Origin and use of the term[edit | edit source]

The German term Wehrmacht generically describes any nation's armed forces, thus Britische Wehrmacht denotes "British Armed Forces."

The Frankfurt Constitution of 1848 (Paulskirchenverfassung) designated all German military forces as the "German Wehrmacht", consisting of the Seemacht (sea force) and the Landmacht (land force). In 1919, the term Wehrmacht also appears in Article 47 of the October Constitution, establishing that: The German Emperor holds supreme command of all armed forces [i.e. the Wehrmacht] of the Reich ("Der Deutscher Kaiser hat den Oberbefehl über die gesamte Wehrmacht des Reiches"). From 1919, Germany's national defense force was known as the Reichswehr, which name was dropped in favor of Wehrmacht on 16 March 1935. In modern day Germany the name Wehrmacht is considered a proper noun for the 1935–90 armed forces, and the term Streitkräfte is used for any nation's "armed forces"; however, this was not so even some decades after 1945. In English writing Wehrmacht is often used to refer specifically to the land forces (army); the correct German for this is Heer.

History[edit | edit source]

Werner Goldberg, who was blond and blue-eyed, was used in Wehrmacht recruitment posters as the "ideal German soldier". He was later dismissed after it became known that he was a half Jew.

After the Great War ended with the signing of the armistice of 1 September 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 Vorläufige 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.

The assesment of Imperial Army's victories and defeats in the war lead the officers to believe that a reorganization of the armed forces was necessary for if and when war broke out again. Germany's Flying Corps was considered the best air force in Europe by the wars end, Chief of General Staff Hans von Seeckt, who saw the advantages of air-warfare, created a clandestine cadre of air-force officers in the early 1920s. Seeckt's cadre of air-officers saw the role of an air-force as winning air-superiority, tactical and strategic bombing and providing ground support. That the Luftwaffe did not develop a strategic 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 protégé of Alfred von Tirpitz, was dedicated to the idea of expanding Tirpitz's High Seas Fleet. Officers who believed in submarine warfare led by Admiral Karl Dönitz 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.

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. In 1924 a training base was established at Lipetsk in central Russia, where several hundred German air force personnel received instruction in operational maintenance, navigation, and aerial combat training over the next decade until the Germans finally left in September 1933. Additionally some tank training took place near Kazan, and toxic gas was developed at Saratov for the German army.

Adolf Hitler and expansion[edit | edit source]

Adolf Hitler wanted control of the German military but so long as the German monarchy continued this would never happen, the Kaiser was commander in chief. All officers and soldiers of the German armed forces had to swear a personal oath of loyalty to the Kaiser. The oath stated the following:

"I swear by God this sacred oath that to the Emperor of the German empire and people, William II, supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath." German: Ich schwöre bei Gott diesen heiligen Eid, daß ich der Kaiser des Deutschen Reiches und Volkes Wilhelm II, dem Oberbefehlshaber der Wehrmacht, unbedingten Gehorsam leisten und als tapferer Soldat bereit sein will, jederzeit für diesen Eid mein Leben einzusetzen.

By 1935, Germany was openly flouting the military expansion: The German armament program was announced on 16 March. While the size of the standing army was to remain at about the 500,000-man mark, a new group of conscripts equal to this size would receive training each year. A new 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. Hitler’s proclamation of the Wehrmacht's existence included a total of no less than 36 divisions in its original projection. In December 1935, General Ludwig Beck added 48 tank battalions to the planned armament program.

The insignia of the Wehrmacht 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 late in the Great War, beginning in March and April 1918.

Command structure[edit | edit source]

Template:Further Legally, the Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht was German Emperor in his capacity as Germany's head of state. 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 Kaiser's 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 war time practice the OKW had operational authority over the Western Front whereas the Eastern Front was under the operational authority of the OKH.

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 (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.

See also[edit | edit source]

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