General Reference Map (Eastern Europe)
General Reference Map

Chapter 1
Polish-German Relations to March 19391-1


The Polish state temporarily ceased to exist when the territories of the once-powerful Kingdom of Poland were divided among Prussia, Austria, and Russia in three partitions of 1772, 1793, and 1795. Nationalist aspirations were not extinguished, and determined factions within Poland's former frontiers and in exile waged a persistent struggle for the restoration of independence in the century and a quarter that followed.

Polish support was sought by both the Allies and the Central Powers in World War I. The Allies announced as one of their war aims the re-establishment of an independent Polish state. The Germans, occupying the country with the Austrians after driving out the Russian armies, set up a Polish Government on 5 November 1916 in an effort to gain the favor of the nationalists. The Allied offer had a greater appeal to the Poles, and the Polish National Committee in Paris, the strongest exile group, under Ignace Paderewski, identified itself with the Allies.

The Polish Republic was proclaimed by nationalist leaders at Warsaw on 3 November 1918, as it became obvious that the Central Powers were about to suffer a military collapse. Executive power was assumed by the Regency Council, the government organized two years before by the German occupation authorities. The Regency Council promptly called upon Jozef Pilsudski, the military leader who had led Polish troops in Austrian service against the Russians, to assume the leadership of the new republic. Pilsudski was invested with the powers of a military dictator and immediately invited Paderewski and other Polish leaders in exile to return. A coalition government was formed under Paderewski on 17 January 1919.


The new Polish state commenced its existence in the midst of ruin and poverty. Its territory had been the scene of heavy fighting between the Central Powers and the Russians in the opening stages of World War I, and the German and Austrian occupation forces had systematically exploited the country in the several years that followed. The end of the war found Poland's factories destroyed or idle, its livestock decimated, and the nation's economy in a state of chaos. Reconstruction and economic recovery in Poland were to take far longer than was the case with most other World War I participants.

Poland's northwestern and western borders were fixed by the Treaty of Versailles between Germany and the Allies on 28 June 1919, and its southern frontier by the Treaty of St. Germain between the Allies and Austria-Hungary on 10 September 1919. The Treaty of Riga (Latvia), 18 March 1921, ended a successful campaign by the newly established state against Soviet Russia and determined Poland's eastern and northeastern frontiers.

The Versailles Treaty and the Rise of Hitler

The territorial clauses of the treaty between Germany and the Allies provided Poland with a land corridor to the Baltic Sea and the site of the future port of Gdynia, at the expense of the prewar Reich. This arrangement isolated the province of East Prussia from Germany, disrupted much of the Reich's economy, and placed thousands of Germans in the Corridor within the borders of the new Polish state. Danzig, a major port at the mouth of the Vistula and populated almost completely by Germans, was made a free city, with a League of Nations commissioner and its own elected legislature. Poland was permitted to control Danzig's customs, to represent the Free City in foreign affairs, and to keep a small military force in the harbor area. A plebiscite was to be held to determine the frontier in parts of Upper Silesia, but the poles secured several of the more desirable areas by force in a sudden rising on 18 August 1919. Despite heated German protests, these areas were incorporated into Poland. Later plebiscites divided other areas along lines corresponding to the wishes of the local population. A Polish-French treaty of alliance on 19 February 1921 was designed to maintain the territorial arrangements that had been made and to provide France with an eastern counterweight to future German expansion. [See map 2].

Germany was preoccupied with internal troubles and reduced to the position of an inferior power in the several years that followed. The Reich was beset with inflation until 1923 and plagued with unemployment in the general depression after 1929. In 1933 Adolf Hitler became chancellor and brought a new revolutionary system of government to the Reich.


Hitler's National Socialist regime quickly assumed complete control over Germany's national life and future. A dictatorship was created and opposition suppressed. An extensive armaments program, expansion of the small armed force permitted the Reich under the treaty, and public construction work brought Germany a measure of economic recovery and improved the country's military posture. Germany soon regained a semblance of the position it had held as a European power before its defeat in 1918.

The former Allies presented an obstacle to whatever plans Hitler may have had to recover the territories taken from Germany. Their armed forces had not been modernized or equipped with great numbers of the latest weapons, but these countries collectively controlled an industrial and military base stronger than Germany's. Britain had the preponderance of seapower and could rely upon the population and material resources of its world-wide empire for support. France had the largest reservoir of trained manpower in western Europe by reason of its conscription program. Moreover, France had made defensive arrangements with Romania and the postwar states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, in addition to its alliance with Poland.

Britain and France were reluctant to engage in an armed conflict with Germany to compel compliance with the territorial changes made at the time of Allied victory which were not absolutely essential to their own vital interests. Hitler estimated correctly this sentiment of the former Allied nations, and his foreign policy became a game of bluff. But to minimize the risks of an armed conflict while he executed his first designs in Europe, the German dictator felt it necessary to effect a rapprochement with Poland.

The Polish-German Nonaggression Pact

On 26 January 1934 the Polish and German Governments announced the signing of a pact binding both to the arbitration of differences. The agreement was to be in effect for 10 years, unless renounced 6 months in advance by either of the contracting parties. In his justification of the agreement to the German people, Hitler claimed that he had entered into the pact to prevent the crystallization of bad feelings over the boundaries into a traditional enmity between the Germans and Poles. Relations with Poland had been bad at the time the National Socialist government was established, and Hitler desired to better these relations in the interests of peace.

On 30 January 1937 Hitler reaffirmed the importance of the Polish-German pact to the assembled Reichstag, declaring it instrumental in easing tension between the two countries. However, since making the original agreement, Germany had reintroduced conscription and greatly expanded its Army. An Air Force had been organized, new


Map: Eastern Frontier Changes Following World War I
Eastern Frontier Changes Following World War I

warships constructed, and an underseas fleet created. Germany had remilitarized the Rhineland in March of the preceding year, and National Socialist agitators were stirring up trouble in Austria and Czechoslovakia, both soon to feel the pressure of Hitler's demands.

The Austrian and Czechoslovak Crises

Hitler gave the Poles no cause to doubt his intentions through the remainder of 1937 and into late 1938 During that time, he was fully occupied in his machinations to gain control of Austria and of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland area that had been part of Austria prior to World War I and was inhabited by a German-speaking population. The Austrian Chancellor, Dr. Kurt Schuschnigg, was forced to take the National Socialist Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart into his cabinet as Minister of the Interior, giving Seyss-Inquart control of the police.


Hitler accelerated his war of nerves, and in March 1938 Dr. Schuschnigg, reluctant to bring on war, resigned in favor of Seyss-Inquart, and German troops marched into the country. The Republic of Austria was dissolved and its territory incorporated into the Reich.

The annexation of Austria increased considerably the German threat to Czechoslovakia. Konrad Henlein's Sudeten German Party within the country claimed to represent Czechoslovakia's three million ethnic Germans and clamored for autonomy and union with the Reich. Hitler's threatening attitude caused the Prague government to order full mobilization in September 1938. War appeared imminent.

British and French attempts to enlist the support of the Soviet Union were unavailing. On 29 September the former Allies and the pro-German Italians met with Hitler at Munich to hear his claims. Czechoslovakia was not represented at the meeting, but an agreement was reached granting the German leader's demands. The Czechoslovak government, urged by Britain and France, accepted the stipulations laid down by Hitler; the alternative undoubtedly would have been war, without British or French support. The pact was hailed in the west for attaining "peace in our time."

By the provisions of the agreement, Czechoslovak forces evacuated the Sudeten areas between 1 and 10 October. Scheduled plebiscites were not held, and Germany took control of areas with a total population of 3,500,000, of whom 700,000 were Czechs. Fortifications which would have made a German invasion difficult if not impossible at the time were turned over to the German Army intact.

Poland took advantage of the opportunity to gain the remainder of the Teschen industrial area, seized by Czechoslovakia at the time Czechoslovakia and Poland were formed. Polish troops moved into the Teschen region on 2 October, taking control of 400 square miles of territory and a population of 240,000 of mixed Czech and Polish origin. On 2 November Hungary took 5,000 square miles of southern Slovakia, an area Hungary had lost to Czechoslovakia in 1919, with a population of 1,000,000. Both Polish and Hungarian acquisitions were condoned by Germany and Italy.

Within Czechoslovakia itself, there was another deep encroachment on the state's sovereignty and territorial integrity. A strong separatist movement in Slovakia forced the government to grant autonomy to the Slovaks, under Joseph Tiso, and the name of the State was changed to Czecho-Slovakia. Territorial losses and establishment of a large autonomous area within a weak federal system combined to make Czecho-Slovakia a rump state, almost powerless to repel invasion. Tiso and a number of other leaders were quite frank about their close ties with Germany.


The Revival of German Claims Against Poland

The Czechoslovak question settled temporarily, Hitler was free to turn his attention to Poland. On 24 October 1938 Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Reich Foreign Minister, made a series of requests that reopened old Polish-German wounds and precipitated a new crisis. The German proposals involved the return of Danzig to Germany, with Poland assured railway, port, and other economic facilities. Poland was also to permit the construction of an extraterritorial road and railroad across the Corridor. In return for these concessions, Germany would guarantee the Polish-German frontiers and extend the nonaggression pact as long as 25 years.

Pilsudski had warned his countrymen years earlier that the German attitude toward Danzig would be an indication of Germany's true intentions toward Poland and Polish public opinion would never condone the surrender of Poland's sovereignty in part of the Corridor. The diplomatic world was not surprised when Poland firmly rejected the German offer.

In March 1939 a series of significant events in Czecho-Slovakia strengthened the German position in the controversy with Poland. These events began with the dismissal of Tiso from office by the Prague government for allegedly scheming to take Slovakia out of the federal union. Tiso was supported by Hitler, and President Hacha was summoned to Berlin and induced to place Czecho-Slovakia under German protection. Slovakia was granted full independence and Carpatho-Ukraine was annexed by Hungary. Bohemia and Moravia, all that remained of the truncated Czechoslovak state, were occupied by German troops on 15 March. A German official was appointed Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, with President Hacha retained as the nominal Chief of State. Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. A day later Tiso requested that Hitler also place Slovakia under German protection, and agreed to grant German troops passage to certain frontier areas. This arrangement would enable Germany to use Slovak territory as a base of operations against Poland from the south in the event of hostilities.

The establishment of the protectorate and Hitler's proclamation in Prague that Bohemia and Moravia belonged to the German lebensraum (living space) made obvious to the world the extent of National Socialist ambitions. For the first time Hitler had gone beyond his irredentist claims and swallowed up an area with a predominantly non-German population. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, hitherto an advocate of appeasement, stated two days later that this latest acquisition had raised the question of German


domination of the world. From this point British determination to contain Hitler gained support.

On 23 March 1939 Lithuania acceded to German demands for the Memelland, a small strip of former Reich territory along Lithuania's southwestern frontier. The following day Germany and Romania concluded an economic agreement whereby the Germans would acquire almost the entire product of Romania's extensive oil industry, partially resolving a pressing problem for the conduct of military operations by the German Armed Forces.

On 31 March Chamberlain addressed the British House of Commons, stating that Britain and France would assist Poland in the event Poland were attacked. The British and French Governments had reached an understanding, and Britain was to act as spokesman for the two nations. The issue of peace or war was left for Germany and Poland to decide.

Hitler would not permit much further delay in arriving at a solution of the territorial controversy favorable to Germany. The Poles, for their part, were determined to reject all German demands, since it was apparent to them that any concession would mean the fate that had befallen Czechoslovakia. This was the state of relations between Germany and Poland at the end of March 1939.


Chapter 2
German Military Developments to March 1939

The Treaty Restrictions

The military clauses of the Versailles Treaty in 1919 limited the German armed forces establishment to a small organization of long-term volunteers. Conscription and universal training were prohibited, and major offensive weapons, such as aircraft, tanks, and submarines, were not permitted. The new German military organization could therefore be little more than a police and coastal patrol force, incapable of carrying out any aggressive action outside the Reich. Even as a defensive organization, the postwar armed forces would require considerable reinforcement to protect the Reich in the event of war with one or more of its stronger neighbors.

The Army was allowed a total of 100,000 men, including 4,000 officers. Noncommissioned officers and privates were to be enlisted for 12 years, and officers were to be required to serve for a period of 25 years. A further stipulation by the Allies provided that no more than 5 percent of the officers and enlisted personnel could be released yearly by reason of termination of their period of service. These various requirements and the prohibition against conscription and universal training effectively prevented the formation of a reserve of any size. No field pieces larger than 105 mm were to be used, with the exception of a few fixed guns of heavier caliber in the old fortress of Koenigsberg, in East Prussia. The detailed organization and armament of all units formed had first to be approved by the Allies.

The Navy was authorized 15,000 men, including 1,500 officers. Six obsolete battleships, 6 light cruisers, 12 destroyers, and 12 torpedo boats were permitted the fleet, with 2 battleships, 2 cruisers, 4 destroyers, and 4 torpedo boats in reserve. The building of ships displacing over 10,000 tons was prohibited. A further restriction limited naval guns to a maximum of 280 mm (approximately 11 inches).

Arms and munitions industries and factories producing military equipment were reduced in number to the minimum essential to maintain authorized stocks. No troops were to be permitted in a demilitarized zone extending 50 kilometers (approximately 31 miles) east of the Rhine. Allied control commissions were to be allowed to inspect


factories and the Army and Navy for compliance with the treaty and the Reich defense laws enacted in conformity with its provisions.

The Reichswehr2-1

It devolved upon the German Republic under President Ebert to create as effective an armed force as possible within the framework of the restrictions imposed by the Allies. Meanwhile, a temporary military organization existed under a Reichstag law of 6 March 1919. Ebert called upon Generalleutnant Hans von Seeckt to head a commission to study the matter and submit recommendations on which the organization of the postwar force could be based.

Seeckt's recommendations were adopted, with some modifications and changes, and the new organization, created by the Defense Law of 23 March 1921, was called the Reichswehr (Reich Defense Force). Its two services were the Reichsheer (Army) and the Reichsmarine (Navy). The predominant part played by the land service gave many the impression that the Reichswehr and Army were identical, and the tiny Navy received little attention.

The nominal Commander in Chief of the Reichswehr was the President. Actual authority, however, was normally exercised by the Minister of Defense, a cabinet officer and coequal of the Ministers of the Interior, Justice, Foreign Affairs, and other members of the President's official family.

Commanders for the Army and Navy were prohibited by the Versailles Treaty, so the senior officers of the two services held positions analogous to that of Chiefs of Staff, responsible directly to the Minister of Defense. In practice, the Chiefs of Staff directed planning, operations, and training, and the Minister of Defense restricted his activities to representing the Reichswehr before the Reichstag and performing similar ministerial functions.

A large number of officers and noncommissioned officers with World War I experience were available to command and cadre the small postwar force at first, but emphasis soon came to be placed on the procurement of younger men. Forced to make do with what they had, the military leaders proceeded to develop an elite force, and numerous incentives were offered in order to acquire a high type of personnel. Enlisted pay was raised and barracks conditions were improved. Strict discipline gained the Reichswehr the respect of the civilian population, and relations with the local inhabitants in garrison and port areas were usually excellent. Upon discharge Reichswehr personnel were given priority in obtaining civilian positions


with the government, or were granted financial support up to a maximum of three years while readjusting to civilian life. Men with more than 10 years service could receive training for a civilian occupation while still in uniform.

Another important morale factor for the Reichsheer was the policy of recruitment on a local basis. Each unit of battalian size or larger had its permanent station and recruited the bulk of its personnel from that general region. Personnel assignments were relatively stable and individuals remained in units composed largely of men from their home areas. A similar arrangement for the Reichsmarine would have been impracticable, though personnel were rotated to sea and shore assignments on a regular schedule.

The Reichswehr adopted the traditions of the disbanded units of the old imperial forces, e.g. the 1st Company of the 9th Infantry took charge of the battle flags of the 1st Prussian Foot Guards. Tradition was carried to an extreme with the 1st Infantry, which adopted the old 43 d Infantry's traditions---the bass drum in the regimental band was carried in parades on a cart drawn by a St. Bernard dog, a privilege the 43d Infantry had won by capturing a dog-drawn drum from the Austrians at the Battle of Koeniggratz in 1866. A memorial honoring the parent unit was installed in each barracks square, and ceremonies held before it on official holidays. Survivors of the old units and the families of members who had been killed in battle were contacted and invited to the memorial services. Where possible, older officers and men still in the military service were assigned to the Reichswehr unit which was to carry their old unit's tradition. Another effective means of promoting organization spirit was the assignment of a band to every battalion-sized and larger unit, with fifers and drummers down to the company.

The Army2-2

The Chief of Staff of the Army was known as the Chief of the Army Command {Chef der Heeresleitung). The most important of the five sections of his staff was the Truppenamt, an all-encompassing organization with many of the functions of the Imperial General Staff, which had been disbanded in compliance with the Versailles Treaty, though this did not preclude General Staff appointments at lower echelons of command. The headquarters of the Army Command was in Berlin.

The tactical forces of the Reichsheer comprised seven small infantry and three cavalry divisions, the former numbered 1 through 7 and


Chart 1--Organization of the <i>Reichsheer,</i> 1921
Chart 1--Organization of the Reichsheer, 1921

the latter 1 through 3. The strength of the infantry division was approximately 12,000 men, with three infantry regiments, an artillery regiment of three light battalions, and small reconnaissance, signal, engineer, transportation, and medical battalions. The cavalry division had six small cavalry regiments and an artillery battalion, and a total strength of 5,300 men.

The commanders of the infantry divisions had a dual responsibility, since they were territorial commanders as well; their staffs also functioned in two capacities. The area commands of the Reichsheer, known as Wehrkreise, were seven in number, designated by Roman numerals I through VII, and covered the entire territory of the Reich. The Wehrkreise were charged with recruiting, logistical support of tactical units within their areas, and general housekeeping functions.

The seven infantry divisions were distributed one to each of the seven Wehrkreise, the numbers in each case being identical, e.g. the 7th Infantry Division was assigned to Wehrkreise VII, with headquarters i n Munich, the capital of Bavaria. The infantry divisions, in accordance with the policy of local recruitment, were drawn almost entirely from the Wehrkreise in which they had their home stations, e. g. the 7th Infantry Division was composed of Bavarians. The three cavalry divisions, though their headquarters were situated in one Wehrkreis or the other, were drawn from a wider area, e. g. the 3d Cavalry Division, with headquarters at Weimar in Thuringia, included one cavalry regiment composed of Bavarians. [See chart 1.]

The divisions were controlled by two Gruppenkommandos (group commands). Gruppenkommando 1, in Berlin, controlled the divisions in northern and eastern Germany; Gruppenkommando 2, in Kassel, the divisions in southern and western Germany. The two group commands were responsible to the Chief of Staff of the Reichsheer. The Wehrkreise were also responsible directly to the Chief of Staff of the Reichsheer, making the group headquarters purely tactical commands.

The training of the Reichsheer was one of the most important imprints left by General von Seeckt, who became the first Chief of Staff and remained in that position until 1926. The time spent on the school of the soldier and close order drill was reduced once discipline had been established. Emphasis was then placed on field training. Seeckt believed that the mobility lost in the trench warfare of World War I could be regained by the infantry-artillery team with tank and air support. Trucks were made into mock tanks for training purposes by the addition of cardboard and wooden superstructures. Such passive air defense measures as camouflage were stressed. Former tank officers were assigned to the supply and transportation services, and 180 flying officers of World War I were distributed throughout the


Army in various other capacities. A core of 3, later 15 air specialists was assigned to the headquarters of the Army Command.

The small number of troops, the dispersal of units in garrisons from East Prussia to Bavaria, and budgetary considerations restricted maneuvers and large-scale exercises. Consequently, to train commanders and staffs from battalion level upwards a type of realistic war game exercise was adopted. Commanders and staffs, all available signal troops, and a skeleton force of infantry, artillery, and engineers participated. Troops were present only in sufficient numbers to establish front lines, but the headquarters functioned as in a tactical situation. Many of the deficiencies of the Imperial Army's communication system were corrected in the course of these exercises, and a number of future army and army group commanders and staffs had the opportunity to experiment with new theories and techniques.

Troops of the Reichsheer's 11th Infantry Regiment in training, 1934
Figure 1. Troops of the Reichsheer 's11th Infantry Regiment in training, 1934

General von Seeckt's policy required military personnel to refrain from engaging in political activities, giving credence to the belief that the Army represented the German nation and not the administration in office. Nevertheless, during Seeckt's tenure, there was considerable deference by political leaders to the Reichsheer. An icy, aloof individual, Seeckt spoke for the Army as a solid, determined block of 100,000 armed men and the ultimate government force.

In the first several years following its organization, the Reichsheer was committed to securing the internal stability of the Reich and maintaining law and order. To supplement the efforts of the Reichsheer, local militia were frequently organized for short periods


of time. However, these soon had to be disbanded upon the insistence of the Allied control commissions. By 1924 the situation in Germany had settled to the extent that the Reichsheer could perform its mission without assistance.

Gradually, as time passed, some restrictions on Germany's armed forces were relaxed or simply not enforced, and the Reichsheer organized additional signal and antiaircraft units and improved some of its artillery and other weapons. Seeckt and the government leaders also adopted the broadest possible interpretation of the restrictions included in the treaty, giving Germany various advantages not intended by the treaty writers, e. g. there was no prohibition against drawing up plans for improved weapons, so German designers prepared blueprints for various new guns and other armament.

Significant evasions of the treaty terms involved the establishment of military installations and armaments industries in the Soviet Union. The German government supported these arrangements, financed in large part by such industrial firms as the Junkers Aircraft Company. This evasion of the treaty terms was welcomed by the Russians, desperately in need of foreign engineers and technicians to build up their own air and tank arms and their chemical warfare service. In exchange for technical advice and the services of German experts, the Russians permitted the German Army to test weapons and equipment and to train cadres unhampered by the Allied control commissions.2-3

By 1930 the Army felt secure enough to proceed with the planning work started by Seeckt and to prepare for an expansion of its small force in the event of war. Should it be necessary for Germany to mobilize, the 7 infantry divisions of the Reichsheer would be expanded to 21. The millions of World War I veterans could be drawn upon to fill the 21 divisions, but these veterans were growing older and the German youth were receiving no military training aside from the Reichsheer and police forces. Arms and equipment would be available for approximately two-thirds of this force, but ammunition would be an insurmountable problem. In 1932 further studies were made for a gradual expansion of arms and munitions plant capacities to meet these needs.

In addition to its 21 infantry divisions, the Reichsheer on mobilization would comprise 3 or 4 cavalry divisions, 33 batteries of heavy artillery, 55 antiaircraft batteries, a small army air force, and a tank battalion. A medium battalion would be added to the artillery regiment of the infantry division, and the infantry regiment would be equipped with antitank guns. The plans for an increase in the size


of the German forces in the event of mobilization were interrupted by the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor.

The Navy

The Navy had more difficulty than the Army during this period in evading the treaty terms that reduced it to little more than a coastal patrol force.2-4 Since the Versailles Treaty contained no prohibition against replacing old vessels, the Navy began a limited building program as soon as the internal political situation of the immediate postwar period had settled. However, new naval construction in German yards had to adhere closely to the limitations set by the Allies, with representatives of the Allied control commissions inspecting German port areas and the naval budget.

The Naval Command (Marinelietung) found a serious obstacle in those provisions of the Versailles Treaty that prohibited submarines to the German naval service; the problem of retaining highly specialized construction and maintenance personnel and training crews for the German underseas fleet of a later day was not simple of solution. Only a few naval engineers and technicians managed to keep busy in the submarine construction field on contract for the Japanese Government in the immediate postwar period.

A start was made in reviving submarine building in 1922 when the Navy subsidized a Dutch shipbuilding firm in The Hague and staffed it with German submarine engineers. The purpose of the firm was to build U-boats on contract for foreign governments, thereby keeping German construction personnel employed and giving submarine engineers the opportunity to experiment with new designs and technical improvements. Similar arrangements were made with shipbuilding companies in Finland and Spain. The building of a German-controlled torpedo factory and testing center in Spain allowed German engineers to develop new types of torpedoes, including the electrically controlled torpedo.

The 250-ton submarines built and tested in Finland were to become the prototypes of the U-1 through U-24, the 750-ton boat built in Spain and eventually sold to the Turkish Government was to become the prototype of the U-25 and U-26. In their experimental work, the German submarine engineers strove to simplify gear and equipment, in order to make easier assembly-line production of craft and the training of crews.


The financing of these undertakings was accomplished at first with naval funds diverted for the purpose. Eventually, with their building success abroad, many of the Navy's enterprises became self-supporting. In 1927 a scandal brought a number of these covert naval activities to light and made necessary their curtailment. However, the Allied control commissions had been withdrawn earlier the same year, and many of the illegal undertakings being carried on in foreign countries could be shifted back to the Reich. Long before the abrogation of the Versailles Treaty, assembly lines to build 6 U-boats at a time were constructed at Kiel, and the component parts for 12 submarines made and stored. (Thus the first of the new underseas fleet could make its appearance less than six months after Hitler's announcement of rearmament in 1935.)

In addition to its activities in submarine construction, the Reichsmarine also managed to hold its position in the field of fire control equipment. A trainload of range-finders and technical equipment had been shipped into hiding at Venlo, Holland, at the time of the Armistice in 1918, and brought back in small lots. Later the Navy purchased a Dutch firm manufacturing precision instruments in Germany, to carry out experimental work on fire control and similar equipment unimpeded by the Allied Commissions.

A new type of armored cruiser, popularly known as the "pocket battleship," was developed during the replacement building program. This warship displaced 10,000 tons and had 11-inch guns in its main batteries, in compliance with the treaty limitations. The keel for the first of this class was laid down in 1929 and three in all, the Deutschland (1931), Admiral Scheer (1933), and Graf Spee (not launched until 1934) were built.2-5

Six light cruisers were also constructed or begun during this period, to replace the treaty cruisers. These were the Emden (1925), the Koenigsberg and Karlsruhe (1927), the Koeln (1928), the Leipzig (1929), and the Nuernburg (not launched until 1934). The Emden displaced 5,400 tons; the remaining five, 6,000 tons. All six cruisers had 5.9 inch guns in their main armament.

Two new battleships, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, were planned. (Some sources refer to these ships as battle cruisers.) Treaty limitations in this case were ignored. The two ships of this class were to displace 26,000 tons and mount 11-inch guns.

By 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, the Reichsmarine had a fleet of three old battleships of the pre-World War I period, the Hannover (1905), Schleisien (1906), and Schleswig-Holstein (1906). Work was soon to commence on the two new battleships. Two of the armored cruisers had been launched and one of them, the Deutschland,


was almost ready for sea. Five of the new light cruisers were already in service, and the sixth was under construction. All of the treaty cruisers had been removed from the active list. Twelve destroyers had been built during the period 1926-28 to replace worn-out treaty destroyers, and a number of torpedo boats and tenders had been rebuilt and reconditioned.

The Covert Air Force

Military aviation was prohibited completely under the Versailles Treaty, and the direction of German civil aviation in the immediate postwar years was delegated to the Air Office in the Ministry of Transportation. The construction of civil aircraft was prohibited until 1922, then limited as to weight, ceiling, speed, and horsepower. Though it operated under a sharp disadvantage, German aviation managed to retain its proficiency in building and flying aircraft during the period of restrictions that followed. The interest of the German public in aviation matters was also kept alive in gliding clubs and similar air-minded associations.

In 1924 General von Seeckt succeeded in engineering the appointment of his own candidate, a World War I flying officer named Brandenburg, as head of the Air Office. Cooperation between the highly centralized German civil aviation organization and the Reichswehr was assured, and from this point on the development of German civil aviation was controlled and directed to a considerable extent by the military.2-6

Restrictions on flight training for military officers were relaxed as time passed. The small number of Reichswehr officers permitted to taking flying instructions for obtaining weather data or in preparation for the possible use of the Reichswehr in support of the civil police was increased from its' ceiling of 5 per year to 72 in 1926.

The restrictions on German aircraft construction were also lifted in 1926. That same year several small corporations were amalgamated to form the Lufthansa, or government-sponsored airline. German aircraft were already flying on regular schedules to various countries in eastern Europe. A series of agreements with members of the former Allies soon permitted the Lufthansa to establish regular routes in western Europe. Night and all-weather flying techniques were improved, and German aviation reached a high point in technical development.

A small nucleus for the future German Air Force was formed within the Lufthansa organization shortly after its creation. By 1931 the "secret" air force had a total of four fighter, eight observation, and three bomber squadrons. Flight training was carried on in the four


schools maintained by the Lufthansa, but tactical training was necessarily restricted.

Some progress in German military aviation was also made in the experimental installations in the Soviet Union during this period. A party of German aviation experts moved to the Soviet Union in 1924, and in 1926 a group of fighter and reconnaissance pilots began training in the vicinity of Moscow. Another air installation was later set up in the Caucasus Mountains area. In Germany, the Reichsheer studied the air forces of the other world power and planned measures for defense against possible air attack. Preoccupied with the defense, the Reichsheer felt that any future air force should be part of the army, and assigned missions in support of the ground forces. As a consequence, the aircraft and tactics developed in the Soviet Union reflected this thinking, and most of the German military air effort of the period was devoted to fighters and observation work.

Only a small number of pilots in all were trained in the Soviet Union. Some pilots had also been trained or had maintained their skill by flying for the civil airlines in Germany or abroad. However, there were still too few qualified flying personnel available for a new air force at the time Hitler organized his government. The Reichsheer concept of the air arm as an adjunct to the Army and the few aircraft types developed as a result of this policy helped little in forming a foundation upon which to organize an air force capable of operating in its proper sphere.

Germany was in a somewhat better position by 1933 insofar as production facilities were concerned. Messerschmitt was already producing light aircraft in quantity. The Focke-Wulf concern was established at Bremen; Junkers was developing one of Europe's largest aircraft factories at Dessau; Heinkel had a large plant at Warnemuende; and Dornier had had several successes in building aircraft factories abroad. With a little retooling the plants producing sports aircraft and commercial transports could build observation and liaison planes, troop carriers, and bombers. A little more work would be necessary to build fighters and attack aircraft. With the military influence throughout their development, many of the German commercial aircraft could be put to immediate military use if necessary.

The National Socialists in Power

Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor by the aged President Hindenburg on 30 January 1933 and the Enabling Act of the Reichstag on 23 March granted Hitler's National Socialist government dictatorial powers. To raise the Reich to what he considered its rightful place among the nations and to accomplish his foreign policy aims,


Hitler had to have a large and well-equipped armed force and the war industry to support it. Planning had already been accomplished for a wartime armed force to be formed by the expansion of the Reichswehr. Hitler decided to apply these plans to a peacetime expansion instead. The Army was to be increased to 21 divisions and a total strength of 300,000 men. At first the year 1937 was set as the target date for the completion of this program.

Hitler put an end to the military and industrial collaboration with the Soviet Union in the summer of 1933.2-7 On 14 October of the same year Hitler's government withdrew from the disarmament conference then in progress and from the League of Nations. Henceforth, Germany was to follow a more independent path in foreign affairs, not allowing itself to be bound by such restrictions as the Versailles Treaty, which had already been violated repeatedly. Hitler then insisted on moving the target date for the expansion of the armed forces up to the autumn of 1934.

Meanwhile, a series of conflicts had arisen between the more extreme elements of the National Socialist Party's uniformed Strumabteilungen (SA), or Storm Troops, and the Reichsheer. Ernst Roehm, leader of the SA, advocated the absorption of the Reichsheer into his own uniformed force, to form an army more representative of the new National Socialist state. Hitler had to resolve the growing rift and decided in favor of the Reichsheer. On 30 June 1934 Roehm and several score others were executed without legal process of any kind as a threat to the security of the state. Needless to say, Hitler made use of this opportunity to rid himself of numerous political opponents as well as the embarrassing SA leaders.2-8

Hindenburg as President was still the nominal Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The President's death on 2 August 1934 was followed immediately by a major change in this organization of command. Hitler adopted the title of Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor (Der Fuehrer und Reichskanzler), and the office of President was abolished. The functions of the Presidency were absorbed into the new office, and Hitler became Chief of State and Commander in Chief of its armed forces.

All officers and men of the Army and Navy were required to swear a personal oath of obedience to the new Chief of State and Commander in Chief. This was a radical departure from the practice of swearing allegiance only to the state, as had been done under the German Republic. A similar oath to the Kaiser had been the custom in imperial times, but under the pre-World War I system of government the Kaiser had personified the state and people. Hitler's assumption of authority was approved by a national plebiscite on 19 August 1934.


The tempo of rearmament was increased and the strength of the Army rose to 280,000 by the end of the year. Hitler's heir-apparent, Hermann Goering, was appointed to the newly created position of Air Minister and assumed control of the covert air force, which immediately began a period of rapid expansion. As his deputy, Goering selected Erhard Milch, director of the Lufhansa. Milch began immediately to increase the production of training aircraft. While Goering occupied himself with political matters, Milch did most of the planning work for the new air force. According to Milch's calculations, a period of 8 to 10 years would be necessary to build up an adequate nucleus for the new service. Political considerations were later to require an acceleration of this program. With his well-known passion for uniforms and display, Goering was appointed a General der Infanterie in the ground forces pending the unveiling of the new German Air Force.

The clauses of the Versailles Treaty that had disarmed Germany were publicly denounced by Hitler on 16 March 1935. The Fuehrer took advantage of the occasion to promulgate a new defense law that provided for an increase in the size of the peacetime Army to 12 corps and 36 divisions and reinstituted conscription. A subsequent law, of 21 May 1935, brought the Air Force into the open and established it as a separate service. The law of 21 May also set the period of training for conscripts at one year.2-9

The restriction of conscript training to one year was necessitated by a lack of cadre personnel. Fifteen months later the expansion of the armed forces would permit the extension of the period of service to two years. Conscription offices proceeded to register the class of 1914 (all men born in that year), veterans of World War I still within military age limits (18 to 45 years, except in East Prussia, where the maximum was set at 55 years), and the large mass of men of the classes 1901 to 1913 and too young to have had service in the Imperial Army. This large group of men born in the years 1901 to 1913 were to form a special problem. Few had had any military training, yet were in the age groups from which a large part of the reserve had to be drawn. Also, those" born in the first few years between 1901 and 1913 were already becoming a little old to begin military training. As a result, a large proportion of these classes received two or three months of training and were assigned to those new reserve divisions which would be utilized for defensive service or in a security capacity, or to various support units.

An adequate population and industrial base existed to support an expanded armed force. The Reich's population prior to the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland was almost 70 million, and in


creased by more than 10 million when these two areas became part of Germany. The Reich produced more than 22 million tons of steel yearly and over 200 million tons of coal. The country was highly developed industrially, with large motor vehicle and tool plants, and had excellent transportation and communications systems. The merchant marine totalled more than 4 million tons, and port facilities were extensive.

The Wehrmacht

The expansion of Germany's armed forces and the creation of a separate Air Force were accompanied by a number of changes in the command organization. By the new defense laws, the Reichswehr was renamed the Wehrmacht (armed forces), and the Reichsheer became the Heer (Army), while the Reichsmarine became the Kriegsmarine (Navy). The Air Force was designated the Luftwaffe, with a distinctive uniform and organization. The Truppenamt was reestablished as the Army General Staff. Hitler assumed the title of Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces {Der Oberste Befehlshdber der Wehrmacht). The Minister of Defense became the Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces {Oberbefehlshaber der Wehrmacht).2-10

Generaloberst Werner von Blomberg, Hitler's Minister of Defense, became the first Minister of War and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The reorganization of the Army was accomplished largely by the Chief of Staff then in office, General der Artillerie Werner von Fritsch and the chief of the Truppenamt, Generalleutnant Ludwig Beck. In the reorganization Fritsch became the commander in chief of the Army and Beck chief of the reconstituted Army General Staff. The command of the Navy was retained by Admiral Erich Raeder, former chief of the Naval Command. The Air Force was placed under the command of Hermann Goering, in his new rank (and uniform) of General der Flieger.

The expanding services soon began to suffer acute growing pains. The Reichswehr's officers and noncommissioned officers were far too few to command and staff the large citizen force being raised although some relief was afforded by the incorporation of militarized police units into the Army with a large number of trained officers and noncommissioned officers. The Army was .affected by the loss of many officers to the new Luftwaffe, and for some time much air staff work had to be accomplished by former ground officers not qualified as pilots or experienced in air operations.

The high and rigid standards established by the Reichswehr could not be maintained during this period of growth. Educational requirements


officers had to be lowered, and several thousand noncommissioned officers of the Reichswehr became junior officers in the Wehrmacht, while other thousands of Reichswehr privates (or seamen) became noncommissioned officers in the new force. The 4,000 officers of the Reichsheer, the officers trained in the Soviet Union, and the men commissioned from the ranks of the Army still could not provide a sufficient number of officers for the numerous new units formed. Thousands of World War I officers had to be recalled to active duty and bridged the gap to a certain extent, but several years would be required to provide a sufficient number of trained commanders and staff officers of the age groups young enough for full field service.

A production problem also existed. The manufacture of so many aircraft, tanks, artillery, and warships at the pace required by the rearmament program required more raw material and a larger trained labor force than Germany could immediately muster. Some concessions had to be made at the expense of one or the other of the three services, and the Navy was forced to curtail an ambitious program of shipbuilding to allow the Army and Air Force to forge ahead with tanks, artillery, and combat aircraft. Hitler's reluctance to antagonize the British also played a part in this decision. Work continued on a number of keels already laid and construction started on a few other major units, but most of the naval effort was devoted to producing small craft and submarines, which required less construction time than capital ships, and to training a Navy that more than doubled in size within a year.

A series of events that occurred much later during the period of expansion, in January and February 1938, placed Hitler in actual command of the three armed services and disposed of Fritsch and those other senior officers who had advised against the Fuehrer's military policy of bluff and bluster and preferred instead a steady growth and consolidation within the services. These events started with the marriage of Blomberg to a woman of questionable reputation. Blomberg, even though he was not among the active opponents of Hitler's policies, was forced by Hitler to resign his position as Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Scandalous charges later proved false were used as a pretext to force Fritsch out of his position as commander in chief of the Army.2-11 The post of Minister of War was abolished, and from 4 February 1938 Hitler exercised supreme command through a new headquarters, formed from


Blomberg's staff and called the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), or High Command of the Armed Forces. General der Artillerie Wilhelm Keitel, according to a literal translation of the German title, became chief, OKW. Keitel was actually to hold a position similar to that of a chief of staff, but with little of the actual responsibility that the title implied. General der Artillerie Walther von Brauchitsch, commander of a Heeresgruppenkommamdo, as the old Gruppenkommamdo was henceforth to be called, became the successor to Fritsch. These events were followed by the retirement for reasons of health of a large number of senior officers, and the transfer of other officers to field duties. Hitler was determined to brook no opposition to his military policy and would accept no word of caution.

In his new post, Keitel became chief of Hitler's working staff and assumed the duties of the former Minister of War. Headquarters OKW was to expand its operations and planning staff into the Wehrmachtfuehrungsamt (Armed Forces Operations Office), under Col. Alfred Jodl from April to November of 1938 and Col. Walter Warlimont to August 1939.

Friction, not uncommon under Blomberg, increased considerably under this new command organization. No clear dividing line was established between the responsibilities of the joint armed forces command and the commands of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. General Keitel lacked the position and seniority of Blomberg and almost any activity of the OKW headquarters, particularly of its planning staff, the Wehrmachtfuehrungsamt, came to be regarded as encroaching on the responsibilities of the three services and met with resistance. The commanders in chief of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, freed from their common superior, Blomberg, soon began to circumvent OKW and to address themselves to Hitler personally, thereby strengthening the Fuehrer's control of military affairs.2-12

The New Army


An extensive program to house the growing active Army was begun in 1935 and in the course of the next two years a large number of barracks were built. These barracks were usually designed to house a battalion or regiment, and were of brick or stone construction. Workshop and indoor training facilities were excellent. Firing ranges for small arms, and open fields and wooded areas for limited field exercises were usually situated within a few miles of the barracks proper. Accommodations at the large training areas were improved and expanded.


Figure 2. Typical barracks for the New <i>Wehrmacht</i>
Figure 2. Typical barracks for the New Wehrmacht

By October 1937 the active Army had 500,000-600,000 men under arms, and its tactical force consisted of 4 group commands and 14 corps, with 39 active divisions, including 4 motorized infantry and 3 Panzer (armored) divisions.2-13 The cavalry divisions had been deactivated. One cavalry brigade was retained, but most of the cavalry regiments were reassigned as corps troops and some of the personnel transferred to the new Panzer force. Twenty-nine reserve divisions had been organized and could be called into service on mobilization. The number of reserve divisions would increase as men were released from the active Army upon completion of their period of compulsory training.

The number of Wehrkreise had been increased to 13 in the process of Army expansion. The status of the Wehrkreis was also raised. The relationship between the tactical corps and Wehrkreis of the Wehrmacht was similar to that which had obtained the tactical division and Wehrkreis of the Reichswehr. The corps commander functioned in a dual capacity as Wehrkreis commander in garrison, but relinquished his territorial functions to a deputy when he took his corps into the field. The XIV Corps had no corresponding Wehrkreis organization, since it was formed to control the motorized divisions throughout the Reich and had no territorial responsibility. The Wehrkreise were responsible directly to the commander in chief of the Army. In the tactical chain of command, the corps headquarters


were subordinated to the Heeresgruppenkommandos, which in turn were responsible to the Army's commander in chief.

The expansion of the active Army beyond the level of 12 corps and 36 divisions established by Hitler was ordered in the annual mobilization plan, which directed the creation of additional active and reserve units year by year. The creation of reserve divisions that could be mobilized on short notice increased the combat potential of the Army considerably and kept the trained manpower at a fair state of proficiency by participation in annual maneuvers and special troop exercises.

Two group commands and seven corps headquarters were activated in 1938. Three of the corps were frontier commands, with no territorial responsibilities aside from security, i.e. they had no corresponding Wehrkreis organization. All three were assigned to Germany's western defenses. These headquarters bore no numerical designations, but were known as Frontier Commands Eifel, Saarpfalz, and Oberrhein, for the Ardennes, Saar, and Upper Rhine frontier areas, respectively.2-14 Of the other four corps headquarters, the XV and XVI Corps were formed to control the light and Panzer divisions, and the XVII and XVIII Corps became the tactical corps in Austria. Neither the XV nor XVI Corps had a corresponding Wehrkreis organization or territorial responsibilities. The commanders of the XVII and XVIII Corps, however, had a dual f unction as area commanders for the two Wehrkreise into which Austria was divided. Other active units organized included three infantry divisions, two Panzer divisions, four light divisions (small motorized infantry divisions, with an organic tank battalion), and three mountain divisions. Provision was also made for the organization of an additional 22 reserve divisions.

It was planned to convert the light divisions to Panzer divisions in the autumn of 1939 as sufficient materiel became available. The mountain division was an adaptation of the infantry division, equipped and trained for operations in mountainous areas and deep snow. The increase in the number of active divisions in 1938 can be attributed partially to the annexation of Austria in March, and the absorption of the Austrian Army into the Wehrmacht. The Austrian Army was reorganized to form one light, one panzer, two infantry, and two of the mountain divisions organized by the Wehrmacht that year.

The Sudetenland was incorporated into several existing Wehrkreise for military administration following its annexation to Germany in October 1938, and conscripts at first were absorbed into units being


formed by those Wehrkreise. One of the infantry divisions formed in 1938 was also composed largely of Sudetenland inhabitants.

As of March 1939 the Army had a total of 102 active and reserve divisions and 1 active cavalry brigade. The 51 active divisions, on the whole, were maintained close to full strength, and required only certain supply, medical, and transportation services to take the field. The total strength of the active Army was approximately 730,000: that of the reserve, about 1,100,000.2-15 The variance in strength figures for an equal number of active and reserve divisions can be explained by the diversion of a large part of the reserve to form support, security, and training units, or to staff administrative headquarters, in the event of mobilization, i. e. a large proportion of reserve personnel would not be assigned to field divisions. Other reserve personnel would not be called up immediately upon mobilization because of employment in critical war industries. The 51 reserve divisions were all infantry divisions; their organization was similar to that of the active infantry divisions, though they lacked some items of equipment, armament in short supply, and certain units.

The Westwall

It was felt that the Reich had need of a ground defensive system to secure its western flank while its armies mobilized or in the event its armies were already engaged elsewhere and the French were to attack. Construction work on the Westwall (sometimes referred to is the "Siegfried Line") commenced in 1937. The original plan envisaged a 12-year project and the building of a defensive system the length of the German frontier facing France. A short time later Hitler directed an acceleration of the work and the extension of the Westwall to the north, to include the Luxembourg and Belgian frontiers and a part of the Dutch frontier in the Aachen area.

The Director of the Bureau of Roads (Generalinspekteur fuer das deutsche Strassenwesen), Dr. Todt, was made responsible for the construction project. Personnel assigned to the work included road construction crews grouped under a force identified after the director of the project as the Organization Todt, a large force of the German Labor Service (youths of premilitary age groups), Army engineers, and other troops. In contrast to the elaborate fortifications of the French Maginot Line, the Westwall was a series of smaller bunkers, tank traps and obstacles, and defenses distributed in depth. Adjacent bunkers could support one another with protective fire, and camouflage was extensive and thorough. The Luftwaffe supplemented this ground defensive system with one of its own to secure the border area to a depth of 30 miles against air penetrations.



The assembly of forces at the time of the Austrian and Czech crises gave the German planners the opportunity to test their existing mobilization plans', which were found to be deficient in a number of respects. A special annex to the annual mobilization plan, issued 8 December 1938, superseded previous instructions and provided for the mobilization of the active and reserve forces of the Army by "waves." Four such waves were planned, and their mobilization could be accomplished almost simultaneously.2-16

Wave I would involve only higher headquarters, active divisions (numbered in the 1-50 block), and supporting units. The headquarters for 1 army group (Army Group C) and 10 armies (First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, Twelfth, and Fourteenth) would be formed from the existing Heeresgruppenkommandos and several of the active corps headquarters. Since only 6 group commands existed and 11 higher headquarters were planned, 5 corps headquarters would provide personnel for an equal number of army headquarters as well as their own headquarters on mobilization. The Wehrkreise would attend to the procurement and training of replacements for units of the tactical corps and divisions once the tactical commands left for the field.

Operational headquarters for the Army High Command would be set up within six hours of the time mobilization was ordered. Army Group C and the 10 army headquarters would be operational by the second day of mobilization. The active corps headquarters, the Panzer and light divisions, and the support units of the infantry divisions would also be mobilized by the second day. The remaining units of the active infantry divisions would be mobilized by the third day.

Wave II would include a number of corps headquarters to be organized from the reserve, with a cadre of active personnel, and 16 fully trained reserve divisions (numbered in the block 51-100), composed largely of personnel who had completed their period of compulsory training. The Wave II corps headquarters would become operational on the third day of mobilization and the Wave II divisions would be ready within four days of mobilization to move into the field with the active divisions.

Wave III would call into service 21 divisions (numbered in the block 201-250) consisting mostly of reservists with less training, including many individuals of the 1901-1913 classes and World War I veterans who had had one or more short periods of refresher training. These divisions were to assemble by the sixth day following mobilization.


The Wave III divisions would fill the vacuum caused by the departure of the active and Wave II divisions for the field, they would secure rear areas, and could be committed to combat operations in a restricted role.

Wave IV would include 14 divisions (numbered in the block 251-300) to be formed from training units within Germany; these divisions were to be formed by the sixth day of mobilization and would supplement the Wave III divisions. As of the seventh day a new headquarters, for the Replacement and Training Army (Ersatzheer), would be mobilized to assume responsibility for the Zone of the Interior, permitting the Army High Command to devote its attention to directing the operations of its armies in the field.

Personnel as well as units were designated for mobilization assignments. Certain officers and enlisted men of the active Army were to be assigned to reserve units as they formed. A number of active officers in Wehrkreis and station complement assignments would remain in the various garrison areas until their replacements, usually older reserve and retired officers, were familiar with their duties. The active officers would then rejoin their commands in the field.

Additional motor vehicles' and horses would be required by the Army on mobilization. In accordance with standard German practice, the trucks and other motor vehicles of government agencies outside the armed forces, e.g. the extensive German postal organization; business corporations; and private owners were registered with the local Wehrkreis for military use. The same procedure applied to horses, to fill the extensive requirements of the reserve infantry divisions and support units. Both vehicles and horses would be requisitioned when reserve units were mobilized. The selection of vehicles and horses, however, could be accomplished only by procurement commissions.

Special reference should be made at this point to the mobilization assignment planned for Army Group C and the First, Fifth, and Seventh Armies. In the event of mobilization, Heeresgruppenkommando 2 at Frankfurt-am-Main would become Army Group C, to control the First, Fifth, and Seventh Armies in the defense of the Westwall. First Army would be formed by XII Corps and the Saarpfalz Frontier Command. Fifth Army would be formed by VI Corps and the Eifel Frontier Command. Seventh Army would be formed by V Corps and the Upper Rhine Frontier Command. The frontier commands would be responsible for security and garrison duties in the Westwall area pending mobilization. Corps headquarters and active and reserve divisions were designated for allocation to the army group, and would pass to the control of the army group and its armies upon orders mobilizing Army Group C and directing it to assume


responsibility for the western frontier. The code name for the military movements for this contingency was Plan WEST.2-17

Divisional Organization

The 5 Panzer divisions varied somewhat in their composition. The 1st, 2d, and 3d had 1 tank and 1 motorized infantry brigade each; the 4th Panzer Division had a tank brigade and only a regiment of motorized infantry; the 5th had a tank brigade and 2 infantry regiments. In addition, each Panzer division had a motorized artillery regiment with 2 battalions of 105mm howitzers; a reconnaissance battalion with motorcycle and armored car companies; an antitank battalion with towed 37mm guns; an engineer battalion; a signal battalion; and rear trains and services. The authorized strength of the panzer division was approximately 12,000 officers and men, the variations in organization accounting for some differences in personnel strength from one Panzer division to the other.

Each Panzer division had about 300 tanks, including all 4 types then in service. The Mark I vehicle was 2-man tankette, weighed approximately 6 tons, and mounted 2 machine guns. The Mark II tank was a 3-man vehicle, weighed 111/2 tons, and mounted a 20mm gun; the Mark II and all heavier tanks had 1 or more machine guns in addition to their main armament. The Mark III model had a crew of 5, weighed approximately 241/4 tons and had a 37mm gun. The heaviest tank of the period was the Mark IV, which weighed 26 tons, carried a crew of 5, and mounted a short-barreled 75mm gun. As planned, the 1st Panzer Division would have 56 Mark I, 78 Mark II, 112 Mark III, and 56 Mark IV tanks. The 2d, 3d, 4th, and 5th Panzer Divisions would each have 124 Mark I, 138 Mark II, 20 Mark III, and 24 Mark IV tanks. This figure in tank strength, particularly for the Mark III, could not be reached in all cases by the time the Panzer divisions took the field against Poland.

The 4 light divisions also varied in their organization, e.g. the 1st Light Division had a motorized infantry brigade of 1 regiment and a motorcycle battalion; the 2d and 4th Light Divisions had 2 motorized infantry regiments each; and the 3d Light Division had a motorized infantry regiment and a motorcycle battalion. Each of the light divisions had an organic light tank battalion, and the 1st Light Division had an organic tank regiment. The 1st Light Division had a reconnaissance battalion, while the 2d, 3d, and 4th Light Divisions had reconnaissance regiments. The division artillery of the light divisions was the same as that of the Panzer divisions, i. e. 2 light battalions of


Figure 3. Mark II Tank
Figure 3. Mark II Tank

Figure 4. Mark III Tank
Figure 4. Mark III Tank


Figure 3. Mark IV Tank
Figure 3. Mark IV Tank

towed howitzers. Engineer, signal, and other normal attachments were similar to those of the infantry and Panzer divisions; all were motorized. The strength of the light division was approximately 11,000 officers and men.

The 35 active infantry divisions had 3 infantry regiments of 3 battalions, a cannon company, and an antitank company each. The battalions were 4-company organizations, with the fourth, eighth, and 12th companies (companies were numbered 1 through 14 in the regiment) filling the role of heavy weapons companies in the comparable United States Army organization. The line (rifle) companies had a total of 9 light and 2 heavy machine guns and 3 light (50mm) mortars each; the heavy weapons companies, 8 heavy machine guns and six 81mm mortars each. As a matter of interest, the light and heavy machine gun were the same air-cooled weapon, model of 1934. With the bipod mount the MG 34, as it was known, was considered a light machine gun; with the tripod mount, it became a heavy machine gun. All transportation for the rifle and heavy weapons companies was horsedrawn. The cannon company had 6 light (75mm) and 2 heavy (150mm) infantry howitzers. The antitank


company had twelve 37mm towed guns and was the only completely motorized unit of the regiment. The reserve divisions were organized in similar fashion but their regiments lacked heavy infantry howitzers and the third and fourth wave divisions had obsolete machine guns from World War I.

The artillery element of the active infantry division was a mixed regiment of 3 light and 1 medium battalions, equipped with 105mm and 150mm howitzers, and an observation battalion. None of the reserve divisions had an observation battalion, and most of their firing battalions had obsolete artillery pieces from World War I.

Other divisional units for both active and reserve infantry divisions were a reconnaissance battalion; an antitank battalion with 37mm guns; an engineer battalion; a signal battalion; and rear trains and services. The total strength authorized the active infantry division was 17,875 officers and men. Wave II and IV divisions were smaller by 1,000 to 2,000 men or more, and Wave III divisions larger by approximately 600 men.

The 4 motorized infantry divisions were smaller than the active standard infantry divisions by approximately 1,400 men. Each of the motorized infantry divisions comprised 3 infantry regiments and was organized much as a standard division except that all elements of the division were transported by motor vehicle.

The 3 mountain divisions resembled the standard infantry divisions but were not organized uniformly. The 1st Mountain Division had 3 infantry regiments and 4 gun battalions in its artillery regiment; the 2d and 3d Mountain Divisions had only 2 regiments of infantry and 3 battalions of artillery apiece. The light mountain artillery battalions were equipped with 75mm pack guns, which could be dismantled and carried by mules, and the medium artillery battalions were equipped with 150mm howitzers of the type used by the infantry divisions. The authorized strength of the mountain division was approximately 17,000 officers and men, though the 1st Mountain Division for a time had a total strength of over 24,000 men.

Command Organization

General von Brauchitsch was still the Army's commander in chief in March 1939, with General der Artillerie Franz Haider as his chief of staff. The headquarters of the Army was known as the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH), or the High Command of the Army. [See chart 2.]

For administration and other station complement functions OKH controlled 15 Wehrkreise, numbered I through XIII, XVII, and XVIII. [See map 3.] Control over the Army's tactical forces was exercised through the six group commands.


Chart 2. The Wehrmacht and the Armed Services High Commands, 1939
Chart 2. The Wehrmacht and the Armed Services High Commands, 1939

Group Command 1, controlling the I, II, III, and VIII Corps, was in Berlin. Group Command 2 (Plan WEST) was at Frankfurt-am-Main and to it were attached the V, VI, and XII Corps, and the 3 frontier commands. Dresden was headquarters for Group Command 3, to which the IV, VII, and XIII Corps were responsible. Group Command 4 controlled the XIV Corps (motorized infantry divisions),

Map: The Wehrkreis Organization, 1939
The Wehrkreis Organization, 1939


XV Corps (light divisions), and XVI Corps (Panzer divisions), and was the forerunner of the Panzer armies of a later date; the headquarters of this group command was in Leipzig. Group Command 5 had its headquarters in Vienna, and controlled the XVII and XVIII Corps. Hannover was headquarters for Group Command 6, to which were attached the IX, X, and XI Corps. This peacetime subordination of corps would not necessarily pertain on mobilization, when the group commands became armies. As in the United States Army, corps in the German Army could be shifted from control of one army to the other.

The New Navy

Germany was permitted by terms of an agreement with the British on 18 June 1935 to build up to 35 percent of the latter's total naval tonnage and 45 percent of Britain's submarine tonnage. Following as it did on Hitler's denunciation of the military limitations imposed on the Reich by the Versailles Treaty, the naval agreement constituted tacit British consent to German rearmament. The British were temporarily reassured by the German agreement to limit the size of the Reich's new navy. However, the French were distressed by the increase in German naval power, and a wedge was driven in the Allied front.

By March 1939 the Hannover had been decommissioned and the obsolete battleships Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein were being used as cadet training ships. Still armed, the old battleships could be used for secondary naval missions. The battle fleet proper was composed of the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau; the 3 armored cruisers (pocket battleships); 2 new heavy cruisers, the Bluecher and Admiral Hipper, displacing 10,000 tons and mounting 8-inch guns; the 6 light cruisers' built during the replacement construction program; 22 destroyers of the Maass and Boeder classes (1,625 and 1,811 tons), with 5-inch guns; and 43 submarines. The U- through U-24 and the U-56 displaced from 250 to 300 tons and were restricted to the coastal waters of the Baltic and North Seas. The U-25 and U-26 were 712-ton boats, and the U-37 through U-39 displaced 740 tons each; these larger submarines were capable of operating as far as mid-Atlantic without refueling. The U-27 through U-36 displaced 500 tons; the U-45, U-46, and U-51, 517 tons each. These last boats were capable of operations in the North Sea and the waters about the British Isles. Some additional submarines in various stages of construction would also be ready for operations by the outbreak of hostilities.2-18


Figure 6. Artist's Conception of German Pocket Battleship
Figure 6. Artist's Conception of German Pocket Battleship

Figure 7. The U-25
Figure 7. The U-25

Figure 8. The Messerschmitt 109, standard German fighter
Figure 8. The Messerschmitt 109, standard German fighter


Figure 9. The Junkers 87 (Stuka) Dive Bomber
Figure 9. The Junkers 87 (Stuka) Dive Bomber

Admiral Raeder's Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine (OKM), or High Command of the Navy, controlled the fleet, Luftwaffe units attached to the Navy, and shore commands for the Baltic and North Sea coastal regions. The fleet comprised the heavy surface units, submarine arm, and naval reconnaissance forces. The shore commands were responsible for the training units and schools ashore, coast artillery units, arsenals, and other land installations of the Navy. [See chart 2.]

The New Air Force

The Luftwaffe by March 1939 was a potent attack force, which would have 4,303 operational aircraft available by the outbreak of hostilities. These would include 1,180 bombers, 336 dive bombers, 1,179 fighters, 552 transports, 721 observation planes, 240 naval aircraft, and 95 miscellaneous airplanes.2-19

Goering's headquarters was known as the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL), or High Command of the Air Force. The four major subordinate air commands were designated as Luftflotten (air forces), and controlled both tactical and administrative units. This arrangement contrasted sharply with that of the Army, which had separate channels of command for its tactical and administrative components. [See chart 2.]

Tactical air units were dispersed about Germany in eight air divisions. The administrative commands, 10 in number, were known as Luftgaue, similar to the Army's Wehrkreise, and provided the tactical air units with logistical support.


The organization of each air force was arranged to meet the particular needs of its respective mission. As a consequence, organization varied from one air force to the other. In general, each of the four air forces contained all types of aircraft in service, e.g. fighters, bombers, transports, and reconnaissance planes. The First Air Force had its headquarters in Berlin and responsibility for northern and eastern Germany. Braunschweig was the headquarters of the Second Air Force, dispersed over northwestern Germany. The Third Air Force, responsible for southwestern and southern Germany, was located in Munich. Vienna was headquarters for the Fourth Air Force, responsible for Austria and a portion of southeastern Germany. A separate tactical and administrative command of corps size was assigned to East Prussia and retained under OKL control.

The German Military Situation in March 1939

The power of the Wehrmacht, while formidable by early 1939, had been exaggerated by German and foreign news media out of proper proportion, and the Westwall was of limited value to the defense of the Reich. Five years was hardly sufficient time for the three services to build up and thoroughly integrate a large cadre of professional officers and noncommissioned officers. The crop of 250,000-300,000 Army conscripts that finished training each year was beginning to fill the reserve ranks, but training of the older men of the 1901-1913 age classes had lagged.

The active Army could be considered as one of the best trained in Europe, but lacked a sufficient number of qualified signal personnel and its Panzer forces were an untried experiment. The bulk of the tanks (Mark I and II) were known to be too light but could not be replaced at once with the heavier Mark III and Mark IV models. Kolling stock and truck transportation were in short supply and it would take time to organize additional reserve divisions and train the large number of men who had not yet seen service.

The Navy was far inferior in strength to the British Navy alone, and would be no match for the combined fleets of Britain and France. The German Navy had few capital ships, nor did it possess a sufficient number of destroyers to provide escort for the Reich's merchant vessels carrying critical materials from abroad. In the event of war, this meant that the large German merchant fleet would be restricted mainly to the North and Baltic Seas. The German submarine force, though it would soon equal the British in numbers, was much lighter in tonnage, and the range of many of the U-boats was restricted.

The German Air Force would experience no immediate problem insofar as personnel was concerned. The Luftwaffe's training program had turned out a sufficient number of pilots and air crews to


man an expanded wartime Air Force. For its part, German industry had provided the Luftwaffe with some of the most advanced operational aircraft of the day. The British and French Air Forces were larger, but a considerable number of their aircraft were obsolete or obsolescent. The Luftwaffe lacked airframe and engine replacements for sustained operations, however. Repair facilities, though well organized, were not nearly extensive enough for a major war effort.

Germany had an excellent industrial base for war, with its heavy plants in the Ruhr, Saar, and Silesian areas. According to the German planners, however, several more years were still needed to attain a production rate high enough to supply the materiel and ammunition for a major war. The military training program had already made inroads on the strength of the labor force, and mobilization would deprive it of additional thousands of technicians and workers who had completed their period of compulsory service and were assigned to reserve units.

In short, Germany was prepared only for a limited war of short duration. Gasoline and ammunition reserves would not suffice for simultaneous large-scale operations in the east and west, and the disaster of 1918 still acted to dampen the enthusiasm of the general public for military adventures. His series of successes in Austria and Czechoslovakia and the continued reluctance of Britain and France to take action, however, inclined Hitler to become more reckless. German military planning thus had to include numerous improvisations to meet sudden demands, a practice that was to become typical of the Reich's World War II operations.


Chapter 3
Events Leading up to the Outbreak of Hostilities


The diplomatic and military events that preceded hostilities were closely interrelated. Hitler attempted by threat of military action against the Poles to obtain concessions in Danzig and the Corridor, and the situation became increasingly grave.

It was obvious from the outset that the Poles could not be intimidated. The Warsaw government remained firm in its refusal to cede Polish rights in Danzig or sovereignty in the Corridor area. Hitler then resolved to dissuade the British and French from their stand in support of the Poles and to settle the problem by force if necessary. A statement of Hitler's intentions was made to the chief of OKW and the commander in chief of the Army on 25 March 1939 when the Fuehrer instructed these officers to initiate preparations for a solution of the problem of Poland by military means.3-1 This involved a gamble on the part of Hitler, since he had no understanding with the British and French as he had had the preceding year at Munich during the Czech crisis. Moreover, the western nations were now aroused and might intervene to stop further German expansion. Hitler's racial theories and in particular his anti-Semitic policy had done Germany irreparable harm in the public opinion of the western world.

German and Polish propaganda agencies were already engaged in a noisy campaign against one another. Stories of atrocities against the German minority in the Corridor were given wide dissemination. Germans arriving from Poland as volunteers for the armed forces or Reich Labor Service related further incidents of anti-German activities beyond the border.

Much also hinged on the circle of Hitler's chief lieutenants during this period. Joachim von Ribbentrop as Foreign Minister had incurred considerable ill will abroad; Ribbentrop's threatening manner and lack of tact appeared typical of Germany's foreign policy. Moreover, Ribbentrop completely underestimated the British and their determination to honor their obligation to Poland. Goering continued


build up an offensive air force. Josef Goebbels had organized a highly effective propaganda machine for the furtherance of National Socialist policies. A pliable man had been found in Walter Funk, who succeeded Hjalmar Schacht as Minister of Economics when the latter warned Hitler against reckless military expenditures. The chiefs of the armed services were in no position to oppose any premature military adventures the Fuehrer might entertain.

The Annual Military Directive, 1939-403-2

Part II of OKW's "Directive for the Armed Forces, 1939-40" was issued on 3 April and formed Hitler's reply to Chamberlain's pledge of support to Poland made in the House of Commons three days earlier. Part II was entitled "Plan WEISS", and its issue before the rest of the directive proper attested to its urgency. Plan WEISS opened with a brief discussion (drafted by Hitler himself) of relations with Poland. The attitude of Poland might require a solution by force, so preparations were to be made by 1 September to settle the problem for all time. Should war occur, the Wehrmacht would have the mission of destroying Poland's armed forces by surprise attack. To preserve secrecy, mobilization would not be ordered until immediately before the attack. The Army would establish contact between East Prussia and the Reich at the beginning of operations, and could utilize Slovak territory.

Only active units would be used in the opening attack, and these would be moved into concentration areas in the frontier region on Hitler's order. The Navy would destroy or neutralize the Polish fleet and merchant marine, blockade Polish ports, and secure sea communication with East Prussia. The Luftwaffe would destroy the Polish Air Force, disrupt Polish mobilization, and render the Army close support.

Plan WEISS also took the Western Allies into consideration, since these were believed to be the greater threat to Germany. Measures were to be taken to secure the West wall, the North and Baltic Sea areas, and the air defense of Germany. Poland would be isolated, and a quick conquest would preclude external assistance.

The covering letter, signed by Keitel, stated that a timetable of preparations was to be made by OKW. The three services were directed to submit their campaign plans and recommendations for this timetable by 1 May. These would be coordinated by OKW, and differences among the Army, Navy, and Air Force would be worked out in joint conferences.


Parts I and III of the directive, issued separately on 11 April, were recapitulations of instructions included in the directive for the preceding year. Part I gave detailed instructions for defensive arrangements on Germany's frontiers. Part III restated a previous plan to seize Danzig without war. The extent of defensive preparations would depend upon the situation with Germany's neighbors. As for Danzig, it might be possible to seize the city from East Prussia should a diplomatic situation favorable to Germany develop.

Part IV consisted of special instructions to the commander of I Corps in East Prussia. In effect, in the event of war, I Corps would provide personnel for the headquarters of Third Army, and the army commander would be responsible for the defense of the exposed German province.

Part V of the annual directive determined the boundaries for the theaters of operations in the east and west. Part VI was of particular concern to the German war economy. While protecting its own war industries and sources of supply, Germany was to utilize those production centers it could capture intact and would limit damage in operations to the minimum. In connection with Plan WEISS, the industrial areas of Poland centering on Cracow and Teschen were of particular importance.

A special annex to the directive, issued on 21 April, specified that there would be no declaration of war in implementing Plan WEISS. A partial mobilization of reserves might be required but this would not necessarily involve the mobilization of industry. However, in the event of a general war, both reserves and industry would be mobilized immediately.

The issuance of the "Directive for the Armed Forces, 1939-40" initiated preparations to resolve the matter of German claims against Poland. Germany might be able to exert sufficient pressure on the Poles to obtain Danzig and special privileges in the Corridor, or might seize Danzig by surprise. If neither of these was successful, Hitler might direct the implementation of Plan WEISS, a solution by force. Defensive measures to be taken in the west would secure Germany against attack by Britain and France while differences with Poland were being settled. The preparations in the first two months following the issuance of the directive were concerned mostly with planning the movement of units and logistical installations into position to launch an overwhelming attack against Poland should the Fuehrer decide upon the alternative of war. [For detailed planning and preliminary German military movements see Ch. 5, this study.]


Diplomatic Developments, April-July

On 28 April 1939 Hitler abrogated the Polish-German Nonaggression Pact of 1934 and the London Naval Agreement of 1935 in a Reichstag speech. Hitler stated further that the issue of Danzig must be settled.

Agitators were sent into Danzig to embarrass and annoy the Polish government. Polish flags were torn down and Polish property was damaged on 12 May, the anniversary of Pilsudski's death. Shortly afterward a Polish customs house was attacked. Polish measures against the German population in Danzig and the Corridor were given wide publicity in the German press and broadcasts, and Danzig's National Socialist faction, dominating the city government, clamored for reunion with the Reich.

A pact with the Italians on 22 May 1939 brought Mussolini into Hitler's camp. This involved no military support, and the Italian dictator was even assured that there would be no war for the next several years. The advantage to Germany lay in obtaining a secure flank to the south and preventing an agreement between Italy and the Allies. Italy on France's eastern frontier would neutralize part of the large French Army, and Britain's naval position and the Suez Canal would be threatened by the Italian fleet.

The major diplomatic scene shifted to Moscow by early summer, where Britain and France were attempting to enlist the aid of the Soviet Union in presenting a solid front to Germany. Negotiations were slow, and the Russians refused to commit themselves to any coalition agreement. Meanwhile, in Berlin, Hitler received visits of state from the Hungarian Prime Minister, Regent Paul of Yugoslavia, and the Prime Minister of Bulgaria. All visits featured military shows and a display of Germany's armed power.

Germany's strong diplomatic position at this point required one more support to discourage British and French intervention and assure Hitler a free hand in Poland--the collaboration or at least the friendly neutrality of the Soviet Union. Hitler would forsake his own anti-Communist policy by such a step, but a rapprochement with the Russians would be welcomed in wide diplomatic and military circles in Germany. Ribbentrop favored an arrangement of this nature, as did the German Ambassador in Moscow, Count von der Schulenberg.

The Russians had already indicated a desire to normalize and improve relations with Germany the preceding April, when their Chargé d'Affaires had approached a representative of the German Foreign Office in the course of discussions on commercial matters.


Hitler seized upon the opportunity to settle outstanding differences and offered the Russians uncontested domination of Latvia and Esthonia, Poland east of Warsaw and the Vistula from Warsaw to the south, thence east of the San River, in exchange for a free hand west of that line. The Russians, willing to bargain with Hitler in Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, and Esthonian soil and lives, accepted the offer.3-3

Events, 1-22 August

Disorders in Danzig and the Polish Corridor became increasingly serious during the first three weeks of August, and German pressure against the Poles was intensified. Britain and France repeated their assurances to the Polish Government, and the attitude of the Western Allies served to strengthen Polish determination to resist German demands. Concluding that time was working to his disadvantage, the Fuehrer hastened in his course. German military concentrations in the east, though camouflaged as maneuvers, grew more threatening as the diplomatic situation deteriorated.

Danzig was infiltrated by German agents and military personnel in civilian clothing throughout August. The police were openly anti-Polish and assisted the Germans in organizing military forces inside the city. Forster, head of the National Socialist Party in Danzig, made no secret of his visits to Hitler and his aim of incorporating the Free City into the Reich. The increasing seriousness of the situation and the denial of its commercial rights by the city administration caused the Polish Government to take measures of reprisal in the nature of embargoes, giving the Germans more propaganda material for consumption in the Reich. Other incidents were touched off in the Corridor border areas.

An attempt to dissuade Hitler was made by Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's Foreign Minister, in a conference with Hitler and Ribbentrop on 12 and 13 August. Mussolini was not ready for war and desired a period of several years in which Italy might recover from its military ventures in Ethiopia, Spain, and Albania. The Italian services required reorganization and modern equipment and would not be ready for the field until 1942 or later. Hitler was adamant, however, and Ciano left the meeting thoroughly embittered at the German breach of faith.

Preparations for the incident necessary to give Germany a pretext for invading Poland were made on 17 August, when the Wehrmacht was ordered to supply Reinhard Heydrich, deputy to Heinrich Himmler, with Polish uniforms.3-4 The purpose of this was to create


incidents wherein German soil would be violated by persons identified as members of the Polish Armed Forces. Hitler would then be in position to claim that he was justified in ordering the Wehrmacht to defend German territory, lives, and property, and in moving forces into Poland to restore order in a situation which the Polish government could not control.

Hitler held a conference with his service chiefs, the commanders of the major forces being deployed against Poland, and the chief of OKW on 22 August. The Fuehrer's speech was a rambling monologue lasting for hours. In substance, he felt that the time was ripe to resolve German differences with Poland by war and to test the Reich's new military machine. It was unlikely that Britain and France would intervene; if they did, Germany would be able to carry on a long war if necessary. Britain and France had promised Poland support, but were in no position to render material aid of any consequence. Moreover, Hitler felt, the British and French leaders would hesitate to draw their respective nations into a general war.3-5

There was also another vitally important factor to be considered. The Russians were about to sign a nonaggression pact with the Germans. Ribbentrop had left for Moscow earlier that day, to obtain the signature of Foreign Commissar Molotov to the agreement already worked out by German and Russian representatives. Stalin was no friend of the Poles and the agreement with him would strengthen the German economic front considerably.

According to Hitler, an appropriate "incident" would be used to justify the German attack on Poland. The morality of such a device was inconsequential. Victory was all that mattered. Hitler closed his address with an assurance to the assembled commanders that he was certain the armed services could accomplish any task set for them.

Sixteen years earlier Hitler had outlined in his book Mein Kampf the program on which he was about to embark. In this rambling account of his early struggles and his philosophy, Hitler had stated that future efforts at German expansion would be directed toward the east, to the Soviet Union and the states dominated (according to Hitler) by Moscow.3-6 He had also discussed the matter of an alliance with the Soviet Union and had stated that it would mean war, since Britain and France would not wait a decade until the new coalition became too strong for them to defeat. Instead, Britain and France would move against the Reich immediately. The Fuehrer had also charged the Soviet leaders as criminals, with no intention of honoring the obligations they would incur by an alliance.3-7 Hitler's actions from


this point were to reveal his utter cynicism. The German dictator was fully aware of the risk of bringing on a general war, despite the assurances to his military leaders that there would be no war with the west over Poland.

The Pact With the Russians

The announcement of the 23 August 1939 agreement with the Soviet Union exploded all hopes of a peaceful settlement between Germany and Poland. In that part of the document made public, the Soviet Union and Germany made a simple statement of nonaggression, which meant that the Russians would not intervene on the side of Poland were that country to be attacked by Germany. A secret provision added to the pact established the line of the Narew, Vistula, and San Rivers as the boundary between the German and Soviet spheres of interest in Poland.3-8 Finland, Esthonia, and Latvia would fall within the Russian, and Lithuania within the German sphere of interest. The pact served to alienate the Japanese, and Mussolini decided to remain aloof from the lighting. However, the Italian dictator saw the beginning of a realization of further Italian designs on the Balkan Peninsula should the war spread. Mussolini already held Albania and coveted portions of Yugoslavia and Greece.

On 24 August the British gave written guarantees to Poland, obligating both Britain and France to come to the aid of Poland in the event Germany launched an attack. This unexpected development, when it came to the attention of the Reich government the following day, caused Hitler to rescind the order he had given to commence operations against Poland on 26 August. The Fuehrer immediately set about to deter the British and French by an offer of German guarantees to support the British Empire and respect existing frontiers with France. Neither Britain nor France were moved by Hitler's offer. Poland was shunted aside, and Hitler dealt with the British representatives as spokesmen for the Polish Government as well as the French from this point.

The reply to Hitler's offer to support the British Empire was delivered by the Ambassador in Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, on 28 August. Henderson reemphasized Britain's position in the event of German hostilities against Poland. Hitler gave no answer at the time, but promised Ambassador Henderson a reply the following day. At 1915 on 29 August the British Ambassador was informed that a Polish plenipotentiary would have to be in Berlin the following day, with full powers to negotiate a settlement. The Polish Ambassador was not present at these meetings, nor were Polish representatives invited to attend.


The German proposal was all but impossible. The British Ambassador had first to inform his government of the Reich's most recent demand, and the British Government would have to send the message to the Polish Government, which in turn would have to give one individual full authority to sign any agreement put forth by the Germans. The plenipotentiary would also have to be in the Reich capital by midnight of 30 August.

The German demands had been expanded to include a plebiscite in the entire Corridor region on a return to the Reich, in addition to the outright return of Danzig. When no Polish plenipotentiary appeared by midnight on 30 August, and no authority was forthcoming for the Polish Ambassador to act in such a role, Ribbentrop stated that the time limit allowed the Poles had expired. The German Foreign Minister read off the demands of his government to Ambassador Henderson, without benefit of translation, and furnished no copy of his text to either British or Polish representatives, as diplomatic practice required. Ribbentrop then announced that negotiations were at an end.

On the following day, 31 August, Hitler signed "Directive No. 1 for the Conduct of the War".3-9 The time for the attack on Poland was set for 0445 the following day, 1 September 1939. Neutrals were to be scrupulously respected and hostilities in the west would be initiated only by Britain and France. Any crossing of the German frontier in the course of military counteraction would require Hitler's personal approval, though combat aircraft might cross the border in defending the Reich against British and French air attacks in force. In the event retaliation against Britain became necessary, Hitler reserved to himself the right to order air attacks against London.

Early in the evening of 31 August Ribbentrop received the Polish Ambassador, but the latter was not empowered to act as plenipotentiary for his government and the meeting accomplished nothing. The same evening the German Government broadcast its demands against Poland and blamed the breakdown in negotiation on the intransigence of Warsaw.

To complete the justification of the action he was about to undertake, Hitler had his agents set off a number of carefully prepared "incidents" in the Polish border area. At 2000, a band of men "captured" the radio station at Gleiwitz in German Silesia. A short broadcast in Polish followed, announcing an attack on Germany, and then the "attackers" were driven off, leaving one dead man behind.3-10


The "casualties" for these incidents, provided from among condemned prisoners and clad in Polish uniforms, were killed or rendered unconscious by fatal injections, then shot and left to be found by German police. The carrying out of the Gleiwitz operation had been assigned by Heydrich to an SS official, Alfred Nau jocks. Despite its crudity, the Gleiwitz incident was to be used by Hitler in his charge that regular Polish forces had violated Reich territory and that German troops had been forced to return their fire.


Table of Contents  *  Preface & foreword  *  Next Part (II)


1-1. Unless otherwise noted, the material for this chapter was taken from William L. Langer, An Encyclopedia of World History (Boston, 1952).

2-1. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this section was taken from Die Reichswehr (Cologne, 1933) ; and H. Franke, Handbuch der Neuzeitlichen Wehrivissenschaften, Band I, II, III, and IV (Berlin and Leipzig, 1937).

2-2. Unless otherwise noted, the material on the organization of the Reichsheer was taken from Burkhart Mueller-Hillebrand, Das Heer (1933-45), Band I, Das Heer Ms sum Kriegsbeginn (Darmstadt, 1954), pp. 14-20.

2-3. Helm Speidel, "Reiehswehr und Rote Armee," Vierteljahrshefte fuer Zeitegeschichte, vol. I (1953), p. 18.

2-4. The information on the Navy's evasion of the treaty terms is taken from a printed memo by a Capt Schuessler, Der Kampf der Marine gegen Versailles, 1919-1935. Memo has been reprinted as Doc 156-c in Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal (hereafter cited as I.M.T.) (Nuernberg, 1947), XXXIV, pp. 530-607.

2-5. See: Alexander Bredt, Taschenbuch der Kriegsflotten (Munich, 1935 and 1940).

2-6. Walter Goerlltz, Der deutsche Generalstab (Frankfurt), pp. 365-66.

2-7. Speidel, op. cit., p. 41.

2-8. Goerlitz, op. cit., pp. 413-21.

2-9. Franke, op. cit., Band I, Wehrpolitik und Kriegfuehrung, Wehrgeaetz B, pp. 699-703.

2-10. Goerlitz, op. cit., pp. 422-23.

2-11. The details of the intrigues that ended with the dismissal of Blomberg and Fritsch are to be found in the following:

2-12. Ltr, Gen Warlimont to OCMH, 15 Apr 55. Author's file.

2-13. Mueller-Hillebrand, op. cit., pp. 25 and 61.

2-14. Ibid., pp. 25, 46, 76-77, and 156.

2-15. Ibid., p. 66.

2-16. Besondere Anlaye 2 zum Mob. Plan Heer, Kriegsgliederungen 8 Dez 1938. H 1/309/2a. Captured Records Section (CRS), TAG.

2-17. Heeresgruppenkommando 2, 1a Nr. 160/38 g. Kdos., 20 December 1938. 1922a. CRS, TAG.

2-18. Bredt, op. cit., pp. 6-12.

2-19. Meldung des Generalquartiermeisters der Luftwaffe vom September 1939, in Werner Baumbach, Zu Spaet (Munich, 1949), p. 48.

3-1. I.M.T., op. cit., XXXVIII, Doc. 100R, p. 274 ; and X, p. 513.

3-2. Weisung fuer die einheitliche Kriegsvorbereitunff der Wehrmacht fuer 1939/40, OKW, WFA Nr. 37/39g. Kdos Chefs Lie, in I.M.T., op. cit., XXXIV, Doc. 120-C, pp. 380-442.

3-3. Helmuth Greiner, Der Feldzug gegen Polen, pp. 4-7. MS #C-065. Foreign Studies Br, OCMH.

3-4. I.M.T., op. cit., XXVI, Doc 795-PS, p. 337.

3-5. Greiner, op. cit., pp. 7-13.

3-6. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Munich, 1939), pp. 650-51.

3-7. Ibid., p. 657.

3-8. Department of State, Nazi-Soviet Relations (Washington, 1948), p. 78.

3-9. Weisung Nr. 1 fuer die Kriegfuehrung, OKW/WFA Nr. 170/39, g. K. Chefs LI, SI.8.39, in I.M.T., op. cit., XXXIV, Doc 12C-C, pp. 456-59.

3-10. I.M.T., op. cit., IV, pp. 242-44.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation