Werner von Blomberg
Born in Stargard, Pomerania, Prussia (present-day Poland), Werner von Blomberg joined the army in 1897 and attended the Prussian Military Academy in 1904. In April 1904, he married Charlotte Hellmich. The couple had five children.
In 1920, Blomberg was appointed chief of staff of the Döberitz Brigade, and in 1921 was made chief of staff of the Stuttgart Army Area. In 1925, Blomberg was made chief of army training by General Hans von Seeckt. By 1927, Blomberg was a major-general and chief of the Troop Office (German: Truppenamt), which was the thinly disguised German General Staff forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. In 1928, Blomberg visited the Soviet Union, where he was much impressed by the high status of the Red Army, and left as a convinced believer in the value of totalitarian dictatorship as the prerequisite for military power. This was part and parcel of a broader shift on the part of the German military to the idea of a totalitarian Wehrstaat (Defence State) which, starting in the mid-1920s, had become popular with officers . The German historian Eberhard Kolb wrote that:
...from the mid-1920s onwards the Army leaders had developed and propagated new social conceptions of a militarist kind, tending towards a fusion of the military and civilian sectors and ultimately a totalitarian military state (Wehrstaat).
Blomberg's visit to the Soviet Union in 1928 had the effect of confirming his views about totalitarian powers being the greatest military powers. Blomberg believed that the next world war, like the previous one, would become a total war, requiring the full mobilisation of German society and economy by the state, and that a totalitarian state would be most apt for effectively preparing society militarily and economically for war in peacetime. Like the rest of the German military élite, Blomberg took it for granted that for Germany to achieve the "world power status" that it had sought (but failed to obtain) in the First World War would require another war, and that such a war would be a total war of a highly mechanised, industrial type.
After arguing with the powerful General Kurt von Schleicher in 1929, however, Blomberg was removed from his post and made military commander of East Prussia. In 1929, Schleicher came into conflict with Blomberg at the Truppenamt. In early 1929, Schleicher had started a policy of "frontier defense" (Grenzschutz) under which the Reichswehr would stockpile arms in secret depots and start training volunteers in excess of the limits imposed by Versailles in the eastern parts of Germany facing Poland; in order to avoid incidents with France, there was to be no policy of Grenzschutz in the western parts of Germany. The French planned to withdraw from the Rhineland in June 1930—five years earlier than what the Treaty of Versailles had called for—and Schleicher wanted no violations of Versailles that might seem to threaten France before the French left the Rhineland. When Blomberg, whom Schleicher personally disliked, insisted on extending Grenzschutz to border areas with France, in August 1929 Schleicher leaked the news to the press that Blomberg had attended armed maneuvers by volunteers in Westphalia. When the Defence Minister, General Wilhelm Groener, called Blomberg to Berlin by to explain himself, Blomberg expected Schleicher to stick to the traditional Reichswehr policy of denying everything, and was shocked to see Schleicher instead attack him in front of Groener as a man who had recklessly exposed Germany to the risk of providing the French with an excuse to stay on in the Rhineland until 1935. As a result, Blomberg was demoted from command of the Truppenamt and sent to command a division in East Prussia. Blomberg would later emerge as Schleicher's most powerful enemy within the Reichswehr.
Since East Prussia was cut off from the rest of Germany and had only one infantry division stationed there, Blomberg - in order to increase the number of fighting men in the event of a war with Poland - started to make lists of all the men fit for military service, which further increased the attraction of a totalitarian state able to mobilise an entire society for war to him, and of an ideologically motivated levée en masse as the best way to fight the next war. During his time as commander of Wehrkreis I, the military district which comprised East Prussia, Blomberg fell under the influence of a Nazi-sympathising Lutheran chaplain, Ludwig Müller, who introduced Blomberg to National Socialism. Blomberg cared little for Nazi doctrines per se, his support for the Nazis being motivated by his belief that only a dictatorship could make Germany a great military power again, and that the Nazis were the best party to establish a dictatorship in Germany.
Because he had the command of only one infantry division in East Prussia, Blomberg depended very strongly on Grenzschutz to increase the number of fighting men available. This led him to co-operate closely with the SA as a source of volunteers for Grenzschutz forces. Blomberg's had excellent relations with the SA at this time, which led to the SA serving by 1931 as an unofficial militia backing up the Reichswehr. Many generals saw East Prussia as an model for future Army-Nazi co-operation all over Germany. Blomberg's interactions with the SA in East Prussia led him to the conclusion that Nazis made for excellent soldiers, which further increased the appeal of National Socialism for him. But at the same time, Blomberg saw the SA only as a junior partner to the Army, and utterly opposed the SA's ambitions to replace the Reichswehr as Germany's main military force. Blomberg, like almost all German generals, envisioned a future Nazi-Army relationship where the Nazis would indoctrinate ordinary people with the right sort of ultra-nationalist, militarist values so that when young German men joined the Reichswehr they would be already half-converted into soldiers while at the same time making it clear that control of military matters would rest solely with the generals. In 1931 Blomberg visited the US, where he openly proclaimed his belief in the certainty and the benefits of a Nazi government for Germany. Blomberg's first wife Charlotte died on 11 May 1932, leaving him with two sons and three daughters.
In 1932 Blomberg served as part of the German delegation to the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva where, during his time as the German chief military delegate, he not only continued his pro-Nazi remarks to the press, but used his status as Germany's chief military delegate to communicate his views to Paul von Hindenburg, whose position as President of Germany made him German Supreme Commander in Chief. In his reports to Hindenburg, Blomberg wrote that his arch-rival Schleicher's attempts to create the Wehrstaat had clearly failed, and that Germany needed a new approach to forming the Wehrstaat. By late January 1933 it was clear that the Schleicher government could only stay in power by proclaiming martial law and by authorizing the Reichswehr to crush popular opposition. In doing so, the military would have to kill hundreds, if not thousands of German civilians; any régime established in this way could never expect to build the national consensus necessary to create the Wehrstaat. The military had decided that Hitler alone was capable of peacefully creating the national consensus that would allow the creation of the Wehrstaat, and thus the military successfully brought pressure on Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. Blomberg served as one of the main channels by which the Reichswehr informed Hindenburg of their wish to see Hitler become Chancellor.
In late January 1933 President Hindenburg - without informing the chancellor, Schleicher, or the army commander, General Kurt von Hammerstein - recalled Blomberg from the World Disarmament Conference to return to Berlin. Upon learning of this, Schleicher guessed correctly that the order to recall Blomberg to Berlin meant his own government was doomed. When Blomberg arrived at the railroad station in Berlin on 28 January 1933, he was met by Major von Kuntzen and by Major Oskar von Hindenburg, adjutant and son of President Hindenburg. Kuntzen had orders from Hammerstein for Blomberg to report at once to the Defence Ministry, while Oskar von Hindenburg had orders for Blomberg to report directly to the Reichspräsidentenpalais (presidential palace). Over Kuntzen's protests, Blomberg chose to go with Hindenburg to meet the president, who swore him in as defence minister. This was done so promptly, and in an unconstitutional manner (under the Weimar constitution the president could swear in a minister after receiving the advice of the chancellor; Hindenburg had not consulted Schleicher about his wish to see Blomberg replace him as defence minister) because in late January 1933, there were wild (and untrue) rumours circulating in Berlin that Schleicher was planning to stage a putsch. To counter the alleged plans for a putsch by Schleicher, Hindenburg wanted to remove Schleicher as defence minister as soon as possible. Two days later, on 30 January 1933, Hindenburg swore in Adolf Hitler as Chancellor, after telling him that Blomberg was to be his defence minister regardless of his wishes. Hitler for his part welcomed and accepted Blomberg. Hitler told Blomberg, much to his satisfaction, that he wanted the Army to continue to be the main military force of the Reich.
Minister of Defence
In 1933, Blomberg rose to national prominence when he was appointed Minister of Defence in Adolf Hitler's government. Blomberg became one of Hitler's most devoted followers, working feverishly to expand the size and power of the army. Blomberg was made a colonel general for his services in 1933. Although Blomberg and his predecessor Schleicher loathed one another, their feud was purely personal, not political, and in all essentials Blomberg and Schleicher had identical views on foreign and defence policies. Their dispute was simply over who was best qualified to carry out these policies, not over policy differences.
Blomberg was chosen personally by President Hindenburg as a man he trusted to safeguard the interests of the Defence Ministry, and as a man who could be expected to work well with Hitler. Above all, Hindenburg saw Blomberg as a man who would safeguard the German military's traditional "state within the state" status dating back to Prussian times, under which the military did not take orders from the civilian government headed by the chancellor, but rather co-existed as an equal alongside the civilian government, owing its allegiance only to the head of state (not the chancellor, who was the head of the government). Up to 1918, the head of state had been the Emperor, and since 1925 had been President Hindenburg himself. Defending the military "state within the state" while trying to reconcile the military to the Nazi system was to be one of Blomberg's major concerns as a defence minister.
Blomberg's first act as defence minister was to carry out a purge of the officers associated with his hated arch-enemy Schleicher. Blomberg sacked Ferdinand von Bredow as chief of the Ministeramt and replaced him with General Walter von Reichenau, Eugen Ott was dismissed as chief of the Wehramt and sent to Japan as military attaché, and General Wilhelm Adam was sacked as chief of the Truppenamt (the disguised General Staff) and replaced with Ludwig Beck. The British historian Sir John Wheeler-Bennett wrote about the "ruthless" way that Blomberg set about isolating and undermining the power of the army commander-in-chief, a close associate of Schleicher's, General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, to the point that in February 1934 Hammerstein finally resigned in despair, as his powers had become more nominal than real. With Hammerstein's resignation, the entire Schleicher faction which had dominated the army since 1926 had all been removed from their positions within the High Command. Wheeler-Bennett commented that as a military politician Blomberg was every bit the equal in ruthlessness of Schleicher.
Far more serious than dealing with the followers of Schleicher was Blomberg's relations with the SA. Blomberg was an ardent supporter of the National Socialist dictatorship, but he was resolutely opposed to any effort to subject the military to the control of the Nazi Party or that of any of its affiliated organisations such as the SA or the SS, and throughout his time as a minister he fought fiercely to protect the institutional autonomy of the military. By the autumn of 1933, Blomberg had come into conflict with Ernst Röhm who made it clear that he wanted to see the SA absorb the Reichswehr, a prospect that Blomberg was determined to prevent at all costs. In December 1933, Blomberg made clear to Hitler his displeasure about Röhm being appointed to the Cabinet. In February 1934, when Röhm penned a memo about the SA absorbing the Reichswehr to become the new military force, Blomberg informed Hitler that the Army would never accept this under any conditions. Starting in March 1934, Blomberg and Röhm openly fought each other at cabinet meetings, exchanging insults and threats. As a result of his increasingly heated feud with Röhm, Blomberg warned Hitler that he must curb the ambitions of the SA, or the Army would do that job themselves.
To defend the military "state within the state", Blomberg followed a strategy of Nazifying the military more and more in a paradoxical effort to persuade Hitler that it was not necessary to end the traditional "state within the state", to prevent Gleichschaltung being imposed by engaging in what can be called a process of "self-Gleichschaltung". In February 1934 Blomberg, on his own initiative, had all of the men considered to be Jews serving in the Reichswehr given an automatic and immediate dishonorable discharge. As a result, 74 soldiers considered to be Jewish lost their jobs for no other reason than their having "Jewish blood". The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, enacted in April 1933, had excluded those Jews who were First World War veterans and it did not apply to the military, so Blomberg's discharge order was his way of circumventing the law, going beyond what even the Nazis wanted at the time; the German historian Wolfram Wette called the order "an act of proactive obedience". The German historian Klaus Jürgen Müller wrote that Blomberg's anti-Semitic purge in early 1934 was part of his increasingly savage feud with Röhm, who since the summer of 1933 had been drawing unfavourable comparisons between the "racial purity" of his SA, which had no members with "Jewish" blood, and the Reichswehr, which did. Müller wrote that Blomberg wanted to show Hitler that the Reichswehr was even more loyal and ideologically sound than was the SA, and that purging those Reichswehr members who could be considered Jewish without being ordered to do so was an excellent way to demonstrate loyalty within the National Socialist system. As both the German Army and Navy had long-standing policies of refusing to accept Jews, there were no Jews to purge within the military; instead, Blomberg used the Nazi racial definition of a Jew in his purge. None of the men given dishonourable discharges themselves practiced Judaism, but all were the sons or grandsons of Jews who had converted to Christianity, and thus were considered to be "racially" Jewish. Blomberg ordered every member of the Reichswehr to submit documents to their officers, and that anyone who was a "non-Aryan" or refused to submit documents would be dishonourably discharged. As a result, seven officers, eight officer cadets, thirteen NCOs and 28 privates from the Army, and three officers, four officer candidates, three NCOs and four sailors from the Navy were dishonourably discharged, together with four civilian employees of the Defence Ministry. With the exception of Erich von Manstein, who complained that Blomberg had ruined the careers of some seventy men for something that was not their fault, there were no objections. Again, on his own initiative as part of "self-Gleichschaltung", Blomberg had the Reichswehr in May 1934 adopt Nazi symbols into their uniforms. In 1935, Blomberg worked hard to ensure that the Wehrmacht complied with the Nuremberg Laws by preventing so-called Mischlings from serving.
Blomberg had a reputation as something of a lackey to Hitler. As such, he was nicknamed "Rubber Lion" by some of his critics in the army who were less than enthusiastic about Hitler. One of the few notable exceptions was during the run-up to the Night of the Long Knives, June 30 – July 2, 1934. In early June, Hindenburg decided that unless Hitler did something to end the growing political tension in Germany, he would declare martial law and turn over control of the government to the army. Blomberg, who had been known to oppose the growing power of the SA, was chosen to inform Hitler of this decision on the president's behalf.
In the same year, after Hindenburg's death on August 2, as part of his "self-Gleichschaltung" strategy, Blomberg personally ordered all soldiers in the army and all sailors in the Navy to pledge the Reichswehreid (oath of allegiance) not to People and Fatherland, but to the new Führer Adolf Hitler, which is thought to have limited later opposition to Hitler. The oath was the initiative of Blomberg and that of the Ministeramt chief General Walther von Reichenau, the entire military took an oath of personal loyalty to Hitler, who was most surprised at the offer; the popular view that Hitler imposed the oath on the military is incorrect. The intention of Blomberg and Reichenau in having the military swear an oath to Hitler was to create a personal special bond between Hitler and the military, which was intended to tie Hitler more tightly towards the military and away from the Nazi Party (Blomberg later admitted that he did not think through the full implications of the oath at the time). As part of his defence of the military "state within the state", Blomberg fought against the attempts of the SS to create a military wing. The Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler repeatedly had insist that the SS needed a military wing to crush any attempt at a Communist revolution before Blomberg conceded that the SS could a military wing that eventually become the Waffen-SS. Blomberg's relations with the SS were badly strained in late 1934-early 1935 when it was discovered that the SS had bugged the offices of the Abewehr chief, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, which led Blomberg to warn Hitler the military would not tolerate being spied upon. In response to Blomberg's protests, Hitler gave orders that the SS could not spy upon the military; all members of the military could not be arrested by the police; and cases of suspected "political unreliability" within the military were to be investigated solely by the military police.
Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and Minister of War
In 1935, the Ministry of Defence was renamed the Ministry of War; Blomberg also took the title of commander-in-chief of the armed forces. In 1936, the loyal Blomberg was the first Generalfeldmarschall appointed by Hitler. He was also the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, the Wehrmacht, although Hitler was the Supreme Commander of the military due to his dictatorial position as the Führer of Germany. In December 1936, a crisis was created within the German decision-making machinery when General Wilhelm Faupel, the chief German officer in Spain started to demand the dispatch of three German divisions to fight in the Spanish Civil War as the only way for victory, a demand strongly opposed by the Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath, who wanted to limit German involvement in Spain. At a conference held at the Reich Chancellery on 21 December 1936 attended by Hitler, Hermann Göring, Blomberg, Neurath, General Werner von Fritsch, General Walter Warlimont and Faupel, Blomberg argued against Faupel, arguing that an all-out German drive for victory in Spain would too likely to cause a general war before Germany had rearmed properly, and if even it did not, would consume money better spent on military modernization. Blomberg prevailed against Faupel.
Unfortunately for Blomberg, his position as the ranking officer of the Third Reich alienated Hermann Göring, Hitler's second-in-command, and Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, Germany's air force and Heinrich Himmler, the Chief of the SS, the security organization of the NSDAP, and concurrently the chief of all police forces of Germany, who conspired to oust him from power. Göring, in particular, had ambitions of becoming Commander-in-Chief himself of the entire military.
On 5 November 1937, the conference between the Reich's top military-foreign policy leadership and Hitler recorded in the so-called Hossbach Memorandum occurred. At the conference, Hitler stated that it was the time for war, or, more accurately, wars, as what Hitler envisioned were a series of localised wars in Central and Eastern Europe in the near future. Hitler argued that because these wars were necessary to provide Germany with Lebensraum, autarky and the arms race with France and Britain made it imperative to act before the Western powers developed an insurmountable lead in the arms race.
Of those invited to the conference, objections arose from the Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath, Blomberg and the Army Commander in Chief, General Werner von Fritsch that any German aggression in Eastern Europe was bound to trigger a war with France because of the French alliance system in Eastern Europe, the so-called cordon sanitaire, and if a Franco-German war broke out, then Britain was almost certain to intervene rather than risk the prospect of France's defeat. Moreover, it was objected that Hitler's assumption that Britain and France would just ignore the projected wars because they had started their re-armament later than Germany was flawed.
Accordingly, Fritsch, Blomberg and Neurath advised Hitler to wait until Germany had more time to re-arm before pursuing a high-risk strategy of localised wars that was likely to trigger a general war before Germany was ready (none of those present at the conference had any moral objections to Hitler's strategy, with which they were in basic agreement; only the question of timing divided them). After the Hossbach Memorandum meeting of November 1937, Blomberg was one of the few who criticised Hitler's plans to go to war no later than 1942, much to Hitler's displeasure, though by early 1938 he changed his mind on this issue.
Scandal and fall
Göring and Himmler found an opportunity to strike against Blomberg in January 1938, when the general, then 59, married his second wife, Erna Gruhn (1913 – 1978, sometimes referred to as "Eva" or "Margarete"). Blomberg had been a widower since the death of his first wife Charlotte in 1932. Gruhn was a 26-year-old typist and secretary, but the Berlin police had a long criminal file on her and her mother, a former prostitute. Among the reports was information that in 1932 Gruhn had posed for pornographic photos, taken by a Jew with whom she was living at the time.
This was reported to the Berlin police chief Count Wolf-Heinrich von Helldorf who went to Wilhelm Keitel with the file on the new Mrs. Blomberg, saying he was uncertain about what to do. Keitel in his turn, seeing a chance to destroy Blomberg's career, told Helldorf to take the file to Göring, which he did. Göring, who had served as best man to Blomberg at the wedding, used the file to argue Blomberg was unfit to serve as a war minister. It has long been claimed that von Blomberg's new wife had a criminal record for prostitution, but this is false; Goering chose to misrepresent her criminal record as a way of smearing her husband. Göring then informed Hitler, who had also been present at the wedding. Hitler ordered Blomberg to annul the marriage in order to avoid a scandal and to preserve the integrity of the army. The forthcoming wedding of Blomberg's daughter Dorothea would also have been threatened by scandal. She was engaged to Karl-Heinz Keitel, Wilhelm Keitel's eldest son. Blomberg refused to repudiate his wife, but when Göring threatened to make her past public knowledge, Blomberg was forced to resign all of his posts to avoid this, which he did on 27 January 1938. His daughter was married in May the same year.
As a consequence, Hitler took personal command of the military; he retained the title of Supreme Commander, abolished the Ministry of War and in its place, created the High Command of the Armed Forces (OKW) under his control, to be the supervisory body of the Wehrmacht (armed forces). Keitel, who would be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal in 1940, and Blomberg's former right-hand man would be appointed by Hitler as the Chief of the OKW of the Armed Forces. Keitel thus became the de facto Minister of War.
A few days later, Göring and Himmler accused Commander-in-Chief of the Army Werner von Fritsch of being a homosexual. Hitler used these opportunities for major reorganization of the Wehrmacht. Fritsch was later acquitted; together the events became known as the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair.
Blomberg and his wife subsequently went on a honeymoon for a year to the isle of Capri. Admiral Erich Raeder decided that Blomberg needed to commit suicide in order to atone for his marriage, and dispatched a Captain von Wangenheim to Italy, who followed the Blombergs around on their honeymoon, persistently and unsuccessfully trying to force Blomberg to commit suicide. Von Wangenheim at one point even tried to force a gun into Blomberg's hands; but he declined to end his life. Spending World War II in obscurity, Blomberg was captured by the Allies in 1945. Later he gave evidence at the Nuremberg Trials.
Imprisonment and death
Blomberg's health declined rapidly while he was in detention at Nuremberg, facing the contempt of his former colleagues and the intention of his wife to abandon him. It is possible that he manifested symptoms of cancer as early as 1939. On 12 October 1945 he noted in his diary that he weighed slightly over 72 kilograms. Diagnosed with colorectal cancer on 20 February 1946, he spent the final weeks of his life resigned and in depression, refusing to eat. Blomberg died on 14 March 1946, and was buried without ceremony in an unmarked grave. Later, his remains were cremated and interred in his residence in Bad Wiessee.
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Generalmajor Wilhelm Wetzell
|Chief of the German Troop Office
Generalmajor Baron Kurt von Hammerstein–Equord
General der Infanterie Friedrich Freiherr von Esebeck
|Commander of Wehrkreis I
1929 – 1933
Generalmajor Walter von Brauchitsch
|Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
Führer und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler
Kurt von Schleicher
|Minister of Defence
Himself as Minister of War
none (office established)
|Minister of War
Generaloberst Wilhelm Keitel as Chief of the Armed Forces High Command