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For the band, see Wehrmacht (band).
Image:Wehrmacht 20th April 1939 Birthday Parade.jpg
Wehrmacht troops of the Heer (military land forces) marching at a military parade in honour of the 50th birthday of Adolf Hitler, on April 20th, 1939.

Wehrmacht (listen)  ("Defence force") was the name of the armed forces of Nazi-Germany from 1935 to 1945. During World War II, the Wehrmacht consisted of the army (Heer), the navy (Kriegsmarine) and the air force (Luftwaffe).


[edit] Origin and use of the terms

Before the rise of the Nazi Party, the term Wehrmacht was used in a generic sense to describe armed forces of any nation—the word literally means “defensive force.” For example, the term Englische Wehrmacht would identify the British army, while Article 47 of the Weimar Constitution of 1919 declared "Der Reichspräsident hat den Oberbefehl über die gesamte Wehrmacht des Reiches" (Translation: "The Reichspräsident holds supreme command of all armed forces of the Reich"). To make a distinction, the term Reichswehr was commonly used to identify the German armed forces.

In 1935, the Reichswehr was renamed Wehrmacht. After World War II under the Allied occupation and later during the subsequent remilitarization of Germany in 1955, West Germany's newly-created armed forces became known as the Bundeswehr.

Hence the term Wehrmacht is customarily used to identify Germany's armed forces during the Third Reich and World War II, both in German and English.

[edit] History

After World War I ended with the capitulation of the German empire, the treaty of Versailles 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. 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.

Germany immediately began 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 industrialisation and Soviet officers were to be trained in Germany. German tank and air force specialists would be trained in the Soviet Union and German chemical weapons research and manufacture would be carried out there along with other projects. Around three hundred German pilots received training at Lipetsk, some tank training took place near Kazan and toxic gas was developed at Saratov for the German army.

Image:Czarny krzyz balkanski Luftwaffe 1939-45.png
A stylized version of the Iron Cross, the emblem of the Wehrmacht.

After the death of President Paul von Hindenburg on 2 August 1934, all officers and soldiers of the German armed forces swore a personal oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler. 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 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 organisation 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 stylised version of the Iron Cross (the so-called Balkenkreuz, or beamed cross) that had first appeared as an aircraft and tank marking in late World War I. The existence of the Wehrmacht was officially announced on October 15 1935.

The number of soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht during its existence from 1935 until 1945 is believed to approach 18.2 million. This figure was put forward by historian Rüdiger 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 in time. About 2.3 million Wehrmacht soldiers were killed in action; 550,000 died from non-combat causes; missing in action and unaccounted for after the war 2.0 million; and 459,000 POW deaths, of whom 77,000 were in the custody of the U.S., UK and France; POW dead includes 266,000 in the post war period after June 1945 , primarily in Soviet captivity. Approximately 11 million were captured by enemy forces.[citation needed]

[edit] Command structure

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 Wünsdorf near Zossen, and a field echelon (Feldstaffel) was stationed wherever the Führer's headquarters were situated at a given time.

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.

Image:RKM 1935-1938.jpg
Flag for the C-I-C of the
German Armed Forces (1935-1938)
  • OKW — the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces
Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces - Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel (1938 to 1945)
Chief of the Operations Staff (Wehrmachtführungsstab) - Colonel General Alfred Jodl
  • OKH — the Supreme Command of the Army
Army Commanders-in-Chief
Colonel General Werner von Fritsch (1935 to 1938)
Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch (1938 to 1941)
Führer and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler (1941 to 1945)
Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner (1945)
Chief of Staff of the German Army - General Ludwig Beck (1935-1938); General Franz Halder (1938-1942); General Kurt Zeitzler (1942-1944); General Oberst Heinz Guderian (1944-1945) General Hans Krebs (1945, committed suicide in the Führer Bunker)
  • OKM — the Supreme Command of the Navy
Navy Commanders-in-Chief
Grand Admiral Erich Raeder (1928-1943)
Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz (1943-1945)
General Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg (1945)
  • OKL — the Supreme Command of the Air Force
Air Force Commanders-in-Chief
Reich Marshal Hermann Göring (to 1945)
General Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim (1945)

The OKW was also tasked with central economic planning and procurement, but the authority and influence of the OKW's war economy office (Wehrwirtschaftsamt) was challenged by the procurement offices (Waffenämter) of the single branches of service as well as by the Ministry for Armament and Munitions (Reichsministerium für Bewaffnung und Munition), into which it was merged after the ministry was taken over by Albert Speer in early 1942.

[edit] War years

Image:Wehrmacht Action Eastern Front.jpg
Wehrmacht soldiers during combat with Pak36 anti-tank gun.
Image:German cavalry.jpg
German cavalry and motorized units entering Poland from East Prussia during the Invasion of Poland of 1939

Powerful tank and air forces enabled quick successes (Blitzkrieg) during early stages of the war when nation after nation was overrun and occupied within weeks. This convinced military leaders that a new concept of broad armament made sense, rather than the conventional deep armament which provided supplies over a long period of time. However, when powerful adversaries (the United Kingdom, Soviet Union and United States) began offering tenacious resistance, the Blitzkrieg tactics could not be applied and the relatively low state of armament, shortage of fuel supply etc. became a problem for the Wehrmacht.

The Wehrmacht's military strength was managed through mission-based tactics (rather than order-based tactics) and an almost proverbial discipline. In public opinion, the Wehrmacht was and is sometimes seen as a high-tech army, since new technologies were introduced during World War II, including the reprisal weapons, the Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket interceptor, the Me 262 jet fighter, and midget submarines. These technologies were featured by propaganda, but were often only available in small numbers or late in the war, as overall supplies of raw materials and armaments became low. For example only forty percent of all units were motorised, baggage trains often relied on horses and many soldiers went by foot or, sometimes, used bicycles (many stolen from the local population).

Max Hastings, respected British author, historian and ex-newspaper editor, said in a radio interview on WGN Chicago "...there's no doubt that man for man, the German army was the greatest fighting force of the second world war". This view was also explained in his book "Overlord: D-Day and the battle for Normandy". 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'. These views of the Wehrmacht are an attempt to evaluate their fighting abilities and not trying to excuse or justify the aims or actions of the Nazi regime.

Among the foreign volunteers who served in the Wehrmacht 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 and non-Russians from the Soviet Union formed the Ostlegionen. These units were all commanded by General Ernst August Köstring and represented about five percent of the Wehrmacht.

[edit] Theaters and Campaigns

[edit] War crimes

The Wehrmacht committed numerous war crimes during World War II — terror bombing of open cities, massacres of civilians, summary executions of Soviet political officers as sanctioned by the Commissar Order, and executions of prisoners of war and civilian hostages as punishment for partisan activities in occupied territories. Though the massive exterminations associated with the Holocaust were primarily committed by the SS and the Einsatzgruppen, the Wehrmacht was also involved, as Wehrmacht officers and soldiers cooperated with the Einsatzgruppen in many locations rounding up Jews and others for internment or execution. Members of the Wehrmacht often participated in massacres themselves.[citation needed]

As the extent of the Holocaust became widely known by the end of the war, many former members of the Wehrmacht promoted the view that it was "unblemished" by the crimes allegedly committed exclusively by the SS and the political police forces, which both were not part of the Wehrmacht. Though it convicted OKW chief Wilhelm Keitel and chief of operations Alfred Jodl for war crimes, the Nuremberg tribunal did not declare the Wehrmacht to be a criminal organization, as it did with party organizations such as the SS. This was seen by many Germans as an exoneration of the Wehrmacht. Among German historians, the deep involvement of the Wehrmacht in war crimes, particularly on the Eastern Front, became widely accepted in the late 1970s and the 1980s.

[edit] Politics of the Wehrmacht

The military evaded political meddling during most of the Third Reich's history. Most of its leadership was politically conservative, nationalistic and hoped to re-establish German control of land lost following the First World War. Hitler had promised to rebuild Germany's military strength and thus officers were mostly sympathetic towards the National Socialist movement. 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. Not only did Hitler appoint unqualified personnel to lead his armies[citation needed], but also gave to his commanders impossible orders, such as to shoot all officers and enlisted men who retreated from a front line.

[edit] Conspiracy to kill Hitler

Officers such as Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and Wilhelm Canaris were unhappy with actions of the Hitler regime which they saw as immoral. Combined with Hitler's problematic military leadership, this culminated in the July 20 plot (1944), when a group of Wehrmacht officers led by Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg tried to assassinate Hitler and overthrow his regime. Following the attempt, Hitler distrusted the Wehrmacht, and many officers and soldiers were executed. Thereafter, every man and woman who approached Hitler was searched from head to foot by his SS guards.

[edit] Prominent members

Prominent German officers from the Wehrmacht era include:

[edit] After World War II

Following the unconditional German surrender on 7 May 1945 (which went into effect on 8 May 1945) Germany was forbidden to have an army. 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 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). Neither side could do without experienced soldiers so each army initially had substantial numbers of officers who were former Wehrmacht members.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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