German rearmament (Aufrüstung, German pronunciation: [ˈaʊ̯fˌʀʏstʊŋ] ) was a policy and practice of rearmament carried out in Germany during the interwar period (1918–1939), in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. It began on a small, secret, and informal basis shortly after the treaty was signed, but it was openly and massively expanded after the Nazi Party came to power in 1933.
Despite its scale, German re-armament remained a largely covert operation, carried out using front organizations such as glider clubs for training pilots and sporting clubs, and Nazi SA militia groups for teaching infantry combat techniques. Front companies like MEFO were set up to finance the rearmament by placing massive orders with Krupp, Siemens, Gutehofnungshütte, and Rheinmetall for weapons forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.
Carl von Ossietzky exposed the reality of the German rearmament in 1931 and his disclosures won him the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize but he was imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis, dying of tuberculosis in 1938.Von Ossietzky's disclosures also triggered the re-armament policy in the United Kingdom, which escalated after Adolf Hitler withdrew Germany from the League of Nations and the World Disarmament Conference in 1933.
Despite notable warnings by von Ossietzky, Winston Churchill and others, successive governments across Europe failed to effectively recognize, cooperate, and respond to the potential danger posed by Germany's re-armament. Outside of Germany, a global disarmament movement was popular after World War I and Europe's democracies continued to elect governments that supported disarmament even as Germany pursued re-armament. By the late 1930s, the German military was easily capable of overwhelming its neighbors and the rapidly successful German conquests of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France proved just how poorly prepared Germany's neighbors were to defend themselves.
Germany's post-World War I rearmament began at the time of the Weimar Republic,when the Chancellor of Germany Hermann Müller, who belonged to the Social Democratic Party (SPD), passed cabinet laws that allowed secret and illegal rearmament efforts. During its early years (1918–1933), the rearmament was relatively small, secret, and supported by a cross-section of Germans motivated by a mixture of patriotism-based nationalism and economics-based nationalism. The latter motive viewed the Treaty of Versailles, which was ostensibly about war reparations and peace enforcement, as being in reality an economic anti-competitive measure by which the British Empire and French colonial empire removed the German Empire from future global economic competition by effectively disbanding it. The World War I reparations would be difficult or impossible to pay without viable export markets for Germany's industrial sector, which was even larger than Britain's. The rearmers' hope was that Germany would slowly and quietly build up sufficient military potency until a time when it would return to colonial economic activity (or effectively similar activity of a neocolonial nature, although that name had not yet been coined for it), but Britain and France would decline to fight another war to enforce the Versailles Treaty, thus bringing the treaty's effects to an end.
An example of the Weimar clandestine rearmament measures was the training and equipping of police forces in a way that made them not just paramilitary in organizational culture (which most police forces are, to one degree or another) but also well prepared to rapidly augment the military as military reserve forces,which the treaty did not allow. Another example was that the government tolerated that various Weimar paramilitary groups armed themselves to a dangerous degree. Their force grew enough to potentially threaten the state, but this was tolerated because the state hoped to use such militias as military reserve forces with which to rearm the Reichswehr in the future. Thus various Freikorps , Der Stahlhelm , the Reichsbanner , the Nazi SA, the Nazi SS, and the Ruhr Red Army grew from street gangs into private armies. For example, by 1931 Werner von Blomberg was using the SA in preparation for border defense in East Prussia.
One of the reasons why this militarization of society was difficult to prevent relates to the distinction between the government (meaning the executive) and the state. The democratically elected government, being composed of groups of people, inevitably reflected the factional strife and cultural militarism among the populace. But the German Revolution of 1918–19 had not truly settled what the nature of the German state ought to be; in a way parallel to how the Russian Revolution (1917) was followed by the Russian Civil War (1917–1922), Germany after its revolution was not very far from civil war—the different factions all hoped to transform the German state into the one that they thought it should be (which would require violent suppression of the other factions), and they expected their private armies to merge into the state's army (the Reichswehr) if they could manage to come to power.During the Republic's era of democracy, they all participated in the democratic definition of coming to power (winning votes), but many of them, on all sides, planned to abolish or diminish democracy in the future, if they could first get into position to do so.
Some of the anti-democratic ideas aimed for zero democracy via totalitarianism (planned on the anti-communist side by Hitler and by the absolutist variants of the monarchists who wanted to restore the recently abolished German monarchy, and planned on the communist side by those opposed to democratic socialism). Others aimed for diminished democracy subordinated in power to other forces (planned on the anticommunist side by advocates of constitutional monarchy within the monarchist sphere, and planned on the communist side by those in favor of democratic socialism). Thus, for example, the Nazis expected their private armies (the SA and SS) not only to fight the communists at present but also to merge with the Reichswehr when the opportunity arrived, just as the Communist Party of Germany expected its private armies (the Ruhr Red Army and its equivalents in other regions) not only to fight the anti-communists at present but also to merge with the Reichswehr when the opportunity arrived. In fact, once that time came in 1933–34 (the Nazis having won out over the communists, first electorally and then in the subsequent power grab), there was a fight among the right-wing/nationalist/anti communist factions about whether the Reichswehr would be absorbed or replaced by the SA (not the other way around);in other words, the SA was poised to transform from a private army into the state's army, deposing the former state army and absorbing its materiel and however much of its human resources could be tamed and converted.
During the Weimar era, there was extensive economic interaction between Germany and the Soviet Union, and a component of German re-armament was covertly holding military training exercises in the Soviet Union to hide their extent from other countries.Germany–Soviet Union relations of the interwar period were complex, as bellicosity and cooperation coexisted in tortuous combinations.
After the Nazi takeover of power in January 1933, the Nazis pursued a greatly enlarged and more aggressive version of rearmament. During its struggle for power, the National Socialist party (NSDAP) promised to recover Germany's lost national pride. It proposed military rearmament claiming that the Treaty of Versailles and the acquiescence of the Weimar Republic were an embarrassment for all Germans.The rearmament became the topmost priority of the German government. Hitler would then spearhead one of the greatest expansions of industrial production and civil improvement Germany had ever seen.
Third Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick, one of the most influential Nazi figures of the time,and Hjalmar Schacht, who (while never a member of the NSDAP) was an initially sympathetic economist, introduced a wide variety of schemes in order to tackle the effects that the Great Depression had on Germany, were the main key players of German rearmament policies (see Reichsbank § Nazi period). Dummy companies like MEFO were set up to finance the rearmament; MEFO obtained the large amount of money needed for the effort through the Mefo bills, a certain series of credit notes issued by the Government of Nazi Germany. Covert organizations like the Deutsche Verkehrsfliegerschule were established under a civilian guise in order to train pilots for the future Luftwaffe. Although available statistics do not include non-citizens or women, the massive Nazi re-armament policy almost led to full employment during the 1930s. The re-armament began a sudden change in fortune for many factories in Germany. Many industries were taken out of a deep crisis that had been induced by the Great Depression.
By 1935, Hitler was open about rejecting the military restrictions set forth by the Treaty of Versailles. Rearmament was announced on 16 March, as was the reintroduction of conscription.
Some large industrial companies, which had until then specialized in certain traditional products began to diversify and introduce innovative ideas in their production pattern. Shipyards, for example, created branches that began to design and build aircraft. Thus, the German re-armament provided an opportunity for advanced, and sometimes revolutionary, technological improvements, especially in the field of aeronautics.
Work by labour historians has determined that many German workers in the 1930s identified passionately with the weapons they were building. While this was in part due to the high status of the skilled work required in the armaments industries, it was also to do with the weapons themselves - they were assertions of national strength, the common property of the German nation. Adam Tooze notes that an instruction manual given to tank crews during the war made clear this connection:
For every shell you fire, your father has paid 100 Reichsmarks in taxes, your mother has worked for a week in the factory ... The Tiger costs all told 800,000 Reichsmarks and 300,000 hours of labour. Thirty thousand people had to give an entire week's wages, 6,000 people worked for a week so that you can have a Tiger. Men of the Tiger, they all work for you. Think what you have in your hands!
The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) would provide an ideal testing ground for the proficiency of the new weapons produced by the German factories during the re-armament years. Many aeronautical bombing techniques (i.e. dive bombing) were tested by the Condor Legion German expeditionary forces against the Republican Government on Spanish soil with the permission of Generalísimo Francisco Franco. Hitler insisted, however, that his long-term designs were peaceful, a strategy labelled as Blumenkrieg ("Flower War").
Re-armament in the 1930s saw the development of different theories of how to prepare the German economy for total war. The first amongst these was 'defence in depth' which was put forward by Georg Thomas. He suggested that the German economy needed to achieve Autarky (or self-sufficiency) and one of the main proponents behind this was I.G. Farben. Hitler never put his full support behind Autarky and aimed for the development of 'defence in breadth' which espoused the development of the armed forces in all areas and was not concerned with preparing the German economy for war.[ citation needed ][ disputed (for: conflicting information without verification) ]
The re-armament program quickly increased the size of the German officer corps, and organizing the growing army would be their primary task until the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. Count Johann von Kielmansegg (1906–2006) later said that the very involved process of outfitting 36 divisions kept him and his colleagues from reflecting on larger issues.
In any event, Hitler could boast on 26 September 1938 in the Berlin Sportpalast that after giving orders to rearm the Wehrmacht he could "openly admit: we rearmed to an extent the like of which the world has not yet seen".
Since World War II, both academics and laypeople have discussed the extent to which German re-armament was an open secret among national governments. The failure of Allied national governments to confront and intercede earlier in Germany is often discussed in the context of the appeasement policies of the 1930s. A central question is whether the Allies should have drawn "a line in the sand" earlier than September 1939, which might have resulted in a less devastating war and perhaps a prevention of the Holocaust. However, it is also possible that anything that caused Hitler not to overreach as soon and as far as he did would only have condemned Europe to a more slowly growing Nazi empire, leaving plenty of time for a Holocaust later, and a successful German nuclear weapons program, safely behind a Nazi version of an iron curtain. George F. Kennan stated: "Unquestionably, such a policy might have enforced a greater circumspection on the Nazi regime and caused it to proceed more slowly with the actualization of its timetable. From this standpoint, firmness at the time of the reoccupation of the Rhineland (7 March 1936) would probably have yielded even better results than firmness at the time of Munich".
Some 150 American corporations took part in German re-armament,supplying German companies with everything from raw materials to technology and patent knowledge. This took place through a complex network of business interests, joint ventures, cooperation agreements, and cross-ownership between American and German corporations and their subsidiaries. Resources supplied to German companies (some of which were MEFO front companies established by the German state) by American corporations included: synthetic rubber production technology (DuPont and Standard Oil of New Jersey), communication equipment (ITT), computing and tabulation machines (IBM), aviation technology (which was used to develop the Junkers Ju 87 bomber), fuel (Standard Oil of New Jersey and Standard Oil of California), military vehicles (Ford and General Motors), funding (through investment, brokering services, and loans by banks like the Union Banking Corporation), collaboration agreements, production facilities and raw materials. DuPont owned stocks in IG Farben and Degussa AG, who controlled Degesch, the producer of Zyklon B, a chemical that was later used to murder millions of people in Nazi death camps.
This involvement was motivated not only by financial gain, but in some cases by ideology as well. Irénée du Pont, director and former president of DuPont, was a supporter of Nazi racial theory and a proponent of eugenics.
Nazi Germany, also known as the Third Reich and officially the Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945, was the German state between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country which they transformed into a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany became a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The Third Reich name, meaning Third Realm or Third Empire, alluded to the Nazis' perception that Nazi Germany was the successor of the earlier Holy Roman (800–1806) and German (1871–1918) empires. The regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.
The Treaty of Versailles was the most important of the peace treaties that brought World War I to an end. The Treaty ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which had directly led to the war. The other Central Powers on the German side signed separate treaties. Although the armistice, signed on 11 November 1918, ended the actual fighting, it took six months of Allied negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21 October 1919.
The Weimar Republic, officially the German Reich and also referred to as the German People's State or simply the German Republic, was the German state from 1918 to 1933. As a term, it is an unofficial historical designation that derives its name from the city of Weimar, where its constitutional assembly first took place. The official name of the republic remained that of the German Reich from the German Empire because of the German tradition of substates. Although commonly translated as "German Empire", Reich here better translates as "realm" in that the term does not necessarily have monarchical connotations in itself. The Reich was changed from a constitutional monarchy into a republic. In English, the country was usually known simply as Germany and the Weimar Republic name became mainstream only in the 1930s.
The Night of the Long Knives, or the Röhm Purge, also called Operation Hummingbird, was a purge that took place in Nazi Germany from June 30 to July 2, 1934. Chancellor Adolf Hitler, urged on by Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler, ordered a series of political extrajudicial executions intended to consolidate his power and alleviate the concerns of the German military about the role of Ernst Röhm and the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazis' paramilitary organization. Nazi propaganda presented the murders as a preventive measure against an alleged imminent coup by the SA under Röhm – the so-called Röhm Putsch.
Carl von Ossietzky was a German journalist and pacifist. He was the recipient of the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in exposing the clandestine German re-armament.
Ludwig August Theodor Beck was a German general and Chief of the German General Staff during the early years of the Nazi regime in Germany before World War II. Ludwig Beck never became a member of the Nazi Party, though in the early 1930s he supported Adolf Hitler's forceful denunciation of the Versailles Treaty and his belief in the need for Germany to rearm. Beck had grave misgivings regarding the Nazi demand that all German officers swear an oath of fealty to the person of Hitler in 1934, though he believed that Germany needed strong government and that Hitler could successfully provide this so long as the Führer was influenced by traditional elements within the military rather than by the SA and SS.
The Reichswehr formed the military organisation of Germany from 1919 until 1935, when it was united with the new Wehrmacht.
Der Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten, commonly known as Der Stahlhelm, was a German First World War ex-servicemen's organisation existing from 1918 to 1935. It was part of the "Black Reichswehr" and in the late days of the Weimar Republic operated as the paramilitary wing of the Monarchist German National People's Party (DNVP), placed at party gatherings in the position of armed security guards (Saalschutz).
Kurt Ferdinand Friedrich Hermann von Schleicher was a German general and the last Chancellor of Germany during the Weimar Republic. A rival for power with Adolf Hitler, Schleicher was murdered by Hitler's SS during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.
The events preceding World War II in Europe are closely tied to the bellicosity of Italy, Germany and Japan, as well as the Great Depression. The peace movement led to appeasement and disarmament.
Werner Eduard Fritz von Blomberg was a German General Staff officer, who, after serving at the Western Front during World War I, was appointed chief of the Troop Office during the Weimar Republic and Minister of War and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the first general to be promoted to Generalfeldmarschall in 1936. His political opponent Hermann Göring confronted him with criminal records among allegations of pornographic activities of his newly wed wife and forced him to resign on 27 January 1938.
Johannes "Hans" Friedrich Leopold von Seeckt was a German military officer who served as Chief of Staff to August von Mackensen and was a central figure in planning the victories Mackensen achieved for Germany in the east during the First World War.
Paramilitary groups were formed throughout the Weimar Republic in the wake of Germany's defeat in World War I and the ensuing German Revolution. Some were created by political parties to help in recruiting, discipline and in preparation for seizing power. Some were created before World War I. Others were formed by individuals after the war and were called "Freikorps". The party affiliated groups and others were all outside government control, but the Freikorps units were under government control, supply and pay.
These are terms, concepts and ideas that are useful to understanding the political situation in the Weimar Republic. Some are particular to the period and government, while others were just in common usage but have a bearing on the Weimar milieu and political maneuvering.
The Anglo-German Naval Agreement (AGNA) of 18 June 1935 was a naval agreement between the United Kingdom and Germany regulating the size of the Kriegsmarine in relation to the Royal Navy.
A Mefo bill, named after the company Metallurgische Forschungsgesellschaft, was a promissory note used for a system of deferred payment to finance the German rearmament, devised by the German Central Bank President, Hjalmar Schacht, in 1934.
Adolf Hitler's rise to power began in Germany in September 1919 when Hitler joined the political party then known as the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – DAP. The name was changed in 1920 to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – NSDAP. It was anti-Marxist and opposed to the democratic post-war government of the Weimar Republic and the Treaty of Versailles, advocating extreme nationalism and Pan-Germanism as well as virulent anti-Semitism. Hitler attained power in March 1933, after the Reichstag adopted the Enabling Act of 1933 in that month, giving expanded authority. President Paul von Hindenburg had already appointed Hitler as Chancellor on 30 January 1933 after a series of parliamentary elections and associated backroom intrigues. The Enabling Act—when used ruthlessly and with authority—virtually assured that Hitler could thereafter constitutionally exercise dictatorial power without legal objection.
MEFO was the more common abbreviation for, a dummy company set up by the Nazi German government to finance the German re-armament effort in the years prior to World War II.
The German economy, like those of many other western nations, suffered the effects of the Great Depression with unemployment soaring around the Wall Street Crash of 1929. When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he introduced policies aimed at improving the economy. The changes included privatization of state industries, autarky, and tariffs on imports. Although weekly earnings increased by 19% in real terms in the period between 1932 and 1938, average working hours had also risen to approximately 60 per week by 1939. Furthermore, reduced foreign trade meant rationing in consumer goods like poultry, fruit, and clothing for many Germans.
National Socialism, more commonly known as Nazism, is the ideology and practices associated with the Nazi Party—officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party —in Nazi Germany, and of other far-right groups with similar ideas and aims.