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Reichswehr flag (1921–1935).
German camouflage for tents, which was introduced in 1931.
The Reichswehr (German for "National Defence") formed the military organisation of Germanymarker from 1919 until 1935, when it was renamed the Wehrmacht ("Defence Force").

At the end of World War I, the forces of the German Empiremarker had mostly split up, the men making their way home individually or in small groups. Many of them joined the Freikorps ("Free Corps"), a collection of volunteer paramilitary units that were involved in revolution and border clashes between 1918 and 1923.

The newly-formed Weimar Republicmarker did need a military though, and on 6 March 1919 a decree established the Vorläufige Reichswehr ("Provisional National Defence"), consisting of a Vorläufige Reichsheer ("Provisional National Army") and a Vorläufige Reichsmarine ("Provisional National Navy"). About 400,000 men served in the Reichsheer.

On 30 September 1919, the army was reorganized as the Übergangsheer ("Transitional Army"). This lasted until 1 January 1921, when the Reichswehr was officially established according to the limitations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.

Limited by treaty to a total of 100,000 men, the Reichswehr was a unified orginization composed of the following:

Tanks, heavy artillery and aircraft were forbidden.

  • The Reichsmarine, a navy limited to a handful of ships. Submarines and aircraft were forbidden.

Despite the limitations on its size, their analysis of the loss of World War I, research and development, secret testing abroad (in cooperation with the Red Army) and planning for "better times" went on. As well, although forbidden to have a general staff, the army continued to conduct the typical functions of a general staff under the disguised name of Truppenamt, or "Troop Office". During this time, many of the future leaders of the Wehrmacht, for instance, Heinz Guderian, first formulated the ideas that they were to use so effectively a few years later.

The Reichswehr was never a friend of democracy but stayed loyal to the democratic German government. The apolitical character of the Reichswehr was emphasised, and this gave democracy the chance to develop without intervention from the military leadership. The biggest influence on the development of the Reichswehr was Hans von Seeckt (1866–1936), who served from 1920–1926 as Chef der Heeresleitung (literally "Chief of the Army Command").

Whilst the reduction of the peacetime strength of the German army from 780,000 (1913) to 100,000 actually enhanced the quality of the Reichswehr (only the best of the best would be permitted to join the army) the changing face of warfare meant that the smaller Reichswehr was largely helpless without mechanised and aerial support, no matter how much effort was put into modernising infantry tactics.

During 1933 and 1934, after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, the Reichswehr began a secret program of expansion. After the Nazi takeover of power, Röhm and his SA colleagues thought of their force (now over three million strong) as the future army of Germany, replacing the Reichswehr and its professional officers, whom they viewed as "old fogies" who lacked "revolutionary spirit". Röhm wanted to be made Minister of Defense. In February 1934 he demanded that the much smaller Reichswehr be merged into the SA to form a true "people's army". This alarmed both political and military leaders. To forestall the possibility of a coup, Hitler sided with conservative leaders and the military. Ernst Röhm and the entire leadership of the SA were killed (along with many other political adversaries of the Nazis) during the Night of the Long Knives. The secret programme of expansion by the military, finally became public with the formal announcement of the Wehrmacht in 1935.


  • Wheeler-Bennett, Sir John The Nemesis of Power: German Army in Politics, 1918–1945 New York: Palgrave Macmillan Publishing Company, 2005.

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