Hans von Seeckt
|Hans von Seeckt|
Hans von Seeckt and Otto Gessler, 1930
April 22, 1866|
|Died||December 27, 1936
|Allegiance|| German Empire
|Service/branch|| Imperial German Army
|Years of service||1885-1926|
|Commands held||Eleventh Army|
|Battles/wars||World War I|
|Awards||Pour le Mérite
Military Order of Max Joseph
Seeckt was born in Schleswig on April 22, 1866 to an old Pomeranian family, which had been ennobled in the eighteenth century. Though the family had lost its estates, Seeckt was "a thorough-going aristocrat" and his father was an important general within the German Army, finishing his career as military governor of Posen. Seeckt followed his father into military service, joining the Army in 1885 at the age of 18. He served in the elite Kaiser Alexander Guard Grenadiers, then joined the Prussian General Staff in 1897.
First World War
At the outbreak of the First World War, Seeckt held the rank of colonel and served as chief of staff in the German III Army Corps. Seeckt marched with the Corps in the German offensive, and "distinguished himself" in fighting near Soissons, then in March 1915, he became chief of staff to General August von Mackensen of the German Eleventh Army. With the Eleventh Army, Seeckt fought in the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive, where he was credited with engineering Mackensen's breakthrough, and received the Pour le Mérite, Prussia's highest military honor.
In June 1915, Seeckt was promoted to the rank of Generalmajor, and in September he followed von Mackensen to Temesvar, where he joined the campaign against Serbia. In June 1916 he became chief of staff for the Austro-Hungarian Seventh Army in Galicia. Seeckt spent the last years of World War I serving in the Ottoman Empire.
After the end of the war and the dissolution of the old imperial army, it fell to Seeckt to organize the new Reichswehr within the strict restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. He successfully laid the basis for a strong Reichswehr and disguised the new leadership, the forbidden General Staff, under the name the Truppenamt, or Troop Office. In a 1919 memo, Seeckt not only expressed a great of violent hatred for the Treaty of Versailles, but also against the idea of Germany joining someday the League of Nations and the idea of peace in general, arguing instead that war was the natural state of humanity, and that the duty of a German officer was to preparing for the next world war. Seeckt argued that:
"My own training in history prevents me from see in in the idea of permanent peace anything more than a dream-whereby it remains an open question whether one can consider it, in Moltke's phrase, a "good dream" or not".
Seeckt declared himself a firm believer in the "faith of the sword", stated despite all of the disarmament clauses of Versailles that men could not be stopped from "thinking like men", and argued that one of the primary duties of a German officer was to keep the nation psychologically prepared for war. Seeckt went on to state:
"German officers and especially members of the general staff, have never sought a fight for its own sake or been war-mongers. And they should not do so now, but they should also never forget the great deeds achieved by German warriors. Keeping the memory of them alive in ourselves and our people must be a sacred duty. For then neither officers nor people will lapse into enfeebling illusions of peace, but will remain aware that in the moment of truth only personal and national stature counts. If fate once again calls the German people to arms-and who can doubt that day will come?-then officers should not have to call on a nation of weaklings, but of strong men ready to take up familiar and trusted weapons. The form these weapons take is not so important if they are wielded by hands of steel and hearts of iron. So let us do our utmost to ensure that on that future day there is no lack of such hearts and hands; let us strive tirelessly to strengthen our own bodies and minds and those of our fellow Germans...It is the duty of every member of the general staff to make the Reichswehr not only a reliable pillar of the state, but also a school for the leaders of the nation. Beyond the army itself, every officer will sow the seed of manly attitudes throughout the population".
Seeckt's political views veered towards the far-right, especially a marked tendency to see the Jews as his enemies. In a letter to his wife on 19 May 1919, Seeckt wrote about the new Prussian Prime Minister, Paul Hirsch:
"He is not so bad and is an old parliamentarian. For this post he seems quite unsuitable, especially as a Jew; not only because this is in itself provocative, but because the Jewish talent is purely critical, hence negative and can never help in the construction of a state. This is no good".
As such Seeckt ignored the Constitution of 1919 which outlawed religious discrimination and ordered that Jews were not to be accepted into the Reichswehr, no matter how qualified they might be.
He is also known for his hostile attitude towards the Second Polish Republic, and for seeking an alliance with the Soviet Union against Poland. After seeing encouraging signs from the newly established War Commissar's Office of Leon Trotsky, Seeckt sent out a secret staff to conduct a military alliance with the Soviets, unbeknownst to the Weimar government. In October 1919 Seeckt sent out his close friend Enver Pasha on a secret mission to Moscow to make contracts with the Soviets. In the summer of 1920, Enver sent Seeckt a letter from Moscow asking for German arms deliveries to the Soviet Union in exchange for which Trotsky promised to partition Poland with the Reich. Though Seeckt did not hesitate to use military force against putsch attempts by the German Communists, this did not affect his relations with the Soviet Union. Seeckt regarded his informal alliance with the Soviet Union in purely non-ideological terms. Seeckt regarded the efforts of General Rüdiger von der Goltz and his Freikorps to create an anti-communist, German-dominated state in the Baltic as a ludicrous attempt to turn back the clock. Seeckt was all for seeing von der Goltz conquer the Baltic states if that was possible, but was very antagonistic towards Goltz's efforts to use his proposed state as a basis for overthrowing the Bolsheviks. Seeckt saw Poland as the main enemy and the Soviet Union as a very useful ally against Poland, so he viewed Goltz's anti-Communist schemes with some hostility.
After the Allies sent the German government a list of war criminals to be tried Seeckt called a conference of Staff Officers and departmental heads on 9 February 1920 and said to them that if the German government refused, or were unable, to reject the Allied demands, the Reichswehr must oppose this by all means even if this meant the reopening of hostilities. He further said that if the Allies invaded Germany—which he believed they would not—then the German army in the West should retire behind the Weser and the Elbe, as this was where defensive positions had already been built. In the East, German troops would invade Poland and attempt to establish contacts with the Soviet Union, after which they would both march against France and Britain. He added that German war material would now no longer be sold or destroyed and that the army should be reduced on paper only. An Interior Minister of Prussia, Albert Grzesinski, wrote that members of Seeckt's staff said that Seeckt desired a military dictatorship, perhaps headed by Gustav Noske.
Seeckt's role during the Kapp Putsch of March 1920 remains uncertain; he refused to either actively put down the rebellion or co-operate with it. His remark to the leaders of the republic, that "Reichswehr do not fire on Reichswehr", was controversial. His reserved attitude towards Weimar Republic is illustrated by a brief conversation held with President Ebert. When asked by Ebert where the Reichswehr stood, von Seeckt answered “The Reichswehr stands behind me”, and after the question whether the Reichswehr was reliable, Seeckt answered: “I don't know if it is reliable but it obeys my orders!”.
From 1920 to 1926 Seeckt held the position of Chef der Heeresleitung—in fact if not in name commander of the army of the new Weimar Republic, the Reichswehr. In working to build a professional army within and without the confines of the Treaty of Versailles, Seeckt advanced the concept of the army as a "state-within-a-state". The military refused to accept the democratic Weimar republic as legitimate and instead the Reichswehr under the leadership of Seeckt became a “state within the state” that operated largely outside of the control of the politicians. This matched the conditions of the Versailles Treaty which were aimed at creating a long-term professional army with a ceiling of 100,000 volunteers and without significant reserves - a force which would not be able to challenge the much larger French Army. Seeckt was a monarchist by personal inclination who encouraged the retention of traditional links with the old Imperial Army. With this purpose he designated individual companies and squadrons of the new Reichswehr as the direct successors of particular regiments of the emperor's army.
In 1921, Seeckt founded the Arbeits-Kommandos (Work Commandos) commanded by Major Ernst von Buchrucker, which was officially a labour group intended to assist with civilian projects, but in reality were thinly disguised soldiers that allowed Germany to exceed the limits on troop strength set by Versailles. The control of the Arbeits-Kommandos was exercised through a secret group known as Sondergruppe R comprising Kurt von Schleicher, Eugen Ott, Fedor von Bock and Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord. Buchrucker's so-called "Black Reichswehr" became infamous for its practice of murdering all those Germans whom it was suspected were working as informers for the Allied Control Commission, which was responsible for ensuring that Germany was in compliance with Part V. The killings perpetrated by the "Black Reichswehr were justified by the revival of the Femegerichte (secret court) system. These killings were ordered by the officers from Sondergruppe R. Regarding the Femegerichte murders, Carl von Ossietzky wrote:
"Lieutenant Schulz (charged with the murder of informers against the "Black Reichswehr") did nothing but carry out the orders given him, and that certainly Colonel von Bock, and probably Colonel von Schleicher and General Seeckt, should be sitting in the dock beside him".
Several times the officers from Sondergruppe R perjured themselves in court when they denied that the Reichswehr had anything to do with the "Black Reichswehr" or the murders they had committed. In a secret letter sent to the President of the German Supreme Court, which was trying a member of the Black Reichswehr for murder, Seeckt admitted that the Black Reichswehr was controlled by the Reichswehr, and argued that the murders were justified by the struggle against Versailles, so the court should acquit the defendant.
In 1921, Seeckt had Kurt von Schleicher of Sondergruppe R, negotiate the arrangements with Leonid Krasin for German aid to the Soviet arms industry. In September 1921, at a secret meeting in Schleicher's apartment, the details of an arrangement for German financial and technological aid for building up the Soviet arms industry in exchange for Soviet support in helping Germany evade the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles were agreed to. Schleicher created a shell corporation known as the GEFU (Gesellschaft zur Förderung gewerblicher Unternehmungen-Company for the promotion of industrial enterprise) that funnelled 75 million Reichmarks into the Soviet arms industry. The GEFU founded factories in the Soviet Union for the production of aircraft, tanks, artillery shells and poison gas. The arms contracts of GEFU in the Soviet Union ensured that Germany did not fall behind in military technology in the 1920s despite being disarmed by Versailles, and laid the covert foundations in the 1920s for the overt rearmament of the 1930s.
Seeckt was a leading advocate of the policy of rapprochement with the Soviet Union, which he saw as the best way to destroy the international system established by the Treaty of Versailles. Seeckt's pro-Soviet policies caused considerable tension with the former Foreign Minister Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau, who was to be sent out as the Ambassador to Moscow. Brockdorff-Rantzau was just as committed as Seeckt to the destruction of Versailles, but rather preferred to accomplish that goal through an alliance with Britain. Moreover, Brockdorff-Rantzau feared that a too close rapprochement with the Soviet Union would alienate Britain and drive her into the arms of France. In response, on September 11, 1922, Seeckt sent a memo to Brockdorff-Rantzau entitled "Germany's Attitude to the Russian Problem". Some of Seeckt's salient points were:
"Germany must pursue a policy of action. Every State must do that. The moment it stops pursuing a forward policy it ceases to be a State. An active policy must have a goal and a driving force. For carrying it out it is essential to assess one's own strength correctly and at the same time understand the methods and aims of the other powers.
The man who bases his political ideas on the weakness of his own country, who sees only dangers, or whose only desire is to remain stationary, is not pursuing a policy at all, and should be kept far away from the scene of activity.
The years 1814/15 saw France in complete military and political collapse, yet no one at the Congress of Vienna followed a more active policy than Talleyrand — to France's advantage. Has the world ever seen a greater catastrophe than that suffered by Russia in the last war? Yet with what vigor the Soviet Government recovered, both at home and abroad! Did not the Sick Man of Europe seem to be dead once more and for all, and buried by the Treaty of Sèvres? Yet today, after the victory over Greece, he stands up to England with confidence. He followed an active Turkish policy.
Have not Germany's first stirrings in active politics, the Treaty of Rapallo, clearly brought her at last nearer to being more respected?.
This treaty splits opinion into different camps when the Russian problem is considered. The main point about it is not its economic value, though that is by no means inconsiderable, but its political achievement. This association between Germany and Russia is the first and almost the only increase in power which we have so far obtained since peace was made. That this association should begin in the field of economics is a natural consequence of the general situation, but its strength lies in the fact that this economic rapprochement is preparing the way for the possibility of a political and, thus also, a military association. It is beyond a doubt that such a double association would strengthen Germany-and also Russia … The whole policy of reconciliation and appeasement towards France — no matter whether it is pursued by a Stinnes or by General Ludendorff — is hopeless as it aims at political success. The question of orientation towards the West, as far as France is concerned is ruled out …
England is drifting towards another historic conflict with France, even through she does not face imminent war. That lurks in the background. A glance at the East is surely sufficient even for those who before Genoa did not wish to use their eyes and ears. The British interests in the Dardanelles, Egypt and India are certainly infinitely more important at the moment than those on the Rhine, and an understanding between Britain and France at Germany's expense, that is, a concession by Britain in return for an immediate advantage, is by no means improbable. Yet even such an understanding would be only temporary. The moment is coming, and must come, when Britain will be looking for allies on the Continent. When that moment arrives she will prefer the mercenary who is growing in strength, and will even have to make him stronger.
A rapprochement between Germany and Russia would not have a decisive influence on Britain's attitude either in making a concession to France or in searching for an ally. British policy is ruled by other more compelling motives than anxiety about some far-distant threat from a Russia made strong with the help of Germany...
With Poland we come now to the core of the Eastern problem. The existence of Poland is intolerable and incompatible with Germany's vital interests. She must disappear and will do so through her own inner weakness and through Russia — with our help. Poland is more intolerable for Russia than for ourselves; Russia can never tolerate Poland. With Poland collapses one of the strongest pillars of the Peace of Versailles, France's advance post of power [is lost]. The attainment of this objective must be one of the firmest guiding principles of German policy, as it is capable of achievement — but only through Russia or with her help.
Poland can never offer Germany any advantage, either economically, because she is incapable of development, or politically, because she is a vassal state of France. The restoration of the frontier between Russia and Germany is a necessary condition before both sides can become strong. The 1914 frontier between Russia and Germany should be the basis of any understanding between the two countries...
I will touch one or two more objections to the policy demanded towards Russia. Germany today is certainly not in a position to resist France. Our policy should be to prepare the means of doing so in the future. A French advance through Germany to go to the help of Poland would make nonsense from the military point of view, so long as Germany does not voluntarily co-operate. The idea springs from the notions of our 1919 diplomats, and there have been three years of work since then. War on the Rhine between France and Russia is a political bogy. Germany will not be Bolshevized, even by an understanding with Russia on external matters.
The German nation, with its Socialist majority, would be averse to a policy of action, which has to reckon with the possibility of war. It must be admitted that the spirit surrounding the Peace Delegation at Versailles has not yet disappeared, and that stupid cry of 'No more war!' is widely echoed. It is echoed by many bourgeois-pacifist elements, but among the workers, and also among the members of the official Social Democratic Party there are many who are not prepared to eat out of the hands of France and Poland. It is true that there is a widespread and understandable need for peace among the German people. The clearest heads, when considering the pros and cons of war, will be those of the military, but to pursue a policy means to take a lead. In spite of everything, the German people will follow the leader in the struggle for their existence. Our task is to prepare for this struggle, for we shall not be spared it".
Seeckt's memo to won Brockdorff-Rantzau over to his policy After Seeckt had met Adolf Hitler for the first time on 11 March 1923 he wrote: "We were one in our aim; only our paths were different". On the night of September 29–30, 1923 the Black Reichswehr under the leadership of Major Buchrucker attempted a putsch. Seeckt was prompt in his response, ordering the Reichswehr to crush Buschrucker's putsch by laying siege to the forts he had seized outside of Berlin. After two days, Buchrucker surrendered. Seeckt firmly resisted Hitler's Putsch on November 8–9, 1923, insisting that the Bavarian Division of the Reischswehr remain loyal to the state. The British historian John Wheeler-Bennett wrote that Seeckt was loyal to the Reich, not the Republic and that ideologically Seeckt sympathized with Erich Ludendorff, Buchrucker and Hitler. Seeckt was only opposed to the Munich Beer Hall putsch and Buckrucker's putsch because the stated aim of the Nazis and the Black Reichswehr was to reject the peaceful settlement of the Ruhrkampf that had been agreed to in September and instead go to war with France in 1923. Seeckt knowing the most probable outcome of such war preferred that the Weimar Republic stay in existence, at least for the moment when painful compromises were necessary. Wheeler-Bennett wrote that if there were any chance that Germany could have defeated France in 1923, then Seeckt would have gladly joined forces with the Nazis. Seeckt strongly opposed the Locarno Treaties which he viewed as appeasement of France and was skeptical of German membership of the League of Nations because he believed it was compromising Germany's connections with the Soviet Union. In particular, Seeckt objected to joining the League as one of the conditions for League membership was the commitment not to engage in aggression against other League members, something that put something of a damper on Seeckt's plans for aggression against Poland. In a 1925 memo, Seeckt declared that:
"We must become powerful, and as soon as we have power, we will naturally take back everything we have lost".
The German historian Wolfram Wette wrote that Seeckt did not seek only to overturn the international order created by Germany's defeat in 1918, but rather wanted to see Germany win the "world power status" that had been sought in World War I, which by necessity meant another war. Wette also noted that it striking the lack of any sort of economic rationale in Seeckt's thinking for Germany to become a world power, which was presented as a goal achieved in and of itself.
Seeckt was eventually forced to resign on 9 October 1926 after permitting Prince Wilhelm, the grandson of the former emperor to attend army manoeuvres in the uniform of the old imperial First Foot Guards without first seeking government approval.
While running the military, Von Seeckt only allowed skilled men to be in the 100,000 man army. He locked them into a mandatory 12 years of confirmed military service with full board and pay, allowing for a form of stability that rarely existed in the midst of massive economic depression in Germany. He gained the loyalty of his men by paying them six times the amount of a French army soldier.
Von Seeckt made the training standards of the Reichswehr the toughest in the world. Von Seeckt trained them in anti-air and anti-tank battles by creating wooden weapons and staging mock battles under the guise of training the soldiers for reintroduction into civilian life. Von Seeckt disciplined this small army much differently than past German armies. For instance, rather than the harsh punishments of the Imperial Army, minor offenders were forced to spend off-hour duties lying under a bed and singing old Lutheran hymns. To make the training appear less military, photos were published of recruits being taught topics like horse anatomy and beekeeping.
From 1930-1932 Seeckt sat in the Reichstag as a member of the DVP, after failing to be adopted as a candidate for the Centre Party. In the presidential election of 1932 he wrote to his sister, urging her to vote for Hitler. From 1933-1935 he served as an adviser to Chiang Kai-shek and helped to establish a new basis for Sino-German cooperation. In October 1933, Seeckt arrived in China to head the German military mission. At the time of his arrival, Sino-German relations were in a bad state owing to the racial arrogance of the Germans, and Chiang Kai-shek was considering firing the Germans and bringing in a French military mission. In order to save the military mission, Seeckt ordered the German officers to behave with more tact towards the Chinese and to start showing some respect for Chinese sensibilities. In this way, Seeckt saved Germany's position in China. In early 1934, Seeckt advised Chiang that to defeat the Chinese Communists required building a series of lines and forts around areas controlled by the Communists in order to force the Communist guerrillas to fight in the open, where the superior firepower of the Nationalists would give them an advantage. Following Seeckt's advice, in the spring and summer the Kuomingtang built three thousand "turtle shell" forts linked by a series of roads while at the same time pursuing a scorched earth policy around the forts. It was Seeckt's tactics that led to a series of defeats suffered by the Chinese Communists that finally in October 1934 led to the famous Long March. But on returning to Germany from China he became disillusioned with Hitler.
Von Seeckt died in Berlin on December 27, 1936 and was buried at Invalidenfriedhof.
Decorations and awards
- Iron Cross (1914), 1st and 2nd class
- Pour le Mérite with oak leaves
- Order of the Red Eagle, 4th class with crown
- Order of the Crown, 3rd class (Prussia)
- Prussian Service Cross Award
- Commander of the Military Order of Max Joseph
- Military Merit Order, 2nd class (Bavaria)
- Knight's Cross of the Albert Order, 2nd class with Swords
- Commander of the Order of the Crown (Württemberg)
- Hesse Bravery Medal
- Hanseatic Cross of Hamburg
- Military Merit Cross, 1st class (Mecklenburg-Schwerin)
- Friedrich August Cross, 1st class
- Commander, First Class of the Ducal Saxe-Ernestine House Order with Swords
- Commander of the Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary
- Order of Leopold, 1st class (Austria)
- Order of the Iron Crown, 1st class with War Decoration
- Military Merit Cross, 2nd class with War Decoration (Austria-Hungary)
- Star of the Decoration for Services to the Red Cross
- Gold Imtiyaz Medal (Ottoman Empire)
- Order of Osmanieh, 1st class with swords (Ottoman Empire)
- Order of the Medjidie, 1st class with swords (Ottoman Empire)
- Gallipoli Star (Ottoman Empire) ("Iron Crescent", Ottoman Empire)
- Order of Bravery, 2nd class (Bulgaria)
- Grand Cross of the Order of Military Merit (Bulgaria)
- Kochan 37
- Gordon 94
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