World War I Versailles Peace Treaty: German Disarmament Evasions (1922-35)

Figure 1.--

The German military had been the most powerful in Europe. The Prrussian officer class which had been the backbone of German military leadership was extremely resentful of the limitations imposed by the Treaty. Among the severe penalties that the treaty imposed on Germany was a comprehensive disarmament regime. Germany was prohibited from weapons such as combat aircraft, tanks, and submarines. Severe limititations were put on the size of the military forces. As a result, the Germans from the breginning set out to evade the limitations. The NAZI rearmament program beginning after their seizure of power is the best known evasion, but efforts to evade the Treaty began years before in the Weimar Rdepublic. Some of these were authorized by the civilian Weimar Governmnt. Others were conducted by the military in secret, both from the Allies and from the Government. Some of these efforts were suptergfuges to like non-military names to desguise the purposes of groups and keeping military connections secret. Another ploy was to conduct activities and programs in foreign countries.

Weimar Republic

The NAZI rearmament program beginning after their seizure of power is the best known evasion, but efforts to evade the Treaty began years before in the Weimar Rdepublic. The Weimar Reoublic is a fascinatinh period in German history. It is a democratic interlude betweem the authoritarian Imperial regime and the totalitarian NAZI Third Reich. There were democratic elections and a parliament (the Reichtag) relatively free press in Imperial Germany, although real power lay with the kaiser and his chancellor. Even so, Germany did have some democratic institutions to build upon. Yet we know that democratic institutions failed in Germany. The history of the period is thus very instrucrive to our modern times. The Weimar Republic was a rivch period of cultural flowering. It was also an era in which democracy failed and the NAZIs rose.

The Reichwehr

German had been united by The victory of Prussian Army aided by the smaller armies of other German states in the Franco Prussian War. Germany was thus united around the Prussian state with its important martial influence. The military thus had enormous influence in Germany, even after World War I. The Germany army under the Weimar Republic was referred to as the Reichswehr. It was the Army that organized efforts to evade the disarmament restrictions of the Versailles Treaty. In the German Empire the military had been a virtual state within a state. There had been huge budgets, an aristocratic, cohesive social system, and close contacts with major industrialists. [Gumbel] Under the Weimar Republic the much-reduced and thus imbitered military continued to control military policy and not civilian officials. A major factor here was civilian officials given the high-level of oposition needed to court the army knowing they might have to rely on the army to put down putches and rebellions. Civiliam Weimar offivcials never attempted to staff the Army with officers commited to the Republic and democracy. Rather the officer-corps was dominated by officers who continued to be sympathetic to the monarcy. As a result, despoite the fact that Weimar elected officials from the the Center, Democratic, and Socialist parties supported by the industrial working class as well as sections of the middle class. [Gumbel] This was further complicated with Hindenburg was elected president (1925). Many Germans viewd the Reichwehr as the embodiment of German patriotism and civiliam politicans with contempt.

Inter-Allied Control Commission

The Allies to enforce the provissions of the Versailles Treaty set up the Inter-Allied Control Commission (1919). The Commissiomn was primarily staffed by British and French personnel. The Commission offered cash bounties for information leading to illregal arms caches. The extra-territoriality status of the of the Commission was never fully established, thus leaving its personnel without adequate protection. There were incidents of assults on inspectors. The work of thre Commission was also impaired by the lack of unity. Generally the French were the most inssistantbon disarmament, but were at times not fully supported by the British. The French objected to British officers commonly fraternixzing with their German counterparts. The Commissio's work was also complicated by the Weimar Government's failure to fully cooperation, especially after the ocvcupation of the Ruhr by the French and Belgians (1923). The Allies replaced the Inter-Allied Control Commission with a conference of ambassadors (1926). The ambassadors had from the beginning exercised a right of veto over the decisions Control Commission. This men in effect that any attempt at effective control ceased. A factor here was increasing concern with the Soviet Union. [Gumbel]

Preliminry Steps

Germany's post World War I rearmament began very early after world War I. It was begun by the Weimar republic before Hitler's rise to power. Chancellor of Germany Hermann Müller, of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), approved cabinet laws that allowed secret and illegal rearmament efforts. [Geyer]

Non-quota Organizations

The Reichwehr was restricted to 100,000 men. On paper the Reichswehr was made up of 4,000 officers, 20,000 noncommissioned officers, 38,000 Gefreite, and 38,000 soldiers. The Allies set up an inspection system to ensure that the Reichwehr was restricted tob that limit. The Reicwehr in response began organizing organizations that it would control, but would not be counted within that total. This included Free Corps, border patrols, home guards, patriotic (usually anti-Republican) organizations, and even seemingly innocuous youth organizations. These organizations had constantly changing names, headquarters, forms, and vague often not easily identifiable aims. The role of the German military in these groups was hard to determine, but often included financing, training, and equipping. And example of such a youth group was the Marine-youth Fatherland. While the Allied Control Commission could to some extent rgulate the German military, it was virtually impossible to monitor many of these non-quota organizations. The Reichwehr illegally trained and advanced reserve officers in a legally nonexisting military reserve. Approximately 58,000 non-commissioned officers were able to train a much larger army which existedmade up by both patriotic organizations which operated openly as well as in illegal parallel military formations. [Gumbel] The Gern Navy helped form shipping companies to operate vessels registered in other countries (flags of convenience). This helped ensure that a reservoir of skilled mariners werecavailable for future naval recruitment.

Specific Weapons Programs

After the failure of the Kapp Putsch (1920), the Reichwehr began to develop sureptitious programs to evade the limitations of the Versailles Treaty. Some of the evasions of the Versailles Treaty were authorized by the civilian Weimar Governmnt. Others were conducted by the military in secret, both from the Allies and from the Government. Some of these efforts were suptergfuges to like non-military names to desguise the purposes of groups and keeping military connections secret. Another ploy was to conduct activities and programs in foreign countries. The Weimar Reichswehr programs nesitated elaborate government complicity. [Gumbel] This meant that Weimar civilian officuials mush have been aware of many if not all of these operations. [Gumbel]

U-boat program (1922-35)

The British had been particularly struck by the German U-boat campaign. The U-boats had horrified American public opinion and ultimately brought America into the War. The Versailles treaty in particular restricted the Germany Navy, which among other matters could no longer have U-boats. The Reichmarine like the Reichwhr with the approval of the German Government ecaded the Versailles restrictioins in a number of ways. One of the means used by the Germans to evade the prohibitions on U-boats was to go abroad. Some of the countries which cooperated with Germany were Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Turkey, Spain and others. The Krupp sibsidiary in the Netherlands, IVS, pursued U-noat development and research. The designed three U-boast models. U-boats using the IVS designs were built in Finland and Spain. There were also sales to Japan. Non-uniformed German sailors in both countries conducted the sea trials. Finland was also important. There was an active Finnish-German submarine program (1923-35). The program ended in 1935 when Germany abrogated the Versailles Treaty and signed a Naval Treaty with Britain. The IVS financed the construction topedo tundes and the actual torpedoes in Spain. Reichmarine personnel were assigned a submarine school in Turkey to train Turkish crews for the submarines purchased from IVS. They also trained German submariners. The foreign operations meant that the Germans were able to advance submarine technology and crew training so that in 1935 they could begin building and operting submarines with advanced designs. A Dutch subsidiary of Pintsch made torpedoes. Submarines were actually manufactured in the Netherlands. [Gumble]

Aircraft industry

The Versailles Treaty prohibited Germany from both army and naval military aviation. There was no ban, however, on civil aviation. The German Government promoted the growth of a civil aviation industry through a vaiety of credits and loan guarantes. This was a policy persued in other countries. Junkers, Heinkel, Dornier, and the Bayerische Motorenwerke (BMW) all were involved in the production of both engines and air frames. Smaller companies also manufactured air frames. German compsnies also began exporting military planes (1930). Germany exported planes to Nationalist China which was at the time fighting war lords and facing an increasingly beligerant Japan. Germany in 1925 began developing large planes. They were presented as civilian aircraft, but in fact were designed as prototype bombers. This included both JU-52 and the Junkers G-38, the first flying wing type aircraft. Germany by 1930 had an estimated 1,000 planes anout half of which could be converted for military use. [Gumble] German companies also manufactured military aircraft. This was done through foreign subsidaries. The Swedish branch of Junkers, A. B. Flygindustri, built and tested a pioneer two-seater fighter (1931). [Gumble] The military also organized civilian and youth flying clubs to create a reservoir of men with flying skills who could easily be trained for military aviation crews.


The Reichwehr faced with limitations on artillery brcame interested in rocketry. German researchers began testing rockets and missiles (1930). This included both liquid fuels and solid propellants. This program was eventually lead to the ME-163B Komet fighter and the V-2 missle.

Krupp's foreign plants

The Krupp industrial complex had played a major role in the German war effort. The Allied Control Commission thus maintained inspectors at Krupp's factory until 1932. This proved, however, obly partly successful. Krupp mansagers has shipped equipment to Holland for safekeeping at the end of the war. Here among other fronts, the IVS pursued research and developmednt. Krupp ained control of Bofors, in Sweden, which profuced prohibited arms, including artillery abd anti-aircraft guns. [Gumbel]

Chemical industry

Germany was a European leader in the chemical industry. Chemical plants were a special challrnge for Allies in disarming Germany. Many chemical products are used for war and peace. Nitrates, ammonia, and other chemical products havev both military and peaceful applications. Nitrates for example are used to produce explosives as well as for fertilzer. One estimate suggests that by 1926 Germany was msanufacturing one-third of all the nitrates produced in the world, in part by undercutting the Chilean natural product. German companies also developed the orocedure for the hydrogenation of coal and producing synthetic rubber. This was of emense military importance for a country that lacked dolmestic petroleum and rubber sources and control of the seas to import them. These research projects were supported by the military. Another report indicated that an explosion in a chemical factory in Hamburg (1928) which killed 11 persons and proved that poison gas had been produced for the army. {Gumbel]

Rapallo Treaty (1922)

Germany and the Soviet Union negotiated the Rapallo Treaty (1922). The last treaty signed by Germany (Imperial Germany) and the Bolsheviks was the Treaty Of Breast-Litovsk (1918), a humiliating treaty ending World War I which had detached the Ukraine. German nationalists who depised the Versailles Treaty ignored the the even harsher Breast-Litovsk Treaty Germany had imposed upon the Russians. That Armistice (1918) forced the Germans to abrogate the Breast-Litovsk Treatty. The situation was very different in 1922 when the Rapallo Treaty was signed. Both countries were defeated nations a pariahs throughout Europe, the Soviets because of Communism and the Germans because of the War. The Rapallo Treaty was a step out of diplomatic isolation for the Soviets. For the Germans it offered a possible way of pressuring the Allies. It also offered the possibility of deceloping and testing new weapons in secrercy. Even this was a advatage to the Soviets as it meant they would have access to advanced German technology. The Allied Control Commission had no way of investigating in the developing Soviet police state. Despite the benefits to the German military, German Foreign Minister Rathenau who negotiated the Treaty was assasinated by right-wing nationalists. Another less well understood impact of the Rapollo Treaty was to boost given the Soviet armaments industry by cooperating with German military and industrial experts. This also had major consequences in World War II. Junkers airplane company built an airplane factory in Russia financed by the Reichwehr. The Germans built other airplane factories near Moscow, and in Samara (Kuibyshev) and Saratow. This was in essence the foundation of the Rusdian aircraft industry. The Reichwehr built a poison gas factory. The Russians in particular had suffered from German poison gas attacks dutring Woirld War I. They had no poison gas plants and could not even equip their soldiers with gas masks. Krupp opened a plant in Russia which produced heavy artillery, especially howitzers. Two curious incidents were to result from the Rapallo Treaty cooperation. Three Russian ships docked in Stettin with about 350,000 of illegal grenades (October 1926). This came to light because the dock workers were suspicious of the Soviet ships. They insisted on seeing the contents. It was thus determined thsat they were an illegal shipment for the Reichwehr. Ironically the German Communists who were highly critical of German militarism rejected thev news reports as they involved a criticismm of the Soviet Union. The other curious development is that years later a Red Army officers involved in the Rapollo cooperation with the Germans were arrested in the Moscow purges (1936). They were accused of working with German officers. This was of course was true, but they had been ordered to do so. [Gumbel] The program was in fact emensly important in the modernization of the soviet armament industry. The resulting trials and executions cost the Red Army some of its most technically competent officers.

Poorly Kept Secret

The Germans wanted to keep these evasion efforts secret. Here they failed. Both French and German newspaper repoters turned up extensive evidence concerning these evasions and their findings were widely published. Information was widely available because of the work of the Allied Control Commission (ACC). In addition, anti-War German politicans and reporters also turned up information (1926-27). The various subterfuges were thus exposed in the German press. As a result, President Hindenburg had to fire Defense Minister Otto Gessler, Reichwehr Commander Hans von Seeckt, and Reichmarine Commander Hans Zenker. After Germany signed the Locarno Pact guaranteeing borders, the Allied withdrew the ACC (1928). In its final report, the ACC pointed out, "Germany has never disarmed, and never had the intention of disarming, and for seven years has done everything in her power to deceive and 'countercontrol' the Commission appointed to control her disarmament." [ACC] The basic difference between the weimar and the NAZI rearmanent program was the size og the program and the enormous defecit spending Hitler authorized to pay for it or more accurateky to pretend to pay for it.

NAZI Rearmament Program

Hitler and the NAZIs planned from the beginning a massive rearmament program. NAZI propaganda promoted the idea that Germany must rearm. [Riegler] The NAZIs did not, however, begin a massive rearmament program immediately upon seizing power in 1933. The Weimar Republic Goverment itself has spomsored secret armanents programs in violation of the Versailles Treaty. The NAZIs did sharply expand weapon reseearch. The German military expanded in secret during 1933-34. Hitler by March 1935, felt suffucently secure to publicize his military. The NAZIs announced that they expansion - which broke the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Europe learned that the Nazis had a modern 2,500 plane Luftwaffe and a Wehrmacht with 300,000 men. Hitler publicly announced that he was insituting a compulsory military conscription and planned to expand the Wehrmacht to 550,000 men. Actual araments production began in earnest in 1936. The NAZIs in 1936 massively doubled armament spending over 1935 levels. It was in 1936 that NAZI arms spending first exceeeded the combined total for transportation and construction spending. The nature of arms spending also increased. NAZI arms spending initially focused on research, development, and capital investment. The NAZIs in 1936 began concentrating on producing actual military equipment. This is one of the least economically beneficial types of government spending.


Allied Control Commission (ACC). Final Report (1928).

Geyer, Michael. Deutsche Rüstungspolitik 1860 bis 1980 (Frankfurt: 1984).

Gumbel. E.J. Disarmament and Clandestine Rearmament under the Weimar Republic. Gumbel was a pacifist who helped expose the German rearmament program. He was as a result charged with high treason by the NAZIs. He fled to France and was almost arrested and extradited after the Germans occupied France, but managed to escaope to America.


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Created: 1:43 PM 7/13/2004
Last updated: 12:21 AM 7/9/2016