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Wehrmacht

Unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945 / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Wehrmacht (German pronunciation: [ˈveːɐ̯maxt] (listen), lit.'defence force') were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air force). The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr and was the manifestation of the Nazi regime's efforts to rearm Germany to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.[11]

Quick facts: Wehrmacht, Motto, Founded, Disbanded, Service...
Wehrmacht
Reichskriegsflagge, the war flag and naval ensign of the Wehrmacht (1938–1945 version)
Emblem of the Wehrmacht, the Balkenkreuz, a stylized version of the Iron Cross seen in varying proportions
MottoGott mit uns[1]
Founded16 March 1935; 87 years ago (16 March 1935)
Disbanded20 September 1945; 77 years ago (20 September 1945)[lower-alpha 1]
Service branches
HeadquartersMaybach II, Wünsdorf52.1826°N 13.4741°E / 52.1826; 13.4741 (Maybach II)
Leadership
Supreme Commander
Commander-in-chief
Minister of WarWerner von Blomberg
Chief of the Wehrmacht High CommandWilhelm Keitel
Personnel
Military age18–45
Conscription1–2 years; compulsory service
Reaching military
age annually
700,000 (1935)[4]
Active personnel18,000,000 (total served)[5]
Expenditures
Budget
Percent of GDP
Industry
Domestic suppliers
Foreign suppliers
Annual exports245 million ℛℳ (1939) (€1090 million in 2021)[10]
Related articles
HistoryHistory of Germany during World War II
Ranks
Close

After the Nazi rise to power in 1933, one of Adolf Hitler's most overt and audacious moves was to establish the Wehrmacht, a modern offensively-capable armed force, fulfilling the Nazi régime's long-term goals of regaining lost territory as well as gaining new territory and dominating its neighbours. This required the reinstatement of conscription and massive investment and defense spending on the arms industry.[12]

The Wehrmacht formed the heart of Germany's politico-military power. In the early part of the Second World War, the Wehrmacht employed combined arms tactics (close-cover air-support, tanks and infantry) to devastating effect in what became known as Blitzkrieg (lightning war). Its campaigns in France (1940), the Soviet Union (1941) and North Africa (1941/42) are regarded by historians as acts of boldness.[13] At the same time, the far-flung advances strained the Wehrmacht's capacity to the breaking point, culminating in its first major defeat in the Battle of Moscow (1941); by late 1942, Germany was losing the initiative in all theatres. The German operational art proved no match to the war-making abilities of the Allied coalition, making the Wehrmacht's weaknesses in strategy, doctrine and logistics apparent.[14]

Closely cooperating with the SS and the Einsatzgruppen, the German armed forces committed numerous war crimes (despite later denials and promotion of the myth of the clean Wehrmacht).[15] The majority of the war crimes took place in the Soviet Union, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy, as part of the war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, the Holocaust and Nazi security warfare.

During World War II about 18 million men served in the Wehrmacht.[16] By the time the war ended in Europe in May 1945, German forces (consisting of the Heer, the Kriegsmarine, the Luftwaffe, the Waffen-SS, the Volkssturm, and foreign collaborator units) had lost approximately 11,300,000 men, about 5,318,000 of whom were missing, killed or died in captivity.[17] Only a few of the Wehrmacht's upper leadership went on trial for war crimes, despite evidence suggesting that more were involved in illegal actions.[18][19] According to Ian Kershaw, most of the three million Wehrmacht soldiers who invaded the USSR participated in war crimes.[20]