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Reichswehr / Reich Defense Force

At the outbreak of the world war German militarism exclaimed: "If God in His Grace should give us victory, then 'Woe to the conquered.'" At its close these same militarists led home a defeated and disintegrating army amid allied shouts of "Vae metis." The demobilization of the German armies in the winter of 1918-1919 marked the end of that Prussian military system which had assured internal peace to Germany since 1866 and had finally aroused the fear and hostility of an entire world. During this period of demobilization the defeated imperial forces were still further demoralized by the political activities of revolutionary soldiers' councils and by the collapse of the authority of the regular officers. The revolution had made it impossible to maintain the old system of universal military service or to utilize the 1920 class for garrison duty. On the other hand the original revolutionary project for forming a red army had been everywhere abandoned. The need for a new national army, organized upon a different basis, became, therefore, apparent to the provisional government.

On 12 December 1918 the Council of the People's Commissioners issued a decree for the formation of a Volunteer People's Army. Among the radical provisions of this decree were: election of the officers by the men; restriction of volunteers to men twenty-four years of age with service at the front; and maintenance of this force independent of the regular army organization. This military reorganization did not, however, result in the formation of any important volunteer units. The Minister of War, Scheuch, who had supervised the work of demobilizing the old army since November 11, resigned on December 15.

The Versailles Treaty provided that all military clauses affecting Germany must be executed by 10 April 1920. According to the German Minister of National Defense, the strength of the German army at the conclusion of peace was four hundred thousand officers and men. About half of these forces were stationed in the Baltic States and on the southern and eastern frontiers of Germany. After the ratification of the peace treaty, President Ebert ordered both the Reischwehr and the forces under the command of General Headquarters at Kolberg to be gradually reduced. As late as March 18, 1919, Field Marshal von Hindenburg and General Groener had informed the Socialist Minister Noske: "The army has confidence in the government, limited confidence in the ministry of war, and unlimited confidence only in the Minister of National Defense." This is sufficient proof of the existence of a military spirit which hoped to maintain the army at a greater strength than that provided for by the treaty of peace.

It devolved upon the German Republic under President Ebert to create as effective an armed force as possible within the framework of the restrictions imposed by the Allies. Meanwhile, a temporary military organization existed under a reichstag law of 6 March 1919. Ebert called upon Generalleutnant Hans von Seeckt to head a commission to study the matter and submit recommendations on which the organization of the postwar force could be based.

The reduction of the army was still further complicated by the existence of police forces, such as Zeitfreiwilligen, Sicherheitspolizcl, and Einwohnerwehren, which were regarded by the Entente as disguised military reserves for the active German army. The Prussian militarists were accused of attempting to imitate that policy which Prussia had pursued so successfully after the Treaty of Tilsit. According to reliable allied information, the strength of these German forces on February 1, 1920, was as follows:

	 90,000		Detachments of former imperial army units  
	 40,000		Guards at camps for Russian prisoners of war 
	300,000		Reichswehr, or new army of 30 brigades 
	430,000		Total 

	150,000		Zeitfreiwilligen - emergency volunteers 
	120,000		Sicherheitspolizei - security police 
	100,000		Einwohnerwehren - civic guards 
	 30,000		Orgesch - Bavarian home guards
	400,000		Total

Once peace was signed in 1919, Germany organized a military which was supposed to be in the nature of a police force destined to preserve order at home and along the frontier, and which was called the Reichswehr. According to the treaty, it was to comprise one hundred thousand men, and, in fact, it did comprise one hundred thousand men - almost all noncommissioned or commissioned officers of the old regular army, who thus formed the nucleus of the army of tomorrow. Since the armistice, Germany, under various forms, brought together real military forces. First of all there wore the Einwohnerwehren, which included practically all men willing to render military service. These gave rise to such concern that an ultimatum of the Allies was necessary to secure their disbandment. At one time, under the stimulus of the Orgesch, a fighting organization whose activities extended over all Germany, these Einwohnerwehren acquired such strength and accumulated such a quantity of arms.

It really disbanded the Einwohnerwehren; but another formidable organization was formed, the Sicherheikipolizei, or safety police, of 150,000 men, composed almost exclusively of regular noncommissioned officers, or at least of soldiers who wished to remain in the military service. The Allies demanded the dispersal of this police force. It was actually disbanded, but it was promptly replaced by a new organization, the 8chutzpolizei, composed of the same 150,000 men, which, instead of preserving the character of a local police force, became a centralized police at the disposal of the Federal government throughout the entire German territory. This, with the Reichswehr, made a total of 250,000 men who, under the direction of the regular officers, and by the instruction they receive daily, were being trained to command in the event of a new war.

The technical and emergency volunteers, civic guards, and volunteer corps were gradually disbanded or reduced in strength during the year 1920. On the other hand the security police increased in numbers as the other organizations were broken up. The Berlin government was also unable to reduce the strength of the Bavarian civic guards. At the allied conference of Boulogne on June 22, 1920, Germany was ordered to reduce gradually the strength of the security police and to increase the ordinary police forces, which existed before the war, from ninety-two thousand to one hundred fifty thousand men. It was further ordered that the total strength of both organizaions should not at any time exceed 150,000 men.

Seeckt's recommendations were adopted, with some modifications and changes, and the new organization, created by the Defense Law of 23 March 1921, was called the Reichswehr (Reich Defense Force). Its two services were the Reichsheer (Army) and the Reichsmarine (Navy). The predominant part played by the land service gave many the impression that the Reichswehr and Army were identical, and the tiny Navy received little attention. The nominal Commander in Chief of the Reichswehr was the President. Actual authority, howevier, was normally exercised by the Minister of Defense, a cabinet officer and coequal of the Ministers of the Interior, Justic, Foreign Affairs, and other members of the President's official family.

Commanders for the Army and Navy were prohibited by the Versailles Treaty, so the senior officers of the two services held positions analogous to that of Chiefs of Staff, responsible directly to the Minister of Defense. In practice, the Chiefs of Staff directed planning, operations, and training, and the Minister of Defense restricted his activities to representing the Reichsivehr before the Reichstag and performing similar ministerial functions.

A large number of officers and noncommissioned officers with Great War experience were available to command and cadre the small postwar force at first, but emphasis soon came to be placed on the procurement of younger men. Forced to make do with what they had, the military leaders proceeded to develop an elite force, and numerous incentives were offered in order to acquire a high type of personnel. Enlisted pay was raised and barracks conditions were improved. Strict discipline gained the Reichswehr the respect of the civilian population, and relations with the local inhabitants in garrison and port areas were usually excellent. Upon discharge Reichswehr personnel were given priority in obtaining civilian positions with the government, or were granted financial support up to a maximum of three years while readjusting to civilian life. Men with more than 10 years service could receive training for a civilian occupation while still in uniform.

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Page last modified: 23-01-2017 15:32:31 ZULU