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The Wehrmacht (German pronunciation: [ˈveːɐ̯maxt] (listen), lit. defence force) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germanyfrom 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Army, the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air force). The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr, and was the manifestation of Nazi Germany's efforts to rearm the nation to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.[8]

After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, one of Adolf Hitler's most overt and audacious moves was to establish the Wehrmacht, a modern offensively-capable armed force. Fulfilling the Nazi regime's long-term goals of regaining lost territory as well as gaining new territory and dominating its neighbors required the reinstatement of conscription and massive investment and spending on the armaments industry.[9]

The Wehrmacht formed the heart of Germany's politico-military power. In the early part of World War II, the Wehrmacht employed combined arms tactics (close cover air-support, mechanized armor, and infantry) to devastating effect in what became known as a Blitzkrieg (lightning war). Its campaigns in France (1940), the Soviet Union (1941), and North Africa (1941/42) are regarded as acts of boldness.[10] At the same time, the far-flung advances strained Wehrmacht's capacity to the breaking point, culminating in the first major defeat in the Battle of Moscow (1941); by late 1942, Germany was losing the initiative in its major theatres. The operational art was no match to the war-making abilities of the Allied coalition, making Wehrmacht's weaknesses in strategy, doctrine, and logistics readily apparent.[11]

Closely cooperating with the SS and the Einsatzgruppen, the German armed forces committed numerous war crimes and atrocities, despite later denials and promotion of the myth of the clean Wehrmacht.[12] The majority of the war crimes were committed in the Soviet Union, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece and Italy, as part the war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, the Holocaust and Nazi security warfare.

During the war about 18 million men served in the Wehrmacht.[13] By the time the war ended in Europe in May 1945, German forces, consisting of the Wehrmacht, the Waffen-SS, the Volkssturm and foreign collaborateur units, had lost approximately 11,300,000 men,[14] about half of whom were missing or killed during the war. Only a few of the Wehrmacht's upper leadership were tried for war crimes, despite evidence suggesting that more were involved in illegal actions.[15][16] The majority of the three million Wehrmacht soldiers who invaded the USSR participated in committing war crimes.[17]

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