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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)
Active 1935–1945[1][N 1]
Country  Nazi Germany
Allegiance Adolf Hitler
Type Military forces
Size total who served: 18,200,000
Motto(s) "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer"
Colors Feldgrau
Engagements Spanish Civil War
World War II
Decorations See List of military decorations of Nazi Germany
Supreme Commander Adolf Hitler
High Command Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
Hermann Göring
Wilhelm Keitel
Alfred Jodl
Erich Raeder
Karl Dönitz
Heinz Guderian
Erwin Rommel
Erich von Manstein
Gerd von Rundstedt
Nazi swastika

The Wehrmacht (German pronunciation: [ˈveːɐ̯maxt] (About this sound listen), lit. "defence force")[N 2] were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1946. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air force).[4] 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.[5]

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 and dominating its neighbours required the reinstatement of conscription and massive investment and spending on the armaments industry.[6] In December 1941, Hitler designated himself as commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht.[7]

The Wehrmacht formed the heart of Germany's politico-military power. In the early part of World War II, Hitler's generals employed the Wehrmacht through innovative combined arms tactics (close cover air-support, mechanized armor, and infantry) to devastating effect in what became known as a Blitzkrieg (lightning war). The Wehrmacht's new military structure, unique combat techniques, newly developed weapons, and unprecedented speed and brutality crushed their opponents.[8]

Closely cooperating with the SS (especially on the Eastern Front), the German armed forces committed numerous war crimes and atrocities, despite later denials.[9] By the time the war ended in Europe in May 1945, the Wehrmacht had lost approximately 11,300,000 men,[10] 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.[11]

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • The Wehrmacht 2/5: The Turning Point
  • The Wehrmacht 5/5: To the Bitter End
  • The US Army & German Wehrmacht VS Waffen SS - Battle for Castle Itter 1945
  • The Wehrmacht 1/5: The Blitzkrieg
  • WWII Factions: The German Army


Many believe they are invincible. The men of the Wehrmacht. It was drummed into us, "You're the best soldiers in the world." And after all the victories we believed we were the best soldiers in the world. Then they invaded the Soviet Union. And everything changed. After nine months I was the only one left of the company that had marched into Russia. The last of 240 men. They were a shadow of their former selves. How did the wave of victories come to an end? What were the soldiers really thinking? Trent Park, in England. Captured German officers have been held here in luxury since 1942. Believing they are unobserved they speak freely. One topic dominates: the Russian campaign. The Russians have destroyed our aura of invincibility. We have sacrificed the flower of our nation's youth and our best divisions are dead and buried. The English newspapers are right. They say we are suffering from delusions of grandeur. They say, "You are arseholes. You have become megalomaniacs. "You've gambled everything on one card. "And you've lost everything in Russia." And everything was going so well, it was all perfect. And then it went down only because of bloody Russia. There were two people who didn't know that Russia gets cold in winter. One was Napoleon Bonaparte and the other was the Führer, our amateur strategist. <i>Everyone else knew.</i> The captive German officers don't realise the British Secret Service is listening to every word they say. Now the secret transcripts of those conversations have been released. Historian Sönke Neitzel has evaluated them. Never before and never again, did the officers of the Wehrmacht speak so openly. Their attitude towards the war and its failure in Russia is quite fascinanting. It's especially interesting to see how early they started to shift responsibility from the Wehrmacht onto Hitler. Hitler was to be blamed. All the senior people who understood anything about it, whether they were economists or officers, they all advised against the attack on Russia. They said, "It just cannot work. "You can't fight a Blitzkrieg against Russia." These imprisoned generals were trying to justify themselves. When you look at other sources it's quite clear that the war in Russia was the war of the German generals. Hitler didn't force them into this war. They wanted it. They wanted it the way it was fought. The invasion of the Soviet Union is imminent. Operation Barbarossa. It's a fateful moment, that's clear to everyone. Hans-Erdmann Schönbeck went straight from school into a panzer regiment. Manfred Gusovius was a 21 year-old tank commander. We did have the feeling that we were like a modern elite cavalry. That's the notion they put in our heads. There was a sense that we were a class apart. This is the man who built up the Wehrmacht panzer force, Heinz Guderian, no Nazi, but an ardent anti-communist, and a battle-hardened commander. He was always turning up on the front line. He was respected for that but he was feared too. He could give you a good rap over the knuckles. Guderian was an idol in the Panzer forces. It wasn't just because we liked him but because he'd led the tank troops magnificently with brilliant tactics and briliant strategy. We owed our success to Guderian. But the captured generals at Trent Park see their illustrious colleague differently. I remember when Guderian heard about the Russian business for the first time, I was there, he said, "What?! Another act of stupidity? Not that! "Russia is so colossal. It just can't be done." Three days before it began, Guderian came to see us. At that time he believed in it himself. He said he had once been firmly against it, but now the orders had been issued. And he went wild with enthusiasm, and almost believed what he said himself. Even though his views were once the exact opposite. It was common for officers to express doubts amongst themselves about the success of an operation in converstations with each other. But we mustn't read too much into this. Guderian was anti-communist and backed the invasion. He wanted this war and wanted to win it. We know from other documents that in June 1941 he also believed he could take Moscow. En route to Moscow, showing enthusiasm on demand. His soldiers called him "Fast Heinz". Guderian had found an apt personal motto for his tactics. We were fast. We could cover up to 120, 150 kilometres a day, only when there was no combat, of course. We were always turning up where we weren't expected. We were highly mobile and we communicated via throat microphones. That was a huge advantage for the Panzer forces because we could be sent off in another direction at a moment's notice. Once we broke trought their defences, our orders were not to warry about threats to the right or left but to advance deep into enemy territory. They were absolutely at their peak. They had prepared for this, thought about it. They had seen what worked well. And so this extraordinary combination of tanks, aircrafts, armed vehicles and so on was virtually unstoppable. "Don't do it small, do it big", was Guderian's motto. Break the Red Army's defences with panzer vectors supported by artillery and the Air Force. Would Stalin give in? Would the Soviet colossus collapse... as the German strategists hoped? In the summer of 1941, the Wehrmacht went from one victory to the next. We barely had time to think. The first opportunity came after three weeks of being constantly on the go, constantly in battle. I had a friend in the same company and the two of us discussed it. We said "What's happening?" "Will the Russians realy be done for in few weeks?" It was clear to us that this wouldn't happen. The propaganda we'd been fed wasn't true. We'd seen how tough and willing to sacrifice themselves the Russian soldiers were. Statistically, a soldier now had 2 and a half years to live, but any day could be his last. All of a sudden the call came "Fausten Group to advance!" I didn't respond. My friend Ekkehard yelled "We're caming!" The order, to take out a pocket of resistance in a village. We were about 20 metres away when we were hit by a hail of hand grenades. One grenade fell next to Ekkehard and exploded. He screamed. A machine-gunner came to me and said "I'm wounded." His hand was hanging by a thread. He ripped his hand off and said "I have to go back." I was the only one left who could still shoot when the Russians started a counter-attack. I was able to save myself by running back, dodging Russians. Otto has to leave his friend Ekkehard behind. Then I completely broke down because my friend kept calling from the village "Otto! Otto!" Our company commander, who knew we were friends, ordered an armoured presonnel carrier forward. "Go and get him." They drove up. Ten minutes later the NCO, the medic, came back alone and said "The vehicle's had it. The others are dead." Costly victories. Almost 60.000 German soldiers are killed in only six weeks. And the end of the campaign is not in sight. There were far more casualties than expected, munitions use was a lot higher, the wear and tear on equipment was a lot higher. All that upset the original predictions and brought the whole system to a collapse. What to do now? Guderian and the Army High Command want to concentrate everything on Moscow, but Hitler decides differently. The generals were of the traditional view that a war is won by taking enemy's capital city after a decisive battle in which the enemy army is defeated. But Hitler held a more modern view of war. He knew that a modern, industrialised war would be won not only on the battlefield but also in the production plants. So it was imperative that these plants be seized to eliminate the Soviet ability to fight the war. Thus, Guderian has to turn his panzer divisions south, towards the Ukraine, the Soviet Union's bread basket and source of raw materials. Behind Kiev, the Wehrmacht traps several Soviet armies in the middle of August, 1941. The fighting lasts three weeks. Then the victory of the Wehrmacht is complete. One more victory. When they saod "We've done it" we felt an incredible sense of relief. It was an overwhelming experience to see the long lines of prisoners going by. It made a deep impression on me. I rember thinking "I never want to go trought that" and saying to myself "Those poor Felows". But for the Wehrmacht's leadership, Red Army troops deserved no respect as fellow soldiers. It was racist mania. The Russians realised that the Germans saw them as inferior subhuman. if I were to deny that, I would be lying. The officers in Trent Park speak quite openly about the treatment to Russian prisoners. The return transports of the Russians after the encirclement battles were ghastly. They really were ghastly, I saw one of those transports. At the station the Russians peered out of the small hatches and screamed, "Bread! God will bless you!" Then Schulten arrived and brought pumpkins. The pumpkins were thrown into the carriages, and all you could hear was thudding and stumbling sounds and incredible screams. They were probably killing each other. I couldn't take it and I asked the staff sergeant, "Have you nothing the can eat?" He replied, "Herr Oberleutnant, where is it supposed to come from? "We have nothing prepared." I don't know, really... these are unimaginable atrocities. Some of the prisoners were even taken back on foot. We drove along that road many times. The ditches were full of Russians they'd shot. It was... dreadful. We will be referred to as "the Hun" forever now. It makes you feel ashamed. Never before and never again did german generals talk so openly and so critically about crimes committed against Soviet POWs. What's so special is that they said outright "The Wehrmacht is quilty. The Wehrmacht was responsible." At least 2.5 million die. Most from hunger or illness. The Wehrmacht takes almost 3.5 million prisoners, by the fall of 1941. Hitler believes the Soviet Union is on the brink of collapse. The initial German campaign, of course, took a huge quantity of the Soviet resources. It took around 16 million of its population, and around 2 thirds of its industrial and raw material capacity. The Red Army had suffered exceptional degree of damage, most states would have given up, and I think that Hitler's view was not an irrational one. I think what he had underestimated was simply the sheer unwillingness of the Soviet people and the Soviet regime to abandon the conflict. It is fall when the Wehrmacht again takes up the postponed attack on Moscow. According to the Blitzkrieg plan, the campaign should already be over. Now the roads turn to mud. We wondered what would happen if it went on raining like that. On the other hand our target, Moscow, was quite clear. We had to get there. Tracked vehicles can still advance, but the Wehrmacht does not consist of tanks alone. Most of it is infantry, hardly more mechanised than their fathers were in WWI. And most of the artillery is pulled by horses, just as in the Kaiser's Army. Karl-Gottfried Vierkorn is a 20-year-old gunner. The poor animals who were least blame for the war and were most patient, had to suffer the mmost. Our vets kept racing up and down the long columns with a syringe to revive the horses that collapsed. Dreadful! The Russian winter comes earlier than usual in 1941. And it's colder. Our guns didn't work but the Russian Kalashnikovs did. Their artillery worked. Their trucks started but ours didn't. We weren't prepared for these temperatures. Caught unprepared at temperatures down to -40º C. In that dreadful winter I saw a gun crew standing upright. They'd frozen to death in the position in which they'd been firing. Three or four men were kneeling behind the gun, frozen into blocks of ice. The Wehrmacht are loosing more people through frostbite than through enemy action. Nothing works any more. In Trent Park, in England, the captured generals shudder when they think back to those weeks in the Russian winter of 1941. Our comrades in Russia? I don't think there can be a single family that isn't suffering terrible pain. The wounded were packed into freight wagons on bales of straw. The next day, they'd all frozen to death. - Dead? - Dead. Because none of the wagons were heated. There was absolutely no clothing either. The tank personnel were all wearing their civilian shoes. We took the fell boots off every dead Russian, took off their clothes. They were cleaned a little and headed out again. The Army had to rob the corpses of the enemy, because their own leadership had not supplied them with winter equipment in time. A disaster for which the Wehrmacht itself, not Hitler, is responsible. Thare was no provosoin for failure of the Blitzkrieg. There was no Plan B. The Blitzkrieg strategy had to work. failure meant the loss of the cornerstone of German strategy. It was this which made the failure of the Blitzkrieg in autumn 1941 such a disaster for German High Command. The soldiers are no longer confident of victory. All they can do is brood silently. Nights were the worst. Time dragged. You'd nudge your neighbour and say "Are you alive? Am I alive?" It was awful. We itched with lice. The closer you got to the fire the livelier they got. We all had lice. We couldn't wash for weeks. And so on and so forth. The only bright spot was the mail from home. I got a parcel with a card from my mother wishing me all the best for Christams and the New Year. There was a marble cake too, my favourite. It was food for the body and soul. I shared the treats with my comrades. Then we read out every world my mother had written and there was... there was complete silence. Far away from this terrible disaster, which no one could have pictured beforehand, something still existed. Was there still Christmas? And Christmas trees? Did people still excange gifts? Was there a midnight mass? Did all that still exist? Or was it just an illusion? Those were our thoughts. The goal was so close, and yet so far away. In the morning sun I looked trought the scissors telescope and saw the golden towers of the Kremlin. They were shining and sparkling. It was a beautiful sight. Above all, it gave us the feeling we were really close. "Not much further now!" But that's as far as we got. December the 5th, 1941, the panzer vanguard of the Wehrmacht is poised to enter Moscow. We got to within ten or twelve kilometres of Moscow. Then I had to blow up my vehicle. We had to goo back on foot. The Soviet counter-attack, fresh, rested ski divisions that Stalin has transferred from Siberia to defend Moscow. My only option was to flee to the left, away from the road, trought the deep snow pursued by the ski divisions and by tanks. We ran. As I ran, pulled out my pistol and thought "If you're wounded, take your pistol "and put it to your head." Several men lay dead behind me. They'd been killed by bayonets. Maybe 15 or 20 of us reached the forest. Out of 300. The Wehrmacht has suffered its first defeat, the dream of a quick victory is gone. The fact that we didn't take Moscow was a huge disappointment for an ambitious army whose motto was "We can do it." But we didn't do it. That haldn't really happened to a Panzer division before and of course it made us think. Hitler gives the order, "Stand firm at any cost. No retreat." He himself takes over command of the Army dismissing all the top generals. Even Panzer General Heinz Guderian. He had dared to move his units back a little against Hitler's orders, and for that he has to go. His men can't believe it. We said "How can you dismiss an expert like him "on such incomprehensible grounds?" It was a real blow to the self-confident men in the Panzer forces. We didn't like it. A year later, the circumstances of Guderian's dismissal still anger his comrades in captivity in England. Actually, Guderian is a decent man. I have known him since he was a captain, but he allowed Hitler to treat him like a snotty child. Hitler gave him a bollocking and then threw him out. Guderian asked for a review, he told me this himself, but he was turned down. At home, in Berlin, he was a non-entity. He said to me, "I'm ashamed to go to the barber's, because they will ask me, "What are you doing here?". Does Hitler often visit the troops in the East? Never! They haven't been able to get into visit the army groups in ages, only in an absolute emergency. He stays at home and locks himself in. Absolute tyrannical lunacy. After the Moscow crisis, Hitler increasingly makes decisions on his own. But the generals obey. Later, they will say Hitler threw away victory by delaying the march on Moscow. After the war, many of the generals had this obsession with capturing Moscow. Now, though Moscow had real symbolic significance, I'm not entirely convinced that the capture of Moscow itself would have led to the end of Red Army resistance any more of Napoleon's capture of Moscow allowed the Grand Army to defeat Russia. February 1942, the Wehrmacht is on the defensive for the first time, and it gets a taste of its own medicine. At Demyansk, near Lake Ilmen, 6 German divisions are trapped by the Red Army. 95.000 German soldiers are cut off. They can only be supplied by air. Defeat is only a matter of time. Outside this "pocket", 35 km away from the trapped army, General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach arrives. He has instructions to break through the Russian siege line. Joachim Sandau was with him. General von Seydlitz always carried a rifle. That was unusual for a general. Generals didn't carry rifles. But he did. A general who has a rifle over his shoulder has his men on side right from the start. Walther von Seydlitz, a general without vanity. He took the time to talk to every single person, be he an officer, an NCO, an ordinary sapper or a rifleman. He came from one of the more prestigious Prussian military families. His daughter Ingrid remembers. He was always very kind. He didn't whether you were a postman or a count. It didn't matter to him. He did have a very strong sense of duty. I noticed that even as a child. He beleved that if you came from an old aristrocratic line you carried a great responsibility and you had to live up to it. He grew up with that belief. "Noblesse oblige", it was no empty phrase for Seydlitz. Heinrich Graf von Einsiedel got to know him in 1943. Seydlitz was a brave, honest, clear-thinking soldiers. He had great insight into military issues but he had no idea about politics. Seydlitz said to me "All I noticed about Hitler was his ill-fitting uniforms "and bad table manners." Seydlitz will be one of the few Wehrmacht generals to openly oppose Hitler. But it hasn't come to that yet. On March the 20th, 1942, he orders the attack on the Soviet positions near Demyansk. Four weeks later, the assault troops have fought their way to the trapped army. In the areas where we were fighting and where we attacked, not one village was left standing. The battle went back and forth several times so naturally nothing was left. The supply lines to the units at Demyansk are open again, and Walther von Seydlitz is the hero of the day. It was undoubtedly a major success for Seydlitz but it had fatal consequences. The Armed Forces and Army High Commands now believed that it was possible to supply an army group from the air. This mistaken belief was to have dire consequences in 1942. Spring 1942, more and more fresh Wehrmacht units arrive in Russia. But this picture is deceptive. In June 1941 around two-thirds of all divisions were deemed, as they used to say, attack-ready. In March 1942 it was just five per cent. That shows us that the army which had been assembled for the invansion in June 1941 no longer existed. By March 1942, the Wehrmacht has lost a million men. They're especially short of front-line officers. My company commander at the time summoned me and said "If you prove yourself, "you can become an officer cadet." I told that to everyone in my vehicle and our driver started to yell and said "We've got here all the way from Germany "and now we're told we have to prove ourselves." In Russia, a lieutenant in the mechanised infantry lasted on average eleven days. Then he was gone. <i>Most of the companies are led by corporals and sergeants.</i> You have to look at it soberly. We are loosing too many men in these battles. They waste too many lives, and too much blood. There's nobody left. In the Russian offensive of the last war I only had to replace my officers core once. The enemy's strength increases from month to month, while ours declines. As early as January, the ammunition supply was suspended. In January, in the midst of the fighting, they stopped sending us ammunition. I had a motor battery and didn't fire a single shot for weeks... for weeks. Not days. You can't load cannons with philosophy. Nevertheless, Hitler expects the Wehrmacht to win two more victories, one, to seize the Russian oil reserves in the Black Sea, and two, to capture the city of Stalingrad... at the same time. Operationally this decision was a disaster. The invasiion force was split in two, thereby increasing the chances of defeat in Stalingrad as well as in the Caucasus. November 1942, most of Stalingrad has been occupied by the Wehrmacht. The Red Army begins another counter-offensive. Now the Soviets have mastered the very tactics that dealt them such devastating defeats at the beginning of the campaign. The Red Army learnt lessons from the Wehrmacht and they learnt how to fight the same way that the Germans fought. The great irony, I think, of this, is the Wehrmacht, in fact, were the teachers for the Red Army that eventually defeated them. November the 22nd, 1942, the Red Army has completely surrounded the German soldiers at Stalingrad. I saw anti-aircraft batteries. I saw them throught my binocularis and thought I'd go over. Someone came towards me and said "For God's sake, don't "They're German guns, but the crews are Russian." "What?" I said. The Russians had come up from behind. Then I knew we were cut off. Cut off, even General Seydlitz. Hitler had ordered the soldiers in Stalingrad to dig in, and hold fast, like in Demyansk. But Seydlitz knows perfectly well that Stalingrad is not Demyansk. You can't supply more than 200.000 men from the air, so he decides to take an unprecedented step, he writes a memo to his superiors. I tired one last time to make it clear that our only hope was to break out at once, if necessary, against Hitler's orders. At the end of our memorandum we urged the army to take matters into their own hands of the order to hold fast wasn't rescinded. We had to act, responsible only to our consciences and the German people. This was unheard of, a Prussian general calling for disobedience against the Supreme Commander, out of a sense of duty to his own soldiers. Bismarck said the Prussian officer goes unhesitatingly to his death on the battlefield but if he has to make a decision which places a lasting responsibility on him, he lacks the courage to oppose his commanders. Seydlitz had the courage of his convictions. Seydlitz was the only one, the other generals follow orders against their better judgement. They promise Hitler they'll break through the Soviet encirclement from the outside. They fail. In those cold nights... it was very cold again if not quite minus 40... we heard the sound of combat getting closer. After Christmas Eve it grew fainter again. We knew what that meant. And we knew that we had to hold out right down to our last bullet. The news from Russia also reaches the generals at Trent Park, in England. They realise what it means. - If what the newspapers say is correct-- - Then we lose the Volga, they will lose Stalingrad. We must win the war, otherwise it's "Finis Germaniae". It has to work out alright, otherwise it will be the end of Germany for centuries. That's right. Have hundreds of thousands of people died in vain again? It's unthinkable. Stand firm at all costs. The soldiers at Stalingrad fight on with no hope of rescue. Too much has already happened in this war. We fought on out of fear of the Russians. It was very clear to us that if we went over to the other side and stopped fighting we would fare no better that if we fought to the bitter end. On January the 9th, 1943, Walther von Seydlitz wrote to his wife: <i>My dear heart, a picture of you and the children is on my desk,</i> <i>where I can always see you.</i> <i>And that helps me to deal with things which I might otherwise despair over.</i> <i>Farewell, our future is dark. You are my only light in these times.</i> He really did think that he would die at the end of it. I don't mean that he'd commit suicide. He wasn't like that. His sense of responsibility wouldn't have allowed it. He was a very upright person who stayed true to himself. In retrospect I find it really endearing and praiseworthy. I'm very moved by it. It will be nearly 13 years before Ingrid von Seydlitz sees her father again, back from Russian captivity. A man, who many reactionary Germans still revile as a traitor. Stalingrad, the end of January, 1943. The blast threw me on my back and as I turned around, I saw my own blood. It was pale and I thought "Damn, my lungs." My transport sergeant came to me, took my hand pressed my pistol into it and said "Liutenant, in an hour or very soon the Russians will be here. "We can't take you with us." The wound probably saves Hans-Erdmann Schönbeck's life. He is evacuated from Stalingrad on one of the last planes. My pistol and the sergeant stayed behind in Stalingrad. It's the end. On February the 2nd, 1943, the remains of the 6th Army surrender. To be frank with you, my mind was blank. All I knew was that I wasn't going to be killed by one of the guards. It was the piont at which I said "I'm going to deal with this as best I possibly can "in order to survive." Not even to get home, just to survive. What awaits these men? 91.000 German soldiers are taken prisoner in Stalingrad. Only 6.000 will make it home. One of them is Manfred Gusovius, after more than 10 years of war and captivity. The Russian word sudba means fate. That word assumed a very personal meaning for me when I repeated it to myself. Stalingrad, it was more than just the end of an army. After Stalingrad there was no longer a German strategy. It was only about winning time to give the regime a reprieve before the final cillapse. This process dragged on for over two years and claimed about double the number of victims that the war had already claimed up to 1943. The Wehrmacht fights on. For most, the question of whether to give up or even change sides does not arise. I was a German officier. I couldn't have done it. That's all I can say. Heinz Otto Fausten is wounded in 1943 and looses a leg... for the Fatherland, for the Führer. When my dressing were changed, it was unbelievably painful. There was only one way I could stand it. The nurse would change the dressing and on the opposite wall there was a postcard-sized picture of Adolf. I'd raise my arm and shout "Heil, you swine!" Summer 1943, near Kursk the Wehrmacht panzers advance again... in vain. The hunters have finally become the hunted. The Wehrmacht lost the initiative. They'd held the initiative for two years, they'd been able to decide where to go, what to do, which operations to mount. But from the summer of 1943 onwards, the initiative lay with the Red Army. Meanwhile, in Trent Park... <i>Our situation is hopeless.</i> It doesn't matter where we attack. We cannot advance, we can achieve nothing. We no longer have the human materials we had at the beginning of the offensive. What is lost cannot be replaced. The amazing thing is that in 1943 some of them realised the war was lost. But what conclusions did they draw? Most of them said "Hitler is to blame. "Other generals are to blame, not me." And only very, very few got past this mental block and said "No, I share the responsibility "for what's been done in the name of Germany." One of the few is Walter von Seydlitz, while a prisoner of war in Russia, he completely breaks with Hitler. In the League of German Officers organised by the Russians, he calls on his Wehrmacht comrades to overthrow the Nazi regime. An act of salvation must emerge from the bitter lesson of Stalingrad. Make sure it doesn't happen without you or isn't directed against you. Seydlitz remains who he is, a conservative patriot. He refuses to cooperate with Stalin. Hitler sentences him to death "in absentia". We knew that we were traitors to the Hitler regime but we're still proud of that because our goal was to prevent the suicide of the German Reich and lessen the scale of the dreadful catastrophe that had befallen Germany. Heinz Guderian, the panzer strategist was at the opposite end of the spectrum. Hitler called him back into service in 1943. First, as inspector of panzer troops, and then, Chief of the General Staff. After the war, he became a consultant for the formation of the new West German Army. Karl-Gottfried Vierkorn also had an invitation to join the new German Army, but he preferred a civilian career. Heinz Otto Fausten studied art after the war. He became a teacher, and a headmaster. After 1945, Hans-Erdmann Schönbeck worked in the car industry. They're still haunted by their war experiences. The war always surfaces when you're asleep. You dream... you dream that you have to attack. And you hear the clanking of tank tracks. And the fear is there. Subtitles and Synchronization by Marin88


Origin and use of the term

The German term Wehrmacht generically describes any nation's armed forces; for example, Britische Wehrmacht means "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).[12] 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.[13]


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).[14] 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.[15]

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".[16] 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.[16] 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.[16] Though Seeckt retired in 1926, the army that went to war in 1939 was largely his creation.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23] Again, on his own initiative Blomberg had the armed forces adopt Nazi symbols into their uniforms in May 1934.[24] 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.[25] 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".[26]

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.[27] 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.[28] 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.[29]

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.[30]

Personnel and recruitment

Inspection of German conscripts
Inspection of German conscripts

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.[31] The Wehrmacht lost about 10,000,000 soldiers during the period from 1939–1945, a combination of about 2,000,000 KIA, 3,000,000 MIA, and 5,000,000 WIA.[32] Recruitment for the Wehrmacht was accomplished through voluntary enlistment (1933–45) and conscription (1935–45). As World War II intensified, Kriegsmarine (navy) and Luftwaffe (air force) personnel were increasingly transferred to the Heer (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.[32]

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. 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 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.[32]

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.[32] A few thousand White émigrés joined the ranks of the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS, often acting as interpreters.[33]

Command structure

Legally, the Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht was Adolf Hitler in his capacity as Germany's head of state, a position he gained after the death of President Paul von Hindenburg in August 1934. In the reshuffle in 1938, Hitler became the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and retained that position until his suicide on 30 April 1945.[34] Administration and military authority initially lay with the war ministry under Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg. After Blomberg resigned in the course of the 1938 Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, the ministry was dissolved and the Armed Forces High Command, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, OKW under Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel was put in its place.[35] 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 (army, air force, and navy) was limited. Each had its own High Command, known as Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH, army), Oberkommando der Marine (OKM, navy), and Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL, air force). Each of these high commands had its own general staff. In practice the OKW had operational authority over the Western Front whereas the Eastern Front was under the operational authority of the OKH.

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.

War years


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.[39] 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.[40]

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), Norway and Denmark (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.

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. 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. Other Axis powers fought with them, especially Hungary and Romania, as well as many volunteers from other nations.

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.[41] 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.[42] The effectiveness of the German tank divisions can also be attributed to the training of the tank crews which lasted about 12–16 weeks of basic training as compared to the 8 and 6 weeks that the Soviet, British and American tank crews were trained for.[citation needed]

Air Force

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

The Luftwaffe (air force), led by Hermann Göring, 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.[43]

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. 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.


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

The Kriegsmarine (navy) played a major role in World War II as control over the commerce routes in the Atlantic was crucial for Germany, Britain and later the Soviet Union. 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.[44]

U-boats were one of Germany's greatest weapon against the Allies at sea which were employed to strike at Allied Convoys. The German naval strategy was to attack the convoys in an attempt to starve Britain of supplies which would disable the ability of the British army to continue fighting the war. Karl Doenitz, the U-Boat Chief, began unrestricted submarine warfare which cost the Allies 22,898 men and 1,315 ships.[45] 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.[46] The submarine war cost the navy 793 U-boats, 28,000 U-boat crewmen killed and a further 8,000 captured.[citation needed]

Coexistence with Waffen-SS

The Waffen-SS, the combat branch of the SS (the 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.

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.

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.[47]

Eastern theatre

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

The Eastern Wehrmacht campaigns 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—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.[48]

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 percent 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).[49]

Jeffrey Herf wrote that:

Whereas German deaths between 1941 and 1943 on the western front had not exceeded 3 percent of the total from all fronts, in 1944 the figure jumped to about 14 percent. Yet even in the months following D-day, about 68.5 percent of all German battlefield deaths occurred on the eastern front, as a Soviet blitzkrieg in response devastated the retreating Wehrmacht.[50]

War crimes

Nazi propaganda had told Wehrmacht soldiers to wipe out what were variously called Jewish Bolshevik subhumans, the Mongol hordes, the Asiatic flood and the red beast.[51] 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[52] 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.[53] 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.[54] 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.[55] According to Thomas Kühne, "An estimated 300,000–500,000 people were killed during the Wehrmacht's anti-partisan war in the Soviet Union."[56]

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.[57] American officials learned of Wehrmacht atrocities in much the same way. Taped conversations of soldiers detained as POWs revealed how some of them voluntarily participated in mass executions.[58]

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

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.[59]

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

Nuremberg and subsequent trials

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 war crimes. Among German historians, the view that the Wehrmacht had participated in war time 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.[60]

More recently, the judgement of Nuremberg has come under question. The Israeli historian Omer Bartov, a leading expert on the Wehrmacht[61] 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".[62] Bartov argues that far from being the "untarnished shield", as successive German apologists stated after the war, the Wehrmacht was a criminal organization.[63] Likewise, the British historian Richard J. Evans, a leading expert on modern German history, wrote that the Wehrmacht was a genocidal organization.[51] 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."[64] 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.[65]

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.[66]

Resistance to the Nazi regime

There were several attempts by resistance members within the military like Henning von Tresckow, Erich Hoepner or Friedrich Olbricht to assassinate Adolf Hitler as an ignition of a coup d'état, culminating in the 20 July plot (1944), when a group of officers led by Claus von Stauffenberg tried to assassinate Hitler. German military personnel were ordered to replace the standard military salute with the Hitler salute from this date on.[citation needed]

Some members of the Wehrmacht did save Jews and non-Jews from the concentration camps and/or mass-executions. Anton Schmid —a sergeant in the army— helped 250 Jewish men, women, and children escape from the Vilnius ghetto and provided them with forged passports so that they could get to safety. 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.[citation needed]

Top ranks

  • 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.[67] Göring also served as the head of the Luftwaffe and was responsible for handling Germany's war economy.[68]
  • 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#Nazi Germany (1933–45) 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: 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.[69] 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.[70]

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."[71] The Wehrmacht was officially dissolved by the ACC Law 34 on 20 August 1946,[72] which proclaimed the OKW, OKH, the Ministry of Aviation and the OKM to be "disbanded, completely liquidated and declared illegal".[73]

In 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 Federal Defence Forces. Its East German counterpart—created on 1 March 1956—took the name National People's Army (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.

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. ^ From German: wehren, "to defend" and Macht, "power, force". See the Wiktionary article for more information.


  1. ^ Müller 2016, p. 1.
  2. ^ "Enactments and Approved Papers of the Control Council and Coordinating Committee Germany For Year 1945" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-01-26. 
  3. ^ "Enactments and Approved Papers of the Control Council and Coordinating Committee Germany For Year 1945" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-01-26. 
  4. ^ Die Verfassungen in Deutschland [German Constitution] online. Reichsgesetzblatt (RGB). RGB1 1935, I, no. 52, p. 609 See:
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External links


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