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After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles abolished conscription in Germany, reduced the kích thước of the German army lớn 100,000 volunteer troops, sharply limited Germany’s surface fleet, outlawed its submarine fleet, & forbade the creation of a German air force. When Adolf Hitler rose khổng lồ power as chancellor of Germany in 1933, he moved quickly khổng lồ roll back these restrictions. He began developing German military aviation under the cloak of civilian production, và he worked with manufacturers to expand German military capacity. Krupp, for example, masked its tank program under the guise of tractor construction. After the death of Pres. Paul von Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, the offices of president và chancellor were merged, và Hitler became supreme commander of German armed forces. German Minister of War Werner von Blomberg, an ardent Hitler supporter, changed the oath of service for German troops; rather than pledging khổng lồ defend the German constitution or the fatherland, they now swore unconditional obedience to lớn Hitler.

On March 16, 1935, Hitler reintroduced conscription, effectively making public his previously clandestine rearmament program. The German army would be increased in kích cỡ to 550,000 troops, và the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic would be renamed the Wehrmacht. While the term Wehrmacht would most often be used to lớn describe German land forces, it actually applied lớn the entire regular German military. The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW; Wehrmacht High Command) was designed khổng lồ exercise command và control of the three branches of the Wehrmacht—the Heer (army), the Luftwaffe (air force), và the Kriegsmarine (navy)—each of which had its own high command.


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Also technically subordinate to the OKW was the Waffen-SS, which comprised the “political soldiers” of the Nazi Party. In addition khổng lồ serving as Hitler’s personal bodyguard, administering concentration camps, and carrying out some of the most horrific atrocities of the Holocaust, men of the Waffen-SS fought as combat troops alongside the regular army. In practice the Waffen-SS ultimately answered to SS chief Heinrich Himmler, & its ranks swelled from several hundred men in 1933 lớn 39 divisions late in World War II. Although they were derisively dismissed as Himmler’s “asphalt soldiers” by the OKW high command, the troops of the Waffen-SS were superbly equipped và tended lớn have high morale. In early 1944 the Waffen-SS made up less than 5 percent of the Wehrmacht, but it accounted for nearly one-fourth of Germany’s panzer divisions and roughly one-third of the Wehrmacht’s panzer grenadier (mechanized infantry) divisions.

The Wehrmacht in World War II

Operation of the Wehrmacht

The Heer was by far the largest branch of the Wehrmacht, and, upon the outbreak of war, Luftwaffe & Kriegsmarine units were theoretically subordinated to lớn army command at a tactical level. This did not yield a seamless combined arms approach, however, as the OKW never functioned as a true joint staff. When cross-branch cooperation did occur, it was often the result of local commanders creating ad hoc task forces of limited duration.

The clash of commands


Coordination was also complicated by the heads of the Kriegsmarine và the Luftwaffe, who had no desire to see their branches diminished in importance. Hitler himself had little interest in sea power, and the naval commander in chief, Grand Adm. Erich Raeder, frequently clashed with the Führer over strategic matters. Other than the invasions of Denmark and Norway, which were planned và overseen by Raeder, German naval operations during the war consisted primarily of submarine attacks on Allied shipping. The ships of the German surface fleet—from converted frigates to battle cruisers such as the ScharnhorstGneisenau khổng lồ the “pocket battleship” Graf Spee—were largely relegated to commerce raiding in tư vấn of the U-boat campaign. Just two modern battleships were deployed by Germany during World War II: the Bismarck was sunk within days of putting khổng lồ sea in May 1941, và the Tirpitz was confined khổng lồ Norwegian waters until it was finally sunk by British Lancaster bombers on November 12, 1944.


Whereas Hitler had a strained relationship with Raeder (who was forced khổng lồ resign in January 1943), Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring had been one of Hitler’s most ardent supporters since the earliest days of the Nazi Party. For this reason, Göring would hold a place of almost unequaled influence within the Third Reich, & he would wield near-total control of German air power. Because Göring openly disliked Raeder, the Kriegsmarine would not be allowed to lớn develop a serious naval aviation capability. The Graf Zeppelin, the Reich’s only aircraft carrier, never entered service despite being almost completed, & its only significant contribution to lớn the war effort was as a floating timber warehouse.

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In 1940 Hitler bestowed upon Göring the title of Reichsmarschall des Grossdeutschen Reiches (“Marshal of the Empire”), further complicating the Wehrmacht chain of command. While the Luftwaffe technically answered to lớn the OKW, Göring now outranked OKW chief Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. Göring did suffer some diminished prestige as a result of the Luftwaffe’s failure khổng lồ knock Britain out of the war during the Battle of Britain và the Blitz, but his authority remained unchallenged by anyone but Hitler until the kết thúc of the war.