UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Wehrmacht (Armed Forces)

The expansion of Germany's armed forces and the creation of a separate Air Force were accompanied by a number of changes in the command organization. By the new defense laws, the Reichswehr was renamed the Wehrmacht (armed forces), and the Reichsheer became the Heer (Army), while the Reichsmarine became the Kriegsmarine (Navy). The Air Force was designated the Luftwaffe, with a distinctive uniform and organization. The Truppenamt was reestablished as the Army General Staff. Hitler assumed the title of Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces {Der Oberste Befehlshdber der Wehrmacht). The Minister of Defense became the Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces {Oberbefehlshaber der Wehrmacht).

Generaloberst Werner von Blomberg, Hitler's Minister of Defense, became the first Minister of War and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The reorganization of the Army was accomplished largely by the Chief of Staff then in office, General der Artillerie Werner von Fritsch and the chief of the Truppenamt, Generalleutnant Ludwig Beck. In the reorganization Fritsch became the commander in chief of the Army and Beck chief of the reconstituted Army General Staff. The command of the Navy was retained by Admiral Erich Raeder, former chief of the Naval Command. The Air Force was placed under the command of Hermann Goering, in his new rank (and uniform) of General der Flieger.

The expanding services soon began to suffer acute growing pains. The Reichswehr's officers and noncommissioned officers were far too few to command and staff the large citizen force being raised although some relief was afforded by the incorporation of militarized police units into the Army with a large number of trained officers and noncommissioned officers. The Army was .affected by the loss of many officers to the new Luftwaffe, and for some time much air staff work had to be accomplished by former ground officers not qualified as pilots or experienced in air operations.

The high and rigid standards established by the Reichswehr could not be maintained during this period of growth. Educational requirements for officers had to be lowered, and several thousand noncommissioned officers of the Reichswehr became junior officers in the Wehrmacht, while other thousands of Reichswehr privates (or seamen) became noncommissioned officers in the new force. The 4,000 officers of the Eeichsheer, the officers trained in the Soviet Union, and the men commissioned from the ranks of the Army still could not provide a sufficient number of officers for the numerous new units formed. Thousands of World War I officers had to be recalled to active duty and bridged the gap to a certain extent, but several years would be required to provide a sufficient number of trained commanders and staff officers of the age groups young enough for full field service.

A production problem also existed. The manufacture of so many aircraft, tanks, artillery, and warships at the pace required by the rearmament program required more raw material and a larger trained labor force than Germany could immediately muster. Some concessions had to be made at the expense of one or the other of the three services, and the Navy was forced to curtail an ambitious program of shipbuilding to allow the Army and Air Force to forge ahead with tanks, artillery, and combat aircraft. Hitler's reluctance to antagonize the British also played a part in this decision. Work continued on a number of keels already laid and construction started on a few other major units, but most of the naval effort was devoted to producing small craft and submarines, which required less construction time than capital ships, and to training a Navy that more than doubled in size within a year.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:55:42 ZULU