Reintroduction of the general compulsory military service
Berlin, March 16, 1935
To the German Volk!
When in November 1918 the German Volk-trusting in the guarantees of Wilson’s Fourteen Points-laid down their arms after four and a half years of valiant resistance in a war they had never wanted, they believed they were doing a service not only to tormented mankind, but to a great idea in and of itself.
Having suffered the most from the consequences of this insane fight, the millions comprising our Volk faithfully reached out for the concept of restructuring the relations between peoples, which was to be consummated by abolishing, on the one hand, the secrets of diplomatic cabinet politics and, on the other, the instruments of horror themselves. Many Germans thus viewed the harshest consequences of defeat in history as an avoidable sacrifice in the interest of ridding the world once and for all of similar horrors.
The concept of the League of Nations awakened perhaps in no other nation more fervent support than in the German nation, so forsaken of all earthly possessions. This alone explains the fact that the-to some extent patently absurd-conditions which destroyed all prerequisites for and any possibility of defense were not only accepted by the German Volk but also fulfilled by it.
The German Volk and especially its respective governments at the time were convinced that compliance with the disarmament provisions stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles in accordance with the auspices of this Treaty would lead to and guarantee the start of a general international reduction in arms.
Only such bilateral accomplishment of the purpose of the Treaty could morally and rationally justify a demand which, unilaterally imposed and carried through, would necessarily have resulted in the perpetual discrimination and thus a certification of the inferiority of a great nation.
Hence such a peace treaty could never have constituted the basis for any genuine inner reconciliation between peoples and a pacification of the world thus brought about, but a basis only for the growth of an ever-gnawing hate.
Germany has fulfilled the obligations imposed upon it to disarm, as verified by the Allied Control Commission.
The work of destroying the German armies and their resources as verified by this Commission was as follows:
a) The Army: 59,897 guns and barrels; 130,558 machine guns; 31,470 trench mortars and barrels; 6,007,000 rifles and carbines; 243,937 MG barrels; 28,001 gun carriages; 4,390 trench mortar carriages; 38,750,000 shells; 16,550,000 hand grenades and rifle grenades; 60,400,000 live fuzes; 491,000,000 pieces of handgun ammunition; 335,000 tons of shell cases; 23,515 tons of cartridge cases; 37,600 tons of gunpowder; 79,500 ammunition gauges; 212,000 telephone sets; 1,072 flamethrowers; 31 armored trains; 59 tanks; 1,762 observation vehicles; 8,982 wireless stations; 1,240 field bakeries; 2,199 pontoons; 981.7 tons of equipment for soldiers; 8,230,350 pieces of reserve equipment for soldiers; 7,300 pistols and revolvers; 180 MG sledges; 21 mobile workshops; 12 anti-aircraft guns; 11 limbers; 64,000 steel helmets; 174,000 gas masks; 2,500 machines of the former war industry; 8,000 rifle barrels.
b) The Air Force: 15,714 fighter planes and bombers; 27,757 aircraft engines.
c) The Navy: destroyed, scrapped, scuttled or surrendered Navy warship material: 26 capital ships; 4 armored ships; 4 battle cruisers; 19 light cruisers; 21 training ships and special ships; 83 torpedo boats; 315 submarines.
The destruction of the following was also required: vehicles of all types, gas and in part anti-gas defense equipment, propellants, explosives, searchlights, sighting devices, range finders and sound rangers, optical devices of all types, tackle, narrow-gauge devices, field printing presses, field messes, workshops, cut-and-thrust weapons, steel helmets, ammunition transport wagons, normal and special machines of the war industry, clamping devices with drawings, aircraft and airship hangars, etc.
After compliance with this Treaty, a feat unparalleled in history, the German Volk had the right to expect that the other side also perform the obligations it had undertaken.
Bear in mind:
- Germany had disarmed.
- The Peace Treaty had explicitly required that Germany be disarmed as a precondition for universal disarmament, i.e. this fact alleged that the existence of Germany’s arms alone constituted the reason for the armament of the other countries.
- Both the governments and the parties of the German Volk were caught up at that time in a conviction which concurred in every way with the pacifist and democratic ideals of the League of Nations and its founders.
However, while Germany fulfilled its obligations as one party to the Treaty, the other party to the Treaty failed to perform its obligation. And that means: the esteemed parties thereto from the former victorious nations have unilaterally breached the Treaty of Versailles.
It was not enough that not a single reduction in arms was made which was in any way comparable to the German destruction of weaponry; nay; there was not even a moratorium on arms production, but the opposite: the arms of a whole series of nations finally came to light. The new machines of destruction which had been invented during the War were now perfected in peacetime, in methodical and scientific work. In the field of developing powerful land tanks as well as new fighting and bombing machines, constant and terrible improvements were made. Huge new guns were built and new high-explosive bombs, incendiary bombs and gas bombs were developed.
Since then the world has once again been reverberating to the sound of battle cries, as though there had never been a World War and a Treaty of Versailles had never been concluded. In the midst of these highly-armed nations of war, ever better-equipped with the most modern motorized forces, Germany was a vacuum where power was concerned, completely at the mercy of any threat and any danger which any of them might pose.
The German Volk recalls the misfortune and suffering of fifteen years of economical impoverishment, and political and moral humiliation. Hence it was understandable when Germany began to raise its voice to urge that the promise of the other states to disarm be kept. For one thing is clear: not only could the world endure one hundred years of peace; it would view it as an immense blessing. One hundred years of being torn apart as victor and vanquished is something it cannot, however, endure.
This feeling on the moral justification and necessity of international disarmament prevailed not only in Germany but also in many other nations.
At the urging of these powers, attempts were initiated to bring about a reduction in arms by means of conferences and with it a general international alignment at a low level. This resulted in the first proposals for international disarmament agreements, and of these, we recall most vividly that made by MacDonald.78 Germany was willing to accept this plan and to have it form a basis for agreements to come. It failed for lack of the other nations’ support and was finally abandoned. Due to the fact that, under such circumstances, the equality of rights solemnly guaranteed to the German Volk and Reich in the statement of December 1932 did not become a reality, the new German Reich Government saw itself, as protector of the honor and the vital rights of the German Volk, in no position to continue participating in such conferences or to remain part of the League of Nations.
However, even after withdrawing from Geneva, the German Government was nonetheless willing not only to examine proposals made by other states, but also to submit its own practical proposals. In doing so, it adopted the self-styled attitude of the other nations that the creation of short-term armies is unsuitable for the purposes of an offensive attack and thus was to be recommended for peaceful defense.
It was thus willing to transform the long-service Reichswehr into a shortservice army in compliance with the wishes of the other nations. Its winter 1933/34 proposals were practical and feasible. The fact of their rejection along with the definitive rejection of the similarly construed Italian and English proposals was an indication, however, that the other parties to the Treaty were no longer inclined to subsequently fulfill their respective obligations to disarm in accordance with the Treaty.
Under these circumstances, the German Government felt compelled to take of its own accord those steps necessary to ensure that an end be put to a situation which was both unworthy and ultimately threatening and in which a great Volk and Reich were powerless and defenseless. In doing so, it was following the same reasoning which Minister Baldwin expressed so accurately in his last speech:
‘A country which shows itself unwilling to make what necessary preparations are requisite for its own defense will never have force, moral or material, in this world.’ The government of today’s German Reich desires but a single moral and material force-that is the force to preserve peace for the Reich and thereby for the whole of Europe as well.
It has therefore continued to do what was in its power to promote the cause of peace.
- Quite some time ago, it proposed the conclusion of non-aggression pacts to all of its neighboring states.
- It sought and reached a treaty arrangement with its eastern neighbor which, thanks to the high degree of accommodating understanding, has, it hopes, once and for all mitigated the threatening atmosphere which existed when it took power and will lead to a permanent understanding and friendship between the two peoples.
- It has finally given France its solemn pledge that Germany will not make or place any further territorial demands upon France now that the Saar question has been settled. It believes that it has thus created, in a form rarely matched in history and by making a difficult political and material sacrifice, the basis for the termination of a dispute between two great nations which has lasted centuries.
The German Government must, however, observe to its regret that a continuous increase in arms has been taking place in the rest of the world for months. It sees in the creation of a Soviet-Russian army consisting of 101 divisions, i.e. an allowed force of 960,000 in peacetime, a factor which could not have been foreseen when the Treaty of Versailles was concluded.
It views the acceleration of similar measures in other states as further evidence of the rejection of the concept of disarmament formerly proclaimed.
The German Government by no means intends to make accusations against any particular nation. However, it is compelled to note that, with the introduction of a two-year term of service in France which has now become law, the ideas underlying the creation of short-service defensive armies have been abandoned in favor of a long-term organization.
This constituted, however, one of the arguments for insisting that Germany abandon its Reichswehr at the time.
The German Government feels that under these circumstances it is impossible to delay any longer the measures required for the security of the Reich or indeed to refuse to inform its environment of these measures.
In now complying with the wish the British Minister, Baldwin, made on November 28, 1934, that light be shed upon Germany’s intentions, it is doing so:
- in order to give the German Volk the conviction and the other states notice that the preservation and security of the German Reich is once again entrusted from now on to the German nation’s own strength;
- that, by establishing the limits of the German measures, it will invalidate allegations charging that the German Volk is striving for military hegemony in Europe.
What the German Government desires, as protector of the honor and the interests of the German nation, is to secure the measure of power essential not only for upholding the integrity of the German Reich but also for Germany’s international respect and esteem as a co-guarantor of general peace.
For in this very hour, the German Government renews its resolve before the German Volk and before the entire world that it will never step beyond the bounds of preserving German honor and the freedom of the Reich and in particular shall never make of the German national arms an instrument of warlike aggression, but an instrument confined exclusively to defense and thereby to the preservation of peace.
The German Reich Government is confident in its hope that the German Volk, once more restored to its honor and enjoying independent equality of rights, may be granted the opportunity to make its contribution to the pacification of the world in unrestrained and straightforward cooperation with the other nations and their governments.
Bearing this in mind, the German Reich Government has passed the following law as per today’s date, which is hereby promulgated: Law on the Establishment of the Wehrmacht of March 16, 1935
1. Service in the Wehrmacht shall be effected on the basis of general conscription.
2. The German peacetime army, inclusive of the transferred troop-police, is comprised of twelve corps and thirty-six divisions.
3. The supplementary laws on the details of general compulsory military service shall be submitted by the Reich Minister of Defense to the Reich Ministry of Defense.