*** World War II -- NAZI rearmament Aufrüstung

War and Social Upheaval: World War II --NAZI Rearmament/Aufrüstung

NAZI rearmaent
Figure 1.--The decisive point in Europe's decent into the catrostrophy of World War II was Hitler's move to reinstiture conscription in 1935. Up until this point the Allies had the military capability of stopping Hitler without a major war. Conscription was a clear violation of the Versailles Treaty giving the Allies the legal right to intervene. Here we see Hitler's new conscript Wehrmacht in 1937. Notice the rounded structure (Litfaßsäule / Litfasssäule) behind the soldiers. These were used to display advertisements, posters, and public announcements in Europe and other countries in the years before television.

"German reaemament could gave been prevented without the loss of a single life. It was not time that was lacking." Of course what Chirchill meant was that it was will that was lacking.

-- Winston Churchill

Hitler and the NAZIs planned from the beginning for a massive rearmament program--Aufrüstung. NAZI propaganda promoted the idea that Germany must rearm. The NAZI objectives could in fact only be achieved by war. The NAZIs did not, however, begin a massive rearmament program immediately upon seizing power in 1933. Hitler's first objective was to secure control of Germany and he did not want to precipitate foreign intervention before he was ready. The German military itself has already sponsored secret armament programs during the Weimar era in violation of the Versailles Treaty. The NAZIs thus had a solid foundation upon which to base a revived military. The NAZIs sharply expand weapon research. The German military expanded in secret during 1933-34. Hitler by March 1935, felt sufficiently 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 instituting a compulsory military conscription and planned to expand the Wehrmacht to 550,000 men. Actual armaments production began in earnest in 1936. The NAZIs in 1936 doubled armaments spending over 1935 levels. It was in 1936 that NAZI arms spending first exceeded 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.

Evasion of the Versailles Treaty (1919-33)

The German military had been the most powerful in Europe. The Prussian officer class which had been the backbone of German military leadership was extremely resentful of the limitations imposed by the Treaty. As a result, the Germans from the beginning set out to evade the limitations. Some of these were authorized by the civilian Weimar Government. Others were conducted by the military in secret, both from the Allies and from the Government. Some of these efforts were subterfuges to like non-military names to disguise the purposes of groups and keeping military connections secret. Another ploy was to conduct activities and programs in foreign countries. The German military itself has already sponsored secret armament programs during the Weimar era in violation of the Versailles Treaty. The NAZIs thus had a solid foundation upon which to base a revived military.

NAZI Seizure of Power (1933)

The NAZI's after the July 1932 election were the largest German political party, but did not have a majority in the Reichstag. President Hindenburg refused to appoint Hitler Chancellor and instead turned to Papen. The political situation remain unstable. The newly elected Reichstag in September voted no confidence in the Papen government. The November 1932 Reichstag election results were: NAZI Party 196 seats, Social Democrats 121 seats, The Communist Party 100 seats, and the Center Party 70 seats. The NAZIs lost a few seats, but continued to be the biggest party in the Reichstag. Hitler continued to demand to be appointed Chancellor, Hindenburg refused saying that he said he did not trust Hitler to rule democratically. Hindenburg preferred Papen, but the Army objected. Hindenburg turned to General Kurt von Schleicher who lasted 57 days. Finally Hindenburg, running out of options, turned to Hitler whom he appointed January 30, 1933. Hindenburg attempted to control Hitler by placing Papen as vice-chancellor and surrounding Hitler with moderate ministers who supported Papen. Hitler by carefully selecting his cabinet posts was within days gaining control. To be sure of success, however, he needed a majority in the Reichstag. He insisted on a new election. In the middle of the elections the Reichstag went up in flames on February 27, 1933. A Dutch Communist was blamed. Historians still debate who was responsible. Many blamed the NAZIs, but it appears that neither they or the Communist Party was responsible. [Davidson, pp. 17-22.] Hitler took full advantage of the situation and claimed that the fire was a Communist plot, and persuaded Hindenburg to sign an emergency Law for the Protection of the People and State. The law suspended people's rights and allowed the Nazis to arrest many Communists and others. Fear of Communism gained the NAZIs additional support at the polls. The March 1933 election results were: NAZI Party 288 seats, Social Democrats 120 seats, Communist Party 81 seats, Center Party 73 seats, and Others 85 seats. The NAZIs still did not have a majority. Over half of the voters chose other parties. The Nationalist Party, however, decided to support the NAZIs. Their 53 deputies added to the 288 NAZI deputies provided the slim majority Hitler needed. Hitler immediately put an Enabling Act before the Reichstag and asked the members to vote for it. The Enabling Law (the NAZIs called it the Law for the Removal of Distress from People and Reich) gave Hitler as Chancellor the power to make laws by decree for the next 4 years without Reichstag approval. NAZI SA storm troopers lined the entrance to the Reichstag to intimidate the opposition delegated. Only 94 members Social Democrat deputies (the Communists had been arrested) voted against the Enabling Law. Hitler now had the legal authority to reshape Germany.

Importance of the Military

Hitler and the NAZIs planned from the beginning for a massive rearmament program. NAZI propaganda promoted the idea that Germany must rearm. [Riegler] Military power was a strong component of the ethos that Hitler and other NAZIs desired for Germany. The Versailles limitations on the German military was one of the Versailles Treaty provisions to which the NAZIs objected. Equally important was the simple fact that the NAZI objectives could in fact only be achieved by military force and war. One of Hitler's most impassioned targets in his speeches and in Mein Kampf was the hated Versailles Treaty. " that he would break the "unjust" terms of the Treaty of Versailles. He made no secret of the fact that would undo the Versailles Treaty and rearm Germany. The true were related in that undoing Versailles meant regaining territory from neighboring states, especially Czechoslovakia and Poland, but also Lithuania, Belgium, and France. Even more importantly were the racial aspects of Mein Kampf targeting Jews and Slavs. The Jews were a soft target, but the Slavs were another matter. Hitler spoke of Lebensraum. Here he meant vast tracts of land in Eastern Europe where Germans could pursue the idyllic rural life so admired by the NAZIs. Hitler writes in Mein Kampf that the British naval blockade was an important factor in Germany's defeat in World war I. He saw the Ukraine and other lands in the East as providing the agricultural base and raw materials that would make a naval blockade meaningless. This meant, however, war and not just war with neighboring Poland, but war with the Soviet Union. The Soviets were not like Poland a weak military power, but had a huge military establishment. Hitler did not talk of war after he seized power, but there could be no question among those who assessed his goals that NAZI Germany would wage war.

NAZI Strategy

The NAZIs did not, however, begin a massive rearmament program immediately upon seizing power in 1933. Hitler's first objective was to secure control of Germany and he did not want to precipitate foreign intervention before he was ready. The primary objective was to gain control over state police power and set up concentration camps where Communists and other political opponents could be dealt with. The burning of the Reichstag (February 27) provided the excused needed for Hitler to seize control of Germany. President von Hindenburg signed am emergency decree (February 28). This suspend articles in the Weimar constitution which guaranteed personal liberty, freedom of expression of opinion, freedom of the press, freedom from domiciliary visits, right to hold meetings and form associations, and the privacy, of postal, telegraph, and telephone service. The NAZIs proceeded to arrest all the Communist deputies in the Reichstag and Landtag as well as all Communist civil servants in the Prussian state. This gave Hitler control of the Reichstag and the the ability to imposed dictatorial rule in Germany. The Reichstag passed the Enabling Act gave dictatorial authority to the NAZI Government for 4 years (March 24).He then systematically moved against political opponents.

Luftwaffe Creation (1933-35)

The new Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, soon after taking office appointed one of his closest associates, Herman Göring, as National Commissar for Aviation and former Lufthansa employee, Erhard Milch, to be his deputy. This enabled Göring and Milch not only to coordinate the programs already secretly in place by the German military, but to use the vast new sums approved by Hitler for a new German air force. Soon afterwards, Hitler created the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM - Reich Air Ministry) (March 1933). The RLM was created to develop and produce new aircraft. Its cover was that it was working on civilian aviation. A test site was opened at Rechlin. Hitler looked on Göring with his World War I experience for expertise in aviation. As a result, Göring had absolute control over all aspects of aviation in the Reich. The NAZIs next seized control of the Deutschen Luftsportverband (DVLA--German Air Sport Association) March 23, 1933). It proceeded to absorb all private and national organizations, while retaining its 'sports' title. The RLM secretly took control of all military aviation organizations (May 15, 1933). While not announced at the time, this was in fact the creation of the Luftwaffe. At this time members of the Nationalsozialistisches Fliegerkorps (NSFK--National Socialist Flyers Corps) transferred to the Luftwaffe. As these men were NAZI Party members, this gave the Luftwaffe from its very creation, a NAZI core. While the there was considerable support for the NAZIs in the Heer, the other services did not have a NAZI core. Luftwaffe a strong Nazi ideological base in contrast to the other branches of the German military. Göring despite his leadership post, left the development of the new service to Milch and other subordinates with actual expertise. Führer Adolf Hitler ordered Reichmarshal Herman Göring to formally establish the Luftwaffe (February 26, 1935). The Versailles Treaty was still theoretically in force. Göring announced the existence of the until then secret Luftwaffe (March 10). This must have been carefully choreographed with Hitler in advance. It is unclear why it was Göring who made the announcement. Of course he was the head of the new Luftwaffe, but an announcement of such significance you would think would be made by Hitler. As a violation of the Versailles Treaty, it could have meant Allied intervention. Presumably because Göring made the announcement, Hitler had some room for maneuver if the Allies threatened to intervene, but they did not. This left Hitler free to make an event more important announcement. Shortly after Göring's announcement and following the celebration marking the return of the Saarland to Germany, Hitler announced his the new Luftwaffe to the German public. Surreptitious steps taken by the German military before and after the NAZI takeover made this a less daunting proposition than it might seem. The personnel was largely drawn from the Heer. This had the consequence of creating a tactical support mentality in the new Luftwaffe which would have significant consequences for World War II. (The American and British reinforces had a more strategic vision.) Hitler also announced a new military conscription program. Both were flagrant violations of the Versailles Treaty. This would have justified the Allied reoccupation of Germany. Britain and France took no action beyond perfunctory diplomatic protests. Allied leaders as well as the general public had no stomach for it. In fact Britain, bent on appeasing Hitler, proceeded to reward him with a naval treaty.

Military Research

The NAZIs sharply expand weapon research.

Cabinet Meeting (June 1933)

Even the most superficial reading of Mein Kampf will reveal that Hitler from the very beginning saw war as the central to achieving NAZI goals. NAZI opponents pointed this out, but Hitler denied it. But it was obvious this was what he planned. So within months of seizing power, the cabinet made the fateful decision to massively rearm and expand the German military--Aufrüstung. There is some difference of opinion as to just when this occurred. The most likely point was a cabinet meeting (June 8, 1933). This was the same day that the Government announced the moratorium on debt repayment. The meeting was attended by Reich Chancellor Hitler, Finance Minister Schacht (a Nuremberg defendant), Defense Minister Bloomberg. Göring (a Nuremberg defendant), and Air Ministry Secretary of State Milch. It was here that the financial package to pay for the expansion was decided. Schacht was thus the key participant because he had to approve the financial packet and arrange the financing. It was a serious decision as German finances at the time were weak and the spending package was enormous--35 billion Reichmarks over 8 years. This was 4.4 billion Reichmarks annually. The scale of the expansion can be seen in the simple fact that during the Weimar Republic, military spending never even approached 1.0 billion Reichmarks. German GNP had declined to 43 billion Reichmarks (1933). This meant Hitler was planning to devote 10 percent of national income to a rearmament program. (The percentage burden would decline somewhat as the German economy declined from Depression levels.) [Tooze, pp. 33-34.] It was spending three to four times that of the British and French in proportional terms and even more than that of the United states. Only Japan and the Soviet Union comparable levels of military spending. The decision reached of course was not announced as it was a flagrant violation of the Versailles Treaty. The only surviving record of the meeting is a 1938 Wehrmacht memorandum. Only Göring and Schacht survived the War and neither was anxious to describe their participation in the meeting that could lead directly to World War II.

Financing Rearmament

Finance Minister Hjalmar Schacht continued some of the programs of the previous government as well as introduced a variety of novel schemes to address both the Depression and to finance the massive rearmament program. Schacht was not a NAZI, but was a fervent German nationalist. A key part of Schacht's financing program was MEFO. The large amount of funds needed were obtained through MEFO which issued bills--essentially IOUs. The MEFO bills were credit notes issued by the Government. As MEFO bills were not publicly announced as government borrowing, the level of government indebtedness was not widely understood by the financial community. This allowed the NAZIs to maintain the exchange rate of the Reich Mark far above that at which would have been possible had the level of Reich indebtedness been know. Had the Reich Mark fallen it would have seriously impaired Hitler's rearmament program, increasing the costs of the raw materials needed for weapons manufacture as well as destabilizing the German economy. It was Schacht's financial wizardry that made NAZI rearmament possible. Hitler would eventually dismiss him. Schacht once the Reich had a military force capable of defending Germany, Schacht began demanding more conventional fiscal policies and reductions in the armaments program to prevent the inevitable economic collapse. Hitler then dismissed and eased him out of Government. (That collapse never came because after launching the war, the Wehrmacht achieved military victories that allowed the Germans to exploit the economies of occupied countries.)

Geneva Disarmament Conference (October 1933)

Hitler employed a clever tactic at the Geneva Disarmament Conference. He offered a plan which could be justified within Germany as quite reasonable. He proposed that the French should disarm to the level allowed Germany by the Versailles Treaty or that Germany should be allowed to rearm to the level of the French Army. When the French rejected the proposal, Hitler withdrew from the conference (October 14). Of course Hitler knew that the French would reject the proposal, but NAZI propaganda could paint the French as responsible for breaking up the conference.

Secret Military Expansion (1933-34)

The German military expanded in secret during 1933-34. Hitler ordered the Reichwehr to begin planning to treble the size of the army permitted by the Versailles Treaty. This would nominally bring the army to 300,000 men. He then ordered the Air Ministry to plan to for a 1,000 plane air force. Other steps were taken to lay the foundation for an expanded military like buildings barracks.

Night of the Long Knives (1934)

With the death of Hindenburg, the only force left in Germany threatening Hitler and the NAZIs was the Reichwehr. Army officers were split on Hitler. Officers were highly nationalistic and this aspect of the NAZIs appealed to many. Others were alienated by the brutality and excesses of the NAZIs. The aristocratic Prussian officer corps also looked down on the working-class origins of much of the SA. The key issue was the NAZI para-military Sturmarbeitelung (SA - Storm Troopers). This was a direct threat to the Reichwehr. And SA leader Ernst Röhm did actually intend to turn the SA into a real army. The SA had played a major role in the rise of the NAZIs and Röhm was among Hitler's closest associates. He was also as commander of the SA a threat to Hitler's control of the NAZI Party. It was a difficult decision for Hitler and apparently forged documents by Himmler and Heydrich finally convinced Hitler that eliminating Röhm and the independence of the SA was necessary. The SS under Himmler and Heydrich struck (June 30, 1934). The action became known as the “Night of Long Knives,” The SS arrested Röhm and other key SA leaders were summoned to a villa outside Berlin, where they were arrested. Röhm was taken to prison, where he was beaten and ordered to confess. He refused both to confess or commit suicide. He was then shot. The SS used the opportunity to eliminate several other political opponents. The elimination of Röhm and the removal of the SA as a serious competitor was enough to gain the support of the Army which became the new German Wehrmacht. The officers and men of the Wehrmacht then swore personal loyalty to Adolf Hitler as Führer of the German Reich.

Saarland Plebiscite (January 1935)

The Saar was a small territory in southwestern Germany with a population of about 800,000 people in 1933. It is located in southwestern Germany and is bounded by France on the south, Luxembourg in the west, and the German Rhineland-Palatinate on the north and east. The capital is Saarbrücken, a city on the Saar River. The Saarland was not a region that had any notable cohesion or historical role before World War I. The population was largely German-speaking Catholics. The region is named after the Saar River which rises in the French Vosges Mountains and is located west of the Rhine. Important coal mines are located in the Saarland and is heavily industrialized. After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles made the Saarland an autonomous territory to be administered by France until 1935 when a plebiscite would determine its final status. This reflected the general principle of national self-determination employed by the Allies after the War. The Versailles and other treaties which ended the War did not determine the final disposition of several territories. This was left to a series of plebe cites. The population in the Saarland voted in a plebiscite to rejoin Germany which at the time meant NAZI Germany (January 1935). The vote probably reflected a the population's desire to rejoin Germany and not a referendum on the NAZIs. It is likely that the vote would have gone to rejoin Germany regardless of the government in Berlin. One author describes it as a choice for "ethno-unification". The Saarlanders were the first German speakers to rejoin Reich under NAZI rule. The whole process was totally legal under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Hitler who at the time was attempting to establish an image as a moderate leader, took the opportunity to renounce any further claims on France (January 1934).

Decision to Go Public (March 1935)

It was in March 1935 when Hitler finally decided to make public his not very well-concealed rearmament program (March 16). Hitler from the very beginning of his political career talked about restoring Germany's greatness. And this inevitably meant rebuilding the military. And this begun soon after he seized power, albeit secretly. At the beginning when Hitler still fell weak, he carefully shielded his NAZI regime professions of peaceful intentions and conciliatory treaties (the Vatican Concordat in 1933 and a non-aggression pact with Poland in 1934). As his position became more solidified he began to take bolder steps. Hitler since seizing power had worked closely with the the military to rearm in violation of the Versailles Peace Treaty. Suddenly Hitler decided to announce the rearmament program that he had been keeping secret to both the domestic population and the international community. He was establishing military conscription, enlarging the country's army to 36 divisions, and creating an air force. He justified the decision based on the actions of other countries. Hitler said he was responding to the refusal of other European powers to disarm. It was true that the Soviet Union had a massive military. The British and French were expanding military preparations, but largely in response to Germany's secret rearmament program. Britain announced an increase in armaments. The French increased conscription from 1 to 2 years, citing a shortage of draft age young men. We are not sure precisely why he picked this time. There are several factors that probably played into his decision. By 1935 the dimensions of the program were becoming more difficult to keep secret. Stalin knew about it and the Allies (Britain and France) were becoming increasing aware. In addition the domestic position had been defeated and the military placated. The NAZI police state well established. Hitler was elated with his success in the Saarland and had just spoken at Saarbrücken (March 1). Thus he felt secure enough to take this important step. His exultation seems to have been a factor in public announcement concerning the until then secret rearmament program. He decided to made two major announcements, both fundamental violations of the Versailles Treaty. We do not know to what extent he discussed this decision with his intimates. He must have discussed it with Göring because the Reich Marshal made the first public announcement. But Hitler's inclination was to make such decisions on his own rather than seeking guidance from others, almost all of whom he felt less capable. He might seek advise on how to get his decisions implemented, but not as to what he should do.

The Luftwaffe (March 1935)

Reichmashal Göring announced the existence of the until then secret Luftwaffe (March 10), a major violation of the Versailles Treaty. Göring must have been discussed with Hitler in advance. It is unclear why it was Göring who made the announcement. Of course he was the head of the Luftwaffe, but an announcement of such significance you would think would be made by Hitler. As a violation of the Versailles Treaty, it could have meant Allied intervention. Presumably because Göring made the announcement, Hitler had some room for maneuver if the Allies threatened to intervene, but they did not. This left Hitler free to make an event more important announcement.

Reintroducing Conscription (March 1935)

German Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler announced the existence of the German Air Force--the Luftwaffe (March 15, 1935). The Luftwaffe already had 2,500 planes--a major force. This was a direct violation of one of the basic restrictions in the the Versailles Treaty. He also announced the reintroduction of military conscription for all able bodied men who had reached 19 years of age. . This was an even more serious violation than the creation of the Luftwaffe. Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick drafted the conscription law. (Frick also help draft the Enabling Act and the Nuremberg Laws ans was one of the IMT Nuremberg defendants.) The Wehrmacht was to be expanded to 0.5 million men--five times that allowed by the Versailles Treaty. This meant that Hitler was scrapping the Versailles Peace Treaty. That of course was only the beginning. Germany was preparing to build a 36-division Army. Germany’s national defense force during the Weimar Era was the Reichswehr. The military was in the Conscription Law renamed the Wehrmacht. The new Wehrmacht consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air force). The NAZIs after the announcement staged a large military parade the following day in Berlin. Defense Minister General Werner von Blomberg announced that Germany would now be able to take its rightful place among nations again. Hitler followed his consistent approach of speaking about how committed Germany was to peace. [Evans, p. 627.] In addition to laying the foundation for a massive military force, conscription also created jobs, helping to solve the serious unemployment problem in Germany at the time Hitler seized power. This along with expanded orders for arms and equipment, various jobs programs like the RAD, dismissals of women and Jews (not counted in the unemployment statistics) was ending the Depression era unemployment problem in Germany.

Turning Point

Britain, France, Italy, and the League of Nations all issued statements condemning Hitler's announcement that Germany was rearming. They all, however, limited themselves to verbal protests. No sanctions were imposed against the Reich. The reinstitution of conscription in 1935 was a basic turning point in the move toward World War II. Many after the War would ask if Hitler could have been stopped and if so when. Historians after the War debated at what point should the democracies have intervened and stopped Hitler. Surely the time would have been the reintroduction of conscription, the obvious scrapping of the Versailles Treaty. Had they done so, millions of lives would have been saved. Yet at the time, an Allied response would have been labeled by many as war mongering and aggression. Many at the time had begun to argue that the Versailles Treaty was unjust and Hitler's was just exerting Germany's just rights. This included many pacifists and peace advocates. Certainly he could have been stopped had the international community had the will to do so. Conscription was the turning point. Germany could not launch aggressive war with a small army. Conscription gave Hitler the ability to build the large army he so desired. Hitler's move to reinstitute conscription was necessary if he was to wage war. Before this the Allies could have intervened. After conscription and the expansion of the Wehrmacht, intervention would mean another major war. This was the turning point in German rearmament and Hitler's plan to build the vehicle for his military aggressions. Up until this point the Allies had the military capability of stopping Hitler without a major war. Conscription was a clear violation of the Versailles Treaty giving the Allies the legal right to intervene. Even a cursory read of Mein Kampf clearly indicated that Hitler meant war. Lebensraum in the East could only be achieved through war. Both Britain and France chose to accept Hitler's moderate posturing and ignore both his writings and many belligerent statements during his rise to power. The only country with an army capable of intervening was France. Here the public's distaste for military action was a powerful factor. The French reaction was to continue its defensive defensive military policy based on the Maginot Line. This was a vast and hugely expensive series of forts and strong points running along the French-German border, but ominously ending at the Belgian frontier.

Stresa Front (April 1935)

The Allies (England, France, Italy) following Hitler's public announcement that he was resuming conscription, declared the Stresa Front to defend the boundary agreements of the 1925 Locarno Pact (April 11). It was widely know that Germany was secretly rearming. The announcement of conscription meant that Germany was openly rearming and no longer to make any attempt to keep in secret. French prime minister Pierre Laval, British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald, and Italian prime minister Benito Mussolini met at Stresa, Italy on the shores of Lake Maggiore (April 11, 1935). The Front was a public relations effort to oppose Adolf Hitler and his rapid expansion of the expanding German military. The three leaders committed to resisting any changes to the World War I treaties ending World War I. Hitler's actions were in violation the Treaty of Versailles, the peace treaty which ended World War I. It was from the beginning a weak effort. There was no real effort to match Germany's massive rearmament program. It was Britain's last serious attempt to confront Hitler. And within a few weeks it was followed by an adoption of the policy of appeasement. The British decided to sign a naval agreement with Germany which accepted German violation of the Versailles treaty (June 1935). Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia (October 1935) put an end to even this weak effort. France and Britain criticized the invasion, but declined to take any real action hoping to retain the alliance with Italy. An insulted Mussolini, however, responded to Hitler's offer of friendship. The Stresa Front was dissolved even before it had a chance to get started.

Franco-Soviet Alliance (May 1935)

France and the Soviet Union signed an alliance (May 2), 1935). The target was a rearming Germany. The French and Soviet Governments began negotiation a Non-Aggression Pact (1931) even before Hitler seized power. Despite the political differences (a Communist Russian Government and a conservative French Government), it was ratified about the same time Hitler became Reich chancellor (1933). Two years later after Hitler made German remilitarization public, a military alliance was signed May 1935). The Treaty was negotiated by conservative nationalist Barthou and signed by ant-Soviet Laval. The rising fear of NAZI Germany explains the conservative willingness to deal with the Soviets. [Scott] The French of course were thinking about World War I when their alliance with Tsarist Russia prevented the Germans from massing the full strength of their army for the attack on France through Belgium. It us generally agreed that the German defeat in World War I was due to the French-German alliance which forced the Germans to fight a two-front War. The French hoped that this same possibility would dissuade Hitler from launching another war. The Soviets had the same history in mind. What the French dds not calculate, however, is that the appeasement policy taking hold in Britain and France would raise alarms in Moscow and in Stalin's paranoid mind. He would come to think that France was no real ally and would sit behind the Maginot Line while the Germans and Soviets fought it out to the death.

Hitler Projects Moderation

Hitler after taking the major steps preparing for war (the Luftwaffe and Conscription), however, he continued to project a moderate image that he had adopted upon becoming Reich Chancellor (1933). He assured the Allies and the German people that he desired only peace. He knew that this was just what peace groups in Britain and France wanted to hear. He addressed the Reichstag in Berlin and projected both moderation and conciliation. He declared, "Germany wants peace. .... None of us means to threaten anybody," He then presented a 13 point peace program with a series of promises. He got what he wanted--the ability to build a powerful modern military. These promises cost him nothing. Not only were they well received in Germany where most people had no desire for war, but also among the peace groups in the West and politicians who were terrified with the possibility of another war. He even assured Britain and France that Germany will respect all other provisions of the Treaty of Versailles including the demilitarization of the Rhineland. He assured the Allies, "Germany is ready to cooperate in a collective system for safeguarding European peace; and the German government is ready in principle to conclude pacts of non-aggression."

Anglo-German Naval Treaty (June 1935)

Rather than standing up to Hitler, the British decided on a policy of appeasement. The British without consulting the French rewarded him for scrapping the Versailles Treaty by signing a naval which allowed him to expand the German Navy. The new British government led by recently-elected Primeminister Stanly Baldwin and Foreign Minister Samuel Hoare decided to negotiate with Hitler rather than confront him. One wonders why the British thought that having violated one treaty, he could be relied to respect another. Presumably the thought process was that his government had not signed the Versailles Treaty and at least the treaty imposed limits on naval construction. The Versailles Treaty had placed narrow limits on the German Navy (no submarines and only six warships over 10,000 tons). British and German negotiators signed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement (June 18, 1935). The Treaty permitted Germany to have one third of the tonnage of the Riyal Navy’s surface fleet (the largest in the world at this time) and an equal tonnage of submarines. The Royal Navy at the time assumed that submarines were no longer a threat because of the invention of SONAR (ASDEC). This was a almost fatal mistake. It was Admiral Dönitz's U-boats that almost knocked Britain out of the War before British, Canadian, and American counter measures were developed and deployed. The principle reason the Germans failed, however, was Germany's limited industrial capacity and the decision of Hitler and the Navy High Command to devote the limited resources allocated to the Navy for large, impressive surface ships.

French Failure

There was no real coordination between Britain and France. The British with the Anglo-German Naval treaty began a policy of appeasement. They did not even bother to consult with France. The french attempted at first to pursue a strong independent policy of resisting the Germans, but it was doomed to failure. Before German rearmament the French Army could have intervened in Germany. The French Army had been the bulwark on the western front during world war I and in 1935 was the strongest army in Europe. Rearmament rapidly changed this. And the French actions to restrain the Germany quickly evaporated. Anti-Communists in the French Government refused to allow meetings between the Soviet and French General Staffs to coordinate military actions. In the East the Poles and Romanians refused to endorse arrangements for Soviet forces to move west in case of German aggression The German reoccupation of the Rhineland had significant adverse consequences for France. Once the Germans remilitarized the Rhineland, there was no way for the French Army to come to the aid of countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. As a result, the Little Entante would collapse. Other events such as the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and the Spanish Civil war further weakened the French position. France as Germany rearmed was thus left with no option but to follow Britain and its determination to appease Hitler. Allied weakness much have been a factor in King Leopold III's decision to become neutral (October 1936). He announced that Belgium would remain neutral in the event of another European war, ignoring how neutrality had failed to protect Belgium in World war I. He called it an Independent Policy (Politique d'Indépendance). The Belgian Government as part of its commitment to neutrality left the Locarno Treaty, repudiating the 1920 defense pact with France. and sought and received a guarantee of neutrality from NAZI Germany (1937). The result was to leave France's northern defense wide open as their Maginot Line stopped at th Belgian border.

Nuremberg Party Rally: The Rally of Freedom (September 1935)

German Führer Adolf Hitler commonly used the annual Nuremberg NAZI Party Rallies (Reichsparteitag) to make important announcements. The Party Rallies are sometimes call conventions or congresses, but this seems a misnomer as the assembled party members did not debate policy, but were there to hear what the leadership told them about Party policy which in 1933 became government policy. The 1935 Party Congress was particularly important. Hitler had already taken major steps earlier in the year. after making Germany's secret armament program public and reinstituting conscription (a major violation of the Versailles Treaty). The 1935 Party Rally was called the Rally for Freedom (Reichsparteitag der Freiheit). Here 'Freedom' referred to the reintroduced of conscription (compulsory military service) and German 'liberation' from the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler also used the Rally to put the new Wehrmacht on display to the public. He also announced three new laws (September 15). Leni Riefenstahl used the occasion to shot one of her films at the rally, "Tag der Freiheit: Unsere Wehrmacht". Hitler then announced three new laws which he decreed. The first was the Flag Law which replaced the Weimar red, black, and yellow banner with the red flag containing a white circle and black swastika device. Hitler also announced two other new laws that were to be the cornerstones of German racist policies that came to define the Third Reich and laid the legal foundation for the suppression of Jews and other non-Aryans. These decrees became known as the Nuremberg Race Laws. Such decrees in NAZI Germany had the force of law.

Italian Invasion of Ethiopia (October 1935)

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini despite the shared Fascist ideology was not an immediate ally with Hitler. He was concerned that Hitler would demand the return of the South Tyrol, an ethnic German Alpine province that had been a part of southern Austria granted to Italy after World War I. One of Hitler's major themes even before becoming Chancellor was the recovery of German territory and people separated from the Reich by the World War I settlement. Mussolini was as a result concerned that Hitler would demand the South Tyrol. Mussolini even moved troops to the Austrian border when it looked like NAZIs in Austria might seize control. The Italian invasion of Ethiopia changed the situation. Mussolini was incensed when Britain and France criticized his invasion of Ethiopia and even took it to the League of Nation. Hitler used the occasion to break Italy away from the association with Britain and France. It was the first step in forming what would become the World War II Axis.

Armament Production

Actual armaments production began in earnest in 1936. The NAZIs in 1936 doubled spending over 1935 levels. It was in 1936 that NAZI arms spending first exceeded 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.

Remilitarization of the Rhineland (March 1936)

Hitler announced to the Reichstag that as he spoke, the first German troops were crossing the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne March 7). This was the beginning of the remilitarization of Rhineland. The Rhineland had been permanently demilitarized under the terms of the Versailles Peace Treaty ending World War I. This was one of the restrictions that Hitler railed against in his speeches. The situation in the Rhineland was different than in Saarland. German authorities were in control of the Saarland, Germany was simply not allowed to militarize it. Hitler's developing relationship with Mussolini by 1936 had ensured that Italy would not object. By 1936 the question was what France would do. The French agreement with the Soviets in 1936 gave Hitler a pretext for action. This allowed Hitler the ability to appeal to the anti-Communist forces in Britain and France to denounce the Locarno Pact. Hitler had reason to believe that the French would not react. [Davidson, p. 131.] The Wehrmacht was ordered to march into the Rhineland March 7, 1936). The Wehrmacht force sent into the Rhineland was a weak one. They were under orders to withdraw if the British and French responded militarily. A military response from Britain and France could have dramatically changed 20th century history. German at the time did not have the capability of waging a major war. And there was Poland and Czechoslovakia in the east if the Allies struck in the west. Hitler had gambled nd was proven right. Neither France or Britain reacted with force. Many in both countries, especially pacifist spokespersons, charged that the Versailles Treaty was unfair to Germany. They merely submitted diplomatic protests. This was Hitler's second flagrant violation of the Versailles Treaty. The first was the reintroduction of conscription. Of course he had already begun the secret rearmament program which was a violation of the Treaty and details on the rearmament program became apparent in 1936. Perhaps the major outcome of Hitler's gamble was the immense prestige it brought him domestically. This was just one of many pledges Hitler made to the Allies that he subsequently broke.

Military Building Program

Hitler began a military expansion program upon becoming Chancellor (January 1933). At first it was fairly limited and had to be to some extent concealed because of the Versailles Treaty limitations. The reintroduction of conscription and the creation of the Luftwaffe changed this and large-scale military spending and industrial production rapidly created a massive military. After 1935 the only constraints on military expansion was the capacity of German industry and the foreign exchange needed to import strategic materials. The Wehrmacht was given the bulk of the resources needed to build artillery and Panzers as well as other arms and equipment. Important resources wee also devoted to the new Luftwaffe, enough to create the most powerful air force in the world. Only limited resources wee made available to the German Navy which did not particularly interest Hitler. Although the Anglo-German Naval Treaty (935) opened the way for Germany to have U-boats, most of the limited resources went to the surface fleet.

Central Figures

The central figure in German rearmament was of course Adolf Hitler. Upon becoming Chancellor he immediately began the rearmament process and authorized enormous funding for arms production (1933). A problem for German arms production was Hitler's tendency to micro manage. This would continue throughout the NAZI era. [Tooze] His orders and changing priorities adversely affected arms production because it introduced uncertainties into the system. The companies involved were this faced with major changes in financing and the availability of raw materials. But the once certainty under Hitler was the huge flow of Government orders and funding. The initial problem was that Germany did not have the money for all this spending. Here Hjalmar Schacht solved the problem. As President of the Central Bank (Reichsbank) 1933–1939 and as Minister of Economics (August 1934 – November 1937). Schacht was a financial genius and devised a system of borrowing huge sums, disguising the vast amounts being borrowed so that Reich finances would not be affected by level of borrowing. He was, however, appalled by the massive and growing debt. He was in favor of rearmament and complained to Hitler when it became obvious that Hitler was not only rearming, but preparing for war. As a result, Hitler removed him from office. He was arrested by the Gestapo (1944), but survived the War. Another key figure was, Herman Göring one of Hitler's key cronies who unlike Schacht knew where Hitler was going from the very beginning. Hitler placed him in charge of the Economy to be managed through the Four Year Plan. Also unlike Schacht, Göring knew nothing about economics, he was a fighter pilot. Göring was not an armaments minister, but as the primary economic goal was rearmament, Göring played an important role in the process. The vast sums being spent transformed the German military into the most powerful in the world. Göring helped prepare Germany for a short sharp war, he did nothing, however, to reform the chaotic NAZI economy in to one that could meet the needs of a lengthy war of attrition. Hitler and Göring believed that capitalism was economic anarchy and that Government management would create a more efficient system. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, even if they were competent. And of course neither had the foggiest idea about economics and anything but competent. Hitler did not have an Armaments Minister, until after the outbreak of the War. While not having that title Gen. Karl Heinrich Emil Becker was a German weapons engineer and head of the Army Ordnance Office. He was a highly competent officer with a strong scientific background and close ties to the scientific community. Becker was interested, for example, in a nuclear program. (Hitler was not, seeing it as Jewish Physics.) Becker played a major role in the rearmament program. Problems began with the outbreak of the War. Hitler was dissatisfied with the performance of the arms industry and began criticizing Becker and not the economic system that he and Göring created. Becker committed suicide (April 1940). He may have been in Gestapo custody at the time. Hitler created a new cabinet position--the Ministry of Armaments (March 1940). The first minister was Fritz Todt, a fervent NAZI and construction engineer who Hitler had put in charge of the Autobahn program. Todt faced the same problems that Becker had faced the chaotic NAZI economy. He did nothing to transform the system, but did his best within the NAZI system. With the failure of Barbarossa it was clear Germany faced another war of attrition (December 1941), Todt saw that Germany was faced with a grueling war of attrition it could not win and told Hitler. That was not what Hitler wanted to hear. Shortly after Todt was killed when his plane crashed after an unpleasant meeting with Hitler (February 1942). Hitler unexpectedly chose his architect, Albert Speer, as his new Armaments Minister. Speer also has no economics training, but did attempt to transform the NAZI economics system, running into trouble with many Party officials, most prominently Göring, Himmler, and Bormann, primarily because his reforms adversely affected their bureaucratic empires. Speer's reforms did, however, result in some successes, most prominently in tank and aircraft production. The inherent inefficiencies of the NAZI economy and the Allied strategic bombing campaign meant that Germany could not compete with the Allies in arms production.


Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (University of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Evans, Richard J. The Third Reich in Power (Penguin: New York, 2005), 941p.

Riegler, Hans, Heer, Flotte und Luftwaffe. Wehrpolitisches Taschenbuch (Berlin: Verlag für vaterländische Literatur, 1935).

Scott, William Evans. Alliance Against Hitler: The Origins of the Franco-Soviet Pact (Duke University Press: Durham University Press, 1962), 266p.

Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the NAZI Economy (Penguin Books: Mew York, 2007), 800p.


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