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Reichsheer

In the chaos which followed the signing of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, the 228 divisions which then constituted the German army as known during the World War either demobilized themselves or placed their services at the disposal of the more popular officers. In this way, the German Government was able to raise troops to oppose the Poles and to put down the Spartacist rising in January 1919. The forces raised at first consisted of the following two categories. In the East, volunteer formations were raised for "Grenzschutz Ost" (frontier guard East) in addition to the retention "with the colors" of the 4 youngest classes. In the interior, the 1918 class and men of old army units who had no civil employment were combined into so-called Sicherheitstruppen [Security Groups] formed from the old army units. In addition certain volunteer units of pronounced republican tendency were raised in Berlin.

At Berlin in December, 1918, the Guard paraded through Unter den Linden, very much as it did in 1871 at its return from Paris. Unlike the second-line forces, made up of the youngest class of recruits, and which melted away or joined the revolutionary element when the armistice was signed, the army of the front, heeding Hindenburg's earnest request, repaired to its pre-war stations in the most orderly fashion, proud of its record and of the confidence of the people. During the dark days of the Spartacan uprising, it was that army of the front which saved the Vaterland, earning one more title to the country's gratitude.

This old army, of course, could not be kept long under the colors, for most of the men had already served overtime. But Germany, very quietly and very quickly, set to work to organize her Reichswehr. She found the task so much the more easy because it had been proven conclusively that all efforts made by the Reds or Soviets' sympathizers to, unroot the military traditions had miserably failed. Far from being repelled by the harrowing experiences of the four-year war, young men hastened to organize themselves into voluntary units, most of which bore historical names, such as Luttwitz, Owen, etc.

In an incredibly short time these forces became very efficient and were able to crush down the remnants of the Red Army at Munchen, at Leipzig, at Brunswick and elsewhere. It is not likely that, in any other country, such a newly recruited militia could have shown itself as near the regulars' standard as these Freiwillige Korper. The causes of this astonishing efficiency are well worth studying. They are twofold. One is found in the instinctive horror of the German for anything disorderly. When the units of the National Guard were first recruited by different cities to cope with the insurrection, they all had the defects of a raw, crude citizen soldiery-lax discipline, carelessness of dress, lack of respect for officers who were elected by the men, and so forth. But, almost immediately, this state of affairs proved offensive to the German sense of order; not only the public but the militiamen themselves clamored for a return to the old military rules. The second factor was the calling back to the colors of the officers of the imperial army. This was a master stroke from the Minister of National Defense, Noske. The latter, a workingman and an ex-sergeant of the reserve corps, understood that nothing could be done without these officers; and he was bold and big enough to overlook the fact that these men were reactionary and monarchist. He succeeded, not without trouble, in overcoming the hesitations of the Reichstag; he sent for the officers, and they came.

The forces of the Sicherheitstruppen proved so untrustworthy that the Government had to fall back on volunteer formations, which were raised during January and February 1919 by the personal efforts of wellknown officers of the old army. These volunteer formations, differing largely in military value, organization, methods of pay and recruitment, could only be regarded as a stop-gap, and in March 1919 the Reichswehrminister Noske obtained the consent of the National Assembly to the formation of a provisional Reichwehr, with linked Volkswehr units to be raised from the existing volunteer formations in the interior. The scheme for this new provisional army was promulgated in army orders of 04 April 1919, and was put into execution throughout the interior of Germany during April and May. The original scheme provided for 6 brigades on the higher and 12 on the lower establishment, giving a total of 177,000 men of the Reichswehr and linked Volkswehr in the interior; the main body of this force was organized from the volunteer formations stationed around Berlin under Gen. von Luttwitz and formed the Luttwicz Group.

The Sicherheitstruppcn in the interior were disbanded or absorbed into the Reichswehr, and the remaining men of the younger classes were demobilized. Pay and organization of the various volunteer units and formations were regularized; gradually the scattered volunteer units and formations were transformed into Reichswchr brigades, and the former system of independent recruiting by units or commanders was transferred to the territorial army-corps districts.

A decree of the government, issued on 19 January 1919, reestablished the military power of the army and paved the way for the reorganization by the Minister of War of those forces which had defeated the Spartacans in January 1919. Between this period and the March 1919 rebellion the demobilization of the old army was completed to a point where only administrative officers, training schools, hospitals, and sections dealing with enemy or returning German prisoners were left intact. Exceptions to these generalizations were the command of Hindenburg on the, Polish front and the frontier guards in the Rhineland. It was the new army, which gained the March 1919 victory over the Spartacans, and so from then on became a factor in the maintenance of the republic.

The troops of Grenzschutz Ost, who were commanded by Hindenburg, were at first not affected by this new reorganization, but from mid-May 1919 the volunteer formations in Grenzschutz Ost were gradually absorbed into the Reichswehr. All men of the younger classes retained compulsorily in Grenzschutz Ost were discharged by July 1919. By September 1919 the German Reichswehr consisted of 43 mixed Reichswehr brigades. In addition, there were still some volunteer formations in the eastern provinces. The total strength was then about 320,000 men. After the ratification of the Peace Treaty on 10 January 1920, the period allowed for the reduction of the Reichswehr to 200,000 men was 3 months. Up to the time of the Spa Conference (June 21 1920), however, the German army still considerably exceeded this figure. By the terms of the agreement at Spa, Germany was obliged to reduce the Reichswehr to 150,000 men by 01 October 1920 and to 100,000 men by 01 January 1921.

Although the German forces were reduced to the figures laid down in the Peace Treaty, with a few minor exceptions, by January 1921, it was not until March 23 1921 that the law known as "Wehrgesetz" was promulgated by the Federal President, abolishing universal military service in Germany and definitely fixing the establishment of the new German army. By the terms of the new German Military Law the defence force (Wehrmacht) of the German Republic was the Reichswehr. It consisted of the Reichsheer and the Reicksmarine, which were composed of, and recruited from, volunteer soldiers and non-combatant military Beamten (officials).

To designate the forces under Socialist Minister of National Defense Gustave Noske's command as reorganized is, however, to overlook the almost chaotic condition of the new army. Old war units existed side by side with new republican formations. Ersatz, volunteer, and regular forces were united in so-called divisions or corps. In certain units soldiers' councils were in control, while in others the old regular officers maintained the discipline of imperial days. The officers of the new army opposed the policies of the government and maintained the monarchical traditions of Prussianism. While their love of country kept many monarchical officers in the service, the majority remained either because of economic reasons or because of the desire to participate in the inevitable coup d'etat.

Germany attempted to secure permission from the allied conference at San Remo to maintain the strength of the Reichsheer at 200,000 men. This was refused. By a decision of the Allies on 27 April 1920, Germany was allowed to maintain an army of 200,000 men until July 10, 1920, when her forces were to be reduced to 100,000, as stipulated by the Treaty of Versailles. Meanwhile a German decree of March 6, 1920, established a new table of organization for an army of transition which was to supplant the Reichswehr. This bergangWehr [Transition Force] was to have the same number of units as the future army in its final form, namely, twenty mixed brigades, three cavalry divisions, and special and sanitary troops. At the Spa conference of July 7, 1920, between the Germans and the Allies, General von Seekt, speaking for Germany, asked for a delay of fifteen months in order to reduce the army from two hundred thousand to one hundred thousand men. This request resulted in fresh negotiations and the granting of further delays to Germany. It was finally agreed that by January 1, 1921, the German army should be reduced to 100,000 men, and that it should then be organized in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.

The Reichheer adopted the traditions of the disbanded units of the old imperial forces, e. g. the 1st Company of the 9th Infantry took charge of the battle flags of the 1st Prussian Foot Guards. Tradition was carried to an extreme with the 1st Infantry, which adopted the old 43 d Infantry's traditions - the bass drum in the regimental band was carried in parades on a cart drawn by a St. Bernard dog, a privilege the 43d Infantry had won by capturing a dog-drawn drum from the Austrians at the Battle of Koeniggratz in 1866. A memorial honoring the parent unit was installed in each barracks square, and ceremonies held before it on official holidays. Survivors of the old units and the families of members who had been killed in battle were contacted and invited to the memorial services. Where possible, older officers and men still in the military service were assigned to the new unit which was to carry their old unit's tradition. Another effective means of promoting organization spirit was the assignment of a band to every battalion-sized and larger unit, with fif ers and drummers down to the company.

An important morale factor for the Reichsheer was the policy of recruitment on a local basis. Each unit of battalian size or larger had its permanent station and recruited the bulk of its personnel from that general region. Personnel assignments were relatively stable and individuals remained in units composed largely of men from their home areas. A similar arrangement for the Reichsmarine would have been impracticable, though personnel were rotated to sea and shore assignments on a regular schedule.

The Chief of Staff of the Army was known as the Chief of the Army Command {Chef der Heeresleitung). The most important of the five sections of his staff was the Truppenamt, an all-encompassing organization with many of the functions of the Imperial General Staff, which had been disbanded in compliance with the Versailles Treaty, though this did not preclude General Staff appointments at lower echelons of command. The headquarters of the Army Command was in Berlin.

The tactical forces of the Reichsheer comprised seven small infantry and three cavalry divisions, the former numbered 1 through 7 and the latter 1 through 3. The strength of the infantry division was approximately 12,000 men, with three infantry regiments, an artillery regiment of three light battalions, and small reconnaissance, signal, engineer, transportation, and medical battalions. The cavalry division had six small cavalry regiments and an artillery battalion, and a total strength of 5,300 men.

The commanders of the infantry divisions had a dual responsibility, since they were territorial commanders as well; their staffs also functioned in two capacities. The area commands of the Reichsheer, known as Wehrkreise, were seven in number, designated by Roman numerals I through VII, and covered the entire territory of the Reich. The Wehrkreise were charged with recruiting, logistical support of tactical units within their areas, and general housekeeping functions.

The seven infantry divisions were distributed one to each of the seven Wehrkreise, the numbers in each case being identical, e. g. the 7th Infantry Division was assigned to Wehrkreise VII, with headquarters in Munich, the capital of Bavaria. The infantry divisions, in accordance with the policy of local recruitment, were drawn almost entirely from the Wehrkreise in which they had their home stations, e. g. the 7th Infantry Division was composed of Bavarians. The three cavalry divisions, though their headquarters were situated in one Wehrkreis or the other, were drawn from a wider area, e. g. the 3d Cavalry Division, with headquarters at Weimar in Thuringia, included one cavalry regiment composed of Bavarians.

The divisions were controlled by two Gruppenkommandos (group commands). Gruppenkommando 1, in Berlin, controlled the divisions in northern and eastern Germany; Gruppenkommando 2, in Kassel, the divisions in southern and western Germany. The two group commands were responsible to the Chief of Staff of the Reichsheer. The Wehrkreise were also responsible directly to the Chief of Staff of the Reichsheer, maknig the group headquarters purely tactical commands.

The training of the Reichsheer was one of the most important imprints left by General von Seeckt, who became the first Chief of Staff and remained in that position until 1926. The time spent on the school of the soldier and close order drill Avas reduced once discipline had been established. Emphasis was then placed on field training. Seeckt believed that the mobility lost in the trench warfare of World War I could be regained by the infantry-artillery team with tank and air support. Trucks were made into mock tanks for training purposes by the addition of cardboard and wooden superstructures. Such passive air defense measures as camouflage were stressed. Former tank officers were assigned to the supply and transportation services.

The German military authorities did not consider their standing army of today the final word in the matter. The new Field Regulations published by the head of that army, General von Seeckt, stated: "These regulations are taking as a basis the effective force, armament and equipment of the modern army of a great power, and not only the German army of 100,000 men constituted by the Treaty of Peace." The organization itself of the Reichswehr showed clearly the military tendencies of the country.

Von Seeckt accepted the Versailles reduction of officers from 34,000 to 4,000, but was able to compensate by recruiting 56,948 NCOs in 1924. Before the war the infantry regiment consisted of 70 officers, 245 noncommissioned officers and 2,000 men. By 1921 the figures were 81 officers, 400 noncoms and 2,000 men. Moreover, 200 supernumerary sergeants may serve as privates; this gives a total of 600 noncommissioned officers per regiment. It would be easy, consequently, in case of need, to develop thai unit into three infantry regiments, two of these being reserve ones. It was plain that the object of the Germans was to make their small army a strong, well officered nucleus around which could be grouped, should the emergency arise, hundreds of thousands of men-veterans of the late war, constabulary (which now numbers 100,000 men), and youths who will have received, openly or not, some military instruction in the public schools and other institutions. No doubt was possible in this matter if one referred to a speech of General von Seekt (January 1, 1921): "Our army is not an army of mercenaries. It is an army of cadres. Its mission is to constitute the frame of our national forces at the hour of danger."

The small number of troops, the dispersal of units in garrisons from East Prussia to Bavaria, and budgetary considerations restricted maneuvers and large-scale exercises. Consequently, to train commanders and staffs from battalion level upwards a type of realistic war game exercise was adopted. Commanders and staffs, all available signal troops, and a skeleton force of infantry, artillery, and engineers participated. Troops were present only in sufficient numbers to establish front lines, but the headquarters functioned as in a tactical situation. Many of the deficiencies of the Imperial Army's communication system were corrected in the course of these exercises, and a number of future army and army group commanders and staffs had the opportunity to experiment with new theories and techniques.

In the first several years following its organization, the Reichsheer was committed to securing the internal stability of the Reich and maintaining law and order. To supplement the efforts of the Reichsheer, local militia were frequently organized for short periods of time. However, these soon had to be disbanded upon the insistence of the Allied control commissions. By 1924 the situation in Germany had settled to the extent that the Reichsheer could perform its mission without assistance.

Gradually, as time passed, some restrictions on Germany's armed forces were relaxed or simply not enforced, and the Reichsheer organized additional signal and antiaircraft units and improved some of its artillery and other weapons. Seeckt and the government leaders also adopted the broadest possible interpretation of the restrictions included in the treaty, giving Germany various advantages not intended by the treaty writers, e.g. there was no prohibition against drawing up plans for improved weapons, so German designers prepared blueprints for various new guns and other armament.

Significant evasions of the treaty terms involved the establishment of military installations and armaments industries in the Soviet Union. The German government supported these arrangements, financed in large part by such industrial firms as the Junkers Aircraft Company. This evasion of the treaty terms was welcomed by the Russians, desperately in need of foreign engineers and technicians to build up their own air and tank arms and their chemical warfare service. In exchange for technical advice and the services of German experts, the Russians permitted the German Army to test weapons and equipment and to train cadres unhampered by the Allied control commissions.

By 1930 the Army felt secure enough to proceed with the planning work started by Seeckt and to prepare for an expansion of its small force in the event of war. Should it be necessary for Germany to mobilize, the 7 infantry divisions of the Reichsheer would be expanded to 21. The millions of World War I veterans could be drawn upon to fill the 21 divisions, but these veterans were growing older and the German youth were receiving no military training aside from the Reichsheer and police forces. Arms and equipment would be available for approximately two-thirds of this force, but ammunition would be an insurmountable problem. In 1932 further studies were made for a gradual expansion of arms and munitions plant capacities to meet these needs.

In addition to its 21 infantry divisions, the Reichsheer on mobilization would comprise 3 or 4 cavalry divisions, 33 batteries of heavy artillery, 55 antiaircraft batteries, a small army air force, and a tank battalion. A medium battalion would be added to the artillery regiment of the infantry division, and the infantry regiment would be equipped with antitank guns. The plans for an increase in the size of the German forces in the event of mobilization were interrupted by the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor.




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