How the German Generals Began the Surrender of Military Independence Following the Weimar Period

How the German Generals Began the Surrender of MilitaryIndependenceFollowing theWeimarPeriod

By Thomas White

 

 During the 1920’s and early 1930’s the consensus amongst Germans was that the German army essentially was viewed as an independent entity of the government, and left to rule itself. The precedent of the army as an independent entity stems “from a long history of the army in Germany”[1]. A history in which the army provided guidance to their head of state not the other way around, and this model which would serve pre-eminent amongst Germany’s generals had a history dating back to the 18th century. Under First Quartermaster Wilhelm Groener the military would serve as a standard for educating the next generations of German youth, and to serve as a moral compass that would ensure Germany of a future healthy state. Furthermore the military would provide “an element of stability, firmly suppressing dissident groups in Germany”[2] The military’s relationship with the government began to change in the late stages of theWeimar republic. These changes would have a profound affect on the military’s independence, as the military began to fall under the influence of the government. This change in military autonomy can be attributed to three distinct factors, which were the military educational system, a lack of career opportunity because of a reduction in force, and failed leadership from the highest echelons of the military itself.

The German army under both Generals Groener and Hans von Seeckt envisioned the military as providing the educational basis which would serve for the next generations of the military. However the education which the army officers received under Seeckt’s direction emphasized “technical training at the expense of political education [resulting in] officers thinking almost solely in terms of military expediency”[3] The problem that this exclusive tactical training created was that the German officer corps was essentially politically naive, and this made the acceptance of Hitler and his Nazi agenda all the more possible. As a result the military lost its independence, as Hitler was able to expand his powers over society including the military.

Secondly, following the Treaty of Versailles, the German officer corps “was potentially the most dangerous dissident group in Germany”[4]. This danger stemmed from the fact that as a result of the Treaty, career advancement was severely restricted with limited promotions, and forced retirements for many officers because of the reduction in force imposed on Germany. When Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, one of his first actions was to reinforce support amongst the armed forces who “were starved for advancement”[5], under the Weimar Republic. Hitler went about this task by committing to a plan of German rearmament by repudiating the articles of the treaty, and this paved the way for “rapid promotion in the armed forces”[6] allowing Hitler to gain greater control over the military with less opposition. In an army periodical from August of 1934 titled Militarwochenblatt when describing the military’s relationship with Hitler it proclaims “ In the new state of Adolph Hitler, the Wehrmacht is no foreign body as it was after the November revolt of 1918…and it follows Adolph Hitler as the Fuehrer of the people with full confidence and with devotion…”[7] Within a relatively short time after becoming Chancellor, Hitler, by reversing the forced reduction policy and paving a way for career advancement amongst the officer corps was able to gain further control of the military.

Finally the loss of military independence can also be firmly placed at the top echelons of German military leadership. The German military under the leadership of war minister General Werner von Blomberg and his deputy General Walther von Reichenau, according to the historian Ernest May, “produced a series of gratuitous acts that made the army seem more an instrument of Hitler…”[8] than an independent entity that served the state. Furthermore according Colonel Friedrich Hossbach, a member of Hitler’s own staff, “no minister or soldier in previous German history … exercised as much power over the armed forces as Blomberg. And in the exercise of that power he was responsible, not to the national parliament, as in the period of the Weimar Republic, but only to Hitler…”[9] Blomberg was also responsible for defeating attempts made within the Army High Command aimed at curbing domestic or foreign policies that “he considered to be dangerous”[10] further eroding the army’s independence.

 

 

Bibliography

Craig, Gordon A. “Review: Army and National Socialism 1933-1945: The Responsibility of the Generals World Politics 2. 3 (1950), pp. 426-438, http:/www.jstor.org/stable/2008913. (accessed September 9, 2010)

 

Craig, Gordon A. “Reichswehr and National Socialism: The Policy of Wilhelm Groener, 1928-1932, Political Science Quarterly 63. 2 (1948),  http://www.jstor.org/stable/2144837. (accessed August 27, 2010)

 

DeWeerd, Harvey A. “The German Officer Corps Versus Hitler Military Affairs 13. 4 (1949), Inclusive [199-208], http:/www.jstor.org/stable/1982736. (accessed September 9, 2010)

 

May, Ernest R. Strange Victory.New York City: Hill and Wang, 2000

 

Militarwochenblatt, CXIX, November 8 (August 25, 1934) Quoted in Craig, Gordon A. “Review: Army and National Socialism 1933-1945: The Responsibility of the Generals World Politics 2. 3 (1950), pp. 426-438, http:/www.jstor.org/stable/2008913. (accessed September 9, 2010), 436

 

Rosinski, Herbert The German Army, p. 112 Quoted in Craig, Gordon A. “Review: Army and National Socialism 1933-1945: The Responsibility of the Generals World Politics 2. 3 (1950), pp. 426-438, http:/www.jstor.org/stable/2008913. (accessed September 9, 2010) Originally published in Washington Infantry Journal, 1944, 436

 

 


[1] Ernest R. May, Strange Victory.New York City: Hill and Wang, 2000, 34

[2] Gordon A. Craig, “Reichswehr and National Socialism: The Policy of Wilhelm Groener, 1928-1932, Political Science Quarterly 63. 2 (1948), 199, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2144837. (accessed August 27, 2010)

[3] Herbert Rosinski, The German Army, Washington Infantry Journal, 1944, p. 112 quoted in Craig, Gordon A. “Reveiw: Army and National Socialism 1933-1945: The Responsibility of the Generals World Politics 2. 3 (1950), pp. 426-438, http:/www.jstor.org/stable/2008913. (accessed September 9, 2010), 436

[4] Craig,  “Reichswehr and National Socialism”, 199

[5] Harvey A. DeWeerd, “The German Officer Corps Versus Hitler Military Affairs 13. 4 (1949), Inclusive [199-208], http:/www.jstor.org/stable/1982736. (accessed September 9, 2010), 199

[6] Ibid

[7] Militarwochenblatt, CXIX, November 8 (August 25, 1934) quoted in Craig, Gordon A. “Review: Army and National Socialism 1933-1945: The Responsibility of the Generals World Politics 2. 3 (1950), pp. 426-438, http:/www.jstor.org/stable/2008913. (accessed September 9, 2010), 436

[8] May, Strange Victory, 31

[9] Gordon A. Craig, “Review: Army and National Socialism 1933-1945: The Responsibility of the Generals World Politics 2. 3 (1950), 430, http:/www.jstor.org/stable/2008913. (accessed September 9, 2010)

[10] Ibid

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