The Wehrmacht (German pronunciation: [ˈveːɐ̯maxt] (listen), lit. defence force) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Army, the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air force). The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr, and was the manifestation of Nazi Germany's efforts to rearm the nation to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.
After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, one of Adolf Hitler's most overt and audacious moves was to establish the Wehrmacht, a modern offensively-capable armed force. Fulfilling the Nazi regime's long-term goals of regaining lost territory as well as gaining new territory and dominating its neighbors required the reinstatement of conscription and massive investment and spending on the armaments industry.
The Wehrmacht formed the heart of Germany's politico-military power. In the early part of World War II, the Wehrmacht employed combined arms tactics (close cover air-support, mechanized armor, and infantry) to devastating effect in what became known as a Blitzkrieg (lightning war). Its campaigns in France (1940), the Soviet Union (1941), and North Africa (1941/42) are regarded as acts of boldness. At the same time, the far-flung advances strained Wehrmacht's capacity to the breaking point, culminating in the first major defeat in the Battle of Moscow (1941); by late 1942, Germany was losing the initiative in its major theatres. The operational art was no match to the war-making abilities of the Allied coalition, making Wehrmacht's weaknesses in strategy, doctrine, and logistics readily apparent.
Closely cooperating with the SS and the Einsatzgruppen, the German armed forces committed numerous war crimes and atrocities, despite later denials and promotion of the myth of the clean Wehrmacht. The majority of the war crimes were committed in the Soviet Union, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy, as part the war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, the Holocaust and Nazi security warfare.
During the war about 18 million men served in the Wehrmacht. By the time the war ended in Europe in May 1945, German forces, consisting of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen-SS, the Volkssturm and foreign collaborateur units, had lost approximately 11,300,000 men, about half of whom were missing or killed during the war. Only a few of the Wehrmacht's upper leadership were tried for war crimes, despite evidence suggesting that more were involved in illegal actions. The majority of the three million Wehrmacht soldiers who invaded the USSR participated in committing war crimes.
|Armed Forces of Nazi Germany|
|Founded||16 March 1935|
|Disbanded||20 September 1945[a]|
|Adolf Hitler (first)|
Karl Dönitz (last)
|Commander-in-chief||Paul von Hindenburg (first)|
Werner von Blomberg (last)
|Minister of War||Werner von Blomberg|
|Chief of the Armed Forces High Command||Wilhelm Keitel|
|Active personnel||18,000,000 (total served)|
|Budget||19 billion ℛℳ (1939)|
89 billion ℛℳ (1944)[b]
|Percent of GDP||25% (1939)|
Henschel & Son
|History||History of Germany during World War II|
The German term "Wehrmacht" stems from the compound word of German: wehren, "to defend" and Macht, "power, force".[c] It has been used to describes any nation's armed forces; for example, Britische Wehrmacht meaning "British Armed Forces." The Frankfurt Constitution of 1849 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 Weimar Constitution, establishing that: "The Reich's President holds supreme command of all armed forces [i.e. the Wehrmacht] of the Reich". From 1919, Germany's national defense force was known as the Reichswehr, a name that was dropped in favor of Wehrmacht on 21 May 1935.
In January 1919, after World War I ended with the signing of the armistice of 11 November 1918, the armed forces were dubbed Friedensheer (peace army). In March 1919, the national assembly passed a law founding a 420,000-strong preliminary army, the Vorläufige Reichswehr. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles were announced in May, and in June, Germany signed the treaty that, 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 Reichswehr was limited to 115,000 men, and thus the armed forces, under the leadership of Hans von Seeckt, retained only the most capable 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. In the 1920s, Seeckt and his officers developed new doctrines that emphasized speed, aggression, combined arms and initiative on the part of lower officers to take advantage of momentary opportunities. Though Seeckt retired in 1926, the army that went to war in 1939 was largely his creation.
Germany was forbidden to have an air force by the Versailles treaty; nonetheless, Seeckt created a clandestine cadre of air force officers in the early 1920s. These 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 reviving Tirpitz's High Seas Fleet. Officers who believed in submarine warfare led by Admiral Karl Dönitz were in a minority before 1939.
By 1922, Germany had begun covertly circumventing the conditions of the Versailles Treaty. 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.
After the death of President Paul von Hindenburg on 2 August 1934, Adolf Hitler assumed the office of President of Germany, and thus became commander in chief. In February 1934, the Defence Minister Werner von Blomberg, acting on his own initiative, had all of the Jews serving in the Reichswehr given an automatic and immediate dishonorable discharge. Again, on his own initiative Blomberg had the armed forces adopt Nazi symbols into their uniforms in May 1934. In August of the same year, on Blomberg's initiative and that of the Ministeramt chief General Walther von Reichenau, the entire military took the Hitler oath, an oath of personal loyalty to Hitler. Hitler was most surprised at the offer; the popular view that Hitler imposed the oath on the military is false. The oath read: "I swear by God this sacred oath that to the Leader of the German empire and people, Adolf Hitler, 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".
By 1935, Germany was openly flouting the military restrictions set forth in the Versailles Treaty: German re-armament was announced on 16 March as was the reintroduction of conscription. 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"; the Reichswehr was officially renamed the Wehrmacht on 21 May 1935. Hitler's proclamation of the Wehrmacht's existence included a total of no less than 36 divisions in its original projection, contravening the Treaty of Versailles in grandiose fashion. In December 1935, General Ludwig Beck added 48 tank battalions to the planned rearmament program.
Wehrmacht's armaments received a large boost as a consequence of occupation of Czechoslovakia. In a speech delivered in the Reichstag, Hitler stressed that by occupying Czechoslovakia, Germany gained 2,175 field cannons, 469 tanks, 500 anti-aircraft artillery pieces, 43,000 machine guns, 1,090,000 military rifles, 114,000 pistols, about a billion rounds of ammunition and three million anti-aircraft rounds. This amount of weaponry would be sufficient to arm about half of the then Wehrmacht.
Recruitment for the Wehrmacht was accomplished through voluntary enlistment (1933–45) and conscription (1935–45), with 1.3 million being drafted and 2.4 million volunteering in the period 1935–1939. The total number of soldiers who served in the Wehrmacht during its existence from 1935 to 1945 is believed to have approached 18.2 million. As World War II intensified, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe personnel were increasingly transferred to the Army, and "voluntary" enlistments in the SS were stepped up as well. Following the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, fitness standards for Wehrmacht recruits were drastically lowered, with the regime going so far as to create "special diet" battalions for men with severe stomach ailments. Rear-echelon personnel were sent to front-line duty wherever possible, especially during the last two years of the war.
Prior to World War II, the Wehrmacht strove to remain a purely German force; as such, minorities, such as the Czechs in annexed Czechoslovakia, were exempted from military service after Hitler's takeover in 1938. Foreign volunteers were generally not accepted in the German armed forces prior to 1941.With the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the government's positions changed. German propagandists wanted to present the war not as a purely German concern, but as a multi-national crusade against the so-called Jewish Bolshevism. Hence, the Wehrmacht and the SS began to seek out recruits from occupied and neutral countries across Europe: the Germanic populations of the Netherlands and Norway were recruited largely into the SS, while "non-Germanic" people were recruited into the Wehrmacht. The "voluntary" nature of such recruitment was often dubious, especially in the later years of the war, when even Poles living in the Polish Corridor were declared "ethnic Germans" and drafted.
After Germany's defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad, the Wehrmacht also made substantial use of personnel from the Soviet Union, including the Caucasian Muslim Legion, Turkestan legion, Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians and Russians, Cossacks, and others who wished to fight against the Soviet regime or who were otherwise induced to join. A few thousand White émigrés joined the ranks of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS, often acting as interpreters.
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 following the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, 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 Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg. After Blomberg resigned in the course of the affair in 1938 the ministry was dissolved and the Armed Forces High Command, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) under Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel was put in its place. Army work was also coordinated by the German General Staff.
The OKW coordinated all military activities but Keitel's sway over the three branches of service was limited. Each had its own High Command, known as Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH), Oberkommando der Marine (OKM), and Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL). 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. Even after the defeat at Stalingrad, did Hitler not want to create a tri-service joint command, or appointment of a single joint Chief of Staff, as he felt that Göring as Reichsmarschall and Hitler's deputy would not submit to someone else or see himself as an equal to other service commanders. Influence with Hitler not only came from rank and merit, but also who Hitler perceived as loyal, leading to rivalry between his military advisors.
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 was challenged by the procurement offices of the single branches of service as well as by the Ministry for Armament and Munitions, into which it was merged after the ministry was taken over by Albert Speer in early 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. Germany's immediate military success on the field at the start of the Second World War coincides the favorable beginning they achieved during the First World War, a fact which some attribute to their superior officer corps.
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), Denmark and Norway (April 1940), Belgium, France, and Netherlands (May 1940), Yugoslavia and Greece (April 1941) and the early stage of Operation Barbarossa in the Soviet Union (June 1941).
After Hitler declared war on the United States in December 1941, the Axis powers found themselves engaged in campaigns against several major industrial powers while Germany was still in transition to a war economy. German units were then overextended, undersupplied, outmaneuvered, outnumbered and defeated by its enemies in decisive battles during 1941, 1942, and 1943 at the Battle of Moscow, the Siege of Leningrad, Stalingrad, Tunis in North Africa, and the Battle of Kursk.
The Germans' army military was managed through mission-based tactics (rather than order-based tactics) which was intended to give commanders greater freedom to act on events and exploit opportunities. In public opinion, the German Army was, and sometimes still is, seen as a high-tech army. However, such modern equipment, while featured much in propaganda, was often only available in relatively small numbers. This was primarily because the country was not run as a war economy until 1942–1943. Only 40% to 60% of all units in the Eastern Front were motorized, baggage trains often relied on horse-drawn trailers due to poor roads and weather conditions in the Soviet Union, and for the same reasons many soldiers marched on foot or used bicycles as bicycle infantry. As the fortunes of war turned against them, the Germans were in constant retreat from 1943 and onward.
The Panzer divisions were vital to the German army's early success. In Hitler's "Blitzkrieg", the German army used tactics that combined close support from the air force and the ground forces to quickly sweep through Europe. During his time in World War I, Hitler had spent a large portion of the war fighting on a relatively static battleground where both sides gained and lost very little ground. However, in the strategies of the Blitzkrieg, the Wehrmacht combined the mobility of light tanks with airborne assault to quickly progress through weak enemy lines, enabling the German army to quickly and brutally take over Poland and France. These tanks were used to break through enemy lines, isolating regiments from the main force so that the infantry behind the tanks could quickly kill or capture the enemy troops.
Originally outlawed by the Treaty of Versailles, the Luftwaffe was officially established in 1935, under the leadership of Hermann Göring. First gaining experience in the Spanish Civil War, it was a key element in the early blitzkrieg campaigns (Poland, France 1940, USSR 1941). The Luftwaffe concentrated production 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. Overwhelming numbers of fighters assured air-supremacy, and the bombers would attack command- and supply-lines, depots, and other support targets close to the front. The Luftwaffe would also be used to transport paratroopers, as first used during Operation Weserübung. Due to the Army's sway with Hitler, the Luftwaffe was often subordinated to the Army. This meant it would be used as a tactical support role, losing its strategic capabilities. As the war progressed, Germany's opponents drastically increased their aircraft production and quality, improved pilot training, and gradually gained air-superiority. The Western Allies' strategic bombing campaign against German industrial targets, particularly the round the clock Combined Bomber Offensive, deliberately forced the Luftwaffe into a war of attrition. With German fighter force destroyed the Western Allies had air supremacy over the battlefield, denying support to German forces on the ground and using its own fighter-bombers to attack and disrupt. Following the losses in Operation Bodenplatte in 1945, the Luftwaffe was no longer an effective force.
Kriegsmarine was the smallest of the Wehrmacht branches and had the fewest resources. By the time of the invasion of Norway (1940), the navy had already lost a number of its large surface ships, with more soon destroyed in instances of single combat. These losses could not be replenished during the war. 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" Admiral Graf Spee and Admiral Scheer 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 Graf Zeppelin which had been launched in 1938. Following the loss of the German battleship Bismarck 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 along the coast of Norway, which had been occupied in 1940, convoys from North America to the Soviet port of Murmansk could be intercepted though the Tirpitz spent most of her career as fleet in being. After the appointment of Karl Dönitz 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.
The Kriegsmarine's most significant contribution to the German war effort was the deployment of its nearly 1,000 U-boats to strike at Allied convoys. The German naval strategy was to attack the convoys in an attempt to prevent the United States from interfering in Europe and to starve out the British. Karl Doenitz, the U-Boat Chief, began unrestricted submarine warfare which cost the Allies 22,898 men and 1,315 ships. The U-boat war remained costly for the Allies until early spring of 1943 when the Allies began to use countermeasures against U-Boats such as the use of Hunter-Killer groups, airborne radar, torpedoes and mines like the FIDO. The submarine war cost the navy 757 U-boats, with more than 30,000 U-boat crewmen killed.
The Waffen-SS, the combat branch of the SS (Nazi Party's paramilitary organization), became a significant fighting force of Nazi Germany 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 (the OKW) or the Supreme High Command of the Army (the OKH). Interservice rivalry hampered organization in the German armed forces, as the OKW, OKH, OKL and the Waffen-SS often worked concurrently and not as a joint command.
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 Theatre. The operations by the Kriegsmarine in the North and Mid-Atlantic can also be considered as separate theatres considering the size of the area of operations and their remoteness from other theatres.
The Wehrmacht fought on other fronts, sometimes three simultaneously; redeploying troops from the intensifying theatre in the East to the West after D-Day created tensions between the General Staff of both the OKW and the OKH as Germany lacked sufficient materiel and manpower for a two-front war of such magnitude.
Major battles and campaings in Eastern and Central Europe included:
More than 6,000,000 soldiers were wounded during the conflict, while more than 11,000,000 became prisoners. In all, approximately 5,318,000 soldiers from Germany and other nationalities fighting for the German armed forces—including the Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and foreign collaborationist units—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 per cent 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:
Whereas German deaths between 1941 and 1943 on the western front had not exceeded three per cent of the total from all fronts, in 1944 the figure jumped to about 14 per cent. Yet even in the months following D-day, about 68.5 per cent of all German battlefield deaths occurred on the eastern front, as a Soviet blitzkrieg in response devastated the retreating Wehrmacht.
Nazi propaganda had told Wehrmacht's soldiers to wipe out what were variously called Jewish Bolshevik subhumans, the Mongol hordes, the Asiatic flood and the red beast. While the principal perpetrators of the civil suppression behind the front lines amongst German armed forces were the Nazi German "political" armies (the SS-Totenkopfverbände, the Waffen-SS, and particularly the Einsatzgruppen, the paramilitary death squads of Nazi Germany that were responsible for mass killings, primarily by shooting and the implementation of the so-called Final Solution of the Jewish Question in territories occupied by Nazi Germany), 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 guerrilla attacks, German troops were to impose "collective measures of force" by massacring entire villages. Cooperation between the SS Einsatzgruppen and the Wehrmacht involved supplying the killing squads with weapons, ammunition, equipment, transport, and even housing. Partisan fighters, Jews, and Communists became synonymous enemies of the Nazi regime and were hunted down and exterminated by the Einsatzgruppen and Wehrmacht alike, something revealed in numerous field journal entries from German soldiers. 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 Kühne: "an estimated 300,000–500,000 people were killed during the Wehrmacht's Nazi security warfare in the Soviet Union."
While secretly listening to conversations of captured German generals, British officials became aware that the German Army had taken part in the atrocities and mass killing of Jews and were guilty of war crimes. American officials learned of Wehrmacht's atrocities in much the same way. Taped conversations of soldiers detained as POWs revealed how some of them voluntarily participated in mass executions.
The Kragujevac massacre was the mass murder of 2,778–2,794 mostly Serb men and boys in the city of Kragujevac by German soldiers on 21 October 1941. It occurred in the German-occupied territory of Serbia during World War II, and came in reprisal for insurgent attacks in the Gornji Milanovac district that resulted in the deaths of 10 German soldiers and the wounding of 26 others. The number of hostages to be shot was calculated based on a ratio of 100 hostages executed for every German soldier killed and 50 hostages executed for every German soldier wounded. After a punitive operation was conducted in the surrounding villages, during which 422 males were shot and four villages burned down, another 70 male Jews and communists who had been arrested in Kragujevac were shot. Simultaneously, males between the ages of 16 and 60, including high school students, were assembled by German troops and local collaborators, and the victims were selected from amongst them. The selected males were then marched to fields outside the city, shot with heavy machine guns, and their bodies buried in mass graves.
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.
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 Nazi crimes. Among German historians, the view that the Wehrmacht had participated in wartime 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. Historian Ben Shepherd writes that "There is now clear agreement amongst historians that the German Wehrmacht ... identified strongly with National Socialism and embroiled itself in the criminality of the Third Reich." British historian Ian Kershaw concludes that the Wehrmacht's duty was to ensure that the people who met Hitler's requirements of being part of the Aryan Herrenvolk ("Aryan master race") had living space. He wrote that:
The Nazi revolution was broader than just the Holocaust. Its second goal was to eliminate Slavs from central and eastern Europe and to create a Lebensraum for Aryans. ... As Bartov (The Eastern Front; Hitler's Army) shows, it barbarised the German armies on the eastern front. Most of their three million men, from generals to ordinary soldiers, helped exterminate captured Slav soldiers and civilians. This was sometimes cold and deliberate murder of individuals (as with Jews), sometimes generalised brutality and neglect. ... German soldiers' letters and memoirs reveal their terrible reasoning: Slavs were 'the Asiatic-Bolshevik' horde, an inferior but threatening race. Only a minority of officers and men were Nazi members.
Several high-ranking Wehrmacht officers, including Hermann Hoth, Georg von Küchler, Georg-Hans Reinhardt, Karl von Roques, Walter Warlimont and others, were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the High Command Trial given sentences ranging from time served to life.
Originally, there was little resistance within the Wehrmacht, as Hitler actively went against the Treaty of Versailles and recovering the Army's honor. The first major resistance began in 1938 with the Oster conspiracy, where several members of the military wanted to remove Hitler from power, as they feared a war with Czechoslovakia would ruin Germany. However, following the success of the early campaigns in Poland, Scandinavia and France, belief in Hitler was restored. With the defeat in Stalingrad, trust in Hitler's leadership began to wane. This caused an increase in resistance within the military. The resistance culminated in the 20 July plot (1944), when a group of officers led by Claus von Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Hitler. The attempt failed, resulting in the execution of 4,980 people and the standard military salute to being replaced with the Hitler salute.
Some members of the Wehrmacht did save Jews and non-Jews from the concentration camps and/or mass murder. Anton Schmid — a sergeant in the army — helped between 250 and 300 Jewish men, women, and children escape from the Vilna Ghetto in Lithuania. 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. He helped the Polish Jewish composer Władysław Szpilman, who was hiding among the city's ruins, by supplying him with food and water.
The Wehrmacht executed only three of its soldiers for rescuing Jews.
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. The last Wehrmacht unit to come under Allied control was an isolated weather station in Svalbard, which formally surrendered to a Norwegian relief ship on 4 September.
On 20 September 1945, with Proclamation No. 2 of the Allied Control Council (ACC), "[a]ll German land, naval and air forces, the S.S., S.A., S.D. and Gestapo, with all their organizations, staffs and institution, including the General Staff, the Officers' corps, the Reserve Corps, military schools, war veterans' organizations, and all other military and quasi-military organizations, together with all clubs and associations which serve to keep alive the military tradition in Germany, shall be completely and finally abolished in accordance with the methods and procedures to be laid down by the Allied Representatives." The Wehrmacht was officially dissolved by the ACC Law 34 on 20 August 1946, which proclaimed the OKW, OKH, the Ministry of Aviation and the OKM to be "disbanded, completely liquidated and declared illegal".
Soon after the war ended, when former Wehrmacht officers, veterans' groups and various far-right authors began to state that the Wehrmacht was an apolitical organization which was largely innocent of Nazi Germany's war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Veterans of the Waffen-SS attempted to benefit from the clean Wehrmacht myth, by declaring that the organisation had virtually been a branch of the Wehrmacht and therefore had fought as "honourably" as it. Its veterans organisation, HIAG, attempted to cultivate a myth of their soldiers having been "Soldiers like any other".
Immediately following the end of the war, many were quick to dismiss the Wehrmacht due to its failures and claim allied superiority. However, historians have since reevaluated the Wehrmacht in terms of fighting power and tactics, giving it a more favorable assessment. As it most of the time it fought, being outnumbered and outgunned but regularly inflicted higher losses than it received.
Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld, who examined the military force of the Wehrmacht in a purely military context, concluded: "The German army was a superb fighting organization. In point of morale, elan, troop cohesion and resilience, it was probably had no equal among twentieth century armies." German historian Rolf-Dieter Müller comes to the following conclusion:" In the purely military sense [...] you can indeed say that the impression of a superior fighting force rightly exists. The proverbial efficiency was even greater than previously thought, because the superiority of the opponent was much higher than at that time German officers suspected. The analysis of Russian archive files finally gives us a clear picture in this regard." Strategic thinker and professor Colin S. Gray believed that the Wehrmacht possessed outstanding tactical and operational capabilities. However, following a number of successful campaigns, German policy began to have victory disease, asking the Wehrmacht to do the impossible. The continued use of the Blitzkrieg also led to Soviets learning the tactic and using it against the Wehrmacht.
Following the division of Germany, many former Wehrmacht and SS officers in West German feared a Soviet invasion of the country. To combat this, several prominent officers created a secret army (the Schnez-Truppe), unknown to the general public and without mandate from the Allied Control Authority or the West German government.
By the mid-1950s, 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 (lit. Federal Defence). Its East German counterpart—created on 1 March 1956—took the name National People's Army (German: Nationale Volksarmee). Both organizations employed many former Wehrmacht members, particularly in their formative years, though neither organization considered themselves to be successors to the Wehrmacht.
The 100th Jäger Division, formerly the 100th Light Infantry Division (German: 100. Leichte Infanterie Division) was a light infantry division of the German Army during World War II. As such, it was provided with partial horse or motor transport and lighter artillery. Light divisions were reduced in size compared to standard infantry divisions. During the latter stages of the war, the division was composed of members from most of Germany's geographic areas and a large number of German-speaking Walloons (Belgian/French).10th Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)
The German 10th Infantry Division was created in October 1934 under the cover name Wehrgauleitung Regensburg (later Kommandant von Regensburg) to hide its violation of the Treaty of Versailles. It was renamed the 10th Infantry Division when the establishment of the Wehrmacht was announced publicly in October 1935.
The division participated in the annexation of Austria in March 1938, the invasion of Poland in September 1939, and the invasion of France in May 1940. Thereafter it was upgraded to the 10th Motorized Infantry Division. It was later redesignated 10th Panzergrenadier Division in June 1943.
In August 1944 the division was destroyed in the Battle of Kiev and ensuing defensive actions. It was partially reconstituted in Germany in October, and sent back to the front as an understrength Kampfgruppe ("battlegroup"). It was destroyed again in Poland in January 1945 and again partially reconstituted in February. The division finally surrendered to the Soviets in Czechoslovakia at the end of the war.22nd Air Landing Division (Wehrmacht)
The 22nd Infantry Division was a specialized German infantry division in World War II. Its primary method of transportation was gliders. The division played a significant role in the development of modern day air assault operations.286th Security Division (Wehrmacht)
The 286th Security Division (286. Sicherungs-Division) was a rear-security division in the Wehrmacht during World War II. The unit was deployed in German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, in the Army Group Centre Rear Area. It was responsible for large-scale war crimes and atrocities including the deaths of thousands of Soviet civilians.28th Jäger Division (Wehrmacht)
The 28th Jäger Division was a German military unit during World War II.3rd Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)
The 3rd Infantry Division was an infantry division of the German Army that fought in World War II. The division was established under the cover name Wehrgauleitung Frankfurt in 1934 by expanding the 3rd Division of the Reichswehr. It was redesignated Kommandant von Frankfurt shortly afterward, and took on its bona fide name when the formation of the Wehrmacht was announced in October 1935. In March 1939 the division took part in the invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia.
During World War II the division took part in the invasion of Poland in September 1939 where it was part of the German 4th Army. It then took part in the invasion of France in May 1940. In October that year it returned to Germany and was upgraded to a fully motorized division. (Most German divisions during the war had no transport for the infantry and used horses to tow their artillery; German industry could not turn out sufficient motor transport while also trying to meet other military requirements.)
Redesignated the 3rd Motorized Infantry Division it took part in Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, advancing on Leningrad under Army Group North. In October the division was transferred to Army Group Center for Operation Typhoon and the Battle of Moscow and the defensive battles of the winter. In mid-1942 it was transferred to Army Group South to take part in the summer offensive Fall Blau ("Case Blue"), and was ultimately caught up in the Battle of Stalingrad, where it was destroyed in the encirclement with the German 6th Army in February 1943.
It was reconstituted as the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division in March, absorbing the 386th Motorized Division in the process. It then fought on the Italian Front until the summer of 1944, when it was transferred to the Western Front to help re-establish the front line after the Allied breakout from the Normandy beachhead. Later in the year, it participated in the Battle of the Bulge and then in the defensive actions at Remagen, ultimately surrendering in the Ruhr Pocket in April 1945, shortly before Victory in Europe Day.6th Army (Wehrmacht)
The 6th Army, a field-army unit of the German Wehrmacht during World War II (1939-1945), has become widely remembered for its destruction by the Red Army at the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942/43. It also acquired a reputation for the war crimes (such as the massacre of more than 30,000 Jews at Babi Yar in September 1941) that it committed under the command of Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau during Operation Barbarossa.707th Infantry Division (Wehrmacht)
The 707th Infantry Division, also known as the 707th Security Division, was a German Army division of World War II. It was formed in May 1941, and destroyed by Soviet forces in June 1944. The unit was mainly used as a rear-security division in German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union, and was responsible for large-scale war crimes including the deaths of thousands of Jewish civilians.8th Jäger Division (Wehrmacht)
The German 8th Infantry Division (8. Infanterie-Division) was formed in Oppeln on 1 October 1934 under the cover name Artillerieführer III which was used until 15 October 1935. It was mobilized in August 1939 and took part in the Invasion of Poland, the Battle of France and the Operation Barbarossa, the |invasion of the Soviet Union. On 1 December 1941, it was reorganized and redesignated 8th Light Infantry Division. It was again redesignated on 30 June 1942 as the 8th Jäger Division. It surrendered to the Red Army in Moravia in May 1945.Clean Wehrmacht
The term Clean Wehrmacht (German: Saubere Wehrmacht), Clean Wehrmacht legend (Legende von der sauberen Wehrmacht), or Wehrmacht's "clean hands" denotes the myth that the Wehrmacht was an apolitical organization along the lines of its predecessor, the Reichswehr, and was largely innocent of Nazi Germany's war crimes and crimes against humanity, behaving in a similar manner to the armed forces of the Western Allies. This narrative is false, as shown by the Wehrmacht's own documents, such as the records detailing the executions of Red Army commissars by frontline divisions, in violation of the laws of war. While the Wehrmacht largely treated British and American POWs in accordance with these laws (giving the myth plausibility in the West), they routinely enslaved, starved, shot, or otherwise abused and murdered Polish, Soviet, and Yugoslav civilians and prisoners of war. Wehrmacht units also participated in the mass murder of Jews and others.The myth began in the late 1940s, with former Wehrmacht officers and veterans' groups looking to evade guilt, and a few German veterans' associations and various far-right authors and publishers in Germany and abroad continue to promote such a view. Modern defenders often downplay or deny the Wehrmacht's involvement in the Holocaust, largely ignore the German persecution of Soviet prisoners of war, and emphasise the role of the SS and the civil administration in the atrocities committed.
The Waffen-SS, in turn, attempted to benefit from the clean Wehrmacht myth by their veterans declaring the organisation to have virtually been a branch of the latter, and to have fought as "honourably" as it. Its veteran organisation, HIAG, attempted to cultivate a myth of their soldiers having been "Soldiers like any other".Führer
Führer (German pronunciation: [ˈfyːʁɐ], spelled Fuehrer when the umlaut is not available) is a German word meaning "leader" or "guide". As a political title it is associated with the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
Nazi Germany cultivated the Führerprinzip ("leader principle"), and Hitler was generally known as just der Führer ("the Leader").
The word Führer in the sense of "guide" remains common in German, and it is used in numerous compound words such as Oppositionsführer (Leader of the Opposition). However, because of its strong association with Hitler, the isolated word usually comes with stigma and negative connotations when used with the meaning of "leader", especially in political contexts. The word Führer has cognates in the Scandinavian languages, spelled fører in Danish and Norwegian which have the same meaning and use as the German word, but without necessarily having political connotations.German Army (1935–1945)
The German Army (German: Heer, German pronunciation: [ˈheːɐ̯], lit. Army) was the land forces component of the Wehrmacht, the regular German Armed Forces, from 1935 until it was demobilized and later dissolved in August 1946. During World War II, a total of about 13 million soldiers served in the German Army. Most of Germany's army personnel during the war were conscripted.
Only 17 months after Adolf Hitler announced publicly the rearmament program, the Army reached its projected goal of 36 divisions. During the autumn of 1937 two more corps were formed. In 1938 four additional corps were formed with the inclusion of the five divisions of the Austrian Army after the Anschluss in March. During the period of its expansion under Hitler, the German Army continued to develop concepts pioneered during World War I, combining ground (Heer) and air (Luftwaffe) assets into combined arms forces. Coupled with operational and tactical methods such as encirclements and the "battle of annihilation", the German military managed quick victories in the two initial years of World War II, a new style of warfare described as Blitzkrieg (lightning war) for its speed and destructive power.The infantry remained foot soldiers throughout the war; artillery also remained 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 main reason for the success of the German invasions of Poland (September 1939), Norway and Denmark (April 1940), Belgium, France and Netherlands (May 1940), Yugoslavia (April 1941) and the initial stages of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). However their motorized and tank formations accounted for only 20% of the Heer's capacity at their peak strength. The army's lack of trucks (and of petroleum to run them) severely limited infantry movement, especially during and after the Normandy invasion when Allied air-power devastated the French rail network north of the Loire. Panzer movements also depended on rail, since driving a tank long distances wore out its tracks.Kriegsmarine
The Kriegsmarine (German pronunciation: [ˈkʁiːksmaˌʁiːnə], lit. "War Navy") was the navy of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It superseded the Imperial German Navy of the German Empire (1871–1918) and the inter-war Reichsmarine (1919–1935) of the Weimar Republic. The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches, along with the Heer (Army) and the Luftwaffe (Air Force) of the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces from 1933 to 1945.
In violation of the Treaty of Versailles, the Kriegsmarine grew rapidly during German naval rearmament in the 1930s. The 1919 treaty had limited the size of the German navy previously, and prohibited the building of submarines.Kriegsmarine ships were deployed to the waters around Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) under the guise of enforcing non-intervention, but in reality supported the Nationalist side against the Spanish Republicans.
In January 1939 Plan Z was ordered, calling for surface naval parity with the British Royal Navy by 1944. When World War II broke out in September 1939, Plan Z was shelved in favour of a crash building program for submarines (U-boats) instead of capital surface warships and land and air forces were given priority of strategic resources.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine (as for all branches of armed forces during the period of absolute Nazi power) was the "Führer" Adolf Hitler, who exercised his authority through the Oberkommando der Marine.
The Kriegsmarine's most significant ships were the U-boats, most of which were constructed after Plan Z was abandoned at the beginning of World War II. Wolfpacks were rapidly assembled groups of submarines which attacked British convoys during the first half of the Battle of the Atlantic but this tactic was largely abandoned by May 1943 when U-boat losses mounted. Along with the U-boats, surface commerce raiders (including auxiliary cruisers) were used to disrupt Allied shipping in the early years of the war, the most famous of these being the heavy cruisers Admiral Graf Spee and Admiral Scheer and the battleship Bismarck. However, the adoption of convoy escorts, especially in the Atlantic, greatly reduced the effectiveness of surface commerce raiders against convoys.
After the Second World War in 1945, the Kriegsmarine's remaining ships were divided up among the Allied powers and were used for various purposes including minesweeping.Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW, "High Command of the Armed Forces", literally upper command) was the High Command of the Wehrmacht (armed forces) of Nazi Germany during World War II. Created in 1938, the OKW had nominal oversight over the Heer (Army), the Kriegsmarine (Navy), and the Luftwaffe (Air Force).
Rivalry with the armed services branch commands, mainly with the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH), prevented the OKW from becoming a unified German General Staff in an effective chain of command. It did help coordinate operations between the three services. During the war, the OKW, subordinate to Adolf Hitler as Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht, acquired more and more operational powers. By 1942, OKW had responsibility for all theaters except for the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union. However, Hitler manipulated the system in order to prevent any one command from taking a dominant role in decision making. This "divide and conquer" method helped put most military decisions in Hitler's own hands, which at times included even those affecting engagements at the battalion level.Ranks and insignia of the German Army (1935–1945)
The Heer as the German army and part of the Wehrmacht inherited its uniforms and rank structure from the Reichsheer of the Weimar Republic (1921–1935). There were few alterations and adjustments made as the army grew from a limited peacetime defense force of 100,000 men to a war-fighting force of several million men.
These ranks and insignia were specific to the Heer and in special cases to senior Wehrmacht officers in the independent services; the uniforms and rank systems of the other branches of the Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe (Air Force) and Kriegsmarine (Navy), were different, as were those of the SS which was a Party organization outside the Wehrmacht. The Nazi Party also had its own series of paramilitary uniforms and insignia.Reichswehr
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).War crimes of the Wehrmacht
During World War II, the German combined armed forces (Heer, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe) committed systematic crimes, including massacres, rape, looting, the exploitation of forced labor, the murder of three million Soviet prisoners of war, and participated in the extermination of Jews. While the Nazi Party's own SS forces (in particular the SS-Totenkopfverbände, Einsatzgruppen and Waffen-SS) of Nazi Germany was the organization most responsible for the genocidal killing of the Holocaust, the regular armed forces represented by the Wehrmacht committed war crimes of their own, particularly on the Eastern Front in the war against the Soviet Union.
The Nuremberg Trials at the end of World War II initially considered whether the Wehrmacht high command structure should be tried. However, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW - High Command of the Armed Forces) was judged not to be a criminal organization under the legal grounds that because of very poor co-ordination between the German Army, Navy and Air Force high commands, which operated as more or less separate entities during the war, the OKW did not constitute an "organization" as defined by Article 9 of the constitution of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) which conducted the Nuremberg trials. This matter of legal definition has been misconstrued by German World War II veterans and others to mean that the IMT ruled that the OKW was not a "criminal organization" because the Wehrmacht committed no war crimes.