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Oberkommmando der Wehrmacht (OKW)
High Command of the Armed Forces

Through 1937 Hitler's foreign policy had the approval of traditional conservatives. However, because many of them were skeptical about his long-range goals, Hitler replaced a number of high military officers and diplomats with more pliable subordinates. A series of events that occurred later during the period of expansion, in January and February 1938, placed Hitler in actual command of the three armed services and disposed of Fritsch and those other senior officers who had advised against the Fuehrer's military policy of bluff and bluster and preferred instead a steady growth and consolidation within the services. These events started with the marriage of Blomberg to a woman of questionable reputation. Blomberg, even though he was not among the active opponents of Hitler's policies, was forced by Hitler to resign his position as Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Scandalous charges later proved false were used as a pretext to force Fritsch out of his position as commander in chief of the Army.

The post of Minister of War was abolished, and from 4 February 1938 Hitler exercised supreme command through a new headquarters, formed from Blomberg's staff and called the Oberkommmando der Wehrmacht (OKW), or High Command of the Armed Forces. General der Artillerie Wilhelm Keitel, according to a literal translation of the German title, became chief, OKW. Keitel was actually to hold a position similar to that of a chief of staff, but with little of the actual responsibility that the title implied. General der Artillerie Walther von Brauchitsch, commander of a Heeresgruppenkommamdo, as the old Gruppenkommamdo was henceforth to be called, became the successor to Fritsch. These events were followed by the retirement for reasons of health of a large number of senior officers, and the transfer of other officers to field duties. Hitler was determined to brook no opposition to his military policy and would accept no word of caution.

In his new post, Keitel became chief of Hitler's working staff and assumed the duties of the former Minister of War. Headquarters OKW was to expand its operations and planning staff into the Wehrmacht fuehrungsamt (Armed Forces Operations Office), under Col. Alfred Jodl from April to November of 1938 and Col. Walter Warlimont to August 1939.

Friction, not uncommon under Blomberg, increased considerably under this new command organization. No clear dividing line was established between the responsibilities of the joint armed forces command and the commands of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. General Keitel lacked the position and seniority of Blomberg and almost any activity of the OKW headquarters, particularly of its planning staff, the Wehrmacht fuehrungsamt, came to be regarded as encroaching on the responsibilities of the three services and met with resistance. The commanders in chief of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, freed from their common superior, Blomberg, soon began to circumvent OKW and to address themselves to Hitler personally, thereby strengthening the Fuehrer's control of military affairs.

After the reverses on the Eastern Front during 1941-42, Hitler had assumed more and more the role of supreme military leader, so that by the fall of 1944 the concept of maneuver had been all but stultified by a complete centralization of command. Hardly anybody could do anything without first consulting Hitler. After the unsuccessful attempt on his life in July, he looked upon almost every proposal from a field commander with unalloyed suspicion. To reach the supreme military leader, field commanders in the West had to go through a central headquarters in Berlin, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), which was charged with operations in all theaters except the East. (Oberkommando des Heeres-OKH watched over the Eastern Front.) Hitler's impression of the situation thus stemmed directly from a staff far removed from the scene of action.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2012 19:23:49 ZULU