Armed forces

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
German EmpireGerman Empire (Reichskriegsflagge) Armed forces
Commander in Chief : Adolf Hitler (1935–1945:
Supreme Commander )
Karl Dönitz (1945)
Defense Minister: Werner von Blomberg ( Reich Minister of War , 1935–1938)
1938–1945 assimilated: The Chief of the High Command of the Wehrmacht Wilhelm Keitel
Military leadership: High Command of the Wehrmacht
Headquarters: Wünsdorf near Zossen or changing Führer headquarters
Armed forces: Army , air force , navy
Military strength
Active soldiers: 18.2 million
Conscription: 1 year or 2 years (from August 24, 1936)
Eligibility for military service: 18 to 45
Factual foundation: March 16, 1935
Resolution: May 8, 1945 ( total capitulation )
or official dissolution in August 1946
Regulations - The Duties of the German Soldier , May 1934 and others

Wehrmacht is the name for the totality of the armed forces in National Socialist Germany . The Wehrmacht emerged from the Reichswehr through the law for the establishment of the Wehrmacht of March 16, 1935 and has been officially disbanded since August 1946. It was divided into the army , navy and air force .

Word meaning

According to the meaning of the word parts, “Wehrmacht” was just another word for armed force and was used that way at least from the middle or end of the 19th century. In the linguistic usage at the time, the armed forces of other countries were also referred to as Wehrmacht, for example the Italian Wehrmacht or the English Wehrmacht . It already appears in the Paulskirche constitution of 1849 for the German military. The German Bundeswehr was also initially referred to as the new Wehrmacht (“Wehr” is a synonym for “defense”); For example, on November 12, 1955, Defense Minister Theodor Blank outlined the political profile of a "new Wehrmacht" when the Bundeswehr was founded. Until the 1970s, Wehrmacht was still defined in its original meaning; in common parlance, the term has since been reduced to the armed forces of the Nazi state .

The Reich constitution of 1849 stipulated in § 19 ( Reichsflotte ):

(2) The manning of the navy forms part of the German Wehrmacht. It is independent of the land power.

Likewise, in the laws on the formation of a provisional Reichswehr and provisional Reichsmarine of March 6 and April 16, 1919, the Wehrmacht was mentioned .

The constitution of the German Reich of August 11, 1919: Article 47. The Reich President has supreme command over the entire armed forces of the Reich.
The ordinance on the transfer of supreme command over the Wehrmacht of the German Reich to the Reichswehr Minister is dated August 20, 1919 .
In the law on the abolition of general conscription of August 21, 1920, it then stated in § 1: "The German armed forces consists of the Reichswehr and the Reichsmarine."
Finally, the Defense Act of March 23, 1921 stated in Section 1 “(1) The Wehrmacht of the German Republic is the Reichswehr. It is formed from the Reichsheer and the Reichsmarine [...] ”.

From 1935, the terms Reichswehr and Reichsmarine were no longer used in official language in order to erase any reference to the period of the Weimar Republic called " system time " by the National Socialist rulers . From 1936 to 1944 there was a magazine published by the High Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW) with the name " Die Wehrmacht ".


Historical basics

After the defeat of the German Empire in the First World War , France, Great Britain and the USA restricted the permissible troop strength of the German Reichsheer to 100,000 men (plus 15,000 navy men) in the Versailles Treaty (which the German delegation signed in protest on June 28, 1919 at the ultimate request ) . Heavy artillery and tanks were banned, as were air forces and a general staff . They also banned research into chemical weapons . The Reichswehr was founded on March 23, 1921 under these conditions . The proportion of soldiers who served as officers or NCOs was extremely high in relation to the ranks of the crew . So it was later possible to enlarge the army many times over within a few years.

Under the impression of the occupation of the Ruhr by the French military (January to September 1923), during which the Reichswehr was virtually defenseless, General Hans von Seeckt commissioned a secret, detailed armament plan. This formulated the goal of building a "large army" with a war strength of 2.8 to 3 million men. After the National Socialist seizure of power , the Nazi regime began to rearm the Wehrmacht . An army of this strength was ready to attack Poland in the late summer of 1939 . The 7 divisions of the 100,000-man army had become 102 divisions, exactly the plan for 1925 and 600,000 men more than the strength of the imperial army in 1914. This plan from 1925 shows that from the point of view of the generals (beyond national defense) a threat potential was to be built up that would enable German hegemony on the European continent and would also have made a war of revenge possible.

Military cooperation with the Soviet Union

As early as 1920 there had been serious talks about mutual visits between politicians, the generals and the armaments industry of Soviet Russia and Germany in order to undermine the provisions of the Versailles Treaty, to circumvent the technical restrictions laid down here in the field of military technology and to initiate steps to secretly rearm Germany . To coordinate the activities, the special group R (Russia) was created under the head of the troop office as early as 1921. After the Rapallo Treaty , this secret military cooperation between the Reichswehr and the Soviet Red Army was further intensified. The first secret contract with an investment of 140 million Reichsmarks was signed on March 15, 1922. The focus here was the development of the banned German military aviation. In February 1923, the new chief of the troop office, Major General Otto Hasse , traveled to Moscow for further secret negotiations .

The German Reich supported the development of the Soviet military industry, commanders of the Red Army received general staff training in the German Reich, Germany provided technical documents and licenses for the construction of military technology and investments in Soviet armaments factories. In return, the Reichswehr was given the opportunity to train its own commanders (later military commanders), to obtain artillery ammunition from the Soviet Union, to train fighter pilots and tank commanders on Soviet soil and to manufacture and test chemical warfare agents there. German and Soviet armaments experts developed new types of tank prototypes under the guise of tractor production. The Junkers company was allowed to deliver aircraft to the Soviet Union and to build its own aircraft factory near Moscow. On the airfield Lipezk 120 to 130 German pilots and flight observers were approximately formed, the strain for the fighter pilot or the Air Force . In Kazan were at the Kama tank school about 30 tanks professionals formed from 1930th At Saratow , poison gas was (further) developed on the secret object Tomka , the technology for delivering war gas was modernized and the strategy of using chemical weapons was planned, technically refined and tested.

Oath for every soldier

The swearing-in of recruits with the 138th Mountain Infantry Regiment in the barracks in Pinkafeld on May 31, 1939.

Immediately after the death of Paul von Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, the armed forces were sworn in on the person of Hitler . Many soldiers who were later affected cited these personal oaths as a reason for not having actively resisted criminal orders from the leadership.

"I swear to God this holy oath that I want to obey the leader of the German Reich and the people, Adolf Hitler , the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, unconditionally and, as a brave soldier, to be ready to give my life for this oath at any time."

- Oath for every soldier, valid from August 2, 1934

By law of July 20, 1935, the oath was amended as follows:

"I swear to God this holy oath that I want to obey the leader of the German Reich and the people, Adolf Hitler, the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht, unconditionally and, as a brave soldier, to be ready to give my life for this oath at any time."

Both oaths were unconstitutional, however, because the first was a product of the head of the newly created Wehrmachtamt , Walter von Reichenau , and the second was created by Hitler in order to consolidate his claim to military power with the change from “Oberbefehlshaber” to “Obersterkommandoer” . There was no vote with the Reichstag . The amalgamation of the office of the Reich President with that of the Reich Chancellor was also against the (formally still existing) Weimar Constitution . In the Remer trial (1952) against the former major general Otto Ernst Remer for defamation and disparagement of the memory of deceased , public prosecutor Fritz Bauer (1903–1968) emphasized that a sworn obligation to unconditional obedience to a person is immoral and also illegal under Nazi law and thus was invalid. He also emphasized: "An unjust state that commits tens of thousands of murders every day entitles everyone to self-defense ." From today's legal point of view, no one should have felt bound by these oaths.

The Remer Trial attracted a great deal of attention in West Germany because it posthumously rehabilitated the resistance fighters of July 20, 1944 .


Wehrmacht identification card
Cossack unit in the Wehrmacht

On March 16, 1935, conscription was reintroduced with the law on the establishment of the armed forces. Hitler had already announced the reintroduction to the generals on February 3, 1933 ( Liebmann record ). In the Reich Concordat (July 1933) it was also taken into account in the secret additional articles, disregarding the Versailles Treaty. However, there were also so-called white vintages . In 1936 the Wehrmacht occupied the demilitarized Rhineland . By 1939 Hitler required the formation of twelve army corps with 38 divisions and a strength of 580,000 soldiers. The mobilization of reservists in July and August 1939. In late 1939 took place had the Wehrmacht 4.7 million men convened in 1940 it was again with 4.1 million almost as many. Due to exhausted human resources, the number halved in the following years until it only reached 1.3 million in 1944. A total of over 17 million men were called up from 1939 to 1945.

During the Second World War, numerous non-German soldiers, mainly Eastern Europeans, also served in the Wehrmacht. They volunteered because many wanted to fight Stalinism or feared Soviet , Jewish or Bolshevik dominance in Eastern Europe (Judaism and Bolshevism were seen as synonyms because of the widespread anti-Semitism , see Jewish Bolshevism ). In some cases, however, these were also forcibly recruited. In the Soviet Union alone, around 600,000 men became volunteers . The volunteers included Estonians , Latvians , Belarusians , Ukrainians , Russians and Caucasians . The non-Russian units were referred to as the Eastern Legions , the Russian, however, as the Russian Liberation Army , which was led by Andrei Andreevich Vlasov . Non-German soldiers made up around five percent of the Wehrmacht's staff.

After the "Anschluss" of Austria in March 1938, all Austrians capable of military service had to serve in the Wehrmacht. Tens of thousands of ethnic Germans from allied states volunteered for the Wehrmacht, but far more often for the Waffen SS . 11,600 Luxembourgers forcibly recruited , around 100,000 Alsatians and 30,000 Lorrainers (so-called Malgré-nous “against our will”) had to serve in it. Foreign volunteers were part of the Wehrmacht in associations such as the Indian Legion and Legion Free Arabia .

Not to be confused with the armies of the Eastern European countries Romania , Slovakia , Croatia , Bulgaria and Hungary, allied with Germany . Although these were under German command during the Eastern campaigns , they were legally independent.

Allies during World War II

Troops of various strengths from the following countries fought together with the Wehrmacht in World War II (only military units from countries that actively fought with the German Wehrmacht were taken into account):

After the unconditional surrender

March 1945: German soldiers before being transported to an Allied prisoner of war camp
Unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945 in Berlin-Karlshorst
Declaration of surrender by the German Wehrmacht, May 8, 1945 Berlin-Karlshorst

After the unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, the Wehrmacht had active units that had not yet been disarmed.

The Wehrmacht was officially dissolved by the Allies with the Control Council Act No. 34 on August 20, 1946. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Allies had already decided that after an Allied victory, Germany should no longer have a military.


The total casualties of the Wehrmacht are difficult to quantify, as a full census of the deaths by name has not yet been carried out. Until the spring of 1945 there were documents on the personnel losses of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS , insofar as they belonged to the field army. However, hundreds of thousands of soldiers who were already dead at this point could no longer be recorded by these statistics. In this respect, even the war documents are already fraught with a high level of uncertainty. For the last months of the war it was finally no longer possible to produce overviews. Percy E. Schramm comes to a number of 2,001,399 deaths and 1,902,704 missing persons in the Wehrmacht for the period from September 1, 1939 to January 31, 1945 in the war diary of the OKW, of which 322,807 were in Allied captivity .

The Federal Statistical Office gave the total number of Wehrmacht losses in 1949 at three million, in 1956 at 3.76 million.

This number is also reflected in the publication of the DRK tracing service from 1975, which gives 3,810,000 dead and missing.

In its 1985 annual report, the German agency, formerly the Wehrmacht information center in Berlin, names 3.1 million dead and 1.2 million missing, a total of 4.3 million. This information relates to the losses reported by name up to February 28, 1945. As a result, including those who fell in the last months of the war and those who died in captivity, over five million deaths are assumed; Rüdiger Overmans puts it at 5.3 million. They are broken down according to age group below, with age group strengths only known from the Reich area:

Toila German War Cemetery , Estonia
Deaths by age group
Total deaths
of which from the Reich territory
Deaths all men in %
1900 and older 288.310 241,000 9,823,000 2.5
1901 67,627 57,000 642,000 8.9
1902 99,759 85,000 658,000 12.9
1903 84,660 77,000 641,000 12.0
1904 92,825 86,000 658,000 13.1
1905 94,858 86,000 655,000 13.1
1906 152.287 138,000 679,000 20.3
1907 157.221 139,000 682,000 20.4
1908 204,452 189,000 685,000 27.2
1909 187.352 167,000 689,000 24.2
1910 221,650 205,000 681,000 30.1
1911 225,551 201,000 650,000 30.9
1912 226,683 198,000 686,000 28.9
1913 211.221 191,000 663,000 28.8
1914 269,881 240,000 653,000 36.7
1915 193.353 174,000 509,000 34.2
1916 133,825 120,000 389,000 30.8
1917 122,627 116,000 352,000 33.0
1918 149,858 131,000 367,000 35.7
1919 229.287 216,000 542,000 39.9
1920 318,848 293,000 712,000 41.1
1921 276.419 243,000 695,000 35.0
1922 240.419 204,000 650,000 31.4
1923 269,749 227,000 621,000 36.6
1924 271.716 234,000 616,000 38.0
1925 235,683 208,000 628,000 33.1
1926 153.188 130,000 598,000 21.7
1927 105,990 97,000 572,000 16.9
1928-1930 33,231 27,000 1,722,000 1.6
buzz 5,318,530 4,720,000 28,118,000 16.8

Violations of international law and war crimes

Massacre in Bochnia , Poland, 1939

The attack on eight states without a declaration of war was contrary to international law , as was certain practices of warfare and control of the conquered areas, such as hostage shooting, acts of revenge and retaliation against the civilian population (so-called “expiatory measures”) and the war of extermination in the east. During the fight against partisans (so-called “fighting gangs”) the Wehrmacht was involved in many war crimes and attacks, especially in Eastern Europe .

The Wehrmacht followed a "scorched earth policy" when they withdrew : In Belarus , for example, between June 1941 and July 1944, 209 towns and 9,200 villages were wiped out by the Wehrmacht and the SS and most of their inhabitants were murdered. The Wehrmacht was partially involved in the arrest and murder of Jews and other persecuted groups in the occupied territories on the basis of the guidelines for cooperation between the army and the SS Einsatzgruppen , and was both directly and indirectly involved.

The treatment of Eastern European and above all Soviet prisoners of war did not correspond to international norms, which resulted in a high to very high mortality rate. In addition, Soviet political commissars were often shot immediately after capture on the basis of the commissar's order . In 1944, the German soldiers of Sinti and Roma descent were handed over to the SS without any noteworthy protests from the Wehrmacht leadership.

Organization and structure

Guided tour 1935–1938
Guided tour 1939–1945

Authority and command

In the Reichswehr a distinction was made between command and command. It was assumed that a politician did not have the authority to lead troops, and therefore the leadership authority was divided between the Reich President as commander in chief and the chiefs of the army command and the navy command as commanders in chief . In practice, this meant that the Reich President could issue orders, but had to leave the command of the troops to the officers (see also Article 47 of the Weimar Constitution ).

In the Wehrmacht, this separation was increasingly blurred at the latest with the beginning of the German-Soviet War . Hitler interfered more and more in the command of the troops, and when he took over the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Army , the division between command and command ceased for good.

Military leadership organization

The Wehrmacht was administered first by the Reichswehr Minister , then from May 21, 1935 by the Reich Minister of War .

With the "proclamation of military sovereignty " in 1935, the army command became the High Command of the Army (OKH), the naval command became the High Command of the Navy (OKM) and a new Air Force Command (OKL) was established. From then on, the ministerial office was called the Wehrmachtamt . As a result of the Blomberg-Fritsch crisis , Hitler also took on the duties of Reich Minister of War and the previous Wehrmacht Office was reclassified to the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW).

Troop service and administrative leadership / armed forces - parts of the armed forces

Troop strength and structure

Reception of two recruits (1936)
Three recruits after a field exercise, early 1939

Troop strength

According to the research of the historian Rüdiger Overmans , 17.3 million soldiers served in the army, air force and navy, together with the Waffen-SS there were 18.2 million soldiers who were drafted in the course of the war and not all of them were on duty at the same time .

In November 1943 the Wehrmacht had a strength of approx. 6.345 million soldiers. 3.9 million of these soldiers were stationed on the Eastern Front (along with 283,000 allies). 177,000 soldiers were in Finland, 486,000 soldiers occupy Norway and Denmark. 1,370,000 occupation troops stood in France and Belgium. Another 612,000 men were stationed in the Balkans and 412,000 men in Italy.



As of January 3, 1939, the army was divided into six army groups , to which the army corps (AK) and other staffs and troops were subordinate.

Army Group headquarters Allegations
1 Berlin I. , II. , III. and VIII. Army Corps
command offices of the fortifications at Breslau, Glogau, Neustettin and Oppeln
border command office Küstrin; Inspection of the east fortifications
2 Frankfurt am Main V. , VI. and XII. Army corps ; General command of the Saarpfalz border troops,
Eifel and Upper Rhine command posts, Landwehr commanders Hanau and Heilbronn (Neckar),
inspection of the border fortifications
3 Dresden IV. , VII. And XIII. Army Corps
4th Leipzig XIV. , XV. and XVI. Army Corps
5 Vienna XVII. and XVIII. Army Corps
4th Light Division and 2nd Panzer Division
Fortress Inspection XI
6th Hanover IX. , X. and XI. Army Corps

At the same time there were 15 general commands and another 4 corps commands. The general commands comprised both the army corps and the military districts , in which the military substitute organization and the fixed institutions were territorially combined and which extended over the entire territory of the German Reich. The military district commands were subordinate to the reserve army . The table shows the last status of the peace army before the mobilization on August 26, 1939 (army corps marked with "*" were also military districts).

Military districts in the German Reich (1938/39)
Military districts in the Greater German Reich (1944)
Army Corps headquarters Divisions
I * Koenigsberg 1st Infantry Division (ID) , 11th ID , 21st ID
II * Szczecin 12th ID , 32nd ID
III * Berlin 3rd ID , 23rd ID
IV * Dresden 4th ID , 14th ID
V * Stuttgart 5th ID , 25th ID , 35th ID
VI * Muenster 6th ID , 16th ID , 26th ID
VII * Munich 7th ID , 27th ID , 1st Mountain Division (GD)
VIII * Wroclaw 8th ID , 18th ID , 28th ID
IX * kassel 9th ID , 15th ID
X * Hamburg 22nd ID , 30th ID
XI * Hanover 19th ID , 31st ID
XII * Wiesbaden 33. ID , 34th ID , 36th
XIII * Nuremberg 10th ID , 17th ID , 46th ID
XIV Magdeburg 2nd ID (motorized), 13th ID (motorized), 20th ID (motorized) , 29th ID (motorized)
XV Jena 1st light division , 2nd light division
XVI Berlin 1st Panzer Division (PD), 3rd PD , 4th PD , 5th PD
XVII * Vienna 44 ID , 45 ID
XVIII * Salzburg 2nd DG , 3rd DG
Kaiserslautern General command of the Saarpfalz border troops
Departments in the headquarters of the army

The general staff and staff departments were structured equally at all levels. The following terms were used:

Yes Management department
Ib Quartermaster's Department
Ic Enemy intelligence and defense ; mental care in the Nazi sense
Id education
IIa 1st adjutant (officer personnel)
IIb 2nd adjutant (NCOs and men)
III court
IVa Intendant (accounting, general administration)
IVb doctor
IVc Veterinary
IVd Clergyman

air force

Air transport with Junkers Ju 52 near Demyansk 1941

The Luftwaffe was mainly divided into independent air fleets , the number of which rose to seven from 1939 to 1944. The air fleets were numbered from 1 to 6 and were each relocated to the various theaters of war. In addition, there was the Reich Luftflotte , which had the task of protecting the Reich territory.

In addition to the air fleets, there was the Luftwaffe's Luftgaue , which, like the military districts, took on certain territorial tasks. This was primarily the maintenance of all Air Force facilities and airfields in the respective areas.

The Luftgaue were:

  • Luftgau Command I to XVII (all in the German Reich)
  • Luftgau Command Belgium - Northern France (established in 1940, from 1944 also Holland)
  • Luftgau Command Charkow (1942–1943, Southern Russia)
  • Luftgau Command Finland (1941–1943)
  • Luftgau Command Holland (1940–1944)
  • Luftgau command in Kiev (1941–1942, then Luftgau command in Kharkov , southern Russia)
  • Luftgau Command Moscow (1941–1942, central area of ​​the Eastern Front )
  • Luftgau Command Norway (1940–1944)
  • Luftgau-Kommando Petersburg or Luftgau-Kommando Ostland (1941-1943, northern section of the Eastern Front)
  • Luftgau Command Rostov (1941–1943, South Russia and Crimea )
  • Luftgau Command West France (1940-1944, South and West France)
  • Feldluftgau Command XXV (1943–1944, from Luftgau Command Rostov and Charkow, in the south of the Eastern Front)
  • Feldluftgau Command XXVI (1943–1944, from Luftgau Command Petersburg)
  • Feldluftgau Command XXVII (1943–1944, from Luftgau Command Moscow)
  • Feldluftgau Command XXVIII or Luftgau Command South (1941–1943, Italy )
  • Feldluftgau Command XXIX (1943–1944, Greece )
  • Feldluftgau Command XXX (1943–1944, Balkans )


Military foundations

Mission tactics , very high discipline and absolute obedience were the military foundations on which the Wehrmacht was built. In part, this led to friction with the NSDAP , especially in the officer corps, but on the other hand also encouraged acts that violated international law.

In motorized units of the Wehrmacht, leadership was practiced from the front , in which the commanders commanded their units directly at the front and not in a secured command post behind the front. For this purpose, the motorized units applied the tactical concept of combined arms combat for combat management , in which the various branches of the armed forces work closely together in order to achieve the highest possible combined combat value.

Inner structure

The "spirit of the troops" was seen as the "basis for clout and discipline and thus decisive for victory". On "the right relationship of trust between officer, sergeant and man" through inter alia. "The impeccable example of the officer" and the "tireless care" were given particular importance. The settlement of complaints and the elimination of grievances were also seen as essential factors.

Complaint and Disciplinary Law

With the Complaints Regulations for Members of the Wehrmacht (BO) the right of the members of the Wehrmacht to lodge a complaint was emphasized and the orderly handling of complaints  - including the involvement of a mediator - was specified. In the Wehrmacht disciplinary punishment order (WDStO), the disciplinary punishment was regulated from reprimand to "sharpened arrest", adapted to the rank of the person concerned and the level of the person being imposed.

Wehrmacht criminal jurisdiction

According to the Military Criminal Code (MStGB), inter alia Cowardice , disobedience , "arousing displeasure" and "undermining male discipline " are punishable by punishments up to the death penalty . At the same time, “abuse of authority”, including “suppressing a complaint” or “mistreating a subordinate”, was made a criminal offense. With the Special War Criminal Law Ordinance (KSSVO), the "Wehrmacht criminal jurisdiction in war" was expanded to include special offenses such as rioting and disintegration of the military force and the "exceeding of the regular penalty framework" for criminal "acts against male discipline or the commandment of soldierly courage" up to the death penalty was required, " when the maintenance of male discipline or the security of the troops “requires it.

Military chaplaincy

The military chaplaincy regulated for the Reichswehr by Article 27 of the Reich Concordat was thus only guaranteed for the army and navy. She was therefore not present in the Air Force. In disregard of the Versailles Treaty, the secret annex to the Concordat already contained regulations for candidates for priesthood and clergy in the event of the introduction of compulsory military service and mobilization .


German military bread bag, introduced in the Reichswehr as early as 1931 and delivered in countless colors from the start of the war
German soldiers with field utensils during their meals
Field telephone FF33 of the German Wehrmacht (developed in 1933)
Backpack recipient Berta, front view

The Wehrmacht had very modern equipment in parts, but Germany's fewer resources compared to other countries made it impossible to implement this modern equipment in all units from the start. The armament of the Wehrmacht was in many parts precipitous and insufficient attention was paid to the depth of armor necessary for a long war . Instead, they relied on being able to subdue the opposing powers through lightning wars.

Contrary to the opinion of the Wehrmacht as a high-tech armed force , only about 40 percent of all Wehrmacht units were motorized. The remaining 60 percent were horse drawn, i. H. the so-called "entourage" (staffs, field kitchens, supplies, etc.) had draft horses available for the transport, the fighting units went on foot, were partly equipped with bicycles or were transported by rail. There was also an increasing deterioration in the quality of the combat units the further they were deployed behind the front lines. For example, units that were deployed directly at the front were to a greater extent motorized and equipped with newer weapons and combat equipment, while units used to fight partisans often only had outdated or captured equipment and were only relatively seldom motorized.

The establishment of a powerful armored force and air force secured the Wehrmacht's initial blitzkrieg successes . Contrary to popular belief, the German tank models of the early years were by no means superior to those on the Allied and Soviet sides. During their campaigns against Poland and the Western Allies, the Wehrmacht initially had almost only light tanks of types I and II , as well as the large numbers of Panzer 38 (t) captured after the occupation of the Czech Republic . Although these models were on par with most of the light tanks brought into the field by the enemy, they could hardly hold their own against the enemy’s medium tanks. In the fight against the heavy Matildatanks of the British and Char B1 of the French, the light tanks of the Wehrmacht proved to be largely useless. However, this problem did not only affect the light tanks. The Panzer III and IV , which were relatively light and weakly armored by international standards, were designed in the late 1930s and were intended to gradually replace their lighter predecessors.

In the run-up to the attack on the Soviet Union , the medium battle tank III formed the backbone of the armored forces and was to be supported by the Panzer IV. These newer models were superior to the majority of older and light tanks of the Soviet Army , but inferior to the T-34 medium battle tank, which was used en masse from 1942 onwards. Against the heavy battle tank of the Soviet Army, the KW-1 , all tanks of the Wehrmacht designed in the prewar period had almost no chance. Here the German troops could often only survive through good training and the cooperation of the branches of arms. A large number of assault guns were used to replace missing effective battle tanks and, above all, the Panzer IV was constantly being retrofitted. Only the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger , which was built from 1942, and the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther , introduced from 1943, were equal or superior to the Soviet and later Western Allied models from the outset.

However, the disadvantages of equipment on the part of the Wehrmacht were offset by their operational advantages. The clear German air superiority in the initial phase of the war made it possible to smash enemy tanks that would have been able to stop the German advance through the targeted use of ground attack aircraft . A further complicating factor for the Soviet side was that the tank crews were often poorly trained and most of the experienced commanders had been murdered during the Stalinist purges. The Soviet tanks, which were superior in terms of numbers and weapons, could often be encircled and isolated and their advantages could not be brought to bear. Furthermore, in contrast to the Soviet models, the German tanks had radio equipment, which increased their tactical maneuverability. The situation was similar in the French campaign of 1940. France had more and sometimes better tanks than Germany, but these were only in small numbers (usually only about five pieces each) distributed among many different smaller troop units, since the French army was still subject to the tank tactics of the First World War, after the tanks were only used to support the infantry. Therefore, a group of five French tanks could do nothing against a German tank army with air support.

The dependency of the German tank arm on air superiority also becomes clear from around 1944 onwards. With the loss of air superiority and ultimately almost the entire air force, German tanks were mostly destroyed from the air without being used.

During the war, the German armaments industry developed revolutionary techniques for the Wehrmacht, for example the first assault rifle , the first operational jet fighters and night vision devices . Since many of these innovations were only ready for use shortly before the end of the war, they were only used in small numbers.



Sergeant with submachine gun MP 40 and binoculars in 1941 during an exercise (Poland)

The uniforms of the Wehrmacht were partly taken over by the Reichswehr and modernized and replaced from 1935 to 1945.

By order of February 17, 1934, Hitler gave instructions to introduce the national emblem (" sovereign eagle ") on headgear and uniform on May 1, 1934 . The “breast eagle”, woven or embroidered on a separate piece of fabric, was worn on the right side of field blouses, sailor jackets, etc. The breast eagles were machine-embroidered for non-commissioned officers, some were also hand-embroidered for officers, and from 1942 onwards for generals they were always in gold and hand-embroidered.

In the army the basic color of the uniform was field gray , in the air force a slightly lighter blue-gray and in the navy navy blue. In 1944 the field uniform 44 was introduced, which was to replace the previous uniforms of the army and the air force with a uniform, brownish uniform. However, this was no longer fully implemented by the end of the war.

A distinction was made according to the type of suit (here the six basic ones):

Awards of the Wehrmacht

Iron Cross 1st class with award certificate

A special feature of the Wehrmacht was that medals and decorations were worn on all uniforms (except for sports) , including in the field. A large number of decorations were donated from 1939 to 1945, which were only available in this number in the Third Reich during the Second World War. Only the War Merit Cross was intended for soldiers of the rear units. Proven front-line fighters were immediately recognizable by their medals on the uniform.

Selection of medals of the Wehrmacht:

There were also various combat and activity badges from the army, navy and air force.

Assessment of the Wehrmacht by historians

During the Nazi era in the German Reich, the Wehrmacht was the largest mass organization and the most important institutional supporter of German militarism .

The Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld , who has examined the combat strength of the Wehrmacht, removing this phenomenon from the overall political and military context and thus viewing it in isolation, comes to the conclusion: “The German army was an excellent combat organization. In terms of morality , vigor, troop cohesion and elasticity, none of the armies of the twentieth century was his equal. "The Potsdam historian Rolf-Dieter Müller comes to the following judgment:" In a purely military sense [...] one can indeed say that the impression of a superior fighting power is rightly given. The proverbial efficiency was even greater than previously assumed, because the superiority of the enemy was much higher than German officers suspected at the time. The evaluation of Russian archive files finally gives a clear picture in this regard. ”The French historian Philippe Masson comes to a similar conclusion ( see below, bibliography ). Even Colin Gray certifies the Wehrmacht outstanding training methods and tactics, but this is a sloppy investigation and logistical challenges associated with their "victory drunkenness" (disease victory) after its initial success in communication.

NS rank structure compared to the Wehrmacht

See also



  • Manfred Messerschmidt , Fritz Wüllner: The armed forces justice in the service of National Socialism. Destroying a legend. Nomos, Baden-Baden 1987, ISBN 3-7890-1466-4 .
  • Manfred Messerschmidt: What was law back then ... Nazi military and criminal justice in the war of extermination. Published by Wolfram Wette. Klartext, Essen 1996.
  • Manfred Messerschmidt: The Wehrmacht Justice 1933-1945. Schöningh, Paderborn 2005.
  • Wolfram Wette, Detlef Vogel: The last taboo. Nazi military justice and treason. Structure, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-351-02654-7 .
  • Fritz Wüllner: The Nazi military justice and the misery of historiography. A basic research report. Nomos, Baden-Baden 1991, ISBN 3-7890-1833-3 .
  • Gerd R. Ueberschär (Ed.): Hitler's military elite , 2 volumes. Primus-Verlag, Darmstadt 1998.
  • Hermine Wüllner (ed.): "... only death can be the just atonement". Death sentences from German Wehrmacht courts. A documentation. Nomos, Baden-Baden 1997, ISBN 3-7890-5104-7 .

Loss numbers

  • Rüdiger Overmans : German military losses in World War II. Contributions to military history, Volume 46. Oldenbourg, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-486-56332-7 . (At the same time: Freiburg (Breisgau), university, dissertation, 1996).

Web links

Commons : Wehrmacht  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Wehrmacht  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Defense Act (May 21, 1935), in: (Ed.) , As of October 13, 2008.
  2. BVerfGE 3, 288
  3. a b See Proclamation No. 2 of September 20, 1945 on the complete and final dissolution of all German armed forces, Directive No. 18 of November 11, 1945 on the dismissal of members of the former German Wehrmacht, Law No. 34 of the Control Council in Germany of August 20, 1946 on the repeal of military regulations. By the Control Council Act No. 34 (OJ of the Control Council p. 172) all regulations concerning the Wehrmacht were suspended.
  4. ^ Proclamation of the Reich government to the German people regarding the introduction of general conscription of March 16, 1935
  5. a b Austrian National Library (ÖNB): German Reich Law Gazette Part I 1867–1945 , p. 375
  6. ^ Karl-Heinz Janßen: Political and military objectives. In: R.-D. Müller, H.-E. Volkmann (Ed. On behalf of MGFA ): The Wehrmacht: Myth and Reality. Oldenbourg, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-486-56383-1 , p. 76 f.
  7. ^ Olaf Groehler, Suicidal Alliance, German-Russian Military Relations 1920–1941, Vision Verlag Berlin, 1992, p. 44 f.
  8. ^ The lawyer of the resistance , taz , local section north of August 29, 2012, accessed on August 29, 2012.
  9. ^ Hans-Jürgen Kaack: Sea captain Hans Langsdorff. The last commander of the ironclad Admiral Graf Spee. A biography (=  writings on naval history . Volume 1 ). Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2019, ISBN 978-3-506-70262-3 , Chapter VIII, p. 339 ( Again in Berlin ( Memento from April 3, 2020 in the web archive )).
  10. ^ Rüdiger Overmans: German military losses in World War II. Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-20028-3 , p. 223 ff.
  11. Cf. inter alia. Rolf-Dieter Müller: On the side of the Wehrmacht. Hitler's foreign helpers in the “Crusade against Bolshevism” 1941–1945. Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-86153-448-8 .
  12. Alexander Fischer: "Teheran - Yalta - Potsdam", The Soviet Minutes of the War Conferences of the "Big Three", with footnotes from the records of the US Department of State. Cologne 1968, p. 322 and 324.
  13. Percy E. Schramm (Ed.): War diary of the High Command of the Wehrmacht (Wehrmacht command staff). Vol. IV: January 1, 1944 to May 22, 1945 , Part II, Augsburg 2005, pp. 1508-1511.
  14. Federal Statistical Office: Attempt at a German population balance of the Second World War. In: Economy and Statistics. 1949, pp. 226-230.
  15. Federal Statistical Office (ed.); Karl Schwarz: Complete overview of the population development 1939–1946–1955. In: Economy and Statistics. 1956, pp. 375-384.
  16. German Red Cross (ed.): The personnel losses of the former German Wehrmacht in the Second World War and the captivity of war. Tracing Service Munich, 1975.
  17. Annual Report 1983/84/85. Ed .: Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt), Berlin 1985.
  18. ^ Rüdiger Overmans: German military losses in World War II. Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-20028-3 , p. 193.
  19. ^ Rüdiger Overmans: German military losses in World War II. Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-20028-3 , p. 231 f.
  20. Compiled from Tables 36 and 73 by Rüdiger Overmans: German military losses in World War II. Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-20028-3 , pp. 234 and 334.
  21. Hannes Heer , Christian Streit : Destruction War in the East. The murder of Jews, prisoners of war and hunger policy. ; Vsa Verlag, Hamburg 2020, ISBN 9783964880390 .
  22. a b Ralph Giordano: The traditional lie: from the warrior cult in the Bundeswehr. Cologne 2000, ISBN 3-462-02921-5 .
  23. RGBl. I, p. 609 / Facsimile Defense Act
  24. ^ Rüdiger Overmans: German military losses in World War II. Oldenbourg, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-486-20028-3 , p. 215.
  25. ^ Paul Kennedy: Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 Fischer paperback; Edition: 6 (November 16, 2000), ISBN 3-596-14968-1 , p. 526.
  26. a b The German Army 1939, structure, locations, staffing and list of all officers on January 3, 1939 , published by HH Podzun, Bad Nauheim 1953.
  27. Friedrich Stahl: army division in 1939. villagers, ISBN 3-89555-338-7 .
  28. Harry Horstmann: The development of the types of combat: Operative thinking and acting in German armed forces. ISBN 978-3-640-65061-3 .
  29. OKH Army Department. b. Gen. e.g. BVb OKH No. 2500/42 PA (2) Ia Az. 14 No. 6190/42 of May 22, 1942.
  30. HDv 3/10 of April 8, 1936.
  31. WDStO from June 6, 1942 (HDv 3/9, 3/9 LDV).
  32. ^ MStGB of October 10, 1940.
  33. KSSVO of August 17, 1938, HDv 3/13, LDv 3/13, cover sheet 1.
  34. Sönke Neitzel; Harald Welzer: Soldiers: Protocols of Fighting, Killing and Dying . S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2011, p. 76 ff.
  35. Detlef Bald , Johannes Klotz, Wolfram Wette : Mythos Wehrmacht. Post-war debates and maintenance of tradition. Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-7466-8072-7 , p. 18.
  36. Martin van Creveld : Combat strength. Military organization and military performance 1939–1945. Freiburg 1989, p. 189.
  37. Der Spiegel 15/2008 - eyesore of history
  38. See Colin Gray: War, Peace & International Relations - An Introduction to Strategic History. Routledge, Oxon 2007, pp. 124-156.