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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Armed Forces of Nazi Germany
The Wehrmacht's emblem, the straight-armed Balkenkreuz (beam-cross), a stylized version of the Iron Cross seen in varying proportions
(first used in March 1918)
War ensign of Germany (1938–1945).svg
Reichskriegsflagge, the war flag and naval ensign of the Wehrmacht
Founded16 March 1935
Disbanded20 September 1945[1][a]
Service branches
Adolf Hitler (first)
Karl Dönitz (last)
Commander-in-chiefPaul von Hindenburg (first)
Werner von Blomberg (last)
Minister of WarWerner von Blomberg
Chief of the Armed Forces High CommandWilhelm Keitel
Military age18−45
Conscription1−2 years
Active personnel18,000,000 (total served)[4]
Budget19 billion ℛℳ (1939)
89 billion ℛℳ (1944)[b]
Percent of GDP25% (1939)[6]
75% (1944)[7]
Domestic suppliersAlkett
Henschel & Son
Related articles
HistoryHistory of Germany during World War II

The Wehrmacht (German pronunciation: [ˈveːɐ̯maxt] (About this soundlisten), 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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13] 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,[14] 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.[15][16] The majority of the three million Wehrmacht soldiers who invaded the USSR committed war crimes.[17]

YouTube Encyclopedic

  • 1/5
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  • ✪ The Wehrmacht 1/5: The Blitzkrieg
  • ✪ The US Army & German Wehrmacht VS Waffen SS - Battle for Castle Itter 1945
  • ✪ The Wehrmacht 2/5: The Turning Point
  • ✪ What did the British think about the Wehrmacht?
  • ✪ WWII Factions: The German Army


The Wehrmacht, 18 million men under arms commanded by Adolf Hitler. This army will march into Europe and wage the bloodiest war in history. What sort of an army was it? Obedient followers of Hitler, or millions of manipulated young men? Young men trained and sent to the front, one in three will perish. Hitler's officers and generals, status-conscious military professionals, most of them non-political, some of them were thoughtful men, many were spineless careerists. Did they all share Hitler's goals? What part did they play in the crimes committed in the name of the German people? Ordinary soldiers who put their lives on the line, privates, non-commissioned officers. What did they feel? What did they believe in, when they went to war? Everyone said "Hey, I want to be part of it." Everyone wanted to be a little hero. These days we're more critical of the soldier's profession. But in those days, we young men were happy to find any kind of work. I fired at him automatically and had to face the fact on my very first mission that I'd killed a human being. It still haunts me today. We didn't think about it. We were a group that stuck together pretty well. We ate our breed and our soup sitting beside our dead comrades. And we just kept hoping That we'd get through it. The feeling that I had to sacrifice my conscience to the duty of obedience, which I'd call blind obedience. A piece of our life was stolen from us. I can't put it any other way. At first, the Wehrmacht seems invincible. German soldiers are victorious in almost every battle. Battles that cause the deaths of millions, first of the enemy, then increasingly Germans too. What made this army so destructive? In military terms, Hitler was an amateur, yet he made himself Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. In a series of ruthless power struggles he gained absolute authority, and he made the Wehrmacht his tool. Recent research has uncovered new sources that give us a clearer picture of Hitler's Wehrmacht than ever before. The files give new answers to old questions. They illustrate how little separated good and evil. They reveal in a horrific way how people were abused and manipulated. And they show how many refused to heed their conscience. Newly discovered records offer a unique glimpse into the world of the German military elite. British Secret Service files. They were discovered and evaluated by historian Sönke Neitzel. Until recently these documents were still "top secret". Tens of thousands of pages on which secretly recorded conversations are transcribed. The conversations of leading generals of the Wehrmacht. This is where it happened, the idyllic country estate of Trent Park, near London. This where all the German Generals who were in the hands of Western Allies were held. The generals were captured, sometimes in dramatic circumstances, and were taken to an estate in a delightful locatiion. They live as if in peacetime, provided with every comfort. They sat there, forced to do nothing. This idleness meant that they talked to one another. They exechanged views on the war, war crimes, politics and the future. What's special about this is that the British recorded the converstations on dics. They're valuable as they're private converstations. While they were talking they didn't have to worry about their superiors, families or wives. They were completely frank in these converstations. We get very close to the generals, to what they thought and how they thought. Without realising it, the captured generals gave away their real opinions about the war, and the Nazis. <i>World History will concede one point to the Führer,</i> that he recognised this great Jewish danger for the whole of mankind. Once it was Genghis Khan, or Attila the Hun, this time is Jewish Bolshevism. We in our tiny West European countries have been so shortsighted. We were always bickering with each other over petty issues. We simply failed to understand what was threatening us from the East. - And this, the Führer was absolutely-- - But what he did was stupid. We were the stupid ones. The countries of Western Europe who refused to join us, those idiots! and we suddenly found ourselves fighting on two fronts. And doing the dirty work for the Western world. Few Wehrmacht soldiers are completely free of anti-Semitism and nationalism. They're children of their times. They don't realise they're witnessing the beginning of the greatest disaster the world has ever seen. They even regard Hitler as a man of peace. Hitler was always saying he'd been involved in World War I and had come back badly wounded and so on. Everyone was convinced he wouldn't start another war. I must say this too. During the campaing in Poland we assumed that the megalomania of the Poles was responsible for the war. That's what Heinrich Husmann has learned from the propaganda. He's with the 5th Panzer Division, based in Upper Silesia, in the summer of 1939. On September the 1st, the tanks cross the border into Poland. It's the start of World War II. The older soldiers have mixed feelings, but the young are consumed by Hitler's ideas. Walter Heinlein is 20 years old. I was enthusiastic I wanted to be a soldier. We had no idea how it would turn out. I was enthusiastic, glad to be off, hoping to make it before it was too late. On this first day of the war, Adolf Hitler addresses a jubilant German Parliament. He makes a blatant threat. Just as I myself am ready to stake my life... anyone can take it for my people and for Germany... so I ask the same of all others. But whoever thinks he can oppose this national command, whether directly or idirectly, shall fall. Traitors can expect nothing but death. We are all faithful to our old principle... It is quite unimportant whether we ourselves live but it is essential that our people live, that Germany live. The soldiers are not prepared for the horrors of war. The Wehrmacht is far superior to the defending Polish forces. Even so, the ugly reality comes as a shock. But the men can't give vent to their feelings. On September 2nd we had the First... two casualties in our company, killed during the attack on Pless. The Poles had a linie of bunkers there, and we infantrymen were supposed to take them... I almost said with our bare hands. We didn't succeed. Approximately 1.8 million Wehrmacht soldiers had been mobilised. They're going to war under the command of the generals. Men like Infantry General Johannes Blaskowitz, the son of a pastor from East Prussia. His mother died when he was still a baby. He was raised in military academies, the elite establishments of the Prussian aristocracy. Here he's trained for the life of an officer. The toughest education in the entire Reich. In exchange, a penniless young man gains entry to a privileged world. A uniform makes you something superior. Officers are treated with the highest respect, they receive the best service in restaurants, and the best tickets are reserved for them in the theatre. In WWI, a formative experience for most Wehrmacht generals, Blaskowitz makes rapid progress, at 33 he is appointed at Staff Headquarters. But then comes the defeat of 1918 and the Treaty of Versailles, a humiliating blow. The German army is cut to 100.000 men. The generals want only one thing, the return of their former power. Johannes Blaskowitz, now a Colonel, is accepted into the new Army, but is given administrative duties. For the time being, there is no hope of career advancement. Unknown to him, the Military Office in Berlin, an undercover General Staff, is already planning rearmament. Carl Dirks, himself a WWII veteran has written a book arguing that the army leadership wanted massive rearmament. There had benn plans for rearmament since 1923 after the French occupation of the Ruhr. At that time, by calling it a partiotic task, Rearmamenta could be planned. The General Hans von Seeckt, Under Paragraph 48 of the Constitution, was given temporary executive power. He no longer had to aks anyone if he was allowed to plan it or not. Hans von Seeckt, Head of the Army, is the driving force behind rearmament. It must be kept secret, for the planning alone is a violation of the peace treaty. In reality, Seeckt is planning for war. What does the General Staff want in the event of a crisis? They planned the necessary divisions and their equipment. Then they fleshed out the plan so it could be executed at the push of a button. That was the plan's purpose. It was a buleprint for the necessary material, The necessary money and prersonnel. They worked out they needed a total of 3.75 million soldiers. When Hitler comes to power in 1933, plans for the deployment of the Wehrmacht are ready. Carl Dirks has shown that the Wehrmacht of 102 divisions with which Hitler begins WWII, corresponds exactly to the blueprint of the generals. Everything is ready for Hitler. Rearmament now moves ahead at top speed. The effects can be felt in everyday life. Suddenly everyone was in uniform. It happened within eight months. There were officials who worked for government agencies. They were civilians. One lived near us in Doormannsweg. He'd greet us... We lived on the third floor in the Fruchtallee... Whenever he saw us at the window he'd raise his hat. Four weeks later, he turned up in uniform with a sword, and did this. I said "Look, he's in uniform." My father said "The postman will have a sword soon." I swear by God this solemn oath... ... that I will serve the Fuhrer of the German Reich, Adolf Hitler... and will always be ready... to lay down my life for this oath... It was heartfelt. I really meant it. From 1934 on, millions of manipulated young men had to swear allegiance directly to Hitler, a man who is planning a war of conquest. The idea came from the Wehrmacht leadership itself, some of the generals hoped that by this overt active loyalty they would preserve the military's independence. They're wrong. The Minister of War, Werner von Blomberg, is the first to suffer the consequences. In 1938, Blomberg is dismissed for marrying a former prostitute. Hitler himself was best man at the wedding. He feels he's been deceived. He exploits the situation for his next move. There's only one man he can trust to take charge of the Wehrmacht, himself. General Wilhelm Keitel, in charge of the newly created OKW, the Armed Forces High Command, reports directly to Hitler. Franz Halder becomes Chief of Staff of the Army High Command. The two organisations become permanent rivals, ideal conditions for Hitler's intrigues. Panzer General Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma knows the Army High Command well. In November 1942, he's captured by General Montgomery in North Africa, and greeted with a handshake. The British are experts in dealing with high-ranking prisoners; first they question them and keep them in basic accommodation, the same treatment given to an ordinary soldier. After they've suffered these disagreeable conditions for a while, they're taken to the more salubrious surroundings of Trent Park. The idea is, they'll feel comfortable here and converse freely with one another, not suspecting their every word is recorded by the microphones of the British Secret Service. It works. Thoma speaks quite openly about the Army's leadership. I tell you, don't expect anything from the General Staff. Ninety nine percent of them are completely spineless. They have always been servile... they were never commanders, they were more like assistants. Which is why most of them have no backbone, it's their upbringing, of course. You can't expect anything else! Hitler is mistrustful of his generals too, since he hasn't got them completely under his control. But he knows how to get his way, the generals are no match for him. Colonel Karl-Heinz Frieser is a military historian in today's German Army. It actually became a modus vivendi, an unholy alliance. They need one another. Hitler needed the reactionary military caste to wage his wars. The generals was Hitler as the one who not only set up new divisions but also created new posts as division commanders. Like Hitler, the generals want to win back what the Germans lost in WWI. But Hitler wants more, he wants to enslave the Slav peoples and to create "lebensraum", living space... in the East. Poland will become the first victim. There were only negative opinions of the Poles. Lazy dirty, old-fashioned and ugly. Anything unfashionable was "Polaish". So was anything dirty. Poland was depicted as the evil enemy. The war was expected to be over in two or three weeks. That's what they told us. Old prejudice and new belligerency fanned the flames against Poland. Johannes Blaskowitz is one of the generals in charge of the invasion. A few days before the start of hostilities, he issues a command. <i>Soldiers of the 8th Army, from today the 8th Army is established,</i> <i>the command of which has been entrusted to me by the supreme commander of the Wehrmacht.</i> <i>Our duty is to execute his will with hard, fast, forceful strikes.</i> <i>Long live the Führer!</i> The Polish campaign is a war between unequal opponents. The Poles put up fierce resistance, but in the end they can only wait in vain for the help of the Allies. Just three and half weeks after the outbreak of war, Blaskowitz accepts the Polish surrender, on a bus in Warsaw. Hitler's plans seem to be working. He presents himself as victor to the Poles, and to his own generals. This Commander-in-Chief can advance their careers. Soon after the victory parade, General Blaskowitz is awarded the Knight's Cross. He becomes head of the German occupation forces in Poland with the title, Commander-in-Chief of the East. He's still a loyal hard working general in Hitler's Wehrmacht, but he slowly begins to have misgivings. This war is different from previous ones. In the area under his command, Jews are being harassed, pressed into forced labour, abused and even shot. The generals only talk about it behind closed doors. It's the SS, not the Wehrmacht, that are carrying out the deliberate mass murders in Poland. But the overall head of occupying forces is Blaskowitz, a Wehrmacht general. After several months, he issues a statement. Only later, is it apparent that many officers and generals have been disturbed by the events in Poland. Edwin Graf von Rothkirch, is a 50 year old Colonel in the Cavalry Regiment. He has a hobby, making amateur films with his 8mm-camera. He also likes appearing in his films. Later, as a prisoner of war, he recalls a disagreeable situation. Only now does he dare to speak about it. I was in Kutno, I went there to film... I make films, that's all I do. I know an SS officer there quite well, and we were talking about this and that and then he said, "Do you feel like filming an execution?" I said, "No, I find that too disgusting." He said, "Well, it doesn't make any difference. "We always shoot people in the morning anyway. "But if you prefer, we still have a few left. We could also shoot them in the afternoon." You can't simply imagine how these men... they've become animals. September the 4th, 1939, Tschenstochau in Southern Poland, the 4th day of the war. For some unexplained reason wild shooting breaks out shortly after German Infantry entered the town. Eight German soldiers are killed, and fourteen wounded. The Germans retaliate in the most brutal fashion. Thousands of civilians are rounded up, at least 100 people are murdered, many of them Jews. Thus, from the opening days of the war, Wehrmacht units, some under Blaskowitz's command, have participated in atrocities. In this case, the original shooting seems to have been friendly fire, nervous German soldiers shooting at their own comrades. It was nothing unusual for then nerves to get the better of young soldiers. If you have a gun in your hands, your hands tremble. Then... you don't know what you're doing. You run without knowing where you're going. That's what it was like. You were happy if someone said "Get your arse down" or "Lie down" because then you were out of the line of fire. Nervous soldiers and aggressive Nazi ideology, a potent mix. Private Heinrich Hussman records his experiences in his diary. <i>September 10th, 1939, this city is Jews' paradise.</i> <i>I believe at least 85% of the inhabitants are Jews,</i> <i>and that's what it looks like, a terrible stench everywhere.</i> <i>And the Jewish shops are worst of all,</i> <i>they demand outrageous prices.</i> <i>We wouldn't dream of giving this vermin so much money.</i> Anti-Semitism was not rare in the Wehrmacht, but other soldiers are much less prejudiced. We were in a small village. Along came a young lady who must have 25 or 30. And she asked me... I was a sergeant, I think... And she asked me "Tell me, should we be fearing for our lives?" And I realised that she was probably Jewish. I told her that, as far as I knew, she had no need to fear. A year or a few months later I'd have said "Just get out of here." General von Rothkirch feels partly responsible for the atrocities he witnessed in Poland. Just look how savage we have become ourselves. I drove through a small Polish village, they were shooting students there, just because they were students, and Polish aristocrats and landowners too. They were shooting everyone. I went to General Bockelberg and told him about it. He just said... He just said, "Listen to me, it has to be done. There is no other way. "The students are the most dangerous of all, they all have to go. "And the aristocrats, they are always going to make trouble. "And don't get yourself so horribly worked up. "If we win the war, it won't matter." I said, "Herr General, that may be, but first of all "I will have to get used to these new principles." But he didn't protest. Not so General Blaskowitz, a devout Christian. He's genuinely horrified by the systematic murders the SS task forces have been carrying out. Though he ignores the actions of his own units, he criticises the misdeeds of the SS and the Police in two memos to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Walter von Brauchitsch. <i>The Army refuses to be linked with the atrocities of the Security Police,</i> <i>and refuses to work with the SS task forces,</i> <i>which function almost exclusively as execution units.</i> <i>The Police have so far only spread terror among the population.</i> <i>To what degree the Police are able to come to terms with the fact</i> <i>they are forcing their own people to take part in this murderous frenzy,</i> <i>cannot be judged from here.</i> <i>It is impossible to establish security and peace in this territory</i> <i>with violent measures alone.</i> Hitler is outraged and Blaskowitz is dismissed. However, only a few months later, he's given a new post in the West. The transcripts from Trent Park, reveal that his fellow generals knew the background of his dismissal, and did nothing. We shot people. It started in Poland as early as 39. Apparently the SS really cleaned up around there. That's probably why they dismissed Blaskowitz. Yes, of course. And the SS people were promoted, instead of being shot. Shortly after victory in Poland, Hitler reveals his next plan to the generals, he intends to attack France as soon as possible. Most of his generals believe it can't be done. Franz Halder, Chief of the Army General Staff, wants to talk Hitler out of it. He considers it the idea of a madman, but still he wavers. Christian Hartmann, a historian at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich, has researched all his life and his relations with Hitler. Halder was the great the hesitator, the vacillator. But it wasn't just psychological. It was also intellectual calculation. As a member of the General Staff he was used to working with several options. He was described as always having several fallback plans. I think that expressed Halder's role very well. A man who wanted to keep all his options open The day for the war in the West is postponed again and again. Could this give Halder his chance? For weeks, according to a confidant, Halder went to see Hitler with a pistol in his pocket, in order to shoot him. The crucial pionts is that Halder never fired that shot at Hitler. We alsno know they had major disagreements, not just in 1938-39, but also in the summer of 1941 and in 1942. It was a very ambivalent relationship But the assassination didn' happen, that's all that matters. In November 1939, Halder witnesses Hitler in a fit of rage, railing against the cowardliness and ineptitude of the generals. Halder now believes he has been betrayed, and resigns himself to remaining silent. A contemporary described the Chief of Staff thus: "Halder is like a balloon man, strong and brave when someone pumps him up, floppy and hollow when deflated." Meanwhile, in Koblenz, on the banks of the Rhine, in the Prince Bishop's Palace, now taken over by the Army, a rival of Halder is planning the campaign against France. General Erich von Manstein, Chief of Staff of the newly formed Army Group A, together with Panzer General Heinz Guderian, Manstein has developed a totally new concept. He doesn't think of fixed positions like WWI strategists, his will be a mobile war, a rolling attack that never stops, spearheaded by motorised units. The idea runs counter to the thinking of all the generals of Europe, from a military standpoint it's revolutionary, but it poses immense logistical problems. There are many myths about the French campaign. Research by military historian, Karl-Heinz Frieser, has traced some of them back to their roots. The Germans did something crazy. Following Manstein's plan They drove their tanks trought the Ardennes mountains and took the Allies completely by surprise. The second point was first ever operational use of tanks. While the allies, who had 4200 tanks, strung them out along the entire front, the Germans concetrated their 2400 tanks mainly in the Ardennes, and broke trough, which was a big surprise. The surprise attack is to come through South Belgium when no one is expecting it. No one worries about infringing the neutrality of the Benelux countries. This is the famous "sickle cut". Manstein's sickle-cut idea was so brethtakingly crazy... it was like Hannibal crossing the Alpes with his elephants... that it seemed to have been dreamt up by Jules Verne, not by the methodical, pedantic mind of a German general. So it came as a complete surprise. The weak point in Manstein's plan, is that the sickle-cut will expose a hundred-kilometer flank to the Allies. It's a huge gamble. The inventor of the Manstein plan became its first victim. General von Manstein was replaced as his plan was declared too adventurous and mad. Army Chief-of-Staff Halder exiles Manstein to an unimportant post in the provinces. But Manstein still manages to present his plan to Hitler. The irony is that Hitler can't stand Manstein and doesn't grasp the full significance of his plan. Nevertheless, Manstein becomes the key creative mind for the invasion of France. At the time, he considered it his greatest achievement. At home, we knew the idea was his. And of course he wasn't too happy that everyone else, including Hitler, was claiming credit for it and that Hitler was selling it as his own brilliant idea and deed. Hitler was later celebrated by Nazi propaganda as the creator of the sickle cut. In reality, however, he didn't even understand the idea. Thus concentrated, the tanks are pushed through Northern France all the way to the Channel, with full aerial support, and virtually without stopping. There hasn't been a campaign like it in all military history. General Guderian will lead the most important tank formations. Completely confident of victory, we advanced to the border on 9 May. Walter Heinlein is a gunner in a Panzer Division under General Guderian. His upbringing has made him entirely ready for war against France. Hostility towards our arch-enemy France had been drummed into us. We found it quite normal that we wanted to get back the regions we'd lost. They told us at school too. Neighbours are enemies, the spirit of the times. On May the 10th, 1940, the attack in the West begins. The rapid advance units of the Wehrmacht are to push forward through the Ardennes in Southern Belgium. The countryside is so hilly and the roads so narrow they're considered to be impossible for tanks. They take the risk. More than 40.000 vehicles have been prepared for the attack. As there are no supply depots along the way, fuel, and provisions for hundreds of thousands of soldiers have to be brought along and made available at specific points. An exceptional feat of organisation. But the terrain in the Ardennes keeps posing new problems. It seems the critics of Manstein's plan were right. The advancing columns of tanks, and following infantry repeatedly clog the narrow mountain roads. They called it the biggest tailback in history. Our tanks stood there... I was in a motorised infantry company. We sat in our vehicles... Seven men could sit on top. We salt there fpr hours and didn't go anywhere. If spotted, these stationary vehicles would be an easy target for enemy air forces. The roads were often so jam-packed with our tanks and vehicles that we were told to leave no gap at all between the vehicles. Eventually they succeed in unravelling the tailback. The Allies had not expected an attack through the Ardennes so there are few casualties along the way. The element of surprise is crucial. We advanced so quickly. Then we found a manor house. I went in with some others. There were English officers in there. They were having breakfast. We were puzzled. They were so surprised by our advance. It was faster than expected. We captured them all. The soldiers come to believe they are part of a modern, almost invincible, army. It will turn out to be a dangerous illusion. The balance of power between the Western Allies and the Wehrmacht was crearly in favour of the Western powers. They even had much better tanks. The German engineers had a lot to catch up on. In 1940, the Western powers were superior in almost every area. The few modern divisions the Wehrmacht possesses are deployed like the steel tip of a lance. Out of a total of 157 divisions, only 10 have tanks, and only 6 are fully motorised. Behind the tanks come the horse-drawn units, technologically unchanged since the Napoleonic wars. The vast majority of soldiers march on foot. Most divisions are poorly equipped and insufficiently trained. Only about half of the army is fully battle-ready. Yet the ideas behind the Army are modern, especially the system known as "Mission Command". The German army was famous for giving the lower ranks freedom in carrying out orders. They didn't say "Attack now. Take your men up that slope, "break trought the forest and attack from behind." They said "The company is to attack the enemy from there "after reconnaissance. "Liutenant such-and-such will lead the attack." Then he could work out the best position that those behind the lines could't know. Thus, every individual has his task. At the same time, the responsibility of non-commissioned officers and ordinary soldiers is increased; in the moral sense too. The question of good and evil is posed to each and every individual. A bunker, near the town of Sedan in France, the next obstacle to the Wehrmacht south of the Ardennes. The valley of the Maas is like one gigantic fortress. The Germans had won an important victory here in 1870. Hitler wants the Army to pause after taking Sedan, yet in Manstein's plan, the Maas is just one point in the advance to the Channel, which is to continue without interruption. Conflicts in the Wehrmacht leadership have become inevitable. The attack on Sedan begins with a massive bombardment. The French put up desperate resistance but the defenders are finally overwhelmed. Now Walter Heinlein finds out about the terrible side of the war. We got to the Maas and realised the enemy was there too. They realy let us have it. We had our first casualties. That makes you a bit... You wonder what's going on. War is no picnic, after all. Heinlein's early enthusiasm soon evaporates. Everyone is afraid. Anyone who says they're not is a liar. Every day until the war ends. People are simply afraid. That's how they react. The battles are intense but brief. The very next day, 60.000 men and 22.000 vehicles, including 850 tanks, cross the Maas near Sedan. Then, on May the 14th, the panzers break out of their bridgehead. Without waiting, the strike out towards the West, towards the Channel. General Guderian's tank core is advancing against the express orders of his superiors and Hitler. According to Hitler's supposedly brilliant plan, the Blitzkrieg was to have stopped here. Through his own initiative Guderian saves the campaign. The rapid advance surprised us. It was Guderian who set the example. Straight ahead, don't worry about what's to the right or left. Guderian gets his way and his tactics seem to succeed. A mid-level general of the Wehrmacht has shown up the Commander-in-Chief, it's very embarrassing for Hitler. Ten days later, the Wehrmacht is almost at the Channel. Manstein's plan calls for an encirclement of the Allied Armies in Belgium preventing their retreat through the port of Dunkirk. But then something extraordinary happens, Hitler orders the attack to halt. For three days the panzers don't move. The generals feel like hunting dogs held back in the heat of the hunt. They watch their prey escaping. The order to stop before Dunkirk was a critical mistake; many people still scratch their heads about it today. Did Hitler intentionally let the British escape across the Channel? The soldiers can't believe it. We thought "Why aren't we moving? "We've got everything. We have our tanks. "We can throw the British into the water." We weren't allowed. Then the Luftwaffe came. They bombed the ships but didn't hit many. It didn't turn our very well. Then, unfortunately, a lot of the British escaped across the water. From Dunkirk, the bulk of the Allied armies are evacuated across the Channel, 340.000 men. Only vehicles and heavy equipment are left behind. I later learned that the Fuhrer had ordered that no one was to fire at the retreating British. The so-called Expeditionary Force was to be allowed to reach the ships. We said "That's ridiculous." Our commander said "Well, the British are Vikings. "A Germanic race." Reacial mania wascommon at the time. There was no such order. The real reasons were different. To ensure the rapid success of the operation, the Army High Command had taken important decisions without consulting the Commander-in-Chief. Once again Hitler felt ignored. Hitler didn't want to stop the tanks at Dunkirk. He wanted to stop the generals. At Dunkirk for the very first and last time there eas a revolt by the Army High Command against Hitler. A power struggle, a showdown. And Hitler won it. It was a kind of revolt against him as a military leader. He now made an example of them and ordered the tanks to stop as a matter of principle. Hitler's ploy works. The generals have lost a crucial showdown. For him that's more important than 340.000 of the enemy escaping. A short time later France surrenders, and Hitler can once again play the role of brilliant victor, commander and genius. A large part of France is occupied by the Wehrmacht. In their euphoria, the soldiers are ignorant of the power struggle going on behind closed doors. Their feelings of invincibility seem fully justified. The few critical voices in the Army are silenced. Victory comes at a high cost, 25.000 Germans and over 100.000 Allied soldiers have lost their lives. Thousands of civilians have been killed. If you've been there since the beginning and you've survived, you're particulary lucky. Who and what did those young men die for? They say it was for the Fatherland. But for whom? An important shift has taken place in the power structure of the Reich. Now more than ever before, the Wehrmacht is at the mercy of the dictator's whim. The military leadership has become a passive tool in Hitler's hands. At Trent Park, the captured German generals wonder how it could have come to this. No matter how hard I try, I just can't get into my head what it was that made us follow that maniac Hitler. And how did it begin? The officers were so unpolitical, and they believed that the Government was just as honest as they were. If it had been a democratic government we never would have believed them. It was the national spirit. He wrapped himself in the cloak of national spirit and he deceived us. From a negative, from a criminal point of view, the Nazis did what they did extremely well, and so logically. The clique around him, they are to blame. They all should have said to him, "My Führer, now it's-- Perhaps he wouldn't let them say anything. Then they should have resigned. But no one did. Franz Halder stayed at his post until 1942. Then, following arguments with Hitler, he was dismissed. After the assassination attempt, on the 20th of July, 1944, he was arrested. Halder lived until 1972. At the end of the war, Heinrich Husmann is a Sergeant Major. The terrible things he's seen helped him to get over his belief in Hitler's ideology. Today he's a deeply religious man. Johannes Blaskowitz is appointed to various senior posts, and is highly decorated. In 1948, he takes his own life while on trial, at the Nuremberg military tribunal. The reasons for his suicide are not known. Walter Heinlein was wounded 6 times. He was decorated, and reached the rank of captain. After the war he became a carpenter, later an architect and building contractor. Today, he still gives lectures about his war experiences. Erich von Manstein was further promoted, but in 1944, Hitler dismissed him. He refused to take part in resistance efforts. After the war he became a consultant for the formation of the new German Army. He died in 1973. Georg Pengel saw out the war in his Luftwaffe ground unit. At the end, he felt betrayed but wiser. After the war, he became a policeman. Most of the Wehrmacht soldiers kept their enthusiasm for the Commander-in-Chief for a long time. But Hitler's Blitzkrieg as represented by Nazi propaganda was a myth. Hitler's popularity was greatest after the Western Campaign. He was regarded as a kind of new messiah who had performed a miracle, the miracle of 1940. It was put down to Hitler's genius although no one knew what had gone on behind the scenes. In 1940, Hitler, his Army, and many ordinary Germans, are intoxicated by the victory in the West. The prestige of the Nazis is at its highest point. Hitler need no longer fear opposition from the Army. The consequences of that will be seen the following year in the East, with the war against the Soviet Union. Subtitles and Synchronization by Marin88




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).[18] 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.[19]


The blond-haired, blue-eyed Werner Goldberg (1919–2004) was used in Wehrmacht recruitment posters as the "ideal German soldier". He was later "dismissed" after it became known that he was a "Mischling ersten Grades" as defined by the Nuremberg Laws, having half Jewish ancestry.
The blond-haired, blue-eyed Werner Goldberg (1919–2004) was used in Wehrmacht recruitment posters as the "ideal German soldier". He was later "dismissed" after it became known that he was a "Mischling ersten Grades" as defined by the Nuremberg Laws, having half Jewish ancestry.

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).[20] 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.[21]

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".[22] 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.[22] 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.[22] Though Seeckt retired in 1926, the army that went to war in 1939 was largely his creation.[23]

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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26] Major-General Otto Hasse [de] 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.[27] 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.[28]

Nazi rise to power

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.[29] Again, on his own initiative Blomberg had the armed forces adopt Nazi symbols into their uniforms in May 1934.[30] 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.[31] 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".[32]

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.[33] 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.[34] 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.[35]

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.[36]

Personnel and recruitment

Inspection of German conscripts
Inspection of German conscripts

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.[13] 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.[37]

Men of the Volga-Tatar Legion, one of the Wehrmacht's Ostlegionen ("eastern legions")
Men of the Volga-Tatar Legion, one of the Wehrmacht's Ostlegionen ("eastern legions")

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[37]

Soldiers of the Free Arabian Legion
Soldiers of the Free Arabian Legion

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.[37] A few thousand White émigrés joined the ranks of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS, often acting as interpreters.[38]

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 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.[39] 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.[40] 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.[citation needed]

Flag for the Commander-in-Chief of the German Armed Forces (1935–1938).
Flag for the Commander-in-Chief of the German Armed Forces (1935–1938).

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.



Wehrmacht's "foot-mobile" infantry, 1942.
Wehrmacht's "foot-mobile" infantry, 1942.

The German Army furthered concepts pioneered during World War I, combining ground (Heer) and air force (Luftwaffe) assets into combined arms teams.[45] 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.[46]

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).[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

A tank destroyer battalion, part of the 21 Panzer Division of the Afrika Korps.
A tank destroyer battalion, part of the 21 Panzer Division of the Afrika Korps.

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.[47] 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.[citation needed]

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.[48] 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.[49]

Air Force

German paratroopers landing on Crete.
German paratroopers landing on Crete.

Originally outlawed by the Treaty of Versailles, the Luftwaffe was officially established in 1935, under the leadership of Hermann Göring.[33] 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.[50]

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.[51][52] 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.[53]


Karl Dönitz inspecting the Saint-Nazaire submarine base in France, June 1941
Karl Dönitz inspecting the Saint-Nazaire submarine base in France, June 1941

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.[54] 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.[55]

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.[54] 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.[56] Karl Doenitz, the U-Boat Chief, began unrestricted submarine warfare which cost the Allies 22,898 men and 1,315 ships.[57] 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.[58] The submarine war cost the navy 757 U-boats, with more than 30,000 U-boat crewmen killed.[59]

Coexistence with Waffen-SS

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).[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Theatres and campaigns

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.[60]

Eastern theatre

German troops in the Soviet Union, October 1941.
German troops in the Soviet Union, October 1941.

Major battles and campaings in Eastern and Central Europe included:

Western theatre

German soldiers in occupied Paris.
German soldiers in occupied Paris.

Mediterranean theatre

For a time, the Axis Mediterranean Theatre and the North African Campaign was conducted as a joint campaign with the Italian Army, and may be considered a separate theatre.


German war cemetery in Estonia.
German war cemetery in Estonia.

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.[61]

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).[62]

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.[63]

War crimes

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.[64] 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[65][page needed] and later in the war against the Soviet Union.

Cooperation with the SS

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.[66] 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.[67] 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.[68] According to Thomas Kühne: "an estimated 300,000–500,000 people were killed during the Wehrmacht's Nazi security warfare in the Soviet Union."[69]

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.[70] 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.[71]

Crimes against civilians

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.

Crimes against POWs

Sixteen blindfolded Partisan youth await execution by German forces in Serbia, 20 August 1941
Sixteen blindfolded Partisan youth await execution by German forces in Serbia, 20 August 1941

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.[72]

Criminal organization and Genocidal organization

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.[73]

More recently, the judgement of Nuremberg has come under question. The Israeli historian Omer Bartov, a leading expert on the Wehrmacht[74] 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".[75] Bartov argues that far from being the "untarnished shield", as successive German apologists stated after the war, the Wehrmacht was a criminal organization.[76] Likewise, the British historian Richard J. Evans, a leading expert on modern German history, wrote that the Wehrmacht was a genocidal organization.[64] 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."[77]}} 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.[78]

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.[79]

Resistance to the Nazi regime

Martin Bormann, Hermann Göring, and Bruno Loerzer surveying the damaged made by the 20 July plot
Martin Bormann, Hermann Göring, and Bruno Loerzer surveying the damaged made by the 20 July plot

Originally, there was little resistance within the Wehrmacht, as Hitler actively went against the Treaty of Versailles and recovering the Army's honor.[80] 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.[81] However, following the success of the early campaigns in Poland, Scandinavia and France, belief in Hitler was restored.[80] With the defeat in Stalingrad, trust in Hitler's leadership began to wane.[82] 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.[83] Another result, was that the standard military salute was replaced with the Hitler salute.[84]

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.[85][86][87] 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.[88] 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.[89]

The Wehrmacht executed only three of its soldiers for rescuing Jews.[90]


  • Reichsmarschall: The post of the Reichsmarschall was the highest military ranking that a German soldier could reach. The post was held solely by Hermann Göring (9 July 1940), the most powerful Nazi leader in Germany next to Hitler, who designated him as his successor on 29 June 1941.[91] Göring also served as the head of the Luftwaffe and was responsible for handling Germany's war economy.[92]
  • Generalfeldmarschall: In 1936, Hitler revived the rank of Field marshal, originally only for the Minister of War and Commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht. Most of Germany's field marshals were promoted during the 1940 Field Marshal Ceremony; see List of German field marshals for the full listing.
  • Generaloberst: The rank of Generaloberst, usually translated as "colonel general", was equivalent to a four-star rank of the US rank system.
  • General der Waffengattung: This three-star rank was formally linked to the branch of the army or air-force, in which the officer served, such as General of the Infantry, General of the Artillery and General of Armoured Troops (Panzertruppe).
  • Generalleutnant: The German Generalleutnant two-star rank was usually a division commander.
  • Generalmajor: The German "Generalmajor" one-star rank was usually a brigade commander.

After World War II

Following the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht, which went into effect on 8 May 1945, some Wehrmacht units remained active, either independently (e.g. in Norway), or under Allied command as police forces.[93] 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.[94]

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."[2] The Wehrmacht was officially dissolved by the ACC Law 34 on 20 August 1946,[95] which proclaimed the OKW, OKH, the Ministry of Aviation and the OKM to be "disbanded, completely liquidated and declared illegal".[3]

Military operational Legacy

Immediately following the end of the war, many were quick to dismiss the Wehrmacht due to its failures and claim allied superiority.[96] However, historians have since reevaluated the Wehrmacht in terms of fighting power and tactics, giving it a more favorable assessment.[97] As it most of the time it fought, being outnumbered and outgunned but regularly inflicted higher losses than it received.[98][96]

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."[99] 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."[100] 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.[101]

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.[102][103]

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.[104][better source needed][105]

See also


  1. ^ The official dissolution of the Wehrmacht began with the German Instrument of Surrender of 8 May 1945. Reasserted in Proclamation No. 2 of the Allied Control Council on 20 September 1945 the dissolution was officially declared by ACC Law No. 34 of 20 August 1946.[2][3]
  2. ^ Total GDP: 75 billion (1939) & 118 billion (1944)[5]
  3. ^ See the Wiktionary article for more information.



  1. ^ Müller 2016, p. 1.
  2. ^ a b Allied Control Authority 1946a.
  3. ^ a b Allied Control Authority 1946b.
  4. ^ Overmans 2004, p. 215.
  5. ^ Harrison 2000, p. 10.
  6. ^ Tooze 2006, p. 181.
  7. ^ Evans 2008, p. 333.
  8. ^ Taylor 1995, pp. 90–119.
  9. ^ Kitchen 1994, pp. 39–65.
  10. ^ Van Creveld 1982, p. 3.
  11. ^ Müller 2016, pp. 58–59.
  12. ^ Hartmann 2013, pp. 85–108.
  13. ^ a b Overmans 2004, p. 215; Müller 2016, p. 16; Wette 2006, p. 77.
  14. ^ Fritz 2011, p. 470.
  15. ^ Wette 2007, pp. 195–250.
  16. ^ The Holocaust Encyclopedia n.d.
  17. ^ Kershaw 2010, p. 150; Hartmann 2010; Kellerhoff 2011.
  18. ^ Huber 2000.
  19. ^ Strohn 2010, p. 10.
  20. ^ Wheeler-Bennett 1967, p. 60.
  21. ^ Craig 1980, pp. 424–432.
  22. ^ a b c Murray & Millett 2001, p. 22.
  23. ^ Wheeler-Bennett 1967, p. 22.
  24. ^ Murray & Millett 2001, p. 33.
  25. ^ Murray & Millett 2001, p. 37.
  26. ^ Wheeler-Bennett 1967, p. 131.
  27. ^ Zeidler 2006, pp. 106–111.
  28. ^ Cooper 1981, pp. 382–383.
  29. ^ Förster 1998, p. 268.
  30. ^ Wheeler-Bennett 1967, p. 312.
  31. ^ Kershaw 1998, p. 525.
  32. ^ Broszat et al. 1999, p. 18.
  33. ^ a b Fischer 1995, p. 408.
  34. ^ Stone 2006, p. 316.
  35. ^ Tooze 2006, p. 208.
  36. ^ Motl 2007.
  37. ^ a b c U.S. War Department 1945.
  38. ^ Beyda 2014, pp. 430–448.
  39. ^ Broszat 1985, p. 295.
  40. ^ Megargee 2000, pp. 41–42.
  41. ^ Megargee 2000, pp. 18, 42.
  42. ^ Megargee 2000, pp. 20, 42.
  43. ^ Megargee 2000, p. 42.
  44. ^ Williamson 2002, p. 178.
  45. ^ Palmer 2010, pp. 96–97.
  46. ^ Mosier 2006, pp. 11–24.
  47. ^ Zeiler & DuBois 2012, pp. 171–172.
  48. ^ Trueman 2015a.
  49. ^ Editors 2010.
  50. ^ Tooze 2006, pp. 125–130.
  51. ^ Outze 1962, p. 359.
  52. ^ Merglen 1970, p. 26.
  53. ^ Girbig 1975, p. 112.
  54. ^ a b Müller 2016, pp. 71–72.
  55. ^ Trueman 2015b.
  56. ^ Müller 2016, p. 72.
  57. ^ Hughes & Costello 1977.
  58. ^ Hickman 2015.
  59. ^ Niestle 2014, Introduction.
  60. ^ Fritz 2011, pp. 366–368.
  61. ^ Overmans 2004, p. 335.
  62. ^ Biess 2006, p. 19.
  63. ^ Herf 2006, p. 252.
  64. ^ a b Evans 1989, pp. 58–60.
  65. ^ Böhler 2006.
  66. ^ Förster 1989, p. 501.
  67. ^ Fritz 2011, pp. 92–134.
  68. ^ Megargee 2007, p. 121.
  69. ^ Smith 2011, p. 542.
  70. ^ Cacciottolo 2013.
  71. ^ Neitzel & Welzer 2012, pp. 136–143.
  72. ^ Davies 2006, p. 271.
  73. ^ Wildt, Jureit & Otte 2004.
  74. ^ Bartov 1999, pp. 131–132.
  75. ^ Bartov 2003, p. xiii.
  76. ^ Bartov 1999, p. 146.
  77. ^ Shepherd 2003, pp. 49–81.
  78. ^ Kershaw 2010, p. 150.
  79. ^ Hebert 2010, pp. 216–219.
  80. ^ a b Balfour 2005, p. 32.
  81. ^ Jones 2009, pp. 73-74.
  82. ^ Bell 2011, pp. 104–05, 107.
  83. ^ Kershaw 2001, p. 693.
  84. ^ Allert 2009, p. 82.
  85. ^ Schoeps 2008, p. 502.
  86. ^ Bartrop 2016, p. 247.
  87. ^ Wette 2014, p. 74.
  88. ^ Yad Vashem n.d.
  89. ^ Szpilman 2002, p. 222.
  90. ^ Timm 2015.
  91. ^ Kershaw 2001, pp. 303–304, 396.
  92. ^ Killen 2003, p. 49.
  93. ^ Fischer 1985, pp. 322, 324.
  94. ^ Barr 2009, p. 323.
  95. ^ Large 1996, p. 25.
  96. ^ a b Hastings 1985.
  97. ^ Van Creveld 1982, p. 3; Hastings 1985; Liddell Hart 1971; Gray 2007, pp. 124-156; Keegan 1990; Masson 2001.
  98. ^ Dupuy 1977.
  99. ^ van Creveld 1982, p. 163.
  100. ^ Bönisch & Wiegrefe 2008, p. 51.
  101. ^ Gray 2002, pp. 21–22.
  102. ^ Wiegrefe 2014.
  103. ^ Peck 2017.
  104. ^ Scholz 2018.
  105. ^ Bickford 2011, p. 127.



External links


  1. ^ "YouTube". Retrieved 2019-01-16.
  2. ^ "YouTube". Retrieved 2019-01-16.
  3. ^ "YouTube". Retrieved 2019-01-16.
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