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1922-1932 - Rapallo

After the Great War the Western Powers classified and treated both Germany and Russia as outlaw states. In the 1920s, as the new Soviet state temporarily retreated from the revolutionary path to socialism, the party also adopted a less ideological approach in its relations with the rest of the world. Lenin, ever the practical leader, having become convinced that socialist revolution would not break out in other countries in the near future, realized that his government required normal relations with the Western world for it to survive. Not only were good relations important for national security, but the economy also required trade with the industrial countries. Blocking Soviet attainment of these desires were lingering suspicions of communism on the part of the Western powers and concern over the foreign debts incurred by the tsarist government that the Soviet government had unilaterally canceled. Naturally the outlaws lost little time in getting together, and on 16 April, 1922, less than three years after the Treaty of Versailles, they signed the Rapallo Treaty. Four months later, the nature and the extent of the collaboration between the two countries was specified in a second formal agreement: The Reichswehr asked for facilities to gain continuous experience in tactics, training and technical matters, to develop the theory and practice of forbidden weapons, to train higher personnel in the use of such weapons, to carryon weapon testing in battle conditions as an extension of the experiments in Germany, and finally to develop theoretical conclusions from such tests which would assist the planning of training and recruitment policies.

Thereafter Germany annually sent to Russia a certain number of officers to instruct the new Russian armies, and other officers for experience with heavy artillery, armor, air force, etc., with a view to their instructing German cadres upon their return. The Allies had a Control Council in Germany to keep that state disarmed, but it could not reach the operations in Russia. Germany also furnished Russia with scientists and technicians for the current 5-year Plan. Net result was to modernize Russia and its army, and secretly prepare German forces to circumvent the Versailles Treaty.

Specifically there were three requests to be made of the Red Army. The first was for the use of military bases to exercise aviation, motorized troops and chemical warfare techniques. The second concerned freedom of action to conduct weapon tests and carry on tactical training. Thirdly the Reichswehr asked for a full exchange of the results of work in the military field. Soviet agreement to this was forthcoming, receiving in exchange an annual financial payment for the lease of these bases, as well as full participation in the technical, tactical and theoretical results gained in the tests and training on the Soviet sites.'

The result was was a remarkable military symbiosis that lasted for almost 10 years. The Germans had a reservoir of technical knowhow, but needed places to test and evaluate their ideas and equipment away from the prying eyes of the League of Nations' Disarmament Committee. The Russians, on their part, were eager to see how their own ideas of mobile warfare would appear when hitched to the wheels and wings that German technology was capable of providing.

The eventual result of these negotiations was the establishment of three cooperative ventures: an aviation school at Lipetsk, a gas school at Volsk, and a tank school near Kazan on the River Kama. By 1928 or 1929, all were organized and operational. Officer observer exchanges had been going on for some time, and by autumn of 1928, General Werner von Blomberg was visiting all three installations and observing the Red Army's exercises. The report he submitted was 54 pages long and is ihteresting both for its personal and for its technical insights.

There is a temptation to think that the Russian contribution was restricted to providing grounds and hospitality, but the Germans themselves felt otherwise. Erickson paraphrases Blomberg's opinion of the benefits accruing to the Germans: "The German Army could learn from the Red Army in matters concerning troop equipment, engineers (especially pontoons), military aviatlon, chemical weapons, propaganda techniques, the organization of defense against aerial attack for the civilian population, and the mobilisation [sic] of the population for defense purposes."

The relationship was unsurprisingly fraught by ideological suspicions, commensurate with Communism in Russia and growing ultra-nationalism in Germany. Individuals and institutions alike thus found themselves tied to dual cultural and intellectual agendas: aims and agendas articulated abroad necessarily fit within political and cultural values at home. Yet, domestic interpretations - whether in Germany or Russia - might, and often did, weaken bilateral linkages. Germany and Russia, both pariahs in the global scene, found themselves partnered in a geo-cultural dance that was an unlikely pairing. In retrospect, the armored and the aviation schools were the most significant. It was at Kazan that the Reich's "light tractors" were tested and run against comparable French and English models on the proving grounds. It was also here that both Russian and German officers were introduced to handling tanks, both as pieces of equipment and on a unit basis.

The German doctrine of racial purity, as well as the country's antipathy towards political Leftists, meant that numerous scientists and physicians found their home an increasingly unwelcoming environment. The two countries severed most bilateral arrangements by the early-1930s. Despite a decade of close collaboration between the two countries, the rise of German Fascism marked the end to bilateral cooperation.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:47:08 ZULU