The Reichswehr (English: Realm Defence) formed the military organisation of Germany from 1919 until 1935, when it was united with the new Wehrmacht (Defence Force).

Realm Defence
War Ensign of Germany (1921-1933)
War Ensign of the Reichswehr
Founded19 January 1919
Disbanded16 March 1935
Service branches Reichsheer
HeadquartersZossen, near Berlin
Commander-in-chiefFriedrich Ebert (1919–25)
Paul von Hindenburg (1925–34)
Adolf Hitler (1934–35)
Minister of DefenceSee list
Chief of the Troop OfficeSee list
Military age18–45
Active personnel115,000 (1921)
Related articles
HistoryGerman Revolution
Silesian Uprisings
Suppression of the Beer Hall Putsch
Ruhr Uprising
Kapp Putsch (limited support)
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-2005-0163, Thüringen, Reichswehrmanöver, Hans v. Seeckt
General Hans von Seeckt, Chief of the Reichswehr together with infantry men at a Reichswehr manoeuvre in Thuringia, 1926
Kommandostruktur des Reichsheeres
Reichswehr army structure 1920–21 to 1934


At the end of World War I, the forces of the German Empire were disbanded, the men returning home individually or in small groups. Many of them joined the Freikorps (Free Corps), a collection of volunteer paramilitary units that were involved in suppressing the German Revolution and border clashes between 1918 and 1923.

The Reichswehr was limited to a standing army of 100,000 men,[1] and a navy of 15,000. The establishment of a general staff was prohibited. Heavy weapons such as artillery above the calibre of 105 mm (for naval guns, above 205 mm), armoured vehicles, submarines and capital ships were forbidden, as were aircraft of any kind. Compliance with these restrictions was monitored until 1927 by the Military Inter-Allied Commission of Control.

It was conceded that the newly formed Weimar Republic did need a military, so on 6 March 1919 a decree established the Vorläufige Reichswehr (Provisional National Defence), consisting of the Vorläufiges Reichsheer (Provisional National Army) and Vorläufige Reichsmarine (Provisional National Navy). The Vorläufige Reichswehr was made up of 43 brigades.[2]

On 30 September 1919, the army was reorganised as the Übergangsheer (Transitional Army), and the force size was reduced to 20 brigades.[2] About 400,000 men were left in the armed forces,[3] and in May 1920 it further was downsized to 200,000 men and restructured again, forming three cavalry divisions and seven infantry divisions. On 1 October 1920 the brigades were replaced by regiments and the manpower was now only 100,000 men as stipulated by the Treaty of Versailles.[2] This lasted until 1 January 1921, when the Reichswehr was officially established according to the limitations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles (Articles 159 to 213).

The Reichswehr was a unified organisation composed of the following (as was allowed by the Versailles Treaty):

Bundesarchiv Bild 102-10351, Kreis Frankfurt a-O, Herbstmanöver der Reichswehr
Reichswehr soldiers in a military exercise, September 1930

Despite the limitations on its size, their analysis of the loss of World War I, research and development, secret testing abroad (in co-operation with the Red Army) and planning for better times went on. In addition, although forbidden to have a General Staff, the army continued to conduct the typical functions of a general staff under the disguised name of Truppenamt (Troop Office). During this time, many of the future leaders of the Wehrmacht – such as Heinz Guderian – first formulated the ideas that they were to use so effectively a few years later.

State within the state

In 1918, Wilhelm Groener, Quartermaster General of the German Army, had assured the government of the military's loyalty.[6][7] But most military leaders refused to accept the democratic Weimar Republic as legitimate and instead the Reichswehr under the leadership of Hans von Seeckt became a state within the state that operated largely outside of the control of the politicians.[8] Reflecting this position as a “state within the state”, the Reichswehr created the Ministeramt or Office of the Ministerial Affairs in 1928 under Kurt von Schleicher to lobby the politicians.[9] The 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).[10]

The biggest influence on the development of the Reichswehr was Hans von Seeckt (1866–1936), who served from 1920 to 1926 as Chef der Heeresleitung (Chief of the Army Command) – succeeding Walther Reinhardt. After the Kapp Putsch, Hans von Seeckt took over this post. After Seeckt was forced to resign in 1926, Wilhelm Heye took the post. Heye was in 1930 succeeded by Kurt Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord, who submitted his resignation on 27 December 1933.

The forced reduction of strength of the German army from 4,500,000 in 1918 to 100,000 after Treaty of Versailles, enhanced the quality of the Reichsheer because only the best were permitted to join the army. However the changing face of warfare meant that the smaller army was impotent without mechanization and air support, no matter how much effort was put into modernising infantry tactics.

During 1933 and 1934, after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, the Reichswehr began a secret program of expansion. In December 1933, the army staff decided to increase the active strength to 300,000 men in 21 divisions. On 1 April 1934, between 50,000 and 60,000 new recruits entered and were assigned to special training battalions. The original seven infantry divisions of the Reichswehr were expanded to 21 infantry divisions, with Wehrkreis headquarters increased to the size of a corps HQ on 1 October 1934.[11] These divisions used cover names to hide their divisional size, but, during October 1935, these were dropped. Also, during October 1934, the officers who had been forced to retire in 1919 were recalled; those who were no longer fit for combat were assigned to administrative positions – releasing fit officers for front-line duties.[12]

Transition to the Wehrmacht

Bundesarchiv Bild 102-16108, Vereidigung von Reichswehr-Soldaten auf Hitler
Reichswehr soldiers swear the Hitler oath in August 1934, with hands raised in the traditional schwurhand gesture

The Nazi Party came to power in Germany in 1933. The Sturmabteilung (Storm Battalion or SA), the Nazi Party militia, played a prominent part in this change. Ernst Röhm and his SA colleagues thought of their force – at that time over three million strong – as the future army of Germany, replacing the smaller Reichswehr and its professional officers, whom they viewed as old fogies who lacked revolutionary spirit. Röhm wanted to become Minister of Defense, and in February 1934 demanded that the much smaller Reichswehr be merged into the SA to form a true people's army. This alarmed both political and military leaders, and to forestall the possibility of a coup, Hitler sided with conservative leaders and the military. Röhm and the leadership of the SA were murdered, along with many other political adversaries of the Nazis, including two Reichswehr generals, in the Night of the Long Knives (30 June – 2 July 1934).

The secret programme of expansion by the military finally became public in 1935. On 1 March 1935 the Luftwaffe was established. On 16 March 1935 Germany introduced conscription – in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. In the same act, the German government renamed the Reichswehr as the Wehrmacht (defence force). On 1 June 1935 the Reichsheer was renamed the Heer (army) and the Reichsmarine the Kriegsmarine.[13]

See also



  1. ^ Darman, Peter, ed. (2007). "Introduction: Deutschland Erwache". World War II A Day-By-Day History (60th Anniversary ed.). China: The Brown Reference Group plc. p. 10; 575. ISBN 978-0-7607-9475-3. The Reichswehr, the 100,000-man post-Versailles Treaty German Army, was forced to train with dummy tanks.
  2. ^ a b c Axis History Factbook, Introduction to the Reichswehr, accessed July 2015.
  3. ^ Haskew, Michael, The Wehrmacht, Amber Books Ltd. 2011, p. 13
  4. ^ Haskew, The Wehrmacht, p. 13
  5. ^ Porter, David, The Kriegsmarine, Amber Books Ltd. 2010, p. 11
  6. ^ Wheeler-Bennett, J.W. (1967). Hindenburg: The Wooden Titan. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 207–208.
  7. ^ William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, New York, NY, Simon & Schuster, 2011, p. 54
  8. ^ Kolb, Eberhard The Weimar Republic London: Routledge, 2005, p. 172
  9. ^ Wheeler-Bennett, John The Nemesis of Power, London: Macmillan, 1967, p. 198
  10. ^ Kolb, Eberhard The Weimar Republic London: Routledge, 2005, p. 173.
  11. ^ Robert B. Kane, Disobedience and Conspiracy in the German Army 1918–1945, 102. See also Robert J. O'Neill, The German Army and the Nazi Party 1933–39, London, 1968, pp. 91–92.
  12. ^ Stone, David J. (2006) Fighting for the Fatherland: The Story of the German Soldier from 1648 to the Present Day, p. 450.
  13. ^ Stone says 21 May; Fighting for the Fatherland, p. 316.


  • Deist, Wilhelm; Messerschmidt, Manfred; Volkmann, Hans-Erich; Wette, Wolfram (1990). Volume I The Build-up of German Aggression. Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg [Germany and the Second World War]. I. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH. ISBN 0-19-822866-X.
  • Wheeler-Bennett, Sir John (2005) The Nemesis of Power: German Army in Politics, 1918–1945 New York: Palgrave Macmillan Publishing Company.
  • Keller, Peter (2014) "Die Wehrmacht der Deutschen Republik ist die Reichswehr". Die deutsche Armee 1918–1921 Paderborn: Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh.

External links

Alfred Jodl

Alfred Josef Ferdinand Jodl (listen ; 10 May 1890 – 16 October 1946) was a German general during World War II, who served as the Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht).

After the war, Jodl was indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes; and crimes against humanity at the Allied-organised Nuremberg trials. The principal charges against him related to his signature of the criminal Commando and Commissar Orders. Found guilty on all charges, he was sentenced to death and executed in 1946.

Army Personnel Office (Wehrmacht)

The Army Personnel Office (Heeres Personal Amt, Heerespersonalamt or Heeres Personalamt) was a German military agency formed in 1920 and charged with the personnel matters of all officers and cadets of the army of the Reichswehr and later the Wehrmacht. With increased recruitment of officers in 1935 and especially in the Second World War, it was given multiple new tasks. The growing demands led to numerous organisational changes.

In October 1942 Major General Rudolf Schmundt became the new head of the HPA. After his death from injuries received during the assassination attempt on Hitler's life of 20 July 1944 General Wilhelm Burgdorf took over the function.

The agency had several departments (Abteilung).

Abteilung P 1: Planning human resources, personnel management of the officers

Abteilung P 2: Disciplinary matters of the officers

Abteilung P 3: Staffing of the General Staff officers; transferred to the central department of the General Staff of the Army in 1935

Abteilung P 4: Personnel management of the officers of the special careers; was renamed P 3 on 1 April 1939

Abteilung P 5: Order, decorations and awards department

Black Reichswehr

Black Reichswehr (German: Schwarze Reichswehr) was the name for the extra-legal paramilitary formations promoted by the German Reichswehr army during the time of the Weimar Republic; it was raised despite restrictions imposed by the Versailles Treaty. The secret organization was dissolved in 1923 upon the failed Küstrin Putsch.

Ernst Röhm

Ernst Julius Günther Röhm (German: [ˈɛɐ̯nst ˈʁøːm]; 28 November 1887 – 1 July 1934) was a German military officer and an early member of the Nazi Party. As one of the members of its predecessor, the German Workers' Party, he was a close friend and early ally of Adolf Hitler and a co-founder of the Sturmabteilung (SA, "Storm Battalion"), the Nazi Party's militia, and later was its commander. By 1934, the German Army feared the SA's influence and Hitler had come to see Röhm as a potential rival, so he was executed during the Night of the Long Knives, also known as the "Röhm Purge".


Feldwebel (Fw or F), literally "field usher", is a non-commissioned officer (NCO) rank in several countries. The rank originated in Germany, and is also used in Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, and Estonia. The rank has also been used in Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria.

Feldwebel is a contraction of feld meaning "field" and weibel, an archaic word meaning "usher". Weibel comes from the Old High German weibôn, meaning to go back and forth.

There are variations on feldwebel, such as Oberstabsfeldwebel ("Superior Staff Field Usher"), which is the highest non-commissioned rank in the German army and air force.


Generaloberst, in English colonel general, was, in Germany and Austria-Hungary—the German Reichswehr and Wehrmacht, the Austro-Hungarian Common Army, and the East German National People's Army, as well as the respective police services—the second highest general officer rank, ranking above full general but below general field marshal. It was equivalent to Generaladmiral in the Kriegsmarine until 1945, or to Flottenadmiral in the Volksmarine until 1990. The rank was the highest ordinary military rank and the highest military rank awarded in peacetime; the higher rank of general field marshal was only awarded in wartime by the head of state. In general, a Generaloberst had the same privileges as a general field marshal.

A literal translation of Generaloberst would be "uppermost general", but it is often translated as "colonel-general" by analogy to Oberst, "colonel", including in countries where the rank was adopted, e.g. in Russia (генерал-полковник, general-polkovnik). "Oberst" derives from the superlative form of Germanic ober (upper), cognate to English over, thus "Superior General" might be a more idiomatic rendering. The rank was created in 1854, originally for Emperor William I—then Prince of Prussia—because traditionally members of the royal family were not promoted to the rank of field marshal. During the 19th century the rank was largely honorary and usually only held by members of the princely families or the Governor of Berlin. Regular promotion of professional officers to the grade did not begin until 1911. Since the rank of Generalfeldmarschall was also reserved for wartime promotions, the additional rank of a "supreme general in the capacity of a field marshal"—the Generaloberst im Range eines Generalfeldmarschalls—was created for promotions during peacetime. Such generals were entitled to wear four pips on their shoulder boards, compared to the normal three. As such, Generaloberst could be a peacetime equivalent of the general field marshal rank.

Generaloberst was the second highest general officer rank—below field marshal—in the Prussian Army as well as in the German Empire (1871–1918), the Weimar Republic (1921–33), the Wehrmacht (which included the Luftwaffe, established in 1935) of Nazi Germany (1933–45), and the East German Nationale Volksarmee (1949–1991). As military ranks were often used for other uniformed services, the rank was also used by the Waffen-SS and the Ordnungspolizei of Nazi Germany, and the Volkspolizei and Stasi of East Germany. In East Germany, the rank was junior to the general of the army (Armeegeneral), as well as to the briefly extant, and never awarded, rank of Marschall der DDR.

Georg Lindemann

Georg Lindemann (8 March 1884 – 25 September 1963) was a German general during World War II. He commanded the 18th Army during the Soviet Kingisepp–Gdov Offensive.

Hans Krebs (Wehrmacht general)

Hans Krebs (4 March 1898 – 2 May 1945) was a German Army general of infantry who served during World War II.Krebs was a career soldier, serving in the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht. He served as the last Chief of Staff of the OKH during the final phase of the war (1 April to 1 May 1945). Krebs tried to open surrender negotiations with the Red Army; he committed suicide in the Führerbunker during the early hours of 2 May 1945.

Hans von Seeckt

Johannes "Hans" Friedrich Leopold von Seeckt (22 April 1866 – 27 December 1936) was a German military officer who served as Chief of Staff to August von Mackensen, and was a central figure in planning the victories Mackensen achieved for Germany in the east during the First World War.

During the years of the Weimar Republic he was chief of staff for the Reichswehr from 1919 to 1920 and commander in chief of the German Army from 1920 until he resigned in October 1926. During this period he engaged in the reorganization of the army and laid the foundation for the doctrine, tactics, organization, and training of the German army. By the time Seeckt left the German Army in 1926 the Reichswehr had a clear, standardized operational doctrine, as well as a precise theory on the future methods of combat which greatly influenced the military campaigns fought by the Wehrmacht during the first half of the Second World War. However has been criticized for failing to expand the amount of trained reserves and officers reserves available to the army, which formed the main obstacle in rearmament during the Weimar Republic.Seeckt served as a member of parliament from 1930 to 1932, and from 1933 to 1935 was repeatedly in China as a military consultant to Chiang Kai-shek in his war against the Chinese Communists and was directly responsible for devising the Encirclement Campaigns, that resulted in a string of victories against the Chinese Red Army and forcing Mao Zedong into a 9,000 km retreat, also known as the Long March.

Heinkel HD 38

The Heinkel HD 38 was a fighter aircraft developed in Germany in the late 1920s. It was a compact, single-bay biplane with staggered wings of unequal span, braced with N-type interplane struts, a refined version of the HD 37 that had been evaluated and rejected by the Reichswehr for use at the secret training facility at Lipetsk. The HD 38 was designed in the hope of capturing a different niche - that of a seaplane fighter, and was designed with a twin pontoon undercarriage that could be quickly removed and replaced with wheels. It was accepted in this role, but did not serve in it for long before being relegated to general training duties. Even then, it was not long before Germany abandoned the Lipetsk base to the Soviet Union.

Heinkel HD 43

The Heinkel Doppeldecker 43 was a prototype German fighter aircraft of the 1930s. A single-engined, single-seat biplane, the HD 43 was designed to meet a secret German Reichswehr requirement for a single-seat fighter. It had two-bay wooden wings with a steel-tube fuselage, and was powered by a 750 hp (600 kW) BMW VI engine. The single prototype flew in 1931.It was evaluated against the Arado Ar 65, with the Arado being selected and no production of the Heinkel followed.

Hellmuth Felmy

Hellmuth Felmy (May 28, 1885 – December 14, 1965) was a German general and war criminal during World War II, commanding forces in occupied Greece and Yugoslavia. A high-ranking Luftwaffe officer, Felmy was tried and convicted in the 1948 Hostages Trial.

Kapp Putsch

The Kapp Putsch, also known as the Kapp–Lüttwitz Putsch after its leaders Wolfgang Kapp and Walther von Lüttwitz, was an attempted coup on 13 March 1920 which aimed to undo the German Revolution of 1918–1919, overthrow the Weimar Republic and establish a right-wing autocratic government in its place. It was supported by parts of the Reichswehr (military) and other conservative, nationalist and monarchist factions.

The coup took place in the capital, Berlin, and the legitimate German government was forced to flee the city. The coup failed after a few days, when large sections of the German population followed a call by the government to join a general strike. Most civil servants refused to cooperate with Kapp and his allies. Despite its failure, the putsch had significant consequences for the future of the Weimar Republic. It was one of the causes of the left-wing Ruhr uprising of March 1920, which the government suppressed by military force, whilst dealing leniently with those behind the putsch. These events polarized the electorate, resulting in a shift in the majority after the June Reichstag elections.

Kfz 13

The Kfz 13 (also in German: Maschinengewehr-Kraftwagen) was the first armoured reconnaissance vehicle introduced by the Reichswehr after the First World War and, by 1935, 147 units of this lightly armoured vehicle had been delivered to the fleet. The Kfz 13 was based on a civilian car, the Adler Standard 6. Although the Kfz 13 was equipped with all-wheel drive, the vehicle had poor cross-country capability.

The unarmed version, the Kfz 14 communications vehicle, was equipped with a radio set instead of the machine gun.

The Kfz 13 was deployed in the Invasion of Poland and the Battle of France. It was retired from active service in 1941 and only used thereafter for training purposes.

Kurt von Schleicher

Kurt Ferdinand Friedrich Hermann von Schleicher (listen ; 7 April 1882 – 30 June 1934) was a German general and the last Chancellor of Germany during the Weimar Republic.

Schleicher was born into an upper class family in Brandenburg an der Havel on 7 April 1882. Entering the Prussian Army as a cadet, he rose to become a General Staff officer in the Railway Department of the German General Staff and served in the General Staff of the Supreme Army Command during World War I.

An important player in the German army's efforts to avoid the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles, Schleicher rose to power as a close advisor to President Paul von Hindenburg from 1926 onward. In 1930 he was instrumental in the toppling of Hermann Müller's government and the appointment of Heinrich Brüning as Chancellor.

Beginning in 1932 he served as Minister of War in the cabinet of Franz von Papen, whom he succeeded as Chancellor on 3 December. During his brief term, Schleicher negotiated with Gregor Strasser on a possible secession of the latter from the Nazi Party but their scheme failed. Schleicher then proposed to President Hindenburg to disperse the Reichstag and rule as a de facto dictator, a course of action Hindenburg rejected. On 28 January 1933, facing a political impasse and deteriorating health, Schleicher resigned and recommended the appointment of Adolf Hitler in his stead. Seventeen months afterwards he was murdered on the orders of Hitler during the Night of the Long Knives.

Ministry of the Reichswehr

In the history of Germany, the Ministry of the Reichswehr or Reich Ministry of Defence (German: Reichswehrministerium) was the defence ministry of the Weimar Republic and the early Third Reich. The 1919 Weimar Constitution provided for a unified, national ministry of defence to coordinate the new Reichswehr, and that ministry was set up in October 1919, from the existing Prussian War Ministry and Reichsmarineamt. It was based in the Bendlerblock building. The Wehrgesetz (Defence Law) of 21 May 1935 renamed it the Reichskriegsministerium (Reich Ministry of War), which was then abolished in 1938 and replaced with the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht.

Otto Gessler

Otto Karl Gessler (or Geßler) (6 February 1875 – 24 March 1955) was a liberal German politician during the Weimar Republic. From 1910 until 1914, he was mayor of Regensburg and from 1913 to 1919 mayor of Nuremberg. He served in numerous Weimar cabinets, most notably as Reichswehrminister (Minister of Defence) from 1920 to 1928.

Werner von Blomberg

Werner Eduard Fritz von Blomberg (2 September 1878 – 14 March 1946) was a German Generalfeldmarschall, Minister of War, and Commander-in-Chief of the German Armed Forces until January 1938, as he was forced to resign due to his marriage with a woman who had posed for pornographic photographs.

Wilhelm Keitel

Wilhelm Bodewin Johann Gustav Keitel (22 September 1882 – 16 October 1946) was a German field marshal who served as Chief of the Armed Forces High Command (German: Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW) in Nazi Germany during World War II. According to David Stahel, Keitel was "well known and [...] reviled as Hitler’s dependable mouthpiece and habitual yes-man" among his military colleagues.Following the war, Keitel was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. He was found guilty, sentenced to death and executed by hanging in 1946. He was the third highest-ranking German officer to be tried at Nuremberg.

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