Table of Contents:
Selection and Training of Young Officers 1930-1945
About the Social Genesis of the German Officers Corps
Planning of rearmament started already before 1933. It is remarkable how accurate the Reichswehr fixed the number of officers needed already in 1920. Therefore it has to be said that the national socialist system was not the actuator but only the accelerator of rearmament in the field of officer reserves. As this rearmament had already been prepared by the Reichswehr leadership it was possible after 1933 to reject party intervention into the officers corps almost completely in the beginning. The expansion of the officers corps involved fields that had little to do with the military at first sight. Schools, universities and the ministry of education were made instruments according to the will of the military.
In this the Reichswehr proved to be a conservative element that was adamant about traditional school education of its officers and refused the NS-regimes animosity towards education. As the Wehrmacht had a high demand for high-school graduates both the NS-regime had to revise its position and the Wehrmacht had to accept lower standards for the officers reserves.
Up to the First World War nobility and upper bourgeoisie dominated in the choice of officers. However the losses in the war made this attitude obsolete. Therefore members of the middle and in exceptional cases lower bourgeoisie gained access to the corps.
The reduction of the army then permitted such a strict selection by birth and performance as it had probably never been before in German army history. Nevertheless rearmament after 1930 and especially after 1935 started a process that minimized requirements concerning quality as a precondition for entering the corps more and more. The attempt was made to raise the number of active officers by all means, by including officers of the reserve, police officers, ex-officers, non-commissioned officers, Austrian and Sudeten German officers and officers from the Wehrverbände. In addition requirements for aspirants were reduced and officers replenishment was speeded up by reducing the duration of the training.
With its high demand for officers the Wehrmacht accelerated also a levelling out process that without wanting it followed the path of national socialist Gleichschaltung. The officers caste changed from an elite to a mere functional management group with a limited range of education and thereby usableness. Rapid growth and disappearance of social criteria for membership allowed an ever growing number of soldiers with heterogeneous political and social attitudes to enter the corps. The homogeneity of the corps was destroyed and accordingly in the Wehrmacht an end was made to the unity in thinking and acting that had governed the Reichswehr and also the Imperial army.
The forced discontinuity set free innovative forces and turned out to be important because a future war could not be won solely based on the experience from the last one. During the years 1941/42-45 the quality of young officers worsened. This was due to five reasons:
1. Up to 1942 the planning of the Heerespersonalamt was based on the assumption of a short war. Therefore it planned only a short-term training.
2. The non-military training of the students worsened. At the same time requirements for the replenishment were lowered ever more.
3. Training had to be reduced due to lack of material, personnel and equipment.
4. The overwhelming strength of the enemies did not give young officers any time to learn.
5. Interventions of the NS-regime grew stronger. Officers got highly confused about the vision of war they had to teach.
Officers became mere skilled workers in their field. This observation could first be made with the creation of the Sonderführer and the Offizier im Truppensonderdienst. Soon it was planned to replace the traditional term officer by the ideological terms leader and fighter. This would have meant a radical change in the general view of an officer: away from the thinking and daring officer towards the fanatical Weltanschauungskämpfer with absolute belief in Hitler.
Lack of personnel and the changes in the profile lead to an inevitable metamorphosis of the corps. In addition to the negative consequences this leads us to the question of modernising effects created by this. The opening up of the military elite to wider spheres of society and improved chances of promotion that introduced a new social mobility into the officers corps could be seen as indicators for that. If the opening up of an elite to wider social spheres represents in a way a modernisation that is brought about following a political concept and not the elites own interests, we have to ask for further reasons for possible modernising leaps. In the context of German military history the process described above could be seen as modernisation but just as well as revolution meaning a fundamental break with the historical tradition. For the first time in history the traditional German officers corps was redefined into an mere instrument of the political leadership. In liberal-democratic constitutional thinking this would have been its correct role but just this normality according to todays point of view had never existed before. Therefore it is a paradox that of all men the leaders of a totalitarian regime were able to enforce this prerogative of policy on the military. Although we can recognise a modernising process or at least a pseudo-modernization in the replenishment policy of the military and its subordination under political decisions we cannot close our eyes to the creation of new restrictive methods with an enormous destructive potential within these innovations.