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While German-speaking peoples have a long history, Germany as a nation-state dates only from 1871. Earlier periods are subject to definition debates. The Franks, for instance, were a union of Germanic tribes; nevertheless, some of the Franks later identified themselves as Dutch, Flemish, French and again others as Germans. The capital of medieval ruler Charlemagne's empire was the city of Aachenmarker, now part of Germany, yet he was a Frank. Francemarker was named after the Franks and the Dutch and Flemish people are the only ones to speak a language that descends from Old Frankish (The language of the Franks). Hence nearly all continental Western European historians can claim his victories as their heritage. The Holy Roman Empire he founded was largely but far from entirely German speaking. The Kingdom of Prussiamarker, which unified Germany in the 19th century, had significant territory in what is now Polandmarker. In the early 19th century the philosopher Schlegel referred to Germany as a Kulturnation, a nation of shared culture and political disunity, analogous to ancient Greecemarker.

Ancient times

During the ancient and early medieval periods the Germanic tribes had no written language. What we know about their early military history comes from accounts written in Latin and from archaeology. This leaves important gaps. Germanic wars against the Romans are fairly well documented from the Roman perspective. Germanic wars against the early Celts remain mysterious because neither side recorded the events.

Germanic tribes are thought to have originated during the Nordic Bronze Age in northern Germany and southern Scandinavia. The tribes spread south, possibly motivated by the deteriorating climate of that area. They crossed the River Elbe, probably overrunning the territories of the Celtic Volcae in the Weser Basin. The Romans recorded one of these early migrations when the Cimbri and the Teutones tribes threatened the Republic itself around the late 2nd century BC. In the East, other tribes, such as Goths, Rugians and Vandals, settled along the shores of the Baltic Seamarker pushing southward and eventually settling as far away as Ukrainemarker. The Angles and Saxons migrated to England. The Germanic peoples often had a fraught relationship with their neighbours, leading to a period of over two millennia of military conflict over various territorial, religious, ideological and economic concerns.

Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (843-1806)

The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (also referred as the First German Empire) emerged from the eastern part of the Carolingian Empire after its division in the Treaty of Verdun of 843, and lasted almost a millennium until its dissolution in 1806. It was never a unitary state; from the beginning it was made up of many ethnicities and languages and would at its height comprise territories ranging from eastern Francemarker to northern Italymarker. Its unifying characteristic was its Carolingian heritage and strong religious connotations, its claim to "German-ness" the ethnicity of most of its subjects and rulers.

From 919-36 the Germanic peoples (Franks, Saxons, Swaben and Bavarians) were united under Henry the Fowler, then Duke of Saxony, who took the title of King. For the first time, the term Kingdom of the Germans ("Regnum Teutonicorum") was applied to the Frankish kingdom.

In 955 the Magyars (Hungarians) were decisively defeated at Lechfeld by his son Otto the Great, ending the threat from the Eurasian steppes for four centuries. In 962, partly on the strength of this victory, Otto went to Romemarker and was crowned the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by the pope.

By 1155, the German states had descended into disorder. Emperor Frederick I managed to restore peace through diplomacy and skillfully arranged marriages. He claimed direct imperial control over Italymarker and made several incursions into northern Italy, but was ultimately defeated by the Lombard League at Legano in 1176. In 1189, Frederick embarked on the Third Crusade. After a few initial successes against the Turks, notably at Konyamarker, Frederick was killed when trying to cross a river. Leaderless, panicked and attacked on all sides, only a tiny fraction of the original forces survived.

In 1226 Konrad I of Masovia appealed to the Teutonic Knights, a German crusading military order, to defend his borders and subdue the pagan Baltic Prussians. The conquest and Christianisation of Prussia was accomplished after more than 50 years, after which the Order ruled it as a sovereign Teutonic Order statemarker. Their conflict of interests with the Polish-Lithuanian state lead in 1410 to Battle of Grunwald marker. A Polish-Lithuanian army inflicted a decisive defeat and broke its military power, although the Order managed to retain most of its territories.

The Hussite Wars, fought between 1419 and 1434 in Bohemia, had their origins in a conflict between Catholics and the followers of a religious sect founded by Jan Hus. The inciting action of the war was the First Defenestration of Prague, in which the mayor and the town council members of Prague were thrown from the windows of the town building. Emperor Sigismund, a firm adherent of the Roman Catholic Church, obtained the support of Pope Martin V who issued a papal bull in 1420 proclaiming a crusade. In all, four crusades were launched against the heretics, all resulting in defeat for the Catholic troops. The Hussites, capably led by Jan Žižka, employed novel tactics to defeat their numerically superior enemies, notably at Sudomermarker, Vyšehrad, Deutsch Brod and decisively at Aussig. Whenever a crusade would end, the Hussite armies go on "Beautiful Rides" and would invade the lands where the crusaders were from. One such place was Saxony. After Žižka's death in 1424, the Hussite armies were led by Prokop the Great to another victory at the Battle of Tachov in 1427. The Hussites repeatedly invaded central German lands, though they made no attempt at permanent occupation, and at one point made it all of the way to the Baltic Seamarker. The Hussite movement was ended in 1434, however, at the Battle of Lipanymarker.

During the Peasants' War, spanning from 1524 to 1525 in the Holy Roman Empire, the peasants rebelled against the nobility. The rebellion ultimately failed in the end and Emperor Charles V became much harsher.

From 1618 to 1648 the Thirty Years' War ravaged Germany, when it became the main theatre of war in the conflict between France and the Habsburgs for predominance in Europe. Besides being at war with Catholic France, Germany was attacked by the Lutheran King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, who won many victories until he was killed at Lützenmarker. The war resulted in large areas of Germany being laid waste, causing general impoverishment and a loss of around a third of its population. It ended with the Peace of Westphalia.

The imperial general Prince Eugene of Savoy faced the Ottoman Turks on the battlefield, first coming to prominence during the last major Turkish offensive against the Austrian capital of Viennamarker in 1683. By the closing years of the 17th century, he was already famous for securing Hungary from the Turks, and soon rose to the role of principal Austrian commander during the War of the Spanish Succession.

From 1701-1714 the War of the Spanish Succession, Germany fought with the English and the Dutch against the French. During the early part of the war, the French were successful until Camille de Tallard was victorious in the Palatinate. Later, in 1706, the Dutch and English helped the Germans take back their land.

During the reign of Frederick William I (1713-40), the military power of Prussia was significantly improved. He organized the government around the needs of his army, and produced an efficient, highly-disciplined instrument of war. The Prussian Army was expanded to 80,000 men, about 4% of the total population. Peasants were drafted into the military and trained for duty, but were sent home for ten months out of each year.

In the War of Austrian Succession (1740-48) Empress Maria Theresa of Austria fought successfully for recognition of her succession to the throne. However, during the subsequent Silesian Wars and the Seven Years' War, Frederick II of Prussia occupied Silesia and forced Austria to formally cede control in the Treaty of Hubertusburg of 1763. Prussia had survived the combined force of its neighbours, each larger than itself, and gained enormously in influence at the cost of the Holy Roman Empire. It became recognised as a great European power, starting a rivalry with Austria for the leadership of the German-speaking lands.

During the Seven Years' War, Prussia fought on the side of Britain against Russia, Sweden, Austria, France, and Saxony. Frederick II of Prussia first invaded Saxony and defeated a Saxon army at Lobositzmarker. Frederick would then invade Bohemia, the Prussians besieged Prague, but they were defeated at Kolinmarker. Since Prussia looked weak, the Austrians and French invaded Prussian lands. However, the French would be defeated at Rossbach and the Austrians at the Leuthen. In 1758, Frederick the Great tried to invade Austria, but he failed. Now, the Russians tried to defeat the Prussians, but the Prussians earned a pyrrhic victory at the Zorndorf. The Swedes, however, fought the Prussians to a draw at Tornow. However, Austria would gain a victory against the Prussian main army at Hochkirch. In 1759, the Prussians saw even more defeats. They lost at Kay and at Kunersorf to the Russians. The Prussians suffered major defeats to the French and Swedish armies, so much that Berlin itself was taken in 1762. However, the great alliance against Prussia would break up when Elizabeth of Russia died. It was from her death that a pro-Prussian ruler, Peter III would sue for peace. It was thanks to this "miracle of the House of Brandenburg" and to the unshakable will of Frederick that Prussia survived.

Napoleonic Wars (1805-1815)

The Napoleonic era ended the Holy Roman Empire and created new German-speaking states that would eventually form modern Germany. Napoleon I of France reorganized many of the smaller German-speaking states into the Confederation of the Rhinemarker following the battle of Austerlitzmarker in 1805. Essentially this enlarged the more powerful states of the region by absorbing the smaller ones, creating a set of buffer states for France and a source of army conscripts. Neither of the two largest German-speaking states were part of this confederation: the Kingdom of Prussiamarker and the Austrian Empiremarker remained outside it.

King Frederick William III of Prussia viewed the Confederation of the Rhine as a threat to Prussian interests and allied against Napoleon. At this time the reputation of the [[Royal Prussian Army of the Napoleonic Wars|Prussian army]] remained high from the period of the Seven Year's War. Unfortunately they retained the tactics of that period and still relied heavily on foreign mercenaries. The lack of military reforms would prove disastrous. Prussian defeats at Jena and Auerstedt led to a humiliating settlement that reduced the size of the country by half.
The Electorate of Hanover, up till the Convention of Artlenburg ruled in personal union by the English King George III, was incorporated into Prussia. The King's German Legion formed in Britain from officers and soldiers of the dissolved Hanoverian army, was the only army of a German state that was continually fighting the Napoleonic army.

A demoralised Prussia brought its distinguished old general Gebhard von Blücher out of retirement and reorganized the army. The reforms of the Prussian military were led by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and converted the professional army into one based on national service. They brought in younger leaders, increased the rate of mobilisation and improved their skirmishing and unit tactics. They also organized a centralized general staff and a professional officer corps.

Following Napoleon’s defeat in Russia, Prussia and a few other German states saw their chance and joined the anti-French forces in the Sixth Coalition, which won a decisive victory over France at Leipzigmarker in 1813 and forced the abdication of Napoleon. Although declared an outlaw by the Congress of Vienna, Napoleon returned and met a final defeat at the hands of Blücher and Wellington at Waterloomarker in 1815.

Making of a reunited Germany (1815-1871)

The Congress of Vienna in 1814-15 redrew the political map of Europe. It established 39 separate German-speaking states and organised them in the German Confederationmarker, under the leadership of Prussia and Austria. Hanover was reconstituted as the Kingdom of Hanover with the British King as ruler. Significantly, Prussia gained new territories in the west along the Rhinemarker river in geographic isolation from the rest of its lands. This Ruhr valley district underwent rapid industrialisation, inspiring Prussia to establish the Zollverein, a customs union (without Austria) with the aim of promoting German economic growth.

The Revolutions of 1848 in the German states were a series of popular uprisings that promoted liberalisation and German political unification. The Frankfurt Assembly of 1848 offered the crown of Germany to King Frederick William IV of Prussia. He declined, stating that the assembly did not represent its respective states. A smaller Prussian-led unification plan was dropped in 1850 after Austria threatened war. The rest of the decade was a period of political and economic consolidation. In the one major conflict during that period, the Crimean War, Prussia remained neutral and strengthened its position with the smaller German states at the expense of Austria.

After a period of constitutional deadlock between crown and parliament in Prussia, a crisis arose in 1863 over the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, disputed between Denmarkmarker and the German Confederationmarker. After the Danish annexation of Schleswig, Otto von Bismarck, the new prime Minister of Prussia, made the smaller states of the German Confederationmarker join Prussia and Austria in the war with Denmark. The Second Schleswig War ended with the defeat of the Danes at Dybbølmarker, and an agreement between Austria and Prussia to jointly administer Schleswig and Holstein.

Bismarck then set about making Prussia the undisputed master of northern Germany, weakening Austria and the German Confederationmarker. This eventually led to a German civil war, the Austro-Prussian Warmarker, in which in the battle of Langensalza (the last battle between Germanic states on German soil) Hanover won a victory, but was so weakened by it, that it could offer no resistance to the occupation by Prussia and ceased to be an independent state. The victory of Prussia and its allies at Königgrätz in July 1866, against Austria and its allies sealed this. The result was the dissolution of the German Confederationmarker, and the creation of the North German Confederationmarker one year later.
The Prussian 7th Cuirassiers charge the French guns at the Battle of Mars-La-Tour, August 16, 1870
A dispute over the succession to the Spanish throne resulted in France declaring the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, expecting support from Prussia's recent enemies. Unlike in the war only a few years ago, the Germans turned not against each other, with the first emergence of a strong German national sentiment in the background. Instead, the southern German monarchs of Badenmarker, Württemberg and Bavaria honoured their secretly negotiated treaties of mutual defence with Berlin, while Austria remained neutral.

The Germans, led by King William I of Prussia and Moltke the Elder, mobilized a mass conscript army of 1.2 million men which faced 400,000 experienced regular French soldiers under Napoleon III of France. While the Germans were mobilizing the French forces held the upper hand, but the massive size of the German army allowed the mass-encirclement and destruction of enemy formations at Gravelotte, Metz and Sedanmarker. The war culminated with the defeat of the French army during the siege of Paris, and was followed by the proclamation of the German Empiremarker at Versailles in January 1871.

The results of these wars was the emergence of a powerful German nation-state and a major shift in the balance of power on the European continent. Germany was now the most powerful state in Europe. The Imperial German Army was formed when the German Empire was formed in 1871.

First World War (1914-1918)

German soldiers on the front in the First World War
The German Schlieffen plan was to deal with the Franco-Russian alliance involved delivering a knock-out blow to the French and then turning to deal with the more slowly mobilised Russian army. At the start of the First World War, Germany attacked France through Belgium to avoid French defenses on the French-German border. They were beat back at the First Battle of the Marne. Years of stalemated trench warfare followed on the Western Front.
German artillery shown on a 1914 postcard
In the East, however, the war was very different. The Russian initial plans for war had called for simultaneous invasions of Austrian Galicia and German East Prussia. Although Russia's initial advance into Galicia was largely successful, they were driven back from East Prussia by the victories of the German generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenbergmarker and the Masurian Lakes in August and September 1914. Russia's less-developed economic and military organisation soon proved unequal to the combined might of the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. In the spring of 1915 the Russians were driven back in Galicia, and in May the Central Powers achieved a remarkable breakthrough on Polandmarker's southern fringes, capturing Warsawmarker on 5 August and forcing the Russians to withdraw from all of Poland, known as the "Great Retreat".

By 1917 the German army had begun employing new infiltration tactics in an effort to break the trench warfare deadlock. Units of stormtroopers, were trained and equipped for the new tactics, and were used with devastating effect along the Russian front at Riga then at the Battle of Caporettomarker in Italy. These formations were then deployed to the Western front to counter the British tank attack at the Battle of Cambrai. In March, 1918 the German army Spring Offensive and began an impressive advance creating a salient in the allied line. The offensive stalled before reaching Paris, however.

Increasing numbers of American soldiers along the western front now began to make their presence felt. Although the German military was able to stand off the Allied forces on both fronts, by 1918 victory appeared unobtainable and a negotiated peace seemed preferable to continuing to an inevitable defeat. The armistice impoverished Germany, setting the stage for the rise of the National Socialists in the 1930s.

Weimar Republic and the Third Reich (1918-1939)

The treaty of Versailles imposed severe restrictions on Germany's military strength. The army was limited to one hundred thousand men with an additional fifteen thousand in the navy. The fleet was to consist of at most six battleships, six cruisers, and twelve destroyers, and the Washington Naval Treaty established severe tonnage restrictions for German warships. Tanks and heavy artillery were forbidden and the air force was dissolved. A new post-war military (the Reichswehr) was established on 23 March 1921. General conscription was abolished under another mandate of the Versailles treaty. The treaty also forced Germany, whom was blamed for the war, to pay billions of dollars in war reparations. The Occupation of the Ruhr by French and Belgian forces (1923 and 1924) was a result of Germany not being able to pay. The anger and resentment of this treaty was a cause of Adolf Hitler's rise to power.

The Weimar Republicmarker largely obeyed the Versailles restrictions; the economic problems of reparations, 1920s German inflation and the Great Depression also made military spending difficult. However, the German armed forces retained their strong officer corps.

The Nazi regime began remilitarisation, initially with stealth, in the 1930s. German armed forces were named the Wehrmacht from 1935 to 1945. The Heer was encouraged to experiment with tanks and motorised infantry, using the ideas of Heinz Guderian. The Kriegsmarine re-started naval construction and Hitler established the Luftwaffe, an independent air force.

In 1936 German troops marched into the demilitarised Rhineland. On 12 March 1938, German troops marched into Austria. Under the Nazis, Germany annexed the Sudetenland borders of Czechoslovakiamarker (October 1938), and then took over the rest of the Czech lands as a protectorate (March 1939). The Germans were allowed to take Czechoslovakia because the League of Nations did not have the power to stop them and did not want to start another World War.

Second World War (1939-1945)

In September 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland after German special forces staged 'border incidents'. The new German tactics combining the use of tanks, motorised infantry, and air support - known as Blitzkrieg - caused Polish resistance to collapse within weeks. From the beginning of the campaign German forces committed war crimes. This invasion resulted in the United Kingdom, France and their allies declaring war in short order. However, neither side opened up a western front for several months in what became known as the phony war.

In April 1940, in Operation Weserübung, German troops invaded and occupied neutral Denmark and Norway to secure access to Swedish iron ore.

The French plans were largely based on a static defense behind the Maginot Line – a series of formidable defensive forts along the French-German border. General Erich von Manstein thought on an idea which led eventually to the approval of a Sichelschnitt ('Sickle Cut') plan to the conquest of Francemarker. On 10 May 1940 the Germans bypassed this obstacle by launching another Blitzkrieg through neutral Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands, drawing the Allied forces out. The main thrust of the Battle of France attack however was through the Ardennesmarker which were to that time believed impenetrable to tanks. In June 1940, with French troops encircled and cut off in the north, France asked for an armistice. The British Expeditionary Force and other allied units were driven back to the coast at Dunkirk, but managed to escape with most of their troops when Adolf Hitler made a fateful decision not to attack with tanks.

Through the winter of 1940-1941 Germany prepared for an invasion of Britain, but this plan was shelved when Hermann Göring's Luftwaffe failed to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain.

To support their weakened Italian allies who had started several invasions, the beginning of 1941 saw the deployment of German troops in Greecemarker, Yugoslavia and North Africa.

The Balkan operation had caused a delay, and about six weeks later than planned, on 22 June 1941, Germany reneged on its non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and launched Operation Barbarossa. The German army and its allies made enormous territorial gains in the first months of the war, reaching the outskirts of Moscow when winter set in. Expecting another Blitzkrieg victory, the Germans had not properly prepared for warfare in winter and over long distances.

The year 1941 saw the high point for the German army which controlled an area from Francemarker to Russiamarker, and from Norwaymarker to Libyamarker. Consequently, it also proved to be the turning point. The harsh Russian winters and long supply lines worked in Russia's favour and German armies were decisively defeated in early 1943 at Stalingradmarker and later in the Battle of Kurskmarker. With German resources being concentrated on the Russian front, the Allies managed to capture North Africa with victories at El Alameinmarker and in Tunisia, and french north Africa turned on the allied side. Italy was invaded in July 1943 and promptly capitulated. In June 1944, the Allies landed in France on D-day and in southern France on August 25th and gradually started pushing the Germans back to the Rhinemarker.

In December 1944, the Germans under von Rundstedt launched a final offensive in the Belgian Ardennesmarker with the aim of re-capturing Antwerpmarker and splitting the Allied lines, but were defeated in the Battle of the Bulge. Berlin fell to the Soviet troops in May 1945. The German high command and most German armed forces surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on 8 May 1945.

Cold War (1945-1989)

Occupation zones of Germany in 1945.
Among the legacies of the Nazi era were the Nuremberg Trialsmarker of 1945-1949. These established the concept of war crimes in international law and created the precedent for trying future war criminals.

Following World War II, the eastern borders of the state of Germany were substantially modified as part of the surrender settlement. Prussia and other portions of eastern Germany were used to form the highly modified state of Poland, with Poland losing a good portion of its eastern territory to the USSR. The remainder of Germany was split into Soviet (later Russian), American, French and British occupation zones.

In 1949 the Federal Republic of Germanymarker was formed from the French, British and American zones, while the Soviet zone formed the German Democratic Republicmarker. The western territory of Germany fell under the protection of the NATOmarker alliance in the west, while the eastern state joined the Warsaw Pact. Each state possessed its own military force, with eastern Germany formed along the Soviet model and federal Germany adopting a more 'western' organisation. The allied zones of Berlin became part of the Federal Republic of Germany despite the city's location deep in the German Democratic Republic. This condition continued until 1990 when the two states were reunited.

The Bundeswehr was established in 1955 in West Germany. In 1956, conscription for all men between 18 and 45 in years was introduced after heavy discussions about re-militarising Germany. A significant exception came from the conscientious objector clause in the West German constitution: West Germany was the first country to grant alternative service to all men who objected to military service on ethical grounds, regardless of religious affiliation.

Most Cold War analysts considered Germany the most likely location for the outbreak of a possible third world war. Tensions ran high during 1948 when the Soviet Union and German Democratic Republic closed all roads bringing supplies to West Berlin. The Berlin Airlift sustained the population and avoided a new war. Construction of the Berlin Wallmarker in 1961 commenced shortly after the Bay of Pigs Invasion and preceded the Cuban Missile Crisis. This was the closest the cold war superpowers came to commencing a nuclear war.

During the Cold War the Bundeswehr had a strength of 495,000 military and 170,000 civilian personnel. The army consisted of three corps with 12 divisions, most of them armed with tanks and APCs. The air force owned major numbers of tactical combat aircraft and took part in NATO's integrated air defence . The navy was tasked to defend the Baltic Approaches and to contain the Soviet Baltic Fleet.

In East Germany, the Nationale Volksarmee (National People's Army) or NVA was founded on 1 March 1956. The NVA was a professional, volunteer army until 24 January 1962, when conscription was introduced. In 1987 at the peak of its power, the NVA of the GDR numbered 175,300 troops. Approximately 50% of this number were career soldiers, while the remaining half were short-term conscripts.

Military today

German reunification

After reunification in 1990, the Bundeswehr absorbed parts of the Nationale Volksarmee of the GDR, which was being dissolved. In 1999, the NATO war on Yugoslavia in Kosovo was the first offensive conflict in which the German military actively took part since the Second World War. In 2000 the European Court of Justice opened up the previously all-male (besides medical divisions and the music corps) Bundeswehr to women. Since the early 1990s the Bundeswehr has become more and more engaged in international peacekeeping missions in and around the former Yugoslavia but also in other parts of the world such as Cambodia, Somalia, Djibouti, Georgia and Sudan.

War on Terrorism

The ‘War on Terrorism’ is a campaign by the United States, supported by several NATOmarker members and other allies, including Germany, with the stated goal of ending international terrorism. The ‘War on Terrorism’ (in its current context) is the name given by the George W. Bush administration to the efforts launched in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on New Yorkmarker and Washington, D.C.marker by al-Qaeda.

As part of Operation Enduring Freedom as a response to those attacks, Germany deployed approximately 2,250 troops including KSK special forces, naval vessels and NBC cleanup teams to Afghanistanmarker. German forces have contributed to ISAF, the NATO force in Afghanistan, and a Provincial reconstruction team. German army CH-53 helicopters have deployed to Afghanistan, one crashed in December 2002 in Kabul, killing seven German soldiers. Eleven other German soldiers have been killed: four in two different ordnance-defusing accidents, one in a vehicle accident, five in two separate suicide bombings, and one in landmine explosion. German forces are in the more secure north of the country and Germany, along with some other larger European countries (with the exception of the UK, Estonia, the Netherlands and Norway), has been criticised for not taking part in the more intensive combat operations in southern Afghanistan.


  1. Canada gives Afghanistan warning,

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