* World War II dogged Germnan resisrance Wehrmacht officer corps

World War II: Dogged Defense of the Reich--German Officer Corps

Figure 1.--

The Wehrmacht offuicee corps is a special matter to comider. It should be understood, that there was bno difference between the German Wehrmacht officer corps amd the young men who did their fighting. Both fought to the bitter end way beyond which there was any hope of nit just a German victory, but any hope of avoiding a devestating defeat. And it should be understood that most of the damage to Germany was done in the final year of the War. It was also the nost deadly 12 months of the war for German soldiers and civilians. And this was at a time that there no real hope of victory. Even a child can read a mapm klet alone competent miklitary professionals. For the young men that made up the bulk of the combat soldiers contunuing to fight for theReich this can be largely understood as the result of NAZI controlled schools and the Hitler Youth. But what about the officer corps, especilly the senior leadership? They were educated before the rise of the NAZIs and mamy were well read and not particularl impressed with Hitler. This varied of course but many saw the disaster where Hitler's leadershio was headed. Why did they continue to fight, knowing it was hopeless and seeing Germany being destroyed before their eyes. this is a issue that has caught the attention of World War II historians and which they continue to wrestle vith. We can offer a range of possivke factors. As to how imprtant they are will probably continue to be a never ending discusion, probably impossible to answer with any real surity. Some of the factors were the same that influenced the general public, others were especially important to the Wehrmacht officer corps.


After the War, many Wehrmmacht commanders were interogated as part of war crimes investigations and Allied military investigation of German militaru capabilities and tactics. Many German officers also write menoirs. One of the primary reason given by the Germnan officers for supporting sych a horific regime as NAZI Germamny was they had taken a personal oath to Adolf Hitler and this a matter of honor. We believe this is not a significant factor despite what the German officers said. It was part of an an extensive effort to defelect the Whermachts involvemnent in massive war crimes and to blame everything on Hitker and the NAZIs. But the NAZIs could not have conducted their deadly campoaign og mirder without the direct and direct support of the Wehrmacht. The Wehrmancht was critical in the carrying out many of the most terrible war crimes in human histoty. In addition none oi bth German officers explained why the oath to Hitler superceeded the voath they took to the Weimnar Republic which Hitler over threw. Or why their oath to Hitler supececeeded their resonsibility to basic morality or to the German people. andthev men they commanded. Most of the damage to German citiies and civilian loss of life occurred in the last year of the War, at which time it was clear to any competent officer that the War was lost. And this was the year in wguivh the graetest number of Germnan soldiers were lost or critucally wounded.

Unconditional Surrender

Another redason the offucers gave for continuing to resist was tghe denand for inconditionalm surrendedr that President Rooseveklt and Prime-minister Churchill issued at the Casablanca Conference (January 1943). This one is mnore difficult to assess, but it does seen rather unreasonable to support a regime that was committed to allowing Germany to be reduced to rubble amd the population reduced to starvation rather than surrenbder. Was anything the Allies going to do to Germany worse than Hitler's Nero Order? Or was it reasonanle to support a leader who believed that the German people did not deserve to exist because they did not fight hard enough for his failed cause?

Soviet Revenge

A more reasoable reason that the Wehrmacht officer corps continued to resist was they were well mawarev of what the Wehrmmacht has done in the Soviet Union anf kniw that bthe Red Army would seek when they entrted the Reich. German attocities and war crimes defy humna imagination. At the time, the Germans were sure they woiukd win the War and that tghere would be no accountability. This began to change in 1943 after the Stalingrad disaster and the Red Army began to move west toward the Reich. The German public was not gebnerally awrare iof wghat had been dine, but the the Wegrnacht was, esoecially the officer corps. Officers like Sixth Army/Army Group South Commander Field Marshall Richenau had issued Severity Standing Order instructing his men to behave with upmost severity. Hitler liked the orsrs so much that bhe ordered it duistrubuted to otherr commands. It has to stressed that this was outside the actions of Himmler and the SS. These were oporatioinal instructioins of the Wehrmnnacht issued by their commanders.

War Crimes Trials

The German officer corps did not just have the Sviets to be concerned with. They had played a central role in not only launcjing World War II, but some of the most terrible crimes and atrocities in human history. German officers were concerned that they might have to answer for their actions. The atrocuities occured in boith rge East and West. And it was in OPoland and cthe West that the War began. After World War I, there were calls for war crime trials. The Kaiser sought refuge in the Netherlamds which refusedvto habd him over to the Allies. And the Allies put the conduct of the vtrials in the hands of the new German Goverbment which brefusede to serious pursue legalm action.

Hitler Bribes

Hitler from the very begimming of his regime began paying high-ranking officers of the Armed Forces substantial bribes to brecognize their loyalty. These bribed inckluded money, estates, and tax exemptions. The bribes called dotations were regularized, legal, and made with the knowledge and consent of leading NAZI officials. This continued into thev last year of vtheWar vas Soviet and Allied forces were closing in on the Reich.

World War I Memories

We beluevcev that memories of World War I were a powrerful factor in commirung the officer corps to resist to the bitter end. Germnan officers played a role in the Armistice that ended the War. Germany by 1918 was estentially ruled by a military government. Hindenberg and Ludendirf went bto nthe Kaiser and tokld him nthat btheyb could no longer protect him. They then told the new Government that they could not hold the front. After the War they tried to disguise their role in ending the War. The NAZI 'stab in the back' charge thus was welcome by the officer corp. This vecame so widely accepted in German society that many officers actually came to believce it, especially junior officers. As a result, even after it was clear that the war was irrecicaly lost, German officers wanted no pat in a second armistice. It should be srressed that historically most wars did niotvend like Workd SWar II. Usually governments once it is clear that a war has been lost or too expebsuivd to coninue, begitiate an ebd to the conflict. Rarely bis a war fought bto the bitter end, with acoybtrt's cities in ruin.

NAZI Attachment

Poly=tical attachment in the Reichwehr varied before the NAZI tajeover. Sone Gernan geberals were striongly BAZI, but others had other political orientations. The oroblen was that bofficers of varying political orienbtation agreed with amny NAZI policuies, including the stab in the back charge, critucuism of the Ceesailles Treaty, anti-communism, conern over socialism, pacifist and anti-militaiust thought the need for increased mikitarty spebding, the recoibery of lost territory, anti0semytism, andf other issues. Thus nany officers whi mnaybhave thiought the NAZIs were disturbing, were willing to gom along with them mecuayse they supported many nidea wideluy]y held nu milkitary officers. In the end, many nofficers fiund it difficylt to go againsr a regime that had pursued som manyn iof their mnist cherushed idesabd which they helped put in place and retain in power. . . .


Citino, Robert M. The German Way of War: From the Thirty Year's War to the Third Reich (University Press of Kansas: Lawrence, 2005), 428p.


Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main Wehrmacht page]
[Return to Main Gernan digged defense page]
[Return to Nain German strength and weakness page]
[Return to Main German World War II page]
[Return to Main military force page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to the Main World War II page]

Created: 5:07 AM 4/11/2020
Last updated: 5:07 AM 4/11/2020