of 1939 as part of the preparations for the invasion of Poland. The war against the Soviet Union was presented as a war of extermination right from the start. On March 3, 1941 Hitler summoned the entire military leadership to hear a secret speech about the upcoming Operation Barbarossa in which Hitler stressed that Barbarossa was to be a "war of extermination", that the German military was to disregard all the laws of war, and that he both expected and wanted to see the deaths of millions of people. With the exception of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris who protested that this was both morally and legally wrong, none of the officers who heard Hitler's speech had any objections. Since some of the officers such as General Franz Halder were normally vocal in arguing about Hitler about military matters if they thought he had chosen a wrong course were silent after hearing this speech, it can be assumed that they had no objections to the sort of war that Hitler wanted them to wage. In 1989, the British historian Richard J. Evans wrote that right from the beginning of the war against the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the Wehrmacht waged a genocidal war of "extreme brutality and barbarism". Evans wrote that Wehrmacht officers regarded the Russians as "sub-human", were from the time of the invasion of Poland in 1939 telling their troops the war was caused by "Jewish vermin" and explained to the troops that the war against the Soviet Union was a war to wipe out what were variously called "Jewish Bolshevik subhumans", the "Mongol hordes", the "Asiatic flood" and the "red beast", language clearly intended to produce war crimes by reducing the enemy to something less than human. Such views helped to explain why 3,300,000 of the 5,700,000 Soviet POWs taken by the Germans died in captivity. On May 19, 1941, the OKW issued the "Guidelines for the Conduct of the Troops in Russia" which began by declaring that "Judeo-Bolshevism" to be the most deadly enemy of the German nation and that "It is against this destructive ideology and its adherents that Germany is waging war". The "Guidelines" urged "ruthless and vigorous measures against Bolshevik inciters, guerillas, saboteurs, Jews and the complete elimination of all active and passive resistance"". Reflecting the influence of the guidelines, in a directive sent out to the troops under his command, General Erich Hoepner of the Panzer Group 4 proclaimed:
"The war against Russia is an important chapter in the German nation's struggle for existence. It is the old battle of the Germanic against the Slavic people, of the defense of European culture against Muscovite-Asiatic inundation and of the repluse of Jewish Bolshevism. The objective of this battle must be the demolition of present-day Russia and must therefore be conducted with unprecedented severity. Every military action must be guided in planning and execution by an iron resolution to exterminate the enemy remorselessy and totally. In particular no adherents of the contemporary Russian Bolshevik system are to be spared".
Very typical of the German Army propaganda as part of the preparations for Barbarossa was the following passage from a pamphlet issued in June 1941:
Caucasian]] ethnic groups (Alexiev 1982:33)." As a result of the very intense anti-Semitic and anti-Slavic propaganda before and during Barbarossa, most Army officers and soldiers tended to regard the war against the Soviet Union in Nazi terms, seeing their Soviet opponents as so much sub-human trash deserving to be destroyed without mercy. One German soldier wrote home to his father on August 4, 1941 that: German infantry marching, Soviet Union, June 1943. The vast majority of the Wehrmacht officers fully co-operated with the SS in murdering Jews in the Soviet Union. The American historians Williamson Murray and Alan Millet wrote about Wehrmacht-SS relations:
"A slogan about partisan war linked the treatment of both Russians and Jews in the great atrocities of 1941: "Where the partisan is, the Jew is, and where the Jew is, is the partisan". Across the breath of European Russia, the invading Germans took matters into their own hands, as Hitler intended. Einsatzgruppen were responsible for the great bulk of the killing, but they received full cooperation from the Army. At Babi Yar outside of Kiev, SS-Sonderkommando 4a murdered 33, 771 Jews and other Soviet citizens in a two-day orgy of violence in revenge for Soviet destruction of Kiev. The local army commander, Major General Kurt Eberhard, cooperated enthusiastically, even providing the SS with an army propaganda company to persuade Kiev's Jews that they were moving for resettlement. On numerous occasions troop commanders ordered their men to participate in "special actions" against Jews and Communists. The repetitive nature of such orders suggests the level of cooperation between SS and Army that occured throughout the German advance. Everywhere the Germans advanced, the tide of murder, violence and destruction followed, on Jews above all, but on the Soviet population in general"
The British historian Richard J. Evans wrote that junior officers in the Army were inclined to be especially zealous National Socialists with a third of them having joined the Nazi Party by 1941. Reinforcing the work of the junior leaders were the National Socialist Leadership Guidance Officers, which were created with the purpose of indoctrinating the troops for the war of extermination against Soviet Russia. Among higher ranking officers, 29.2% were NSDAP members by 1941. The Wehrmacht obeyed Hitler's criminal orders for Barbarossa not because of obedience to orders, but because they, like Hitler, believed that the Soviet Union was run by Jews, and that Germany must completely destroy "Judeo-Bolshevism". German historian J rgen F rster wrote that most Wehrmacht officers genuinely believed that most Red Army commissars were Jews who in turn were what kept the Red Army going, and that the best way to bring about victory against the Soviet Union was to exterminate the commissars via enforcing the Commissar Order so as to deprive the Russian soldiers of their Jewish leaders.
The Israeli historian Omer Bartov wrote that on the Eastern Front, it was belief in National Socialism that allowed the Wehrmacht to continue to fight, despite enormous losses. Bartov argued that the claim that it was "primary group loyalty , by which men are motivated to fight by loyalty towards their comrades in their unit with little thought to the cause that one is fighting for, cannot possibly have been what motivated the Wehrmacht to fight on the Eastern Front. Bartov wrote that on the Eastern Front, the Wehrmacht was taking such heavy losses that there were no primary groups for men to give their loyalty to, and that only a belief in National Socialism could explain why the Wehrmacht continued to be so aggressive and determined on the offensive, and so dogged and tenacious on the defense, despite often very high numbers of dead and wounded. The Bartov thesis was endorsed by the American historians' Alan Millet and Williamson Murray who wrote that by early 1944:
"So desperate was the manpower situation that reinforcing divisions from the west were committed to the fight without time to acclimatize to theater conditions and in some cases before all their equipment and weapons had arrived. The appalling attrition of combat infantry raises the question why German soldiers persevered. It certainly could not have been group cohesion alone, given the losses suffered.In 1944, the 20 July plot involving a minority of officers received overwhemling disapproval from the Wehrmacht, who rallied for the Nazi regime. The American historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote about the July 20 putsch and the military:
The explanation seems to be that at every level German officers inculcated their troops with the values and assumptions of Nazi ideology and the mortal menance of the racial-Communist threat. By early 1944, ideological indoctrination was playing a major role in combat preparation on the Eastern and Western fronts. After the war, German generals claimed that neither they nor their troops had taken ideological instruction seriously, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Not only letters and diaries of combat soldiers indicate that ideology was a considerable factor in German combat effectiveness, but unit commanders from the division level on down consistently picked highly decorated combat officers to serve as "leadership" officers in charge of troop indoctrination. Such assignments underline the seriousness with which the army as a whole was taking ideological motivation".
"When the explosion failed to kill Hitler, the overwhelming majority of Germany's military leaders sided with him rather than his opponents. As both sides sent their orders over the teleprinters in Germany's last "election" as an united country until 1990, most generals chose to support the Hitler regime and to reinforce rather than arrest the police."
The July 20 putsch attempt was crushed by Army troops commanded by Major Otto Ernst Remer with no involvement from the SS at all.
From 1943 onwards, the influx of officers and conscripts who had been mainly educated under the Nazis, began to further increase the National Socialism in the army. Political influence in the military command began to increase later in the war when Hitler's flawed strategic decisions began showing up as serious defeats for the German Army and tensions mounted between the military and the government. When Hitler appointed unqualified personnel such as Hermann G ring to lead his Air Force, failure ensued. A sign of the close ties between Hitler and his armed forces was his choice from 1943 onwards of the ardent Nazi Grand Admiral Karl D nitz to be the next F hrer, a man whose "...dedication to National Socialist ideas and his close identification with Hitler's strategy in the last stages of the war made him a logical, not surprising, choice by Hitler as his successor".
Terror and Corruption
Because the military believed that Germany had not been defeated in World War I, but was instead brought down by a "stab in the back", the lesson that the Wehrmacht took from this was for the need for a draconian military justice system that would ruthlessly stamp out anything that might led to any new "stab in the back". In the viewpoint of the Wehrmacht, any violation of the military code for whatever reason was seen as damaging to discipline, and thus could potentially lead to a new "stab-in-the-back". It had been neither forgotten nor forgiven by the military that the November Revolution had started with the High Seas mutiny. In August 1917, there had been a mutiny in the High Seas Fleet, which after it was crushed, saw the execution of its leaders' Max Reichpietsch and Albin K bis with the rest of the mutineers given long prison sentences. The "lesson" drawn by the Navy and the rest of the Wehrmacht had been that if only the High Seas Fleet mutiny of 1917 been followed up with more executions of instead just Reichpietsch and K bis, then the much more serious mutiny of November 1918 would had been avoided. For this reason, all violations of the military code that hindered the war effort were treated by military courts as equivalent to high treason, through in the vast majority of the cases, politics were not a factor. During World War II, the German military had thousands of its members executed, often for the most trivial violations of discipline. In World War I, the German Army had executed only 48 of its soldiers; in World War II between 13, 000 and 15, 000 German soldiers were executed for violations of military code. The only country that executed more of its own soldiers than Germany in World War II was the Soviet Union. By way of contrast, during all of World War II, Britain executed 40 of its soldiers, France executed 102 and the United States executed 146 while the Wehrmacht executed 519 of its personnel during the first 13 months of the war alone. In addition, German court-martials sentenced ten of thousands of German soldiers to service in Strafbattalion (penal battalions). There conditions were so brutal that service in a Wehrmacht penal battalion was equivalent to a death sentence. Those sentenced to serve in the penal battalions called them "death battalions" given the fact that the chances for survival were almost nil. The exception towards the otherwise ferocious application of military justice was the widespread tolerance of war crimes against civilians and POWs, especially in Eastern Europe, provided that such actions took place in a "discipled" and "orderly" way. So-called "wild shootings" and "wild requisitions" against civilians were always disapproved of, whereas massive violence against civilians provided that it took place in a context that was "discipled" and pseudo-legal were considered to be acceptable. This was especially the case with Jews in the occupied areas of the Soviet Union, where it was official policy to generally not prosecute those soldiers who killed Soviet Jews, and even in those cases, where prosecutions did occur, claiming that one hated Jews and killed out of a desire for "revenge" for the November Revolution of 1918 was allowed as a defense (through in fact, the Soviet Jewish population had nothing to do with the November Revolution). German military courts always gave very light sentences to those soldiers who killed Soviet Jews, even in an "undiscipled" way, and even then, Hitler usually intervened to pardon the accused.
On 17 August 1938, the German military code was re-written to make desertion equivalent to high treason, and created a new crime of Wehrkraftzertzung, a vaguely defined crime that carried the death penalty for anyone serving in the Wehrmacht who either attempted to influence others to not carry out orders fully and unconditionally and/or weakened the resolve of the German nation to continue the fight until total victory. A great many of the death sentences imposed by Wehrmacht courts were for Wehrkraftzertzung. German military court-martials consisted of three judges, one lawyer serving as a prosecutor, and two Wehrmacht men, usually a staff officer and another man, who was expected to be of the same rank as the defendant. In theory, the defendant had the automatic right to a defense lawyer for all charges that involved the death penalty, and could be granted defense counsel in a non-capital case only if the court decided to permit that privilege, but in practice, the right to defense counsel was rarely granted, even in cases that carried capital punishment where the law required it. After the sentence was passed, there was no right of judicial appeal, and the case went up to the commander of the army, fleet or air army to which the defendant was serving in, who could either confirm the sentence or order a new trial if he believed the sentence to be either too harsh or too lenient.
A major latter-day debate about German military justice has been the demand by families of Wehrmacht men executed for desertion that they should be recognized as part of the resistance to Hitler under the grounds that by refusing to fight for the Nazi regime, they were also opposing it. German veterans have for the most part been opposed to this. Only in September 2009 did Germany pardon the men convicted of desertion under the grounds that to desert from a criminal war was not a crime. At the time, there were three Wehrmacht deserters still alive, the vast majority being either executed or been killed in penal battalions during the war, and the few who survived the war were shunned as traitors and cowards by the German public after the war. One of the surviving deserters, a sailor who attempted to desert in 1942 named Ludwig Baumann summarized the arguments against people such as himself as:
"It went like this: an act of treason might have endangered the lives of other German soldiers, therefore we can t absolve you. But what I say is, if only more soldiers had committed treason so many millions of lives could have been saved, in the concentration camps and so on. You can t place the lives of some soldiers above all those millions who died. And until Germany recognizes this, it will not have broken with its Nazi past."
At the same time that Wehrmacht officers were having the men under their command routinely shot for minor violations of military discipline, the same officers benefited from enormous corruption. In order to ensure the absolute loyalty of the Wehrmacht officers and to console them over the loss of their "state within the state", Hitler had created what the American historian Gerhard Weinberg called a "...a vast secret program of bribery involving practically all at the highest levels of command". Hitler routinely presented his leading commanders with "gifts" of free estates, cars, cheques made out for large sums of cash and lifetime exemptions from paying taxes. Typical of the F hrer's "gifts" was the cheque made out to half-million Reichmarks presented to Field-Marshal G nther von Kluge in October 1942 together with the promise that Kluge could bill the German treasury for any and all "improvements" he might wish to make to his estate. Such was the success of Hitler's bribery system that by 1942 many officers had come to expect the receiving of "gifts" from Hitler, and were not willing to bite the hand that so generously fed them. When Hitler sacked Field Marshal Fedor von Bock in December 1941, Bock's first reaction was to contact Hitler's aide Rudolf Schmundt to ask him if his sacking meant that he was not longer to receive bribes from Konto 5 slush fund. The first officer to be bribed into loyalty was the old World War I hero Field Marshal August von Mackensen who criticized the Nazi regime for the murder of General Kurt von Schleicher in a speech before General Staff Association in February 1935, and to silence him, Hitler gave Mackensen a free estate of 1,250 hectares later that same year in exchange for a promise never to criticize the Nazi regime again in either public or private. The agreement mostly worked; Mackensen never criticized the Nazi regime in public again, through Hitler was much offended in February 1940 when Mackensen mentioned to Walter von Brauchitsch his view that the army had disgraced itself by committing massacres during the recent campaign in Poland. Hitler felt that to be a violation of their agreement of 1935, through Mackensen was not punished by losing his estate.
The basis of the corruption system were regular monthly tax-free payments deposited in their bank accounts of 4,000 Reichmarks for field marshals and grand admirals and 2,000 Reichmarks for all other senior officers, which came from a special fund called Konto 5 run by the chief of the Reich Chancellery, Hans Lammers. On top of the money from Konto 5, officers received as birthday presents cheques usually made out for the sum of 250,000 Reichmarks, which were exempt from income taxes, through taxes had to paid on interest earned from them. All this money came as an addition to the official salary of 26,000 Reichmarks a year for field marshals and grand admirals and 24,000 Reichmarks a year for colonel generals and general admirals plus tax-exempt payments of 400 and 300 Reichmarks a month to help deal with rising living costs in war-time. In addition, senior officers were given a life-time exemption from paying income tax, which was in effect a huge pay raise given Germany's high income tax rates (by 1939, there was a 65% tax rate for income over 2, 400 R.M) and they were also provided with spending allowences for food, medical care, clothing, and housing. By way of contrast, infantrymen who given the dangerous task of clearing landmines were given a one Reichmark a day danger pay supplement. The money from Konto 5 was deposited for the officer's life-time, and did not stop if the officer retired. In the last months of the war, Erich von Manstein, Wilhelm List, Georg von K chler, and Maximilian von Weichs kept on changing the bank accounts into which Lammers had the money from Konto 5 deposited into in order to avoid the Allied advance. Much correspondence followed between these officers and Lammers as they kept writing anxiously to make certain that Lammers was depositing their monthly bribes into the right accounts.
Every officer who started to receive the money always had a meeting with Lammers first, who informed them that the future payments would depend on much loyalty they were willing to show Hitler, and what the F hrer gave with one hand, could just as easily be taken away with the other. Payments from Konto 5 to the bank account of General Friedrich Paulus stopped in August 1943 not because Paulus had lost the Battle of Stalingrad, but because Paulus had went on Soviet radio to blame Hitler for the defeat. In the same way, after the failure of July 20 putsch of 1944, the families of Erwin Rommel, Franz Halder, Friedrich Fromm and G nther von Kluge were punished by being cut off from the monthy payments from Konto 5. In the case of Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, it was demanded that his family pay back all of the bribe money he had took from Konto 5 since the money was given as a reward for loyalty to the F hrer, which Witzleben was evidently not. The illicit nature of these payments was underlined by Lammers when he informed the officer that he was to receive money from Konto 5 when Lammers warned them not to speak about these payments to anyone and to keep as few written records as possible.
The Konto 5 slush fund run by Lammers started with a budget of about 150, 000 R.M in 1933 and by 1945 had grown to about 40 million R.M. Payments from Konto 5, known officially as Aufwandsentsch digungen (compenstrations for expenses) had made to Cabinet ministers and senior civil servants from April 1936 onwards. As part of the reorganization of the military command structure following the Blomberg Fritsch Affair in early 1938, it was declared that the service chiefs, namely OKW chief Wilhelm Keitel, Army commander Walter von Brauchitsch, Luftwaffe commander Herman G ring and Kriegsmarine commander Erich Raeder were to have the same status as Cabinet ministers and as such, they all started to receive publicly the same pay as a Cabinet member and privately payments from Konto 5. At this time, Brauchitsch had decided to divocre his wife to marry a much younger woman who happened to be a "two hundred per cent rabid Nazi". The divorce court had a less kind view of Brauchitsch's decision to end his marriage than did Brauchitsch's political master, and awarded a substantial settlement in favor of the first Frau von Brauchitsch. Hitler then won Brauchitsch's eternal gratitude by agreeing to use the German tax-payers' money to pay his entire divorce settlement, said to be have been between 80, 000 and 250, 000 R.M. Given that Brauchitsch had been promoted Army commander to replace Fritsch who had resigned following false allegations of homosexuality, and Brauchitsch had been very much a compromise candidate as the Army had refused to accept Hitler's first choice of Walther von Reichenau as Fritsch's successor, paying Brauchitsch's divorce settlement might be deemed a good investment for the Nazi regime.
Besides for the money, General Heinz Guderian was also rewarded with a bribe of a free estate of 937 hectares (which was also tax-free for his entire life-time) in Poland which was confiscated from its Polish owner, and handed over to Guderian. Guderian was informed in early 1943 that if he wanted an estate in Poland, to tell Hitler whose land he wanted and he would get it, which led Guderian to make several visits to Poland to find the right estate to steal. This caused some problems with the SS, which also had designs on some of the estates that Guderian desired before a deal was worked out about what estate Guderian could take. Much of Guderian's fury that he expressed in his 1950 memoirs Erinnerungen eines Soldaten about what he regarded as unjust border changes after the war in Poland's favor seemed to be related to Guderian's intensely held private view that the Poles had no right to take away from him the estate that Hitler had given him in Poland. The American historian Norman Goda wrote that after Guderian received his estate in Poland in the spring of 1943, that the doubts that he had been expressing since late 1941 about the Hitler's military leadership suddenly ceased to be expressed, and he became one of Hitler's most ardent military supporters, or as Goebbels described him in his diary, "a glowing and unqualifed follower of the F hrer". Before receiving his "gift" of a Polish estate, Guderian as Inspector General for the Panzers had been opposed to the plans for Operation Zitadelle, which was to lead to the Battle of Kursk, one of Germany's worst defeats of the war; after receiving the estate, Guderian did a 180 turn about the wisdom of Operation Zitadelle. Instead of criticizing Zitadelle openly, Guderian approached Goebbels to ask him if he could somehow talk Hitler out of Zitadelle, behavior that Goda described as very atypical for Guderian. Guderian was well known for his brash, bluntly outspoken style; for his rudeness to those he disliked (in a notorious incident later in 1943, Guderian refused to shake the hand of Field Marshal Kluge because as he told Kluge to his face he was not worthy of shaking hands with) and for using vulgar, profanity-ridden language to describe a plan if he believed it to be bad one. During the July 20 putsch of 1944, Guderian ordered Panzer units to Berlin to crush the putsch, and then sat on the Court of Honor that had the responsibility of expelling officers involved in the putsch so that they could be tried before the Volksgerichtshof, a duty that Guderian performed with considerable zeal. It was only after January 1945, when Guderian's estate fell behind Soviet lines that Guderian began to once more to disagree with Hitler, disagreements that were so intense that Hitler fired Guderian as Chief of the General Staff in March 1945.
Through this did not involve taking away someone's else land, in 1943 the retired Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb managed to have the German state buy him an entire district of prime forest land valued at 638,000 Reichmarks in Bavaria in which to build his estate. In late June-early July 1941, Leeb as the commander of Army Group North had witnessed first-hand the massacres committed by the Einsatzgruppen, Lithuanian auxiliaries and the men of the 16th Army outside of Kaunas. Leeb was described as being "moderately distrubed" after seeing the killing fields of Kaunas, and sent in mildly critical reports about the massacres. Leeb approved of the killing of Lithuanian Jewish men, claiming that this was justified by the crimes that they were supposed to been involved in during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, but that the killing of women and children might had been taking things too far. In response, Hitler's aide General Rudolf Schmundt told Leeb that he was completetly out of line in criticizing the massacres at Kaunas, and should in the future co-operate fully with the SS in "special tasks". Schmundt asked if Leeb really appreciated his monthly payments from Konto 5, and reminded him that was birthday was coming up in September, for which the F hrer was planning to give him a 250, 000 R.M cheque as a birthday present in reward for his loyalty. Leeb never said a word in protest about the "Final Solution" again, and duly received his 250, 000 R.M cheque as his birthday present in September 1941. In September 1941, Franz Walter Stahlecker, the commander of Einsatzgruppe A in a report to Berlin had nothing but praise for Leeb's Army Group North, which Stahlecker reported had been exemplary in co-operating with his men in murdering Jews in the Baltic states. The American historian Norman Goda used Leeb as an all-too typical example of a Wehrmacht officer whose greed overwhelmed any sort of moral revulsion that they might had felt about the Holocaust.
In general, officers who were in some way critical of Hitler's military, if not necessarily political leadership, such as Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, Admiral Erich Raeder, and Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt received (and accepted) larger bribes than officers who were well known to be convinced National Socialists such as General Walter Model, Admiral Karl D nitz and Field Marshal Ferdinand Sch rner. The success of Hitler's bribery system backfired in that some officers, who proven themselves especially greedy such as Guderian and Raeder came to be regarded by Hitler as a serious annoyance because of their endless demands for more money and more free land for their estates. Raeder's demand in 1942 that on top of his life-time exemption from paying income taxes that Hitler also cancel out taxes on the interest he earned from his 4,000 Reichmarks a month payment from Konto 5 was viewed as outrageous. In 1944, Wolfram von Richthofen wrote to the OKW to argue that since he was stationed in Italy, that at least 1,000 Reichmarks of the 4,000 Reichmarks deposited in his bank account every month should be in lire to cancel out the effects of rampant inflation in Italy, a demand that was regarded as unreasonable even by Keitel, who normally did not reject to providing financial rewards of service for the F hrer.
The subject of corrruption proved to be an embarrassing one for its recipients. Under oath at Nuremberg, Walther von Brauchitsch committed perjury when he denied taking any bribes. Brauchitsch's bank records showed that he had been receiving 4,000 R.M/month payments from Konto 5 from 1938 until the end of the war. At his trial in 1948, General Franz Halder perjured himself when he denied that he had taken bribes, and then had to maintain a stern silence when the American prosecutor James McHaney produced bank records showing otherwise. Erhard Milch admitted to accepting money when under oath in 1947, but claimed that this was only compensation for the salary that he had been making as an executive at Lufthansa, a claim that Goda called "ridiculous". Weinberg commented that "the bribery system understandably does not figure prominently in the endless memoir literature of the recipients and has attracted little scholarly attention".
A mass execution of Polish hostages in Palmiry - The German execution of 51 Polish hostages in retaliation for an attack on a Nazi police station by the underground organization "White Eagle"
In World War II, the Wehrmacht was involved in a number of war crimes. While the principal perpetrators of the civil suppression behind the front lines amongst German armed forces were the Nazi German "political" armies (the SS-Totenkopfverb nde and particularly the Einsatzgruppen), the traditional armed forces represented by the Wehrmacht committed and ordered (e.g. the Commissar Order) war crimes of their own, particularly during the invasion of Poland in 1939  and later in the war against the Soviet Union. The Army's Chief of Staff General Franz Halder in a directive declared that in the event of guerrila attacks, German troops were to impose "collective measures of force" by massacring entire villages. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Soviet civilians died from starvation as the Germans requisitioned food for their armies and fodder for their draft horses. According to Thomas K hne, "An estimated 300,000 500,000 people were killed during the Wehrmacht's anti-partisan war in the Soviet Union."
While the Wehrmacht's prisoner-of-war camps for inmates from the west generally satisfied the humanitarian requirement prescribed by international law, prisoners from Poland (which never capitulated) and the USSR were incarcerated under significantly worse conditions. Between the launching of Operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1941 and the following spring, 2.8 million of the 3.2 million Soviet prisoners taken died while in German hands. Partisan]] youth await execution by German forces in Serbia, 20 August 1941. Executed with this group was a German soldier, who refused to take part in the action. The Nuremberg Trials of the major war criminals at the end of World War II found that the Wehrmacht was not an inherently criminal organization, but that it had committed crimes in the course of the war. Several high ranked members of the Wehrmacht like Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl were convicted for their involvement in war crimes. Among German historians, the view that the Wehrmacht had participated in war time atrocities, particularly on the Eastern Front, grew in the late 1970s and the 1980s. In the 1990s, public conception in Germany was influenced by controversial reactions and debates about the exhibition of war crime issues. More recently, the judgement of Nuremberg has come under question. The Israeli historian Omer Bartov, a leading expert on the Wehrmacht wrote in 2003 that the Wehrmacht was a willing instrument of genocide, and that it is untrue that the Wehrmacht was an apolitical, professional fighting force that had only a few "bad apples". Bartov argues that far from being the "untarnished shield", as successive German apologists stated after the war, the Wehrmacht was a criminal organization. Likewise, the British historian Richard J. Evans, a leading expert on modern German history wrote that the Wehrmacht was a genocidal organization. British historian Ian Kershaw wrote that:
Resistance to the Nazi regime
Major General Henning von Tresckow
From all groups of German Resistance, those within the Wehrmacht were the most condemned by the NSDAP. There were several attempts by resistance members like Henning von Tresckow, Erich Hoepner or Friedrich Olbricht to assassinate Hitler as an ignition of a coup d' tat. Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff and Axel Freiherr von dem Bussche-Streithorst even tried to do so by suicide bombing. Those and many other officers in the Heer and Kriegsmarine such as Erwin Rommel, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and Wilhelm Canaris opposed the atrocities of the Hitler regime. Combined with Hitler's problematic military leadership, this also culminated in the famous 20 July plot (1944), when a group of German Army officers led by von Stauffenberg tried again to kill Hitler and overthrow his regime. Following this attempt, every officer who approached Hitler was searched from head to foot by his SS guards. As a special degradation all German military personnel were ordered to replace the standard military salute with the Hitler salute from this date on. To what extent the German military forces opposed or supported the Hitler regime is nevertheless highly disputed amongst historians up to the present day.
Some members of the Wehrmacht did save Jews and non-Jews from the concentration camps and/or mass executions. Anton Schmid a sergeant in the army helped 250 Jewish men, women, and children escape from the Vilnius ghetto and provided them with forged passports so that they could get to safety. He was court-martialed and executed as a consequence. Albert Battel, a reserve officer stationed near the Przemysl ghetto, blocked an SS detachment from entering it. He then evacuated up to 100 Jews and their families to the barracks of the local military command, and placed them under his protection. Wilm Hosenfeld an army captain in Warsaw helped, hid, or rescued several Poles, including Jews, in occupied Poland. Most notably, he helped the Polish Jewish composer W adys aw Szpilman, who was hiding among the city's ruins, by supplying him with food and water, and did not betray him to the Nazi authorities. Hosenfeld later died in a Soviet POW camp.
Prominent German officers from the Wehrmacht era include:
Hans-J rgen von Arnim Commander of Army Group Africa after Erwin Rommel
Ludwig Beck Chief of the General Staff of the Heer from 1933 to 1938
Fedor von Bock Commander of the failed Operation Typhoon
Walther von Brauchitsch Commander-in-Chief of the Heer from 1938 to 1941
Wilhelm Franz Canaris Head of the Abwehr, a Wehrmacht intelligence service
Otto Carius - Panzer ace
Karl D nitz Grand Admiral of the Kriegsmarine and architect of the U-boat force; last President of the Third Reich following Hitler's suicide
Nikolaus von Falkenhorst Commander of German ground forces during Operation Weser bung
Adolf Galland, the longest-serving General der Jagdflieger in the Luftwaffe, supporter of the Messerschmitt Me 262's primary use as a jet fighter
Reinhard Gehlen - Chief of military intelligence on the Eastern Front; first head of the postwar Federal Intelligence Service (BND)
Hermann G ring Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, Hitler's designated successor until April 1945
Heinz Guderian Panzer commander and architect of the Blitzkrieg strategy
Franz Halder Chief of the General Staff of the Heer from 1938 to 1942
Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr and opponent of Hitler
Erich Hartmann - Highest-scoring fighter ace of World War II, and of all time (352 victories)
Hermann Hoth Panzer commander on the Eastern Front
Alfred Jodl Chief of the Operations Staff of the OKW
Wilhelm Keitel Commander-in-Chief of the OKW
Albert Kesselring An Air Marshal of the Luftwaffe; overall commander of the Mediterranean theater
Ewald von Kleist A Field Marshal of the Heer
Hans G nther von Kluge Field Marshal and Commander of Oberbefehlshaber West
Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb Commander of Army Group C during the Battle of France
Hans von Luck Panzer commander
G nther L tjens Admiral and Fleet Commander of the Bismarck flotilla
Erich von Manstein Field Marshal, military strategist, and prominent proponent of the Blitzkrieg
Walter Model Field Marshal, Commanded the defence of the Eastern Front from the Soviet counterattack
Friedrich Paulus Commander of German forces at Stalingrad
Erich Raeder- Grand Admiral of the Kriegsmarine, credited with building the Kriegsmarine
Walther von Reichenau Commander of the 6th Army
Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen - Field Marshal in command of the Stuka forces of the Luftwaffe for a time during the war, relative of the The Red Baron of World War I
Robert Ritter von Greim Field Marshal, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe in the last days of the war
Erwin Rommel Field Marshal, the "Desert Fox", commander of the Afrikakorps
Hans-Ulrich Rudel - Stuka dive bomber pilot and most decorated German serviceman
Gerd von Rundstedt Generalfeldmarschall, held amongst the highest commands throughout World War II
Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg generally recognized as the leader of the 20 July plot
Kurt Student founder and commander of Germany's Fallschirmj ger airborne troops
Walther Wever - the prime exponent of strategic bombing in the pre-war Luftwaffe, died in June 1936
Michael Wittman - Panzer ace
Erwin von Witzleben prominent conspirator of the 20 July plot
After World War II
Following the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht, which went into effect on 8 May 1945, some Wehrmacht units remained active, either independently (e.g. in Norway), or under Allied command as police forces. By the end of August 1945, these units were dissolved, and a year later on 20 August 1946, the Allied Control Council declared the Wehrmacht as officially abolished (Kontrollratsgesetz No. 34). While Germany was forbidden to have an army, Allied forces took advantage of the knowledge of Wehrmacht members like Reinhard Gehlen.
It was over ten years before the tensions of the Cold War led to the creation of separate military forces in the Federal Republic of Germany and the socialist German Democratic Republic. The West German military, officially created on 5 May 1955, took the name Bundeswehr, meaning Federal Defence Forces, which pointed back to the old Reichswehr. Its East German counterpart created on 1 March 1956 took the name National People's Army (Nationale Volksarmee). Both organizations employed many former Wehrmacht members, particularly in their formative years, through neither organizations considered themselves to be successors to the Wehrmacht, and in the case of the Bundewehr rejected the traditional grey of the Wehrmacht in order to show discontituity.
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