The German re-armament (Aufrüstung, German pronunciation: [ˈaʊ̯fˌʀʏstʊŋ]) was a massive effort led by the Nazis in the early 1930s in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. During its struggle for power the National Socialist party promised to recover Germany's lost national pride. It proposed military rearmament claiming that the Treaty of Versailles and the acquiescence of the Weimar Republic were an embarrassment for all Germans.
Despite its scale, the Aufrüstung was for years a largely covert operation, carried out mostly in a cloak-and-dagger manner through organizations (some of which were racketeer-style fronts), until disclosures of Nazi re-armament by Carl von Ossietzky, which won him the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize, but they also triggered the Re-armament policy in the United Kingdom, which escalated after Adolf Hitler withdrew Germany from the League of Nations and the Geneva Disarmament Conference in 1933.
Germany's post World War I re-armament began at the time of the Weimar Republic, when the Chancellor of Germany Hermann Müller, who belonged to the SPD Social Democratic Party, passed cabinet laws that allowed secret and illegal re-armament efforts.
After the Nazi takeover of power the re-armament became the topmost priority of the German government. Hitler would then spearhead one of the greatest expansions of industrial production and civil improvement Germany had ever seen.
Third Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick, one of the most influential Nazi figures of the time, and Hjalmar Schacht, who, while never a member of the Nazi party was an initially sympathetic economist, introduced a wide variety of schemes in order to tackle the effects that the Great Depression had on Germany, were the main key players of German rearmament policies.
Dummy companies like MEFO were set up to finance the re-armament; MEFO obtained the large amount of money needed for the effort through the Mefo bills, a certain series of credit notes issued by the Government of Nazi Germany. Covert organizations like the Deutsche Verkehrsfliegerschule were established under a civilian guise in order to train pilots for the future Luftwaffe. Although available statistics don't include non-citizens or women, the massive Nazi re-armament policy almost led to full employment during the 1930s. The re-armament began a sudden change in fortune for many factories in Germany. Many industries were taken out of a deep crisis that had been induced by the Great Depression.
Some large industrial companies, which had until then specialized in certain traditional products began to diversify and introduce innovative ideas in their production pattern. Shipyards, for example, created branches that began to design and build aircraft. Thus the German re-armament provided an opportunity for advanced, and sometimes revolutionary, technological improvements, especially in the field of aeronautics.
The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939 would provide an ideal testing ground for the proficiency of the new weapons produced by the German factories during the re-armament years. Many aeronautical bombing techiques were tested by the Condor Legion German expeditionary forces against the Republican Government on Spanish soil with the permission of Generalísimo Francisco Franco. Hitler insisted, however, that his long-term designs were peaceful, a strategy labelled as "Blumenkrieg" (Flower War).
Re-armament in the 1930s saw the development of different theories of how to prepare the German economy for total war. The first amongst these was 'defence in depth' which was put forward by Georg Thomas. He suggested that the German economy needed to achieve Autarky (or self-sufficiency) and one of the main proponents behind this was I.G Farben. Hitler never put his full support behind Autarky and aimed for the development of 'defence in breadth' which espoused the development of the armed forces in all areas and was not concerned with preparing the German economy for war.
Since World War II, both academics and laypeople have discussed the extent to which the German re-armament was an open secret among national governments. The failure of Allied national governments to confront and intercede earlier is often discussed in the context of the appeasement policies of the 1930s. A central question is whether the Allies should have drawn "a line in the sand" earlier than September 1939, which might have resulted in a less devastating war and perhaps a prevention of the Holocaust.
"Unquestionably, such a policy might have enforced a greater circumspection on the Nazi regime and caused it to proceed more slowly with the actualization of its timetable. From this standpoint, firmness at the time of the reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936 would probably have yielded even better results than firmness at the time of Munich." -George Kennan
- Anglo-German Naval Agreement
- Deutsche Verkehrsfliegerschule
- British re-armament
Notes and references
- Hakim, Joy (1995). A History of Us: War, Peace and all that Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 100–104. ISBN 0-19-509514-6.
- Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power 1933–1939. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1-59420-074-8. Pg. 153
- UK War Production
- Michael Geyer, Deutsche Rüstungspolitik 1860 bis 1980, Frankfurt 1984
- Wilhelm Frick (1877–1946)
- Nuremberg Trials discussion of the Mefo bill
- Ernst Sagebiel 1892–1970
- Blohm & Voss Geschichte v. 1933/1938, Die Rüstungskonjunktur ab 1933
- Evidenced in a January 1937 speech prior to the outcry over the bombing of the Basque city of Guernica, known by the Luftwaffe as Operation Rügen. Hitler speech to Reichstag 30 January 1937 available via the German Propaganda Archive.
- Kennan, George (1951). American Diplomacy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 79