The Officers: Backbone of the Army

Part of the St Antony’s Series book series


This chapter examines the biographies of the officers of the three divisions selected for our study. The junior officers were the backbone of the German army, and served as the connecting link between the high command of the Wehrmacht and the political leadership of the Reich on the one hand, and the rank-and-file on the other. They transmitted the orders of the generals to the troops and at the same time acted as their educators and instructors in both military and ideological matters; they also reported to their superiors on the conduct, reliability and morale of the soldiers. It is therefore of crucial importance to enhance our knowledge regarding this relatively unknown stratum of the military hierarchy.


Middle Class Party Member Lower Middle Class Officer Corps Weimar Republic 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    R. Absolon, ‘Das Offizierkorps des Deutschen Heeres, 1935–45’, in II. II. Hofmann (ed.), Das deutsche Offizierkorps, 1860–1960 (Bop-pard am Rhein, 1980) pp. 247–50, 253; see tables in van Crefeld, Fighting Power, pp. 155–7, including comparison to First World War.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Special thanks arc clue to Mr John Ridge of the Department of Social and Administrative Studies at Oxford University for greatly assisting me with the computer analysis. I have also learned a great deal from R. Floucl, An Introduction to Quantitative Methods for Historians (London, 1973).Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    M. Kitchen, The German Officer Corps, (London, 1968) p. 22; D. Bald, Der deutsche Generalstab (München, 1977) pp. 108, 120. On attempts to retain the high proportion of noble officers before the First World War, see V. R. Bcrghahn, Germany and the Approach of War in 1914, 4th edn (London, 1979) pp.6–9; G. A. Craig, ‘Portrait of a Political General’, POQ, LXVI (1951) 1–36.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    R. Absolon, Die Personnelle Ergiinzung der Wehrmacht im Frieden und im Kriege (Bundesarchiv-Zentralnachweisstelle, 1972) pp. 5, 8; and his Wehrgesetz und Wehrdienst (Boppard am Rhein, 1960) pp. 78–93, 108–11, 151–64, 173–83, 186–202; 223–41, 245–52; Deist, Das Deutsche Reich, pp. 400–49. See also E. W. Bennet, German Rearmament and the West (Princeton: N.J., 1979); M. Geyer, Aufrüstung oder Sicherheit (Wiesbaden, 1980). On the difficulties of dividing German society into ‘classes’ and the problem of overlapping categories, see M. H. Kater, The Nazi Parly (Cambridge, Mass., 1983) pp. 1–16. Figures of officers’ background during Weimar are taken from Bald, Generalstab, pp. 121–3. The nobility comprised only 0.14 per cent of the population; on the other hand, in 1930, 95 per cent of the officers came from social strata which had been considered eligible before 1914. See Carsten, Reichswehr and Politics, pp. 214–16.Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    On promotion and the ‘Offizierlaufbahn’, see ibid., pp. 254–60; reserve officers could not be promoted above the rank of major, according to R. Absolon, Die Wehrmacht im Dritten Reich (Boppard am Rhein, 1975) III. 291–3; also see G. Papke, ‘Offizierkorps und Anciennitat’, in H. Meier-Welcker (ed.), Untersuchungcn zur Geschichte des Offizierkorps (Stuttgart, 1962) pp. 202–6; M. Messerschmidt, ‘Werden und Prägung des preussischen Offizierkorps’, in Militärgcschichtlichcs Forschungsamt (eds), Offiziere im Bild von Dokumenten (Stuttgart, 1964) pp. 97–104; on promotion in the Reichswehr, see II. J. Gordon (Jr), The Reichswehr and the German Republic (Princeton; N.J., 1957) pp. 169–216.Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    T. Geiger, Die Soziale Schichtung des Deutschen Volkes, 2nd edn (Stuttgart, 1967) pp. 20–1. It is also interesting to point out that the GD had the lowest number of Nazi officers; this division was mistakenly mentioned by some historians as an SS formation. See Seaton, Russo-German War, p. 349 n. 27; R. A. Beaumont, Military Elites (London, 1976) p. 73.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    D. Schoenbaum, Hitter’s Social Revolution (London, 1967) pp. 71–2. The occupations are; white collar, independent, civil servants including teachers, farmers and students. Further discussed later in this chapter. Also see note 39 below.Google Scholar
  8. 20.
    German generals were, as has been conclusively shown, always involved in politics, however ‘überparteilich’; they claimed to be. See, apart from works quoted earlier, also M. Geyer, ‘Professionals and Junkers: German Rearmament and Politics in the Weimar Republic’, in R. Bessel and E. J. Fcuchtwanger (eds), Social Changes and Political Development in Weimar Germany (London, 1981) pp. 77–133; F. L. Carsten, ‘Germany: From ScharEnhorst to Schleicher: the Prussian Officer Corps in Polities’, in M. Howard (ed.) Soldiers and Governments (London, 1957); G. Ritter, The Sword and the Sceptre (London, 1972) I-IV.Google Scholar
  9. 21.
    P. H. Merkl, The Making of a Stormtrooper (Princeton: N.J., 1980) p. 156; T. Abel, Why Hitler Came into Power (New York, 1938) p. 312. Also T. Segev, ‘From Dachau to Dergen-Belsen: Concentration Camp Commanders’, Zmanim, II (Hebrew, 1981).Google Scholar
  10. 22.
    Krausnick/Wilhelm, Die Truppe, pp. 644–6; infiltration of Nazis into the universities of Baden is described in J. H. Grill, The Nazi Movement in Baden (Chapel Hill: North Carolina, 1983) pp. 217–2; also see G. C. Boehnert, ‘The Third Reich and the Problem of “Social Revolution” ’, in V. R. Berghahn and M. Kitchen (eds), Germany in the Age of Total War (London, 1981) pp. 203–17; K. D. Bracher, The German Dictatorship (New York, 1970) pp. 266–72; G. A. Craig, Germany (New York, 1978) pp. 638–72; G. J. Giles, ‘The Rise of the National Socialist Students’ Association’, in P. D. Stachura (ed), The Shaping of the Nazi State (London, 1978) pp. 160–85; F. Meineckc, The German Catastrophe (Boston, 1963) pp. 43–6; W. Zorn, ‘Student Politics in the Weimar Republic’, JCH, V (1970) 128–44.Google Scholar
  11. 23.
    Our findings certainly correspond with those of another historian who has recently pointed out ‘the consistency of elite over-representation in the Nazi party from 1919 to 1945’. See Kater, The Nazi Party, p. 237.Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    See further on this subject E. Y. Hartshorne (Jr), The German Universities and National Socialism (Cambridge, Mass., 1937); M. H. Kater, Studentenscliaft and Rechtsradikalismus in Deutschland (Hamburg, 1975), and his ‘The Work Student’, JCH, X (1975) 71–94; H. P. Bleuel and E. Klinnert, Deutsche Studenten atf clem Weg ins Dritte Reich (Gütersloh, 1967).Google Scholar
  13. 25.
    D. Orlow, The History of the Nazi Party (Newton Abbot: Pittsburgh, 1973) II. 48, 66, 136–8, 202–8, 253; in 1941–3 youngsters preferred to become officers in the Waffen SS rather than joining the party (p. 342). On the ‘Vorzeitig dienende Freiwillige’, see Absolon, Persohelle Erganzung, p. 14.Google Scholar
  14. 26.
    As Giles and Grill, quoted above, point out, apathy was spreading among students; this did not mean that they opposed the regime ideologically, but rather that they reacted to the institutionalisation of the Weltanschauung. Instances of real resistance among students were rare. See K-II. Jahnke, Weisse Rose contra Hakenkreuz (Frankfurt/M., 1969) and his Entscheidungen (Frankfurt/M., 1970); I. Scholl, Die Weisse Rose, 3rd edn (Frankfurt/M., 1952). Stauffenberg, the bravest of the ‘Putschists’ of 1944, seems to have begun his relationship with the Nazis as an enthusiastic supporter. Sec II. Foertsch, Schuld und Verhängnis (Stuttgart, 1951) pp. 22, 181–5.Google Scholar
  15. 28.
    D. Bald, Vom Kaiserheer zur Dundeswehr (Frankfurt/M., 1981) p. 14; see also his Der deulsche Offizier (Münclten, 1982); I. Wclcker and F. F. Zelnika, Qualifikalion zum Offizier? (Frankfurt/M., 1982) p. 113; C. Bamett, ‘The Education of Military Elites’, JCH, II (1967) 15–35.Google Scholar
  16. 29.
    Bald, Kaiserheer, p. 21: in 1899, 77 per cent of the officers came from the ‘erwünschte’. See also Demeter, Officer Corps, pp. 103–6; Carsten, Reichswehr, pp. 216–7; on Seeckt, sec H. Mcier-Wclcker, Seeckl (Frankfurt/M., 1967) and F. v. Rabenau, Hans von Seeckt (Leipzig, 1938).Google Scholar
  17. 30.
    On Hitler’s order regarding the promotion of officers of 4.11.1942, see Papke, Offizierkorps, pp. 205–6; van Crefeld, Fighting Power, p. 143; Demeter, Officer Corps, pp. 13, 81.Google Scholar
  18. 31.
    Bald, Kaiserheer, pp. 41–3.Google Scholar
  19. 32.
    Ibid., pp. 43–4; see also D. Bald, Die Soziale Attswahl des Militärs (transcript of a lecture, given me by the author, n.d.) pp. 9–10; the Abitur was given up as a requirement for officer aspirants by 1942; in July 1944, 64 per cent of the total of 240 000 officers were former NCOs. I would like to thank Dr Bald for his assistance.Google Scholar
  20. 33.
    Deist, Das Deutsche Reich, I. 420–3, 433–4, 437, 444; also his The Wehrmacht and German Rearmament (London, 1981); Muellcr-Hillebrand, Das Heer, I. 57–64, 29–31; Absolon, Offizierkorps, pp. 247–53. In 1922 there were 35 644 NCOs and 40 000 lance corporals in the 100 000-man army; but in 1928 only 117 officers had been promoted from the ranks. See Craig, The Politics, p. 398 n. 1; Carsten, Reichswehr, p. 217; on ‘rankers’, also in H. Rosinski, The German Army (London, 1939) pp. 185–6.Google Scholar
  21. 34.
    V. R. Berghahn, Modern Germany (London, New York, 1982) pp. 13–14, 253, 281; Welcker, Qualifikalion, pp. 36–7, 40.Google Scholar
  22. 36.
    Absolon, Die Wehrmacht, IV. 54, 98–100. General background in M. Broszat, The Hitler State (New York, 1981); W. Laqueur, Young Germany (London, 1962); E. Mann, School for Barbarians (London, 1939); II. Siemsen, Hitler Youth (London, 1940); D. P. Stachura, ‘The ideology of the Hitler Youth in the Kampfzeit’, JCH, VIlI (1973) 155–67, and his Nazi Youth in the Weimar Republic (Santa Barbara: California, 1975).Google Scholar
  23. 37.
    See J. W. Baird, The Mythical World of Nazi War Propaganda (Minneapolis: Minnesota, 1974); E. K. Bramsted, Goebbels and National Socialist Propaganda (London, 1965); H. T. Burden, The Nuremberg Parly Rallies (London, 1967); H. Brenner, Die Kunslpolitik des Nationalsozialismus (Hamburg, 1963); K. Vondung, Magic und Manipulation (Gottingen, 1971). On Hitler and the ‘Fiihrerkult’, see A. Bullock, Hitler, rev. edn (New York, 1964) pp. 372–410; J. C. Fest, Hitler, 4th edn (Harmondsworth: Middlesex, 1982) pp. 511–38; J. P. Stern, Hitler, 5th edn (Glasgow, 1979) pp. 85–8; and especially I. Kershasv, Der Hiller-Mythos (Stuttgart, 1980). On Nazi educational institutions, see H. Ucberhorst (cd), Elite für die Diktatur (Diisseldorf, 1969); on a very different development in France, see B. Singer, ‘From Patriots to Pacifists’, JCH, XII (1977) 413–34.Google Scholar
  24. 38.
    Geiger, Soziale Schichlting, pp. 20–3. Kntcr, The Nazi Parly, p. 12, analysed 27 047 899 socially classifiable persons in 1933 with the following results; 54.56 per cent belonged to the ‘lower class’, 42.65 per cent to the ‘lower middle class’, and 2.78 per cent to the ‘elite’.Google Scholar
  25. 39.
    Berghahn, Germany, pp. 263, 282. For other possible social classifications, see A. H. Halscy el al., Origins and Destinations (London, 1980) p. 18; H. Kaelbe, ‘Social Mobility in Germany’, JMH, III (1978) 439–61; B. Wegner, ‘Das Führerkorps cler Waffen-SS im Kriege’, in Mofmann, Offizierkorps, p. 340; Organisation der Deulschen Arbeils-front und der NS Gemeinschafi Kraft dutch Freude (Leipzig, n.d.) pp. 30–67. See also note 48 below.Google Scholar
  26. 44.
    Regarding ‘self-recruitment’ among generals: in 1925, 52 per cent came from an officer family; in 1944–29 per cent; in 1965–37 per cent. See Dahrcndorf, Gesellschaft und Demokralie in Deulschland (Munchen, 1965) pp. 281–2. On similar ‘self-recruitment’ among students, see Zorn, Student Polities’, pp. 128–9. Yet a new ‘Officer-Ideal’ was developing after the First World War, centring on professional rather than social qualifications. See H. Kurzke, ‘Das Bild des Offiziers in der Deutsche!) Literatur’, in Hofmann, Offizierkorps, pp. 431–5.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Omer Bartov 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PrincetonUSA

Personalised recommendations