The Reichswehr (1921-35)


Figure 1.--The ideas about motorized warfare that came to be called Blitzkrieg energed in the Reichswehr long before Germany had the tanks and other motorized equipment needed. Here we see what the Reichweht had to work with before the NAZI rearmament program began to take hold. Panzerjägern meant literally Panzer hunter, The photogrph is undated, but was probably taken about 1930. This is notable. Even at this early stage the Germans were thinking about tank killers, The English and French who actually had tanks at the time were giving much less attention to anti-tank weapons. Many early German victories were based on either fighting countries without important tank forces or destroying the tanks of the countries that had them. The truck here could have been American. Both Ford and GM had substantial operations in Germany.

The new German Republic created the Reichswehr after World War I (March 23, 1921). The officer corp of the Army became highly politicized after the War. Conspiracy theories florished in the minds of officers and men who could not bring themselves to accept defeat, especially the idea that the German Army could have been defeated. Blaming the politicans was much more acceptable to the army officers, especially the Socialist who signed the Versailles Treaty and dominated Weimar. The leadership maintained official political neutrality. There were a range of political views held by the officer corps. By all accounts the strongest element was monarchists, understandable because they had all grown up in the old German Empire. There were also many officers sympathetic to right wing parties, of which the NAZIs were just one. The leadership of the Reichswehr was never committed to German democracy, socialism, and the Weimar Republic. And they were particularly opposed to the Communists. The Reichswehr was not, however, prepared to change the Goverment. A major factor here was that they feared Allied intervention if they moved against the Republic. It should be remembered that it was President Hindenberg, a Prussian Junker to the core, who brought Hitler to power--albeit with some reluctance. The Reichswehr was limited to 100,000 men, a fraction of the pre-War Army. There were also many limitations on weapons. There were important evasions of the restrictions. This occurred in the 1920s before the NAZIs took power. They were conducted by the General Staff, although the civilian govrernment was partially aware of what was happening. One area that the Versailles Treaty did not limit was military planning and education. A major concern of the Reichswehr was understanding why Germany failed in 1914 and how German arms could succeed in any future war. The Reichswehr had neither the men and equipment for such war, but that did not stop innovative thinkers from devising innovative new tactical doctrines, men like Manstein, Guderian, and Rommel. These concepts began to emerge in the 1920s and early-30s, long before the NAZI rearmament program made them possible. Here the Rapollo Treaty (1922) with the Soviets gave them the ability to work with banned weapns like tanks. Guderian and Rommel would published books during the NAZI-era, but the ideas emerged during the 1920s and early-30s Reichwehr era.

Chaos (1918-21)

Germany's defeart in World War I meant the end of the Kaiserreich (1871-1918). Germany signed the armistice (November 11, 1918). Allied forces insisted on treating with civilians and not the Germany Army. With the signing of the artistice, the Imperial German Army bbegan withdrawing from occupied areas. Under the terms of the armidtace, this meant ares occuoied in the East as well as the West. Long columns of dejected German soldiers poured across the border into a Germany that critically short of food and descending into chaos. The Army composed of conscript soldiers began to duisolve. Discipline disolved just as the wave of Revolution which began in Russia reached Germany. Communists attemted to seize control. Some soldiers joined the Communists. More joined the Freikorps, ad hoc volutary para-military groups. Yhey received support from the Army abd defeated the Communists.

Vorläufige Reichswehr (1919)

The new German Republic could not depend on the unreguilated and often undisciplined Freikorps. As a result the Government created the Vorläufige Reichswehr (Provisional German Defense Force) (March 6, 1919). It wa a new German armed forces was created by decree. It consisted of the Vorläufige Reichsheer and the Vorläufige Reichsmarine. Selected Freikorp units served partly or entirely as the basis of the Vorläufige Reichsheer. It consisted of about 400,000 men organized in about 50 Brigade-sized units.

Übergangsheer

The German Republic broke all ties with the old Imperial Army (SEptember 30, 1919). It formed an entirely new army--the Übergangsheer (Transitional Army). It was based largely on Freikorp units organized into 30 Brigade- sized units. The Vorläufige Reichsmarine retauned this name until 1921.

Creation

The new Socialist German Republic created the Reichswehr after the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty (June 28, 1919). The treaty permitted Germany a standing armed forces of 100,000 men. Ths new and highly regulated force was to be known as the Reichswehr. It was not, however, formed constituted until over aear later (January 1, 1921). It consisted of the newly named Reichsmarine and Reichsheer. An airforce was prohibited. There were two Group Commands, seven Infantry Divisions and threeCavalry Divisions. The Reichwehr was created from the remneants of the old Imperial Army. There were many more aspirants than there were places. Thus the Reichwehr was essentially the cream of the old Imperial Army.

Officer Corps

The Reichwehr leadership maintained official political neutrality. There were, however, a range of political views held by the officer corps. By all accounts the strongest element was monarchists, understandably because they had all grown up in the old German Empire and served in the Imperial Army where Prussian influence was strong. There were also many officers sympathetic to right wing parties, of which the NAZIs were just one and not at first the most important.

Loyalty

The leadership of the Reichswehr was never committed to German democracy and the Weimar Republic, especially as the Socialists were the principal party. And the Versailles Treaty restrictions amd limited budgets did imprive officer attitude toward the Socialists. And they were particularly opposed to the Communists. The Reichswehr was not, however, prepared to change the Goverment. A major factor here was that they feared Allied intervention if they moved against the Republic. It should be remembered that it was President Hindenberg, a Prussian Junker to the core, who brought Hitler to power--albeit with some reluctance.

Politization and Conspiracy Theiries

The officer corps of the Army became highly politicized after the War. Conspiracy theories florished in the minds of officers and men who could not bring themselves to accept defeat, especially the idea that the German Army could have been defeated. Of course the Reichwehr leadership knew they had beebn defeated and badly defeated. But the conspiratorial theories allowed them to avoid the blame for tht defeat. Blaming the politicans was much more acceptable to the army officers, especially the Socialist who signed the Versailles Treaty and dominated Weimar.

Size

The Reichswehr was limited to 100,000 men, a fraction of the pre-War Army. There were also many limitations on weapons, particularly artillery abnd aircraft. The Reichweht also as the NAZI Party grew in strength proved to be a fraction of the size of the paramilitary SA which geww to be a dangerous rival.

Versailles Evasions

There were important evasions of the restrictions. This occurred in the 1920s before the NAZIs took power. They were conducted by the General Staff, although the civilian govrernment was partially aware of what was happening. there were many evasions. One was the Schwarze Reichswehr(Black Reichwehrr) or illegal paramilitary formations created and hidden and not included in the 100,000 count. There was also secret weapons research.

Military Education and Planning

One area that the Versailles Treaty did not limit was military planning and education. A major concern of the Reichswehr was understanding why Germany failed in 1914 and how German arms could succeed in any future war. The Reichswehr had neither the men and equipment for such war, but that did not stop innovative thinkers from devising innovative new tactical doctrines, men like Manstein, Guderian, and Rommel. These concepts began to emerge in the 1920s and early-30s, long before the NAZI rearmament program made them possible. Here the Rapollo Treaty (1922) with the Soviets gave them the ability to work with banned weapns like tanks. Guderian and Rommel would published books during the NAZI-era, but the ideas emerged during the 1920s and early-30s.

Public Relations

The reputation of the old Imperial Army was badly damaged by the War, especially the loss of the War. The Army after failing winning an early vicyory, essentially took over the German government and during the last 2 years of the War was rinnkng the contry. Yet after the War there was still considerable respect for the Army, more so than the Weimar politicans. Many Germans has served in the Imperial Army and has considerable resprct toward the Reichwehr. The election of Hindenburg is a good indicator of the respect shared by the German people toward the Recichwehr and military in general (1925). We are not sure at this time to what extent the Reichwehr's public relations effort was carefully planned out. We see some events showing Reichwehr soldiers with civilians, including children.

The Sturmabtelung (SA)

The Reichwehr's security concerns were not primarily with foreign threats, it was domestic threts. At first it was the Kadets (domestic Communists). For this reason it assisted the Freikoros defeat the Kadets (Communbists) whio atempted to eize power. It also aided the Freirkorp to defeat the Poles as Germany's eastern border was being settled. Its major concern was, however the SA--the NAZI political paramilitary army which had grown well beyond the size of the Reichwehr (late-1920s). The military's concern with right-wing parties began early. Ernst Julius Günther Röhm, (1887–1934) was a German officer in the Bavarian Army. He was wounded three times in the War and was promoted to major. He almost died of the the Soanish inflenca. He joined the NZI Party before Hitler. After defeating the Communists, he helped Hitler win the support of the Army in Bavaria. He used his private strong-arm force to aid Hitler. He co-founded the Sturmabteilung (October 1921). He participated in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch (November 8–9, 1923). Röhm was briefly imprisoned. Röhm wanted the SA to absorb and largely supplant the Reichswehr and political equality with the NAZI Party. This was not what Hitler wanted. Despairing of seizing power, Röhm emigrated to South America where he was employed by the Bolivian Army (1925). Only later did NAZI Party fortunes change. And with rhe growth of the NAZI Party the SA also expanded. Hitler had trouble controlling his unruly Stormtroopers who seized the NAZI Party's Berlin offices. He turned to his old friend and asked him to return to Germany and assume command of the SA (1930). Reichwehr generals became increasingly concerned nout the SA. It was much larger than the Reichwehr, but did not have the weapons like machine guns the military had. A growing number of Reichwehr officers, especially younger officets, supported the NAZIs or were at least sympathetic. Hitler was appointed chancellor (1933). He at first included Röhm in his cabinet, but then subordinated the SA to the Party and the Reichwehr. Röhm's huge following and tendency to Hitler as a rival eventually persuaded by Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler that he had to be eliminated. Hitler was reluctant to move against his old friend. Reinhard Heydrish presented forged documents to Hitler which eventualy persuaded him. Hitler ordered the purge now known as the Nkight of the Lng Knives. Hitler using a SS action group personally arrested Röhm and his key commanders at a hotel near Munich on the pretext that he was preparing a putsch. The Reichwehr provided arms to the SS. Röhm was shot without trial the next day. Major SA commanders and various political opponests were also shot. The SA was essentially emasculated as an impotyant NAZI organization. The relieved Reichwehr in return swore a personal oath of aliegence to Hitler.







HBC







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Created: 10:55 AM 12/4/2011
Last updated: 4:57 AM 4/30/2012